Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue


December 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

“A soldier is someone’s son or father or brother,” he said. “The public has a right to know where we are sending our soldiers and why.”–– Mohd Arshad Raji, retired Brigadier-General

COMMENT | Chickenhawk politicians are usually extremely gung-ho about military action, especially when nobody holds them accountable for their words. Kudos to Rais Hussin and P Ramasamy for calling out Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on his extremely cavalier reminder that the Malaysian security apparatus is ready for action when it comes to the Jerusalem issue.

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk  Defense Minister –Hishamuddin Hussein Onn

I wonder what would have happened that if instead of international mockery, someone took up Malaysia’s preparedness to send troops to Jerusalem? What would have been the response then? Would we have backtracked and attempted to explain that in Malaysia, establishment politicians can say anything they want but they cannot be held accountable for what they say?>

On the other hand, maybe what the current UMNO grand poohbah said in his big meet-up in Istanbul with other concerned Muslim potentates that US investments trumps any real action to go with that outrage, is a more acceptable solution? And let us not forget the ever-reliable strategy of dragging the United Nations to voice out whatever grievances that Muslim potentates claim on behalf of Palestinians.

In other words, the Defence Minister’s words were just more empty talk to burnish Malaysia’s increasingly joked about Islamic preoccupations on the world stage. No doubt whatever we learned from whatever we were doing in Saudi Arabia would have come in handy if we decided to ship our lads to Israel. Speaking of what we learned in Saudi Arabia, I am still unclear as to why we were there in the first place.

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen
22 members of Malaysian Armed Forces receiving their certificates and medals from Saudi Government for services rendered during  Ops Yeman since May, 2015.

In 2015, Arab News, under the chest thumping headline, ‘Malaysian troops join Arab coalition’, claimed that – “Malaysia has become the 12th country to join the coalition after Senegal which is sending 2,100 troops to fight the Houthis and the forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Ministry of Defence explained that the coalition’s operations centre is preparing for incorporating the Malaysian and Senegalese forces into the ranks and determining the nature of tasks assigned to them.”

Now, of course, under questioning by Amanah, among others, we are told by the Defense Minister that all we were doing there, besides “learning” that is, was evacuating Malaysians who were in Yemen. Why we need to “join a coalition” and send troops to evacuate Malaysian citizens when there are so many other less controversial and effective means of evacuation is beyond me.

Amanah, of course, loses points because one of their predictable concerns was that the presence of Malaysians troops there is awkward “because Western powers such as France and Britain were also present. These countries, the opposition party said, had anti-Islam policies” – which is dumb because thousands of Yemeni Muslims are butchered by another Muslim country.

A learning expedition

Of course, ever since the House of Saud got entangled in the 1MDB fiasco, Malaysia seems to have become extremely chummy with the Kingdom. Indeed, not only was the visit by the Saudi monarch memorable for reasons, which is beyond the scope of this piece but which I have documented elsewhere, we even managed to foil an assassination attempt allegedly planned by Yemeni operatives.

Image result for Najib and Saudi KIng

 

As reported in The Independent, Malaysia foils ‘Yemeni attack’ on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’ – “Malaysian police said they foiled an attack on Arab royals by suspected Yemeni militants.

“Seven militants, including four Yemenis, two Malaysians and one Indonesian, were arrested in separate raids ahead of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Kuala Lumpur…

“‘They were planning to attack Arab royalties during their visit to Kuala Lumpur. We got them in the nick of time,’ National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.”

To our former IGP, getting terrorists in the nick of time is not something you want to be proud about and certainly not something you publicise. Now of course, if people who are at war with the House of Saud realised that we were in the kingdom not as allies but merely “learning” and evacuating citizens, they would be more inclined not to view citizens of where they were planning their attacks as collateral damage. And please note, a Malaysian citizen was also part of the kill team.

With this Jerusalem move, Al-Qaeda has called upon all Muslim nations to destroy Israel and this only makes it more complicated when we have citizens in this country who support these Islamic extremists for various reasons.

The United Nations has reported on the human rights violations that have been carried out by Saudi forces (and their allies) – which they deny – but of course, Malaysia only response that it was in fact only there on a learning expedition. Now how do you think this sounds to a demographic of disenfranchised Muslim Malaysian youths who seem to be ripe for radicalisation?

Already the plight of the Yemeni people has gained traction among a certain crowd of tech-savvy youths all over the Muslim world who blame the House of Saud for perpetrating crimes on innocent Muslims.

Way back in 2014, Harezt ran an interesting piece on why the Islamic State was not too interested in attacking Israel – “The Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders – including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the Prime Minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood – before it gets to the Jews and Israel.”

So, while Jerusalem may not exactly be the issue that ignites Islamic radicalisation in this country, the alleged atrocities committed by the House of Saud and their allies, which includes Western powers and their Muslim proxies, may be ripe soft targets for radicalised Muslim youths who benefit from organisations like Islamic State who have declared Southeast Asia as their new theatre of war and destruction.

Now, I am not saying that Malaysia has troops fighting in Yemen – I have no evidence of this – I am just saying that for radicalised Muslim youths in the region latching on to the plight of the Yemenis, it will not make a difference.

Trump’s Jerusalem decision– An Undeniably Reckless Move


December 11, 2017

Trump’s Jerusalem decision– An Undeniably Reckless Move

Image result for trump's jerusalem policy

Leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization, welcomed Pres. Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his announcement that the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.With more than 3.8 million members, CUFI is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States and one of the leading Christian grassroots movements in the world. CUFI spans all fifty states and reaches millions with its message. Each year CUFI holds hundreds of pro-Israel events in cities around the country. And each July, thousands of pro-Israel Christians gather in Washington, D.C. to participate in the CUFI Washington Summit and make their voices heard in support of Israel and the Jewish people.

 

Image result for trump's jerusalem policy
Donald Trump announced recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, igniting new levels of violence throughout the Middle East
 

The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is an undeniably reckless move that has the potential to ignite new levels of violence throughout the region. It’s also an obvious gift to Trump’s right-wing Zionist fans and a reminder that blind support for Israel is now central to far-right American identity.

This much should be clear to anyone who follows political dynamics both in the Middle East and here at home. Unfortunately, the predictable hand-wringing from liberals in response to the Jerusalem decision runs the risk of reinforcing some of the most damaging and self-serving myths about what is happening on the ground in Palestine/Israel.

The first of these myths concerns the supposed “status quo” in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine/Israel. Immediately after the announcement of Trump’s decision, we heard a chorus of voices lamenting that the change in U.S. policy would upset the delicate status quo in Jerusalem.

As critics of U.S. policy in the region have been saying literally for decades, however, the status quo itself is deeply unjust. Israel has been solidifying its colonization of Jerusalem through blatant land grabs and a wide range of administrative measures designed to push out Palestinians, all backed by broad, bipartisan support from Washington.

The reality in Jerusalem is the same as the reality throughout Palestine/Israel: an apartheid reality defined by the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and the denial of equal rights to Palestinians. Far from changing that reality, Trump’s decision simply brings it more into the open.

The second myth concerns the so-called “peace process.” While many have responded to Trump’s decision by issuing dire warnings that the decision will kill any hope of a negotiated, “two-state solution,” the reality is that this “solution” has been dead for decades.

The search for “peace” has served as a cover under which Israel has been able to solidify its colonial control over the territory, rendering impossible the dream of Palestinian national sovereignty.

In that sense, once again we can view Trump’s decision as simply making visible what policy elites in Washington and elsewhere have long been afraid to say: that the most important “process” on the ground is a colonization process, and that the U.S. has chosen to side with the colonizer.

As Mouin Rabbani, a respected Middle East analyst recently noted, “American recognition of Israel sovereignty in Jerusalem would send an unmistakable signal that Washington rejects not only the two-state settlement paradigm but also the Palestinian right to national self-determination in favour of permanent Israeli domination and Palestinian dispossession.”

In light of this, we would do well to recognize that while the Trump decision is potentially disastrous in its potential to provoke wider outbreaks of regional violence, it is also useful in the sense that it lays bare the core elements of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

How should progressives respond to the space that has been opened up by this decision? A good place to start is by interrogating the role of the Democratic Party establishment in propping up the “status quo” and “peace process” myths and, by extension, the Israeli colonial project. It’s worth remembering here that as The Hill noted, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been quite open about his role in pushing Trump to give Israel what it wants on Jerusalem.

Schumer may still believe that support for Israel is a winning strategy, but his base is increasingly moving in a different direction. As information about Israeli colonization has become more widely available and shared, especially among young people, more and more progressive voters have decided that being on the side of justice means refusing to go along with what Israel is doing. The recent letter signed by ten Democratic senators calling on Israel to stop the planned demolition of two Palestinian and Bedouin towns is an indication of how the political ground is shifting.

What this signals is that the current political moment offers to Democrats an opportunity to build a policy that is reality-based and justice-based rather than one that is based on denial and mythology.

In order to do this, it won’t be enough simply to pine for a return to the days before Trump’s decision. That makes no more sense than responding to the outrages of the Trump administration by longing for the days of supposedly “sensible” conservatives like Mitt Romney or George W. Bush. To participate in the rehabilitation of pre-Trump Republicans is to acquiesce to the rightward shift of the entire political spectrum. To prop up the myth of the “peace process” and the “two-state solution” in Palestine/Israel is to acquiesce to the normalization of ethnic cleansing and the mass violation of Palestinian rights.

There is a better path forward for progressives: insisting on justice as the compass guiding our political struggles. Palestinians are not going to get justice from Donald Trump — but they weren’t going to get it from Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton either. The entire U.S. political class needs to be pushed from below on this and many other issues, and it is our job to keep applying the pressure.

John Collins, Ph.D., is a professor of global studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. He is author of “Global Palestine,” and co-author of “Social and Cultural Foundations of Global Studies.” 

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper


December 4, 2017

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper

Author: Editorial Board, East Asia Forum

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/11/27/australias-foreign-policy-white-paper/

Image result for Australia-China Ties

The Australian government has published a new Foreign Policy White Paper. It is 14 years since the Howard government launched its own Foreign Affairs and Trade White Paper in 2003, although the Gillard government produced the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper in 2013. Much has changed in Australia’s international environment since either of those papers were released.

 

Indeed, much has changed since the initiation of the current White Paper process some 15 months ago. Few would have predicted the election of Donald Trump, the extent of protectionist sentiment in North America and Europe or the acceleration of the North Korean nuclear crisis. In this new and more complex international economic and strategic environment, the Australian government has produced a foreign policy blueprint that is refreshingly frank in its depiction of the challenges its policymakers now face.

In this week’s lead essay Peter Drysdale describes the White Paper as ‘a masterly articulation of the fluidity and uncertainties in Australia’s diplomatic circumstance today’.

The White Paper makes clear that the most significant of these challenges stems from the two major powers in our region — the United States and China — and the relationship between them. Few will be surprised by Australia’s view that it faces a more contested and uncertain international environment as a result of the changing balance of power between the United States and China and its concerns about how China may use its political, military and economic weight in the future.

What will surprise observers is the White Paper’s unequivocal statement of the threat to international order emanating from the United States. Those threats include deep-seated protectionist and anti-globalist sentiment, a lack of support for key global and regional institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and debate about the country’s willingness to pay the costs of ongoing global leadership. The White Paper states time and again that the United States will remain Australia’s most important international partner and ally. But in betraying such a note of alarm about US retreat it is apparent — as one observer has argued — that the Australian government ‘doesn’t believe its own public rhetoric about the United States as some sort of security guarantor’. Drysdale explains that ‘for the first time here there is clear official acceptance, and disclosure to the public, of the diplomatic problems that Australia and its partners now confront’.

So the Australian government is shifting its diplomatic attention to the region — in particular to what it calls the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region. It has adopted the Indo-Pacific label because it sees India as a future economic power and, more importantly, as a hedge against China. In the face of an uncertain US ally and a more assertive China, the Australian government sees partnerships with major Indo-Pacific democracies — India, Japan, Indonesia and South Korea — as the best means of shaping the future regional order.

Australia’s decision to commit greater diplomatic attention (and presumably resources) to these regional neighbours is a welcome and much-needed change. But its focus on the democratic character of the countries with which it is choosing to partner is problematic. Such a strategy will likely inhibit Australia’s ability to deepen its engagement with governments of a range of different political stripes across Southeast Asia — a region that is critically important to Australia’s economic interests and which the White Paper defines as sitting at ‘the nexus of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific’.

The reframing of the region to downplay continental Asia — a region that is responsible for the largest part of global economic weight and dynamism — and emphasise the Indo-Pacific — a primarily maritime security construct — brings some risk for Australia. As Drysdale explains, the Indo-Pacific nostrum is not a diplomatic concept anywhere tested in the White Paper, ‘except through its footnote definition as a geographic area that touches every continent bar Europe’.

More importantly, the White Paper proposes no clear framework for how to deal with China: the major power in the region. Instead, it is a relationship that the White Paper seems to suggest will proceed largely ‘business as usual’. This is a missed opportunity. Drysdale notes that President Xi’s ’19th Party Congress commitment to the multilateral system and a shared community of interests’ is the obvious agenda on which to engage China and put real meat on the bones of an upgraded Australian Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China (which the White Paper recommends).

The paper acknowledges the importance of the China relationship for Australia both in terms of China’s economic weight and in terms of the challenges posed by China’s rise. Those challenges are seen as China’s potential use of coercive power, anxieties about its influence on Australia’s domestic institutions and society, frictions stemming from differences in the two countries’ interests, values, and political and legal systems as well as questions about China’s record on international rules and norms.

On the latter point, the White Paper clearly views China’s behaviour towards smaller countries in the South China Sea and its apparent challenge to freedom of navigation as litmus tests for how Beijing will operate in other international settings, although it fails to acknowledge that while China may be challenging freedom of (US) military navigation in the South China Sea, freedom for commercial shipping remains unimpeded.

Given the scale of these political and security challenges, the importance of China to Australia’s economic future and the fact that China will influence every regional and global issue on which Australia has an interest, it is disappointing that the White Paper does not propose specific measures for how to elevate the Australia–China relationship in ways that will allow the two countries to manage this critically important relationship and the difficulties that will inevitably ensue.

The White Paper succeeds in spelling out Australia’s foreign policy challenges and, as Drysdale advises, ‘should not be relegated to the dustbin’ by any future government. Some of the gaps in the strategy to achieve the White Paper’s aims are filled by existing, carefully considered public studies that engaged the public in their making. The previous government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper has a clear strategy for engaging the Asian economy and developing the diplomatic, business and community assets to do so. The Australia–China Joint Economic Report defines clear ways to elevate the bilateral relationship, to work at furthering shared interests and to make the management of the complex relationship much easier. Some of the central ideas in these complementary studies are reflected lightly in the Foreign Policy White Paper, but taken together these strategic documents offer practical guidance for Australia to navigate and shape its region in the coming years.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised  Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Dr. Peter Drysdale on Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper

Hard work, getting Australia’s foreign policy right

by Peter Drysdale, ANU

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/11/26/hard-work-getting-australias-foreign-policy-right/

Getting foreign policy right at this point in world diplomatic history has never been more difficult.

For that reason the Foreign Policy White Paper launched by Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steve Ciobo in Canberra last week is a welcome beginning to an important public debate.

Image result for julie bishop, Michael Turnbull, Steve Ciobo

 

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (center) with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and her Cabinet colleagues

It is a masterly exposition of the fluidity and uncertainties in Australia’s diplomatic circumstance today. For the first time, there is clear official acceptance and disclosure to the public of the diplomatic problems that we confront as regional tensions rise. The White Paper explains in detail, reassuring as its tone may be, that Australia is caught between an unpredictable and perhaps unreliable US ally and an unpredictable and possibly unreliable Chinese partner. It offers few solutions but the franker admission of what the situation looks like is a big step forward.

The economic growth that’s come with globalisation has quickly changed the international balance of power. The United States, which has been the dominant power in the Asia Pacific region since World War II is now challenged by the rise of China. The world is more interconnected than at any other time before. New technologies as well as the transmission of the know-how and scientific knowledge lifts opportunities and prosperity at the same time as it spawns political alienation and the reach of non-state actors who would do us harm. Risks to the global commons demand collective action. These are the big challenges that Australia and its partners now confront.

What’s new is the intensification of the tensions around this change and its corrosion of the pillars on which Australia’s foreign policy is based. If the White Paper had been written when it was initiated well over a year ago, before the election of President Trump, the escalation of the Korean crisis and Brexit’s blow to Europe, it would have had an unquestionably less urgent and less ambiguous tone.

In the White Paper there is no budging on rock-solid faith in the US alliance relationship as the bastion of global rules and its importance to Australia’s navigating new uncertainty. Equally there’s unequivocal statement of the importance of Australia’s partnership with China and acceptance of legitimacy of China’s sharing responsibility and power as well as the reality that (like all great powers) China will seek to influence the region to suit its own interests.

What the White Paper makes clear is that the Australian government and bureaucracy, which have been so closely entwined with the United States in the past, are alarmed by the decline of US military power and influence and Trump’s discarding the conventions of the international economic order. He has abandoned the rules-based system — commitment to abiding by the WTO, the TPP, NAFTA, the Paris Accord and probably its KORUS agreement with South Korea — on which the world has depended to bring order to the global system.

In China’s militarising of the South China Sea and heavy breathing in disputes over territorial issues as well as increasing internal repression and the cult of personality surrounding President Xi, the White Paper sees dangers from the international use of coercive power.

The White Paper’s refreshing frankness is nonetheless folded in a conceptual frame that accentuates the negative response. The paper adopts the Indo-Pacific idea but neither tests nor defines it — except through its footnote definition as a geographic area that touches every continent bar Europe. We know it is a maritime security construct that’s been part of military dialogue for some time. That is one element in responding to the complex problems we now all face — but only one. It is an element that vastly underestimates the complex economic and political interdependence with mainland Asia that Mr Trump in Washington, Mr Xi in Beijing and everybody else in the region has to deal with day by day.

There are other strategies and actions which Australia can take: asserting constructive influence with like-minded countries to persuade both China and the United States that their current courses court danger more than opportunity.

The day that the White Paper was launched, the Wall Street Journal reported escalation of the Trump administration’s plans for trade war. Unchecked, these moves will wreak havoc on the global trade regime — a regime that more than any other rules-based system is the foundation of Australia’s and Asia’s economic prosperity and political stability.

There needs to be an immediate and vigorous response from Asia through conclusion of the ASEAN+6’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and its calibration as part of an over-arching strategy on global trade to check Trump’s recklessness.

China will not be turned towards reducing security concerns without up-close engagement. The White Paper identifies one important priority: to upgrade Australia’s Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China. But on how and to what purpose, the White Paper is silent. There’s chance to work with China on Xi’s 19th Party Congress commitment to the multilateral system and a shared community of interests. That is an investment worth the risk.

Yelping from the sidelines is no effective strategy. Delivering regional security and prosperity requires resourcing and developing diplomatic strategies in concert with Asian partners, including China, as the White Paper urges. Strategies that engage China will alleviate concern in Beijing by those who read the White Paper as an attempt to contain it.

The temptation of some subsequent government will be to tear this document up, like the current government discarded the Asian Century White Paper, expunging Asia from its diplomatic lexicon and short-changing Australians.

That would not be wise.

Both the robust narrative and the more fragile conceptions of how to deliver Australia’s prosperity and security in the White Paper invite serious debate. It would be unfortunate if partisan disputes (not least between the more unthinking supporters of the United States and China) resulted in the paper’s being sidelined or ignored in future policymaking.

Peter Drysdale is Emeritus Professor, Head of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research and Editor-in-Chief of East Asia Forum at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

Robert Mugabe–The Man who ruined Zimbabwe


November 21, 2017

The man who ruined a country

How Robert Mugabe held on to power for so long

His secret was to talk eloquently, and carry a big stick

Print edition | Middle East and Africa

Nov 16th 2017 | HARARE–The Economist

Image result for Mugabenomics in action
The Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe
IT WAS the dismissal and flight abroad of Robert Mugabe’s oldest and trustiest lieutenant that finally led to his downfall. Grace Mugabe, the 93-year-old president’s avaricious wife, was thought to be behind the sacking. Younger than her husband by 41 years, she plainly sought to inherit the throne. Yet she overplayed her hand. Within a week the armed forces’ commander, alongside an array of generals, declared, without naming her, that Mrs Mugabe must be stopped. He demanded, also without naming names, that her nemesis, Emmerson Mnangagwa, must be reinstated as heir apparent. Mrs Mugabe’s allies were denounced as “counter-revolutionaries” who had played no part in the “war of liberation” that 37 years ago had brought Mr Mugabe to power.
Image result for grace mugabe

The Avaricious Wife of Robert Mugabe–FLOZ Grace Mugabe

A few days later armoured troop carriers rolled into Harare, the capital. Soldiers took control of the state broadcaster and surrounded Mr Mugabe’s residence. In the small hours of the morning another general announced on television that the army was in charge. But the coup was not a coup, he insisted. Various traitors had merely been rounded up and the Mugabe family detained for their own safety. Mr Mnangagwa was set to return from his brief exile. The Mugabe era was at last ingloriously over. As The Economist went to press, events were still unfolding pell-mell. But the latest signals suggest that the fate of Zimbabwe, at least for now, is in the hands of the 75-year-old Mr Mnangagwa.

Image result for mnangagwa the crocodileEmmerson “The Crocodile” Mnangagwa (center)

 

Known as “the Crocodile” for his habit of waiting quietly before sinking his jaws into his next victim, Mr Mnangagwa has none of his erstwhile master’s wit and charm. A former guerrilla and longtime political prisoner during the era of white supremacy that ended with independence under Mr Mugabe in 1980, for the next two decades he was minister of state security and of justice. He acquired a fearsome record of repression and an unrivalled knowledge of where the bodies—literal and metaphorical—were buried.

A pragmatist to the core, Mr Mnangagwa’s first act on the day he took over his department in 1980 was to visit the police station where he had been tortured by the white regime after his capture for trying to blow up a train. The leg-irons from which he had been hung upside down were still there, as were the white officers who had beaten him. Yet, according to an account by Martin Meredith, a historian, he promised them a “clean slate” in the new country.

Image result for Gen. Constantino Chiwenga

Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces

 

Soon enough, however, he was making his own use of such men. He is accused of complicity in the brutal suppression of the minority Ndebele tribe in the early 1980s, when about 20,000 people, most of them civilians, were murdered by the Zimbabwean army. (He denies this.) He had a hand in the Zimbabwean army’s deployment in the 1990s to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which it plundered. In 2008, when Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party lost a parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential one, he orchestrated a lethal wave of violence that forced the winning challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw from the second round. Standing for election to a parliamentary seat against the main opposition party, he was himself twice embarrassingly defeated. But Mr Mugabe ensured he would always retain a senior government or party post.

In the past few years, as Mr Mugabe’s physical and mental powers have declined, Mr Mnangagwa has fostered a reputation, with Western governments among others, as a man to do business with—and as the president’s likeliest successor. Well before the coup, one Western diplomat remarked that he would be ruthless and powerful enough to grab power quickly should it slip from Mr Mugabe’s hands, “with at most a few tens of deaths” forestalling a drawn-out power struggle that could result in a lot more killing. And he has courted multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

Mr Mnangagwa has also let it be known that he would reverse the racist “indigenisation law” that requires businesses to be mainly owned by black Zimbabweans or by the state. He has argued for some kind of settlement, including compensation, for the white farmers whose properties have been confiscated since 2000, acknowledging that their skills are needed to rebuild what was one of Africa’s most productive agricultural economies. Such a settlement might spur Western governments to start offering large-scale aid again. On the domestic front he has put out secret feelers to the opposition, hinting at a unity government after Mr Mugabe goes.

Fall from Grace

That happened faster than expected, once Mrs Mugabe had persuaded her wobbly husband to dispatch his senior vice-president into the wilderness on November 6th, egged on by the president’s outrage after she was booed at a meeting.

Mrs Mugabe’s bid for power has had a long gestation. Backed by a relatively younger coterie of Zanu-PF ministers known as the “G40” (“Generation 40”), she had already managed to eject one rival, Joice Mujuru, from the vice-presidency in 2014. In gunning for Mr Mnangagwa—a few days earlier she had described him as “the snake [who] must be hit on the head”—it seemed she was finally bidding to replace her husband. At a church meeting earlier this month, it was reported that she declared she was ready to succeed him, saying “I say to Mr Mugabe you should…leave me to take over your post.”

The former secretary, who had become Mr Mugabe’s mistress as his first wife lay dying, did not realise how despised she is within the ruling Zanu-PF party. She rashly picked fights with two of its sturdiest factions—the securocrats and former bush fighters—in her bid to eliminate rivals for the presidency. Yet the biggest fall was not that of Grace but of Mr Mugabe himself, a man who was among the last of Africa’s presidents-for-life. His reign lasted so long that the vast majority of Zimbabweans remember no other ruler. And he bragged that it would continue “until God says come join the other angels”.

Despite his viciousness and incompetence, he was hailed as a hero by many Africans. Some saw in him a symbol of resistance to the old imperialist powers. At meeting after meeting of the African Union, he could count on a rousing ovation, as he railed against whites and the injustices that he imagined rich countries, chief among them Britain, and mysterious groups of homosexuals, were inflicting on Zimbabwe. Yet for all his bluster, blame for the immiseration of Zimbabwe rests chiefly on his shoulders. His ruinous policies caused the economy to collapse, impoverished his people and destroyed their health (see charts).

That need not have happened. For a few years after independence, Zimbabwe prospered. Mr Mugabe shelved the full-blown Marxist economic policies he had espoused during the years in prison and in the guerrilla camps. He allowed the white farmers, who had once wanted him dead, to preserve Zimbabwe as the region’s breadbasket. There was an unwritten understanding, he felt, that they should grow food and tobacco but keep out of politics.

He was far less tolerant of the Ndebele, a minority ethnic group who continued to back his long-standing rival for national leadership, Joshua Nkomo. He pretended that scattered instances of banditry amounted to a massive armed revolt, and ordered his North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade to crush it. The massacres, torture and rape he inflicted on the Ndebele were on a larger scale than anything that occurred during the long war against white rule. In those early days, Western governments and aid agencies, keen to promote Zimbabwe as a donor-funded success story, generally looked the other way.

During the 1990s, however, corruption began to erode Mr Mugabe’s authority. Towards the end of that decade, a group of aggrieved and landless “war veterans”, many of them obvious impostors, successfully agitated for big handouts, after complaining that they had missed out on the patronage dished out to the bloated elite. This blew a hole in the budget and caused the IMF to withdraw support.

Instead of pulling back, Mr Mugabe spent more. “Have you ever heard of a country that collapsed because of borrowing?” he asked, as he opened the taps on spending and threatened to grab white-owned farms and hand them to his supporters. Soon after, he called a referendum on a constitutional change to bolster his power as president and enable him to confiscate land without paying compensation.

At this point, in 1999, a trade union-led movement rose up, with the help of some whites, including some of those farmers hitherto protected by Mr Mugabe in return for their quietly prosperous life. After his constitutional proposal was voted down, by 55% to 45%, he lost his temper, setting off a reckless campaign of land grabs. In remarkably short order one of Africa’s most advanced economies collapsed. Short of taxes and revenues raised from the export of crops such as tobacco, the government soon began to run out of money. Gideon Gono, then governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, simply printed more of it. “Traditional economics do not fully apply in this country,” he said. “I am going to print and print and sign the money…because we need money.” Inflation reached 500 billion percent, according to the IMF, or 89.7 sextillion percent, according to Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University. (Measuring hyperinflation is hard.)

At the same time, Mr Mugabe embarked on a murderous campaign to quell the opposition, led by a courageous if sometimes clumsy trade unionist, Morgan Tsvangirai, who refused to give up. In 2008 he soundly defeated Mr Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election, while his party won, more narrowly, the general election. Mr Mugabe was evidently shaken to the core, perhaps, like so many dictators, because he had come to believe that his people loved him.

For five weeks, a cowed electoral commission refused to divulge the result, eventually massaging the figure of Mr Tsvangirai’s victory down to just under 50%, thus requiring a second round. The mayhem that then followed was so vicious that Mr Tsvangirai felt obliged to bow out.

Eight months later a unity government was formed. A dollarised currency had begun to rescue the economy but Mr Mugabe failed to implement any of the major reforms that were meant to restore a semblance of democracy. Mr Tsvangirai and his party had been tricked, humiliated and discredited by the time of the next election, in 2013, since when the economy has plummeted again. No one knows the exact figure, but a good 3m Zimbabweans—some say 5m—out of a population now estimated by the UN to be nearly 17m, have fled the country, to South Africa and overseas.

What next?

If Mr Mnangagwa succeeds in taking back the reins of government, his first task will be to consolidate power within Zanu-PF. Whether Mr Mugabe formally hands over or is kept on as a kind of ceremonial president is barely relevant, though it would be neater if the old man were ushered into as dignified a retirement as soon as is feasible in these ugly, humiliating circumstances.

Mr Mnangagwa’s main concern will be to ensure that Mrs Mugabe and her G40 are dismissed. Many have already been locked up. Bigwigs who will probably sink with her include Saviour Kasukuwere, who enacted the racist indigenisation law; Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister; Jonathan Moyo, a serial plotter and former regime mouthpiece; Patrick Zhuwao, a nephew of Mr Mugabe; and the head of the police, Augustine Chihuri.

A Zanu-PF congress originally scheduled for next month, at which the top spots in the party are dished out and endorsed, may be brought forward. A drastic purge of anyone suspected of siding with Mrs Mugabe is likely, and could be bloody. The formal coronation of Mr Mnangagwa, or his anointing as the undisputed heir to the throne, is likely then to take place.

It is possible that Mr Mnangagwa may call for a government of national unity in the run-up to the general and presidential election constitutionally required by the middle of next year. If a president dies or resigns, the ruling party has 90 days to nominate a replacement, who then completes his predecessor’s term of office.

The opposition is woefully fragmented, though its main leaders have made progress in the past year towards forging a broad front. Mr Tsvangirai, much diminished by his five hapless years as prime minister in coalition with Mr Mugabe, who ran rings around him after the bloodily disputed election of 2008, is probably still Zanu-PF’s chief opponent. But he has cancer and several of his ablest lieutenants have defected from his Movement for Democratic Change.

Ms Mujuru, for a decade Mr Mugabe’s vice-president and long a prominent figure in Zanu-PF, might ally herself to Mr Tsvangirai’s party. Simba Makoni, a decent former finance minister who defected from Zanu-PF, won 8% of the presidential vote in 2008. A respected banker and former industry minister, Nkosana Moyo, has set up a new group. It is vital that the opposition coalesces behind a new leader. No obvious chief contender has yet emerged.

Outsiders, in Africa and beyond, are offering to help. The two African bodies previously most involved, the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-country regional club led by South Africa, are sure to make high-minded noises, but their readiness in the past to whitewash Zimbabwe’s rigged elections and to wink at the violence and deceit that kept Mr Mugabe in power for so long give no comfort to Zimbabwe’s battered opposition or to its benighted citizens. Few trust them to give the real opposition, rather than Zanu-PF factions opposed to Mrs Mugabe, a fair deal.

Zimbabwe is bankrupt. It needs the IMF, the World Bank and an array of Western creditors to forgive debts and offer fresh loans. But that must be strictly conditional on political reform. Foreign aid agencies already feed many Zimbabweans who would otherwise starve—in some years, millions of them.

The most pressing requirement is for a properly supervised election. Given the failure of the AU and SADC to monitor past polls properly, it is essential that beefier bodies, including the UN, the European Union and the Commonwealth (from which Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003 after its suspension the year before), supervise the next vote. American bodies that are experienced election-watchers such as the Carter Centre and the National Democratic Institute must be involved, too. The Elders, a group of former world leaders, including Kofi Annan, once head of the UN, and Jimmy Carter, a past American president, could advise. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s shrewd former president, has been suggested as a mediator.

Since Mr Mugabe expelled the Swedish head of an EU mission that was monitoring a presidential election in 2002, he has almost never again let in such intrusive bodies or such dignitaries, especially any that smack of past colonial rule. Old party stalwarts, including the coup leader, General Constantine Chiwenga, and Mr Mnangagwa himself, have opposed what they call neocolonial interference. Sometimes China is cited as a friend that, unlike Western powers, will dispense aid with no questions asked. But of late it has sounded less willing to bankroll Zimbabwe.

If a new government wants economic help, it must accept a measure of oversight. Outsiders will not dispatch the aid needed to set Zimbabwe on the path to recovery unless its new government is clearly representative and respects human rights.

Zimbabweans are resilient. Their country is rich not only in natural resources but also in talent, much of which would return home if the country were better governed. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is still better than in many other African countries. During most of his long tenure, Mr Mugabe and Zanu-PF did their best to ruin the place. Mr Mnangagwa may be the man to oversee the post-Mugabe transition. But as soon as possible a new generation must take over and make a completely fresh start.

 This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “The man who wrecked a country”

 

Can Trump strengthen America’s influence in Asia during his visit?


November 4, 2017

Can Trump strengthen America’s influence in Asia during his visit?

by David Shambaugh

David Shambaugh says the region, an economic powerhouse, is vital to US interests and Trump must win over leaders with reassurances of US commitment. Boorish behaviour will not be tolerated.

Image result for David Shambaugh

As Donald Trump embarks on what the White House describes as the longest visit by a US president to Asia in a quarter of a century (12 days, seven stops, five countries), a very nervous Asia is looking for reassurances of stability and continuity of commitments from him. If Trump sticks to the script – always a huge “if” – prepared by US government staff, countries in the region should be reassured by the outcomes. But if he spontaneously veers off script with provocative language, he could do much damage to regional stability and US interests. Rude behaviour by the president – as he exhibited in Europe earlier this year – will also go down poorly with “face”-conscious Asian leaders and publics.

Despite the symbolically and substantively damaging withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the first days of his presidency, it must be said that the Trump administration has undertaken some gestures to reassure Asia of continued American commitment. Trump began by meeting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China’s President Xi Jinping early in the year, and has remained in close contact with both since.

This was followed by meetings at the White House with the leaders of India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Trump met separately Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on other occasions. This is an impressive record of presidential engagement in just 10 months.

Image result for trump and south korean president

 

Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis have also visited Asia on several occasions.

This high-level engagement has been particularly noticeable since the summer. During the first half of the year, there was a palpable American absence across the region – creating a strategic vacuum ready to be filled by China. The past few months of stepped-up engagement has helped assuage nervous governments, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Yet, there remain doubts about the overall strategy and staying power of the US towards the region. The Trump visit will be closely scrutinised for signs of US priorities. Will Trump explicitly reaffirm the five core alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand? He is likely to refer to the “free and open Indo-Pacific” region in his speeches, but does this really reflect a change in American strategy? Will he make any commitments to deployments of US military forces in the region?

What – if anything – will he say about significant human rights transgressions in China, Myanmar, North Korea, the Philippines and Thailand? Will he discuss democracy, as all previous American presidents have done? Will he emphasise Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as an American priority? Will he speak positively of multilateralism? How outspoken will he be about his “America First” trade and investment agenda? Can the US-China relationship, which steadily haemorrhaged during the Obama administration, be stabilised and improved? What will Trump say about the US-South Korean relationship to reassure Seoul? And perhaps, above all, what will he say about the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threats? Asia awaits answers to these and other pressing questions.

Trump visits Asia at a time of change and dynamism across the region. Politically, there is relative stability. Not only are Japan’s Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and China’s party general secretary Xi all fresh from recent elections and possessing new political mandates – but in Southeast Asia, Trump will encounter a similar set of well-ensconced leaders.

Image result for Trump and Abe

Economically, the region continues to boom. The gross domestic products of China, Japan and India rank among the top 10 nations in the world, while South Korea, Indonesia and Australia all rank in the top 20. Asian economies account for around 40 per cent of the aggregate global economy, are the primary drivers of international GDP growth and account for one-third of global trade volume.

Asia accounts for 66 per cent of global currency reserves, and about 60 per cent of global capital inflows, around US$150 billion per year. Given this economic dynamism, Asia is vitally important for the United States.

Related image

Demographically, Asia comprises 60 per cent of the world’s population. Eight of the world’s 15 most populated nations are in Asia, including the world’s three-largest Islamic nations. Despite the impressive growth in disposable incomes and standards of living across the region in recent decades, 800 million Asians still live on less than US$1 per day.

Given rising regional tensions, the Indo-Pacific region still looks to America as the primary stabilising force

In terms of security, Asia may be the most militarised region in the world. Asia possesses five of the world’s 10 largest standing armies (China, India, North Korea, South Korea and Vietnam), and four nuclear states (China, North Korea, India and Pakistan). Five of the world’s 15 largest defence-spending nations are in Asia. Collectively, regional defence expenditure has increased by more than 60 per cent over the past decade, to US$450 billion in 2016, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, reflecting the rising tensions across Northeast, Southeast and South Asia.

The region is bristling with increasingly sophisticated weaponry as almost all militaries are modernising their forces. Given rising regional tensions, the Indo-Pacific region still looks to America as the primary stabilising force.

It will be interesting to see if Trump takes note of these regional realities in his speeches. He is expected to give three public speeches during the trip – at a joint US-Korean military base, to the South Korean national assembly, and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Trump inherited from Barack Obama an unprecedentedly strong position for the US in Asia. With its “pivot” policy, the Obama administration prioritised Asia as no previous US administration had – while the Trump administration has yet to “brand” its Asia policy, thus far we see prioritisation for a continued strong and influential American role in Asia.

There remain doubts about the depth of the administration’s understanding of the dynamics at work across Asia.
Nonetheless, there remain lingering doubts about America’s and Trump’s commitment to the region, and the depth of the administration’s understanding of the deep dynamics at work across Asia. China, in particular, is seen to be stealing a march on the US – in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and across the Indian Ocean with its “Belt and Road Initiative”.

 

While we can expect reassuring rhetoric from Trump during his tour, the US needs to substantively increase its engagement with all Asian societies on a continual basis. Periodic “parachute” visits by US presidents and senior officials, giving reassuring speeches, is not enough. Asians have long witnessed this approach from Washington. After Trump departs, only continuing substantive engagement at both governmental and societal levels will suffice to reassure Asia that America can be counted on.

David Shambaugh is Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science & International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and co-author of The International Relations of Asia

American democracy has gone through dark times before


November 3, 2017

American democracy has gone through dark times before

The announcements that Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos have been indicted by a federal grand jury on various charges, including conspiring against the United States, money laundering and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deepens the current cynicism about politics, politicians and the Trump administration in particular.

According to the Washington Post, seven out of 10 Americans see the country being as sharply divided into warring political camps as during the Vietnam war 50 years ago. The division and inability of the Trump administration to pass any major legislative initiative about immigration, healthcare and now possibly federal taxes, despite Trump’s repeated promises about making America great again, create doubts about democracy’s effectiveness as a system of government.Current events remind some people of Winston Churchill’s famous observation that democracy is the worst possible system – except for all the rest. Or maybe it’s just like all the rest. What makes it particularly distressing is the view that this is not an aberration but rather the “new normal”.

It might help Americans to remember that we have been through these periods of disillusionment before.

In the 19th century, the country was torn apart by the civil war. More than 600,000 residents of the north and south perished in the fighting (and this in the era before machine guns, lethal long-range artillery, aircraft and atom bombs that killed tens of millions in the two world wars). At the time, Americans struggled to believe that the United States could ever function again as a unified nation.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the durability of democracy once again seemed doubtful. The split between rural fundamentalists and urban modernists, between recent migrants to the United States from eastern and southern Europe and older assimilated Americans found expression in the National Origins Act of 1924, a discriminatory immigration act.

The so-called Scopes monkey trial in 1925 over the teaching of evolution in high school biology classes, which pitted religious reformists and secularists against fundamentalists, and the famous Sacco-Vanzetti murder case, which saw two Italian-American anarchists executed in a highly contentious case, convinced Americans that the country was permanently divided.

The country found momentary relief in the 1928 election of Herbert Hoover, who seemed to promise a new era of prosperity that would dissolve social tensions. But the onset of the Great Depression, with the stock market crash in 1929 and the downward spiral of the economy in 1930-1932, stimulated renewed fears that free enterprise and democracy in America were over. Hoover lamented the absence of a joke, a song or a story that could lift the pall of pessimism that had descended on the country.

The election of Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932 proved to be the palliative that gave people hope. His fireside chats and many legislative initiatives not only lifted the spirits of the country, but also humanized the American industrial system and brought the country into the 20th century.

Public Works Administration workers fill a gully with wheelbarrows of earth during the construction of the Lake Merced Parkway Boulevard, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, San Francisco, California, 1934.
Public Works Administration workers fill a gully with wheelbarrows of earth during the construction of the Lake Merced Parkway Boulevard in San Francisco, in 1934 under President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Photograph: New York Times Co./Getty Images

His introduction of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration; the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Youth Administration, social security, the Public Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the wages and hours law, setting minimum wages and maximum hours and the dam-building that promoted conservation and economic expansion all helped achieve this turnaround.

FDR’s determination to bring representatives of recent immigrant groups – Catholics and Jews, southern and eastern Europeans of every stripe – into the mainstream of the country’s life, while attending to the needs of white rural southerners, largely healed the divide of the 1920s.

He was much less attentive to the abuse of African Americans by racists guilty of lynching. But the benefits to black Americans from the New Deal alphabet agencies shifted the loyalty of black voters from the Republicans to the Democrats. It was all a prelude to the unity of the country that marked its response to Pearl Harbor and the struggle to win the second world war.

The struggle to maintain national unity dissolved again in the cold war, with conservative complaints that Democrats had fallen short in defending the country’s national security against communist advances across Europe and Asia.

Accusations about Roosevelt’s appeasement of Stalin at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and Harry Truman’s failure to save China from Mao Zedong’s communist takeover, underscored by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s charges of subversion by US government officials and anger over the stalemate in the Korean war once again demoralized the country. It was a prelude to the bitter struggle over the failure in Vietnam.

The tensions now over Donald Trump’s alleged collaboration with the Kremlin to assure his victory in the 2016 election and the charges of administration corruption echo the run-up to Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

We of course don’t know where the current divide will end. While it certainly looks like another moment in the repeated history of America’s domestic struggles, it is a familiar enough battle to reassure downcast citizens that we have a resilient democracy that will generate another period of national cooperation and advance. Or at least, we can hope so.

Robert Dallek is the author of several books on presidents and politics. His new book is Franklin D Roosevelt: A Political Life.