Informed Comment http://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:29:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.6 How Much is a Palestinian Life Worth? Disappointment at Azaria Sentence http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/palestinian-disappointment-sentence.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/palestinian-disappointment-sentence.html#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:29:48 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165942 By Ilaria Grasso Macola | (GlobalVoices.org) | – –

On January 4, 2017, Elor Azaria, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier, was convicted of manslaughter by the Israeli military court. Azaria, now 20 years old, was found guilty of killing Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif, a 21-year-old Palestinian man, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Hebron on March 24, 2016.

Azaria shot an already-wounded al-Sharif in the head after the latter had allegedly tried to stab another Israeli soldier at an IDF checkpoint. Another Palestinian man, Ramzi Aziz al-Qasrawi, also 21 years old, was already dead.

The court deemed Azaria's statements on the matter insufficient and contradictory, since he initially claimed that al-Sharif was already dead when he shot him and then later changed his deposition to state that he thought the Palestinian man was wearing a suicide vest and was, therefore, a threat.

The video of the murder, legally referred to as an ‘extrajudicial killing’ in Israeli courts, was released in March 2016 by the Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem, which documents human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. At minute 1:50, Al-Sharif is seen unconscious on the ground when Azaria shoots him in the head.

 

There are more videos available of the incident available here. In the attached press release, B'Tselem explained that:

The footage of the incident that B’Tselem released in March began at a point in time in which the second assailant, Ramzi al-Qasrawi was already dead. The military has recently lifted the strict travel restrictions imposed on Tel Rumeida, so for the first time since the incident, B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’bri was able to get into the neighborhood and collect testimonies from its residents. The testimonies of two of residents, Nur Abu ‘Eishah and Amani Abu ‘Eishah, raise concerns that al-Qasrawi was also executed with a shot to the head, as he lay injured on the ground after having been hit by gunfire elsewhere in his body.

The organization further said:

Extrajudicial street killings are the direct consequence of inflammatory remarks made by Israeli ministers and officials, augmented by the general public atmosphere of dehumanization

The soldier’s conviction was deemed exceptional by many, including B'Tselem, as Azaria was the first IDF soldier since 2004 to be convicted of manslaughter. This despite the fact that, between 2015 and 2016 alone, Israeli forces killed at least 124 Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 22 in the Gaza Strip, and 10 inside Israel, according to Amnesty International. B'Tselem said it was one of the few cases where there was no “whitewashing by the army”.

Meanwhile, in Israel, there has been an outpouring of sympathy towards Azaria and even outrage at his trial, with protests taking place illegally outside the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s house in support of Azaria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Rivlin to pardon Azaria, an act Rivlin said he would consider after waiting “for the legal process to run its course.” Netanyahu added:

This is a difficult and painful day – first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel's soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me … I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria.

Some view Azaria's sentence as a positive step forward. Hebrew University of Jerusalem lecturer Robbie Sabel stated that “the court has done a wonderful job” in delivering such sentence.

A ‘false conviction.’

On the Palestinian side, many complained that this individual conviction distracts from the wider issue of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Issa Adro, a Hebron-based Palestinian human rights activist, the founder of B'Tselem's Camera Project and co-founder of the activist group ‘Youth Against Settlements‘, told Al Jazeera's Inside Story team that:

I think it's a false conviction. The Israeli legal system is supporting the occupation. As Palestinians, we are not only suffering from one soldier. We are suffering from all the soldiers who are occupying our own homes, our own cities and our own streets. I think that the one responsible for the killing of the Palestinians is not just Azaria but also the occupation and the military system in the occupied territories.

It was a videographer trained by Adro who shot the footage. Adro explained that there wouldn't have even been such a trial had the video not been released and that the videographer received death threats from Israelis after releasing it.

Similarly, Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, a political alliance of four Palestinian-dominated parties in Israel, emphasized that while this episode was recorded and used as evidence in court, there are many others that are never filmed.

Relatives of the deceased raised their voices against the conviction, as they thought it was a “perversion of justice” since manslaughter is a milder conviction compared to murder. The verdict is not considered by activists as ‘exceptional’ because there is the possibility that the pardon will take place, commuting the sentence into a milder one.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament said that historical precedents, such as the amnesties given to security officials involved in the Kfar Qassem Massacre and the Bus 300 Affair, suggested that Azaria could be granted a pardon. She also compared Azaria‘s trial to that of Ahmed Manasra, a 13-year-old Palestinian who was sentenced to 12 years in an adult prison in November 2016 for a stabbing attack that wounded two Israelis.

Via Global Voices Online

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aljazeera English: “Inside Story – Is Israeli soldier Elor Azaria a hero or a killer?”

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Will Donald Trump bring back torture? Can Foreign leaders stop him? http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/torture-foreign-leaders.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/torture-foreign-leaders.html#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:14:31 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165944 By Vincent Charles Keating | (The Conversation) | – –

There can be no doubt that the swearing in of Donald Trump on January 20 will usher in a new era for the United States. But the president-elect’s open support for torture and waterboarding could mean his inauguration also marks a return to what President Barack Obama has called a “dark and painful chapter” in US history.

Trump and his team have not hesitated in their support for waterboarding. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump said:

I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. We’re like a bunch of babies, but we’re going to stay within the laws. But you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to have those laws broadened. They say, what do you think about waterboarding? I said I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough. You have to fight fire with fire.

The dark and painful chapter

Waterboarding, as described by NPR, “involves choking the victim by filling their throat with a steady stream of water – a sort of ‘slow-motion drowning’.” It is best known for being used by the CIA during the Bush administration’s “war on terror”. To use the technique, the Bush administration argued for a very restrictive legal definition of torture.

A series of memos from 2001 and 2002 show the Bush administration effectively made waterboarding legal by changing the definition of torture. On August 3 2002, CIA Headquarters first informed one of their “black sites” that they had approval to begin waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Black sites were secret overseas prisons maintained by the agency in countries as diverse as Poland, Egypt and Thailand.

Over the next few years, waterboarding was used hundreds of times on what the CIA called “high-value detainees”.

In July 2007, under pressure from a series of torture and mistreatment scandals involving detainees, President Bush issued an executive order that CIA detainees would be covered by the Geneva Conventions. President Obama subsequently issued an executive order revoking all of the Bush administration orders relating to the interrogation of detainees and prohibiting waterboarding.

Under pressure

As far as we know, Trump’s position on torture has not changed. In an interview with The New York Times, he said his defence secretary nominee, General James M Mattis, surprised him by coming out against torture.

Still, Trump explained, “I’m not saying it changed my mind. Look, we have people that are chopping off heads and drowning people in steel cages and we’re not allowed to waterboard.”

Of course, just because a president supports a policy does not mean he will be able to implement it. President Obama’s multiple attempts to close down Guantanamo Bay are a good example of how support for a policy and its successful execution can diverge.

Individual presidents are subject to many competing political pressures that both help and hinder them in realising their agendas. Understanding these political pressures is vital if we want to know whether Trump’s desire to reintroduce torture is likely to materialise.

Pressure from the American public

The opinion of the American public is central to Trump’s ability to institute waterboarding. He has said he takes the public mood about torture seriously. In his conversation with General Mattis, he said, “If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that.”

But the American people do not, in general, disagree with their president-elect. The US public generally supports torture in the context of the terrorism and security.

In December 2016, an ICRC poll showed that 46% of Americans believed torture could be used on an enemy combatant, with 30% believing the opposite. In a March 2016 poll, 63% of Americans claimed that torture is often or sometimes justified, and only 15% claimed that it is never justified.

Throughout Obama’s presidency, Americans have consistently supported the use of torture. This has been part of a longer-term trend starting in the Bush presidency where, perhaps counter-intuitively, the support for torture began making gains after the scandals of Abu Ghraib and the revelations of torture at CIA black sites in 2005 and 2006.

If Donald Trump wishes to reinstate waterboarding, there is evidence to suggest that he could command at least a plurality, if not a majority, of support among the American people for his policies. From the perspective of electoral politics, there would be little preventing him from implementing such a policy and, indeed, he is likely to find support from large sections of the American public.

Pressures within the US government

If he tried to reinstate Bush-era policies, Trump would face both support and opposition from within the US government.

Institutional opposition from some sectors of government to the use of waterboarding has a long history. During the Bush administration, the US military and state department were opposed to removing the Geneva Convention rights from Taliban prisoners that would protect them from torture, though Bush eventually decided to ignore these recommendations.

This time around, the mere possibility that Trump would allow waterboarding led ex-CIA director Michael Hayden to declare that the CIA’s position would be: “If you want somebody waterboarded, bring your own damn bucket.”

The current CIA director, John Brennan, asserted that he would not comply with orders to waterboard prisoners as long as he was the head of the CIA. But Trump’s current pick for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, previously denounced Obama’s decision to close CIA black sites, where torture took place, and rein in government interrogators. Top generals in the US military have also come out against a return to waterboarding.

Members of Congress have spoken out on both sides. Some Republican senators, such as John McCain, have spoken openly against it. In November 2016, he said, “I don’t give a damn what the president wants to do … we will not waterboard. We will not torture people.”

Other Republicans, such as Tom Cotton, have argued that waterboarding isn’t torture.

The US government is seemingly split on the issue, so Trump can certainly expect political and legal resistance. This is particularly the case since it will be more difficult to rely on secrecy in the same way that the Bush administration did.

Trump’s open support of the practice will almost certainly lead torture opponents to be more vigilant in uncovering potential misdeeds.

Pressure from abroad

In addition to pressure from within his own executive and government, Trump might face pressure from international leaders. We can see these effects if we look back to the Bush administration. Many countries were openly opposed to Bush’s use of torture, and this opposition strengthened between 2001 and 2008.

The cooperation that the United States did achieve with countries that hosted black sites, such as Poland, Lithuania, Romania, and Thailand, required both the transfer of large sums of money and consistent diplomatic effort to maintain highly unstable cooperative relationships – even when the programme was secret. Once it was revealed in 2006, it became almost impossible for the CIA to maintain existing partners or find new ones.

Assuming that international conditions are relatively similar, there is little to suggest that Trump’s waterboarding policy would find much international support among traditional American allies.

This is particularly the case since, unlike George Bush, Trump openly uses the word “torture”, which is unambiguously in violation of the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law.

Trump will almost certainly need to consider the diplomatic fallout of open waterboarding policy, particularly with respect to intelligence-sharing and joint military activities. In both of these areas, American allies are likely to be highly resistant to finding themselves involved in cooperation that involves the use of torture.

Counting the costs

In Trump, we have a president-in-waiting who openly advocates for torture, supported by the American public.

Though he will face opposition from within the US government and legal system, if there are more successful terrorist attacks on American soil, the pre-existing public support for torture, combined with the momentum for the president to “do something”, might be difficult to overcome.

Reversing the support for torture among the American public is almost certainly going to be a long-term process. Until then, there is an important role for US allies to be clear about their disapproval, to make the international diplomatic costs of using torture clear.

Foreign leaders must stand up and add their voices to the domestic opponents of torture to make Trump think twice before instituting waterboarding. Statements such as that made by Angela Merkel, who stressed close cooperation based on “the dignity of each and every person”, need to be reinforced by other leaders.

With the public and some domestic lawmakers onside, president-elect Trump must be made fully aware that any attempt to reinstate torture will carry a great international cost.

The Conversation

Vincent Charles Keating, Assistant Professor at the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “McCain Questions Homeland Nominee on Torture”

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All Dutch Electric Trains are Wind-Powered & other Advances Trump’s US will Miss out On http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/electric-powered-advances.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/electric-powered-advances.html#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 05:02:16 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165933 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Although Donald Trump has complained about America’s failing airports, bridges and roads and expressed admiration for those of Dubai, his opposition to green energy will deprive Americans of efficient, clean new vehicles and buildings that would have saved them billions of dollars, created hundreds of thousands of jobs, and resulted in trillions of dollars of profits for American companies. Who will get those benefits instead? China and the European Union. Even Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates, is going green, with the UAE Masdar green energy company investing in wind projects in e.g. Scotland. What will Americans get? Lung disease, mercury poisoning, high energy prices and joblessness. (There are already 100,000 wind energy-related jobs in the US; there can be more, or less, depending on Trump’s policies).

The future is here, with regard to green energy. The ridership for electric trains in the Netherlands is over two hundred million a year, about half of all train ridership in this country of 17 million. Those electric trains are now 100% fueled by wind power. This goal had been announced only two years ago and the achievement was originally scheduled for 2018. But new wind farms have opened in Holland and Finland that made it possible to get there a year early. Once the wind turbines have paid for themselves, the energy they generate is virtually free, so the Dutch train system will avoid the cost of expensive and dirty petroleum forever after. The Netherlands is also thereby reducing its carbon emissions, reducing the damage to the environment from global warming and sea level rise. (The Dutch are especially vulnerable to sea level rise).

Donald Trump campaigned against wind turbines in Scotland because of his golf course. Too bad for him, he lost, and now is losing big time. For four days in a row this Christmas season, wind turbines generated more electricity in Scotland than it needed. In the month of December, wind provided about half of Scotland’s electricity. Scotland had had a goal of 50% of its electricity from renewables of all sorts by the end of 2015, but got to 60%. By now, about 3/5s of electricity consumption is met by renewables. Scottish green activists are now pressing to get household and business heating off of natural gas and onto the electric grid, so that expanding renewables can replace hydrocarbons across the board. It just got in 70 new electric trains, which can be run off renewables. But note that these trains were bought from Japan, not from the United States. That is the sort of opportunity cost American workers will increasingly bear under Trump. Scotland’s last coal plant closed last May, in a death knell for that industry. Scotland is not resting on its laurels. It has innovative projects for offshore floating wind turbines and for current-driven undersea tidal turbines (Scotland has an unusual underwater opportunity here; dependably fast currents aren’t all that common).

Wind power is up to 9% of India’s electricity production, but that is only the beginning. The country of 1.3 billion with a gross domestic product of $2.2 trillion (roughly the same as France) is a coming world power and has big plans for wind power. By the end of 2017 India is expected to have added another 4,300 MW of wind power, a 30% increase. A 30% increase in 18 months! Imagine the more distant future. If the industry falters in the United States, will it be able to provide the turbines that will power much of the world?

Ethiopia is planning to become the wind powerhouse of Africa. As a rapidly growing economy in a country of 94 million citizens, where 80% of the population does not have electricity, it is typical of the dilemmas facing the global South. It has enormous energy needs, necessary to the well-being of its population. But its leaders want to avoid becoming beholden to dirty hydrocarbons as they electrify and grow the country. As a Christian majority country in an area where Islam is prominent, they may worry about Saudi influence. In any case, Addis Abababa is going green. It built Africa’s largest wind farm in 2013 and gets 7.5% of its electricity from wind. But now it plans to sink $3 billion into building 5 more wind farms that will generate 5200 megawatts. The country’s total electricity output at the end of 2015 was only about 4,000 megawatts. It is going for a total output of 17,000 megawatts by 2020.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Newsbeat Social: “Wind Now Powers All Electric Trains in The Netherlands”

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Along with pardoning Manning, Obama should have repealed 1917 Espionage Act http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/pardoning-repealed-espionage.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/pardoning-repealed-espionage.html#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 06:31:00 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165951 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a daring and bold move that showed his profound humanitarian side, President Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman and former military intelligence analyst who in 2010 leaked hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and also some Iraq and Afghanistan military logs to the Wikileaks organization, which shared them with the press.

Manning’s leaks are credited in some quarters with helping to galvanize Tunisian youth and activists against the brutal dictatorship of Zine el Abidine ben Ali. The argument is that people assumed that Ben Ali was authoritarian but relatively upright and that the corruption was committed by the people around him, whereas State Department cables demonstrated that he personally asked for kickbacks. It is certainly the case that opposition webzines like Nawaat.org in Tunisia translated the cables immediately into Arabic. Manning has been criticized for her scattershot publication of so many documents rather than for whistleblowing, i.e. concentrating on a particular injustice. In the case of Tunisia, some of the released cables did function as whistleblowing. France and the US in public tended to reassure the world that Ben Ali’s regime was a bulwark against radical Muslim fundamentalism and was improving the lives of its citizens. It was perhaps only just that the sordid reality be exposed to everyone, including the Tunisian people, who now have the only democracy in the Middle East. (Lebanon is too dysfunctional and dominated by a party-militia to fit that bill; Turkey is veering sharply toward authoritarianism, and Apartheid Israel with 4 million people under military colonialism doesn’t count by a long shot).

According to a UN inquiry, Manning was tortured when held for 11 months in the brig at Quantico. She was kept in solitary confinement and put under a “suicide watch” by her jailers despite the opposition of her own physician. The watch involved being made to sleep nude and enchained and being woken up many times each night to be checked, for months on end. The suicide watch was a mere pretext to subject her to the sleep deprivation techniques that are an important arrow in the quiver of contemporary torturers. She still bears the cognitive and emotional scars of this treatment, according to Glenn Greenwald, who has interviewed her.

Obama’s commutation of her sentence is all the more surprising because his administration was the hardest in recent memory on whistle blowers and on the journalists to whom they leaked. The idea that whistle blowers should have gone through channels is challenged by the substantial evidence that employees who came forward with concerns faced retaliation. One of the tools Attorney General Eric Holder used against these brave individuals, who were trying to correct some pernicious practice, was the Espionage Act of 1917. This unconstitutional monstrosity was passed at the height of the Red Scare and the immigration hysteria during World War I.

UShistory.org explains:

“Once Congress declared war, President Wilson quickly created the Committee on Public Information under the direction of George Creel. Creel used every possible medium imaginable to raise American consciousness. Creel organized rallies and parades . . .

Still there were dissenters. The American Socialist Party condemned the war effort. Irish-Americans often displayed contempt for the British ally. Millions of immigrants from Germany and Austria-Hungary were forced to support initiatives that could destroy their homelands. But this dissent was rather small. Nevertheless, the government stifled wartime opposition by law with the passing of the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917. Anyone found guilty of criticizing the government war policy or hindering wartime directives could be sent to jail. Many cried that this was a flagrant violation of precious civil liberties, including the right to free speech. The Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision on this issue in the Schenck v. United States verdict. The majority court opinion ruled that should an individual’s free speech present a “clear and present danger” to others, the government could impose restrictions or penalties. Schenck was arrested for sabotaging the draft. The Court ruled that his behavior endangered thousands of American lives and upheld his jail sentence. Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned and ran for President from his jail cell in 1920. He polled nearly a million votes.”

Obama and Holder have bequeathed yet another tool of authoritarianism (along with a revived domestic surveillance program) to the incoming Trumpian troglodytes. Instead of resorting to the Espionage and Sedition Act, they should have worked alongside Libertarian Republicans to get rid of it. Pardoning one person, however praiseworthy, doesn’t make up for developing anti-democratic techniques that have now been passed on to the most anti-democratic government in recent decades.

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Related video:

TYT Politics: “BREAKING: Chelsea Manning FREED By Pres. Obama”

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Will Americans go along with Authoritarian Trumpism? http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/americans-authoritarian-trumpism.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/americans-authoritarian-trumpism.html#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 05:36:15 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165948 By Thomas Pepinsky | (TeleSur) | – –

Everyday life in the modern authoritarian regime is boring and tolerable.

Malaysia is a country that I know well, and whose political system I have studied closely for 15 years. It is also a country whose political liberalization I have long awaited. Malaysia has a multiparty parliamentary system of government, but the same coalition of parties has been in power for six decades, and has never lost a general election. The government retains—in a holdover from the British colonial period—the legal authority to detain people without trial if it so desires. The print and broadcast media are fairly compliant, mostly owned by the corporate allies of political elites, and rarely criticize the government.

Living in Malaysia and working on Malaysian politics has taught me something important about authoritarianism from my perspective as an American. That is, the mental image of authoritarian rule in the minds of most Americans is completely unrealistic, and dangerously so.

Even though Malaysia is a perfectly wonderful place to visit, and an emerging market economy grappling with the same “middle income trap” issues that characterize most emerging market economies, scholars of comparative politics do not consider it to be an electoral democracy. Freedom House considers Malaysia “Partly Free.” The Democracy-Dictatorship dataset codes Malaysia as a civilian dictatorship, as do Boix-Miller-Rosato. Levitsky and Way consider Malaysia to be a classic case of competitive authoritarianism. There are quite a few other countries like Malaysia: Mexico and Taiwan for most of the 20th century, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Cameroon, Tanzania, and others.

The mental image that most American harbor of what actual authoritarianism looks like is fantastical and cartoonish. This vision of authoritarian rule has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus. This image of authoritarianism comes from the popular media (dictators in movies are never constrained by anything but open insurrection), from American mythmaking about the Founding (and the Second World War and the Cold War), and from a kind of “imaginary othering” in which the opposite of democracy is the absence of everything that characterizes the one democracy that one knows.

Still, that fantastical image of authoritarianism is entirely misleading as a description of modern authoritarian rule and life under it. It is a description, to some approximation, of totalitarianism. Carl Friedrich is the best on totalitarianism, and Hannah Arendt of course on its emergence. But Arendt and Friedrich were very clear that totalitarianism is exceptional as a form of politics.

The reality is that everyday life under the kinds of authoritarianism that exist today is very familiar to most Americans. You go to work, you eat your lunch, you go home to your family. There are schools and businesses, and some people “make it” through hard work and luck. Most people worry about making sure their kids get into good schools. The military is in the barracks, and the police mostly investigate crimes and solve cases. There is political dissent, if rarely open protest, but in general people are free to complain to one another. There are even elections. This is Malaysia, and many countries like it.

Everyday life in the modern authoritarian regime is, in this sense, boring and tolerable. It is not outrageous. Most critics, even vocal ones, are not going to be murdered like Anna Politkovskaya, they are going to be frustrated. Most not-very-vocal critics will live their lives completely unmolested by the security forces. They will enjoy it when the trains run on time, blame the government when they do not, gripe at their taxes, and save for vacation. Elections, when they happen, will serve the “anesthetic function” that Philippe Schmitter attributed to elections in Portugal under Salazar in the greatly underappreciated in 1978 volume Elections without Choice.

Life under authoritarian rule in such situations looks a lot like life in a democracy. As Malaysia’s longtime Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used to say, “if you don’t like me, defeat me in my district.”

This observation has two particular consequences. One, for asking if “the people” will tolerate authoritarian rule. The premise upon which this question is based is that authoritarianism is intolerable generally. It turns out that most people express democratic values, but living in a complicated world in which people care more about more things than just their form of government, it is easy to see that given an orderly society and a functioning economy, democratic politics may become a low priority.* The answer to the question “will ‘the people’ tolerate authoritarian rule?” is yes, absolutely.

Second, for knowing if you are living in an authoritarian regime versus a democratic one, most Americans conceptualize a hypothetical end of American democracy in Apocalyptic terms. But actually, you usually learn that you are no longer living in a democracy not because The Government Is Taking Away Your Rights, or passing laws that you oppose, or because there is a coup or a quisling. You know that you are no longer living in a democracy because the elections in which you are participating no longer can yield political change.

It is possible to read what I’ve written here as a defense of authoritarianism, or as a dismissal of democracy. But my message is the exact opposite. The fantasy of authoritarianism distracts Americans from the mundane ways in which the mechanisms of political competition and checks and balances can erode. Democracy has not survived because the alternatives are acutely horrible, and if it ends, it will not end in a bang. It is more likely that democracy ends, with a whimper, when the case for supporting it—the case, that is, for everyday democracy—is no longer compelling.

Thomas Pepinsky is associate professor of government at Cornell University. He is the author of Economic Crises and the Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes (Cambridge 2009), and blogs regularly about politics, Southeast Asia, and food at tompepinsky.com, where a version of this piece first appeared.

NOTES

*It is also the case the many people find democracy rather intolerable too. By this I do not mean that people do not value democracy. Rather, I mean that in democracy, it is also the case that most of the very things that motivate people to oppose authoritarian rule—corruption, cronyism, inequality, unfairness—usually still exist.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Atlantic: ” ‘Hail Trump!’: Richard Spencer Speech Excerpts”

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Palestinian Parliamentarians say Israeli Legislation aims to annex West Bank http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/palestinian-parliamentarians-legislation.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/palestinian-parliamentarians-legislation.html#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 05:20:39 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165937 Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial bill on Tuesday that would allow verdicts from military court proceedings in the occupied West Bank to be submitted as evidence in Israeli civilian courts, a move which critics claim is another step aiming to illegally annex the West Bank by applying Israeli domestic laws in the territory.

During a debate over the bill — proposed by MK Anat Berko from the ruling Likud party —

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Israeli Parliament

opposition MKs argued that the bill constitutes an extension of the Israeli occupation and the government’s control over the West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

MK Zouheir Bahloul from the left-wing Zionist party was quoted by Haaretz as saying the bill would be a “de-facto annexation of military court verdicts to civilian courts,” adding that the Israeli government would essentially be “applying Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which is occupied territory.”

Previously, Israeli military rule, which Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to, was separate from any civil legal proceedings inside Israel. The new bill would act to synchronize these formerly distinct systems and allow Israeli civilians to use verdicts made in the military courts for civilian cases against Palestinians. Berko reportedly argued in the Knesset debate that the law would “make it easier for victims of terror to demand compensation from convicted terrorists in civilian courts since they will not have to begin the legal process from zero, rather can base on evidence already produced in military courts.”

However, since the Palestinian territory is under a military occupation, Israeli authorities are mandated by international law to follow the local legal systems already extant in the occupied territory, which in the case of Palestine falls within three legal systems: Ottoman, British, and Jordanian law.

Any application of Israeli domestic legislation or courts would be in violation of international law.

The decision is an unprecedented move by Israeli authorities and follows a right-wing upsurge in the Knesset with ultra-right ministers routinely pushing for the annexation of the West Bank.

Berko dismissed claims of annexation, claiming that “on the contrary, the law aims to fix discrimination [in the courts] in favor of the Palestinians, because while Palestinians can sue Israelis for civilian compensation based on a criminal conviction, Israelis cannot do the same to Palestinians,” adding that the bill would “balance” the legal situation.

However, Israeli criminal convictions are part of the country’s domestic law, which governs Israeli citizens, while Palestinians are under the Israeli military’s jurisdiction, which is separate from any civilian legal proceedings in Israel.

MK Osama Saadi from the Joint List, representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, was quoted in Haaretz as saying that “this law is a continuation of a series of laws that we will witness in the near future.”

“Call the child by its real name and don’t stand for a laundry of words – we’re talking about a creeping annexation,” he added.

At the end of last year, Israeli ministers advanced the “Legalization bill,” also known as the “regulation” or “formalization” bill, which would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized.

Opponents of the bill also claimed the legislation was another strategy to annex the West Bank.

The legislation passed its first reading in the Knesset, but still needs to pass its second and third readings to become law. However, it is believed that the controversial bill has been strategically stalled until President-elect Donald Trump is official sworn in as president of the United States, as he has come out as a vocal supporter of Israel’s illegal settlement policy.

Via Ma’an News

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Screwed?: 4 Top International Crises we have to depend on Trump to Resolve http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/screwed-international-resolve.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/screwed-international-resolve.html#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 05:15:19 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165935 By Michael T. Klare | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Within months of taking office, President Donald Trump is likely to face one or more major international crises, possibly entailing a risk of nuclear escalation. Not since the end of the Cold War has a new chief executive been confronted with as many potential flashpoints involving such a risk of explosive conflict. This proliferation of crises has been brewing for some time, but the situation appears especially ominous now given Trump’s pledge to bring American military force swiftly to bear on any threats of foreign transgression. With so much at risk, it’s none too soon to go on a permanent escalation watch, monitoring the major global hotspots for any sign of imminent flare-ups, hoping that early warnings (and the outcry that goes with them) might help avert catastrophe.

Looking at the world today, four areas appear to pose an especially high risk of sudden crisis and conflict: North Korea, the South China Sea, the Baltic Sea region, and the Middle East. Each of them has been the past site of recurring clashes, and all are primed to explode early in the Trump presidency.

Why are we seeing so many potential crises now? Is this period really different from earlier presidential transitions?

It’s true that the changeover from one presidential administration to another can be a time of global uncertainty, given America’s pivotal importance in world affairs and the natural inclination of rival powers to test the mettle of the country’s new leader. There are, however, other factors that make this moment particularly worrisome, including the changing nature of the world order, the personalities of its key leaders, and an ominous shift in military doctrine.

Just as the United States is going through a major political transition, so is the planet at large. The sole-superpower system of the post-Cold War era is finally giving way to a multipolar, if not increasingly fragmented, world in which the United States must share the limelight with other major actors, including China, Russia, India, and Iran. Political scientists remind us that transitional periods can often prove disruptive, as “status quo” powers (in this case, the United States) resist challenges to their dominance from “revisionist” states seeking to alter the global power equation. Typically, this can entail proxy wars and other kinds of sparring over contested areas, as has recently been the case in Syria, the Baltic, and the South China Sea.

This is where the personalities of key leaders enter the equation. Though President Obama oversaw constant warfare, he was temperamentally disinclined to respond with force to every overseas crisis and provocation, fearing involvement in yet more foreign wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. His critics, including Donald Trump, complained bitterly that this stance only encouraged foreign adversaries to up their game, convinced that the U.S. had lost its will to resist provocation. In a Trump administration, as The Donald indicated on the campaign trail last year, America’s adversaries should expect far tougher responses. Asked in September, for instance, about an incident in the Persian Gulf in which Iranian gunboats approached American warships in a threatening manner, he typically told reporters, “When they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and make gestures that… they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.”

Although with Russia, unlike Iran, Trump has promised to improve relations, there’s no escaping the fact that Vladimir Putin’s urge to restore some of his country’s long-lost superpower glory could lead to confrontations with NATO powers that would put the new American president in a distinctly awkward position.  Regarding Asia, Trump has often spoken of his intent to punish China for what he considers its predatory trade practices, a stance guaranteed to clash with President Xi Jinping’s goal of restoring his country’s greatness.  This should, in turn, generate additional possibilities for confrontation, especially in the contested South China Sea. Both Putin and Xi, moreover, are facing economic difficulties at home and view foreign adventurism as a way of distracting public attention from disappointing domestic performances.

These factors alone would ensure that this was a moment of potential international crisis, but something else gives it a truly dangerous edge: a growing strategic reliance in Russia and elsewhere on the early use of nuclear weapons to overcome deficiencies in “conventional” firepower.

For the United States, with its overwhelming superiority in such firepower, nuclear weapons have lost all conceivable use except as a “deterrent” against a highly unlikely first-strike attack by an enemy power. For Russia, however, lacking the means to compete on equal terms with the West in conventional weaponry, this no longer seems reasonable. So Russian strategists, feeling threatened by the way NATO has moved ever closer to its borders, are now calling for the early use of “tactical” nuclear munitions to overpower stronger enemy forces. Under Russia’s latest military doctrine, major combat units are now to be trained and equipped to employ such weapons at the first sign of impending defeat, either to blackmail enemy countries into submission or annihilate them.

Following this doctrine, Russia has developed the nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missile (a successor to the infamous “Scud” missile used by Saddam Hussein in attacks on Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia) and forward deployed it to Kaliningrad, a small sliver of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. In response, NATO strategists are discussing ways to more forcefully demonstrate the West’s own capacity to use tactical nuclear arms in Europe, for example by including more nuclear-capable bombers in future NATO exercises. As a result, the “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear warfare — that theoretical barrier to escalation — seems to be narrowing, and you have a situation in which every crisis involving a nuclear state may potentially prove to be a nuclear crisis.

With that in mind, consider the four most dangerous potential flashpoints for the new Trump administration.

North Korea

North Korea’s stepped-up development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles may present the Trump administration with its first great international challenge.  In recent years, the North Koreans appear to have made substantial progress in producing such missiles and designing small nuclear warheads to fit on them.  In 2016, the country conducted two underground nuclear tests (its fourth and fifth since 2006), along with numerous tests of various missile systems.  On September 20th, it also tested a powerful rocket engine that some observers believe could be used as the first stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that might someday be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the western United States.

North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-un, has repeatedly spoken of his determination to acquire nuclear weapons and the ability to use them in attacks on his adversaries, including the U.S.  Following a series of missile tests last spring, he insisted that his country should continue to bolster its nuclear force “both in quality and quantity,” stressing “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired at any moment.”  This could mean, he added, using these weapons “in a preemptive attack.”  On January 1st, Kim reiterated his commitment to future preemptive nuclear action, adding that his country would soon test-fire an ICBM.

President Obama responded by imposing increasingly tough economic sanctions and attempting — with only limited success — to persuade China, Pyongyang’s crucial ally, to use its political and economic clout to usher Kim into nuclear disarmament talks.  None of this seemed to make the slightest difference, which means President Trump will be faced with an increasingly well-armed North Korea that may be capable of fielding usable ICBMs within the coming years.

How will Trump respond to this peril? Three options seem available to him: somehow persuade China to compel Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear quest; negotiate a disarmament deal directly with Kim, possibly even on a face-to-face basis; or engage in (presumably nonnuclear) preemptive strikes aimed at destroying the North’s nuclear and missile-production capabilities.

Imposing yet more sanctions and talking with China would look suspiciously like the Obama approach, while obtaining China’s cooperation would undoubtedly mean compromising on trade or the South China Sea (either of which would undoubtedly involve humiliating concessions for a man like Trump).  Even were he to recruit Chinese President Xi as a helpmate, it’s unclear that Pyongyang would be deterred.  As for direct talks with Kim, Trump, unlike every previous president, has already indicated that he’s willing. “I would have no problem speaking to him,” he told Reuters last May. But what exactly would he offer the North in return for its nuclear arsenal? The withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea? Any such solution would leave the president looking like a patsy (inconceivable for someone whose key slogan has been “Make America Great Again”).

That leaves a preemptive strike. Trump appears to have implicitly countenanced that option, too, in a recent tweet. (“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”) In other words, he is open to the military option, rejected in the past because of the high risk of triggering an unpredictable response from the North, including a cataclysmic invasion of South Korea (and potential attacks on U.S. troops stationed there). Under the circumstances, the unpredictability not just of Kim Jong-un but also of Donald Trump leaves North Korea in the highest alert category of global crises as the new era begins.

The South China Sea

The next most dangerous flashpoint?  The ongoing dispute over control of the South China Sea, an area bounded by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the island of Borneo.  Citing ancient ties to islands in those waters, China now claims the entire region as part of its national maritime territory.  Some of the same islands are, however, also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Although not claiming any territory in the region itself, the U.S. has a defense treaty with the Philippines, relies on free passage through the area to move its warships from bases in the Pacific to war zones in the Middle East, and of course considers itself the preeminent Pacific power and plans to keep it that way.

In the past, China has clashed with local powers over possession of individual islands, but more recently has sought control over all of them. As part of that process, it has begun to convert low-lying islets and atolls under its control into military bases, equipping them with airstrips and missile defense systems. This has sparked protests from Vietnam and the Philippines, which claim some of those islets, and from the United States, which insists that such Chinese moves infringe on its Navy’s “freedom of navigation” through international waters.

President Obama responded to provocative Chinese moves in the South China Sea by ordering U.S. warships to patrol in close proximity to the islands being militarized.  For Trump, this has been far too minimal a response. “China’s toying with us,” he told David Sanger of the New York Times last March.  “They are when they’re building in the South China Sea.  They should not be doing that but they have no respect for our country and they have no respect for our president.” Asked if he was prepared to use military force in response to the Chinese buildup, he responded, “Maybe.”

The South China Sea may prove to be an early test of Trump’s promise to fight what he views as China’s predatory trade behavior and Beijing’s determination to resist bullying by Washington.  Last month, Chinese sailors seized an American underwater surveillance drone near one of their atolls. Many observers interpreted the move as a response to Trump’s decision to take a phone call of congratulations from the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, shortly after his election victory. That gesture, unique in recent American presidencies, was viewed in Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province, as an insult to China. Any further moves by Trump to aggravate or punish China on the economic front could result in further provocations in the South China Sea, opening the possibility of a clash with U.S. air and naval forces in the region.

All this is worrisome enough, but the prospects for a clash in the South China Sea increased significantly on January 11th, thanks to comments made by Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil and presumptive secretary of state, during his confirmation hearing in Washington.  Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said, “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”  Since the Chinese are unlikely to abandon those islands — which they consider part of their sovereign territory — just because Trump and Tillerson order them to do so, the only kind of “signal” that might carry any weight would be military action.

What form would such a confrontation take and where might it lead?  At this point, no one can be sure, but once such a conflict began, room for maneuver could prove limited indeed.  A U.S. effort to deny China access to the islands could involve anything from a naval blockade to air and missile attacks on the military installations built there to the sinking of Chinese warships.  It’s hard to imagine that Beijing would refrain from taking retaliatory steps in response, and as one move tumbled onto the next, the two nuclear-armed countries might suddenly find themselves at the brink of full-scale war.  So consider this our second global high alert.

The Baltic Sea Area

If Hillary Clinton had been elected, I would have placed the region adjoining the Baltic Sea at the top of my list of potential flashpoints, as it’s where Vladimir Putin would have been most likely to channel his hostility to her in particular and the West more generally.  That’s because NATO forces have moved most deeply into the territory of the former Soviet Union in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Those countries are also believed to be especially vulnerable to the kind of “hybrid” warfare — involving covert operations, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, and the like — that Russia perfected in Crimea and Ukraine.  With Donald Trump promising to improve relations with Moscow, it’s now far less likely that Putin would launch such attacks, though the Russians continue to strengthen their military assets (including their nuclear war-fighting capabilities) in the region, and so the risk of a future clash cannot be ruled out.

The danger there arises from geography, history, and policy. The three Baltic republics only became independent after the breakup of the USSR in 1991; today, they are members of both the European Union and NATO.  Two of them, Estonia and Latvia, share borders with Russia proper, while Lithuania and nearby Poland surround the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.  Through their NATO membership, they provide a theoretical bridgehead for a hypothetical Western invasion of Russia. By the same token, the meager forces of the three republics could easily be overwhelmed by superior Russian ones, leaving the rest of NATO to decide whether and in what fashion to confront a Russian assault on member nations.

Following Russia’s intervention in eastern Ukraine, which demonstrated both Moscow’s willingness and ability to engage in hybrid warfare against a neighboring European state, the NATO powers decided to bolster the alliance’s forward presence in the Baltic region. At a summit meeting in Warsaw in June 2016, the alliance agreed to deploy four reinforced multinational battalions in Poland and the three Baltic republics. Russia views this with alarm as a dangerous violation of promises made to Moscow in the wake of the Cold War that no NATO forces would be permanently garrisoned on the territory of the former Soviet Union. NATO has tried to deflect Russian complaints by insisting that, since the four battalions will be rotated in and out of the region, they are somehow not “permanent.” Nevertheless, from Moscow’s perspective, the NATO move represents a serious threat to Russian security and so justifies a comparable buildup of Russian forces in adjacent areas.

Adding to the obvious dangers of such a mutual build-up, NATO and Russian forces have been conducting military “exercises,” often in close proximity to each other. Last summer, for example, NATO oversaw Anaconda 2016 in Poland and Lithuania, the largest such maneuvers in the region since the end of the Cold War. As part of the exercise, NATO forces crossed from Poland to Lithuania, making clear their ability to encircle Kaliningrad, which was bound to cause deep unease in Moscow. Not that the Russians have been passive. During related NATO naval exercises in the Baltic Sea, Russian planes flew within a few feet of an American warship, the USS Donald Cook, nearly provoking a shooting incident that could have triggered a far more dangerous confrontation.

Will Putin ease up on the pressure he’s been exerting on the Baltic states once Trump is in power?  Will Trump agree to cancel or downsize the U.S. and NATO deployments there in return for Russian acquiescence on other issues?  Such questions will be on the minds of many in Eastern Europe in the coming months.  It’s reasonable to predict a period of relative calm as Putin tests Trump’s willingness to forge a new relationship with Moscow, but the underlying stresses will remain as long as the Baltic states stay in NATO and Russia views that as a threat to its security.  So chalk the region up as high alert three on a global scale.

The Middle East

The Middle East has long been a major flashpoint.  President Obama, for instance, came to office hoping to end U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet U.S. troops are still fighting in both countries today.  The question is: How might this picture change in the months ahead?

Given the convoluted history of the region and its demonstrated capacity for surprise, any predictions should be offered with caution. Trump has promised to intensify the war against ISIS, which will undoubtedly require the deployment of additional American air, sea, and ground forces in the region. As he put it during the election campaign, speaking of the Islamic State, “I would bomb the shit out of them.” So expect accelerated air strikes on ISIS-held locations, leading to more civilian casualties, desperate migrants, and heightened clashes between Shiites and Sunnis.  As ISIS loses control of physical territory and returns to guerilla-style warfare, it will surely respond by increasing terrorist attacks on “soft” civilian targets in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey, as well as in more distant locations. No one knows how all this will play out, but don’t be surprised if terrorist violence only increases and Washington once again finds itself drawn more deeply into an endless quagmire in the Greater Middle East and northern Africa.

The overriding question, of course, is how Donald Trump will behave toward Iran. He has repeatedly affirmed his opposition to the nuclear deal signed by the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China and insisted that he would either scrap it or renegotiate it, but it’s hard to imagine how that might come to pass.  All of the other signatories are satisfied with the deal and seek to do business with Iran, so any new negotiations would have to proceed without those parties. As many U.S. strategists also see merit in the agreement, since it deprives Iran of a nuclear option for at least a decade or more, a decisive shift on the nuclear deal appears unlikely.

On the other hand, Trump could be pressured by his close associates — especially his pick for national security advisor, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, a notoriously outspoken Iranophobe — to counter the Iranians on other fronts. This could take a variety of forms, including stepped-up sanctions, increased aid to Saudi Arabia in its war against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, or attacks on Iranian proxies in the Middle East. Any of these would no doubt prompt countermoves by Tehran, and from there a cycle of escalation could lead in numerous directions, all dangerous, including military action by the U.S., Israel, or Saudi Arabia. So mark this one as flash point four and take a deep breath.

Going on Watch

Starting on January 20th, as Donald Trump takes office, the clock will already be ticking in each of these flashpoint regions.  No one knows which will be the first to erupt, or what will happen when it does, but don’t count on our escaping at least one, and possibly more, major international crises in the not-too-distant future.

Given the stakes involved, it’s essential to keep a close watch on all of them for signs of anything that might trigger a major conflagration and for indications of a prematurely violent Trumpian response (the moment to raise a hue and cry). Keeping the spotlight shining on these four potential flashpoints may not be much, but it’s the least we can do to avert Armageddon.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Michael T. Klare

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Trump feuds with Merkel, EU, BMW, NATO, China, CIA but not with Putin http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/trump-feuds-merkel.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/01/trump-feuds-merkel.html#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 08:16:49 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=165927 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump picked a fight with almost everyone but his buddy Vladimir Putin this weekend. His continued tweaking of China over its claims on Taiwan produced a sharp rebuke from Beijing. John Brennan, head of the CIA, pushed back against Trump’s branding of the agency as a Nazi institution after the golden shower Russian dossier on him was leaked.

Trump gave an interview Monday with the German publication Der Bild in which he rampaged around like a bull in a China shop, insulting Chancellor Angela Merkel over her immigration policies, threatening BMW with a trade war, putting Merkel and Putin on the same plane with regard to his respect for them, dismissing NATO as outmoded, harming investment, and putting a scare into Eastern Europe that he’ll abandon them to Putin the way he seems to have acquiesced in the aggression on Ukraine. (See the interview, linked at the bottom of this page, which is in English with German subtitles).

Trump also went again after the Bush administration and his own Republican Party, calling the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 the worst foreign policy decision that the US ever made. “It was like,” he exclaimed, “throwing stones at a beehive.”

Asked whom he respected more, Merkel or Putin, Trump said “both.” Merkel is a treaty ally of the United States. Putin is a frenemy.

Trump said he likes Germany and respects Merkel, but that he disagreed with her decision to admit large numbers of what he called “illegals” from Syria (he then backed up and said he didn’t know where they were from because they weren’t vetted), and suggested that the decision opened Germany to more terrorism. He also dismissed the European Union as a German project, hinting that it was some sort of money-making scam for Berlin, and complained about a chronic US trade imbalance with the EU, which he said “is going to stop.” In November, the US exported $21 billion worth of goods to the EU countries and imported $34.8 billion. Trump shrugged and indicated that he didn’t care if the EU survived or not, since he saw it as a means for Germany to gain unfair trade advantages over the United States. Trump doesn’t understand macro-economics or the function of a trade deficit over time.

Merkel replied curtly, “I think we Europeans have our destiny in our own hands.” She also said that while the issue of terrorism is a great challenge for everyone, it is a separate question from that of immigration.

Several terrorist attacks by Muslims in Europe have actually been carried out mainly by European-born individuals, mostly petty criminals. A recent attack by truck was perpetrated by someone whose asylum application was rejected but who went into hiding. It wasn’t as though he were unvetted.

Most terrorism in Europe in the past decade has been carried out by separatists or far-right groups, not by Muslims.

Trump again slammed NATO, demanding that European countries pony up more funds for it and stop freeloading off the United States. The Der Bild interviewer tried to get him to understand that this sort of talk was spooking the new eastern European members of NATO. Trump said he knew what was going on, but he declined to back down from his attack.

He also went after BMW, which is building a big new auto plant in Mexico. Trump warns that they won’t be allowed to export those cars to the US unless they pay a 35% tariff.

This threat caused BMW stock to drop 2.2% at some points Monday, leveling off at 1%, representing a lost of billions of dollars. Finance specialists warned that Trump is creating an atmosphere in which investors are jittery and putting off investing, which could slow economic growth. They also point out that the US is a member of the World Trade Organization, which would certainly not allow the abrupt imposition of a big new tariff on goods coming in to the US from Mexico. Further, were Trump to follow through on his threats, Germany would retaliate with its own tariffs, which could push the fragile world economy into a Depression.

As for the refugees given asylum in Germany, they are not “illegals.” Human beings cannot be “illegal,” for one thing. But the immigration to Germany has typically been through legal channels, and those denied asylum are leaving in ever greater numbers. Germany accepted about a million asylum seekers in the past two years.

Germany’s population has been declining and was expected to spiral down from 82 million to 60 million by 2050. This decline threatens the ability of elderly Germans to receive government services, since there are so many fewer workers in the next generation and they cannot generate the same amount of tax returns to the state as did the previous cohort. In part, Merkel’s decision to let the asylum-seekers in was taken out of charity, but she and her team may also have calculated that the immigrants who brought skills (the majority) could contribute to the economy over time and slow the country’s population decline.

The German Interior Ministry revealed that some 280,000 migrants applied for asylum in 2016. Germany only admits about half of the applicants to full refugee status. Some 70,000 of those rejected have returned home in the past two years. The largest groups of applicants are Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Eritreans and Albanians.

The US admits roughly 1 million legal immigrants and 70,000 asylees annually, so that Germany’s applicants for the past year are exactly proportional to the numbers actually processed by the US, since it is 1/4 as populous. That is, Germany is just behaving more like the US recently, not doing something unheard of, as Trump (who deeply dislikes immigrants from anywhere to anywhere, apparently) said.

The 890,000 asylum applications received by Germany in 2015 are therefore something extremely unusual. That situation derived from a crisis of immigration across the Mediterranean, in which many lives were at stake (some 5,000 attempted immigrants died on the sea last year). In addition, however, it now seems clear that people smugglers set up shop in Turkey and flooded immigrants into Europe, with its open borders, for a fee, taking advantage of the sympathy of the European public for the boat people. Turkey has made an agreement to police its own borders better (and likely to crack down on these coyotes) in return for a payment of $3 billion from the EU. While Europe clearly needs to do something about its border security, Merkel’s act of compassion and of population policy will certainly benefit the German economy and German dynamism over time. Trump is wrong.

See the Bild Interview with Trump here

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