Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

OK, I have read his book so you won’t have to…

August 5, 2020

Pic retrived from marketwatch.com

John Bolton is a self-important bore who takes some 450 pages (almost 600 with notes and references) to drone on and on about how he is always right. Between April 2018 and September 2019 he was the national security advisor for a man who also thinks he is always right, president Donald Trump. A clash would seem inevitable. There were a few of them, as there were near-calamitous diplomatic near-misses. In the hands of an able writer this would have made very juicy reading but in Bolton’s clunky, plodding policy wonk prose it becomes a drag. You’re wading through what are essentially rememorised notes.

So why write about this at all?

Well, in spite of the fact that he is and remains a warmongering self-aggrandising hawk who firmly believes in regime change for some and bombing any country that takes a different view of the world than the Great US of A, his inside account gives us the strongest arguments yet for ejecting the narcissistic toddler currently occupying the White House at the earliest opportunity.

Having said that, the two men do share an abhorrence of world order and the institutions or organisations working towards that goal, including the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and its affiliated organisations like the World Health Organisation. They don’t like the EU much either but then I’m currently none too happy about where it is going… (Incidentally, they also share a deep hostility for the Fourth Estate; Bolton’s disdain for the press is palpable throughout his book.)

What they prefer is US-led global anarchy, where they set the rules. However, Bolton is far more systematic about this, which makes him the most dangerous of the two. Bolton wants regime change in Iran (he is worryingly obsessed with it), reign in China and contain Russia. In that order. As an aside and contrary to what many seem to think, he considers Syria “a sideshow”. Which from an inside-the-Beltway perspective it most assuredly is, like Africa. Yes, all of it.

And what is Trump on about, when he does not ramble about anything and everything? Three things stand out: money, deals and image. Raise any policy issue and he is likely to ask, like the New York real estate hustler he has always been: how much does it cost and what’s in it for me? That is exactly the mentality he has brought into the Oval Office. It should surprise no-one but since Bolton is a stickler for detail it’s useful to have this on public record in the sharp and unforgiving tones it deserves.

Money is at the root of his endless questioning: why are we in (Korea, Germany, Poland, Africa, Afghanistan…) Korea should pay for US military presence. He confuses a percentage of a nation’s GDP spent on national defence with contributions to NATO. On and on it goes. Trump is about as childishly and predictably unpredictable as Bolton is boring.

When it comes to China and North Korea it’s all about making deals. The greatest deal in history. Wonderful deals. When the United States withdrew from the agreement that bound Iran to limit its nuclear activities, Trump justified withdrawal because it was “a terrible deal.” Worst deal ever. This is not a president in action; it’s a New York real estate hustler.

And looking good is paramount. Photo-opportunity with North Korea’s strongman Kim Jung Un on the border between the two Koreas? Brilliant! Especially when you can get your venal and conniving family in on the picture: the shadow government of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner that Bolton hints at should scare the bejezus out of anyone with an ounce of understanding about how to run a country. Inviting the Taliban to the White House for talks? Great photo opportunity! And relations with China hinge on Trump’s great “personal relationship” with president Xi Jingpin, especially when Trump tells him that putting Uighurs away in concentration camps is a very good idea. The only thing that’s really terrible about China is the US trade deficit, the mechanics of which he does not understand.

Pic retrieved from 9and10news.com

Sucking up to autocrats is a particular character trait of Trump’s. He’s perfectly fine in the company of the likes I already mentioned, plus president Erdoĝan of Turkey and of course Vladimir Putin, even though I never get the impression from this book that he is what some simple minds refer to as ‘a Kremlin asset’. Trump likes dictators and wants to be one, simples. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a democracy that has so far proved remarkably resilient in spite of his efforts. Bolton likes Putin because he’s articulate (unlike his boss), on top of things (unlike his boss), and secure in his own role on the global stage. But make no mistake: Russia remains the enemy.

Bolton’s descriptions of his numerous meetings with the president of the United States show a man with the attention span of half a goldfish. In one, on Afghanistan, Trump manages to jump from that country to CNN reporters (unsurprisingly, he is in favour of shooting or jailing journalists), getting out of Africa (again), NATO and money (again), Ukraine, troops in Poland, calling North Korea’s Kim “a psycho” (Bolton agrees), South Korea paying 5 billion dollars for US military bases, the 38 billion dollar trade deficit with South Korea, getting all American troops out of Europe and announcing he was going to call the Indian Prime Minister about Kashmir. Bolton does not supply a time-frame but given the average length of security/foreign policy meetings this typical Trumpian ‘rolling on’, as Bolton calls it, may have occurred within, say, 30 minutes. Every single meeting goes like this.

These scenes aside, most of his tome consists of endless accounts of the bureaucratic infighting Washinghton is notorious for, trips abroad, and preventing Trump causing major international mayhem…always and forever framed in the glowing terms of the national security advisor’s infinitely superior intellect. Which makes it even more of a drag to read. (I told you I read his book so you won’t have to.)

This is probably Bolton’s last shot. He is unlikely to be hired ever again after having hung out some of Washington’s dirty linen and I for one think that the world’s a safer place because of it. Whether or not he should have made his revelations about Trump abusing his office for personal gain available to Congress will remain up for debate, probably forever.

In sum, then, yes, the White House chaos is there and it’s Trump’s chaos. Bolton’s descriptions make it clear that however bad you thought it was, it’s actually worse. Take that together with his autocratic tendencies, his tantrums and his narcissism and it becomes clear that even though the alternative is not exactly palatable this Orange Squatter should be out on his ear, come November. Here’s hoping that president Biden leaves Africa as much alone as did his predecessor; we have enough trouble here without the US sticking its oar in.

The Corona Chronicles, Bamako

April 14, 2020

Part four – what on god’s green earth were they thinking…?

 

Conversation between two medical students overheard on a train in The Netherlands, many many years ago:

“So we’re off to Africa then, for our internship.”

“Yeah. It’s great, man! You get to cut into people.”

To my eternal shame, I was too shocked/too timid to interfere.

And here’s another conversation I overheard, this time not in a Dutch train but a taxi in the Guinean capital Conakry. It is the last week of the year 2003 and the whole West African region is still in shock following a horrific air crash, at Cotonou, Benin. The report on the Guinea-registered plane’s final moments, even when couched in technical aviation terms, is harrowing.

The doomed aircraft. Photo: Torben Guse, retrieved from the website oldjets.net

I vividly remember seeing this piece of junk parked at Conakry’s Gbessia International Airport and thinking: you will have to drag me kicking and screaming into that thing! On Christmas Day 2003 it crashed. What was the considered opinion of the taxi occupants in Conakry?

“It’s a conspiracy.”

“So it can’t possibly have anything to do with non-existent maintenance, untransparent ownership, a transport minister lying about its airworthiness, chaotic overbooking and catastrophically bad luggage loading at Cotonou?”

“No. Conspiracy.”

Alright, that’s settled then.

Two observations.

  1. There is ample historical evidence that the continent of Africa has been used as a testing ground for aspiring doctors and ruthless pharmaceutical companies. The only thing that would keep them in check, especially during colonial times, was their own moral compass – if one were present at all. 
  2. Africa has more than its fair share of conspiracy theories. For 26 years, it was the method of governance in Guinea – that taxi conversation sprung from the rich field of conspirational thinking it cultivated. The crimes of France, well-documented, give rise to the idea that the French are probably also the evil geniuses causing massacres in Mali. Or at the very least sponsor terrorism/jihadism. And outsiders bring diseases, which was, in all probability the thinking behind the attack on a medical convoy in deep Guinea, in the midst of the Ebola epidemic.

And now there’s COVID-19. Like all crises, it brings out the best in some and the worst in others, the latter often in the shape of an endless parade of yet more conspiracy theorists, who blame anyone and their canary for their own bumbling incompetence in the face of a major health crisis. The current occupant of the White House is a prime example.

Social media have exploded with folks babbling incoherently about Bill Gates controlling the WHO, the virus being the Chinese Communist Party’s avenue to world domination, chips being introduced surreptitiously into body parts we did not know we had, vaccines being surreptitiously introduced during routine medical checks by lizard people looking to control everyone and then there’s of course the inevitable dog-whistling misfit bringing up George Soros at every opportunity…

There is no room for nuance in these scenarios. And into this utter and complete mess wade these two:

Have you seen them? They are Camille Locht, research director at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) and Jean-Paul Mira, head of Intensive Care at Paris’ Cochin hospital, where another famous French doctor once walked the corridors…

These two found it necessary to discuss, two weeks ago, on a mainstream French television network, the idea of using Africans as guinea pigs if ever a vaccine against COVID-19 were to be proposed. I find the actual discourse too crass to reproduce here but for those who can follow French, here’s a link.

What? The? Hell?

Which is what the internet thought. And predictably, it fed straight into the ballooning body of conspiracy theories and of course reinforcing old ones. But this is not about damage control through communication, as Inserm attempted to do.

This is about two individuals working in the medical profession, which is, let’s be clear, supposed to be governed by the highest ethical standards, blithely and openly discussing how you can dispatch living breathing human beings to some kind of rarefied abstract space where they become objects for experimentation – as was the case with those two medical students I overheard on that train. It was offensive, dehumanising, monumentally ill-judged and yes, of course: it was racist.

The upshot of all this is that you will have to work harder than ever to convince an already fundamentally skeptical population that there are perfectly good reasons to allow trials to be executed all over the world – including Africa.  There has, for instance, been an argument about the exclusion of Sub-Saharan Africa from the WHO’s Malaria Eradication Program in the 1960s and whether or not this set back anti-malaria efforts on the continent.

But before any experimentation happens, two criteria must be met. One is called informed consent, which means that whoever volunteers knows exactly what they are volunteering for. And second, all standard safeguards must be in place to protect volunteers against the consequences should anything go wrong, which is the exact opposite of what these two were proposing.  And as a result of their nonsense, rationality, already in the back of that Guinean taxi, takes another hit. Thank you for nothing, you &^#€!&% French dimwits.

The WHO website currently records 109 cases confirmed in Mali, with 9 deaths. Mali’s Ministry of Public Health notes 123 confirmed cases and 10 deaths; 26 patients have recovered.

Purity

July 3, 2016

Brexit on 23 June follows a trend across Europe, supposedly in response to the existence of an overweening and undemocratic European Union. (Very briefly: I do believe the EU suffers from hubris, I do believe the EU is in great danger of becoming a corporatist neoliberal venture for which it was never intended and of which the euro is the symbol. But I also believe that in spite of the urgent need to fundamentally reform the European Union the world is infinitely better off with one than without one.)

I want to go somewhere else with this piece. The trend across Europe and elsewhere in the western world is the arrival/re-appearance of nationalist and anti-migration movements. This is echoed in another trend, happening across the globe from West Africa to Southeast Asia.

One day before Brexit, the wonderful Pakistanti Qawwali singer Amjad Sabri was murdered by self-styled Islamic radicals in Karachi. Earlier this year the world witnessed the destruction of Palmyra by Islamic State (or ISIS), an act of vandalism rivalled by the blowing up of the Bamiyan statutes by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and the vandalism perpetrated on Timbuktu by self-declared jihadist invaders in 2012.

What do they all have in common? I would argue: the idea of purity. Or, to put it better: nostalgia for purity, the illusion of purity. It never existed but they want it back.

The rhetoric is interchangeable. Prior to the referendum that returned the tragic Brexit vote, British nationalists talked about reducing immigration, taking back control from a monstrous – and what’s more: foreign – bureaucracy and return to the green and pleasant self-ruled lands of old times. Without too much interference from outside and even fewer migrants thank you very much. Elsewhere in Europe, extremist politicians talk about sovereignty, the need to curb immigration and to stop the EU. ‘I want my country back,’ is their rallying cry.

Sufi music is abhorrent to the Taliban because it pollutes the otherwise pristine and sweet unspoilt sound of prayer. Monuments and tombstones and artefacts make the mind of the beholder stray from the correct path of a blemish free faith where no idolatry takes place.

It is the illusion of purity: an unspoilt people, an unspoilt faith, the pristine English village, the Khalifate. That dream of purity can only be fulfilled through destruction and vandalism. What is tainted and unclean must be removed. Whether it’s a monument, music or an institution like the European Union. Sacrifice is unavoidable, even if it means putting an entire economy or a future generation in jeopardy. Purity requires the use of a wrecking ball. Brexit and the blowing up of monuments are two sides of the same coin.

***

None of this is new. But it has become more virulent and more aggressive of late and moves to counter it have been shockingly inept. Why? I believe that this is in part because of the overwhelming victory of globalisation and its attendant ideology (neoliberalism) and in part because of the total collapse of the countervailing progressive movement.

The Thatcher/Reagan revolution informed by the unfettered free market ideology peddled by the likes of Milton Friedman has been successful beyond its wildest dreams. It has reversed virtually everything that an organised and united people’s force fought for during a century and a half. Unions everywhere, anti-colonial movements everywhere. Today, neoliberalism is continuing the business of taking us collectively back to the 19th century. States have been rolled back, utilities that provide life-saving basic services  (water for instance, health care) have been or are being privatised, structural adjustment programs have ravaged economies from Latin America to Asia via huge chunks of Africa – the list is long. The very welcome demise of the dictatorial and inept Soviet Union and its European satellite states in 1989 cemented the Thatcher/Reagan victory.

The progressive movement has struggled to find an answer to this free market steamroller. Instead, it has adopted most of the steamroller’s principles (the main one being that Greed Is Good) and has been looking for a visage, something to mask the fact that it may look progressive but is the exact opposite. The visage was already present in its ranks and was eagerly adopted as its faux progressive front. It’s called identity politics.

Starting with second wave feminism in the late 1960s it has since morphed into a multitude of movements that have their own navel and their own victimhood as their unique focal points. They have rendered the old and lofty principle of international solidarity obsolete. To mask this simple fact, Diversity was invented, which incorporates (and I use this word deliberately) an in-crowd of people who all look different but who mostly and basically think the same thoughts. Progressive it is not: this movement has attached itself eagerly to the globalisation agenda. And as I have argued earlier, it is precisely for this reason that it fails to counter resurgent European nationalists, religious extremists and the other purity seekers. 

***

Purity is the reaction globalisation has engendered. Races should not mix. People should not mix. Cultures should not mix. Musics should not mix. Countries should not mix and most certainly not be “overseen” by some supranational busybody. It is telling to see that extreme rightwing groups in the United States combine utter hatred for the United Nations (another international bogeyman) with a stunning lack of knowledge about the organisation. Donald Trump is their champion and, as if to illustrate my point, the other presidential candidate is a shell for corporate America with a ghastly track record as former Secretary of State. I live in a region that has to deal with the atrocious fallout of the criminally catastrophic decision to oust Libyan dictator Muammar Ghadaffi (someone they were previously more than happy to do business with), of which Hillary Clinton was an active and enthusiastic supporter.

Because of the Left’s astonishing incompetence in reviving the forces of solidarity that used to cut across all identity lines (race, sex, sexual orientation and everything else) both forces – globalisation and the purity movements – will continue to run amok and crash into each other. The have-nots have been divided by identity politics and will not stand together again. It is curiously ironic that the likes of Brexit are driven by another type of identity politics, a variety the faux progressives disapprove of: rural, working class or former working class and (dare we day it) mostly white, subject to a condescending sneering campaign by those in possession of the correct identity politics. This has backfired spectacularly.

Brexit is a tragic mistake. Purity, be it racial, ideological or religious is a dangerous illusion. The progressive movement is dead and its faux progressive identity politics driven replacement an abysmal failure. We need something new. Maybe it is already there, unable to stop the steamroller but at least attempting to slow it down. New bold citizen-led movements show a way forward, like the one that removed autocrat Blaise Compaoré, then resisted a coup attempt by his presidential guard, and a new one, aimed to get genetically manipulated cotton removed. All three in Burkina Faso. We could do with a lot more like these.