December 18, 2016
Screw the United Nations on Syria–All Talk and No Action, only Hypocrisy
December 18, 2016
December 14, 2016
COMMENT: Mr. Tillerson is an excellent choice given his wide international experience as Exxon’s CEO. Politicians in Washington DC should come off their high horses and vote to confirm the President-Elect’s nominee. It would be disappointing if the US Senate voted against his confirmation because politicians like John McCain and others, democrats and republican alike, would oppose his nomination on the grounds that he is perceived as having a cosy relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin.
Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio
Are they assuming that he is not a patriot and will, therefore, compromise his country’s interests to Russia? How more naive can these experienced legislators can be. Former Secretaries of State Condolezza Rice and James Baker III and ex-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates think he is an excellent choice because of his wide commercial and managerial experience. Managing a huge State Department bureaucracy is a challenge and to my mind, no one is better qualified than Mr. Tillerson to manage it. –Din Merican
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday officially selected Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to be his Secretary of State. In saying he will nominate Mr. Tillerson, the President-Elect is dismissing bipartisan concerns that the globe-trotting leader of an energy giant has a too-cozy relationship with Vladimir V. Putin, the President of Russia.
A statement from Mr. Trump’s transition office early Tuesday brought to an end his public and chaotic deliberations over the nation’s top diplomat — a process that at times veered from rewarding Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most loyal supporters, to musing about whether Mitt Romney, one of his most outspoken critics, might be forgiven.
Instead, Mr. Trump has decided to risk what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight in the Senate.
In the past several days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had warned that Mr. Tillerson would face intense scrutiny over his two-decade relationship with Russia, which awarded him its Order of Friendship in 2013, and with Mr. Putin.
The hearings will also put a focus on Exxon Mobil’s business dealings with Moscow. The company has billions of dollars in oil contracts that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia, and Mr. Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.
Mr. Tillerson has been publicly skeptical about the sanctions, which have halted some of Exxon Mobil’s biggest projects in Russia, including an agreement with the state oil company to explore and pump in Siberia that could be worth tens of billions of dollars.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on Saturday that Mr. Tillerson’s connections to Mr. Putin were “a matter of concern to me” and promised to examine them closely if he were nominated.
“Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” Mr. McCain said on Fox News.
Mr. Trump has fanned speculation about his choice for Secretary of State for weeks. In the end, he discarded not only Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney, but also an endlessly changing list that at times included Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee; David H. Petraeus, the former Army general and C.I.A. director; and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and presidential candidate in 2012.
Mr. Romney, Mr. Petraeus and Mr. Corker, the three leading runners-up, all received calls late Monday informing them of Mr. Trump’s decision, according to people familiar with the President-Elect’s final choice.
He settled on Mr. Tillerson, a deal maker who has spent the past four decades at Exxon, much of it in search of oil and gas agreements in troubled parts of the world. A native of Wichita Falls, Tex., who speaks with a strong Texas twang, Mr. Tillerson, 64, runs a company with operations in about 50 countries, and has cut deals to expand business in Venezuela, Qatar, Kurdistan and elsewhere.
If confirmed as Secretary of State, Mr. Tillerson would face a new challenge: nurturing alliances around the world that are built less on deals and more on diplomacy.
That could prove to be a special test when it comes to Russia, where Mr. Tillerson has fought for years to strengthen connections through business negotiations worth billions of dollars. Under his leadership, Exxon has entered into joint ventures with Rosneft, a Russian-backed oil company, and donated to the country’s health and social programs.
In his new role, Mr. Tillerson would have to manage the difficult relationship between the United States and Mr. Putin’s Russia, including the economic sanctions imposed after Moscow intervened in Ukraine and occupied Crimea. Last month, President Obama and European leaders agreed to keep sanctions in place until Mr. Putin agrees to a cease-fire and to the withdrawal of heavy weapons from front lines in eastern Ukraine.
Other Republicans who have challenged Mr. Tillerson’s potential selection include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who expressed concern in a Twitter post on Monday about his relationship with Mr. Putin.
Mr. Trump favored Mr. Giuliani, the former New York Mayor, initially, but quickly grew weary of his penchant for drawing outsize media attention. Mr. Trump was also troubled by reports of Mr. Giuliani’s business entanglements overseas. And some of the president-elect’s closest advisers, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saw Mr. Giuliani as a poor fit for the job.
That led to interest in Mr. Romney, who had called Mr. Trump a “fraud” and a “phony” during the campaign. Mr. Romney had also highlighted Russia as a danger to United States interests during the 2012 race.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Romney made peace, meeting twice and speaking periodically by phone. But some of Mr. Trump’s advisers, including his last campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, warned publicly in a series of television interviews that some of his supporters would quickly drift away if Mr. Romney were chosen for the job.
Mr. Tillerson emerged as a contender on the strong recommendations of James A. Baker III, the Secretary of State under President George H W Bush, and Robert M. Gates, the former Defense Secretary, according to a person briefed on the process.
Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, argued strongly for Mr. Tillerson, and the President-Elect was intrigued.
Mr. Trump met with Mr. Tillerson for more than two hours on Saturday at Trump Tower in Manhattan. To his aides, Mr. Trump described Mr. Tillerson as in a different “league” than his other options.
Mr. Romney acknowledged late Monday night in a Facebook post that he had been passed over, writing, “It was an honor to have been considered for Secretary of State of our great country.”
“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening,” Mr. Romney wrote.
November 2, 2016
by Mariam Mokhtar
If ever there was a rousing speech to stir the masses to fight for Malaysia and eject Najib Abdul Razak and his cronies, this had to be it. This was the ‘mother-of-all-speeches’, not just because of its content, and delivery, but more important because of the man who made it.
Who would have thought in their wildest dreams that former Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Muhyiddin Yassin, who uttered the infamous words, “I am Malay first, Malaysian second”, would have become the latest darling of Malaysia?
One could easily argue that the speech, which he made from the back of a truck in the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers, was the most important political speech of Muhyiddin’s life.
Having worked his way up to the post of DPM, then vilified for his ‘I am Malay first’ speech, then unceremoniously chucked out of Najib’s cabinet for opposing him, Muhyiddin has made a spectacular political comeback.
He said, “I must appeal to all of you (to) set aside all our differences, so that we may face (BN) on a one-to-one basis.We want an honest and clean government.”
His speech was spontaneous and off the cuff. There were no teleprompters. He spoke in English and Malay, sending the crowd wild with jubilation.
Who would have thought that the former UMNO Baru strongman would demand clean elections, and a democratic government?
Such was his punchy delivery that he overshadowed former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had spoken before him. The former DPM has undergone a political rebirth from his political pariahdom. His reincarnation has been both elating and confusing.
Some of the nuggets in his speech, were; We must see change happen, in the next general election. The present government does not care about you, they only care about themselves. They have sold our pride. Malaysians must show that we are united, irrespective of where we come from.
Let us hope he has been sincere and is not just spouting platitudes. He spoke about a fair, just government for our children and our grandchildren. “The time is up for BN. We must dictate the future of the country. This is the time for us to work together. Malaysia belongs to all of us.”
“Time is up for the cronies, Riza Aziz, Jho Low and the ministers who speak nonsense. Berani kerana benar.”
A few days before the BERSIH 5 march, the Malay NGO Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), announced that the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) should investigate Muhyiddin for his alleged affair.
You just wonder what goes on in the minds of the JMM office-bearers. Are they obsessed with sex and time-wasting, or are they so obtuse that they cannot see that the nation is undergoing its most serious peacetime political crisis in living memory?
If JMM had any sense, and if they were of any use, they would have demanded that the religious authorities investigate Najib, his cabinet ministers, the zakat and Tabung Haji funds, and the mosque administrations to see the depth of corruption and abuses of public funds that have been allowed to go unchallenged.
Dr M will always be a crowd-puller
The other prominent ‘M’ for BERSIH 5 is former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who rushed home from a conference in Sudan to ensure he was able to participate in BERSIH 5. Mahathir has and will always be a crowd-puller.
Anyone with an elderly person in the family would be worried by Dr M’s gruelling schedule, but credit to the nonagerian, who was able to set aside his tiredness to come before Malaysians and encourage them to demand a clean and fair government.
Again, who would have thought that in our lifetimes, we would see the man, who once opposed protests and dissent, to declare that Najib must be taken down.
What a pity that his efforts to galvanise Malaysians towards reform have been dismissed by Najib, who said that Dr M likes making U-turns.
Finally, the most feared and respected ‘M’ is Maria Chin Abdullah. A fearless defender of human rights, a champion of women’s causes, and a mother of three. She does not present a threat to a clean government. All she, BERSIH 5 and decent Malaysians want are clean, free and fair elections and a return to good governance and democracy.
Locked in solitary confinement, in a 15ft by 8ft windowless cell, with two light bulbs on 24-hours a day, Maria’s comforts are a cold cement floor and wooden pangkin (bench).
So, why would the red-shirt thugs be ordered to terrorise all of Malaysia, and cultivate a culture of fear in the run-up to BERSIH 5? Why was her arrest ordered?
It is because Maria has the secret to the remaining ‘M’ – the largely sleeping dragon, the Malaysian rakyat, which she is trying to awaken.
Maria has the power to unite all Malaysians to oust Najib. That is why Maria has to be locked away in a secret location, detained for 28 days under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
She is not a terrorist; she is a freedom fighter. If Maria is free, Najib’s political future is at risk. No wonder Najib is afraid.
March 29, 2016
Donald Trump might use nuclear weapons to go after Islamic State terrorists. Or maybe not. In a recent spate of interviews, including with The Times, he was unable or unwilling to clarify his disturbing views on this and other critical national security issues, which sometimes shift from one minute to the next.
The recent horrific terrorist attacks around the world have provided a new opportunity for Mr. Trump to fan fears and throw out his alarming prescriptions for dealing with the world’s most complex challenges. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was asked if he would use tactical nuclear weapons against the Islamic State. “I’m never going to rule anything out — I wouldn’t want to say. Even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t want to tell you that because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them,” he said on the Bloomberg Politics program “With All Due Respect.”
He was more measured in his comments to The Times on Friday, saying nuclear weapons are “the biggest problem the world has” and he would use such weapons only as “an absolute last step.” Even if Mr. Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, doesn’t really believe that nuclear weapons should be used against a terrorist group, the fact that he has voiced it lends weight to this insane notion and could make it easier for other nuclear-armed states to think about that possibility.
The consequences of using a nuclear weapon in terms of lives lost, physical destruction and cost to American moral standing would be devastating. The United States and Russia have significantly reduced their nuclear arsenals, and the threat that either would ever use the weapons has greatly receded, in part because advanced conventional weapons can destroy almost any military target. Equally bizarre was Mr. Trump’s casual attitude in endorsing the idea of Japan and South Korea developing their own nuclear weapons, which would reverse America’s longstanding efforts to prevent the number of nuclear-armed states from expanding.
Mr. Trump also challenged decades of American policy by calling NATO “obsolete.” Since the Cold War, the alliance has undergone reforms and remains the primary organization that can deal with military threats. It is central to the stability of Europe, which is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, weak economies and the flood of refugees from the Syrian war. With Russia’s aggressive movements in Ukraine and threats to the Baltics, this is no time to suggest that Washington is rethinking its strongest commitments to its allies. Although Mr. Trump said he doesn’t want to pull America out of NATO, he said it has to be changed so the United States bears less of the cost.
Mr. Trump is confronting most of these issues for the first time, and many of his thoughts are contradictory and shockingly ignorant. In speaking with The Times, for instance, he complained that one problem with the Iran nuclear deal is that American businesses are now losing out to Europe on lucrative deals with Iran. He did not know that that is because Congress has insisted on keeping American sanctions in place.
Mr. Trump claims he is not an isolationist and wants to “make America great again.” It is hard to see how he achieves that when he describes a completely unhinged view of international engagement that denigrates Muslims and other foreigners and international organizations, including the United Nations. Mostly, his vision of cooperation with allies depends largely on how much they would pay the United States for protection.
In his interviews, Mr. Trump has said “unpredictability” is central to his thinking. He seems to have no inkling that operating in a dangerous world — one in which the United States is militarily involved in many conflict zones — requires some ability to communicate intelligently and forthrightly with both allies and enemies. It also seems to have escaped him that American voters deserve to know what a candidate is actually proposing.
A version of this editorial appears in print on March 29, 2016, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Dangerous Babble on Foreign Policy. Today’s Paper
March 21, 2016
MOST people would be upset to be at the center of an agitated national debate about whether they were more like Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, George Wallace or a Marvel villain.
Not Donald Trump. He doesn’t like invidious comparisons but he’s cool with being called an authoritarian.
Republican Party Wrecker or Saviour?
“We need strength in this country,” he told me Friday morning, speaking from his Fifth Avenue (New York) office. “We have weak leadership. Hillary is pathetically weak.
“She got us into Libya and she got us into Benghazi and she’s probably got 40 eggheads sitting around a table telling her what to do, and then she was sleeping when the phone call came in from the Ambassador begging for help. You know, the 3 a.m. phone call?”
I asked the brand baron if he’s concerned that his brand has gone from fun to scary, from glittery New York celebrity to “S.N.L.” skits about him featuring allusions to the K.K.K. and Hitler. He blamed a “disgustingly dishonest” press.
I wondered about ex-wife Ivana telling her lawyer, according to Vanity Fair, that Trump kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. Or the talk in New York that in the ’90s he was reading “Mein Kampf.” Nein, he said. “I never had the book,” he said. “I never read the book. I don’t care about the book.”
All over town, even in the building where I’m writing this column, freaked-out Republicans are plotting how to rip the nomination from Trump’s hot little hands.
How does it feel to be labeled a menace, misogynist, bigot and xenophobe by your own party? “Honestly,” he replied, “I’m with the people. The people like Trump.”
Since he prefers to rely on himself for policy advice, is he seeking out expert help on the abstruse delegate rules? “Yeah,” he said, “I have people, very good people, the best people.” No details, as usual.
Won’t a contested convention require more of a campaign than après moi, le déluge? “I have an organization but it’s largely myself,” he said.
More heavyweights are jumping in to stomp Trump, including Elizabeth Warren. Asked about her jabs, he pounced: “I think it’s wonderful because the Indians can now partake in the future of the country. She’s got about as much Indian blood as I have. Her whole life was based on a fraud. She got into Harvard and all that because she said she was a minority.”
Told that President Obama was mocking his wine as $5 wine marked up to $50, Trump shot back, “My wine has gone through the roof.”
What about Mitt Romney, who’s pushing for an open convention? “He’s a jealous fool and not a bright person,” Trump said. “He’s good looking. Other than that, he’s got nothing.”
Paul Ryan, who will be leading the G.O.P. convention in Cleveland, says there could be a floor fight. But he protested that he would, no, no, never take it himself, just as he once said about the speakership.
Ryan snickered at the idea that Mexico would pay for the wall and chided Trump for warning that there would be riots at the convention if the Gasping Old Party tried to snatch the nomination. Was the speaker interested in seizing the crown himself?
“I don’t think so,” Trump said, noting that he liked Ryan and that they’d talked. “All that matters is the votes. I see people making statements about me that are harsh and yet they are calling me on the other line saying, ‘Hey, when can we get together?’”
Mitch McConnell also urged Trump to ratchet down the ferocity. Trump insisted that “the violence is not caused by me. It’s caused by agitators.” He added that “Hillary is the one disrupting my rallies. It’s more Hillary than Sanders, I found out.” The Clinton campaign called this “patently false.”
But shouldn’t parents be able to bring children to rallies without worrying about obscenities, sucker punches, brawls and bullying? “The rallies are the safest places a child could be,” Trump replied primly.
Didn’t the man rushing the stage give him pause? “I got credit for that because it looked like I was moving toward him,” he said.
Trump said that when the “agitators” scream and the crowd screams back, “Frankly, it adds a little excitement.” But there must be a safer, saner way to get some oomph.
I wondered if he realized that, in riling up angry whites, he has pulled the scab off racism. “Obama, who is African-American, has done nothing for African Americans,” he replied.
He said he would soon unleash the moniker that he thought would diminish Hillary, the way “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted” torched his Republican rivals; “I want to get rid of the leftovers first.”
When he mocks Hillary, as he does in a new ad that shows her barking, it may backfire. Due to his inability to let go of his chew toy Megyn Kelly, Trump drew a remarkable rebuke Friday night from Fox News after he called for a boycott of her show and tweeted that she was “crazy” and “sick.” Fox painted Trump as a stalker, saying he had an “extreme, sick obsession” with the anchor. Unable to resist, even though he knows I respect Kelly, he also described her to me as a “total whack job” with “no talent.”
He has a history of crude remarks about women from his visits to Howard Stern’s show that could be used in Hillary ads. A conservative anti-Trump “super PAC” is running an ad with women repeating his coarse remarks.
“All of these politicians have said far worse than that,” Trump said, “drunk, standing in a corner.”
Joe Scarborough said that just as F.D.R. was the master of radio and J.F.K. of television, D.J.T. is the titan of Twitter. The titan agreed, gloating about how his tweets to his seven million followers, sometimes penned in his jammies, become cable news bulletins. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ll do them sometimes lying in bed.”
Not exactly a fireside chat. But it sure started a fire.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 20, 2016, on page SR11 of the New York edition with the headline: Will Trump Be Dumped?. Today’s Paper|Subscribe
May 31, 2015
Rosalind Russell,Burma’s Spring: Real Lives in Turbulent Times
London: Thistle Publishing, 2014. Pp. xxvi, 173.
Reviewed by Chit Win.
This new book by Rosalind Russell brings colorful but ordinary Myanmar stories to life from an outsider’s perspective. As the sub-title suggests these are “Real Lives in Turbulent Times”. Burma’s Spring shows the spice and flavor of Myanmar’s nascent transition. For non-Myanmar readers it may seem to deliver the expected: stereotypical perceptions of the military regime and the suffering inflicted on the people. But Russell goes further by covering not only the struggle and sacrifice of prominent figures like Aung San Suu Kyi but also tales of unsung heroes that we have overlooked. We learn of their lives, their beliefs and, more importantly, their hopes, in a journey that introduces readers to everyone from undercover journalists to undercover officials, from a housemaid to a girl band, from a monk to the 969 movement.
Burma’s Spring starts with the double life of Russell herself as an undercover journalist for Reuters sent in to cover the monks’ uprising in 2007, also known as the Saffron Revolution, and as an undercover reporter for The Independent. She was known as Phoebe Kennedy, the pseudonym that she used while accompanying her spouse, who was head of an international aid agency in Myanmar in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Whether it was worth risking her own welfare and the agency’s reputation to produce Burma’s Spring, whether it was ethical to do so, and even whether it is now worth her exposing herself will depend on the judgment of the reader. But one thing is quite certain: her book highlights the difficult position of aid workers and their families in controlling the temptations to risk an aid agency’s relationship with the host country. It makes me wonder how a Myanmar government official would react to reading Burma’s Spring.
The book gives a mixed picture of Myanmar society prior to the ongoing period of reform and liberalisation. Discussion of the fears of the military about “R2P”—jargon for the “responsibility to protect”—in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and of the struggle of “the Lady” and other activists offers readers the usual information that they will learn from the international media.
But Russell extends our understanding of Myanmar society by introducing us to her main characters Mu Mu, a Kayin migrant worker, and Zayar, a fixer for Phoebe Kennedy whose dream is to become a journalist. Mu Mu was Russell’s housemaid. And Russell tells us about her life as a migrant worker who travelled to Bangkok and was pressured by her family to send regular remittances and never to come home. Her hopes of taking a short cut out of poverty were hampered when she failed in the effort that, having had nothing to do with politics and ethnic conflict inside Myanmar, she made to become a refugee. In the meantime, her boyfriend—also a migrant worker from her hometown—betrayed her so that he could fast-track his place on the waiting list to be resettled in Canada by marrying a Kayin refugee. On the other hand, Zayar, whose wife wanted him to become a common salary man, chose instead to struggle as an amateur reporter in Yangon and worked hard to make sure that Phoebe Kennedy was exposed to real stories.
We also get a taste of the resilience of the “MeNMa girls” and Darko’s “Side Effect” punk group against the backdrop of what is still a conservative society. These groups struggled to distinguish between creativity and indecency. Then there is Min Wai, a fortune-teller who has to play his role carefully when predicting good and bad karma and acting as a social counselor in a superstitious society. We get to know Monk Owen,born on the eve of the 8.8.88 uprising, and how he came to be exposed to a modern education that supported his desires to change Myanmar. Taken together, these characters help sketch a portrait of Myanmar’s society in the mind of readers.
Russell’s book offers insights for Myanmar readers about changes that they do not notice or changes that they may consider unimportant. It also shows the differences between views from inside and outside with regard to recent changes in Myanmar. For a regular traveler to Myanmar, the changes in Myanmar mean visas on arrival, fewer travel restrictions, money exchange counters, ATMs, mobile phones and air-conditioned taxis. These changes are mostly physical. For people like Mu Muand Zayar, the awakening of their hopes and the economic and political breathing spaces are really the most significant changes in recent times. In relating Mu Mu’sdecision to go back and settle in Myanmar, Russell has clearly reflected the feelings of some among the vast Myanmar diaspora.
Burma’s Spring may disappoint some Myanmar readers for not including a chapter on Naypyitaw, the new capital which has profoundly affected the lives of Myanmar people—especially public servants and their families—since its establishment in 2005. And I really doubt whether the general public in Myanmar have the same view as Russell, who portrays the MeNMa girls or the punk bands as important markers of social change. What is important to an outsider may not be so important to an insider. It is also something of a pity that Phoebe Kennedy could not persuade senior government officials to come out of the closet and reflect on their experience as servants of the system, which is so very human.
In summary, Burma’s Spring serves its purpose for multiple readerships. It is pleasant reading on the good and the bad guys, with a twist in the tail. For serious readers, it will garnish their understanding of Myanmar. It would be interesting to read any book reviews from Myanmar, should the book be translated into the Myanmar language. A note of caution is that Burma’s Spring should not to be confused with The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation (2015) by Rena Pederson. The latter obviously focuses on the Lady while the former brings real stories from real lives. Stories so real, yet so often overlooked.
Chit Win is a PhD candidate in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
Pederson, Rena. The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation. New York and London: Pegasus Books, 2015.