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”

On the Necessity of Universal Mail-in Voting this November

With the presidential election looming ever closer, the pressure on legislators to produce a solution for crowded polling places amidst a global pandemic mounts. As the Democratic and Republican parties spar on the Capitol floor over whether or not the country should completely transition over to mail-in voting this November, many Americans are left wondering whether or not they will be able to vote at all in this election. 

Republicans claim that mail-in voting will allow voter fraud to run rampant through this election, with President Trump tweeting out on April 8th that with mail-in voting there is a “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” Meanwhile, Democrats claim that not instituting the universal option to submit a mail-in ballot is a suppression of many Americans’ right to vote. However, regardless of the potential risks that come along with doing so, it is increasingly clear that not only should the United States institute universal mail-in voting, but that it must make systematic bureaucratic changes in order to ensure that this policy will not inhibit a free and fair election from taking place.

Of course there are numerous risks that come along with this policy – but we should expect some growing pains from the process of moving an entire national election to the post. The first issue, which has led President Trump and the Republican party to decide that blocking this policy is the hill they wish to die on, is that of the possibility of fraudulent votes being cast. Though this is unlikely to be the case because a lot of personal information would be needed to cast a fraudulent mail-in vote (in most states you need to include the last four digits of your social security number, your driver’s license number, and your signature must match the one already on file), there is some truth to the notion that the vote count will not be entirely accurate. 

This is because a certain number of legitimately cast votes will not be counted for trivial reasons – perhaps someone’s hand slipped on election day and their signature was not close enough to the one on file, or maybe they filled out most of the ballot and forgot to sign it at all. This is obviously problematic because it will silence millions of Americans who wish to exercise their right to vote for the next leader of their country. Even more so when we consider the fact that votes cast in poor communities and in communities with large populations of people of color are disproportionately thrown out for such reasons. 

However, by not instituting the universal mail-in vote, we are still infringing upon certain Americans’ right to vote in the election. The elderly, those with chronic illnesses, and the family members who live with them will be put in a difficult position due to their vulnerability to covid-19. They will be forced to decide between putting themselves or their loved ones at risk in order to cast a vote at their polling place, or staying home on election day and not voting at all. It doesn’t seem fair to ask citizens of this country to put their own health or the health of their families on the line in order to exercise their right to vote. 

For these reasons, it is clear that not only must the universal mail-in policy be instituted, but also that systematic changes must be made to the way that mail-in votes are counted in order to ensure that every American is able to properly exercise their right to vote this November. 

 

The Foreign Policy of Joseph Biden Jr.

For many, the attraction of Joseph Biden Jr. as a presidential candidate has less to do with what he is, but more to do with what he isn’t. He is not a fire breathing, fire wielding, populist, he is not fond of lambasting enemies on Twitter, nor is he going to be the one to upset the establishment applecart of Washington D.C.

He is a restorationist, someone who wants to ensure that Donald Trump’s tale is told as an aberration in the grander story of the United States. His presidency would likely not be characterized by great leaps forward, but rather by careful steps back and by attempts to reverse his predecessor’s path.

This is perhaps most true upon the international stage, a place that captured little of President Trump’s interest. There, Mr. Biden promises to “once more have America lead the world,” a phrase happily received by many, both in his country and beyond.

Though certainly evocative of a happier pre-Trumpian time, Biden’s pronouncement requires a more detailed look. What would a world molded in the image of the former Vice President look like?

A consultation of his campaign website provides some more clarity. It explains that Biden wishes to “lead by example” and “rally the world to meet [its] common challenges.” In practice, that would see Biden rebuild the American State Department, restoring and increasing American spending on diplomacy and development. Also, he’d like to host a “global Summit for Democracy” within his first year in office, bringing together the world’s democracies and civil society organizations to create a collective focus around “fighting corruption; defending against authoritarianism; and advancing human rights.”

A far cry from ‘America First’, Biden is less likely to go it alone and more likely to use America’s network of friends and allies to address the issues of the day. For example — as Biden is equally unhappy with China’s “abusive trade practices” as its “suppression of Uyghurs” — he would rather the US put pressure and apply sanctions on Beijing alongside a broad coalition, similar to the way American Presidents past tried to target the Soviet Union.

A President Biden would also seek to “restore [American] moral leadership”, a phrase that by turns elicits consent or contempt, depending on where in the world it is received. In any case, ‘moral leadership’ would see Biden end American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen and, more broadly, a reassessment of the partnership with Riyadh. This courtesy would likely be extended to more of America’s less liberal allies, including Egypt, Hungary, and Turkey, as Biden and a number of his key foreign policy advisors appear less willing to hold hands with autocrats.

Though altering alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia would certainly set Biden apart from his predecessors, the longstanding American support for Israel would not end during his tenure. He is, after all, a self-proclaimed “Zionist” and though he backs a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, he would not move the American Embassy back to Tel Aviv or ever withhold military aid in order to force the Israelis to play ball.

Mr. Biden would also maintain, rather than reinvent, the American wheel when facing Iran or Russia. With the latter, he would be no great friend but still would maintain cordiality — renewing, for example, the New START arms treaty set to expire in early February 2021. Regarding the former, especially several key advisers, including Tony Blinken and Jack Sullivan, were instrumental in crafting the Iran nuclear deal, he would re-enter it, so long as Tehran returns to compliance.

All in all, Joseph Biden sees the United States as becoming less damned if they do than if they don’t. Donald Trump’s foreign policy was characterized less by global leadership as it was by frenetic attempts at having a ‘win’ to show for, but a President Biden would be happier as Leader of the Free World. He would work with fellow democracies to try to shape or rebuild the international order, from climate change to trade, from cyber-security to nuclear non-proliferation. Tasked with restoring ‘normalcy,’ Biden sees there to be little to lose, but a whole world to win.

Covid-19: Lessons from the East?

Are there lessons still to be learnt about the way the East has handled coronavirus? As Europe and the US adopt increasingly draconian measures to stop the spreading of the virus, Asia is slowly recovering. Within a similar period of time, the virus has made a greater number of victims in Europe and the US than in Asia. This imbalance is not only a matter of governance or national health systems – a lot of it is cultural.  

The People’s Republic of China, a country of 1.4 billion people, managed to contain the virus in about ten weeks reporting the first day without deaths on April 7th. Vietnam, one of the PRC’s neighbours and home to the first registered case outside of China back in January, has only a few hundred infections within its territory and, seemingly, no deaths. The government in Hanoi was even praised by the World Health Organisation for its performance. South Korea, one of the virus epicentres back in February, managed to slow down the spread and now has about 10,000 cases (one seventh of those registered in the UK) and only 222 deaths.

What made Asian countries’ response to the virus effective? Many have found an answer in the ability of governments to strictly control their citizens. This capacity is seen as the direct result of the presence of authoritarian governments – China, Vietnam – or authoritarian traits within formally established democracies – South Korea – and has been dismissed in the West as something neither possible nor desirable. But this view might be simplistic. As much as a country’s policy-making reflects the nature of its political systems, political arrangements result from the mindset, customs and social behaviour of a people or a society. To put simple, politics rests upon culture.

There are a few societal behaviours shared by China, Vietnam and South Korea that are absent in the Western cultural tradition. First, the general tendency to value the collective over the individual. This fundamental premise is a legacy of Confucianism and an underlying concept to the notion of citizenship in China and culturally proximate countries. Confucius preached that the virtuous individual should be willing to sacrifice for the family, the neighbouring social circles, and ultimately the state.

Valuing the collective over the individual is a two-fold asset at a time like this: first, the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the South Koreans have arguably had less troubles than Europeans or Americans in accepting the idea of suffering any form of discomfort – isolation, in this case – for the common good. As such, they proved more disciplined. This is evidenced by the Chinese experts that were sent to Europe to help fighting the virus: “The main problem is that too many people are still out in the streets,” they declared to China’s State News Agency.

Secondly, the importance conferred by the individual on the state, combined with centralized policy-making, allowed the government to adopt cost-cutting strategies to deal with the crisis. For instance, central governments in China and Vietnam have been able to elude market rules in order to prioritize production of certain goods over others: this allowed to avoid the risk that key products – such as food, surgical masks, and sanitary products – get out of stock or become overly expensive.

Most European countries and the United States have been taking on some of the measures that proved successful in Asia, but recovery is nowhere near in sight. As Westerners, we feed into the idea that this imbalance is the result of the ideological premises of liberal democracy that grant citizens’ individual freedom instead of controlling and restraining them. This might be true. But on closer inspection, we might find that some aspects of existing liberal democracies exceeded those premises: undeterred individualism, the rule of the market, and the lack of state intervention, if unchallenged, may be our doom in the world of the future.

 

So who Created ISIS?

William Morris, the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, addressed lecturers at Takrit University in Northern Iraq as a precursor to discussions the subject of which was, at Takrit University’s behest, the role of Iran and America respectively in Iraq. This podcast was made in the aftermath of that meeting and reflects salient points from that discussion. Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link

The following observation and associated note for clarification is relevant and comes from our senior member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry:

Following the drone assassination of two top military commanders – one Iranian and the other Iraqi, an Iranian military strike against US military forces in Iraq, and the Iraqi Parliament passing a non-binding resolution for withdrawal of US forces, the US-led coalition and Iraqi military have since resumed joint operations against ISIS. In addition, the US is negotiating to install defensive Patriot missiles in Iraq. Further, the US is urging a review of the SFA.

To clarify:

In 2008, the US and Iraq entered into two binding agreements.

  • One, the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), covered the overall political, economic, and security relationship.
  • The other, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), required all US combat forces to withdraw from major populated areas by end-June 2009 and for all US forces to withdraw from Iraq by end-December 2011.

These binding agreements were decided and signed during the White House administration of President George W. Bush. They were publicly endorsed by both Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and US President George W. Bush in December 2008 in Baghdad.

Thus, contrary to misinformation, President Obana DID NOT decide to withdraw US forces from Iraq. In 2014, in reaction to the ISIS onslaught, however, upon the invitation of the Iraqi government, President Obama DID decide to send US combat forces back into Iraq.

President Obama used the 2001 Authority for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and other associate militant groups that was passed by the US Congress on 14 September 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on 18 September 2001.

 

Former US presidential envoy speaks candidly about Iraq and Iran

Brett McGurk, a senior national security adviser to three presidents, left the Trump Administration after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Our Senior NCF member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry, shared this fascinating insight from Andrew Dyer of the San Diego Union Tribune datelined Jan. 23. It is of particular interest because the NCF is partnering with Takrit University’s Department of Peace Studies and for our first guest lecture, this Thursday, they have asked us to talk to students on the involvement of the USA and Iran in Iraq. For the original text see this link:
https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/military/story/2020-01-23/former-presidential-envoy-to-defeat-isis-coalition-talks-about-iraq-iran-conflict-at-sdsu

SAN DIEGO — A former national security advisor under three presidents, including President Donald Trump, described the administration’s current Middle East policy as “aimless” and flawed during a recent talk at San Diego State University.

Brett McGurk, who resigned in December 2018 as special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, described his experiences in the region, from when he first arrived as an adviser to the early Iraq provisional government, set up under then-President George W. Bush, until he left shortly after Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned and Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

McGurk said during his talk that Trump’s decisions in the Middle East over the last three years — such as pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, pulling U.S. forces out of Syria and assassinating Iran’s top general — were indicative of a poorly thought-out strategy.

“I just don’t think the Trump Administration has thought this through,” he said.
McGurk said that withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal has resulted in a series of consequences that effectively leaves the U.S. in a “strategic trap” with Iran.

“(The Iran deal) was an arms control deal — it wasn’t designed to change the Middle East,” McGurk said. “It was designed to put this horrible problem at least on the back burner (so) we can deal with other things in other ways, and that makes strategic sense.”

Trump criticized the international deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for certain limits on the country’s nuclear program, during his 2016 campaign. In May 2018, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the country.

In 2019 Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which had been U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS, began targeting U.S. facilities in the country. In December, the U.S. struck back at some of those militias in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes.

In retaliation, militia supporters broke into and set fire to part of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, leading to Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a January drone strike.
Days later, Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops and, during the strikes, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner after it took off in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard.

Trump then announced new sanctions on Iran. Sanctions aren’t the solution, McGurk said.

“(The Trump Administration) thinks sanctions will fundamentally change Iran’s behavior, but there’s no evidence of that at all,” McGurk said.
“It makes their behavior worse. Everything is going the wrong way.”

Another consequence of the Soleimani strike — which occurred at the Baghdad airport — was a vote in Iraq’s parliament to kick the U.S. out of the country.

While McGurk said he felt a sense of justice in Soleimani’s death, “elementary errors” by the Pentagon in the immediate aftermath — such as the drafting of a letter announcing the U.S. would comply with the country’s parliament and withdraw entirely from Iraq — did not paint the U.S. in the best light in the region and among our allies, he said.

“It makes people think we don’t know what we’re doing,” McGurk said.

The talk at SDSU, which was hosted by the nonpartisan nonprofit San Diego Diplomacy Council and the university’s Fowler School of Business, attracted more than 120 people. McGurk took questions from attendees about a broad array of U.S. policies in the Middle East — especially on the fight against ISIS.

McGurk addressed the controversial decision by Obama not to order air strikes in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was credibly accused of using chemical weapons in 2013. Obama was on record as saying the use of such weapons was a “red line” Assad could not cross.

McGurk said he didn’t think U.S. airstrikes would have been effective in that instance. He cited strikes ordered by Trump in response to more chemical weapons use by Syria in 2018.

“I am skeptical of the view that had Obama enforced the red line, that that would have been the end of Assad,” McGurk said. “Trump has done two series of air strikes against the Assad regime after the use of chemical weapons, and it made no strategic difference in the conflict at all.”

After his talk, McGurk spoke with the Union-Tribune about why it’s important for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Iraq and Syria, because of potential Russian involvement there.

“We built a force of 60,000 Syrians, and it gave us some leverage against Russia, and President Trump gave it up overnight,” he said.
“I thought that was a big disaster. But if we can’t stay in Iraq, then we also can’t stay in that chunk of Syria we’re still in…. The vacuum will be filled by ISIS and by Iranian-backed militias. And the great power that will come in to fill our space is Russia. So we need to stay. “

McGurk currently serves as the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University.

 

Stumbling toward war: Why?

The following sequence of events was recorded by Stafford Clarry, one of our senior members in Iraq. He covers most everything in his list, except the key rocket strike on the Saudi oil field on September 14th, which, though never publicly admitted, was, we are led to believe, launched from Iraq by an Iran backed militia group.

Recent militaristic events in Iraq and Iran clearly demonstrate how situations can rapidly go out of control to a point verging on another war with devastating consequences on all sides and beyond.

In Iraq, most everyone has suffered through a lifetime of conflict – battles and bombings during the 1960s and 1970s; chemical weapon attacks, disappearances, community destruction, political detention, torture, and forced dislocation during the 1980s; effects of the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War and the 1961 Gulf war; 13 years of severe economic sanctions (1990-2003); the 2003 war followed by vicious sectarian conflict; the 2014-2018 ISIS war with its savagery; and even more violence in between.

At the country level, those who are more inclined to wage war (the hawks) tend to treat the land and its leadership as essentially separate from the countless families who want what families everywhere want: the opportunity to live peaceful and prosperous lives.

Keeping in mind there are no winners in war, and notably keeping in mind the purposes/intentions of the Vietnam and 2003 Iraq wars, let’s help ourselves get a better grip on what’s been recently happening in Iraq and Iran, its consequences and impact. We are where we are, but it could be much worse.

Discussions continue about the how, why, short-term consequences, and long-term impact of recent incidents. It begins with the JCPOA (nuclear agreement). Very briefly, here’s the sequence of relevant main events:

14 Jul 2015

  • JCPOA agreed, negotiated by six leading countries (P5+1/EU3+3) against one country (Iran) to halt Iran’s movement toward developing nuclear weapons. UN and EU sanctions were terminated/suspended. US sanctions for human rights abuses, missiles, and support for terrorism remain in operation.

8 May 2018

  • Unilateral US withdrawal from JCPOA.

4 Nov 2018

  • Unilateral re-imposition of severe pre-JCPOA sanctions.

27 Dec 2019

  • Rocket attack on K-1 Iraqi military base near Kirkuk (Iraq) where US military personnel were located, with casualties, one fatal. This followed earlier attacks on various locations that occurred without casualties.

29 Dec 2019

  • Airstrikes on five Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) sites in Iraq and Syria. PMF are independently formed and operated (private) militia groups that are included as official security forces of the Iraqi government, which funds and provides weaponry, including equipment received from the US-led international coalition against ISIS. Some PMF units are also backed and perhaps supervised/directed by Iran.

31 Dec 2019

  • US Embassy in Baghdad attacked by PMF supporters/sympathizers. No casualties.

3 Jan 2020

  • Suleimani (Iranian) and Muhandis (Iraqi), both senior government officials, assassinated.

8 Jan 2020