Steve Bannon the New Ideologue

WHAT FUTURE FOR THE USA

Donald Trump, daily Tweets.(Xinhua/Yin Bogu/IANS)[/caption] He rose from almost nowhere to take on one of the most sophisticated political establishments and win hands down. He keeps on outwitting it by creating  new fields and new rules of the game that not only are the established competitors unable to keep up with but are so disgusted by it that they are unwilling to participate. The ‘establishment’ keeps on hoping that either the Russia enquiry or something else will crush Trump and lead to impeachment. Other are willing to sit it out by the next election and hope Americans will be sensible enough to kick him out. Chances are that his ability to distract may make that unlikely. Trump however has unleashed deep divisions within America. Race is a big issue now. The black population is not only fast moving away from the administration but is feeling the heat of rising racism from what is called the Trump Base. Racism is now  tolerated with impunity. It is isolating the most affected minorities in USA. More than race, there is now growing fissures between liberal America and the white extreme right wing America. Both are essentially ‘white’. Their division is becoming irreconcilable and pathological. An America which shaped and led the liberal western world, feels under threat by nineteenth century minded Americans who hated blacks, Latinos, Chinese and anyone who didn’t fit their sense of own superiority. It is this which could start to divide the once very powerful USA irrevocably. With the west coast, California largely liberal and East Coast largely cosmopolitan, it is mid America and the Southern States that are shaping the new United States. The Bannon – Trump splat is likely to push the ‘Base’ even more to the right. No doubt Bannon is going to try and influence this new empowered America with more extreme rhetoric and blaming Trump to have let them down. Meanwhile Trump is likely to compete with Bannon with equally crazy policies to keep the Base happy. Bannon is an intellectual and an ideologue, however unsavoury his ideology is. He appears to be a man happier to see his ideas take power and form than actually take over the reigns of power. In that he will be satisfied if Trump walks into his trap and in anger ends up introducing the policies that Bannon actually wants to see in public. The public spat will ironically take away attention from the Russia investigation and Trump’s other destructive ripples to a battle for the Base. The spat is likely to go on and become daily entertainment while the ideas that Bannon wants will insidiously become the administration’s policies without much public scrutiny. It is likely that differences over policies between Trump administration and Democrats might end up taking second stage to the public spats between Trump faction and Bannon faction in the Base. If Trump lasts another year and this ingenious distraction continues, chances are that this shifting wave to the right will exasperate liberal America so much that it may take extreme steps. Unable to unseat Trump and take back control of the centre of power, it cannot be ruled out that the fissures will become so geographically deep that they may lay the foundations of a break up of the United States in future. [caption id="attachment_23903" align="alignnone" width="959"] (171214) — MOSCOW, Dec. 14, 2017 (Xinhua) — Russian President Vladimir Putin  in control[/caption] An eventual break up of USA is not so fanciful an idea given the unbelievable series of events that have rocked the world in the last three years. No one expected the Brits to go for Brexit, not even the Brexiters. No one thought that Assad will eventually become stronger. No one dreamt that Mugabe will actually fall. The world has been undergoing a bit of an overhaul, a bit of change from its status quo of ideas. A possible division of America is not such a wild prediction given the depth to which that the fissures have become entrenched within one year of Trump presidency. Nothing will please Putin more, but it is quite possible that even more than Bannon, it is Putin who is the puppet master. // ]]>

Trump and Modi friends?

COLD WAR AT INDIA’S DOORSTEPS

Glowing mention in an official document personally announced by the president of the world’s most powerful nation can be tempting to engage in self-importance. Sections of Indian analysts and media appear to have gone overboard on US President Donald Trump’s references to India in the National Security Strategy (NSS). But there is need for caution for many reasons. Skepticism about NSS does arise the way Trump conducts his foreign policy. This is essentially American viewpoint which is being contested by some in America itself. Many think Trump has ignored essential issues, climate change for one, in this vision statement. Many in the West, not to talk of those criticized in the document, think it is best ignored for a variety of reasons but mainly, because their worldview does not resonate with Trump’s. America’s past record in comprehending issues and acting upon them has not been too reassuring. It keeps changing its friends and foes – it’s risky being either completely. And finally, producing the document is a legal requirement in the US since 1986. Abiding by it is not. The NSS underscores the ‘America First’ principle means in terms of Washington’s foreign policy and delineates friends, foes and ‘frenemies’. It refuses to acknowledge America’s declining power in the international arena. The way Trump all but caved in to China when he met Xi Jinping and has, amidst loud humming and hawing accepted the latter’s inability/unwillingness to restrain North Korea does not match with the strong words the NSS has used.   Undoubtedly, the document has several positives for New Delhi. Given the current ‘nationalist’ mood generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government (that has come in for a special, positive mention), the Indians are thrilled on two counts: that India has been recognised as an emerging global power, and that the role of India’s two adversaries, China and Pakistan, has been criticized in explicit terms. Trump administration states that it will ‘deepen’ its strategic partnership and ‘support’ India’s leadership role in maintaining security in the Indo-Pacific. It sees India as “a balancing power” in the region. New Delhi has responded with ‘appreciation’ but remains cautious, which is good. India is a priority area for the US which deserves support for “its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.” The US views India as a very reliable partner in Afghanistan. The unstated part is that it sees India doing the ‘soft’ job of helping Kabul’s economic development, while the US does the ‘hard’ job of fighting. Only, some of the ‘hard’ part should not be expected of India. Good words that throw a clutch of opportunities at India but with many ‘ifs’. They also demand whether India has the stomach to play global politics and bear the resultant losses in men and material, if, when and where required. Besides ability and intent, the equally big demand from India is on its willingness to join what is clearly a new phase of the Cold War – did it really end with the last century? In the intervening two decades, India has moved cautiously, from what was a bi-polar world to a multi-polar one, from non-alignment to multi-alignment and nurturing relations with powers big and small, as it took economic strides. All along, it has been working to preserve its strategic autonomy, mindful of the pitfalls that invite it if it joins any particular alliance. This is a well-nigh difficult demand. But strategy and diplomacy cannot remain static. India cannot be unmindful of its geographic proximity and geopolitical adversity to China and the emerging China-Pakistan alliance. China, the fast-emerging superpower has spread its money-muscled tentacles all around in Asia and India is particularly surrounded by China whose quest to reach the Indian Ocean has now been fulfilled thanks to Pakistan. China has spread its economic embrace across Indian Ocean region that is bound to get tighter with its Border and Roads Initiative (BRI). India has chosen not to join it, but all around it, smaller neighbours are walking into the Chinese-laid debt trap. Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are borrowing more than they can repay in decades to come. Even the little Maldives feels comfortable in signing a trade pact with China, even stoking anti-India sentiments. What has been the “Indian orbit” is seriously intruded by China. The NSS needs to be viewed in this context, but not with Trump’s America as the savior. India cannot be like Pakistan that has gone into the Chinese embrace with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for one, to get even with India and secondly, to push away a recalcitrant America that is making constant demands to “do more” against terrorism, something Islamabad is unwilling to do to guard its own perceived national interests. This is Asia’s biggest switch-over that India can scarcely ignore.    The US’ limitations in coercing a nation into doing its bid are starkly visible in the way Pakistan’s inability/unwillingness to take on the outfits that target the Americans in Afghanistan. This is despite American threats and reminders of Pakistan’s latter’s ‘obligations’. The short point is that if America cannot effectively coerce Pakistan, a nation that is in political turmoil and whose economy requires a bail-out to survive, then how can it be of any help in India’s fight against terrorism? Among the foes of the Trump administration are Russia and Iran. India has good relations with them. With Russia it remains ‘special’ when it comes to defence hardware. With Iran, the ancient ties survived years of Western sanctions and besides oil, the new factor is Chabahar port, the India-Iran-Afghanistan project. It can help the US, but only if it were to shed its blind hostility to Iran, partly compelled by its anxiety to balance the Saudis and Israelis. India has just exercised its strategic choice by voting at the United Nations against the US on recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is despite its burgeoning ties with the US and Israel, now a major military ware supplier. It’s a plus point in Modi-led diplomacy.  Just like its ties with Russia and Iran, India cannot and should not permanently jeopardize its ties with China and Pakistan despite serious problems and hostility. India, no doubt, had the 73-day Doklam standoff with China accompanied by extraordinary Chinese belligerence. The NSS observes that China built its power through compromise of sovereignty of other nations. But do these ‘other’ nations feel that way? The US cannot be the arbiter of other nations’ sovereignty, nor decide on their being “less free” and “less democratic.” This is return of the Cold War at doorsteps. The bottom line for India, now and later, is to cautiously and deftly navigate its boat of diplomacy through turbulent waters, keeping its own interests in mind – and without getting swept off by words of praise. The “global power” status has to be earned, not conferred by any country, grouping or alliance.  // ]]>

A RAY OF HOPE, CEASEFIRE IN SOUTH WEST SYRIA

The Druz are predominantly in As-Suweida governate as well as in the areas bordering Iraq in the east. Since the northern offensive from Turkey did not make any headway towards Damascus which was 500 Kms away, the coalition forces launched the southern offensive from Jordan in late 2013 because Damascus was much closer. In the southern offensive the opposition forces made steady progress and cleared all areas astride Israel. The mission area of United Nations Disengagement Observation Force also forms  part of this region. Therefore, we as peacekeepers bore the brunt of collateral damage of this offensive. Syrian Arab Armed Forces (SAAF) were pushed north and eastward towards Damascus. The idea to have a buffer zone in these border districts was mooted a long time back and my interlocutors in Israel and Jordan had repeatedly mentioned this to me. I had always advised Israelis not to cross the 1974 ceasefire line and move east towards Damascus In a bid to desist them from doing that,  I used to emphasise that they would be ill advised to leave the heights along the Alpha line ( ceasefire line between Israel and Syria) and come east to low lying areas and expose themselves from all sides to the fire of opposition groups and SAAF. Both SAAF and opposition groups would have contested this action of Israel resulting in escalation of violence. The present ceasefire has come about after prolonged efforts of Russia and talks between Russian and US leaders. It is the beginning of the forming of the  de-escalation zones which Mr Staffan De Mistura, the special Envoy of Secretary General of United Nations to Syria, has been trying ever since his appointment in 2014. In fact I had met Ramzy  Ezzeldin Ramzy, the deputy special envoy in Beirut and emphasised that Qunneitra governate; which includes the Golan Heights, where our peacekeeping mission is located, as the best region to start their de-escalation experiment from. They have done exactly that after three years of sustained efforts! [caption id="attachment_17123" align="alignleft" width="300"] (DAMASCUS, July 8, 2017 (Xinhua) — Deputy UN Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy (C) speaks during a press briefing in Damascus, capital of Syria,[/caption] Qunneitra Governate lies  in South West of Syria and shares the ceasefire line with Israel on the west. Daraa region is south of Qunneitra and is the bordering district with Jordan in the south. As-Suweida is further east of Daraa and also is the border district with Jordan. Together the three governates form an L shape region upto a depth of thirty kilometres from Israel and Jordan. Daraa forms the pivot of the region. Roads and approaches to Damascus lead from all three sides of this region. A ceasefire in the three governates will mean Israel and Syria would be isolated and immune from  the internal strife in Syria as they will have moderate opposition groups suitably inclined towards them controlling these areas. Since the pre-requisite of the ceasefire is that the region should  be void of all radical groups like ISIS, Hizbullah and Al Nusra; if that happens, the ceasefire is likely to hold. The Assad government has scanty presence in these areas and therefore, will honour the ceasefire. The United Nations is also working out no flying zones in concert with Russia, US and Turkey and they would be advised to include Iran for any lasting peace in the country. A big spin off from the ceasefire would be that over a million Syrian refugees who have been in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt for years would be able to come back to their country although some of them will still remain internally displaced persons (IDPs). It may be recalled that 5.5 million Syrian are refugees in neighbouring countries of Turkey (3,050,000), Lebanon (1,001,000), Jordan (661,000), Iraq (243,000) and Egypt (123,000). Another 6.5 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in their own country and some of them have been displaced more than two times. Two thirds of the population of 23 million Syrians need humanitarian aid. In the six year old civil war this ceasefire is a ray of hope for similar ceasefires to be applied in other regions where the ground situation is more complicated. The seventh round of peace talks have commenced in Geneva paving the way for declaring other de- escalation zones in the rest of the country. * ( The author Lt Gen Singha was the Head of the Mission and Force Commander of United Nations peacekeeping mission in Golan Heights from 2012 to 2015 ) // ]]>

WHAT THE MODI-TRUMP BEAR HUG REVEALED

th now. China has reduced its poverty  to single figures. India’s real poverty is above 40% India has done well but not so well. It is a power, but still struggling to assert regional dominance. It has a tremendous diplomatic reach but it still lacks the awe and respect that China holds within world whether the democratic world or the non democratic one. While India can and may reach economic parity, and it may be the ‘fastest’ growth region of the world, it lacks intellectual capital. India is not the crucible of ideas or political philosophies. It does not command respect in standing aloof with its own cultural image as China does or even countries like Iran do. It prides on having western form of democracy, western form of legal  system, western instituted administration and western concept of ‘nationalism’. With these mission statements, the most India can do in the field of ideas and intellectual genius is to reach the stages of a western power and say, ‘what you can do, we can do better’. While Modi’s strategy of bear hugging and remaining silent on key issues may have been an Indian approach to a challenging situation, at the dinner table, Modi or India does not have much to offer in addressing regional tensions, international issues, world economy and so on. Why would a United States president look up to an Indian PM. The Chinese president draws respect not just because of the power that China has become, but their unique approach to many international issues, their inner calm that they exude and their indifference to dismiss criticism as irrelevant to their civilisation. Now wouldn’t it be great if it was Trump trying to please Modi, than the other way around. India  needs a debate on this. Will it ever attract world attention and respect as US, China and Europe does? // ]]>

Obama to veto 9/11 victims bill

Washington, (IANS) US President Barack Obama is set to veto a bill that would allow survivors and families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the White House said on Monday. “That’s still the plan,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said when asked if the President planned to veto the bill. The White House had previously suggested Obama would not sign the bill when it first passed the Senate in May saying it would complicate diplomatic relations, CNN reported. On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the bill by voice vote. Earnest defended the administration’s stance against the bill saying it was not “an effective, forceful way for us to respond to terrorism”. Lawmakers were expected to attempt to override the veto, and if successful, would mark the first time in Obama’s presidency, CNN noted. Earnest said the bill has not yet been presented to Obama who has 10 days to veto the bill before it becomes law automatically. // ]]>

9/11 – DID USA OVER REACT?

Memorial for 9/11[/caption] The United States has lost moral and physical edge. It may be equally wishful to think that had the US regime taken a step back, dealt with the damage in New York and then decided on a response with a cool head, matters may have been different. Had its decision benefitted from the vast analytic knowledge available to it from its Ivy League universities of similar ‘big shocks’ in history, it may have concentrated on just scaring the Taliban into some form of submission. The US should have restricted its aim to bringing Bin laden and associated to justice and politically destroy Al Qaeda. The Taliban, as even the USA admitted in the end, had no intention or knowledge of attacks planned on the west. Its obsession was to make Afghanistan a medieval Islamic State. There are a few of these in the Middle East who are even partners of US. Taliban was host to Al Qaeda and obliged to it. But a siege and some fire power would have convinced the Taliban to push Al Qaeda out. Instead the US response made their bond even stronger. The attack on Iraq gave a wider Islamic angst against America among some groups a lease of violence that is still continuing. Perhaps the Islamic world would inevitably have come to the stage it is in now irrespective of American response. But a restrained response to 9/11 may at least have kept the candle of liberal hope alight and the freedoms that were taken for granted once, still in place today in USA and other western countries. // ]]>