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  • Blog
  • February 21st, 2017

Lifting the veil on American foreign policy: Part One

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The absolute irony of the Trump presidency is that he is inadvertently exposing the terrible hypocrisies underlying an extremely hawkish American foreign policy consensus that in many ways does not serve America’s national interests well, if at all. – Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Institute

Backed by ferociously powerful domestic lobbies, America’s blind support for Israel and Saudi Arabia — and therefore against their mutual adversary, Iran — is perhaps the best example. Especially during his second term, President Obama fought hard to begin to limit Saudi and Israeli influence and did make some progress: witness the historic nuclear deal with Iran and the non-veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning yet more illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

Similarly, President Obama, through the dedicated and persistent diplomatic efforts of his Secretary of State, John Kerry, actually reached a deal with Russia over Syria. But Pentagon civilians and military officers refused to play ball, publicly declaring that they would “never cooperate” with Russia.

When Trump inartfully admitted to Bill O’Reilly that the USA, like Russia, “has a lot of killers,” he was telling the truth. But western publics will not easily allow their governments to support naked aggression, so it has to be dressed up as morally superior.

Trump is exposing the same hypocrisy with his glib support for “one state or two states or whatever the parties agree upon.” Surely he knows that the longstanding and oft professed American preference for a “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict serves as a useful smokescreen behind which Israel builds ever more illegal settlements, encroaching on ever more Palestinian land until presumably there is simply none left for them?

Bernie Sanders started a conversation with the American public on how to pursue genuine economic and social justice, one that continues apace today, despite Trump’s cynical hijacking of populist rage to further enrich himself and his billionaire buddies.

The same type of honest conversation is urgently needed over American foreign policy. The status quo is increasingly untenable and President Trump has nothing to offer but bluster and threats, at best, and malevolent chaos and conflict at worst.

And Canada is not immune to this cynical misdirection in our foreign policy either, as Peter Larson’s latest blog, Canada appears more interested in supporting a “2 state solution” than in defending Palestinian human rights  graphically illustrates.

For more on the emptiness of the American policy on Israel-Palestine see: One-State Two-State Blues (Roger Cohen, NYTimes 17 Feb 2017).

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • Blog
  • February 14th, 2017

Trump’s dangerous bluster on Iran

epa04973097 A handout picture made available by the defence ministry's official website on 11 October 2015 shows, a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile being launched at an undisclosed location in Iran. Media reported that Iran has successfully test-fired a mid-range surface-to-surface Emad (Assertiveness) missile, Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan said on Sunday 11 October 2015 in Tehran. EPA/HO *** Local Caption *** 52301455

Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!” – @RealDonaldTrump  tweet, 2 Feb. 2017.

On 21 January Iran test-fired a ballistic missile for, in their words, “legitimate defensive purposes”. From Iran’s perspective, this was a reasonable claim. There is no international treaty banning the tests and the only relevant UN Security Council resolution calls on Iran to avoid missile tests “designed” to carry nuclear weapons. Under the historic nuclear agreement reached in July 2015 Iran gave up its ability to develop nuclear weapons and submitted to extremely intrusive on site monitoring and other advanced verification measures, designed to ensure it honoured this deal. In return Iran got crippling international sanctions lifted so its economy could get moving again.

In response to the first Iranian ballistic missile test since he took office, President Trump bellowed and tweeted out a series of threats, alleging Iran was “playing with fire”, and putting them “formally on notice” for [allegedly] breaching UN resolutions. The UN Security Council on 3 February, while concerned, found insufficient evidence of Iranian non-compliance and commissioned a report before deciding on any further action.

On Friday, 4 February, before any UN report could be produced, the Trump administration levied unilateral American sanctions against Iran.

The Iranian government immediately responded with a verbal tirade of its own, and another missile test.

Despite all the earlier bombast, there was no further response from President Trump, who was by then immersed in a new battle with the American judiciary over the constitutionality of his vile Muslim travel ban.

So how tough are these sanctions?

Clearly if Trump had really wanted to hurt Iran, he would have prohibited Boeing from going forward with the 16 billion dollar deal it reached with Iran Air in December, 2016 to replenish Iran’s dangerously aging commercial fleet. However, that contract is said to support 100,000 American jobs. So Trump followed up all his tough talk with tepid, largely irrelevant American sanctions on certain international entities doing business with Iran’s missile agency. – Peggy Mason, President of the Rideau Insitute

This is not to downplay the negative impact of Trump’s rhetoric. Even empty words play right into the hands of the hardliners in Tehran who oppose the historic nuclear agreement as vehemently as the hardliners in America.

But it is too bad the media missed a key aspect of this saga — that Donald Trump, for all his bully boy bluster, pulled his punches when it came to Iran, for fear that hurting American jobs would hurt him too.

 

Photo credit: Wikimediacommons

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  • Blog
  • February 6th, 2017

Invisible wars in the Age of Trump

A CH-146 Griffon helicopter flies over an Iraqi village during Operation IMPACT in Northern Iraq on November 23, 2016. Photo: Operation IMPACT, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS03-2016-0043-003 ~ Un hélicoptère CH-146 Griffon survole un village irakien au cours de l’opération IMPACT dans le nord de l’Irak, le 23 novembre 2016. Photo : Opération IMPACT, Caméra de combat des Forces canadiennes IS03-2016-0043-003

Paul Rogers warns that the near invisibility of modern warfare will make democratic accountability in the age of Trump even more difficult. See Theresa May, Donald Trump and the wars to come (Open Democracy, 3 February 2017).

The main reason why the current war is getting so little coverage in the western media is that it is largely hidden from view. It is a war by remote controlusing drones, strike-aircraft, special forces, private-security outfits and other means — but nonetheless a huge foreign intervention that avoids tens of thousands of “boots on the ground” and is therefore close to invisible.

Issues of oversight are compounded by cultures of government secrecy and the lack of opportunities for journalists to cover these conflicts in relative safety. This has resulted in under-reporting of the staggering number of bombs dropped, and the inattention of Western governments to  reliable estimates of civilian casualties. The information deficit is most acute when it comes to the ever increasing activities of Special Forces units. Paul Rogers writes:

Even though the UK’s special forces have been active right across the Middle East and north Africa, and well into sub-Saharan Africa, there is simply no parliamentary scrutiny of their actions. UK officialdom relentlessly refuses to impart even basic information, a “no comment” environment that allows little or no space for democratic accountability.

The situation with the 200 members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces (SOF) operating in Iraq — on an explicitly non-combat “training and advisory” mission — is no less opaque. Not only have internet photos shown them firing rocket launchers from the front lines, Scott Taylor, one of the few journalists to regularly comment on Canadian SOF activities, writes that they are now fully engaged in an all-out offensive to liberate Mosul from Islamic State.

Lack of media scrutiny means the public has little opportunity to even know what is really going on, let alone hold their governments to account for their actions.

For more on Western military campaigns and the oversight deficit, see Theresa May, Donald Trump and the wars to come (Open Democracy, 3 February 2017).

See also On Target: “Why can’t our Iraqis fight like their Iraqis” (Scott Taylor, Esprit de Corps, 30 January 2017).

 

Photo credit: Canadian Forces

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  • Blog
  • January 30th, 2017

Revitalized Canadian journalism essential for democracy

Newspaper - open media

The Public Policy Forum has released a report, The Shattered Image: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age  (January 2017), on the increasingly dire state of Canadian media and the deleterious impact of declining “civic-function” journalism on democracy.

The report defines civic-function news as:

the coverage of elected officials and public institutions, from legislatures, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies and city halls to school boards and supporting public services; issues and debates related to these officials and bodies; and the ability of communities to know themselves for civic purposes.

The fragmentation of Canadian media organizations has coincided with the rise of a digitally decentralized news ecosystem, one that often lacks the journalistic integrity and standards of traditional news media. Faced with growing advertisement and subscription revenue losses, traditional Canadian media organizations have been forced to cut content and staff in a desperate bid to compete with the mass of digital competitors.

Chris Lane, a former senior producer for the CBC, described company efforts to adapt to the digital news revolution as entailing a shift from meaningful stories to click-oriented content. This process of restructuring has coincided with a loss of the local content that is so crucial to fostering civic engagement and government accountability—hallmarks of a healthy and vibrant democracy.

In the quest to make declining traditional media more relevant, I think we made it more disposable. – Chris Lane

The report’s recommendations include possible tax rebates and other amendments to the Income Tax Act to level the playing field between Canadian media organizations and foreign actors. In addition, the report emphasizes the need for the CBC, as a publicly funded entity, to increase its focus on the dissemination of civic-function news.

For the full report by the Public Policy Forum, see  The Shattered Image: News, Democracy and Trust in the Digital Age (January 2017).

For articles discussing the report, see “Crisis in news media is also a crisis for democracy” (Editorial, Toronto Star, 26 January 2017) and “Ottawa called on to spend $200 million to save Canadian journalism” (Susan Delacourt, iPolitics, 26 January 2017).

 

Photo credit: Pexels

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  • Blog
  • January 24th, 2017

Take action now to ensure justice is done for Afghan detainees

16174842_10210592685630070_7015631675065306554_nThis blog post is to remind readers of a very important parliamentary petition, Petition e-608 (Access to Information), which has just surpassed the 500 signatures required to trigger a formal, written, and public response by the government.

This petition is an attempt to stop the government from censoring documents sent to an important review body, the Military Police Complaints Commission, in the course of a new investigation of alleged abuses in Afghanistan:

Some Canadian military police officers allege Afghan detainees were abused in their cells in Kandahar during surprise raids by Canadian guards in 2010 and 2011. Officers have also recently raised concerns that many Afghans taken prisoner by Canadian troops were innocent farmers or workers and not members of the Taliban or al-Qaida. (David Pugliese, Military police gears up for investigation of alleged detainee abuse in Afghanistan, National Post, 4 August 2016).

Law professor and former NDP MP Craig Scott is a prime impetus behind the petition. He writes on his Facebook page:

The petition may seem ‘technical’ but it is crucial because it calls on PM Trudeau not to follow the same path as PM Harper to block an independent tribunal — the Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) — from seeing uncensored evidence relevant to torture and other forms of abuse.

Without the change in rules called for in petition e-608, Department of Justice lawyers under a Liberal government are still free to do exactly what they did under the Harper regime: withhold evidence at every turn.

Accordingly, the petition states:

We, the undersigned, citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to reject the approach of previous governments and, accordingly, to exercise its authority under section 38.01(8) of the Canada Evidence Act to designate the Military Police Complaints Commission as one of the bodies permitted unfettered access to documents.

Here is the link to the full petition: Petition e-608 (Access to Information).

Please help out. The greater the number of signatures, the greater the impact. With one click, you can help convince Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to act in accordance with fundamental precepts of justice and the rule of law.

 

Photo credit: Craig Scott

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