Threat to world court: Trump provokes emergence of dangerous world order

By Ameen Izzadeen
Months after United States troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, Mazar-i-Sharif earned the notoriety as the city of torture and extrajudicial killings, quite at variance with its worldwide fame as the city of Islamic and Hellenic architectural glory.
It was also as paradoxical as it is shocking, for at the centre of the torture allegations was the United States, a country which till the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington DC had been seen to be championing human rights and democracy worldwide.
At the Mazar-i-Sharif prison, it is alleged that hundreds of detainees were subjected to severe forms of torture. Many died there or were taken to the nearby desert and killed. ‘Massacre at Mazar’ was a name of a documentary Scots film producer Jamie Doran made. It was shown in the Reichstag, the German parliament building in Berlin and the European parliament in Strasbourg in July 2002. What the documentary had exposed was corroborated by a report the US Human Rights Group, Physicians for Human Rights, had released the same year. (https://www.scotsman.com/news/world/us-had-role-in-taleban-prisoner-deaths-1-609624).
The then US government advocated a culture of impunity, supporting even forms of torture such as waterboarding to elicit information from terror suspects, while a majority of US citizens, not in a proper state of mind after the shock of the 9/11, remained silent. Their silence was licence for the George W. Bush administration to commit human rights violations in total disregard for international humanitarian laws and laws on warfare.
The ugly truth behind the US-led war on terror is that the US has committed war crimes and the US will not allow an international tribunal or another nation to bring US war crime suspects to justice. Now whatever the faults of the US, since World War II ended, the rest of the world looked to it for global leadership.
If leadership implies followership, the example the US sets with regard to the issue of war crimes only gives rise to a dangerous trend. Already, with a maverick president in the White House, the international order is fast hurtling towards chaos because of US misbehavior.
In yet another outlandish move, on Monday, the White House National Security Advisor, John Bolton, sounded like a bully to warn International Criminal Court judges, prosecutors and investigators that they would face sanctions and even arrest, if the world court took action to prosecute US soldiers for alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
Bolton, a neoconservative hawk, said to be one of the architects of the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq, has many a time in the past spoken contemptuously about international diplomacy which he has slammed as an affront to the US sovereignty. He once infamously said if the United Nations building in New York “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Such was his scorn for the UN, though President Bush appointed him as the US ambassador to the UN.
Bolton’s full-scale attack on the ICC is not surprising. That his remarks had the backing of President Trump, who is equally contemptuous about international systems, is also not surprising. After all, Trump, claiming that climate change was a hoax invented by China, had withdrawn the US from the Paris climate deal, the United Nations Human Rights Council and has threatened to end the US membership in the World Trade Organisation.
The ICC was set up in 2002 after years of negotiations in Rome and elsewhere. The talks were held at a time when a new world order was emerging after the end of the Cold War. It was a period, when the sole superpower, the US, had been urged to play its global leadership role responsibly — and more significantly, it was a period when consensus was being built up for an international world order based on respect for and strict adherence to human rights. This was because the international community was feeling guilty of not taking effective action to stop genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Giving leadership to this campaign was the European Union — with the US wavering, its eyes wide opened and mind fully occupied with the possible consequences if the Rome Statue was to become a reality, especially with regard to its military plans.
Though the Bill Clinton administration was somewhat agreeable to the Rome process in principle, the Bush administration, hell bent on launching the neoconservative-scripted wars on nations, was totally opposed to the idea of setting up an international court to try war crimes. The Congress hurriedly passed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act to undermine the universal jurisdiction of the ICC. Washington also began signing bilateral agreements with other nations, preventing them from taking American soldiers to the ICC or trying them for war crimes in domestic courts.
Even before the 9/11, the US had not been a great respecter of international humanitarian laws or world court judgments. Should we remind ourselves of the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of Agent Orange chemical weapons in Viet Nam and the use of cancer-causing depleted uranium in Fallujah, Iraq? In 1984, the US refused to obey an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling which found Washington guilty of placing sea mines in Nicaragua’s waters. Then in 2003, it invaded Iraq in what was later described by the then United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan as an illegal war.
On the one hand, alarmed by what it sees as China’s aggressive behaviour or assertive diplomacy with regard to disputed islands in the South China Sea, the US calls for a ruled-based word order. But on the other hand, feeling no compunction, it flouts international norms and shakes the foundation of international law, painstakingly wrought through decades or centuries by nations which wished to solve disputes through diplomacy rather than bloodshed. Such double standards indicate that rules are only for less powerful nations, while big powers can do whatever they think is right or wrong to further their national interests.
Some may justify such duplicity as part of power politics. But they need to realise that it will only lead to an anarchical global order, where human rights violations and war crimes will be non-issues, with Hitlerite dictators having a field day.
While, under Trump, the US has squandered its moral right to the mantle of global leadership, China which is gradually replacing the US as the number one world power, is not interested in promoting human rights or democracy. Perhaps, the only silver lining is the EU, but its outreach is limited. Need we say more about the evolving world order? The sooner the Americans unseat Trump the better it is not only for them, but also for the rest of the world.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Watergate hero Woodward drops bombshell on Trump

By Ameen Izzadeen
In two weeks, world leaders will gather in New York for the annual sessions of the United Nations General Assembly. They need to put away diplomatic niceties and pluck up courage to right the wrongs of United States President Donald Trump – a man, who is being described by his own staff as a moron, a joker and a dangerous man to run a country, if we were to go by the books written by journalists and ex-White House employees.
On Tuesday, the US woke up to a controversy over revelations the Washington Post’s award-winning journalist, Bob Woodward, has made in his soon-to-be-released book, “Fear: Trump in the White House”. Woodward, who busted the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, is not known for fake news or sensationalism. Those who know the veteran journalist and those who have read the book “All the President’s Men, which he co-authored with the other Watergate hero Carl Bernstein, are assured of his adherence to the highest journalistic ethics. They believe he had recorded his interviews and taken down notes, checked and double-checked what he had collected from sources, before publishing his damning account of the president. Besides, he knows what libel is all about. Also the publishers would not have gone ahead with the book unless they got clearance from their expert lawyers.
The upcoming book’s shocking revelations are probably material for a possible impeachment of the President. For, no US President has been seen by his own staff as a danger to the country. In the book, Woodward presents accounts of how White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, Staff Secretary Rob Porter and other senior staff surreptitiously kept certain documents away from an impulsive president, for they felt if he had signed them, the consequences would have been disastrous to the US. The book describes the officials’ strategy as “no less than an administrative coup d’etat”. One such document was to authorise the withdrawal of the US from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
In another shocker, the book reveals that Trump’s personal attorney John Dowd staged a mock interview to gauge how the president would fare if Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating a possible Russian role in the election of Trump, was to hold a real interview.
The mock interview did not go well and the president, annoyed by the intensity of the questioning, departed, shouting “a goddamn hoax”. The lawyer feared that if Mueller was to grill the President, Trump would “look like an idiot” and embarrass the nation on the world stage.
The book also claims that Trump ordered the assassination of Bashar al-Assad in a move that some senior administration officials call a poor understanding of world affairs.
“Let’s kill the [expletive] lot of them,” the president reportedly said and ordered Defence Secretary James Mattis to go ahead with the move. Mattis ignored the request, probably he knew, as he is quoted as saying in the book, that Trump’s foreign policy understanding was that of a “fifth- or sixth-grader”.
Another short-sighted foreign policy action the book records was an instance when he asked for a plan to launch a pre-emptive strike on nuclear-powered North Korea during the height of his feud with Kim Jong-un.
The book projects Trump as a person who is mentally not fit to hold the office of the president. The contents give a picture of Trump behaving without decorum or dignity. About, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump is reported to have told a White House staffer, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama”. Of late, Sessions has also been publicly vilified by Trump, for his decision to recuse himself from the Muller investigations.
Probably, the most caustic of comments were the ones attributed to the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly. The book quotes Kelly as saying, “We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us is here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.” It is reported that Kelly calls Trump an “idiot” … and it is “pointless to try to convince him of anything”.
Now, Woodward is not the only one to expose how dangerous it is to keep a man like Trump in the White House. And he will not be the last either. Earlier this year, American author and journalist Michael Wolf came out with a book titled “Fire and Fury” explaining the behind-the-scenes queer happenings in the Trump White House. On Wednesday, the New York Times published an op-ed written by a senior White House official who wished to remain anonymous. This article corroborates much of what Wolf and Woodward say.
That Trump has not so far announced that he will file a case against Woodward for libel shows that the US president has no firm ground to stand on. All what he could do about the bombshell revelations in the book is to take to Twitter and claim that the book contains “fabricated stories” by “former disgruntled employees”.
“The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources…,” tweeted Trump, whose popularity has plunged to an all-time low.
Now there is a message for the American citizens and the world in what Wolf, Woodward and others reveal. It raises a serious question about Trump’s suitability to hold the office of the President and also about the United States’ global leadership. Probably, the books’ descriptions of Trump may still not provide the stuff for impeachment. Yet, the American people need to seriously ponder the question whether Trump is suitable for the presidency or for reelection.
At global level, his actions have largely brought chaos to the world. Wasn’t his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal a horrendous global crime? His decisions to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem and to stop the US aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that has been looking after the needs of five million Palestinian refugees for the past six decades, have killed the Middle East peace process. He has dealt more blows to the world peace by pulling the US out of the Iran nuclear deal and starting trade wars with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada. His meetings with world leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un have proved to be a more liability than an advantage to the US.
His predecessor Barack Obama put the US on the right track and to a great extent restored the United States’ global leadership position after George W. Bush’s war-and-profit-driven presidency for eight years. The world began to respect the United States during the Obama presidency. But today, Trump has made the governance a laughing stock and the White House a dangerous place.

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Dictatorship in UN and politicisation of genocide

By Ameen Izzadeen
On Monday, the United Nations behaving like Popeye the Sailor after a spinach drink, fired from all cylinders at Myanmar. A damning report by a UN probe team recommended that Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing and several other military leaders should be investigated for genocide, and that the case be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Give a big applause to the UN probe team, which included familiar figures like human rights lawyer Marzuki Darsuman of Indonesia, and our own Radhika Coomaraswamy, for a job well done.
A day later, UN officials said that they would soon release another report holding different parties responsible for war crimes in Yemen.
The two reports give the impression that the UN has suddenly become emboldened to take on war criminals. But UN reports see little follow-up action, especially in cases where the perpetrator is protected by a powerful nation. Just because the UN has chided Myanmar, the regime is not going to stop its ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Just because of an incriminatory UN report, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Houthis will not resolve, henceforth, to abide by international conventions on warfare and international humanitarian laws. To hell with the UN system, the perpetrators, with the backing of powerful states, will carry on with their crimes. In Myanmar, the Rohingyas will continue to be persecuted. In Yemen, children will continue to be victims — like those who died in the school bus bombing last month — and vital ports will continue to be under siege preventing food and medicine from reaching the sick and the starving.
Yet, the UN reports seem to be the best way out for the world body to absolve itself of the sins being committed under its very nose. In terms of follow-up action, the UN as an organisation lacks teeth. For instance, in 2016, the then UN chief Ban Ki-moon blacklisted Saudi Arabia for committing war crimes against children in Yemen. But within days, he removed Saudi Arabia from the list, under “unacceptable pressure”. Saudis, it is said, threatened to slash funds to UN programmes.
This was not the only occasion that the UN has buckled under undue pressure. In 2009, a UN fact-finding mission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone in a report accused Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war and recommended the case be referred to the ICC. But under pressure from the US and Zionist Lobbies, Goldstone recanted the report in 2011, though the other members of the panel stood by every word of it.
It is easy to appoint fact-finding missions and prepare damning reports. But what is challenging is genocide prevention. The UN will be worth its salt as the primary organisation tasked with maintaining world peace and security, only if it acts fast with the very first sign that something dreadful is going to happen.
Unlike an earthquake, genocide does not take place all of a sudden. It is predictable and preventable. Yet it takes place in full view of the international community. The system needs to be strengthened, if the UN’s primary interest is to serve and save humanity. Otherwise, the UN conventions may seem empty words or routine while post-genocide UN resolutions and declarations will be akin to last rites over a dead body.
That the Responsibility-to-Protect concept came into the UN system only in 2005, some 60 whole years after the Nazi Holocaust, is a damning indictment of the international community’s lack of urgency in reinforcing the system.
At the core of this failure is big power politics. Often humanitarian intervention or non-intervention is tagged to a political agenda of a powerful state. War criminals are protected by a powerful ally in the UN Security Council. Millions of Palestinians have died without breathing the air of freedom, due to the US protection given to Israel, the oppressor and occupying power. In Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, it is the US made bombs that are largely responsible for the deaths of children. Then in the case of Myanmar, China, as usual, has come to its rescue. It has said Monday’s UN report is not helpful in resolving the problem. Also backing Myanmar is Russia. Analysts say the report offers China another opportunity to drag Myanmar into its orbit, at a time when the new regime in Naypyidaw is, in a balancing act, improving its ties with the US.
Not again another Holocaust was the cry when the UN General Assembly, on December 9, 1948, adopted the Genocide Prevention Convention. Yet genocides keep happening. Three years before the convention was adopted, it happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Though the convention urges member-states to prevent genocide also in war and in peacetime, it happened during the Korean War, a war authorised by the UN. Some 3 million Koreans were killed within three years – two thirds of them civilians. In terms of the civilian-to-combatant ratio, the Korean War was far deadlier than World War II.
In the Vietnam War in the 1960s and the ’70s, some 3.8 million people died. It is only those who say that everything is fair in love and war would not call the Vietnam War’s civilian deaths genocide. Then, in the Cambodian killing fields from 1975 to 1979, more than a million civilians were massacred by the Khmer Rouge regime which had the backing of China and the US.
The worst — after the 1948 convention was adopted — was the Rwandan genocide. Nearly a million people were massacred by Hutu gangs and government forces in a pogrom from April 7 to mid-July 1994. The world simply stood by and did nothing when the streets of Rwanda began to fill with Tutsi corpses. The UN had a peacekeeping mission in Rwanda but US and Britain ignored its calls for intervention.
Even after the failure of the international community in Rwanda, massacres and war crimes still take place. It happened in Srebrenica, with the UN soldiers remaining passive when the Serb forces led the Bosnian men and boys to their graves.
In another clear case of UN failure is the last stages of the separatist war in Sri Lanka in 2009. An internal UN report in 2012 said, “Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN.” Questioning the UN officials’ withdrawal from the warzone, the report implied that civilian lives would have been saved if the UN had acted differently. It said that following this “systematic failure”, the UN should in future “be able to meet a much higher standard in fulfilling its protection and humanitarian responsibilities”.
But, alas, hundreds of thousands of civilians have perished since then and continue to perish in conflicts largely due to the politicisation of the UN system. As nations, including big powers, call for a rule-based international order, they should first focus on making the UN system rule-based by freeing the Security Council from the dictatorship of the veto-wielding permanent five. This is a way to prevent genocides and war crimes.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Afghanistan’s bloody mystery: Little progress in war or peace talks

By Ameeen Izzadeen
That the United States has still not been able to defeat an enemy much weaker in terms of military resources in a war that is continuing for 17 long years in Afghanistan does not bode well for its image as the world’s mightiest military power.
Armed with nuclear weapons, mother-of-all bombs, precision-guided missiles and the advanced satellite technology, it can surely eliminate the Taliban and the ISIS in a matter of days or weeks even without the use of a single nuclear weapon. Then why has the US failed to defeat the Taliban? It is not that the US has no will power to end the war. The answer is rather linked to its strategy.
Landlocked Afghanistan provides the US a strategic base to keep watch on a host of hostile or not-so-friendly nations. In the west of Afghanistan is Iran, a US enemy. Sharing a 2,430km-long border with Afghanistan in the south and the east is Pakistan which now gives more importance to close defence ties with China than to ties with the often unreliable and ‘ungrateful’ US. Unreliable, because history shows the US uses Pakistan only to ditch it once its objectives are achieved. Ungrateful, because the Pakistanis feel the US has not appreciated the heavy price their country has been forced to pay for joining the US war on terror. In the north, Afghanistan shares a 76km border with China, with which the US is locked in a trade war and military competition befitting a fully-fledged cold war. Afghanistan also shares a 2,300km-long border with Central Asia, where the US has no military presence now after Kyrgyzstan closed down the US airbase in 2014 following pressure from Russia.
The US is not naïve to withdraw from Afghanistan and thereby squander the strategic advantage it enjoys. Its presence in Afghanistan is legalised and legitimised through a controversial Strategic Partnership Agreement the two nations signed in 2012. The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, after the Taliban rulers refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda which carried out the 9/11 attacks, although some analysts believed the invasion had more to do with a pipeline project to enable US oil companies to exploit Central Asia’s oil and gas.
President Donald Trump, surrounded by hardline advisors, is for an indefinite prolonged war in Afghanistan. Trump has said he has become convinced that the only thing worse than staying in Afghanistan is pulling out. In the context of this large picture, Afghanistan finds it difficult to extricate itself from the superpower power games. Afghanistan is being bled to a slow death, with none of the peace efforts undertaken by various interested parties moving beyond the preliminary stages. In 2013, Qatar facilitated a Pakistan brokered peace initiative between the Afghan government and the Taliban, only to see its early collapse after Taliban leader Mullah Omar was killed in a US operation. Recently, Qatar launched fresh attempts, facilitating secret contacts between the warring parties, including the
US. However, it appears that after every step taken in the direction of peace, there comes a blow pushing the process two steps backwards.
There were also China-brokered peace initiatives. China sees Afghanistan peace as a crucial factor for the success of its Belt-and-Road project. Even these talks could not make much progress, because the US was left out.
In the aftermath of intense clashes for the control of the city of Ghazni last week, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani made a ceasefire offer to the Taliban, but it was met with Taliban rocket attacks on Kabul’s high security zone housing the presidential palace and the US embassy.
Russia, a country badly hit by narcotics drugs produced in Afghanistan, is also working out a multilateral peace initiative, but this is also likely to end as a non-event. On Wednesday, adding to the bloody mystery, the Kabul government indicated it would not attend the Moscow conference, although the Taliban said it would.
Not only peace talks, even war appears to be going nowhere. The Taliban control large chunks of the country’s territory. In addition, since last year, following the crushing defeats in Iraq and Syria, the ISIS has also been making its presence felt in Afghanistan. Probably carrying out a foreign power’s agenda, the ISIS largely targets the Shiite population. Two weeks ago, the ISIS carried out a massacre at an Afghan school, killing some 34 Shiite students. As if this bloodshed was not enough, the US-based war mercenary company Blackwater, notorious for massacres and human rights violations in Iraq, wants the Trump administration to privatise the Afghan war. In a recent interview with MSNBC, Blackwater founder Erik Prince said the privatisation of the war would be a big saving for the US government. He said his plan would see US troops replaced with private military contractors who would report to the President through a special envoy. Although the Pentagon is opposed to the Blackwater proposal, Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton is receptive.
The proposal takes us to the warning the then US President Dwight Eisenhower issued 57 years ago about private defence contractors. “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist,” he warned.
Adding to the conundrum is Pakistan’s new government headed by cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan, who has said his foreign policy priority will be peace with India and Afghanistan. However, he is scoffed as ‘Taliban Khan’ for his comments which critics interpret as supportive of the Pakistan Taliban. A virulent opponent of US drone attacks that have killed many civilians, Khan has lambasted Trump, calling him “ignorant and ungrateful” after Trump had commented that the US got nothing from Pakistan in the fight against terrorists, though US had given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid. After his election victory last month, Khan, striking a conciliatory note, said, “With the US, we want to have a mutually beneficial relationship … up until now, that has been one way, the US thinks it gives us aid to fight its war … we want both countries to benefit, we want a balanced relationship.”
It is too early to say whether it is the military or the elected government which will decide Pakistan’s Afghan policy. However, for the US military to remain in Afghanistan, the support of Pakistan is crucial, because it is the only nation, through which the US could send supplies to its 15,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. Occasionally, Pakistan has shut down the supply route to soothe public anger after US drone attacks killed civilians.
Even democracy has not provided an answer to Afghanistan’s conflict. Next year, there will be a presidential election, but as usual, the Taliban would not only take part, but also violently disrupt the process, thus offering the US a justification to continue its military presence in the country. When war becomes a daily routine, for Afghans, peace is, probably, anathema and suffering fait accompli. For the rest of the world, after 17 long years, Afghanistan is now the least spoken about war.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The dangers of Trump’s worldwide trade wars

By Ameen Izzadeen
Trade between nations makes them interdependent and lessens the propensity to war. The more trade any two nations have, the more peace will there be between them. Building peace is one of the goals of the World Trade Organisation, the premier international body set up in January 1995 to ensure free and fair trade between nations.
But instead of peace, we are now witnessing a world war or, to put it more precisely, a world trade war. Unlike in shock-and-awe hot wars, in economic wars, killer weapons such as bunker-busting missiles, banned white phosphorus, depleted uranium and napalm bombs are not used. Yet economic wars kill – kill millions. In Iraq during the decade-long United States-sponsored international sanctions, one million Iraqis, half of them children, died due to lack of medicine and food. Asked about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “This is a very hard choice, but the price… is worth it.”
The present world trade war has nothing to do with the WTO or its failure to build peace through free trade. Rather, it was solely the work of one man, Donald Trump, who appears to be thriving in chaos. Unfortunately, he is also the President of the United States and is increasingly proving that he is a misfit to govern a country that has produced great statesmen such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, to name a few.
The tentacles of his trade war have reached many fronts – China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Iran and, this week, Turkey, for he thinks trade wars are good and winnable.
Sounding more like a trade-war version of an Adolf Hitler, than a knee-jerk protectionist, Trump tweeted on March 2, 2018: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore–we win big. It’s easy!”
Trump triggered what is termed by some analysts as the world history’s biggest trade war when he slapped in January a 25 percent tariff on imported steel from China, Europe, Canada and Mexico, prompting tit-for-tat measures from the affected countries. The escalation of the trade war is shaking the foundation of free trade.
Last month he imposed a further US$ 34 billion worth of tariff on imports from China. In retaliation, China also imposed US$ 34 billion worth of tariffs on US goods and warned Beijing would not hesitate to hit back dollar-for-dollar if Trump took further action.
If this was not enough, Trump this week targeted Turkey, imposing punitive duties on that country’s aluminium and steel exports. The measure was connected to Turkey’s refusal release a US preacher, who Turkey says is complicit in the 2016 botched coup attempt against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government. Following Trump’s punitive measure, Turkey’s economy has taken a beating, with its currency, lira, losing 20 percent of its value.
Adding more chaos to the world trade order, Trump has reimposed sanctions on Iran. Apart from dealing a blow to Iran’s economy, the sanctions have also hit developing nations owing to soaring fuel prices. Last week, the Trump administration also imposed sanctions on Russia over the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury. Russia has described the sanctions as “a declaration of economic war” and warned of a fitting response.
Why is the US waging a trade war? Probably, Trump and his hardline advisors are caught up in a Thucydides trap, a term popularised by American political scientist Graham T Allison. Quoting Thucydides, the fifth century Athenian historian, Allison in a New York Times article last year explained that when a rising power – in this instance, China — causes fear in an established power – in this instance, the US — it escalates towards war. Thucydides wrote: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”
With the world powers being armed with planet-pulverising nuclear weapons which only guarantee mutually-assured destructions (MAD), the US cannot afford a military war with an equally powerful China. Hence the option is the economic war.
Since the end of World War II, the US had been the beacon of free trade. It scoffed at centrally controlled economic policies of the Soviet Union and other communist nations. Be it the historic Bretton Woods talks in 1944, the decision to end the gold standards in 1971, or the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT) deliberations that led to the formation of the WTO, the US had hit out at protectionism and championed free trade and liberal monetary and economic policies. Many a time, Washington had accused Japan and China of deliberately devaluing their currencies and adopting unfair trade practices.
But today, under Trump, the US sees WTO, which it had helped set up, as a hostile organisation. “The WTO has been a disaster for this country,” Trump ranted in March. “It (WTO) has been great for China and terrible for the United States, and great for other countries,” he said.
Today, instead of the US, it is China which appears to be pushing for more open borders, with its Belt-and-Road Initiative being promoted as a world trade booster.
In China, policymakers, academics and the people see Trump’s trade war as part of Washington’s strategy to check China’s rise and urge the government to take tough countermeasures.
The currency war is, probably, one such countermeasure, though the yuan has suffered a nine-percent drop due to Trump’s trade war salvos. Undercutting the US dollar, countries such as China, Russia and Iran are increasingly doing business bypassing the dollar. China is considering a move to price oil in yuan linked to a gold-backed futures contract. The yuan officially became a world reserve currency in November 2015. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have signed an agreement to avoid the dollar in their transactions. To overcome hurdles related to US sanctions, countries such as India have decided to buy oil from Iran by paying in local currency.
These developments have posed a serious threat to the US dollar as a world currency. The consequences of the trade war and the currency war could be devastating not only to developing countries, but also to the US itself. In addition, a slowdown of China’s economy could generate worldwide tremors or lead to a global recession. Trump should wake up to these dangers.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism

By Ameen Izzadeen
When Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, in the wee hours of July 19 passed a controversial law, declaring that Israel was exclusively a Jewish state, the passage of the bill made headlines but failed to generate much worldwide condemnation.
In any other democracy, including the United States, a bid to enact similar legislation will draw widespread denunciation. The new Israeli law undermines human dignity and upholds the superiority of Jewish citizens over its other citizens. It has been given the enshrined status of a Basic Law, underlying the principles of the State. Therefore, it cannot easily be repealed. The new law recognises “Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people” and reduces its Arab and Druze people to second class citizens.
Imagine if Sri Lanka’s parliament passes a law stating that Sri Lanka is exclusively a country for the Sinhala Buddhists. Within minutes, international condemnations will pour in. The United States and the European Union will withdraw trade concessions and warn of tough measures if the government fails to reverse the law. Sanctions will be slapped. Sri Lanka will be overnight reduced to a pariah state.
But Israel is often treated with kid gloves and allowed to get away scot free. It can kill a thousand unarmed Palestinians in one go and still strut about on the world stage, with the US patting it on the back and hailing it as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. When the abominable law was passed, there was not even a whimper of protest from the Donald Trump administration. Perhaps, Israel was emboldened by Trump’s move to recognise the whole of Jerusalem as the undisputed capital of Israel – a move that killed Palestinian peace hopes.
Expressing concern, the European Union issued a weak statement that hardly stood up to the depravity of the racist law. Much weaker was the statement the United Nations Secretary General’s office issued. “We reaffirm the United Nations’ respect for the sovereignty of states to define their constitutional character while emphasizing the need for all states to adhere to universal human rights principles, including the protection of minority rights,” said UNSG’s spokesman Farhan Haq.
The passage of the bill, on the contrary, warrants international isolation of Israel – just as South Africa had been during the apartheid years — and the reintroduction of the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution which asserted that Zionism was a form of racism. The resolution had the support of the Non-Aligned Movement. In December 1991, with the Cold War coming to an end, the resolution was revoked, under pressure from and in awe of the US, which was emerging as the sole superpower or, sadly, as the global bully, unchallenged by any rival.
Israel’s Arabs and the Druze communities have challenged the law in the Israeli Supreme Court, but Zionist hardliners, including Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, have warned of an earthquake if the courts were to uphold the petitions.
Against this backdrop, a major controversy has erupted in the British Labour Party, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spoken in support of the Palestinians’ freedom cause, being slapped the anti-Semite label.
Corbyn’s problems began in April 2016 when Labour MP Naz Shah criticised Israel on social media posts and endorsed a suggestion that Israel be sent to the US. This was followed by former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s defence of Shah during a radio show. He added to the controversy by saying Hitler supported Zionism. He later resigned from the Labour Party, following his suspension.
These incidents and criticism of Israeli by several Labour activists saw Corbyn being accused of incompetence in dealing with anti-Semitism. In March this year, Jewish community leaders published an open letter accusing him of “siding with anti-Semites”. Although Corbyn had clarified matters saying he did not and would not support anti-Semitism, he remains vilified in the rightwing media. This is mainly because, Corbyn, in the true spirit of the traditional Labour, has been supporting the Palestinian cause, opposing Britain’s urge to bomb Syria and, domestically, pushing for radical socialist reforms aimed at uplifting the living standards of the working class.
Last month, amidst growing criticism, the Labour Party accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism in a bid to put the controversy to rest once and for all, but rightly did not agree to a stipulation which said criticism of Israel could be deemed anti-Semitism. The Labour Party argued that legitimate criticism of Israel could not be anti-Semitic.
Despite this principled stance, a section of the party wants Corbyn ousted. They are the rightwing members – the so-called Blairites or supporters of former Prime Minister Tony Blair who lied to the British people to launch the illegal war on Iraq in 2003, and who as the international community’s Middle East peace envoy did nothing but making millions of dollars through his private consultancy business targeted at the region’s despots.
The huge storm the criticism of Israel has created in British politics and the mild condemnations Israel’s apartheid law has evoked only underline the double standards the world has adopted in eliminating racism. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination reaffirms in its preamble that discrimination between human beings on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin is an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations among nations and is capable of disturbing peace and security among peoples and the harmony of persons living side by side even within one and the same State.
In a related controversy, Britain’s former foreign minister Boris Johnson has drawn criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and rights groups for saying that Muslim women who wear burqas or Niqab look like letter boxes or bank robbers. May, while scolding him, said women should be free to wear the burqa if they chose to do so.
But this appears to be a rare case of condemnation of Islamophobia defined as “dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims”. Often, in the name of freedom of expression, any mockery of Islam and its prophet is allowed in the so-called liberal and enlightened West, where academics and researchers are still prevented from questioning the Zionists’ narration of the Holocaust or Israel’s right to rob the Palestinians’ land.
True, anti-Semitism is bad and needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Holocaust is remembered not to allow Israel to oppress Palestinians and occupy their lands in violation of international law, but to prevent another Holocaust, irrespective of who the victims are. Sadly, the Palestinians are subjected to a subtle Holocaust, by Israel with the explicit support of the US.
If the strongest condemnation is reserved only in defence of Jewish dignity and is not forthcoming with similar vigour when other ethnic groups and religious communities are ridiculed and their dignity tarnished, then those who are issuing such condemnation are practising the worst form of r
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Nightmare of a US-Iran war, oil prices may soar to US$ 250 a barrel

By Ameen Izzadeen
When the United States president Donald Trump on Monday said in yet another quirky tweet that he was ready to meet the Iranian leader, the announcement generated hardly any vibe to arouse the excitement of the international community.
Iran is not averse to Trump’s suggestion for a summit meeting, but it is firm in its insistence that the US should return to the nuclear deal and lift sanctions.
Trump during a White House media briefing on Monday said he would meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani without preconditions. “They want to meet, I’ll meet. Anytime they want,” he said, adding, “It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us, and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
Compare this statement with the one that led to the historic meeting between the US President and the North Korean leader in June this year. A lot of homework had been done, the consequences meticulously assessed and secret contacts established with Pyongyang before Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un was made public. And there was much for both sides to gain from the meeting promoted as a win-win summit by Trump supporters. Of course, Trump’s bold move pushed his popularity ratings up by several notches. For North Korean leader Kim, the summit offered a platform to showcase his impoverished but nuclear-armed nation as a world power on par with the US, though the reality is far from that.
But with regard to Iran, instead of enthusiasm on the part of the US, what is evident is callousness or political dishonesty. For, Trump’s offer amounted to a call for surrender to Iran and it smacked of the United States’ utter contempt for the Persian Gulf nation. Please note that the offer came just days after the maverick US President held out a threat of an all-out war against Iran, following Iranian President Rouhani’s warning of a ‘mother of all wars’.
Trump’s tweet in all caps read: “To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
True, he issued similar threats against North Korea even weeks before the June summit in Singapore. Trump ridiculed Kim as “Little Rocket Man’ and threatened him with the same fate Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi faced if the North Korean leader did not dismantle the nuclear programme.
Unlike North Korea, Iran is not a nuclear power. Iran cannot afford the luxury of upping the ante without the risk of precipitating a war with the US. Unlike North Korea whose nuclear weapons forced the US to set aside its superpower pride and meet Kim, Iran has no such trump cards. But it is not without its options, which, it has said, it will not hesitate to unleash if pushed to a corner.
The present crisis is not of Iran’s own making. It was triggered by Trump’s announcement in May of the US withdrawal from the 2015 seven-nation nuclear deal. The agreement, signed by the US, China, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Iran, during US President’s Barack Obama’s second term in office, sought to curtail Teheran’s ability to develop weapons grade nuclear material. The US pullout from the deal despite pleas from its European allies, paved the way for the re-imposition of tough US sanctions which target Iran’s trade in gold, its energy, shipping and insurance sectors and the transactions of its central bank. The purpose was to deny Iran the much needed oil revenue to build up the economy after years of crippling United Nations and US sanctions.
Trump, who cherishes undoing what President Obama has done, wants the agreement renegotiated to curb Iran’s missiles programmes and involvement in regional conflicts. In other words, he wants to see a militarily weakened Iran.
It appears that he is making the demand on behalf of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two US allies have been uncomfortable with Iran’s increasing influence in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The new US sanctions which will come into effect in November have already put Iran in an economic depression, as a result of which signs of growing unrest are already visible. Therefore, the government is desperate to take all measures necessary to overcome the crisis.
The other signatories to the Iran deal have said they would honour the agreement, but analysts believe that it is only a matter of time before the European nations and their big companies will crumble under pressure and stop trading with Iran, as they do not want to lose the much bigger US market.
It was against this backdrop that President Rouhani warned that if the US took measures to destroy Iran’s economy and thereby effect a regime change, it risked unleashing “the mother of all wars.”
In yet another warning, Iran’s leaders have said that if the country was denied its right to sell oil and improve its economy, then it may even impose a blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s sea-borne oil passes every day. If this happens, analysts say world oil prices could shoot up to US$ 250 a barrel — a nightmarish situation which could ruin world economies and bring about untold hardships to the people in poor countries.
Of course, the US Defence Department has said its navy is capable of ensuring the freedom of navigation in the strait. But when Iran imposed a similar blockade during the nine-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the US could only take limited military action against Iran. During the blockade, Iranian attacks on tankers carrying Iraqi oil catapulted the oil prices to a new peak since the 1973 Arab oil boycott against the US.
Washington and Teheran, throughout post-World War history, have been friends at times, foes at times, and foes and friends at the same time. In 1953, the US engineered a coup in Iran to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq and instal the puppet Shah. A quarter century later, the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the pro-American Shah and set up the Islamic Republic. Since then relations have plummeted to the lowest level following a series of development such as the Iranian students’ siege on the US embassy in Teheran, the Lebanese civil war and the United States’ outright support for Iraq during the nine-year Iran-Iraq war, during which Washington failed to condemn Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. But the highpoint was when a hostile US during the Ronald Reagan Presidency in the late 1980s arranged Iran to buy weapons from Israel and the profits were diverted to the Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s socialist government. The secret programme was called the Iran-Contra affair.
Given Trump’s unpredictability, it won’t be a surprise if he pulls out a surprise by meeting Iran halfway despite his commitments to Israel and Saudi Arabia, so that he could boast of producing an Iran deal much better than what Obama had signed. Will Iran agree? However, the international community should redouble its efforts to bring about a win-win solution and avert the possibility of a US-Iran military confrontation which could only spell further doom for the world economy in general and poor nations in particular.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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