Politics tends to be quiet, at this time of year. But look between the headlines, and you may well discover that it is all still ‘happening’.
North Korea is making overtures. They say that they will negotiate the removal of their nuclear weapons, in return for talks on lessening sanctions, and a better relationship with the south. That might be a great thing to discover, if the DPRK actually had a viable nuclear weapons option, which they patently do not. Nice bluffing from Kim. Will that bluff be called?
The Brexit negotiations are apparently ‘bogged down’ over arrangements about a hard border, in Northern Ireland. That, and the argument over free trade, after we leave the EU. Anyone but the blind, and hermits, will realise that this is all just ‘Brexit stalling’, arranged by the pro-remain politicians who are laughably in charge of settling our withdrawal from the EU. Despite clarion calls to the contrary, it is looking more and more as if a ‘second referendum’ is likely, urging the British people to vote to stay in the EU, in all but name.
As the old saying goes, “Don’t piss in my face, then tell me it is raining”.
Mr Trump continues to play ‘silly buggers’, over in America. His latest wheeze is to threaten to impose trade tariffs, strangling imports of cars, steel, and other goods from countries outside the influence of the US. I don’t think he is mad, as many others assert that he is, but he is getting increasingly silly, that’s for sure.
People are still dying in Syria, every day. Assad is the leader of that country, like it or not. Most of his opponents are from fundamentalist Muslim groups, the kind of groups we are constantly fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet for some reason, in Syria, they are ‘good groups’, and Assad is the devil. Regime change is a slippery slope, as we have discovered in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Best avoided? Not in Syria, apparently.
So, as Mrs May hangs on for dear life to her job, Mr Trump continues to befuddle and confound, Assad seems to be winning in Syria, and Kim finally plays his ace in the DPRK; the EU try to cling on to British membership for fear of a collapse, and the Saudis remain unrestrained in their support of the terrorists, rest assured that everything is still very much ‘going on’.
I have only just found out, but Mexico has made generous offers of help to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The Mexican government expressed solidarity with the USA, and offered to send troops to aid with distribution of supplies, as well as providing medical teams and staff from rescue agencies.
This is the country that has been accused of so much by the current U.S. President, and the same country he wants to isolate America from, by building a wall along the border. There have been many appeals to help those suffering as a result of this hurricane. Donations to the Red Cross have been suggested, alongside many other disaster relief agencies. Mexico has offered unrestricted physical aid, and there is nothing to suggest that this is anything but genuine.
Not only did America decline this offer, Mr Trump took time to tweet that he will still build the wall, and will ensure that Mexico pays for its construction. Perhaps he should have been concentrating on sorting out this disaster in America’s fourth largest city, but no. Instead, he chose to be rude to a sovereign country and close neighbour, not only rejecting their offer out of hand, but dragging up the issues about the NAFTA trade deal and the wall at the same time.
Does he even know what ‘Diplomacy’ means?
Many of you may not be aware, and many will not even care, but there has been a great deal of controversy in America of late. Besides the antics of Mr Trump, his cabinet, and his family, or the bluster and counter bluster with North Korea, something else has been going on.
Some states have decided to remove statues and memorials dedicated to people who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, from 1861-1865. Famous generals like Robert E. Lee, and some statues of other officers, as well as memorials to fallen Confederates are being removed by the authorities. The reasons given for this vary, but the overall idea is to stop ‘glorifying’ people who fought in a cause that supported slavery. I could add quotes, or write all day about the many other reasons why that war happened, but there would be no point. It has become seen as a war against slave states, by states who did not support slavery, and that seems to be the end of it. In other places, the display on public buildings of the Confederate flag, the famous ‘Stars and Bars’, has been outlawed too.
Much of the reason for this backlash can be explained by the fact that Far-Right groups in the USA, including the KKK, and other White Supremacist organisations have ‘hijacked’ this flag, and used it for their own reasons. Also that these monuments are honoured by these same groups, some of which would like to see Secession from the Union happen again. It is claimed that the descendants of slaves, the modern day African-American citizens, are offended by having to walk past statues of Confederate generals, reminding them of the enslavement of their forefathers. The issue has been warmly embraced by Liberal white groups too, and pressure applied to get these monuments removed.
Just yesterday, I became drawn into a heated ‘blog argument’ on the issue, on the site of a very nice lady. I don’t intend to do that again, so no need to look away now…
So, why do I care? I am English after all. American history is for Americans to sort out, surely? Best if I kept my nose out, and let them remove what they want, without me antagonsing their citizens on the blogosphere. But I do care. I care because it is history. Not just American history, but world history too. I care in the same way that I cared when ISIS destroyed religious monuments in Iraq and Syria. When the Taliban destroyed ancient art in Afghanistan, or when the post-soviet Russians pulled down statues of Lenin. Taking away any memorial does not make the history go away, or become any more acceptable to future generations. Something else has to happen, before that is complete.
That something else is the gradual erosion of history by default. Not bothering to stock the books in the library. Removing the teaching of the period from the school syllabus. Forgetting to report on the anniversary of a significant event. It is so easily done, and has been done many times before. In a few generations, it is all forgotten, like it never happened. There is nothing left to remind us, after all. And what about the double standards? Slave-owning Andrew Jackson is on the US $20 bill, and his former plantation home is a ‘national monument’. (Jackson is to be removed from the currency, by 2020)
Mount Rushmore is built on land stolen from Native Americans who were driven off of it, and Florida’s Disney World was once home to the proud Seminole people. How do their descendants feel about those reminders of the desecration of tribal lands, I wonder?
Every nation has an uncomfortable past. My own country spent centuries conquering foreign nations, and reducing their people to little more than servants. But the history of that is still there to be seen, with the statues of colonialists like Cecil Rhodes and Robert Clive sitting proudly on their plinths. It doesn’t mean that the later generations were unaware of their shortcomings, and for all I know, may well provoke debate about their actions. Tens of thousands of people from an Indian or South African background walk past such monuments in London every day. Yet there are no cries to have them taken down. Trying to remove ‘inconvenient’ history is the first step down a very slippery slope that has no end. It was an American, Henry Ford, who once declared that “History is bunk.”
Let’s hope he is not proved right.
When Donald Trump became the President of The United States last year, he did so on the back of a lot of promises to the American people. Those who believed his promises tipped the balance, and he was elected. Perhaps the most powerful of those promises was the he would ‘Make America Great Again’.
Looking back over this new administration, it seems to me that he has reneged on all his promises. From building the ‘Mexican Wall’, to turfing out all the illegal immigrants, creating American jobs for American people, and that one about making America great again. He and his merry-go-round cabinet and administration appear to have achieved very little. He didn’t manage to repeal Obamacare, and has also made the running of the world’s most powerful country a laughing-stock. He did get in some spiteful laws concerning transgender people and abortion, removed his country from any serious attempts to cut pollution and fossil fuel use and has played a lot of golf. The shameless promotion of the members of his own family has left him wide open to accusations of nepotism and favouritism too.
Not since the confusion of Italian politics, or the pre-war governments of France, have we seen so much disarray in the running of a country. Trump has lost the support of many influential politicians in his own country, and his appearances on the international stage have been marked by his lack of statesmanship, and obvious lack of political experience. Pushing past other leaders of countries to get a good spot in a group photo, or stumbling over embarrassing speeches when centre stage. Rather than extricate his troops from conflicts around the world, he has presided over increases of boots on the ground, missile attacks, and threats of action against other countries. The promises to build the economy of his own country, and to adopt isolationist polices if necessary have all just faded away.
His use of Twitter during the election campaign was inspired. He connected with people using the social media platforms as they did. But he didn’t know when to stop. His Twitter tirades have assumed the style of a spoiled child, with a school playground mentality of name-calling and ‘yah-boo’. He has sacked the people best qualified to carry out important tasks in his administration, and replaced them with others unsuited to those roles. He attacks his own appointees publicly, and criticises members of his own party too.
On the BBC News today, an American political analyst was offering an overview of the recent events in Washington, and the defeat of the repeal of Obamacare. At the end of the report, the BBC presenter was chuckling. Thanking the analyst, he concluded, “well at least it is entertaining.” The American government has become something to laugh at. The President of the United States is acting like the chief clown in a Washington circus.
I wasn’t smiling along with him though. A circus might be entertaining, but it has no place in the running of the most powerful nation on Earth. A nation that could well take us all down with it.
Judging by some news reports today, things are getting very heated between the US and North Korea. President Trump has called for a meeting of Congress, and the North Koreans are making ever-more threatening speeches, including suggesting the possible use of nuclear weapons.
Fairly normal events, like the visit of a US submarine to South Korea, something that happens often, are being seen as ‘escalation’ by both sides. North Korean artillery exercises, said to be a ‘celebration’ of the army, are seen as displays of aggression. China is getting nervous. They have asked the US directly not to attack the DPRK, which shows at least some belief that they expect the Americans are about to do just that. China suggests approaching the United Nations, and asking for their approval for military action. Russia has been quiet about the escalation in the region, at least today.
So, what can we conclude? Is Mr Trump really going to launch an attack on Pyongyang, and military targets such as airfields and installations around that country? That appears to be becoming more than a possibility, which makes it a probability. Will the North Koreans retaliate? (Always assuming they have a chance to) That’s almost a certainty. Should the rest of us be worried? Potentially.
If this was two dogs fighting on a hot summer day, someone would throw a bucket of water over them.
We are going to need a lot of water…
After my recent post about the cost of using cruise missiles in Syria, the Americans have now used a ‘MOAB’. This is a ‘Super Bomb’, nicknamed ‘The Mother of All Bombs’, a corruption of the bomb’s acronym, which stands for ‘Massive Ordnance Air Blast’. The actual designation of the device is GBU/43B, which doesn’t float well as a headline in quite the same way, does it?
This enormous explosive device is the biggest non-nuclear weapon ever detonated, according to some reports. However, during WW2, slightly larger bombs weighing 22,000 lbs were used and known as ‘Grand Slams’. The MOAB was developed at a cost of an estimated $300,000,000. This also included the cost of the 20 bombs delivered. Each one is estimated to have cost $16,000,000, and the logistical costs involved in the deployment and delivery this week are believed to be close to $1,000,000.
On this occasion, I will refrain from speculating what better use could have been made of that money. However, it is worth looking at the result. The bomb detonated just above a tunnel complex, believed to be used by insurgent fighters in the region. The blast could be felt almost two miles away, but reports say that no civilians were injured. The claim is that 36 fighters were killed by the bomb, confirmed by Afghan soldiers, and US Special Forces personnel on the ground.
The sum is simple enough. $17,000,000 divided by 36 = $472,222. That’s what it cost to kill each man in that tunnel complex. Current estimates agree that ISIS has around 20,000 fighters in Syria alone. Other sources estimate that the Taliban has a force in excess of 35,000 operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So, if we use the same cost basis to destroy every one of those 55,000 remaining soldiers, we are left with a pretty big bill, one that America has to fund. $25,972,221. (Yes, almost 26 BILLION dollars)
Compared to the cost of the cruise missile attack that only killed six people, that’s very good value, I suppose. A bargain.
When you look at news reports of the fighting in Mosul, it is easy to overlook some of the basic facts about this huge city. Until recently, it had a population of almost 1.9 million people, and is the second largest city in Iraq after Baghdad. This makes it almost twice the size of Birmingham, England’s second largest city, and more than three times larger than Boston, in the USA.
Just imagine if those well-known cities were under occupation by a well-organised army of religious fundamentalists, and being attacked by forces from their own country helped by the US or a foreign power, as well as being bombed by British and American aircraft. Think how difficult it would be to deal with the potential for causing civilian casualties, or choosing which of the people you encounter is friend or foe. The maze of streets, the apartment blocks, rooftops, factories, industrial areas, and large airports. A major river, numerous bridges, shopping areas, markets, schools, hospitals, religious buildings, and administrative offices. Every wall or fence a potential hiding place. Every rooftop or balcony a spot for a sniper, and the ability for the enemy to hide in plain sight among crowds of distressed non-combatants.
For almost three years, this city has been a battleground between warring factions; international interventionists, and government troops. If you live in a city, or have ever lived in one, then you can only try to imagine what this must be like, as I do. Even allowing for the large numbers who have fled Mosul, it is estimated that more than 750,000 civilians remain there, possibly 1 million. That is still much larger than the population of Boston, and countless other western cities. By comparison, the largest city close to where I live is Norwich. This is the biggest city in the whole county, and covers a substantial area, including many suburbs, and an international airport. I cannot imagine fighting on the same scale happening there, yet the population is only 133,000.
Another fact overlooked, is that many of the residents remaining in Mosul actually welcomed the forces of Islamic State as liberators. They had previously suffered religious persecution from Iraqi government troops and sectarian militias, and were happy to have the intervention by the fundamentalists. Many joined them willingly, and some still fight alongside them to this day. Of course for many others, living under IS was unacceptable, as they were cruelly treated for many reasons, including religious ones. But as parts of the city are recaptured by the Iraqi army, their foreign allies, the police units, and the ‘Golden Brigade’, many civilians have been arrested, detained without trial as suspected members of IS. Many others now live in fear of reprisals by the army and militia units, as the old enmities between Sunni and Shia Muslims resurface in the ‘liberated’ areas of the city.
Naturally, I am no supporter of Islamic State. This horrible organisation has no place in the modern world. But we need to look behind the news reports, the five-minutes of combat footage, and the talking heads interviews, and to be aware that replacing one form of terror with another might well be what we are helping to achieve. Not only in Iraq, but in Syria too.