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Updated: 31 min 28 sec ago

Donald Trump: Gunrunner for Hire

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:07am

American weapons makers have dominated the global arms trade for decades. In any given year, they’ve accounted for somewhere between one-third and more than one-half the value of all international weapons sales. It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse — or better, if you happen to be an arms trader — but they could, and soon, if a new Trump rule on firearms exports goes through.

But let’s hold off a moment on that and assess just how bad it’s gotten before even worse hits the fan. Until recently, the Trump administration had focused its arms sales policies on the promotion of big-ticket items like fighter planes, tanks, and missile defense systems around the world. Trump himself has loudly touted U.S. weapons systems just about every time he’s had the chance, whether amid insults to allies at the recent NATO summit or at a chummy White House meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose brutal war in Yemen is fueled by U.S.-supplied arms.

A recent presidential export policy directive, in fact, specifically instructs American diplomats to put special effort into promoting arms sales, effectively turning them into agents for the country’s largest weapons makers. As an analysis by the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy has noted, human rights and even national security concerns have taken a back seat to creating domestic jobs via such arms sales. Evidence of this can be found in, for example, the ending of Obama administration arms sales suspensions to Nigeria, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. The first of those had been imposed because of the way the Nigerian government repressed its own citizens; the second for Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on the democracy movement there; and the last for Saudi Arabia’s commission of acts that one member of Congress has said “look like war crimes” in its Yemeni intervention.

Fueling death and destruction, however, turns out not to be a particularly effective job creator. Such military spending actually generates significantly fewer jobs per dollar than almost any other kind of investment. In addition, many of those jobs will actually be located overseas, thanks to production-sharing deals with weapons-purchasing countries like Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other U.S. allies. To cite an example, one of the goals of Saudi Arabia’s economic reform plan — unveiled in 2017 — is to ensure that, by 2030, half the value of the kingdom’s arms purchases will be produced in Saudi Arabia. U.S. firms have scrambled to comply, setting up affiliates in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and in the case of Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky unit, agreeing to begin assemblingmilitary helicopters there. McClatchy news service summed up the situation in this headline: “Trump’s Historic Arms Deal Is a Likely Jobs Creator — In Saudi Arabia.”

For most Americans, there should be serious questions about the economic benefits of overseas arms sales, but if you’re a weapons maker looking to pump up sales and profits, the Trump approach has already been a smashing success. According to the head of the Pentagon’s arms sales division, known euphemistically as the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Department of Defense has brokered agreements for sales of major systems worth $46 billion in the first six months of 2018, more than the $41 billion in deals made during all of 2017.

And that, it seems, is just the beginning.

Slow Motion Weapons of Mass Destruction

Yes, those massive sales of tanks, helicopters, and fighter aircraft are indeed a grim wonder of the modern world and never receive the attention they truly deserve. However, a potentially deadlier aspect of the U.S. weapons trade receives even less attention than the sale of big-ticket items: the export of firearms, ammunition, and related equipment. Global arms control advocates have termed such small arms and light weaponry — rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and handguns — “slow motion weapons of mass destruction” because they’re the weapons of choice in the majority of the 40 armed conflicts now underway around the world. They and they alone have been responsible for nearly half of the roughly 200,000 violent deaths by weapon that have been occurring annually both in and outside of official war zones.

And the Trump administration is now moving to make it far easier for U.S. gun makers to push such wares around the world. Consider it an irony, if you will, but in doing so, the president who has staked his reputation on rejecting everything that seems to him tainted by Barack Obama is elaborating on a proposal originally developed in the Obama years.

The crucial element in the new plan: to move key decisions on whether or not to export guns and ammunition abroad from the State Department’s jurisdiction, where they would be vetted on both human rights and national security grounds, to the Commerce Department, whose primary mission is promoting national exports.

The Violence Policy Center, a research and advocacy organization that seeks to limit gun deaths, has indicated that such a move would ease the way for more exports of a long list of firearms. Those would include sniper rifles and AR-15s, the now-classic weapon in U.S. mass killings like the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut. Under the new plan, the careful tracking of whose hands such gun exports could end up in will be yesterday’s news and, as a result, U.S. weapons are likely to become far more accessible to armed gangs, drug cartels, and terrorist operatives.

President Trump’s plan would even eliminate the requirement that Congress be notified in advance of major firearms deals, which would undoubtedly prove to be the arms loophole of all time. According to statistics gathered by the Security Assistance Monitor, which gathers comprehensive information on U.S. military and police aid programs, the State Department approved $662 million worth of firearms exports to 15 countries in 2017. The elimination of Congressional notifications and the other proposed changes will mean that countries like Mexico, the Philippines, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as various Central American nations, will have far easier access to a far wider range of U.S. firearms with far less Congressional oversight. And that, in turn, means that U.S.-supplied weapons will play even more crucial roles in vicious civil wars like the one in Yemen and are far more likely to make their way into the hands of local thugs, death squads, and drug cartels.

And mind you, it isn’t as if U.S. gun export policies were enlightened before the Trump era. They were already wreaking havoc in neighboring countries. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, an astonishing 50,000 U.S. guns were recovered in criminal investigations in 15 Western Hemisphere nations between 2014 and 2016. That report goes on to note that 70% of the guns recovered from crimes in Mexico are of U.S. origin. The comparable figures for Central America are 49% for El Salvador, 46% for Honduras, and 29% for Guatemala.

While Donald Trump rails — falsely — against a flood of criminals washing across the U.S.-Mexico border, he conveniently ignores this country’s export of violence in the other direction thanks to both legal and illegal transfers of guns to Mexico and Central America. The U.S. has, in short, already effectively weaponized both criminal networks and repressive security forces in those countries. In other words, it’s played a key role in the killing of significant numbers of innocent civilians there, ratcheting up the pressure on individuals, families, and tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who have then headed for the United States looking for a safer, better life. Trump’s new proposal would potentially make this situation far worse and his “big, fat, beautiful wall” would have to grow larger still.

In the past, congressional awareness of foreign firearm deals has made a difference. In September 2017, under pressure from Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the Trump administration reversed itself and blocked a sale of 1,600 semiautomatic pistols to Turkey because of abuses by the personal security forces of that country’s president, Recep Erdogan. (Those included what the New York Times described as “brutal attacks” on U.S. citizens during Erdogan’s May 2017 trip to Washington, D.C.) Similarly, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) persuaded the Obama administration to halt a deal that would have sent 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines, where security forces and private death squads, egged on by President Rodrigo Duterte, were gunning down thousands of people suspected of (but not charged with or convicted of) drug trafficking. As Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin has noted, under the new Trump rules, it will be nearly impossible for members of Congress to intervene in such a fashion to stop similar deals in the future.

On the implications of the deregulation of firearms exports, Cardin has spoken out strongly. “The United States,” he said, “should never make it easier for foreign despots to slaughter their civilians or for American-made assault weapons to be readily available to paramilitary or terrorist groups… The administration’s proposal makes those scenarios even more possible. The United States is, and should be, better than this.”

The Trump plan is, however, good news for hire-a-gun successors to Blackwater, the defunct private contractor whose personnel killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in a notorious 2007 incident. Such firms would be able to train foreign military forces in the use of firearms without seeking licenses from the State Department, allowing them to operate in places like Libya that might otherwise have been off-limits.

Embracing the Gun Lobby

Not surprisingly, Trump’s proposal to make it easier for global gunrunners to operate from U.S. soil has been greeted with jubilation by the National Rifle Association and U.S.-based firearms manufacturers. The NRA has been a staunch opponent of efforts to place any kind of controls on the global trade in guns since at least the mid-1990s. That was when the United Nations first addressed the impact of the global trade in small arms and light weapons, which ultimately led to the passage of an international Arms Trade Treaty in 2014. Though the Obama administration signed it, the Senate refused to ratify it, in large part thanks to an NRA lobbying campaign.

Now, the NRA has an enthusiastic ally in the president. And that organization, which vigorously backed him in the 2016 election campaign, spending over $30 million on ads praising him or trashing Hillary Clinton, is backing his efforts to deregulate gun exports to the hilt. In a June 2018 letterfrom its Institute for Legislative Affairs, the NRA urged its supporters to weigh in favorably during the public-comment period on the new rules, describing them as “among the most important pro-gun initiatives by the Trump administration to date.” That’s no small claim, given the president’s enthusiastic embrace of virtually every element of the NRA’s anti-gun-control agenda.

The National Sports Shooting Federation (NSSF), the misleadingly named trade association for U.S. gun manufacturers, is also backing Trump’s efforts to boost firearms exports. The federation’s president, Lawrence Keane, has asserted that the administration proposal will be “a significant positive development for the industry that will allow members to reduce costs and compete in the global marketplace more effectively, all while not in any way hindering national security.”

Among the biggest threats posed by Trump’s approach to guns is his administration’s decision to settle a case with Defense Distributed, a Texas-based firm run by gun advocate Cody Wilson, and so usher in “the age of the downloadable gun.” Though a Seattle-based judge intervened to stop him for the time being, the government had green-lighted Wilson’s posting of designs on the Internet that could be used to produce plastic guns on 3-D printers. If it does happen, it will undoubtedly prove to be a global bonanza for anyone in need of a weapon and capable of purchasing such a printer anywhere in the world.

Arms control and human rights groups have joined domestic gun control organizations like the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in trying to block the change, which will dramatically undermine efforts to limit the proliferation of guns at home and abroad. If they fail, it will suddenly become much easier to produce untraceable plastic firearms — from handguns to AR-15s. The administration even agreed to pay Cody Wilson’s legal fees in the dispute, a move former congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) has described as “a particularly galling example of Mr. Trump’s obsequiousness to the most extreme fringe of the gun lobby.”

Congress could seek to blunt the most egregious aspects of the Trump administration’s deregulation of firearms exports by, for instance, ensuring that oversight of the most dangerous guns — like sniper rifles and AR-15 semiautomatic weapons — not be shifted away from the State Department. It could also continue to force the administration to notify Congress of any major firearms deals before they happen and pass legislation making it illegal to post instructions for producing untraceable guns via 3-D printing technology.

In a political climate dominated by an erratic president in the pocket of the NRA and a Congress with large numbers of members under the sway of the gun lobby, however, only a strong, persistent public outcry might make a difference.

In the meantime, welcome to the world of American gunrunning and start thinking of Donald Trump as our very own gunrunner-in-chief.

The post Donald Trump: Gunrunner for Hire appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Storyand Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel  Splinterlands. Copyright 2018 William D. Hartung

Trump Snubbed McCain. The Media Snubbed the Rest of Us.

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:26pm


On an otherwise sleepy August day, President Trump signed the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act. Named for the dying Arizona senator who’s championed military budgets for his entire career, the bill increases U.S. military spending to an astonishing $717 billion.

According to my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Lindsay Koshgarian, that’s about double what American taxpayers were spending at the end of the Cold War, and upwards of $300 billion more than what we spent before the War on Terror.

The bill also contains language encouraging a confrontation with Iran, while also making it possible for the administration to continue offering weapons and support to the Saudi-led coalition that’s bombing Yemen. (Where, the very week the bill was signed, they bombed a school bus, killing 51 people — 40 of them children.)

You’d expect a bill of this magnitude to generate lots of critical coverage — and you’d be right! But only kind of.

The most controversial thing about this bill, to hear most of the media tell it, is that the president refused to thank John McCain when he signed it.

Countless outlets, from Newsweek to TIME to the Washington Post, reported the omission as a “snub” against the bill’s namesake senator, an occasional Trump critic. CNN’s Jake Tapper used an entire segment on his show to scold the president about it — and even sanctimoniously thanked McCain himself.

The New York Times ran the numbers: Trump spoke for 28 minutes about the bill, with 0 mentions of McCain.

I ran some numbers of my own: A Google news search on the story turned up nearly 150,000 pieces like this. That’s almost 3 times the number of results I got when I searched the same story, but replaced “John McCain” with the actual price tag of the bill: $717 billion.

To put it kindly, this is garbage.

If the media deems a petty snub more controversial than a massive, war-mongering spending bill, you can be sure Congress will follow. The bill passed by huge bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate.

I can assure you, Trump’s not going to speak more kindly of John McCain as a result of this coverage. But more school buses are probably going to get blown up — and so are more pressing human needs in our own communities.

For instance, my home state of Ohio has, by some measures, the most student debt of any state. According to Koshgarian, taxpayers there spent $15.5 billion on the Pentagon base budget alone this past year. For that money, we could’ve funded nearly 700,000 four-year Pell grants.

For Texas, the most uninsured state in the union, their $45 billion in Pentagon dollars could’ve covered 15 million adults and 16 million kids. That’s the entire state — and then some.

Flint, Michigan taxpayers, Koshgarian calculates, spent some $38 million. That could’ve paid for nearly 700 infrastructure jobs to fix things like, say, lead in their water pipes.

Nationally, that money could’ve provided solar power to the entire country. Or funded universal health care. Or debt-free higher education. Instead, we’ll be shelling out more money on fruitless, destructive wars and boondoggle weapons systems like the F-35 (which McCain himself has called “a scandal and a tragedy”).

The real scandal is that such expenditures aren’t deemed controversial — not by our lawmakers, and not by many of the outlets that cover them. Next time they say McCain’s name, they should report what his bill costs the rest of us.

The post Trump Snubbed McCain. The Media Snubbed the Rest of Us. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus.

The Best of All Possible Worlds?

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 9:24am

The Huntington’s 2012 production of Candide (T. Charles Erickson via Flickr)

Candide is the first and most amusing example of the powerlessness of positive thinking.

In this 18th century novel by Voltaire, the naïf Candide suffers one misfortunate after another – kidnapping, torture, earthquake. Still he adheres to the philosophy of his mentor, Dr. Pangloss, who insists that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Never has there been such a mismatch between philosophy and facts on the ground. Only at the end does the chastened Candide reject the Panglossian worldview, adopt some measure of realism, and narrow his focus to cultivating his own garden.

Donald Trump is the anti-Pangloss. Even as he personally enjoys all the perks of being a billionaire and a president, he constantly reminds Americans that they face the worst of all possible worlds. As Trump pointed out in his inaugural address, America is a land of “carnage,” thanks to the policies of his predecessors. The world beyond America’s borders is scarier still and requires walls, travel bans, and even a new branch of the military to patrol space. Trump promises to make America great again, but the “deep state,” the fake media, liberal Hollywood, and Lebron James are preventing him from doing so.

About one-third of America believes in Trump’s dystopian vision of the world. Everybody else believes that Trump himself is dystopia incarnate.

Even if you take Trump out of the picture (please!), it still seems as though the world is lurching from one tragedy to another: financial crisis, rising temperatures, super storms, horrific wars, peak refugees, another Ebola outbreak, failed states, rampant corruption, political and economic polarization.

Who on earth could possibly think that this is the best of all possible worlds?

Well, Steven Pinker, for one.

Enlightenment Now

Six years ago, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker argued that, contrary to conventional wisdom, violence is on the decline: fewer people dying in war, in dictatorships, in criminal acts, even in disputes at home. He made a powerful case, though he slighted the violence committed by democratic states and by business. As I wrote in my review of his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature:

Pinker is an Enlightenment liberal, and he lavishly praises “civilization” throughout his book. He seems to have forgotten that “civilization” often replaces one type of violence with another. The violence of the civilizing empire, the violence of the civilizing state, and the violence of the civilizing economy push aside more localized violence. The different tribes of Native Americans didn’t exactly live in harmony before 1492, but the bringing of “civilization” to the natives raised the magnitude of violence from skirmishes to genocide. We can acknowledge the overall reduction of violence over the centuries even as we remain clear-eyed about the wages of civilization.

Pinker is back and this time with a full-throated defense of the Enlightenment and its version of civilization. He is expanding his argument about violence to argue that everything is getting better. In Enlightenment Now, he laments that our noses are too close to life’s grindstone to see this bigger picture.

Pinker marshals a good deal of evidence to back up his claim. Life expectancy has gone up. Extreme poverty has gone down. Scientific advances have made life easier. Liberal values of tolerance have become more widespread. The air, water, and soil have gotten cleaner (at least since the Industrial Revolution). Oh, and yes, violence has decreased.

Everything else is a blip, according to Pinker. The current threats to Enlightenment values – Trump, Putin, climate denial, the narcissistic super-rich, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State – all these will pass. Pinker is not that much different from an early twentieth-century Marxist who believed that history would necessarily produce a radiant future. It just needs a little push in the right direction.

Ah, if only it were so.

Environmental Blind Spot

I imagine that there was a Steven Pinker in every past society on the verge of extinction. The Mayan Steven Pinker told his compatriots that there was nothing to worry about. Sure, there’d been a little less rain over the years, but the Mayan Empire was nearly 700 years old and life had been getting better and better. Surely, the rains would come and things would pick up…

The Angkor Wat Steven Pinker would have been enthusiastic about the heavy monsoon rain that fell over the Khmer empire, particularly since he and his kin had just suffered through their own devastating drought. Sure, it looked as though these heavy rains were destroying the very infrastructure of empire, but they’d rebuild again, wouldn’t they, just as they always had?

The Roman Steven Pinker would have praised the great accomplishments of the empire and its spread of characteristically Roman values all over the world. Sure, there were some restive tribes that occasionally swept down from the north to sack a city or two. But it was impossible to imagine that the edifice of civilization would crumble at the hands of disgruntled barbarians…

Likewise, today’s Steven Pinker scants all the signs and portents of environmental unsustainability. He downplays resource depletion, species extinction, and most importantly, carbon emissions. He does so not only because they complicate his relentlessly cheerful vision of the future but also because these environmental problems are the byproduct of his treasured Enlightenment notions of progress.

The environmental crisis, in other words, forces a reevaluation of all the sacred cows of modernity. These problems can’t be Panglossed over. As Joshua Rothman puts it in The New Yorker: “Pinker could be right in the short term but wrong in the long term. Maybe the world is getting better, but not better enough, or in the right ways.”

Perception Is Everything

When I travelled throughout Eastern Europe in 2012-3 to understand why Enlightenment values were on the decline in that region, I was always asking people whether they thought, nearly 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the glass was half-full or half-empty. The statistics suggested that they were better off: more prosperous, more democratic, healthier, more connected to the world at large.

And yet, many people in the region didn’t see it that way. Nearly half of Romanians, for instance, believed that life under Nicolae Ceausescu was better than at the time of their polling in 2014. Ceausescu! They somehow believed that life under one of the Communist bloc’s most repressive dictators was better than life within the European Union. Were they misremembering? Were they just thinking that life had been better when they were younger?

In some respects, of course, life had gotten worse in Romania. The media was full of news of corrupt politicians, widespread crime, poverty – which only reinforced what Pinker refers to as “negativity bias.” Moreover, many people in Romania were demonstrably well off, which created a great deal of resentment among those whose standard of living hadn’t budged much at all. And the spread of Enlightenment values of tolerance was generating a backlash among more conservative elements in society who were not thrilled about an annual Gay Pride parade.

Pinker would treat these perceptions as a mere speed bump. But perceptions, right or wrong, determine the outcome of elections, among other things. Illiberal leaders from Trump to Putin, in responding to (and reinforcing) such perceptions, offer a narrative for understanding why things fall apart. These storytellers can’t be wished away. They can’t be blithely disregarded simply because they’re not part of history’s progressive trajectory.

In a perceptive review in The Nation, David Bell puts his finger on another problem with Pinker’s worldview: his misreading of how social change happens.

Pinker seems to believe that progress has occurred almost by itself, as a result of whole populations spontaneously turning more enlightened and tolerant. “There really is a mysterious arc bending toward justice,” he writes. Almost entirely absent from the 576 pages of Enlightenment Now are the social movements that for centuries fought for equal rights, an end to slavery, improved working conditions, a minimum wage, the right to organize, basic social protections, a cleaner environment, and a host of other progressive causes. The arc bending toward justice is no mystery: It bends because people force it to bend.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you think the glass is half-full or half-empty. The focus should be on filling the glass – on struggling to make life better for those who are not well off, harnessing technology to improve conditions for everyone, and saving the planet from climate catastrophe. Some of the Enlightenment tradition will be essential in this struggle. But an eighteenth-century philosophy, unmodified, cannot solve twenty-first century problems.

Pinker’s Panglossian narrative will not vanquish the forces of illiberalism. Saying that this is the best of all possible worlds does not make it so. Even a leading Enlightenment thinker like Voltaire would have been the first to tell the good professor that.

The post The Best of All Possible Worlds? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

RIP to the Liberal Order

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 11:59am

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump (Wikimedia Commons)

The June 12 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un was a historic moment—for the first time a sitting US president met with the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, since its founding in 1948. It was remarkable to see the Stars and Stripes standing next to the DPRK flag, and to see the two leaders shake hands in acknowledgement of each other as equals rather than as sworn enemies. Reactions in the United States to this history-in-the-making have ranged from cautious optimism to cynical skepticism. But what these apprehensions indicate is the crumbling of the so-called liberal order under the weight of its own contradictions.

Nicholas Kristof, regular columnist for the New York Times, represents the spectrum of reactions well, concluding that Trump was “outfoxed” and “hoodwinked” by Kim. Explaining why the summit made him uncomfortable despite his preference for diplomacy, Kristof wrote, “There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.” In fact, there’s been an odd convergence of reactions that have united hardline Republican hawks like John Bolton with liberal Democrats like Chuck Schumer, who signed a letter warning Trump against any deal that did not include concessions from North Korea regarding its nuclear program. The letter insisted on “anywhere, anytime” inspections of all suspected sites of weapons of mass destruction, a probable nonstarter for a North Korea already wary of American threats and encroachment to its sovereignty.

For liberals siding with Bolton, their position has much to do with Roger Cohen’s argument that Trump is envious of Kim Jong Un and his absolute authority as dictator. Trump’s failings as a leader, they say, are similar to Neville Chamberlain’s—the British prime minister who tried to negotiate with Hitler to thwart World War II. In making this anachronistic comparison, they, like Cohen, believe that Trump has “saluted evil” and gone back on “more than seven decades of American stewardship of the world after the defeat of evil in 1945.”

For many, including Kori Schake of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Trump’s rapprochement with North Korea signals “a turning point in world history: the end of the liberal order.” The liberal order, according to Schake, began at the conclusion of World War II when “America established a set of global norms that solidified its position atop a rules-based international system . . . promoting democracy, making enduring commitments to countries that share its values, protecting allies, advancing free trade and building institutions and patterns of behavior that legitimize American power by giving less powerful countries a say.” Even while acknowledging that “America doesn’t always get it right,” Schake claims that “the results speak for themselves” since it’s been over 70 years without great-power conflict.

Without any hint of irony or contradiction, she describes the numerous wars that have been waged by “democracies” since World War II as “enlarging the perimeter of security and prosperity, expanding and consolidating the liberal order.” Drawing on aggregate data in the abstract such as growth in the global economy, she neglects to define what “security and prosperity” mean or scrutinize on whom these are bestowed and at whose expense. Schake is oblivious to the harm done in the name of maintaining the liberal order, not only domestically in terms of racist, sexist, and classist exclusionary policies, but also internationally, least of which include the millions of lives lost in Asia, upward of 70 percent civilian deaths during the Korean War, not to mention the Vietnam War (and most recently the Iraq War).

Tellingly, the NBC television show Saturday Night Live ran a comedy sketch soon after Trump’s election in which a group of New Yorkers watching the election results respond in markedly contrasting ways. White liberals reacted with utter horror that the election was a “nightmare scenario” and “the most shameful thing America has ever done,” while African Americans were hardly surprised, shaking their heads at the utter lack of historical awareness of institutional racism, structural inequalities, and foreign interventionism. Asia Institute founder and director Emanuel Pastreich argues that US foreign policy has been unequivocally a form of gunboat diplomacy in which US military power is used to benefit multinational corporations. While previously there was at least an attempt to hide the government-corporation nexus, this collusion has now become blatant under Trump’s presidency. These are the foundations upon which the liberal order stands.

What the majority of liberals fail to acknowledge is just how similar Trump’s message of unilateralism and America First (what one White House official recently characterized as the “We’re America, Bitch” doctrine) is to the idea of American exceptionalism that has defined American identity since the end of World War II. The “indifference to democracy and human rights and cultivation of dictators” is not a “new world” Trump is creating, as Schake claims; it has undergirded the United States’ superpower status since 1945. While Schake raises alarm bells that “America will be seen as—and may even become—no different from Russia and China,” it is this very idea of American exceptionalism that has led to the Trump Doctrine.

While leadership does matter for both people in the United States and elsewhere, reactions to the summit have overwhelmingly concentrated on the individual personalities of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. This focus on the individual is one of the very tenets of liberalism, and in that sense, Trump—despite criticisms to the contrary—is the very product of the liberal order. By contrast, Kim Jong Un’s first words at the summit—that few in America noticed—focused on the collective past despite the infamous personality cult in North Korea. He said: “It was not an easy path to get here. The past held us back, and the mistaken biases and habits shielded our eyes and ears, but we have overcome all of these to come here” (emphasis mine). Kim Jong Un is having to end a war that was fought by his grandfather; it has taken three generations to get here.

Reactions to the summit in the United States are a kind of mourning at the disintegration of the Pax Americana and the pride of American exceptionalism with it. But this feeling of loss at the end of the liberal order should be put into proper perspective. The last 70 years hold a very different significance for Korea, which was divided into two separate states in 1948 precisely to uphold that liberal order. The Republic of Korea as the bulwark against the Communist North was founded exactly 70 years ago on August 15, 1948, followed by the DPRK the following month. It’s long overdue for Korea to be able to chart its own future. It’s time to bid farewell to the liberal order.

The post RIP to the Liberal Order appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Suzy Kim is associate professor of Korean history at Rutgers University, and author of Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013). She was guest editor of the special issue “(De)Memorializing the Korean War” in Cross-Currents: East Asian History & Culture Review (2015). This article originally appeared on Perspectives Daily, the American Historical Association’s online newsmagazine.

Will Russia Bring Home Children Who Lived in Islamic State?

Tue, 08/14/2018 - 10:38am

Zagidat Abakarova, 33, and her one-year-old daughter Mariam, returned to Dagestan, Russia, from northern Syria in October 2018 (Tanya Lokshina)

“I thought she was in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, but still in Turkey… and then they told me she was in Iraq.” Galina’s eyes fill with tears as she picks at her salad in a Grozny cafeteria. “She is in prison in Baghdad.”

Galina Pratsak, 59, arrived in Chechnya from Bryansk, central Russia, hours before we met, hoping to retrieve her grandchildren from Baghdad with the help of a program for returning Russian women and children from Iraq and Syria. The program was started about a year ago by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, with the Kremlin’s support.

Between August 2017 and February 2018, over 90 children and women arrived in Russia under its auspices, on special “humanitarian” flights to Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. Among those already returned are Russian nationals from Chechnya, Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Oryol, and Moscow, as well as several from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Most of the returnees are children. The few women who have returned are those the authorities in the areas of their capture chose not to prosecute. But now the program seems to have been suspended, without explanation.

Most of the foreign women and children currently in detention in Iraq belong to a group of more than 1,400 foreigners detained by Iraqi forces last August after the battle for the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) stronghold of Tal Afar ended. Since January, Iraq has proceeded with rushed trials against foreign women on charges of illegal entry and membership in or assistance to IS without sufficiently taking into account the individual circumstances of each case and sentencing most to life in prison or death by execution. Over 20 women of Russian origin already tried have all received life sentences.

Globally, Russia had the most active program to return detainees from Iraq and Syria, notably women and children. In fact, with Indonesia, Russia was the only country to take back women and children—until the US recently took back one American woman and her children. Some EU countries have taken nationals from Iraq but none from Syria so far (at least not publicly). All in all, when Russia’s returns program was launched in 2017, it represented a good practice. However, it is no longer active.

A Life Sentence in Iraq

In July, an Iraqi criminal court handed Galina’s daughter, 31-year-old Elena, a life sentence for illegal entry into Iraq and for supporting IS. She is in prison in Baghdad with her four children. The two older ones, Lilya and Rustam, were born in Bryansk, in 2008 and 2013 respectively. The younger ones are two-and-a-half-year-old Sakina and 16-month-old Djafar. Their grandmother said she found out only in December that they had been born in Iraq, in areas under IS control.

“We had video chats all the time,” she told me. “But it was always from inside the house. Her place was comfortable, and she and the kids seemed happy. And then toward the end of August last year, she sent me several messages saying things weren’t good any longer and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t share any details, wouldn’t answer my questions, wouldn’t put the video on. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then, they just disappeared. Months went by before I found out she and the kids were jailed in Baghdad, with other [captured] women and children.”

Galina is Russian Orthodox. Her daughter married a man of Tajik origin who was not religious but didn’t mind when Galina baptized Lilya. He was naturalized in Russia and joined the Russian army when Lilya was a baby. Instead of returning home after two years of service, he travelled to Tajikistan. Elena and Lilya stayed with Galina. Lilya was two-and-a-half when Galina realized, while giving her a bath, that the girl’s little cross was missing. She asked Elena about it, and her daughter said she and Lilya had embraced Islam.

“A few weeks later, she started wearing a long skirt and full sleeves. Eventually, she donned a hijab. Then, she told me her husband had moved to Turkey and she and Lilya will join him there. So, they left,” Galina said.

Elena kept in touch with her mother, and in early 2013 returned to Bryansk, five months pregnant. She gave birth to Rustam and stayed at her mother’s home with the children until he was 14 months old before returning, supposedly to Turkey. Soon afterward, Elena told Galina during one of their frequent chats that the children’s father died and that Elena had remarried.

She gave birth to Sakina and Djafar with her second husband and kept reassuring Galina that he was a good man and treated the children from her first marriage just like his own. Galina enjoyed her video sessions with Elena and the kids. She would have preferred to have them close by, but at least it seemed her daughter had a beautiful family and kept a good house.

Elena was last in contact with Galina on August 26, 2017. As time went by with no updates from her daughter, Galina did not know where to turn. Finally, on December 20, the human rights ombudsman for Bryansk shocked her with the news that Elena and the children were in an Iraqi jail, and that Elena was awaiting trial on charges of membership in IS.

Human Rights Watch cannot determine what Elena’s role was during the time she lived in IS-controlled territory. Her mother, however, is adamant.

“Yes, I understand, it’s a terrorist organization and my daughter lived under their auspices.” Galina looks up from her barely touched plate of food. “But she is no terrorist! The pregnancies, the births, the nursing, the household—that’s all she did. And they [Iraqi authorities] are saying that as long as she lived with one of those men, cooked, cleaned, it makes her a participant and she will spend the rest of her life in jail. I just cannot wrap my brain around it…”

Human Rights Watch has interviewed close relatives of four of these women in Russia and they all emphasized, like Galina, that the women’s activities in IS were limited to having children and taking care of the household.

Respecting Due Process

Although Human Rights Watch cannot verify the claims about any particular woman’s role under IS, there have been well-publicized reports indicating that under IS many women were limited to homemaking and most were subject to restrictions on their movement. Basic due process requires that any prosecutions guarantee women the opportunities to raise defenses, including whether they were coerced or did not knowingly engage in criminal conduct. Courts should examine evidence regarding each woman’s actions and issue convictions and sentences only where they are supported by evidence of individual culpability.

Iraq should change its approach and consider alternatives to criminal prosecution for those against whom there is no evidence that they were combatants or involved in committing serious crimes. Russia should consider repeated requests by the relatives of already sentenced women to discuss with the Iraqi government the possibility of transferring the women to Russia to serve their sentences on Russian soil.

With respect to foreign children, their well being should be a priority for all parties involved. In December 2017, just a few days before Galina found out about the fate of her daughter and grandchildren, President Putin said in a news conference, “Children, when taken to armed conflict zones, did not make a decision to go there and we have no right to abandon them there.” He commended Kadyrov on his work on returns.

Many families desperate to bring their loved ones back from Syria and Iraq took his words as a sign that the returns program would be further developed and many more flights with returnees would follow. Instead, the program appears to have been suspended in early 2018, with no explanation. The families knock on all doors, but their increasingly desperate questions remain unanswered.

Russia should resume the returns of children, either under the auspices of the so-called Kadyrov program or by other means. In carrying out the returns, Russian authorities should not discriminate between children born on Russian soil and children born to a parent of Russian origin, as long as the best interests of the children are being served and parental consent for the children’s return is sought.

Galina came to Grozny to hand over her grandchildren’s birth certificates and give power of attorney to a leading representative of Kadyrov’s returns program, who promised to bring the children back to Russia if the circumstances allow.

“They don’t know when, but they will try… Though I thought all the four kids could be brought back but they’re now saying it’s only about the two elder ones because the littlest ones weren’t born here. So, at least those two… But what about the other two? What will happen to them? And my daughter, will she die there in jail? Couldn’t she serve her sentence in Russia? I’d bring the children to visit her as often as possible. If I get the children back, that is,” Galina sighs looking at me for answers, answers I don’t have.

The post Will Russia Bring Home Children Who Lived in Islamic State? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Tanya Lokshina is associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, based in Moscow.