Social Media and Trump: a relationship Bound for Disaster?

The following is from a Lebanese contributor to the NCF, Ragheb Malli. The Next Century Foundation prides itself on adhering to the four freedoms: Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, and last but not least, Freedom of Expression. The following article is therefore key in our view. It is a subject which we shall address again later this week:

To the shock of many, last week Trump was banned from major social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, Snapchat and Instagram; with YouTube removing various videos and claiming his channel was treading on eggshells. This of course, following the Capitol Hill incident. Ironic as it maybe, considering his success was a result of creative social media campaigning and where he rallied a huge number of supporters, the idea remains that we -the people – have the power to plug and unplug those who, supposedly, have the ultimate power – or do we? EU commissioner Thierry Breton described the events on Capitol Hill as “the 9/11 moment of social media” and, “the fact that a CEO can pull the plug on Potus’ (President of the United States) loudspeaker without any checks and balances is perplexing” . The ethics behind the silencing of Trump is up for debate, but what is not, is the very fact that social media played an immense power in the rise and fall of Trump. Although what’s even more powerful than social media’s role in his downfall, is his very own use of social media that initiated his downfall to begin with.

There is no denying that Trump was a brilliant, and still is, user of social media. The whole orchestration of his account united huge numbers in a call to “make America great again” – in other words, the elevation of white supremacy – a notion nobody thought would have prevailed. He created phrases and words his followers, as well as ‘haters’, incorporated with their own phrases- “fake news”, “Sad!”, “haters and losers”, always making sure that every character of every tweet was impactful despite all those who called out his lunacy and child-like demeanour. “The fact that I have such power in terms of numbers with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc… I think it helped me win all of these races where they’re spending much more money than I spent, ” said Trump after he won his candidacy. Most notably Twitter was his preferred outlet, most successful outlet and an outlet to finally silence him after years of standing by.

However, much like Franz Reichelt – the tailor who created the first coat parachute and died testing it from the first deck of the Eiffel Tower – Trump destroyed himself in his attempt to further push that which he had already achieved. Most politicians Twitter accounts can be described as grey, yet what made Trump’s account colourful was the very fact that he decided to use Twitter just as ordinary people use Twitter, including spelling errors, long child-like rants, informal tones, outright insult of others and constant repetition of the same conceptions that obviously annoyed him. This was completely negligent as it ended in an assault that got several people killed. Although we all took light of the things he said as if they had no impact; we finally saw that actually they did. Unfortunately, it was too late, yet to prevent any further harm, he was shut down – something this social media genius could have avoided – which ultimately concluded his gradual descent into insanity.
To blame or praise social media in his demise is questionable. However, it would be more accurate to blame the man himself. Yes – we have the power to unplug even the highest of the high, but only if the plug is handed to us.

Ragheb Malli

Neil Partrick on the UAE’s normalisation deal with Israel

Dr. Neil Partrick, Senior Fellow at the Next Century Foundation, has written about the UAE’s normalisation with Israel, and what this may mean for outside interests vested in Jerusalem’s famous Islamic sites. His perspective is that the UAE had strategic calculations in mind when they made the deal. It wanted to be an example for other Arab states who are unwilling to normalise their relations with Israel because of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and thereby to dampen Turkey’s domineering interests in Jerusalem, as they strive to take center stage as leader of the Sunni Muslim world.

By contrast to the ‘sound of silence’ that has ensued from many Arab states following the normalisation deal, Palestinians have been vocal about the UAE’s stance particularly in relation to Jerusalem, all the more so after a UAE delegation visited Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of an Israeli guard. After co-signing the ‘joint agreement’ with Israel and the USA, the UAE paid no attention to the attitude of the local Islamic authorities in the form of the Awqaf that operates in Jerusalem under the leadership of the Mufti. Neil Partrick argues that this move by the UAE may be motivated by the desire to compete with Turkey’s presence in Haram Al-Shareef, regardless of how it undermines key Palestinian and Jordanian interests (Haram Al-Shareef meaning the “Noble Sanctuary” is the Arabic name for the sacred shrine known as the Dome of the Rock next to which the Al-Aqsa Mosque is built – the complex being under Jordan’s custodianship).  

At this year’s Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate organised by Emirates Policy Center last month, there was no word spoken about the implications of the normalisation deal for Jerusalem, but rather, the emphasis was on Turkey’s role in the region. Ömer Taşpınar argued that Turkey had taken on the role of defending the Palestinians that Arab states are no longer willing to. He added that this resurgence of Turkey’s involvement in the Palestinian issue is due to its declining economy and loss of primacy in Europe, a stance that Taşpınar envisages will outlast Turkey’s President Erdogan. Consequences of the deal for Iran were elaborated on by Alex Vatanka at the conference, who views it as a partial loss for Iran’s interests. However he perceived the possibility that the UAE would sanction any significant Israeli action against Iran from Emirati soil as negligible.

To read Dr. Partrick’s commentary in full, please click here: https://neilpartrick.com/blog/the-uae-s-normalisation-with-israeli-sovereignty-over-jerusalem

Picture shows Palestinians demonstrating in Ramallah against the UAE’s ‘normalisation’ with Israel, © Anadolu Agency, 2020

What does a Biden administration mean for the Middle East?

The Next Century Foundation congratulates Joseph Biden Jr. on his victory in the U.S. elections, and we wish him luck during this time of great uncertainty. As a new administration is set to take charge of the White House, we felt it was appropriate to examine President elect Biden’s presumed foreign policy stance on the Middle East. How does he fare in comparison to Trump? Will we witness a radical departure from the Obama era? What does a Biden administration mean for the people of the Middle East?

From Bush to Trump

Much of America’s Middle East policy over the past decade has been a response to the actions of the Bush administration, the consequences of which still reverberate across the region today. Barack Obama campaigned on a message of peace and diplomacy, articulating a desire to withdraw troops from Iraq and rebuild shattered alliances. A few months into his term, he visited Cairo to deliver an enthralling speech aimed at the Islamic world, proposing a new beginning between the U.S. and Muslims globally, based on mutual interest and respect. It’s easy to forget now, but the President’s speech appeared, at the time, to be an extraordinary break from the past. Candid and forthright, and with his usual oratory flair, President Obama signalled a new sense of hope that was so diminished under the Bush administration. The Middle East, for a brief moment, felt inspired. Perhaps the stage had been set for a new America.

But hopes were quickly dashed when it became apparent that President Obama would not prove drastically different in his foreign policy outlook. Granted, he was a more judicious and cultivated presence than the more provincial George W. Bush. But this mattered little when he assisted Europe in toppling Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, leading to a devastating civil war. Obama’s lofty rhetoric also rang hollow when it came to the sheer brutality of his escalated drone strikes policy. Correspondingly, he failed to close Guantanamo and bring the troops home like promised.

The Trump candidacy was likewise a response to the George W. Bush era. The Apprentice star continually admonished Hillary Clinton, perceived as a politician with hawkish instincts who would continue the Bush/Obama doctrine, for voting in favour of the Iraq War. Instead, Trump rallied voters behind a message of ceasing America’s “forever” wars and diminishing its troop presence abroad. After two administrations worth of foreign policy blunders, the message clearly resonated. Donald Trump took home the election, and Washington trembled in its boots. This was someone whose reckless rhetoric and bellicose behaviour indicated a man of uncertain instincts. Would President Trump spell catastrophe for the Middle East?

It turns out: not really. President Trump’s role in the region was a typical exercise in Republican leadership. Although he was initially labelled an ‘isolationist’, this proved questionable as his time passed. Undoubtedly, he often spurned a path of multilateralism and was heavily critical of organizations like the U.N. and the World Health Organisation. But to equate this with a detachment from the world stage would be erroneous. President Trump’s primary goal was, like the Presidents that preceded him, to maintain America’s power globally. He employed an actively hostile posture towards Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, imposed sanctions on countries like Lebanon and Syria, initiated a trade war with China, developed military alliances, and made a concerted effort to embolden the USA’s ally Israel. Altogether, it was not the vast overhaul of foreign policy that pundits expected, much of the speculated fears over Trump’s finger on the nuclear button did not materialize either. But what did change?

For one thing, President Trump certainly appeared more congenial towards authoritarian leaders like Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (even calling the Egyptian President his “favourite dictator”). Boisterous comments like this are indicative of President Trump’s unvarnished populist aesthetic, meant to cast himself as some sort of dramatic rupture in U.S. leadership. But as president, Donald Trump merely vocalized sentiments that always lingered, but were never espoused publicly – dispensing with the pleasantries that usually veil America’s realpolitik agenda. Yes, President Trump extolled President el-Sisi, but the coup that hoisted the Egyptian leader to power occurred on President Obama’s watch, who refused to use the word “coup” and continued to sell F-16s to the Egyptian government. President Obama’s top diplomat John Kerry even described the event as a ‘restoration of democracy’. Yes, President Trump was outwardly more amicable towards the Saudis, but Obama sold billions in arms to the same government (even whilst it was engaged in a deadly war with Yemen) and did little to mitigate its authoritarian tendencies. Iran and Israel were the only significant examples of any major divergence by President Trump, who bowed out of the JCPOA and enforced onerous sanctions on the former, while tightening relationships with the latter by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, along with mustering a peace plan that endowed Israel with large swaths of territory. Aside from these examples, President Trump navigated through the Middle East largely without initiating conflict.

President Biden

Advisors to Biden have claimed that the new leader will spend 80% of his time dedicated to domestic policy, his acceptance speech mentioning little with regards to international affairs. This is hardly unexpected, given the engulfing crisis that is the Covid-19 pandemic. But even within the domain of foreign policy, the U.S. has seen a drift away from an interest in the Middle East. Washington insiders are now absorbed with developments in China, which poses the largest threat in terms of rivalling America’s hegemony. But Joseph Biden will still have a role to play in the Middle East. He will most certainly work towards restoring many of President Obama’s policies – including returning the U.S. to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and to the World Health Organisation. He will rebuild the state department and attempt to restore American diplomacy. Yet what is crucial is how this will translate to concrete action. Joseph Biden is often perceived as another iteration of President Obama – a little more unpolished, granted, but someone who seeks to return to the status quo under the Democrats. But when the Arab world was interviewed, 58% declared that President elect Biden should distance himself from the Obama administration’s policies. It’s evident then, that harkening back to the status quo will not necessarily ensure a fruitful Middle East policy. To come to grips with what a Biden presidency would mean for the region, we can examine a few select countries that might experience the most perceptible changes.

Turkey

Biden has not remained quiet with regards to his enmity for autocratic leadership around the world. He has openly chastised the behaviour of nations like Hungary and China. Turkey also finds itself on this list. Indeed, out of all the leaders in the Middle East, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps most troubled by the prospects of a Biden presidency. Trump and Erdogan got along cordially, with the former rarely indicating any resistance to the latter’s increasing disdain for human rights and democracy. The same cannot be said about Biden, who has called out Erdogan more explicitly on issues like his aggression towards the Kurds and even partly blamed him for the ascendancy of ISIS in the region. As Vice President, he would often speak openly about Erdogan’s increasing contempt for the public press and free speech in his country. His administration also helped shelter Fethullah Gulen, the man who Erdogan accused of engendering the 2016 coup against him. Biden was perhaps most frank when interviewed by the New York Times editorial board, where he asserted forthrightly that Erdogan was an autocrat and that America should get behind the Turkish opposition in order to remove him from power through the ballot box. Leadership in Turkey worries that Biden will taint the recently strengthened bilateral relationship between the two NATO allies with his human rights rhetoric, and more seriously, threaten their interests in Libya, Syria and the Mediterranean. Questions also remain as to whether Biden will impose sanctions on the country for deciding to purchase Russian S-400s. On the other hand, Biden might tow a similar line to Trump for fear that Turkey could stray from NATO’s orbit. A game of balance will undoubtedly need to be played.

Erdogan has lent Turkey a more assertive role in the region, something that Biden will be forced to address

Iran

Though they maintained an outward ambivalence towards the Biden victory, Iran quietly breathed a collective sigh of relief. The nation has suffered immensely under the Trump administration, which pulled out of the JCPOA and sought to curb the growing regional influence of a then vitalized Iran. The tactic Trump chose was coercion. He did this by strangling Iran’s economy. Oppressive sanctions prevented the country from dealing effectively with Covid-19, taking its mightiest toll on the country’s citizens. In retaliation, Iran abandoned many of their nuclear commitments and hastened its production of enriched uranium. This complicates the situation. Much will have to be done before the two nations can sit down at the table. Biden’s desire is for Tehran to first return to its prior nuclear commitments, while a growingly suspicious Iran might wish to continue its enrichment project if the U.S. does not provide reparations for the betrayal and harm it caused the country over the last four years. Complicating things further is the role of Europe, which has grown wearier of Iran, and will likely demand more concessions from the country before resuscitating the nuclear deal. What is certain is that if Obama’s nuclear deal is re-established, it will likely be followed by echoes of disenchantment across much of the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel perceive Iran to be a threat, and any strengthening of its hand will be considered disconcerting.

Israel and Palestine

It was the night before the 2016 election when leaders of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank gathered in Hebron to pray for a victorious Donald Trump. Their wishes were granted. Israel enjoyed a felicitous relationship with the Trump administration, one that yielded the country a litany of triumphs. In the last four years, Netanyahu witnessed a weakened Iran, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and a Middle East plan that would have permitted the annexation of huge swaths of Palestinian land. Biden will certainly not be as cozy with Netanyahu as Trump was – who shared a special, symbiotic relationship with the Israeli leader. A two-state solution will be back on the table, and Israel will have to navigate with more caution and deliberation moving forward, as Biden is more likely to scrutinize certain Israeli actions, including any steps toward the annexation of Palestinian territory. The potential for a strengthened Iran (if Biden is to ease sanctions) also frightens Netanyahu. But Biden, an avid supporter of Israel, will not attempt to reverse any of Trump’s actions. Jerusalem and the Golan Heights will continue to be recognized as part of Israel. The U.S. embassy will not be moved back to Tel Aviv. Military aid will continue to pour into the country. In all likelihood, the President will preside over an era of continued recognition of Israel by its Arab neighbours. This, to the detriment of the Palestinians, who have suffered egregiously over the last four years. Mahmoud Abbas, along with Palestinians generally, will certainly be relieved to see Biden take the helm of America’s foreign policy. But relief should not be confused with jubilation. Indeed, Biden has indicated he will reverse some of Trump’s more draconian policies against Palestine, by restoring humanitarian support to the country and reopening the PLO mission in Washington. But with Israel so emboldened over the last few years, possibilities for a peace deal remain dim. While Biden has opposed Trump’s methods in dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue (i.e. mostly manoeuvring unilaterally), he has not questioned its outcomes.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Like Israel, Saudi Arabia will not be celebrating on inauguration day. The opposite is true for Yemen. Biden pronouncing a desire to end American support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and wreaked havoc on an already penurious nation, has something to do with this. How likely this will manifest into something palpable is another question. The fact that one third of the Pentagon transition team hails from organizations financed by the weapons industry is not the most promising sign. As Vice President, Biden supported the selling of billions worth in arms to Saudi Arabia. What is irrefutable, however, is that Saudi Arabia’s autocratic ambitions will likely be tempered during the next four years, when compared to Trump, who emphatically supported the oil-rich nation. Indeed, it’s safe to say that Biden’s first diplomatic destination won’t be Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohamed Bin Salman will therefore have to practise more restraint when it comes to stamping out dissent in his country, and he will be more reluctant to pull another horrific incident like the Khashoggi affair, which Biden decried, professing that he would “defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence”. MBS will also express disquiet over Biden’s likely decision to reengage in discussions with Iran – a country that Saudi Arabia and many of its neighbours view as an existential threat. But all this must be taken with a grain of salt. If Biden’s tenure will resemble anything like Obama’s, it is likely that the Saudi Monarchy will still receive the generous support of their American allies. Historically, it has mattered little which party has been in charge. The relationship between the two countries has remained almost unassailable.

Syria

Trump will leave a mixed legacy in Syria. On the one hand, he deviated from Obama’s policy of aiming to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by ceasing America’s support for the armed opposition. On the other, he launched (largely symbolic) missiles on President Assad’s forces and imposed his draconian ‘Caesar’ sanctions on Damascus. He expressed disdain for Syrian ally Iran but was warmer to its ally Russia. Likewise, he threw support towards the Kurds for most of his reign, only to abandon them last year, upon swiftly withdrawing most of his troops from the region. Despite this seeming disarray, President Biden is likely to preserve Trump’s policies in the country. Financial pressure will continue. Troops will remain. And the potential for further intervention is unlikely. Because so many interests are entangled in Syria, much of what occurs in the country will also rest on how Biden gets along with countries like Israel, Turkey, Russia and Iran. Syria will welcome a Biden presidency, as his umbrage towards Turkey will prove helpful in reducing their inimical influence – namely in regard to their promotion of division and extremism in Syria. His less affectionate ties to Netanyahu may also prove useful to Syria, which has continually been pummelled by Israeli rockets from next door. Not to mention that President Assad still recalls Obama’s reluctance to attack the country, permitting Iran to enter and rescue his government, along with Biden’s comments arguing against arming the opposition in Syria. Nonetheless, Biden’s Syria policy remains shrouded in ambiguity. Any mention of the country was scant during his campaign. As other theatres of conflict heat up across the region, Biden will leave Syria on the backburner for the time being.

President Assad’s Syria is a tangled web of interests. How Biden approaches the country depends on his relationship with other regional powers.

Libya and Egypt

Libya is a focal point in North Africa. Nations across the region and beyond endeavour to shift the tides of war in their preferred direction. Despite this, America has been relatively apathetic towards the conflict. Biden himself apparently never wished to enter the country in the first place. American strategy is not likely to shift substantially – although unlike his predecessor, Biden might be more inclined to take advantage of multilateralism and work with the U.N. to foster a peaceful solution to the conflict. When it comes to Egypt, however, there might be a more decisive shift. Trump was a faithful ally of Sisi, pumping funds to the country’s military and security apparatus. Biden has chastised Trump for his chumminess with the repressive leader and regularly spoken out against the human rights violations that have occurred under President Sisi’s rule. If this behaviour continues, it would not be entirely unfathomable for Biden to decrease some of America’s expenditure towards Egypt.

Conclusion

Joseph Biden never attained the enthusiasm that Presidents Obama or Trump received when they ascended to power. Most votes cast for the former Vice President were directed against his opponent. The tremendous hope that tailed Biden’s predecessors is notably absent this time around. Ultimately, this works in Biden’s favour. With little expectation, there is little room to disappoint. But the President-to-be should not take this as an opportunity to play idle. He must summon the political will to do what his predecessors failed at doing and work multilaterally to ease tensions in the Middle East, instigate some degree of peace. The region has confronted enough war. It has sustained enough carnage. Biden must ensure that he ameliorates, rather than exacerbates, these profound problems.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Joe Biden: the future of US-Myanmar Relations

The success of President-elect Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential elections mirrors an eerily similar situation in Myanmar; the 8th of November marked the second election in Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2015 and final results are still trickling in. Nonetheless, a clear winner emerged. Like in the United States, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s flagship party, appear to have won an absolute majority of seats in parliament and with this, they will begin their second five-year term in power.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has most likely mixed feelings about the U.S. elections; on one hand, like President-elect Biden, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also faces an opponent unwilling to concede defeat. The army-backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), refuses to accept her victory, calling for a military-managed re-run of the election – they accuse the NLD of bribing voters and electoral fraud. Mr. Biden as president could also put Myanmar back on the map in terms of foreign policy (President Trump notoriously responded with “where is that?” when a Rohingya refugee asked about his plan to help return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar) and economic engagement, as Myanmar continues to flourish economically after decades in isolation.

However, being back on the map may not be all it’s cracked out to be; Myanmar’s dismal human rights record and genocidal tendencies have been harshly criticised and even sanctioned by many states, and Mr. Biden may decide to shift the United States back to the role of the “world’s policeman”. However, this is unlikely to be more than a mild reprimand in the face of more pressing U.S. domestic issues such as the global pandemic, attempts to keep a shaky economy afloat, and a deepening political polarisation. A mixed bag, but one that is unlikely to change much in Myanmar’s political landscape.

UNHRC Submission: Remove Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list

The Sudan was first placed on the State Sponsors of Terrorist List in August of 1993 when General Omar al-Bashir became president. The sanctions that accompanied this placement included restrictions on assistance from the United States of America, a ban on defense exports and sales, controls over exports of dual use items, and other miscellaneous international financial restrictions including those on funding from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These restrictions were implemented with the purpose of limiting funding to terrorist groups present in the Sudan. Nevertheless, the overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019 has brought a sense of international hope for the future of the Sudan. In view of recent developments within the region, the Next Century Foundation’s U.N. Liaison Officer, Katya Cox-Kruger, calls for the urgent removal of Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list in a written submission to the 45th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. 

The United States of America has now decided that it will indeed remove Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. But words are one thing. We still await action. We hope that this may be done by Presidential decree in order that things may proceed swiftly. Katya’s oral intervention to the UN is above.

Read the written intervention in full – The urgent need for the removal of the Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list

Is the US Embassy shutting down in Iraq?

Tensions are rising in Iraq this week, due to the Trump administration threat to close the US embassy. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, claimed that this action was being considered due to the threat of attack on both US troops and the embassy from Iran-backed militias. Recent weeks have seen an increase in rocket launches near and at the embassy. Pompeo warned Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi that if the Iraq government did not take more action against these forces and crackdown on the powerful militias then the embassy would close.

Iraq Foreign Minister, Fuad Hussein, said this week that closing the US Embassy in Iraq would be “disastrous”. He claimed that the departure of the US embassy may prompt other embassy withdrawals from Iraq.

The US has already ordered a partial evacuation of the embassy, and several reports have claimed that diplomats have been told to prepare to withdraw completely. For now, it is a waiting game to see what actions the Iraq government will take, but it is expected that these actions will be announced imminently, due to an apparent ten-day timeframe that the US administration gave to Iraq’s leaders almost one week ago.

At this point in time, it is unclear whether the intention behind the threat to close the US embassy in Iraq is to place pressure on the Iraq government to strengthen their action against the militias, or whether it is part of a grand plan to begin lessening post-war US presence in Iraq. The US had already planned to cut its military footprint by half in Iraq in September.

With just weeks to go until the US Presidential elections, this action opens up the possibility of military action between the US and the Iran-backed militia groups.

What Does “Defund the Police” Really Mean?

While the international community watches, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States continues to dominate the news cycle as people march the streets in protest. What began as a protest regarding the brutal killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed on the street in Minneapolis after a policeman kneeled on his throat for nine minutes and cut off his breathing, has turned into a movement for the restructuring and perhaps even de-funding of the entire police structure. His death was not just an individual event, rather a symbol of the deep racial tensions that still run through the veins of the country.

This is not the first of these kinds of protests, the previous well-known ones being the Race Riots of the 1960s. Beginning in 1967, an uprising swept through more than 150 cities across the US, provoked by police brutality and social inequalities such as in housing and education. Lyndon B. Johnson was the president at the time and had recently pushed through the Civil Rights Act and The Great Society legislation that he believed would help alleviate the inequality that caused these racial tensions. Despite this, the protests continued as cities burned in what Time magazine referred to as “the bloodiest uprising in half a century”. To determine the causes, a special commission was appointed in which interviews were conducted across the country to better understand the concerns and anger of the people.

The report concluded that there were deep cultural divisions in the country and that the United States was on track for two different societies: black and white. The commission suggested a thirty billion dollar infusion of support for the educational and social services of black communities, to provide more opportunities and therefore lessen inequalities. The report also had suggestions for the police which included higher standards, more professionalization, extra training, standardized educational standards, and community relations programs that allow citizens a voice in local policing. However, the high price tag, defensive nature of the police departments, and Johnson’s personal anger that his previous work was not recognized, combined to block any implementation of the recommendations. The finding of the report, which for the first time, identified “white racism”as a factor in the repression that the black community was protesting, proved to be a step too far for many politicians, and the report’s findings were tabled. Indeed, the report would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the findings being leaked to the press, published, and becoming a bestseller. Despite that, no meaningful changes were implemented.

Less than sixty years later, the United States is facing similar issues. Once again, racial inequalities and increasing cases of police brutality have brought these long-simmering issues to public scrutiny. The police are highly militarized and unionized, and while crime rates continue to drop, police brutality rates continue to increase. For comparison, “since 2000 the police in Great Britain have killed a total of 42 people. In March 2016 alone, US police killed 100 people”. The End of Policing, is a powerful account of the current crisis, authored by Alex S Vitale, a professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and essayist whose work has crossed the pages of newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian. He explains the current policing situation and the actions that need to be taken in order for sustainable change to occur. He posits that police today exhibit a “warrior mentality” where they believe that they are in a constant battle with a disorderly public. This is further exacerbated by their training, in which they watch training videos of everyday encounters such as traffic stops turning violent. An ethos of keeping officers safe becomes harmful when they assume danger in the most mundane interactions with the public, this is demonstrably true when police are interacting with members of minority groups. This is associated with their inclination to use force that can quickly escalate into violent scenarios.

As seen in the mostly peaceful protests across the US, the police have responded to disturbance and blocking the streets with the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, a threatening show of force. In Buffalo, New York, a 75-year-old man was shoved to the ground by two officers, left unconscious and bleeding as the rest of the force police marched past him. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, cameras caught police officers shooting a young woman with rubber bullets, fracturing her eye socket. In Kansas City, Missouri, police officers walked up onto a sidewalk to spray pepper spray at protestors. This violent response has only exacerbated the calls from the public for the end of police brutality. When the public itself gets violent, the police are well within their bounds to get involved in a calm and efficient manner as they are meant to be the guardians of public safety. Their training should not only prepare them for these scenarios, but they should be educated in proper de-escalation techniques rather than a war in the streets with civilians.

Alongside the violence, the subject of racism has once again become the center of the debate. Racism is undoubtedly present in the US and this includes police forces where black teens are up to twenty-one times more likely than white teens to be killed by police. Black communities are stuck in a never-ending loop where as inequality increases, despair and public disorder do as well. The policy, known as “broken windows”, which became popular in the ’90s, encourages police to crack down on small infractions in the hopes that it will prevent bigger crimes from being committed. While it was well-intended, it has resulted in the police, which are supposed to be the peacekeepers of the streets, becoming the enemies of many minority communities. Now, protesters are marching the streets chanting “defund the police”. 

So what does “Defund the Police” actually mean?

Despite the provocative title, the policy does not call for the eradication of police. It is a multi-step process that includes changing the role that police play in the community, and greater accountability for officers, as well as transferring some responsibilities that currently fall on the police to other, more qualified professionals, such as social workers or mental health professionals. This, of course, would result in the reallocation of funds in order to commit those monies to more specialized agencies.  

Greater relations with the public not only decrease violence but also brings more accountability to the police department. Rather than funds for local government coming from the number of tickets and fines, police should be focusing on supporting their communities. Former Police Chief Scott Thomson of Camden, New Jersey, initiated the successful overhaul of their police department, heralded by activists as a success. He said that by stopping the reward system for arrests made, police officers were able to connect with people more. Thomson also implemented a program in which he dropped his officers off on corners and instructed them that “I don’t want you to write tickets, I don’t want you to lock anybody up. I’m dropping you off on this corner that has crime rates greater than that of Juárez, Mexico, and for the next twelve hours I don’t want you to make an arrest unless it’s for an extremely vile offense.” “Don’t call us—we’re not coming back to get you until the end of your shift, so if you got to go to the bathroom, you need to make a friend out here. You want to get something to eat? You better find who the good cook is”. They also implemented a police outreach program where citizens are called every couple of months for a check-in of their safety and and the state of their neighborhoods. The police in Camden have taken it a step even farther and now host block parties, cooking for and mingling among their citizens, manufacturing relationships and trust while becoming part of the communities they are served to protect. The relationship established between civilians and the police help both sides feel safer in their environments and the police are seen as guardians of the peace for the people rather than “thugs with badges”

Enhanced accountability is important in every field, but especially with the police because we provide them with absolute authority and with weapons. Oversight is critically important and beneficial. When police misconduct occurs, it is essential that police cooperate with investigators so that the wrongdoings are exposed. While body and dash cams can be helpful in this regard, it is often the case that other police officers are the only witnesses. In Seattle and Oakland, they have created civilian police commissions to enforce police accountability and allow openness with their communities. Civilians on police commissions provide a community perspective on police matters, ensuring much-needed oversight as well as standardized consequences for misconduct. With their involvement, citizens feel that their voices are heard and that the investigations conducted are more legitimate, compared to internal investigations. When civilians and police work together, not only are the police more effective, but they have greater accountability and authority within their communities. 

This change of role and dispersion of responsibilities does, inevitably, result in a reallocation of funds in order to commit resources to other departments. It does not mean “stripping a department entirely of its budget, or abolishing it altogether”. We do need police to promote a peaceful society. Instead, it is “about scaling police budgets back and reallocating those resources to other agencies”, explains Lynda Garcia, a policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Police should not be the first responders in many situations, especially non-violent ones. Dallas Police chief David Brown said in 2016, that police were expected to do too much and “every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it… Here in Dallas, we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops… That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems”. Mental health departments have been underfunded for too long and police are often called in as responders to these situations for which they are not trained. According to a study from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a person with an untreated mental health issue is 16 times more likely to be killed by police than other members of the community. Examples include the death of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, reportedly behaving erratically and Jason Harris, said to have been exhibiting “bizarre behavior. These non-violent offenses should not be handled by the police. That money and resources should be committed to providing services by trained mental health workers.  Other social ills such as homelessness and drug addiction have also fallen on the shoulders of police officers. These are societal problems that need to be dealt with and not just handed off to armed police officers. 

The history of this movement displays a blatant truth: if permanent and lasting change is not enacted, these issues will continue to plague society. By understanding the role that police play in civilian lives and how that role can evolve and change to fit modern society, police can truly serve the public as guardians. Accountability for officers increases the legitimacy of the department and of individual officers as trust is raised in the community. In addition, delegating appropriate responsibilities to more qualified professionals allows the police to focus on their policing. These changes will be a meaningful attempt at creating a more peaceful and equal society for all races. To conclude with a remark from Martin Luther King Jr the day before he was shot dead, “If something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the coloured peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.”

 

Why Debt Doesn’t Doom the American Economy

With the U.S. government continuously choosing to borrow money from foreign nations, it might seem as though generations of future Americans are destined to suffer beneath the enormous mountain of debt that has not-so-steadily accumulated. Presently, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio stands at 110% – a figure that is well above the 77% at which point creditor nations start to worry, according to the World Bank. However, Zoomers and beyond need not fret, for it is incredibly unlikely that the national debt will wreck the U.S. economy, even though it is rapidly growing with no sign of slowing down any time soon.

There are several reasons for why this is the case, but the main one is that the U.S. is not under any pressure to pay off the national debt immediately. This is because creditor nations are not concerned with the fact that the U.S. has taken out so much money in loans, and still remain very confident that the U.S. will eventually pay all its debt back. The fact that there is no immediate reason for the U.S. to begin paying off its debt has made the American government comfortable with taking out more money before repaying its loans, and this will not change until creditor nations grow skittish and start having doubts.

Furthermore on this point, creditor nations have more to gain than they have to lose by loaning money to the American government. Not only do they have faith that the U.S. will pay back the money they owe in full, but they also get the benefit of being paid interest on top of the amount of the initial loan. And even if we take these benefits out of the equation all together, creditor nations still have no reason to stop lending the U.S. money, because the U.S. will not default on its debt. The reason being that the American legislative branch, which controls the budget, knows full well that defaulting on its debt would shake faith in America in the financial markets. This would be a devastating blow to the U.S.’s major economic presence on the world-stage, and so Congress would be very unlikely to take this step.

This brings us to another concern – how does the American economy not collapse when U.S. Federal Reserve continues to print money with no end in sight? The answer to this is that the U.S. dollar is the reserve currency for all other countries. It took the place of the gold standard, and today it anchors the value of foreign currencies. For this reason, international business transactions are completed by using the U.S. dollar. As a result, there is an infinite demand for U.S. debt. Because banks and businesses want to safeguard their wealth, they must hold the world’s reserve currency (the U.S. dollar), and so the Federal Reserve does not have to worry about potentially printing too much money.

Some claim that the American economy will fail because it will be replaced as the world’s reserve currency, perhaps by the yuan, the euro, or maybe even a cyber-currency like bitcoin. The reasoning behind this is that the U.S. dollar will decline in value in relation to these currencies, and therefore will no longer be the preferred reserve currency. However, this is unlikely because no other form of currency matches the U.S. dollar’s high rates of circulation – making it near impossible for them to replace the dollar. 

Another point to keep in mind is that because the U.S. prints its own money, it controls its currency. This means that it can handle a much higher debt-to-GDP ratio than many other countries can – so that 110% we discussed earlier is no cause for immediate concern. Skeptics who continue to doubt the ability of the U.S. economy to manage such high ratios of debt-to-GDP need look no farther than Japan to see the truth of this. Japan is another country that prints its own money, and thus controls its own currency, and its debt-to-GDP ratio is over 200%! This is also not a recent development, but rather has been the case for years. And yet, despite having such a high ratio of debt-to-GDP, Japan’s economy remains strong and has not shown any signs of impending doom – indicating that there’s no reason to believe that the U.S. economy will react any differently as its ratio grows.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the U.S. economy will not fail. However, it is a highly unlikely outcome, and not one that we should anticipate or chew our nails over any time soon.

 

Healing the Nations – Book Now!

The Next Century Foundation’s 
Healing the Nations
Summer Conference

 

The Next Century Foundation is holding a ten-day online conference over the end of July and the first week of August.

Events will be taking place covering all of the Foundation’s key nations and areas.

 
CLICK HERE FOR FULL DETAILS

To book, contact ncfmepp@aol.com with details of which sessions you are planning to attend.
 
Sessions will run in the mode of the NCF’s successful weekly meetings, mixing input from knowledgeable speakers and key players with both breakout room and round table discussions.

This conference provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and beyond, and gain on-the-ground insights simply unavailable in mainstream reporting.

We would be honoured if you would join us in confronting the key issues in these countries and working towards peace and positive change through constructive discussions – just have as we have for the last three decades.
 

Conference Sessions
(London BST)
   

Thursday 30 July 
11.20 am US/UK 
3 pm Lebanon

Friday 31 July
3 pm Palestine 

Saturday 1 August
3 pm Libya

Sunday 2 August
3 pm China

Monday 3 August
11.30 am Afghanistan 
3 pm Iran 

Tuesday 4 August
11.30 am Iraq
3 pm Syria 

Wednesday 5 August
11.30 am Kashmir 
3 pm Yemen

Thursday 6 August
11.30 am Israel 
3 pm Sudan

Friday 7 August
3 pm Bahrain

Saturday 8 August
3 pm Conclusions
 
 

Image: Sunrise in San’a, Yemen taken by yeowatzup / CC BY

The George Floyds of the World

“It’s going to touch anyone who has had previous experiences of abuse and oppression, be it because of one’s race or religious background, or sexual identity.” – Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Human Rights Watch’s Africa advocacy director, speaking on the murder of George Floyd.

George Floyd was killed on May 25 when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Suffering from the pressure, Floyd, a black man, cried out “I can’t breathe,” before ultimately losing consciousness and dying not long thereafter.

Though Floyd’s killing took place in one of America’s less populous states, the reaction in recent weeks has been uniquely global. Since May 25th, protests against racism and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have taken place in more than 60 countries, and #georgefloyd has been used 2.4 million times on Instagram alone.

While in some places the distressing video of Floyd’s suffocation prompted a wave of sympathy for, and solidarity with, black America, elsewhere underwent national bouts of self-examination. In many places around the world, citizens analyzed their respective countries, weighed on the scales of justice their respective racial structures, and, in many cases, found them wanting. 

In light of such introspection, it seems that George Floyd is not just George Floyd. To the Indian minority of Malaysia, he is Sugumar Chelladury. To Aboriginals in Australia, he is David Dungay Jr.. To the black citizens of France, he is Adama Traore. 

Different parts of the world, differing national customs and cultures, but the same shared experience of minority ethnic and racial groups suffering at the hands of the nation’s police. 

AdamaTraore.jpg

Adama Traore… was a 24-year-old Frenchman who, in 2016, who died of asphyxiation after telling a gendarme, echoing Floyd, “I can’t breathe.” This was only discovered, however, after an inquiry yielded a second autopsy. After the first, authorities told Traore’s family that he had been drinking and smoking cannabis, and died of a heart attack. Though that was four years ago, the wounds are still raw, especially among French blacks and Maghrebis (North Africans) who live in the suburbs of Paris and claim to be commonly targeted by the police. 

This population sees themselves as the forgotten people of France, the people who are unable to integrate fully into a national culture which stresses equality and secularism at the expense of recognizing ethnic difference or diversity, so much so that it is illegal for the government to keep racial, ethnic, or religious statistics. Why do so, the line of reasoning goes, if it would violate the foundation of universalism, upon which all citizens are undifferentiated and, in the eyes of the laws, no different to each other. 

If for some this unique understanding of equality is a sine qua non of the French national spirit, for others it has come to represent an anachronistic barrier that blocks the path for much-needed reform. Christiane Taubira, the first black woman to serve as Justice Minister, said that non-white French are held back by “structural discrimination,” and it is well-documented that minority communities are subject to disproportionate levels of police attention and violence. But still, the political establishment of both the left and the right are loath to pursue policy solutions legislated along racial or ethnic lines. 

DavidDungayJr

In 2015David Dungay Jr, a Dunghutti Aboriginal man died in custody of Sydney, Australia’s Long Bay Correctional Complex. According to the New South Wales Coroner’s Dungay was diabetic and insulin-dependent. On the day he died, he had walked over to an area in which his belongings were stored and collected some rice crackers and biscuits. After returning to his cell to eat them, he was asked by nursing and correctional staff to give them back as earlier that day his blood sugar levels had been quite high. Dungay refused, causing officers to forcibly move him to a new cell where he could be monitored by camera. 

During this transfer between cells, Dungay was restrained by police and given a sedative that, it was hoped, would knock out the struggling prisoner. After being sedated, however, the Correctional Service officers maintained pressure on a face-down Dungay, who, like Floyd and Traore, called out “I can’t breathe,” before finally going unresponsive, dead. 

For many, the death of David Dungay Jr. was seen by many as a grim encapsulation of the oftentimes substandard treatment of Aboriginal Australians in custody that has persisted even since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded there to be “glaring deficiencies in the standard of care afforded to many [prisoners],” and recommended  339 actions to be taken over a wide range of policy areas. 

Unfortunately however, according to a 2018 Deloitte review, over one-third of the recommendations are yet to be enacted fully. This arises as an area of particular frustration for Aboriginal activists, as the rate at which indigenous people are incarcerated has doubled in the 27 years since the commission’s report. In recent weeks, protesters, as well as calling for the prosecution of officers involved in Dungay Jr’s killing, have petitioned for the rest of the commission’s recommendations to be implemented. 

These calls, though, appear to have fallen onto deaf ears at the government’s highest level. In a recent radio interview, Prime Minister Scott Morrison beat away the idea that Australia’s structures of inequality compared with those of America, declaring there to be “no need to import things happening in other countries here to Australia,” PM Morrison said. “Australia is not the United States,” he continued, “I’m very thankful for the wonderful country we live in.” So long as the Aboriginals believe themselves to be dealt the short end of the stick, however, not everyone will agree with him. 

Sugumar Chelladurey.jpg

Since… American George Floyd was killed in police custody, many in Malaysia have been taking to social media to remind their followers of their own society’s injustices. This especially the case among the Indian ethnic minority of Malaysia, who remember well the case of Sugumar Chelladury. 

Sugumar Chelladury was a 39-year-old man who died in 2013 after being apprehended violently by police in Selangor, one of the Southeast Asian country’s states. The day of his death, Chelladury ran over two kilometres to try to evade capture, but once caught, was forced to the ground, and handcuffed twice. One arresting officer sat on his back, another stepped on Chelladury’s throat “until he stopped struggling.” Once unconscious, no efforts were made to resuscitate him, and the body of Chelladury was left by the side of the road for over four hours, later to be found with curry powder streaked across his face.

Though certainly grisly, Sugumar Chelladury’s death was hardly an outlier. Custodial deaths have long been an issue in Malaysia, and the Indian minority population is disproportionately represented. Ethnic Indians are less than 7% of the country’s population, but made up 23% of the deaths in police custody officially reported since 2000.

Worse still, this figure is suspected by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), a human rights organization, to, in actuality, be nearer to 55%. The disconnect exists as SUARAM, along with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, believe only 1 in 4 custodial deaths to be made public. 

If there is a lesson to draw from these stories it is this: that for all those who live in a democratic society, it is always necessary to pay attention to the voices of minority populations. Sometimes it takes a crisis on the far side of the planet to prompt a bit of self-examination, but it shouldn’t. George Floyd’s death was unique in that it took the world by storm, while most killings in the United tend not to resonate far beyond American borders. If we wait until there is another case like George Floyd’s in the United States to raise a media hailstorm around police violence, for the George Floyd’s of the rest of the world, it might be too late. 

 

If Black Lives Matter – where do you stand?

Issues of the Week

We all have something to answer for – from God in his Heaven to you as you sit there in lockdown. What do you care when it comes down to it? To listen to William’s podcast click here.

HOWEVER MORE IMPORTANTLY: Everyone seems to be busy campaigning to tear down statues and blue plaques – alienating some in the process as well as obliterating part of our history. Instead why don’t they campaign to celebrate the greatest British warriors to end slavery?

William Wilberforce for instance. Where is his statue? Well there is one in his home city of Hull and there is a smaller one tucked away in Westminster Abbey. But there should be a proper one out of doors in Central London don’t you think?

You could argue that John Newton, the ex-slaver that became an abolitionist (and incidentally wrote the hymn Amazing Grace after he shifted over to the side of the great and the good) deserves a statue. After all he was the one that mentored William Wilberforce. But all he has is a large bronze bust somewhere in Ireland.

However this Cornish warrior against slavery nobody celebrates. Stick him on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square I reckon. He at least deserves a statue somewhere. Barrington Reynolds, the Cornishman who helped put an end to international slavery. Now there’s an unsung hero.  Looks a little strange but – What a guy. In fact forget the statue, they should make a movie about him:

BArrington-Reynolds

Possible Futures: Afghanistan

Joe Waters looks into the political climate, as well as potential forces for change, in Afghanistan – a country which has been in a state of tumultuous conflict for most of the last three decades. As large parts of the nation again find themselves under Taliban rule and the U.S. begin their departure, the power vacuum created is one that could be filled in any number of ways: a depressing number of which involve bloodshed. Will the country become a proxy for geopolitical conflict? Will it descend into factional chaos? Or will the Taliban bring an uneasy peace?

By July 15th of this year, there will only be 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and, if all goes to plan then, by the end of 2021, there will be none. It is fair to say that success of America’s forays into the region is moot. However, many from both sides of the U.S. political spectrum currently support ending “the forever war.” The question now is less to do with what has been achieved and more with simply getting out quickly. The sense that leaving a nation to fend for itself is preferable to any kind of intervention might have more ground if it were not for the other large nations attempting to advance their own interests in Afghanistan. In 2018, the Washington Post reported that “Russian officials believed the [Taliban] no longer posed a threat to Russian interests […and] like Russia, opposed a long-term U.S. military presence and hoped to extinguish the Islamic State.” Hence, Russia has made attempts to enter into a relationship with the Taliban, to leverage power in the region to their advantage. Similarly, Afghanistan is in the sights of China, who wish to incorporate it into their “Belt and Road Initiative,” in order to increase their dominance in international trade.

But what of America’s supposed aims in the region? The democracy they laid the foundations for is floundering. Only one million, out of the nine million eligible to vote (in a country of nearly 40 million) turned up to the polling booth at the last election. Many believe the low voter turnout is due to disillusionment with the corruption of successive governments. A 2012 UNODC report found that over 40% of adult Afghans were potentially involved in the payment of bribes. Many hoped that this would change after President Hamid Karzai left office, but a 2015 poll found that only 27.5.% were satisfied with current president Ashraf Ghani’s leadership. Public opinion was not bolstered by the 2019 allegations of government posts being granted in exchange for sexual favours. All in all, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the current government. To many, they seem both ideologically uninspiring and weak. With more dying in terrorist attacks than of Covid-19 (even as Kabul’s lack of medical provision does lead to terrible loss of life), the current vision of stability and the rule of law is flimsy at best.

Meanwhile, some (depending on who you ask, up to 95% of the population) are coming around to the idea that Taliban rule might actually be more conducive to peace than the current system. Depressingly, this could be true even if just because attacks by the Taliban might stop (“might” rather than “will” because there is more than one faction of Taliban). However, those looking for a resolution push the view that the militants have become easier to deal with in recent years. It has even been claimed, by some close to the former royal family, that they are becoming more liberal with regard to women’s rights and would not prevent women’s education even if they barred women from holding the highest-ranking positions (those Taliban present in the Doha talks draw the line at allowing women to be judges or take the presidency). All of these claims are debatable but it’s still true to say that peace under the Taliban could prove preferable to the alternative. The peoples and factions of Afghanistan are not exactly united. The Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other minorities all have their own conflicting interests. A prevailing view is that, in the absence of a U.S. presence, civil war will break out much like in the early 90s. It is hard not to see the truth in this prediction.

What, then, is the way out for Afghanistan? Is returning to Taliban rule really the only way? It has been argued that perhaps civil war is not quite inevitable. There is one thing that could prevent it: desire for an end to conflict. While the many disparate peoples of Afghanistan may not identify with each other or their government, what they do identify with is a desire for peace. The tumultuous years of fighting that this nation has lived through would make anyone sane cry “enough!” The mood in discussions of the country’s fate is one of weariness and depression. Many of the parties involved feel crushed by the constant barrage of death and failure their nation has been presented with. Maybe, just maybe, these negative sentiments can be harnessed and used as fuel to take the most radical step possible in the next age of Afghanistan: to do nothing. No more militant, ideological deaths. A collective standing still, a lack of encroachment could just about inaugurate the first step to some kind of valuable peace process. It’s a long shot but it is at least envisionable. And envisioning is the first step in achieving any kind of reality.

Image – U.S. Department of State: “Secretary Pompeo Participates in a Signing Ceremony in Doha”