Stranded in the Land of the Free

Source: Time Magazine/Getty/Mashable

When people look up to America, they see a standard of freedom unparalleled anywhere in the world. This is still true. And there is only one reason for that. The liberal ideas that America has represented for more than 150 years as well as its Constitution. I was about to write law but the recently highlighted events, which may have gone on for a good number of years until DACA was put into action: Child separation from the detained migrants on the US-Mexico border. Thousands of little children from Central America and other parts of the world are stranded there among complete strangers, especially the ones who are brutal to them. The trauma is unimaginable. To many, the policy was escalated, if not initiated by the administration of President Trump by removing DACA, and worsened by the law enforcement headed by hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had the nerve to justify the policy with the Bible.

Only a day ago, President Trump has signed an executive order to end the separation policy, only to leave doubts about the possible indefinite detention of the migrant families. And especially about the status of families already separated by ICE. Why did Trump sign this executive order when he is playing to his base by toughening the immigration measures to a zero-tolerance policy? Just to make himself look good in front of the American people. Republican Senators like Lindsey Graham think that the administration did not think this policy through, which is most likely the case in reality, given the erratic track record of Trump’s administration.

Another idea that became a casualty of this administration is the idea of liberal free trade and globalization. President Trump’s refusal to sign the communique at the G7 Summit earlier this month, perhaps a victory for American Nationalism and isolationism in his eyes, was nothing short of a disaster for the liberal world. The President has already pulled out of Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The very ideas that the United States has championed since the fall of the Third Reich are being challenged in the most heartless manner, especially when it comes to migrants. Of course, there is no monopoly of ideas in a democracy and there is as much room for populism in public debate as there is for liberal globalization. However, the impact of such weakness among the ranks of liberal powers can be felt around the world, especially by the people who are striving and struggling to promote liberal ideas in their own backyards.

The rise of authoritarian conservative governments around the world is already a cause for concern. However, if you see a collapse of liberal ideas in a political entity such as the United States, then things seem even darker. While the Trump administration has also given a cause for optimism with the historic summit with North Korea, its unpredictable and hardline authoritarian and populist stances leave you more pessimistic about the future.

Let us just hope that the worst from the administration is not yet to come.

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President Trump: An Ally for Dissenting Citizens and Minorities in Pakistan and Muslim Majority Countries?

Source: CNN

We know that our liberal friends in the West, especially in the United States, are particularly embarrassed by President Donald Trump and so should they be. But what if these liberals were more embarrassed and ashamed of the lack of assertiveness in terms of moral support offered to the dissenting citizens in Muslim majority countries?

What is refreshing about President Trump for the dissidents in countries such as Pakistan and Iran, as well as other majority countries, is the hard line he is taking to make them review the human rights and religious freedom violations. Trump has just put Pakistan on a special watchlist for the violations of freedom of religion. The designation was made by Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State. Before this, Pakistan was classified as a country of particular concern, a group also including countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, North Korea, and Iran. While some political entities and commentators are trying to portray this action as diplomatic insensitivity, it makes the point the minorities there are trying to make and just what everyone is ignoring. Furthermore, it can be argued that the new classification more accurately describes the plight of the minorities in the country and probably countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia should be put on the special watchlist too.

The administration’s moral support of the people of Iran must also be acknowledged, though that is usually true for any US administration. While the watchlists have been present in previous administrations as well but you rarely ever saw such stern statements, the focus on calling out these regimes for their suppression in such terms is important for at least holding them accountable at least at some level. And not sure if it exactly spells third world war.

Trump is also noticeable in the manner he is assertively putting pressure on Pakistan for repercussions for supporting terrorist groups. This did not start with him though as the Obama administration has been continually reminding Pakistan to correct its course.

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The “irresponsible tweet” by Trump initiated a corps commander meeting and a seriously irresponsible series of tweets from Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif which gave an impression that only the United States had stakes in the war on terror, that Pakistan was forced to participate and would otherwise have no problem with terrorists as was evident by Islamabad’s support of Mullah Omer’s terrorist regime. Also, our Foreign Minister was tactful enough to tweet these statements in Urdu language addressing the United States stating that they should not ask what Pakistan has done because a dictator had entered their war, resulting in bloodshed in Pakistan and allowed 57,800 attacks on Afghanistan, offered passage for their military logistics and had several civilian and military casualties.

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He preferred to tackle the more factually dubious parts of Trump’s tweet in English. Pretty smart.

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And our ISPR responded in perhaps as worse a manner saying that they will not do more for anyone. To quote The Express Tribune, ““We have fought an imposed and imported war twice in Pakistan, and now we cannot do any more for anyone,” said the Director-General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in his opening remarks at the news conference.”

Can anyone explain what the fuck that means in response to simple requests of taking action against safe havens for terrorists? There is not much to say when the official diplomatic response to the United States is the following petulant statement.

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It is amusing to see how the Trump tweet has gotten under the skin of Pakistani government officials. This begs the question is if you could really trust Donald Trump as an ally? Does he really take the hardline out of the liberal goodness in his heart or does he simply take such action out of sheer hate and contempt for the “lesser nations?” Unfortunately, the true answer is who the hell really cares?

This actually brings you to the sad and cruel reality of finding liberal dissenting forces apparently having to find allies, if only temporary ones, in the bigots among the Western conservatives and some of the religious fundamentalists on the other side. You can never trust them and you probably can never really be friends with them in the long term, perhaps only the secular conservatives among them. However, it is still better than finding no sympathizer or active ally in sight.

All that we can hope is that saner, more enlightened, leaders can offer better alliances to dissidents in Muslim majority and other authoritarian countries.

We would take one from any party.

The Most Important Piece of Journalism of the Year

Source: The New York Times

News stories come and go every day but there are defining points which make a mark in history. The news story by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the revelations of sexual misconduct and even rape against Harvey Weinstein is probably the most important piece of journalism of the year.

It can be effectively argued that the story has produced conditions that have helped encourage the victims of abuse by powerful men in media to come forward. This was a moral check that was much needed after the Donald Trump tapes and his subsequent rise to the Presidency in spite of it.

Since the Weinstein exposé, more than a dozen prominent personalities from show business have been. Roger Ailes and Bill O’ Reilly went down before that but of course “they were not one of us” and “that’s who they (conservatives) are.” This was different. This time around, it was Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Louis C.K., George Takei, and Kevin Spacey. And recently and very importantly, it was Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer you get, but Charlie fucking Rose?

If things are this worse in the world of liberals, you can imagine how tough it must be for conservatives, who might be more resistant to progressive legislation on harassment as many conservative men. Take President George H. W. Bush as an example, who I am sure slapped women’s butts because that was normal.

Another noticeable but seldom admitted nuance of this development has been the insight it has offered into the psyche of the male gender and perhaps even male sexuality regardless of sexual orientation.

This is not just a Hollywood problem. It is pervasive all over the world. Plainly speaking, we, men, are guilty of abuse and no, we are not likely to learn despite the insincere apologies. This is probably something inherent to male sexuality, and no that is not an excuse but a helpless attempt to understand a potentially criminal behavior.

I get it that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks that the Presidency of Donald Trump helped pave way for this environment instead of Harvey Weinstein but let’s not take credit away from what’s due. This new story has been historic.

Cheers ladies and more power to you.

Yeah, men are pigs.

 

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and So Many Others

Source: NBC/ABC

What the Harvey Weinstein episode has revealed is that somewhere all men are complicit and are capable of such acts. They are guilty of perpetuating a culture of harassment, which has essentially become a lifestyle of their sexual, egoistic and social inadequacies, or something far worse.

Or perhaps it is just that women, perhaps with more empowered voice than ever since isolated matriarchal cultures, are waking up to challenge the traditional way men have always approached them. By harassing them as predators. And if does not make you guilty to be a straight male, don’t know what will.

In the United States, the discourse over abuse often gets deflected by politics. A lot of shots have been fired between liberals and conservatives about their own respective hypocrisies, considering that Donald Trump is President despite the Billy Bush tape. However, both are guilty of their fair share of cherrypicking either way.

Alright, they thought that Bill Cosby was a special kind of perve, but why was the media more traumatized about Harvey Weinstein than it was about Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes or other Fox News garbage? Because Harvey Weinstein was supposed to be one of us liberals? Because someone like him should not be capable of such things and not surprising that sexists at Fox News could be.

Easily the most cringeworthy of the developments since the Weinstein revelations has been the Quentin Tarantino interview in which he reflects that he probably knew enough to do more than what he did. Which was pretty much nothing. But then again, what do you expect? Tarantino owed his entire career to him.

That is precisely what happened. Women are absolutely right to make this point. For far too long, the voices of women have been overlooked and ignored.

I personally believe that boycotting the “art” or  “body of work” (if you can call it that, that is) if a film director or artist because of his character or misdeeds does not make sense. I am not saying that it is necessarily ridiculous because I respect people for the reasons they take that stance, but the rape and gore in Tarantino and Weinstein films also make you wonder about this episode and how they see the world. Of course, it is easy to take the moral high ground.

Recall the time when Harvey Weinstein was in Howard Stern’s studio three odd years ago in which he vowed never to make a film glorifying guns again being a passionate supporter of the Democratic Party. But of course, he didn’t “stop making films glorifying guns,” if that is even a thing… However, his situation now is a good lesson how filmmakers of all the people should stop making such ridiculous statements and especially a man of Harvey Weinstein’s morals. It only puts their fellow filmmakers in trouble.

With all the problems around the alleged characters of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, I still think they are filmmaking geniuses and I am not going to stop watching their films.

You cannot say that as a straight male, you cannot help but feel guilty of all these developments. Because perhaps we know deep inside that within us that complicity lies that allowed Weinstein’s crimes to be covered up all these years.  Let it be conservatives on Trump or liberals on Weinstein, don’t forget how complicity is an issue. Furthermore, it is important to see how the divide between men and women go beyond industries, cultures, countries, race, and religion.

This is perhaps one divide which is going to be terribly hard to bridge.

The Most Important Decision by President Trump to Date

Source: The New York Times

More than a year ago, I had written how important it was for a Republican to win this election. There was only one reason behind it. The foreign and military policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, I did not want someone like Donald Trump to make it to the top.

Even though there are plenty of sane Democrats on that subject around as well and Hillary Clinton could easily be one of them. However, since the charismatic victory of President Barack Obama, elected with a massive anti-war mandate, and the pressure from Bernie Sanders progressives, who knew what direction policy would have taken. After President Obama turning the direction of the hands-on American Empire created by the Bush family and growing threats from China and Russia, American influence is only likely to fall in the coming years.

There has been plenty of areas where Trump has displayed how out of touch he is with American people, as well as how inappropriate his response could be to certain tragedies such as the Charlottesville rally. However, in foreign policy, he stuck to the conventional military wisdom of the Republican leadership.

Sure, he has deviated from the intellectualism of furthering the American Empire that has been the legacy of Bush 41 and Bush 43. This solidifies the notion that President Trump is a part of the same sentiment that got President Obama elected, as different both of them may be to each other. But where both agree is that America should not have invested heavily in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that America should not be nation-building, a Bush era policy widely condemned as neo-colonialism.

But when I indeed wrote about a Republican winning, the precise person that I had in mind was Jeb Bush. Because he would have continued where Bush 41 and Bush 43 left office. While the execution of the military campaigns was flawed, even criminal, under Bush 43, you could say the intention and idea behind it were noble and well-meaning. But then again, you could not possibly ignore factors like business interests affiliated with the military industrial complex. And then there was all the corruption in the Bush 43 administration.

Of course, lacking in detail, but this speech by President Trump is greatly symbolic. And one that even his nemesis in Senate, Senator John McCain would be proud of, as such a policy speech means that the hard work of the latter has been paid off. At least there is assurance that Afghanistan is not going to prove another Vietnam as the enemies and critics of America so frequently like to quote.

President Trump not only reassured that America is going to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, at least there will be no “hasty withdrawals” as in the case of Iraq, he also addressed irresponsible allies. While Pakistanis have been complaining about his tough talk pushing Pakistan to do more, nobody focused that he also pressed India to play its due contribution. Because like China, you would always find India conveniently shunning its due international affairs responsibilities from the war on terror to relations with Iran. Such brutal clarity from American leadership was much needed after eight years of intellectual ambiguity from President Obama.

It is hard to tell what the future holds for the free world in problem areas such as Afghanistan. However, at least the direction has been set right.

Nevertheless, let us not be too excited to proclaim this as a sign of furthering the American Empire.

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The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.

Feeling Sorry for Iran? Not Me

Source: abc.net.au/Saudi TV

There is very little doubt that the US-Arab Summit was a vulgar display of power and malice on the part of Saudi Arabia and the United States primarily. There is also very little doubt that the conference where Pakistan had to ensure its attendance was an openly anti-Iran in its agenda.

All of this does not sound right and I agree with the criticism.

There are a lot of folks who are criticizing Pakistan for even being in the conference. Other than the fact that Pakistan was humiliated by not getting an invitation to speak, despite its former army chief being the Commander of the new alliance. You get the criticism.

But not being in the conference would have been an even greater blunder. And siding with Iran diplomatically against the Arab-American coalition even more so.

But is it right for all the powers in the world to gather for its condemnation? It surely does sound bad.

But having said all that. Do I, unlike many others, feel sorry for Iran?

Absolutely not.

I take Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif’s cocky demeanor as an occupational necessity, considering he completely ignores the moralistic holes on his side of arguments. His criticism of the pompous US-Arab Summit and the massive $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal was absolutely spot on and strikes a never even if you are siding with the allies. However, the fact remains that Iran is living in a world it created for itself. And sadly, even President Obama’s nuclear deal cannot change that.

Nobody has ever pushed Iran to behave the way it has since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

So, the big question is this. What exactly is there to like about Iran?

Iran is probably the only country other than the terrorist organizations of Hamas and Hezbollah which openly vows to destroy Israel as a policy. Death to the United States is a regular rally chant approved by the Ayatollahs and they have particularly maintained an antisemitic stance on Israel.

Of course, this is where the civilized world draws a moral line when it comes to relations with Iran. Otherwise, there really is no reason for the entire world to go out of their way to isolate and target Iran. After all, the Bush administration almost handed over the entire country of Iraq to their proxies following the 2003 invasion. Something that only pushed Iraqi Sunnis to reveal their dark side in the Islamic State.

Especially there is no reason to favor the obviously regressive Saudis over a people who many deem culturally superior. But unfortunately, none of that culture has had any effect on softening Iran’s uncompromising collective nationalistic ego.

What is worse, Iran fully backs the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and has been one of the reasons why he is still hanging by a thread. They have also been allegedly backing militant activity in a few Arab states and has also been behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The US State Department has already declared them the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, as reiterated by President Trump in the summit.

It’s not as if they have their women liberated if compared to the Saudi driving ban on women. However, the fact remains that Iran has significantly higher women participating in the workforce relatively speaking. Nevertheless, the dreaded veil in public remains to be the bane of the existence of women in both countries.

One way or the other, I am not surprised by this anti-Iran coalition and if Iran does not mend its ways, I am not sure if it deserves too much of our sympathy. In any case, its distant allies in the EU and India would dare not come for its help if this military alliance ever intends to target it. Especially if it comes remotely close to threatening a strike on Israel or Saudi Arabia.

But if there is any consolation for the pro-Iranian Saudi hater out there, here it is.

If there is a road to the downfall of the House of Al-Saud at all, it passes through the destruction of Tehran.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.