Trump betrays democracy – and every nation believing in it


In a single press conference in Helsinki yesterday, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the United States dealt what might be a death blow to democracy. With the refusal to hold Russia accountable for a dozen Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election, Mr Donald John Trump effectively conceded to the Russian Government world view: trust no one.

In the last 18 months since he took office, Mr Trump has shown his utter disdain anything good that the West has tried to achieve. By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement just as the only nations not in it were preparing to sign up, Mr Trump has signalled his contempt for the environment. By withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mr Trump has done likewise with human rights as his Immigration and Customs Enforcement ratchet up their campaign against anyone whose reasons for existing in the United States look even the slightest bit dodgy – whether they are being another story altogether.

But most of all, Mr Trump has given global consensus built on democracy a truly frightful knee to the stomach.

Imagine that. An American President declaring that no one should be trusted, thereby throwing into doubt decades of anglo-saxon co-operation. Imagine that. An openly contemptuous American President declaring that a country whose Government has long sought to undermine the United States at every opportunity, whose contempt for democracy is as legendary as its ability to rally in times of crisis.

It is a signal to every western nation. You are on your own. America no longer values or cares about you. It is a signal that global co-operation is somehow a bad thing and that the last 70 years trying to build more civil world and prevent World War 3 is all for nothing. It is a signal to N.A.T.O.: go stuff yourself.

But should we suddenly now kowtow to Russia and Vladimir Putin? To China and Xi Jinping? Because apparently strong men with grandiose visions of global influence, heading countries with strong militaries, and an authoritarian rule of their own people are suddenly good according to Mr Trump?

And what does that mean for little ol’ New Zealand, in the South Pacific? Does that mean we are on our own in a sea of increasingly hostile nations trying to make the best we can for ourselves? I hope not. New Zealand is too small to influence the big nations in a military or economic way, but not so small that we cannot set an example through how we treat other peoples, nations and cultures.

New Zealand needs to tread carefully, but that does not mean we should give up our values and principles. New Zealand needs to look after its own needs. We need to forge a path that suits us, whilst keeping in contact with as many friendly nations as we can – Canada, France, Germany, Britain. Just because America is determined not to be a part of the free world any more does not mean the rest should just give up all that lie in those many war graves in Europe, north Africa, the Pacific, where brave New Zealanders gave their lives for our freedom so bravely fought and died for.

Never.

Foreign ministers to Trump: Appreciate your allies


Numerous present and former Ministers of Foreign Affairs from around America’s allies have signed a letter to United States President Donald Trump with a warning:

Respect your allies as there is not that many of them

Former New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Don McKinnon is one of those who has signed the letter, said to be fiery in its warning to Mr Trump. The letter comes as Mr Trump arrives in Brussels for a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.)leaders amid deteriorating relations between America and its all important western allies.

Mr Trump has been critical of N.A.T.O. countries for failing to increase their defence spending, and claiming that the United States provides the bulk of the expenditure. This has touched off criticism as – aside from being untrue, it was also the United States that instigated the formation of the N.A.T.O. alliance during the Cold War as part of its containment strategy.

Germany has agreed to increase its expenditure. This however will not be lost on Germans who will no doubt still be wary of putting too much emphasis on defence policy individually, and instead preferring to align it with a general increase in spending across western European nations. In a continent still trying to get away from its colonial past and two hugely destructive World Wars, increases in defence spending are not the sexy beasts that they are perceived as by conservative politicians and commentators in the United States. Germany needs to remember this as it tries to figure out just how big its promised increase will be and on what it will be spent.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Theresa May has hit the skids. Wobbling violently with two Ministers gone as well as the Vice Chairs of the Conservative Party, one watches with interest to see whether Mrs May can stave off a collapse or will she be forced to for the second time in 15 months call a General Election. Despite being a deeply conservative Prime Minister, Mrs May and her Government have tread the line of making savings throughout Her Majesty’s armed forces, but for how much longer?

The Netherlands and Belgium, scenes of ferocious battles in World Wars 1 & 2, need only to attend a service at the Menin Gate in Belgium at 2000 hours every night to be reminded of the cost of war. Perhaps they would be doing well to drag Mr Trump to one of these ceremonies to remind him just how much some of America’s smaller allies suffered. All around western Belgium and northeast France lie memorials saluting the French, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, British and other nations who suffered dreadful losses in battles such as Passchendaele, the Somme, Verdun and others – whether it makes any difference or not for Mr Trump to be reminded is another story altogether.

In a week where so much is at stake with the politics of N.A.T.O., it might be just as well the F.I.F.A. World Cup Final will distract hundreds of millions of people. Maybe Mr Trump and the other leaders can watch it instead of tearing each other to shreds. And reflect on a beautiful friendship between the U.S., and her allies like so many have been reflecting on their relationship with “the beautiful game”.

 

Divisive times for our American friends


When I left the United States at the end of a brief holiday there in 2004 it was Independence Day. I was flying into Los Angeles with family on the way back to New Zealand and as I looked out the window there was this big fireworks display going on in the distance. We must have been nearing the end of it because just before it went out of view big red white and blue fireworks punctuated the clear night sky.

A symbol of unity on America’s national day. Of unity that 14 years later seems to be fraying at the edges in some alarming ways.

There is a quote about accepting refugees that is well known. This is something America has done gracefully in the past and grown rich and strong for it – and indeed some of the key figures of the early 20th Century who took refuge in America were refugees fleeing the rise of extremism in Germany and Italy: Albert Einstein, Marlene Dietrich and Enrico Fermi to name just a few.

Imagine if one of these three or anyone or more of the other many well known people who fled then, turning up on America’s border today? Would they be let in?

Even the most popular sports are becoming political battlegrounds. I did not follow Colin Kaepernick’s story as he dealt with the fallout from kneeling at the anthem, but I gathered enough to know that much deeper issues than whether or not Mr Kaepernick was being disrespectful are at play.

The divisiveness in America is as sad as it is frustrating. Why does everything have to turn into a political football? Why cannot that richly diverse tapestry of geography, ethnicities, culture and identity that covers 9,834,000km² of the world take a look around them and realize that things could be much worse – e.g., Yemen or Syria and be thankful for what they have?

There have been times when America had every reason to think it was the greatest nation on the planet. It was after all the arsenal of democracy in World War 2, supplying the arms necessary for the western allied nations to play their role in defeating Germany and Japan. When that ended America had at its disposal the means to develop commercial aviation, it had a film industry that was about to see its golden days and iconic items such as Coca Cola, the Mustang (car, not the piston engine fighter)and many more were soon to see their heyday. Its influence was unmatched. Musical legends like Jefferson Airplane, John Denver, among others had their moments in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

And all the while it continued to be a graceful receiving host for refugees from Vietnam, and other conflict zones. Alongside the nationalities who had fled from Europe during World War 2, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and other nationalities from Asia alongside Latin American nations such as Cuba, Colombia, and others became established. I look at the photos of my Peruvian friends living in Los Angeles and always admire the range of nationalities that they have come to know.

Which is why the decline of a nation that – despite it starting many of the wars those refugees came from – has contributed so much positively to the world is so sad. To have corporate media sowing fear and distrust of minorities; to sign huge arms deals almost as big as the New Zealand economy with nations that are committing war crimes in other countries

But on 04 July 2018, can Americans come together and celebrate being citizens – young and old/new and native – of the great nation of the United States of America? Without the division, the fear, the hate? I certainly hope so.

Doubling the refugee quota in New Zealand; other nations close their borders


Yesterday the New Zealand Parliament came together in a rare, but commendable move. How rare on foreign politics is it to see Labour, National and New Zealand First all singing from the same song sheet?

They were addressing queries from the media on what they thought of the United States moves to separate children from their parents at the United States border. None of them agreed with it, recognizing the cruelty, acknowledging it is not something they would want to see happen here.

So, to be clear, a refugee is a person who:

“is outside of their country and is unable and or unwilling to return or avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well grounded fear of persecution on reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion” – Article 1A, Paragraph 1 Convention relating to the status of Refugees, 1951

And an asylum seeker is a person who:

An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

Meanwhile, as has been well highlighted in the media, the United States is closing its border to asylum seekers. Whilst U.S. President Donald Trump will say that the United States needs security, he and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions are deliberately ignoring some salient facts:

  1. It is okay to turn up at the border and ask for asylum.
  2. People fleeing the circumstances in their countries of origin that are making most of these people flee are not likely to have time for lengthy, drawn out immigration processes due to the high level of danger in their country
  3. If the people fleeing are doing so because they are considered an enemy of the state or a target of organized crime groups which can be extremely ruthless, any evidence of attempted asylum may get them killed

Many of the problems caused in Honduras and other countries in terms of organized crime and political instability can be traced back to past U.S. interference in their domestic politics. So, in some respects this is sort of the price that America must pay for past transgressions by the C.I.A. and F.B.I.

New Zealand should have no trouble doubling its quota immediately. 1,500 is a quite modest number to take per year, even for a nation of our size. If we look at the refugees and asylum seeker numbers in some of the smaller Middle East countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, whose security is much less certain than our own, they have many times more – as of September 2015 1.9 million refugees were in Turkey; 1.1 million in Lebanon; 630,000 in Jordan and 250,000 in Iraq.

The benefits of having refugees in New Zealand is significant. Contrary to the misguided beliefs of some, refugees feel that they have been given a second chance, and so the motivation to return the compassion is great. For example New Zealand took refugees from the Tampa freighter in 2001 when Australia in a moment of election cowardice refused them. Within a matter of years they became contributing tax paying residents owning small businesses, becoming lawyers, tradesmen and so forth.

If these refugees can be of use, so, I am sure, can many many others.

Group of 7 farce bad for all Western nations


First there was the shock. United States President Donald Trump pulling rank on the Group of 7 declaration. Then came the exchange between Mr Trump and his Canadian counterpart Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A nasty exchange that would have left the other delegates shocked. And did.

No one in the west won when Mr Trump refused to support the G7 declaration. Whilst the declaration is largely ceremonial it has the purpose of detailing what principles the summit upholds. So when one nation or another throws a hissy fit – which is what Mr Trump did – and walks away without supporting it, not only does that nation undermine the G7, but it undermines the entire western world.

But there were winners. Every dictator quietly hoping for discord and division in the west over the G7 summit farce would have been smiling at the news that Mr Trump had had a show down with the hosts, Canada. The photo that has been circulating of Mr Trump sitting in a chair at a table with various leaders standing around glaring at him tells us more about the scale of the disbelief better than a 1,000 word essay could have. The only person supporting Mr Trump was – not surprisingly – John Bolton, the hard line National Security Advisor who has never had much time for diplomacy, irrespective of what it achieves.

Contrary to the discourse coming out of the White House, Mr Trump has no intention of anything that could amount to fair or otherwise reasonable trade terms. His “America first” doctrine, smacks of the dangerous hardline nationalist sentiment that past dictatorships have displayed with disastrous results. Its brutalist nature must, when it reared its head in the ugly exchange between Canada and the United States, must have left Mr Trudeau wondering if he had been struck by a base ball.

When the words from Pink Floyd’s song “Pigs” more adequately describe Mr Trump than a media editorial, it is a hugely damning indictment on the depths which his Presidency has plumbed. When the western world needs leadership and unity, it is instead having discord and distrust sown by the most powerful person in the free world.

Nations like New Zealand do not need this. Even more powerful nations like Australia and Canada, long time friends and allies of the United States, despite having quite different leaders at the moment must be nervous about what Mr Trump has done and what it might mean for them. Mr Trudeau will be wishing that this was just a bad dream and that when the sun comes up, all will be hunky dory.

Sorry mate. Ain’t gonna happen. Mr Trump on one hand knows exactly what he is doing in that he is keeping good the promises he made to his strident supporters who hope for a second coming of a declining super power that was once respected and admired throughout the free world. On the other though he has not a clue about the damage that is being inflicted on America internationally by his politics. And that damage is harming America’s relationship with all of its allies and friends, including New Zealand.