Trump and Erdogan: A Conspiracy of Bullies?

Posted May 15, 2017 on 2:04 pm | In the category Erdogan, Human Rights, TRUMP, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Later this week President Donald Trump will meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in what could be an opportunity to examine policy differences in the two countries. But given Trump’s need for positive feedback means there is some likelihood for it to turn into a celebration of phony mutual respect.

Erdogan will no doubt question Trump about the U.S. decision to provide arms support to America’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Erdogan has clearly vocalized his displeasure, given Turkey’s long standing view that all Kurds are terrorists, based on a series of deadly bombings in Turkey by a radical Kurdish group within Turkey. This is a complicated issue but one in which each country’s view of its national interest inevitably lead to differences, which in this instance is complicated by Turkey’s important role in NATO.

An issue that resonates in the U.S. is Erdogan’s predilection for throwing anyone who disagrees with him into jail. This has included a large part of Turkey’s nominally free press, teachers, academics, judges, military officers, totaling an estimated 50,000 individuals. In addition over 120,000 public servants have been summarily fired. The fact that Trump’s DNA seems to harbor a deep authoritarian streak makes it likely that this will go unmentioned in their meeting- in fact Trump must be envious of Erdogan’s unrestrained power to imprison the press rather than merely crying “fake news” with every negative news report. In any case Erdogan’s disastrous human rights record in recent years offers an opportunity for Trump to take the high road – an unfamiliar route for him and one he is likely to avoid.

Erdogan also brings with him an historic hatred of a fellow Turk, Fehtullah Gulen, who is in self exile in Pennsylvania and who is, according to Erdogan, responsible for virtually everything that goes wrong in Turkey. Erdogan’s anger boiled over last summer after an attempted coup in Turkey for which Erdogan blamed Gulen. The Obama administration resisted Turkey’s calls for extradition of Gulen but the issue is likely to come up in this week’s meeting and Trump could choose to change that policy.

It is important to know that Trump’s erstwhile, very temporary, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, served as a paid advisor to the Turkish government last fall while advising Trump. Flynn met with Turkish officials and former CIA Director James Woolsey in September to discuss Gulen’s possible extradition. According to Woolsey in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Turkish Ministers in attendance (incl Erdogan’s son-in-law) suggested a clandestine operation that would amount to kidnapping Gulen and taking him back to Turkey. Woolsey reported that he reminded Flynn and the Turks that this was illegal and then had his staff inform Vice President Biden of the meeting. It is impossible to know what Trump knows about this incident but it is easy to remember that Flynn was a major advisor to his campaign, was considered as a running mate and that Trump left him in the position of National Security Advisor for over two weeks after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed him of Flynn’s work with the Russians.

It seems likely that Trump will be told by staff to be careful dealing with Erdogan but Trump and Erdogan are in too many ways birds of a feather. Each desires authoritarian power, loathes the free press, questions the role of the courts and has a tenuous connection to the truth. If their meeting follows the pattern of past Trump meetings with foreign leaders, he will have made a tremendous new friend, they will share very great plans for the future and back in Pennsylvania, Fehtullah Gulen will be looking for a high powered immigration lawyer. Stay tuned.

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The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.


The Powerful and Complicated Angela Merkel

Posted September 28, 2015 on 12:41 pm | In the category Germany, Greece, Human Rights, Merkel | by Jeff

Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, appears on the surface to have a dual personality. On the one hand she has dealt a very tough hand to Greece through the German-led austerity program, a program that has not led to improvement in Greece’s economic situation while harming the Greek people immeasurably. On the other hand she has been the strongest voice in Europe for a compassionate, human rights program to assist refugees from the Middle East conflicts. While the Greek austerity program is politically popular in Germany, her proposed refugee program has mixed support among German voters, especially mixed among those in the former East Germany. And while she has had to back off from her initial willingness to accept signifiant numbers of refugees, she is apparently sticking to the basic effort to address the issue, and pulling the rest of the EU along with her.

While forced Greek austerity and welcoming refugees seem to come from very different places, it can be argued that they are both viewed by many in Germany as being in the country’s national interests. But it is perhaps better to view them in terms of her domestic political interests. There is a strong impulse among Germans to punish the Greeks for their past sins of profligacy as well as a view that hard working Germans should not be paying to bail out Greece. The refugees present a human rights issue that many Germans view as an opportunity to do the right thing, while also satisfying Germany’s need for workers in the face of the country’s falling birthrate. But as the numbers of refugees heading to Germany increases beyond original expectations Merkel is now risking a loss in her domestic political support. But having criticized her for her austerity policy it seems fair to give her credit for taking on the refugee issue in a humane and positive way, despite growing domestic uneasiness.

In addition to these major challenges Merkel is now faced with the the unpleasant story of Volkswagen’s deceit in hiding the true polluting effects of its diesel engines. The thought of Germany’s largest and most successful corporation knowingly poisoning the air people breath and hiding the fact of it has an especially ugly resonance and just might force Germans to look in their mirrors before forcing Greeks to continue to accept the destruction of their economy. While this introduces another tough issue for Merkel, I would not bet against her. Her political skills and instincts are simply too impressive to ignore.

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Baltimore the beautiful city

Posted July 8, 2015 on 3:09 pm | In the category Human Rights, Racism, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Has anyone ever produced more nostalgically beautiful music about the United States than the ultra-Canadian McGarrigle Sisters and their talented offspring Rufus and Martha Wainwright, especially in their communal album “The McGarrigle Hour”?  If you don’t know what we mean, get yourself a copy of this splendid  cd, listen to cut 17, “Talk to me of Mendocino”, the almost heartbreaking  love song written by Anna McGarrigle to a California that will soon no longer exist, and  move on  to cut number 18, “Baltimore the Beautiful City”, listed as a traditional song that they sang as buskers in US cities.This song was of course not written about the fires that ravaged Baltimore, the northernmost of southern cities, in the spring, but it captures the essence of the emotional drain that followed in its wake and no doubt found resonance in the nightmare that followed in Charleston, South Carolina.

Strong Men in anguish prayed

calling out to the heavens for rain

while the fire in ruins laid

Baltimore their beautiful city.

Between March 23rd and June 30, 2015 there were 100 homicides in Baltimore.  The excellent and historic Baltimore newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, recently published the basic facts about these 100 homicides: name of victim, place of residence, age, gender and race.    Three of the victims were white, one Asian, and 7 female, all the rest were black males. and almost all of them were under 35.  No doubt each one of these cases has a backstory worth hearing, but one thing is very clear:  It is dangerous to be a young black man in Baltimore, and there is every reason to feel that you have very few prospects of an improved life through hard work or better education if you were born into this syndrome.  There are of course exceptions, but such exceptions tend to move out into the safer areas of town or out of town, which is also where the white population has been drifting for years.  The city centre is simply too dangerous and if you can afford to leave it, you do leave.  There is no information given on this list about the perpetrators of the homicides, but it is certainly not the case that the police force, which has  been too easily identified as the cause rather than the solution of Baltimore’s racial problems, (by most estimates about half of the police officers in Baltimore are black)  was involved with  many, or even any, of these homicides.  Any serious improvement in this situation can only occur when the basic problem of  an understandable feeling of hopelessness in young black males is met by a willingness in the population as a whole to deal with the underlying problems for it.  Baltimore, the beautiful city, still has some of that southern grace at its northernmost outpost, but also much of  an understood racial division that too often is a destructive part of it.  The solution has to start in finding a way out of  this social structure.



Auschwitz 77 years later

Posted January 29, 2012 on 11:44 pm | In the category Europe, Genocide, Germany, Human Rights | by Mackenzie Brothers

Exactly 77 years ago the Red Army entered a large relatively  new settlement built outside the old Polish garnison city of Oswiecim and discovered the relics of  Auschwitz,the largest of more than half a dozen Nazi killing centres.  In the Auschwitz Protocol its genocidal purpose had been described in detail almost a year earlier by the Slovak Jew Rudy Vrba , who was the first and one of the very few who ever had escaped from it.  But about  a million others had been murdered in that place, mostly Jews, but also hundreds of thousands of others who for political, sexual or ethnic reasons were deemed unworthy of remaining alive.  This was decreed  by a murderous government with its centre in Berlin.  In the German parliament in the same city on the anniversary of that day, a 91 year old Polish-born Jewish man named Marcel Reich-Ranicki who became Germany’s leading literary critic reminded the elected members of that parliament about what that previous political system had done to him  personally, to his family, to his culture and ultimately to the reputation of Germany  throughout the world.

It is a sign of the  sea change in the public position of Germany that no one in that parliament made up of parties ranging from deeply conservative to near-communist expressed anything but  unanimous approval of a motion that Germany undertake a united effort  to make sure such an event could not happen again.  The reason  for this unanimity was however deeply unsettling and very clear.  Over the last decade a terrorist group based in Zwickau in the former East Germany had been murdering ethnic Turks (along with a Greek and a  policewoman)who ran small businesses in Germany at a rate of about one  a year.  This came as a shock to the average German population as it recalled an  evil past that almost all Germans dearly wished had faded into history.  It was even more of a shock when it became clear that  the trio of murderers could not have remained undetected for a decade without a substantial  support group that many suspect  included some police.  Keep tuned and see whether Germany, with a powerful prime minister who is definitely untouched by any suspicions of  having had anything to do with those Nazi events, can combat this threat with efficiency, power and justice.

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Posted April 18, 2009 on 5:45 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Human Rights, Obama, Politics, Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“Thus, although the subject may experience fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. As we explained in Section 2340A Memorandum, “pain and suffering” as used in Section 2340 is best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of “pain” as distinguished from “suffering.”… Even if one were to parse the statute more finely to treat “suffering” as a distinct concept, the waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering. The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering”….Jay Bybee, former Dept. of Justice Lawyer in the Bush Administration and current 9th Circuit Judge

Judge Bybee, a graduate of the University of Obfuscation Law School, might also have noted that chopping off a prisoner’s leg is allowable since he had two of them. He did not comment on what to do when you run out of legs but perhaps there are other body parts to consider– testicles, arms, kidneys etc. Reading the memoranda makes it clear that in this and other instances our Law Schools have helped create some monsters that would make Goebbels proud.

The release of four selected torture memoranda from the Bush Justice Department have raised two firestorms, each interesting in its own way. From the right we get the old familiar argument to screw the law and do anything we wish to anyone we think might want to hurt us, regardless of evidence and American values. A deep thinker from the Heritage Foundation reminded us on TV that in the white heat of post 9/11 it seemed clear that we needed to make sure we got the information needed to protect the country regardless of our laws or international law. He conveniently forgot that some of the memoranda were written as late as 2005 and that – in fact – we HAD the information that 9/11 was around the corner, that the information was given to Bush and National Security Advisor Rice – and ignored by both, and that there is little if any evidence that the subsequent use of torture ever improved the quality of information received.

It was not a huge surprise to see an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing the release of the information by former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who were apparently upset that leaking the memos’ “…effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001.” They must have missed the part – referred to above – where Rice and Bush were warned well before 9/11 – a warning based on intelligence gathered via more traditional – and legal – means. But then Hayden and Mukasey both have metaphorical blood on their hands in this matter so it’s not so surprising they take this view.

The blast from the left is criticism of Obama for deciding not to prosecute Intelligence operatives for torturing prisoners with the approval, even urging, of lawyers from Bush’s Department of Justice. (a piece in today’s NY Times details one such case) This is a quandary since to say “they were only following orders” has a 1940s reminiscent stink about it, but this was clearly a decision intended to protect intelligence operatives from the consequences of the folly of their masters and to avoid harming those agencies that – like it or not – we depend on for a degree of security. As for bringing the likes of Judge Bybee and others in leadership positions to justice, it seems unlikely until and unless Obama gets a much larger majority in the Congress. And even then, he would more likely argue for a kind of Commission on Reconciliation and Truth but when looking at the Bush administration and his cronies in Congress it is hard to imagine anything like truth or reconciliation being of any concern to them. And to be credible, such a Commission would need to be bipartisan.

In other news: President Obama welcomed Texas Governor Rick Perry’s suggestion that Texas secede from the Union and offered his assistance in facilitating the process. There is a strong rumor that George W. Bush would emerge from retirement to fill the Office of Texas Monarch, leaving Perry with even less of a job than he has currently.

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The Omnipotent Mr. Cheney

Posted June 25, 2007 on 12:21 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iraq, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by John

The Washington Post is running a 4-part report on the Vice Presidency of Richard Cheney. The report, prepared by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker and entitled “Angler” which is Mr. Cheney’s secret service code name, paints a picture of our Vice President as the man behind the throne, pulling strings, Oz-like, that direct many of our most critical domestic and foreign policy programs. One example is the role Mr. Cheney played in how the United States would handle “terrorists” captured during the apparently unending “war on terror”. Mr. Cheney developed the draft order that Mr.Bush signed, putting into operation the policy permitting the indefinite confinement of foreign terrorism suspects without any access to the courts. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condi Rice, nominally in charge of such things, knew nothing about the order until after it was executed. The secrecy is typical of Cheney’s modus operandi. As stated in the Gellman/Becker report:

“Across the board, the vice president’s office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that “the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch,” and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

“In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president’s office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.”

Mr. Cheney has played a similar role in approving use of extremely inhumane treatment of “terrorist” prisoners (which many believe amounts to torture), gatekeeping Supreme Court nominees, and squelching environmental initiatives – all with a degree of secrecy that is startling. Past vice-presidents have attended state funerals and promoted run-of-the-mill programs, such as Mr. Gore’s efforts to improve the bureaucracy’s efficiency. Not so Mr. Cheney. While the President signs the executive orders and makes the public appearances, Mr. Cheney pulls the strings from his undisclosed locations. The Post report confirms that Mr. Cheney is in fact our co-President, exercising power as Vice-President as it has never been exercised before.

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Shock and Awe or Humiliation and Shame?

Posted March 22, 2007 on 5:49 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Until recently, there has been little focus on the costs to the citizens of Iraq of Bush’s War. The American mainstream press has largely chosen to look at the Iraq war through the prism of U.S. politics – that is, who voted for it and who did not; who will vote for withdrawal of U.S. troops and who will not; how can funding be stopped without those who vote for it being accused of “not supporting the troops”; what percent of the American people support the war; when will the Iraqis clean up the mess we produced? Etc. ad nauseum. It is, for them, mostly all about America.

What are the trade-offs for the Iraqis? The estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range from a low of 60,000 to as high as ten times that number. Estimates of Iraqi refugees are in the 2-3 million range – most internal as the various religious sects band together in limited geographic areas, but over a million in Jordan, Syria and Iran. The Kurdish region of Iraq – the most developed, stable and modern – now has some 100,000 refugees from the rest of Iraq with nowhere to put them and minimal humanitarian aid from the U.S. The fact that the U.S. has accepted only a few hundred Iraqi refugees is a disgraceful indictment of the American government that created this horror show. A previously secular society with the highest literacy rate in the region, and equal rights for women is becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state with all that that will mean for whoever is left living there.

In return for this “investment” the Iraqi people are rid of Saddam Hussein, one of the nastiest dictators of the past thirty years. But now having determined that getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, the Iraqi people are asking themselves whether it has been worth the costs. Their answer is “no”. The euphoria of U.S. troops marching into Baghdad has been replaced with the reality of the mind-numbing incompetence of the U.S. in creating chaos with no way out – for the U.S. or for the Iraqi people.

A powerful description of what we have done to those Iraqi people who have been our allies, appears in this week’s New Yorker, in George Packer’s article, Betrayed, in which he comments that:

“The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis [i.e. Iraqis who worked for the U.S. forces as interpreters, etc.]. America’s failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat.”

It is tempting to quote Packer’s piece extensively, but it needs to be read in its entirety to capture the full dimension of our shame and guilt in this political and human disaster. One small part of the article discusses the likelihood or possibilities of large numbers of the millions of Iraqi refugees being welcomed into the U.S. – that is, the country that turned them into refugees. We are reminded of what President Gerald Ford once said about his decision to admit a hundred and thirty thousand Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon: “To do less would have added moral shame to humiliation.” The United States has welcomed between 200 and 300 Iraqis to date.

According to Packer, Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State under Colin Powell, and a longtime State Department professional, when asked about the likelihood of the U.S. doing much more, commented that:

“I guarantee you no one’s thinking about it now, because it’s so fatalistic and you’d be considered sort of a traitor to the President’s policy,” he said. “I don’t see us taking them in this time, because, notwithstanding what we may owe people, you’re not going to bring in large numbers of Arabs to the United States, given the fact that for the last six years the President has scared the pants off the American public with fears of Islamic terrorism.”

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Confessions of a Tortured Terrorist: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Posted March 20, 2007 on 5:27 pm | In the category Human Rights, Public Diplomacy, Terrorism | by Jeff

There has been a curious lack of hurrahs for the confession extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after four years in captivity. While there is no doubt of his ties to al Quada  his confession is tainted by the knowledge that he has spent at least some of those four years being tortured and that the in the end he has confessed to almost everything that has been done to the U.S. by terrorists in the last fifteen years.

This is not to suggest his innocence – rather it is to recognize that the use of torture has reduced the credibility of almost any results coming out of the process. In today’s online Slate Magazine, Anne Applebaum cites major European newspapers’ skepticism over the confessions and indeed, the lack of exultation in the U.S. press is likely due to similar concerns. The use of torture appeals mostly to thugs and bullies who recognize power but not its limits. And, in the case of the current clowns screwing around with America’s reputation, they fail also to recognize the consequences of ignoring basic legal and human rights. In a sense everything the administration is doing in its war on terrorism can be viewed partially through the prism of public diplomacy. And the view that the rest of the world has of a country that tortures its prisoners is decidedly negative.


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