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THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER & RECORD
THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER & RECORD
Our 38th year
of publishing The International Observer
VIEWING THE WORLD
The much advertised of the British retreat from the European Union (EU) will not happen this year. Parliament in its wisdom rejects a no-deal withdrawal which was due on 31 October – the prime minister’s “do or die” promise – and is delaying
Brexit until the government can either obtain a more advantageous negotiated deal or a second referendum will either confirm the results of the first one or the
United Kingdom will remain an EU member.
The prime minister, on 28 October, in a letter to the EU president confirmed the extension of the withdrawal until 31 January 2020 while accusing
Parliament of resisting. His first attempt on the same day to schedule new elections on 12 December failed when the 299 against 70 votes fell short of the
required two-thirds vote of 434, partly because the leader and Brexit opponents of the Labour Party abstained. A new attempt will be made under different
legislative provisions requiring a lower minimum of votes to have new elections this year. Even if the prime minister succeeds, the outcome could result in a
new parliamentary strength distribution or change little.
This has changed dramatically since the current president settled in the White House. Already the atmosphere was burdened with campaign rhetoric about
disloyal staff, a “deep state” determined to sabotage the new Administration and its policies, the presence of too many allegedly beholden to the previous
For some time, numerous upper-level positions in the Department remained vacant and few ambassadors were named. At the working level, staff felt either
they were not part of the team or that their contributions were not welcome or the subject of suspicion.
Abroad, missions have always accepted that some of their observations and recommendations were neglected or rejected – that was not an unusual feature
of the diplomatic bureaucracy. What hurts more is either lack of public or verbal support and now censure or recall in reaction to untruthful complaints by
Witness the rash removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine, a career diplomat, without much of an explanation, and in her absence insertion of a private
citizen, albeit lawyer of the president, to interact with the new Ukrainian government.
Added to the demoralizing working conditions of diplomats are the unforeseen policy changes. Whether it is inconsistent policy coming out of Washington,
sudden changes and especially reversals, more than unsettling staff it is weakening reliability and reputation of the US government as experienced by other
nations, both allies and opponents. Former US national security officials, who have spoken up in recent weeks, criticize the president’s conduct and his foreign
policy: “lending weight to the picture of a president motivated by political interests with little regard for policy expertise, legal boundaries or
institutional restraints” according to former officials cited in The Washington Post.
The lack of policy process in the current US presidency showed up early, on relations and issues with opponents as well as with allies. China and the United States have been getting deeper into the trade conflict which now affects academic relations, diplomacy, and technology security. Absent in the White House is a decision-making process to set a strategy and resolve policy issues, writes David Ignatius in The Washington Post of 6 September.
The president of Guinea and his supporters
are trying hard for a third term in elections in 2020. Government is working on a
constitutional change to allow the current president to be a candidate for a third presidential term. To gather support, his Party of Unity and Progress formed
a Coalition for the Defense of a New Constitution on 2 August. The opposition Bloc Against Alpha Condé joined the National Front for the Defense of the
Constitution on 21 August. Article 27 of the current Constitution of 2010 states that mandate is renewable once and that “no one may exercise more than two
presidential mandates, consecutive or not.”
Prof. Alpha Condé (born 4 March 1938) started his first five-year term on 21 December 2010 and was reelected for a second, final term on 11 October 2015.
Concerns about a Taliban Deal
The imminent agreement of the United States with the Taliban militia after nine rounds in Doha is raising grave concerns: Distrust in Taliban assurances, ending defense of a struggling secular government after 18 years, and the political and self-aggrandizing involvement of the current US
In talks between the US and the Taliban militia for the past 11 months in Doha (see chronology below), the US is seeking to draw down its and allied forces if the Taliban agrees to keep the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) out. A ceasefire, ending
violence against the civilian population, and starting peace negotiations leading to a political settlement with the Afghan government are part of the agenda
but the overriding US interest is bringing the troops home – a presidential campaign promise! The president’s remark to the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister on
22 July that he could have had Afghanistan “wiped off the face of the earth,” greatly upset Afghans inside and outside of government, seeing it as a sign of
total indifference not only to their country but to its people.
The major US demand in exchange for drawing down foreign military forces are counter-terrorism assurances: Renunciation of al-Qa’ida and preventing its
sanctuary as well as that of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) branches. In addition, the US wants to retain the ability to counter al-Qa’ida and ISIL in
Afghanistan if needed.
Reasons for concern are a fear of a premature retreat and of further diminishing of US reliability as an ally and defender of democracy. Taliban is
continuing its effort to set up an emirate and abolish the secular government. Elections are to be held in September and the Taliban is determined to stop it
with increased violence and threatening voters to stay away. Recently, commanders on the ground see the ISIL-Khorasan affiliate as a growing threat. Should the
Taliban turn more conciliatory toward Kabul, its hardline militants might defect and join more ruthless jihadists.
The regional situation has become more complicated this month with India’s revocation of autonomy and statehood of Kashmir because of the influence of
India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.
The US-Taliban Talks
21 Sep. US State Department appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as lead
envoy for the talks with Taliban
12 Oct. Round 1 Doha
14-16 Nov. Round 2 Doha
Round 3 Abu Dhabi, UAE
8 Jan. Round 4 cancelled
25 Feb.-12 Mar. Round 5 Doha
1-9 May Round 6 Doha
29 June-9 July Round 7 Doha
Round 8 Doha
7-9 July 1st Afghan-Taliban meeting Doha, declaration issued on agreement
on basic roadmap for negotiating
Nuclear weapons and changing climate threatening animals, humans, and plants are now joined by a new peril – declining biodiversity. Linked partly to global warming, the extinction of wildlife endangers human civilization, according to an assessment for the United Nations made public on 6 May. The result of research by hundreds of scientists was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. One direct source of the dramatic decline of animal and plant species is poor conservation.
US Administration-Congress power struggle in full swing
To impeach the US president or not and the launch of subpoenas has unleashed a fierce power struggle between White House and the newly elected Democratic Party leadership of the House of Representatives. The release of the abstracted “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III by the Attorney General on 18 April was expected in the United States. The public abroad was not that interested or aware but there too government chanceries and embassies were eagerly awaiting details to shape their reactions.
The president pounced on the investigators’ inability to establish that anyone connected to the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated – ‘colluded’ – with the Russian government when it interfered to help the campaign. He and the Attorney General conveniently downplayed that the findings did not exonerate the chief executive and that the absence of a judgment on obstruction of justice remains an open question. Dealing with Russian contacts, numerous constant efforts to foil the inquiry, the trail of lies, suspicious interactions, charges against 34 lawyers and campaign advisors, including 25 Russians, and an additional 7 charges in related cases are contained in the 448-page, two-volume investigatory effort that took 22 months to complete.
Plans and policies of new government are further polarizing Brazil
Even before Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a confrontational elected member of the Chamber of Deputies for 27 years announced his
candidacy for federal president in March 2016, his highly extreme populist positions and views were known. Together with retired General
Antônio Hamilton Martins Mourão he placed first and was elected in the second round on 28 October 2018. On 1
January 2019 they assumed office. His nationalist, pro-business/landowner, pro-military statements in support for the religious right appealed to those voters
who were hoping for a government to end to corruption and crime and bring prosperity. Homophobic Bolsonaro’s rejection of abortion, same-sex marriage,
secularism, disregard for black people, women, and the indigenous population, and lack of concern for the environment strengthened the political opposition but
its tarnished record cost it the majority.
During the last months of the past year the character of the coming government began to reveal itself and polarization of the electorate continued: Eight cabinet positions
went to former generals, a conservative theologian was chosen to be in charge of education and a career diplomat who says that both man-made climate change and
globalism are Marxist or communist inspired became foreign minister.
The incoming president set the tone when he declared in his inaugural address “I
take this solemn moment and summon each of the Congressmen to help me in the mission of restoring and reconstructing our fatherland, liberating it,
definitively, from the yoke of corruption, criminality, economic irresponsibility and ideological submission…. Let us unite the people, cherish the family,
respect the religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combating gender ideology, preserving our values. Brazil will again be a country free of ideological
Once installed, the flood of decrees issued by Bolsonaro clearly showed direction
and content of his government’s plans and policies, according to O Globo, Correio do Povo, and
Political Freedom :
:Democracy in Retreat!
The rule of law and other vital pillars sustaining democratic society in the United States of America have been under attack for years but the lack of respect and support by President Donald Trump and his administration are weakening democracy at home and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide is the major conclusion of this year’s annual survey1 of Freedom House of Washington. The decline in global freedom has sustained a variety of countries in every region. In states designated as Not Free, governments have increasingly shed that thing façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades. More authoritarian powers are now banging opposition groups or jailing their leaders dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain, warns Freedom House.
“The greatest danger comes from the fact that American democracy is not infinitely durable, especially if a president show little respect for its tenets,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “We have seen democratic institutions gradually succumb to sustained pressure elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela. Antidemocratic rhetoric and the rejection of democratic constraints on power can be first steps toward real restrictions on freedom.”
1 Freedom in the World 2019, Washington DC: Freedom House, 4 February 2019.
Chinese influence spreading
China deepening its influence in Africa and elsewhere is now getting more attention inside German and US governments. The Federal Chancellor is visiting the neighboring continent and is shown talking to African leaders in Berlin. The national security adviser in Washington on 13 December spoke at the Heritage Foundation about the government making a greater effort to widen its economic and financial footprint in Africa.
Brazil's next president
With considerable concern, Brazil and the world are awaiting the installation of the new government of President Jair Bolsonaro on 1 January. He is known as a right wing extremist who speaks highly of the current US counterpart and his actions. A number of his announced cabinet appointees are equally conservative and favor strong actions on relations with Cuba, Venezuela, state-owned enterprises, exploitation of natural resources in the Amazon region, and have strong reservations about taking action to slow global warming.
The Iranian-Saudi Conundrum
Inability or sticking to an unyielding position to reach out to Iran is overlooking the much greater peril - the pernicious schemes employed by Saudi Arabia in various countries and the government-supported spread of Wahhabism, including staffing of numerous mosques and schools abroad with teacher steeped in extreme Islam. Teachings and movement did not create current extremist and so-called jihadist organizations (al-Qa’ida, ISIL/Da’esh) but preaching the ultra-conservative brand of Salafism by radicals helped them along.
The immediate target are Muslim Indians, especially in Jammu + Kashmir (J+K), but some members of indigenous ethnic minorities also are picked out be Hindu extremists. Behind these attacks are followers of the right-wing paramilitary National Volunteer Organization, better known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Closely linked to it is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He does not openly approve of discrimination and violent acts but his government actively silences critics. Offices of AI’s India branch were raided and on 26 October authorities froze its bank accounts, ostensibly investigating violations of foreign direct investment guidelines, i.e. foreign donations. Greenpeace India also had its accounts frozen, reopened and then cancelled. It commented that the raid on Amnesty “seems to be part of a larger design to muzzle democratic dissent in the country that began in 2014.”
UN warns about ultimate threats
With the job comes the global outlook and United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres keeps coming back to the two ultimate threats: nuclear catastrophe and climate chaos. By 10 September, his warning had become more urgent ̶ “the direct existential threat of climate change nears point of no return.” Disastrous consequences affect not only people across the planet but also natural systems that sustain them. In his landmark speech on climate action at UN Headquarters in New York, Guterres noted that stopping temperature rising by less than 2-degree-Celsius and working to keep the increase as close as possible to 1.5-degree-Celsius as targeted by the 2016 Paris Climate Accord, “were really the bare minimum to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” Action is needed now: “Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action,” he added, calling for a shift away from the dependency on fossil fuels towards cleaner energy and away from deforestation to more efficient use of resources,” the UN chief demanded.
Walling off Mexico from the US could become an ecological disaster for both countries.
Erecting a wall separating the United States of America from Mexico, ostensibly
to protect the country and keep out illegal migrants from southern America, is a pet project of US politicians, first George W. Bush and now of the current
president. Judging by the checkered history of such walls and the unfavorable comparison of high cost vs. desired benefit, US public support is less than 50
percent, partly because of cost, tradition of being an open country, abhorrence of the recent Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall of Soviet Russia, and the unfavorable
image among Central and South American neighbors.
On 24 July, renewed reasoning against a wall for ecological reasons appeared in
the monthly BioScience journal of the
American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) in McLean VA-Washington DC. A total of 2,556 scientist signatories from 43 countries, including 1,472
from the US and 616 from Mexico, warned of devastating natural results from such an obstacle between the two countries. Already it threatens 62 species. The
findings of 18 researchers entitled
Nature Divided, Scientists United: US–Mexico Border Wall Threatens Biodiversity and Binational Conservation, by Robert Peters et al, forewarns that the wall will hinder seasonal migration and reduce the habitat of animals, cause species to split into
less viable groups, and hinder bi-national conservation.
Two Summits - A selected press fallout
12 June Kim-Trump Summit meeting in Singapore
Trump: ‘We are taking care of a very big problem for the world’1
Trump: ‘We’re prepared to start a new history and we’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations’2
Trump’s vow to end military drills with Seoul stuns a region3
Donald Trump declares North Korea ‘no longer a nuclear threat’ despite no denuclearization timeframe4
Trump praises teams authoritarian rule, says ‘I want my people to do the same’1
Trump: Without him, ‘we would now be at War with North Korea’4
North Korea says talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were ‘regrettable’5
North Korea’s ruling party informs officials Kim regime will not give up nukes7
Trump calls EU a ‘foe’ before arriving in Finland for Putin Summit8
‘I don’t see any reason why’ Russia would meddle, Trump says after Putin meeting1
‘Treasonous”: Trump-Putin Summit leaves US leaders aghast1
Trump forks back from Putin Summit remarks, says he ’misspoke’9
Trump dismissed the idea that Putin wanted him to win. Putin just admitted that he did.10
McCain: ‘No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly for a tyrant’11
1The Age 2Press conference in Singapore 3The Japan Times 4ABC Australia 5Associated Press 6The New York Review of Books
Leaders supporting nuclear agreement with Iran
International and European leaders are making strenuous efforts to keep the nuclear agreement with Iran after the US president not only denounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but cancelled US participation on 8 May. Ironically, he steadfastly supports a vague exchange with North Korea on denuclearization that he hoped would earn him the Nobel Peace Prize and most recently led him to claim that he prevented war. Britain, France, and Germany have hinted at compensating Iran if it upholds the undertaking, The Age reported on 8 May. A day later, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was “subject to the world’s most robust verification regime” and attested to Iran’s consistent adherence to its commitments.
US president's gun remarks outraged France
The defense for carrying a weapon by the US president speaking to the National Rifle Association on 4 May by saying “strict gun laws failed to prevent the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris,” immediately brought forth outraged retorts from France. The foreign ministry voiced its “firm disapproval” and asked for “respect of the victims” of this close ally. François Hollande, who served as president at the time, denounced the US president’s word as “shameful” and “obscene play-acting,” noted le Monde.
French government prepares for major institutional reforms
An outline of proposed reforms of institutions – in line with the president’s campaign promises - was revealed by the prime minister on 4 April,
BBC reported. On 9 May, the Council of Ministers will deal with draft bills on constitutional law, organic law, and
The changes agreed with the Senate, according to Le Monde include
China’s newly acknowledged president comes up with new ideas and initiatives not quite every day but often enough to bolster his effort to shape a uniform society under tight party control, increasing social management of the people of China, controlling and limiting internet and social media, especially when it comes to the free world spreading practical ideas of democracy and freedom, introducing nationwide discipline enforcement, turning non-Chinese ethnic inhabitants of Tibet and Xinjiang into Chinese, bribing, forcing or persuading the country’s neighbors to obey the new middle kingdom’s demands and support it, advancing the Belt & Road infrastructure project, asserting sovereignty in the East and South China Seas, dispatching party delegations to meet with political parties abroad to build support for common concerns (especially rewarding in Africa), propagating party views among students in foreign universities, and diminishing, impairing or undermining influence and strength of the world’s other countries and powers.
In March, China’s president called for deepened military-civilian integration. Addressing military and police on 12 March, he outlined the strategy: "Implementing military-civilian integration is a prerequisite for building integrated national strategies and strategic capabilities and for realizing the Party's goal of building a strong military in the new era," noted Xinhua. He said party committees and governments at all levels should do more to support the cause of defense and military advancement, while the armed forces should render their service to economic and social development.
The president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) called for an international conference to restart peace in the Middle East during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 20 February. Addressing the Council for the first time since 2009, he proposed that the meeting be held by the middle of the year, that parties refrain from unilateral actions during negotiations, the US suspend the move of its embassy to Jerusalem, and that Israel halt its settlement activity.
Defending a multi-cultural and diverse world, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), on 20 January, warned against getting used to hate in language, mindsets and symbols: “We must reject those who fail to understand that as societies become multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural, diversity must be seen as a source of richness and not a threat,” he underscored. In his remarks, the UN chief cited examples from around the world showing the rise of the neo-Nazi threat as well as the growing concern that such groups are trying to “rebrand themselves” and present themselves as kinder or gentler to win wider favor – “They are less crude and more dangerous.”
Beijing’s assertiveness and activity are characterizing the Middle Kingdom’s role abroad. After continuing positioning in Africa and the Americas and the “Belt and Road” initiative, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is now energizing the party-to-party approach and taking it worldwide. From 30 November to 3 December the “CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties” High-Level Meeting was held in in Beijing. Designed to find influence in foreign non-communist parties, the initiative is portrayed as one to consolidate and deepen friendly cooperation to promote global development, share prosperity and guide the world’s future, notes Xinhua.
Turkey’s repressive president is making sure that his country is receiving close attention from international organizations and countries alike. Cozying up to Iran and Russia and picking fights with the United States of America may even jeopardize the nation’s standing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While the government will reject any form of affiliation, such as associate or privileged membership or partnership, other than full membership in the European Union (EU), according to the Minister for the EU Affairs, neither France nor Germany are currently willing to welcome it. The new Austrian government even adopted opposition to Turkish EU membership as part of its program. While its majority Islamic population is a problem for some EU members, resisting admission is strategic, political and personal. Bordering on the volatile Middle East, a next door member would expose and involve the EU immediately in conflicts and unsettled situations there. The Ankara government’s bloody conflict with its Kurdish citizens, the political feud with a former ally and his supporters, continuing violation of human rights and cultural and democratic values of the EU, progressive Islamic influence in public affairs, and the relentless pursuit of the president for near total control of the government, weigh heavily against proceeding with membership negotiations.
Bolivia’s Constitutional Court, packed by presidential supporters, has come up with a new ploy to justify staying in power perpetually. It recently ruled that term limits are a denial of human and political rights.
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