George H.W. Bush, Public Servant


December 4 ,2018

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/01/opinion/george-hw-bush-dies.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion-editorial

 

Historians will measure the presidency of George H.W. Bush in familiar ways — by how well or poorly he managed the major domestic and international challenges of his time, his leadership qualities, the moral and social legacies he left for future generations.

Yet, at the moment of his passing, it is difficult not to take note of the profound differences between the 41st president of the United States and the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump. Beyond a desire to be president — Mr. Bush was more competitive and ambitious than his self-effacing personality sometimes suggested — there is almost nothing in common: the one gracious and modest, the other rude and vain; the one prudent, the other brash; the one steady, the other unmoored.

Mr. Bush’s death on Friday is also a moment to recall a less quarrelsome political order, when relations with traditional allies were more cordial than combative, when government attracted people of talent and integrity for whom public service offered a purpose higher than self-enrichment, when the Republican Party, though slowly slipping into the tentacles of zealots like Newt Gingrich, still offered room for people with pragmatic policies and sensible dispositions.

Mr. Bush’s tenure was shorter than he had hoped, and ended ingloriously in a lopsided defeat at the hands of an upstart governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, presaged by a huge drop in Mr. Bush’s approval rating from nearly 90 percent at the time of the 1991 Gulf War to the mid-30s in the summer before the election. Fingers pointed in every direction after his defeat — a deteriorating economy, a divisive convention in Houston, a disjointed campaign. But one big reason for Mr. Bush’s precipitous fall was Mr. Bush himself, chiefly his inability to convince Americans that he understood the depth of their fears or could summon up a coherent plan for addressing them.

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What Mr. Bush had impatiently dismissed as “the vision thing” — in an interview with a Time magazine writer in 1987 who had pressed him for his governing philosophy — turned out to be precisely what the voters found missing in him five years later. Even after four years as president and a quarter-century in public life, Mr. Bush seemed to many Americans a distant and diffident figure, a caretaker without strong purpose or compelling strategy.

A Times editorial after his defeat called Mr. Bush “an incomplete president” — good at some things but clumsy at others. Fate had dealt him one of the strongest hands in foreign affairs ever awarded a new president, and for the most part he played that hand cleverly and energetically. But when it came time to rescue a depressed nation, he had little to offer, either spiritually or in terms of coherent policy. With the economy in decline in the winter of 1992, he told a New Hampshire audience, as if reading from a cue card, “Message: I care.” That very formulation, a bit precious and patronizing under the circumstances, fell well short of the kind of the emotional jolt the moment called for. His opponent, Mr. Clinton, found a much more resonant message: “I feel your pain.”

Mr. Bush’s political persona was no less baffling. He could be charming on the campaign trail, sometimes in an endearingly goofy way. On that same foray into New Hampshire he got so wound up trying to show his down-home persona by quoting a song from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that he called the band “the Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird.” On another occasion, he referred to the endangered spotted owl, a source of contention among loggers in the Pacific Northwest, as “that little furry-feathery guy.”

Yet, often in the heat of combat, Mr. Bush’s good manners and amiable disposition gave way to bombast and shrill exploitation of fears of race and crime. His 1988 campaign infamously strove to tie his opponent, Michael Dukakis, to an African-American named Willie Horton who committed rape after being released on a weekend furlough program — an effort for which Mr. Bush’s attack-dog campaign manager, Lee Atwater, later apologized.

So hapless was Mr. Bush’s last year in office that it was easy to overlook his early successes. He began smartly, moving quickly to end the ideological combat of the Reagan years, broke cleanly on environmental issues with his indifferent predecessor — the upgrade of the nation’s clean air laws was a major achievement — faced up to the savings and loan scandal and offered creative approaches to the debt of developing nations, especially in Latin America.

Foreign policy was Mr. Bush’s great strength, and of his diplomatic contributions, two stand out. One was to keep America and the Soviet Union moving forward along a path to peace charted by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, a path that in time led to the reunification of Germany, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, more broadly, the end of nearly a half-century of Cold War. These transforming events may well have occurred no matter who occupied the White House, but the fact is they happened under Mr. Bush, who managed these changes with skill and saw them through to a successful conclusion. As he put it in his acceptance speech at the 1992 convention, “I saw a chance to help and I did.”

 

 

Euphemisms in geopolitics


November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

Why Donald Trump is wrong to ignore the murder of a Saudi journalist


November 2,2018

See no evil

Why Donald Trump is wrong to ignore the murder of a Saudi journalist

 

America First is hurting America’s interests in the Middle East

THE ECONOMIST

 Print edition | Leaders

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Few political murders are as gruesome and well recorded as that of Jamal Khashoggi. The exiled Saudi journalist was throttled, dismembered and probably dissolved in acid in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month. Turkish intelligence has leaked the faces and names of the 15-man hit squad sent from Riyadh on private jets. Western spooks have listened to audio recordings of Khashoggi’s last excruciating moments.

After weeks of lies, the Saudi government has admitted the guilt of its goons. The only question is whether the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, personally ordered the hit. President Donald Trump appears not to care. “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he announced in a remarkable statement on November 20th, adding that America would remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia. He sees the kingdom as a useful ally against Iran and Islamist extremism, an oil supplier that can keep prices low and a splendidly huge buyer of American weapons. The distortions and many exclamation marks suggest that Mr Trump drafted the statement himself. It starts and ends with “America First!”

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At first blush, Mr Trump’s position is strikingly candid. His transactional attitude to diplomacy with Saudi Arabia looks like the realpolitik of past American presidents in dealing with the Al Sauds, minus the cant about human rights. In reality, Mr Trump’s glossing over the murder of a peaceful critic is an alarming departure for America. It helps to create a world that is more dangerous, not safer.

Previous presidents have sought to balance moral values and national interests. Mr Trump has given up almost all pretence at defending morality; his sanctions on 17 Saudi officials are designed to protect the crown prince, not punish him. Mr Trump has thus abandoned an important tool of American power—its role as a model of democracy. In repeating the absurd Saudi claim that Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state”, Mr Trump has given licence to autocrats everywhere to kill journalists and dissidents. He has also shown, once again, that he prefers the word of an autocrat to that of the CIA, which believes the crown prince is to blame for Khashoggi’s murder.

Even in narrow geopolitical terms, Mr Trump is wrong. The crown prince is turning Saudi Arabia into a force for instability, and so is helping Iran extend its influence. His war in Yemen is unwinnable and causing widespread hunger and disease; it is hurting Saudi Arabia and its Western allies more than Iran. His feud with Qatar has pushed it closer to Iran. Even though it co-operates in the fight against jihadist groups, Saudi Arabia still feeds their ideology through textbooks that promote the view that Jews, Christians, Shia Muslims and others are infidels. What about oil and arms sales? Saudi Arabia wants to raise, not cut, the price of oil. And it has signed contracts for only $14.5bn of the $110bn-worth of arms purchases that Mr Trump likes to tout.

There are many reasons for the West to keep Saudi Arabia close. It is crucial to Islam and to regional stability. However, working with the Al Sauds should not mean doing whatever they ask. They need America more than it needs them. America should tell the Saudis to get out of the war in Yemen and make up with Qatar. Above all, it should tell them that rule by fear is no recipe for stability at home.

It does not take a CIA report to know that ultimate responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder lies with Muhammad bin Salman. His reputation as an economic and social reformer, who allowed cinemas to open and women to drive, has transmogrified into that of an old-fashioned Arab tyrant: insecure, brutal and rash.

There are few angels in Arab palaces. But Khashoggi’s blood is a permanent stain on the crown prince. It is increasingly hard to imagine him being a stable and reliable monarch. The stories of disquiet among the Al Sauds are growing. King Salman would be wise to start sharing power more widely—starting with the appointment of a new crown prince.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “See no evil”

 

Malaysia-Singapore – 50 Years of Contentions ’65-’15


November 18, 2018

Podcast > The Bigger Picture > Live & Learn > Malaysia-Singapore – 50 Years of Contentions 1965-2015

 

Tan Sri Ab. Kadir Mohamad, Former Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

23-Feb-15 16:40

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Tan Sri Ab. Kadir Mohamad joined the Malaysian Foreign Service in 1968. He served in various capacities on diplomatic missions overseas for close to three decades before reaching the pinnacle of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1996, becoming its 10th Secretary General (1996-2001). Tan Sri Kadir was also the foreign affairs advisor to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (2003-2009), and advised current prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s National Security Council Secretariat (2010-2013), before finally retiring in December 2013. He recently released a book titled “Malaysia-Singapore: Fifty Years of Contentions, 1965-2015,” which is his take on major events of these two countries’ bilateral relations since the island republic and our nation parted ways.

ttps://www.bfm.my/malaysia-singapore-fifty-years-of-contentions-1965-2015-tan-sri-abdul-kadir-mohamad.html#

 

 

 

Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore


November 17, 2018

Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

by mergawati zulfakar

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for asean summit 2018

IT is an ASEAN homecoming for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the summit hosted by Singapore. The last time he attended an ASEAN Summit was in Bali 15 years ago where then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave a tearful farewell speech.

This week at the 33rd ASEAN summit, all eyes will be on the Prime Minister again as he sits down next to another female leader who he has been critical of in recent weeks.

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And because of ASEAN’s way of doing things, the seating arrangement will be done in alphabetical order – which means Dr Mahathir will be seated next to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

In his Address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, Dr Mahathir blamed Myanmar authorities, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, for closing their eyes to the fate of Muslims in Rakhine state who were being murdered and forced to flee their homes.

 

In an interview conducted the same week in New York, the Prime Minister made it clear that Malaysia would no longer lend its support to Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya. He remarked that Suu Kyi seemed to be a “changed person” and he had lost faith in her.

For years, it was taboo for ASEAN leaders to even mention the word “Rohingya” during their meeting, skirting the issue by using words like Muslims and Rakhine state, bearing in mind ASEAN’s non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

But the situation became worse, and it is understood that Malaysia started raising the matter during the leaders’ retreat as recent as three years ago.

“The leaders’ retreat is where they can raise any issue but it will be unrecorded. But when we saw no serious efforts from Myanmar, Malaysia started using ‘Rohingya’ at official meetings,” said an official familiar with the issue.

“Obviously, Myanmar didn’t like it. It was an affront to them. We all know this is beyond the red line for them but we did it,” he added.

And Suu Kyi, who has been attending these summits, showed her displeasure. “You could tell from the body language and all that. She did not like it,” said an official.

At the ASEAN summit, the 10 leaders would normally pose for a group photo holding hands and giving their best smiles to the international media.Even former Prime MInister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak felt uncomfortable, telling his officers it was awkward.

So how would Suu Kyi handle someone who has lost faith in her? Would she care enough to find time and explain to a leader who once fought hard for Myanmar to be a part of ASEAN despite the world condemnation against the military regime that curtailed her freedom?

As for Dr Mahathir, the rest of ASEAN must be looking to him, wondering what he would do next.

“What else is Malaysia doing after such strident statements by the Prime Minister?No ASEAN country in recent times has singled out the leader of a fellow AASEANean country especially on the United Nations platform,” said an official.

When Dr Mahathir says he no longer supports Suu Kyi, what does he mean exactly? Suu Kyi is a legitimate leader who is still popular among her people.

“What is it that you want to do when you make that statement? What message are you sending? “How do you translate it through Malaysia’s foreign policy,” asked an observer.

“Malaysia must realise there could be some repercussion over such remarks. It may affect not only relations with Myanmar but also other ASEAN countries because “we are like a family”.

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open”.–Mergawati Zulfakar

An official admitted that any statement deemed critical of leaders of another country could diminish any measure of trust that remains between Malaysia and Myanmar.

“In ASEAN or even Asia as a whole, face saving is very important. You do not humiliate, you don’t admonish if you want to maintain relations and some form of trust,” the official said.

Going tough on the Rohingya issue started in Najib’s time. Is Dr Mahathir’s speech at UNGA an indication that the current Government is not compromising and will take an even tougher stance on this issue?

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open.

Mergawati Zulfakar –merga@thestar.com.my