Friday, January 27, 2017

Will Trump Era Provide Respite To Those With Destroyed Countries?

Will Trump Era Provide Respite To Those With Destroyed Countries?
                                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

The procession of breast beating “liberals” doesn’t seem to end, not since Donald Trump eclipsed their most shining star Hillary Clinton.

True, Hillary would be graceful at the Inaugural Ball.
Favours to none, to all
she smiles extends.
Oft she rejects but
never once offends.

Melania would be a novice by comparison. But here we are talking about aesthetics and class? Why then pull out John Stuart Mill to measure the order just ushered in.

The argument that Hillary would have made a better President because she knew every nook and corner of Washington, White House and Foggy Bottom is precisely why she lost. It set her up as the Establishment which was remote from the people who found solace in a person who did not even look like a politician.

On the “Liberal” yardstick, both falter.

Two images of Hillary are etched on my mind. I had just returned from Syria in early 2012.  I wrote a paper for the Observer Research Foundation explaining why Bashar al Assad was nowhere near falling.

In fact, regime change was simply not possible by cross border terrorism supporting Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda inspired restiveness in places like Hama, Homs and Daraa all being amplified by the western media as a full blown civil war. This was in 2011-12.

I can never forget some frames. Hillary Clinton comes into focus, repeatedly, with an imperious wave of the hand: “Get out of the way Assad” and “Stop butchering your own people”.

The second image of Hillary concerns Libya. Anybody with even an elementary knowledge of ground realities in Libya knew how the British and other western intelligence had with great diligence stoked an insurgency. The matter had been discussed in British Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron had a series of skirmishes with his army chief Gen. David Richard on the Libyan misadventure.

Americans entered the Libyan drama late, but, being Americans, they chose to take the credit. A front page cartoon in a European newspaper shows a fire in the distance. In the foreground is Uncle Sam, looking like a butler, waiting outside a garden umbrella where some European grandees are sipping campari. One of them snaps his fingers: “go put out that fire”.

That is when Hillary embarked on the mission. The indelible image she left on my mind was a split TV screen. One half of the screen is Qaddafi being sodomized by a knife; on the other is a triumphant Hillary shrugging her shoulders: “I came; I saw and he died.” Never will there be a more macabre play on “Vini, Vidi, Vici”.

Where is the great “liberal” spirit seering through all of this?

Why then are the “liberals” everywhere beating their breasts at her defeat? Do they see Trump as “illiberal” by comparison?

The two images of Hillary’s involvement with Syria and Libya would probably be justified by falling back on the classical Wilsonian approach. After the victory in the First World War, neither Britain, France or other allies quite envisioned the peace settlement the way Wilson did. After armistice, Woodrow Wilson began to draft in his mind a plan for a “just democracy throughout the world”. For democracy and freedom to be secure in the United States, the sapling will have to be nurtured everywhere. Like these moral values, wealth too would accompany good governance and enterprise as part of God’s plan.

Liberal ideals would spread gradually almost by imitation. It can be argued that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was also, in large part, by imitation. But in both, Syria and Libya, the Liberal argument would have to be contrived, that it was important to defeat the two tyrants who were brutalizing their own people. Woodrow Wilson envisioned the expansion of the Liberal ideal by example and gentle persuasion. He never envisaged a post World War II American pre eminence on a scale where Judge, jury, executioner and the dispenser of information would all be one and the same.

Now consider the casualty figures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen a total of over a million dead and 15 million displaced. The wars begun by George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz were continued by Barack Obama. He simply could not dismount. What liberal ideal is involved in these unspeakable horrors?

Remember Obama had promised to shut Guantanamo Bay as soon as he entered the Oval office. Every time he tried, he found himself glaring at an intelligence file for Eyes Only. An unnerved Obama backed away.

That is the kind of turf the Intelligence Community is obstinately holding onto in its continuing battle with the Trump White House.

That the establishment, media and the intelligence community are out to embarrass Trump on the legitimacy of his election is not without its irony. George W Bush too had stolen the 2001 election in Florida. But there is a difference. The establishment was on his side then.

The American liberals we learnt to revere in our school was Clarence Darrow, Ed Murrow and writers like Arthur Miller with their gaze of irony on the American Dream.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalization was marketed as unbridled capitalism, breeding crony capitalism everywhere. The world has flinched from that world order. Brexit and Trump are a consequence. We are transiting from one world order to the other. Millions will view the transition with hope. Liberals should have these multitudes in their ken too.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Coming Trump World Order: Western Intelligence On Sixes and Sevens

Coming Trump World Order: Western Intelligence On Sixes and Sevens
                                                                                          Saeed Naqvi

Pardon my naiveté, but I cannot for the life of me, comprehend why the entire US establishment, with the Intelligence Community in the vanguard, is in convulsions about the alleged Russian efforts to hack into the US elections which brought Donald Trump to power. The CIA must be lazy if it doesn’t hack into Moscow, Beijing, everywhere.

The Washington Post on December 23 published a story by Lindsey A. Rourke, under the headline: “The US tried to change other countries’ governments 72 times during the Cold War”.

As a journalist, I have been witness to efforts at regime change or attempted assassination of leaders. Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986, killing Qaddafi’s six month old daughter. Qaddafi barely escaped.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was so moved that he arranged for a delegation of non aligned foreign ministers to Tripoli to commiserate with the Libyan leader.

The Reagan White House was not pleased. The power a particular Indian ambassador to Washington had acquired depended largely on extraordinary access to key officials around the President. To preserve this priceless access, Rajiv Gandhi was persuaded to sack Foreign Minister, Bali Ram Bhagat. His guilt? He led the “peace” delegation to Tripoli at Rajiv’s behest.

In 1987, in Managua, Nicaragua, Cardinal Ovando Bravo led me to Mother Mary’s statue in the centre of town which had not stopped “shedding tears” eversince the Daniel Ortega led Sandinistas came to power. Mary’s tears were not in vain. God was working through the US who were financing and arming the anti Sandinista Contra rebels. Mysterious were God’s ways. The money for the Contras came from a secret fund in Iran (Devil incarnate for neo cons) which was receiving arms from the US for this extraordinary munificence.

It might be argued that the examples listed above belong to the Cold War era. Well, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, all victims of US interventions, are clearly post cold war enterprises. Agreed, the creation of the Islamist Mujahideen did result in the Soviet Union vacating Afghanistan, but at the cost of the Afghan nation. Zbigniew Brzezinski placed the matter in a kind of perspective: “Our aim was to defeat the Soviet Union” he said. “And not worry about stirred up Muslims.”

The tizzy in which the US intelligence community finds itself, might be a good occasion to revisit the Syrian story to which I am witness from the very beginning. I extricate myself from a group of Arab experts at the Semiramis hotel in Damascus, to keep an appointment with Bouthaina Shaaban, senior adviser to President Bashar al Assad.

How do you explain US ambassador, Robert Stephen Ford and his French counterpart, holding meetings in Hama, Homs and Darra with rebel groups, in full public gaze? I ask her.

Ms. Shaaban, elegant and articulate, shrugs her shoulders. “Just shows how much we have been penetrated.” Ford, it is commonly known, was a great favourite of Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

Among the senior Arabists in Damascus at that time is also, Edward Lionel Peck, a former US ambassador to Arab countries. His disgust with Ford’s behaviour is contained in a letter he wrote to members of the group who were in Damascus with him. There is such universal endorsement of the Ford school of diplomacy which borders on the Secret Service type operations, that I feel obliged to give Peck as much airing as I can. He wrote: “I have been dismayed by the accolades and support given to Ambassador Ford, our man in - and now out of Syria, for stepping well out of the traditional and appropriate role of a diplomat and actively encouraging the revolt/insurrection/sectarian strife/outside meddling, call it what you will, that is still going on. It is easy to imagine the US reaction if an ambassador from anywhere were to engage in even distantly related activities here. I fear my country remains somewhat more than merely insensitive, and is sliding into just plain rampant and offensive arrogance.” Will Trump put an end to such shenanigans?

There is something strained and edgy in the way the neo cons, the media, with the Intelligence Community in front, have mounted a virtual war on the incoming administration. It is actually a kind of blackmail. The message seems to be: you will get more of the same if you deviate from the ongoing policy which sees Vladimir Putin as arch enemy.

Trump’s commitment to “bomb the shit” out of terrorists, threatens to expose the doublespeak of established policy on Syria too. So far the US and its allies have pursued a policy riddled with ambiguity: fight IS and al Nusra but also oust or atleast weaken the Assad regime, a paradox which, in the given circumstances, cannot be reconciled. The Russian policy is more straightforward: fight the IS and Nusra in which the regime troops can be decisive.

Trump is quite clear: seek Russian cooperation to defeat terrorism. Who can quarrel with this line? The moment of reckoning may also have arrived in Afghanistan, where the Taleban are to be mobilized by Russia and China to fight IS and Al Qaeda. Can Trump be far behind? That’s the tricky one.

In brief, with Trump’s arrival on the scene, the stranglehold of the Intelligence Community on foreign policy may well weaken.

The world of western Intelligence is therefore all upside down.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Keep Your Fingers Crossed In New Year: Beware Ides Of March

Keep Your Fingers Crossed In New Year: Beware Ides Of March
                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

“Ek din keh leejiye jo kuch hai dil mein aapke
Ek din sun leejiye jo kuch hamare dil mein hai”
(Some day speak out everything in your heart.
But one day also listen to what we have in our hearts.)

You would imagine that this simple arrangement of words, a polite satire on the Prime Minister’s repetitious style of one-way communications (though in waist coats of diverse colours) would go down well with audiences who have stood in queues outside their banks. Wrong. A verse like this would break their trance.

Don’t forget our important tiraths, or pilgrimages Amarnath, Vaishno Devi, Sabrimala, Shravanabelagola, to name just a few, demand arduous journeys on foot before that moment of rapture, a sighting of the deity. It is in this framework that the Indian has been mobilized for some higher purpose. Not for him to reason why, not at the moment.

The man in the queue should not be confused with the elite who never had to stand in line and who see limited currency supply as a boon, a welcome route to automatic thrift. If I tipped a bearer Rs.100 before November 8, I now tip him only Rs.20 and the recipient, a born fatalist, is even happier. This in fact is the new norm. Economists will study the downstream consequences of this abrupt slowing of cashflow for months to come.

Never in history has every citizen been in possession of data which would be the envy of social scientists worldwide. In the past 60 days I must have asked questions on demonetization of, say, an average of five persons each day spread over Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh.

What are my findings? Broadly, there are two categories of responses which, quite strangely, remind me of Mandal Commission and its consequences. Let me explain why:

The majority of the educated speculated about black money, remonetisation of banks, a degree of collusion between bank employees and corrupt depositors who transformed astronomical sums of old money into new, the problem the middle level stores and shops were having in acquiring swipe machines and so on. But this lot was almost without exception, over a period of time, beginning to give Narendra Modi a benefit of doubt: things will improve. This was the growing refrain. In the late 80s and 90s when reservations were being increased, this lot would have been the savarnas, the upper castes opposed to rapid Mandalization.

Have those averse to sustained mandalized politics, spotted a possible equalizer in the travails of demonetisation? The uneducated, the dalits on whose back a new mandalised leadership consolidated itself in state capitals, have to this day continued to sell fruits and vegetables in carts, pavement stalls; lounging between parked cars are daily wage workers, carpenters, barbers, street cobblers, rag pickers the list is endless.

“Many of these do not even know how to make phone calls”, says Prakash the contractor in Kotla Mubarakpur. How will they ever enter the cashless economy? These are the ones who have returned to their villages only to find their banks unable to give them any cash. Such stories reinforced by the narratives of their relatives and clans grow with geometrical progression this is the overwhelming majority in the country side. For this multitude, Modi is quite the opposite of the hero TV channels project him as. This population is totally at a variance from the city dweller in the queue “things will improve”.

Obviously, the two categories of voters will support opposite sides in the coming elections to UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa.

Uttarakhand was carved out to insulate the Hill savarnas from the ravages of UP’s Mandalized politics. The state has two dominant castes, Brahmins and Thakurs, both on the right side of the demonetization divide.

It is in UP where the wretched of the Earth, further dispossessed by the currency crunch, will expend their anger against Modi. Post Mandal, Yadavs, backbone of the Samajwadi party, have emerged as the most powerful intermediate caste. They do not rank with the poorest. Dalits do. And they are mostly with Mayawati. Will the formidable leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party be the biggest beneficiary of the currency mayhem? Muslims are badly hit too. Whether they will be seduced by SP or BSP, popularity currents on election night will dictate.

That Modi remains unchallenged after he made the nation stand outside its banks, for 60 days and more, would have been incendiary material had there been leaders of sufficient caliber to light the match, Hindu fatalism notwithstanding. Mamata Banerjee has spunk but no supporting character outside Bengal. Punjab, therefore, is consequential for Modi in this context.

Despite the media unabashedly playing the Corporate hand, ground reports from Punjab are favourable to AAP. Arvind Kejriwal, persistently reviled by the media, an unfriendly Lt. Governor, a piqued BJP and Congress, will acquire an aura if he wins. By the way, how is he faring in Goa?

What is playing out in Lucknow is a combination of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and Lear. In Ferdowsi’s tragedy, Rustam slays his own son Sohrab. Lear goes mad, having been betrayed by his own progeny.

The more courtiers around Mulayam Singh egg him on for action against his son Akhilesh Yadav, the stronger will be the electoral storm gathering in the young chief minister’s favour. With Mulayam’s mental faculties in question, the conspirators are egging the aging Rustam to politically slay Sohrab.

Should Akhilesh prevail in these series of rounds, well, Modi will have to take note of another political contender for the 2019 general elections. Meanwhile, state elections will ominously bring into focus the fateful Ides of March which is when results will start pouring in.

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