Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Trump madness

January 29, 2017

When we lived in Sudan, we lived a couple of hundred metres from the mosque where Osama bin Laden used to go and worship.

In the 1990s.

He wasn’t actually there when we lived there.

In fact, I’m really hard-pressed to find anything that Sudan has actually done against the United States in – what? – the last 20 years. (Remember, when Osama bin Laden orchestrated the 9-11 attacks, he wasn’t actually living in Sudan and had only limited contact with his former home, his erstwhile sponsor Hassan al-Turabi, being something as a persona non grata with the Khartoum regime at the time.)

So why, then, this Sudan visa ban from the current megalomaniac in the White House?

I’m actually kind of hard-pressed to find any logical rationale to the current action from Donald Trump, other than shameless populism and a bloody-minded determination to live up to his electoral promises (which I had, unfortunately and a trifle naively, dismissed as simple electioneering; err… no, he is actually as crazy as he sounded).

Nothing really makes sense, and Donald Trump is acting far too hastily with his executive orders, and without proper guidance. You only have to look how quickly the courts overturned the visa ban – at least temporarily – to see this.

But anyone following Trump closely knows all of this – or if they don’t they are being disingenuous.

I want to make a point here that is slightly more nuanced.

There is a very good case to be made for an overhaul of immigration regimes in Europe and US. Even if you are not a right-wing fascist nutter, there is a case to be made here; and I have made it in previous entries.

But now is most definitely not the time to be making it. The likes of Donald Trump and UKIP leader Nigel Farrage have been riding on the tides of populism for two long, without the benefit of proper rational analysis.

This took the UK out of Europe – which may in fact turn out to be a good thing, but not for the reasons that the likes of Nigel Farrage so often espoused – but I now fear that populism is taking a far more sinister turn.

How did Donald Trump put it? “It’s time to fight fire with fire”.

Indeed it is. And that means being unreservedly pro-immigration. Irrespective of the consequences.

We have for a long time needed a proper immigration policy in place. And we still do.

But to argue for one now is to play into the hands of those privileged populists that seek to make political mileage out of the strife and suffering of others.

Just don’t plant a bomb, Dear Immigrant: that’s not very nice.

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It’s not just the politicians that should rethink things

November 10, 2016

First Brexit. Now Trump. It seems fairly clear who holds the responsibility for this: those smarmy world leaders that are at the heart of the political establishment, which now has been very much shaken and could even be crumbling. They didn’t take Greece’s pain seriously. They chose to bail out the banks rather than let them gracefully unwind. They trounced all over Keynes’ legacy and dogmatically welded themselves to the idea behind austerity and then, when people pointed out that actually curtailing spending might not be the best way to stimulate growth, growled and snarled.

But this initial analysis is simple and unfair. It is certainly true that the politicians have for too many years acted with contempt for a large portion of society, but it seems that they are not alone.

Where are all these Trump supporters? Where are all the Brexit voters? Hidden? Ashamed? Frightened of being seen to rock this cozy establishment?

On social media, the only comments I seem to be reading is that the world is in some sort of crisis and a kind of incredulity that people could actually consider voting for Brexit or electing Trump. I.e, are people really this stupid?

But this misses the fundamental point of what has driven people in this direction, and until people start reflecting on that society is going to have a hard time stitching itself back together. Yes, politicians have acted with arrogance and contempt that beggars belief, but they appear not to be alone.

Suddenly, those who for years have lent their support to the political establishment find themselves in the minority, and that is an uncomfortable feeling.

With Brexit, I was strongly divided. I saw the benefits that staying could bring, but I also see the EU as an undemocratic supranational entity that does things its own way with little regard for due legal process upon which our societies have been built.

Had I been able to vote in the US election, though, there is not a snowball’s chance in Hell that I would have chosen Trump. There was nothing in his rhetoric that endeared me to him and, although Clinton had her baggage, she was the least bad choice of the two.

But recoiling in horror from the outcome and despairing at the stupidity of the supporters of Trump – or for that manner the voters for Brexit, who I do feel some affinity towards – just misses the point.

Something is changing with our societies and people are rocking the boat.

Politicians must start to understand why. We must, too.

Crossing Lines

July 1, 2013

This is the ICC as you’ve never seen it before. They’ve even got guns.

Whilst the ICC doubtless needs its profile around the world, and whilst Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the former prosecutor, might have fancied packing a .38 himself, I’m not totally convinced that this is the best publicity the ICC could have hoped for.

In fact, I’m decidedly unconvinced.

Crossing Lines is a fictional drama series about international justice, with apparently no connection to the ICC that I write daily about. It premiered last week on the NBC network in America.

The ICC needs countries like America to lend a hand at capturing fugitives that have still not been apprehended, and this means that the public has to get behind international justice.

But throwing out a wildly inaccurate dramatisation, particularly in a country where misunderstandings are already rife, does the cause no favours whatsoever.

How on Earth was this drama allowed to be made?

(I should add, at this point, that I contacted the German-based producers of this film and invited them to speak to me about it; but they declined the opportunity. They also refused to show me any further footage of the drama – and I’m still waiting for it to be screened in The Hague).

An insight into the US Israeli lobby

October 13, 2012

It’s an open secret that the US Israeli lobby wields considerable power in Washington. Last night, I had the privlege to attend an event commemorating the life and works of a veteran journalist who embodied a very different position.

Helen Thomas, now 93, was one of ten children from Lebanese immigrants. A feisty character, she covered the White House from the end of the Dwight Eisenhower administration in 1958 up until half way through the Barrack Obama presidency. She was forced to resign in 2010, following comments that she made against the state of Israel.

Her forced resignation provides some insight into the power of the zionist lobby and media in Washington DC.

I’ve watched the comments again and again, plus her defence of them, and it seems quite clear to me that their meaning has been repeatedly twisted by those papers that would have preferred to see the back of her. Her departure is a clear example of how criticism of Israel isn’t the way to advance one’s career, at least not here in the US.

Here are three videos documenting the issue. I welcome any thoughts. Is it just me or is this bitter criticism of Thomas’s views and her forced departure unjust?

The first video is of the initial remarks that Thomas made when asked what message she had for those living in Israel. She claims that she didn’t know she was being filmed, since it was with a small handheld phone. She said that the Israeli’s should “go home”, and then indicated that they should return to Poland and Germany. This perhaps wasn’t the most subtle way of putting things, and was always going to bring up the bitter memories of the Holocaust. But then Thomas was never known for being subtle. And, besides, it was always clear to me that there was more lying behind her words than this initial quick reaction suggests – as she subsequently explains.

The next video is her attempt at justifying her comments. She is being quite eloquent in her defence, I feel, but the fact that the CNN interviewer keeps trying to distort what she is actually wanting to say is totally frustrating (and very characteristic of how CNN behaves – HLN being a spin-off of CNN).

The final clip is of Thomas being interviewed by a more sympathetic journalist, Paul Jay, who wrote in her defence here. The interview is much milder, and she is given much greater scope for elaborating on what she actually meant. Perhaps she could have said things differently, and maybe she wishes she had done, but should she have really been forced out in disgrace? The Israeli lobby may claim that they don’t call the shots, but this is clear evidence to the contrary.

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Palestine inches closer to joining ICC

October 10, 2012

The central reason that Palestine has not yet signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC), much as it might like to, is that it is still not widely enough accepted as a sovereign state. This could all be about to change, should an apparently inconsequential vote at the UN get passed.

It’s actually not really true that Palestine is not widely recognised as a sovereign entity. In fact, at last count, 130 of the 193 member states of the UN recognised the country for what it is. One might justifiably argue, therefore, that it is indeed a country – and therefore damn well has the right to independently sign up any international treaty that takes its fancy. The issue is that the countries that matter – most notably, the United States – do not recognise Palestine as a legal state in its own right.

The stance of the US is a particular consideration for the ICC, because, although there is next to no chance that the country will join any time soon, the ICC is very dependent on the co-operation of the US for rounding up war criminals. The US is starting to prove its worth in the Kenyan case (blog entry on this shortly), and is becoming more and more active in hunting down Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Accepting Palestine into the ranks of the ICC, when the US refuses to recognise its statehood, is asking for trouble.

This may have been the thinking in April, when the then prosecutor of the court Luis Moreno-Ocampo rejected the validity of an investigation into crimes on the Palestinian territory, on the grounds that Palestine is still not a recognised state.

This may be about to change. This Palestinian delegation to the UN has drafted a resolution that requests recognition as a “non-member state” of the UN. This resolution, which may be voted on as early as this Autumn, needs a two-thirds majority in the general assemply to pass – a pretty low hurdle, given the number of countries that recognise and/or support Palestine. Unlike a request for membership, the five permanent members of the Security Council do not have the right to veto a request for non-membership statehood.

Should Palestine receive statehood approval from the UN, the ICC’s stance not to accept the region as a member or to investigate crimes on its soil would become untennable. You couldn’t have the world’s number one judicial body failing to recognise Palestine in defiance of the world’s number one peacekeeping body.

But it isn’t a done deal yet. Hostility to Palestinian statehood is rife in Washington, and policymakers know all too well what is at stake. In October last year, UNESCO, the UN’s education, cultural and scientific body, made the error of recognising Palestinian statehood. After a year of intensive lobbying, it has still not got its funding from the US back. Other bodies have taken heed.

At UN level, of course, the US’ leverage is somewhat curtailed. It doesn’t have a choice of what it pays into UN coffers – this is determined by the treaty it has signed up to. However, what it can do is place pressure on the Palestinian Authority directly to withdraw its resolution before the Autumnal vote.

What Washington may be offering the Palestinian Authority for dropping this resolution is shrouded in mystery. What price is Israel’s most vociferous guardian prepared to put on the threat that, should Palestine gain statehood, it suddenly has a new weapon in its aresnal against its neighbour? And how seriously should the US take the ICC?

The awesomeness that is New York

October 3, 2012
Image

The might of New York – a better picture will be forthcoming shortly

It’s quite impossible to walk through downtown Manhatton without being overawed by the concrete jungle towering above. During my week in New York, I have tried time and time again to stroll nonchalently through the monolithic structures towering overhead.

Today, stomping my way towards the Empire State Building (one of the singularly most impressive buildings in the city, even though it may no longer be the tallest), I determined not to look up at the looming giants above, and certainly not to let any feeling of wonderment to cross my face. But it was all for nought.

The city truly is remarkable. Not only because it is a city of mightily tall buildings, but because there are so many of them, crowded together in such a small place.

Over the weekend, I took a trip to the Statue of Liberty, itself the equivalent of 23 stories. It was erected at the end of the 19th century, at a time when the tallest building in Mangatton was a modest five stories. Then, in the first half of the 20 century, everything seemed to go crazy – and the world of the skyskraper was born.

New York is a city where you really feel the might of America.

Coming back today from a number of fruitful meetings, I witnessed a thoroughly peculiar incident on the city’s metro. People were laughing. The metro was horrendously crowded, the press of weary city types pressing closely together made things uncomfortably hot (despite the air-conditioning, I should add; London take note: the tube here has air-con!) and everyone was no doubt tired. But people were laughing! Complete strangers cracking jokes with one another.

I was so shocked I decided to look around the tube. Okay, there were quite a few people gazing wearily at the floor, but many others appeared relaxed, lying back, glancing around from time to time at other passengers, as the vehicle trundled through the labyrinthine tunnels of underground New York. There seemed to be no taboo on meeting people’s eyes.

These are just two positive observations from my time in New York, which perhaps give some indication of why America will continue to do well in an era of the rising Asian tigers, and why Europe is destined for weary decline, unpleasantly sandwiched between the East and the West.

Power and optimism.

Bashir goes AWOL

July 2, 2011

It’s not every day that a President goes missing, so that even close members of his party aren’t too sure what is going on. But that seems to be exactly what happened to Omar al-Bashir, President of Sudan, as he made his way over to China, no doubt to persuade Beijing to continue to invest in the North even though much of the oil was now going to be in the South.

President al-Bashir arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, a day after he was supposed to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao. I realise that the man in Khartoum’s Presidential Palace these days is Sudanese. But, even so, turning up a day late to meet one of the most important leaders in the world is taking things a bit too far.

It seems that President Bashir was in Iran before flying over to China. It was between leaving Iran and arriving in China that something appear to happen to delay his arrival by a day.

With al-Bashir wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and with China under heavy fire from the international community (especially the US) for inviting the President, rumours were bound to fly.

Had al-Bashir in fact been arrested as he travelled from Iran to China? Did US special forces hijack the plane he was on and nab the President that way?

But no. It seems that President al-Bashir returned safe and sound to Sudan late last night. But no one’s any the wiser about what happened – and aides have given no explanation about what happened to al-Bashir to make him so late.

Did Washington actually make a move to try and apprehend al-Bashir? And did America’s banker weigh in to protect al-Bashir from the merciless clutches of the Western powers and the ICC?

Tony Blair and the Iraq War

January 27, 2010

So, we are now faced with the news that Tony Blair acted illegally in involving Britain in the Iraqi war, at least according to Foreign Office legal advisers.

In memos to Downing Street, Michael Wood, then the chief legal adviser for the Foreign Office, warned that going to war without approval from the UN Security Council resolution would constitute a ‘crime of aggression’ under international law.

Such warnings were ignored by both Blair and the then foreign secretary Jack Straw.

This is significant.

The Nuremberg Trials, set up to prosecute Nazi war criminals and which I am studying quite closely at the moment, ruled that “to initiate a war of aggression…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Going by this definition – which was specifically written with Nazi Germany in mind – one might be tempted to draw certain parallels with Snrs Blair and Straw. Such parallels may be unfair – Blair and Straw don’t really cut it as closet Nazis – but it the significance of fighting an illegal war should not be overlooked, if international justice is to mean anything.

Let’s not forget that, unlike the US, the UK is a signatory to the Rome Statute, which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Interestingly, though, the Rome Statute was not so forthcoming in deciding what it should do about crimes of aggression. It holds that the crime of aggression is one of the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community”, and says that the crime should fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC.

However, negotiations to draw up the treaty stalled over how to define a crime of aggression and, until such time as a definition is given, then prosecutions are unlikely to take place.

There may be an opportunity for a definition for crimes of aggression to be introduced into the Statute during the ICC Review Conference, due to take place in May and June this year, in Kampala.

But don’t bank on it. Not all countries are totally sold on crimes of aggression being included. And, lets not forget, many of the ICC signatories still want to woo America into joining. They’re not going to be able to do that by getting the court to start investigating crimes that America itself may also be guilty of.

America, the ICC and the problem of image

September 22, 2009

I attended a fascinating lecture by John Bellinger, a former legal advisor to George Bush, yesterday, which went some way to explaining why (whatever Barrack Obama’s intentions might be) the US is going to remain outside the International Criminal Court (ICC) for some time to come.

It’s all to do with politics. That and a rather hawkish Senate, the approval of which is necessary for any formal ratification of the Rome Statute. Oh, and the military, which are worried that, should the country join the ICC, the arses of some of the sorry soldiers will be hauled before The Hague. (It was amusing to hear one of the members of the audience, a Pakistani, liken this situation to the military juntas of Latin America and elsewhere – I would have made the comment with tongue-in-cheek, but I don’t think he was).

So, following on from all of this, there are clearly a great many myths surrounding the Obama administration – what his intentions might be and what, in reality, he can actually do.

But all of this presents a big problem – and one that I was hoping Obama would be able to overcome.

As I have written elsewhere in this journal, one of the significant problems with the Bush administration (okay – there were a whole slew of others, too) is that he had a big image problem in the Arab world. See the problem that my students had with him. And then see the euphoria that gripped Sudan upon news of Obama’s election.

So, as I said at the time, I think one of Obama’s biggest achievements is likely to be that, by becoming the first black man in the white house, he has given a whole new face-lift to America. Which the country badly needed.

But there is a danger that, unless Obama takes a braver stand against the hawks of Congress and the Senate, this whole image thing is likely to fade pretty fast. And the presently smooth obsidian skin of America will start to look cracked and parched once again.

Top of my list of concerns, at least as far as Sudan goes, is that the US is heavily backing, through the Security Council, the ICC’s indictment of Bashir. But, of course, it still remains outside of the ICC. Although all of this is perfectly legal – the Security Council being separate from the ICC – the position severely under-cuts America’s legitamacy in Sudan, at least in the eyes of the locals. Even those vehmently opposed to Bashir question why on Earth the US should get involved with the court, when it still hasn’t had the backbone to sign up. The widely-held perception in the country is that the ICC is a western-led plot to topple the current regime. And that smacks of neo-colonialism.

Obama survived his first 100 days, the test of any US president’s mettle, with rather impressive results – certainly, the foreign press love him. But let’s wait to see the assessment after the next 100.

Obama has to face some tough challenges if he is to press ahead with his badly-needed foreign policy initiatives of making the US look good in the world.