Terror in America: Obama and Trump

Terror in America: Obama and Trump

by

Howard Adelman

I wrote this blog – or most of it – two days ago. But I didn’t, I couldn’t send it out. I did not like my conclusions. More importantly, the argument and evidence offered were only sketched rather than fully developed and properly supported. But, after all, this is only a blog and not an academic paper. So I invite readers to tell me I am wrong, to show me where I am wrong.

Clearly and unequivocally, Barack Obama’s greatest failure as president was in creating conditions which allowed Donald Trump to succeed him. Or is this assertion not so clear and unequivocal? Was Donald Trump elected through a confluence of external factors that had nothing to do with Obama – the FBI Director intervening in the election eleven days before most ballots would be cast with information that the FBI was investigating an additional trove of material that might (it never did) throw further light on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and unprotected server. Russian hacking into the Democratic Party communications and releasing the information to Wikileaks may have done the critical damage. After all, Trump won Wisconsin by only 22,000 votes, Michigan by only 10,700 votes of 4.8 million cast, .002%, two-tenths of one percentage point, of the ballots cast in that state. Trump won Pennsylvania by 49,000 votes out of 6 million, .008 or 8/10ths of one percentage point. Poor Democratic party organization in those competitive states may have cost the election. Bur perhaps the loss also occurred because Obama had forged a role for himself right from the beginning as a president above the fray. Though he tried at the end, he clearly had difficulty in parting from his self-created image to pin the tail on the donkey. Perhaps this was because he was still blindfolded.

Look again at Obama’s farewell speech. What were the threats he pointed to as dangers to America? “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.” But how does a shrinking world or demographic change threaten democracy? And why are they put on the same level as growing inequality and terrorism? And to what extent was terror a real threat? Further, if, under Obama, the trend to increased inequality had been reversed, why not point to that rather than “growing inequality?” “Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.” Rather abstract and indirect if Obama was referring to Trump as a fear-monger indifferent to core values Americans hold dear.

But look when he pivoted to specific types of examples in the next paragraph – put the fight against terrorism on a “firmer legal footing,” end torture, close Gitmo, reform laws governing surveillance, and protect privacy and civil liberties.  These are all pretty remote from the concerns of most citizens. Does anyone believe that even one of these issues, let alone all five, mattered to a single one of Trump’s supporters? If Trump voters were afraid, it could possibly be from terrorists, but I will try to show that it was not and could not be. Nor was it a failure in due process or protecting terrorists from being tortured. Trump supporters could not care one whit about Gitmo, except perhaps what it costs to keep the few imprisoned there, if they only knew the actual costs. (In 2015, it was $445 million for the 41 prisoners still there, almost $11 million per prisoner.) In the election, they seemed more interested in their own fellow citizens being careless with information under their control than others looking at that information, including either their own government or a rival foreign power.

This is written with no criticisms of whether the goals Obama named are laudable. They clearly are for any small “l” liberal. But the implication of the remark is that Trump supporters were allowing their heroic leader to stir up fears that then trumped their concerns for individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. However, they were not primarily concerned with individual liberty, freedom and respect for law. And rather than terrorism being a major threat, it was not and was not even perceived to be a major threat. If it were, they could pay far more attention to home-grown terrorists, and, as we shall see, they were fully justified in largely ignoring that magnified threat.

Much more importantly and justifiably, they would be concerned with the scourge of gun violence that killed far more Americans than all the foreign wars in which America has been involved over the past eight years. From 2001 to 2014, over 440,000 people died from domestic gun violence in the U.S.A., almost 34,000 on average per year. In contrast, in the Afghanistan War, America lost 2,734 military personnel between 2008 and 2016, about 342 per year, or about 1% of those who died from gun violence in the U.S. In the Iraq War, there were only 591 deaths in those same 8 years, for Obama began withdrawing most American troops from there shortly after he took office. The death toll averaged 74 per year, or two-tenths of one percent who died from guns on American soil. In both operations, the death total has fallen dramatically during Obama’s second term.

I received the following feedback from my initial draft from a regular reader. “Again, those Americans for whom owning a weapon is sacrosanct do not look at deaths resulting from gun violence in an abstract way.  If they are the ones shooting the bastard who dared to look at them the wrong way, then that is justice served, their way: the customary method of settling disputes.  This is fierce individualism, protective macho gesture taking things in your own hand.  You do not need no namby-pamby principles, just a secure hand and a functioning gun.  They do not advocate for the right to bear firearms as a principle, but as a licence to take care of business, without the interference of government authority.  Of course, sometimes they are the ones who get shot: then all hell breaks loose: individual particular self-interest, not universal principles guide the actions.”

I will come back to the figures above in a blog on foreign terrorism, but note who died. In 2015-2016, three Americans died assisting Iraqi domestic military forces in the fight against ISIL terrorism – 31-year-old Navy Seal Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating, 27-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin on his fourth deployment overseas, and 39-year-old Army Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler, who left four children fatherless; he was also on his fourth deployment and had earned 11 bronze stars. The cost in the lives of American military personnel overseas fighting terrorism has been relatively very small, but the sense of who they were has been very large.

In this blog, I will focus on the alleged threat of terrorism within the United States to democracy. Examine the list of major violent attacks within the United States when Obama was president:

  1. Binghamton, New York, 3 April 2009 on an immigration centre; 14 killed, 4 injured
  2. Fort Hood, Texas, 5 November 2009; attack on the Soldier Readiness Center there; thirteen were killed and 44 injured
  3. Tucson, Arizona, 8 January 2011. At a supermarket political meeting, Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were severely injured and U.S. District Judge John Roll as well as five others were killed
  4. Aurora, Colorado, 20 July 2012; 12 killed and 58 injured in shooting attack at a movie theatre
  5. Newtown, Connecticut, 14 December 2012; elementary school shooting attack
  6. Boston Marathon, 15 April 2013; 3 killed and 264 injured by two bombs, and later, 1 police officer killed and 1 injured in the capture of the bomber
  7. Washington, D.C., 16 September 2013; at the Navy Yard – 13 killed & 3 injured
  8. Fort Hood again, 2 April 2014; 3 killed and 16 injured
  9. Las Vegas, Nevada 8 June 2014; 2 police and 1 civilian killed in shoot-out
  10. Chattanooga, Tennessee, 16 July 2015; 4 marines, 1 sailor, 1 policeman killed
  11. Roseburg, Oregon Community College, 1 October 2015; 9 killed & 9 injured
  12. San Bernardino, California, 2 December 2015; 14 killed and 21 injured
  13. Orlando, Florida, 12 June 2016; nightclub killing of 50 and 53 wounded
  14. Dallas, Texas, 7 July 2016; 5 police killed & 8 injured by a sniper
  15. Baton, Rouge, Louisiana, 17 July 2016; 3 police killed and 3 injured
  16. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 8 January 2017; 5 killed, 6 injured.

These sixteen were major attacks classified as criminal, terrorist-Islamic, terrorist-right, or terrorist-left; 5 of the 16 fell into the classification, terrorist-Islam. But a closer examination of each of those cases raises serious doubts about the classification for at least one and probably three of them. In the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas attack on the Soldier Readiness Center, the perpetrator was Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist identified over the previous decade as having serious psychological problems. In the last few years, he identified as a religious Muslim, but there was no connection ever discovered with radical Islamicist terrorism. Any reasonably objective analysis would conclude that this was a case of a criminal act by a deranged perpetrator who rationalized his action in terms of Islam, extremist Islam.

In contrast, the Boston marathon attack in April 2013 was a clear case of Islamic terrorism, though not carried out with any direct links to terrorist organizations, Islamic or otherwise. Dzhokha Tsarnaev was 9-years-old and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was 16-years-old when they immigrated from Eastern Europe to the U.S. They became self-radicalized Islamicist terrorists. In another case, that of the 2015 Chattanooga Tennessee attack and killing of military personnel, Muhammed Youssef Abdulaziz was born in Kuwait and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 6. His father was a Palestinian radical of the Hamas variety. Yet he too could be classified as a home-grown Islamicist terrorist without any known links to extremist groups abroad or domestically.

In the Chattanooga attack on military personnel in 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez had substance abuse (sleeping pills, opioids, and painkillers) and alcohol problems. He was also suffering from depression and under his parent’s health insurance plan, was ineligible for treatment in a rehabilitation centre. He may also have been suffering from bipolar disorder. This was another case of an act of violence that took place under the banner of Islamicist terrorism that would be better classified as a criminal case of murder resulting from a deranged person.

The second deadliest attack during Barack Obama’s term took place in San Bernardino in 2015. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, were the perpetrators. This was also a case of home-grown, self-radicalized Islamicist extremist terrorism, though inspired by foreign Islamicist terrorism, more specifically, ISIL which claimed them as “soldiers of the caliphate.”

The deadliest attack took place in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016. The devastation in that nightclub killing in which 49 were killed and another 53 injured, was caused by 29-year-old Omar Mateen. He was clearly a disturbed individual. He failed to become a state trooper and a prison guard and was working as a security guard. The psychologist who signed his papers permitting him to own a gun had never interviewed him directly and was fined for this lapse. Though his action, in his own words, was instigated by American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, his history included a record of a number of threats to kill people that had nothing to do with religion.

In sum, only 2 of the 5 alleged Islamicist terror attacks and 2 of 16 terror attacks in general within the United States could be clearly and unequivocally classified as Islamicist terror actions. The three other cases were carried out by Muslims who claimed to be inspired by Islamic extremism, but were almost certainly cases more of mental derangement rather than religious ideology.

What are we to make of this analysis – that domestic Islamicist terror is not a real threat? Not at all. After all, none of the citations above refer to the number of alleged planned Islamicist terror attacks that were disrupted and prevented by the police and intelligence services or to those attacks in which there were only 1 or 2 casualties. However, even if account were taken of all those, the threat of domestic Islamic terror is not a significantly large problem. After all, two of the sixteen terror attacks were perpetrated allegedly by left wing terrorists and two by right wing terrorists, as many as the clearly and unequivocal Islamicist variety.

Domestic terror is not a serious threat within the United States. It does not compare in quantity to criminal terrorist incidents usually committed by people with serious psychological problems and certainly not anywhere comparable to the unique situation in America of thousands killed per year by gun violence having nothing to do with terrorism. Investing money in mental health facilities or monitoring of individuals buying guns would give far better safety and security results that the huge amounts invested in combating domestic Islamicist terrorism.

In any case, Donald Trump did not appeal to the fears of terrorism of his supporters, but to their hatred of terrorism and the religion that they felt deep-down endorsed or otherwise abetted that terrorism. Trump explicitly and repeatedly promised to “eradicate Islamic terrorism completely from the face of the earth.” Not Islamicist terrorism but Islamic terrorism! This is not an appeal to fear, but rather an appeal to the genocidal instincts we all harbour and, with the help of laws and institutions hopefully quell – to define a group as Other, as wholly other, as a threat, as a mortal threat, as a threat that the only way it can be dealt with is by extermination.

When Barack Obama reiterated that he was a liberal leader who defended liberal values, this only indicated how out of touch he was, how unsupportive the evidence was, of his position and the real danger. Packaging the threat in the language of threats to individual liberty is but a confession of the powerful forces of ultra blood and soil ethnic and religious nationalism, of demagogic populism, of a stress on strength and order rather than law and order. It is not as if Barack Obama does not know, did not know this, but that he was too circumspect in naming it and, in effect, talked beside the point. Barack Obama was perhaps not only personally guilty of mis-diagnosing the real problem in the hearts and minds of those in the street, but shared in the innocence and ignorance of those around the world who fought for liberal values in the Arab Spring, or marched in Iran, Turkey and Russia against militant dictatorships, and the women and men who filled the Washington Mall and streets around the world calling out for the protection of liberal values.

This is a war, a war being fought around the world, a war between liberalism and anti-liberalism. And the proponents of anti-liberalism are not afraid, are no longer intimidated, from defining themselves as non-liberal, as at war with liberalism and, therefore, at war with any other nation or religion that challenges their own sense of self-superiority. (Same reader commenting: “It is not so much that they are anti-liberal, but that they do not see any benefit from having liberal leaders, if they have no jobs. The liberals talk big, but the lives of the rustbelt denizens ain’t getting no better from that.  Screw the principles and the slogans and give bread. And I do not think these people truly believe they are superior: they are painfully aware of their disenfranchised status amidst the grand speeches about equality.  This much they understand: slogans do not feed hungry mouths.  And anyhow, anyone who acts superior is in fact troubled by a whole lot of inferiority complexes.  The aggression is just a protective mask.”) But until the stage of inter-nation war is reached, it is liberal values that must be struck down. Asserting that these fears are being stirred up and defending liberal values against that threat just misses the point totally. And if the women and men marching in Washington, marching in Los Angeles, marching in Toronto and marching in sixty or six hundred other cities around the world do not recognize their real enemy, then those liberals will be swept into the dustbin of history along with the defenders of a new liberal order in the Arab world, in Turkey, in Russia and in Iran.

The real threat is far, far greater than a threat to women’s rights and civil rights. The point is not to guard the values that make us who we are, but to go to war against the values who would make us something other than who we should aspire to be. An aggressive, not a defensive war was and is called for. And Obama still did not recognize this fact, or openly articulate it, when he left office. Defensive Maginot lines are one way to do battle, but such lines can always be breached by surprise and a blitzkrieg. The issue is not withdrawing from expanding democracy, defending human, women’s and LGBT rights, but fighting an aggressive war against ALL those who threaten the rights we already have won, terrorists of the left, right or Islamicist variety among them, but far more the citizens of America who do not fundamentally believe in democracy, do not fundamentally believe in rights, who believe in nation, who believe in strength and order rather than law and order, who believe a demogogic leader who will take them to the promised land where they supposedly once dwelt.

The fight against “extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism” may indeed be of a “piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalism,” but if you focus your guns and your ammunition primarily on those who would assault human liberties, then the main threat is given a wide-open birth. Trump does not just represent an alternative policy option in a pluralistic system of competing positions. Trump represents the enemy that sometimes comes in the guise of Islamicist terror, but far more dangerously under the banner of free speech and democratic liberties. This is the real fifth column. This is the real danger from within. And if we are too timid to brand that threat, to name it, to diagnose it and simply rise on our pillars of righteousness to defend civil liberties, we will have surrendered the field of battle to the enemy. And make no mistake – these are enemies. Aggressive war, not a defence of old standards, is required.

Barack Obama’s failure in this area is our failure. He articulates that failure best in his eloquent and inspiring words. They appeal to his allies because we share those same values and have become timid in warring on their behalf, if for the simple reason that wars so-called in defence of those values have been fought for quite different reasons inspired by radically different motives.

Obama was no Eisenhower leading the fight for democracy. Obama was not even a Harry S. Truman capable of firing General Douglas MacArthur. We needed a tough street fighter (and former haberdasher) more than a community organizer to do battle with the real enemy within that has now taken over the White House.

With the help of Alex Zisman

One reader wrote the following:

The media is simply not trustworthy. Most read no newspapers in America. If they did use media and relied on CNN, conservatives called them the Clinton News Network. Their bias was and still is outrageous. No problem for the conservatives. FOX feeds their own bias and outrates CNN three to one. Radio is a non-existent news source. CBC here was and still is horrendously over-the-top anti-Trump. Only one Canadian pundit of note, Conrad Black, had the timbre to go against the tide. Need I remind you of the so-called pollster blunders? It was the liberal media that created these misleading reports. Did they do it deliberately? How did they get it so wrong?… Many Americans see daily carnage in Syria and watch the horror of beheadings and mass suicide bombing and wonder when it will take place in their already troubled existence. Their own USA local news deals with the 15 minutes of overnight deaths by violence of their fellow citizens. Howard, in case you missed it, so does CBC News! Their lead morning reports deal with overnight deaths by stabbing and guns, every day! Our youth wonder if the music rave events they attend will see nightclub slaughters like those of France and Florida. You, like Obama now wish to downplay the fact that radical Islam is even a problem and rationalize such efforts by telling us more people die from domestic gun violence than from terrorism. That is simply two wrongs and no rights.

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The Deplorables I – Jeffrey Lord

The Deplorables I – Jeffrey Lord

by

Howard Adelman

When I listen to the sycophants, the apologists, the surrogates, the spokespersons for Trump Two-Two, I want to scream – not on behalf of Hillary Clinton, but on behalf of reason, on behalf of enlightenment values, on behalf of truth. Never mind Trump. His surrogates – Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, Corey Lewandowski, Kellyanne Conway, Andy Dean, Katrina Pierson, Bruce Lavell, Darrell Scott, Mark Burns, Scottie Nell Hughes, Omarosa Manigault – are deplorable in the true sense of the word. They deserve our strong condemnation. Not simply for the man they are defending, not simply for the points they are making, but for their disrespect for the rules of the use of rational language.

I am not talking about the birthers and believers that the world is flat and that the destruction of the Twin Towers was a Zionist conspiracy. I am not talking about the David Dukes, the racists or the defenders of the Second Amendment who seem willing to take up arms in the name of an invented version of part of the American constitution. These are far beyond being deplorable. I am referring to those Trump surrogates who belong to the chattering classes, but seem to be incapable of mounting a rational and evidence-based argument. It is a disgrace. It is shameful. I cannot believe this goes down the line and deep into the Republican Party, but listening to these surrogates makes me suspect that the party has been deeply infected with irrationality and may not be able to be salvaged this time no matter who wins or loses the election. That is lamentable, but it is also inexcusable. The long term history of a once noble party is being sacrificed on the altar of irrationality. Political contests have been transformed into a blood sport in which illogic and the misuse of language have been substituted for rational debate.

This is truly dreadful and atrocious, unpardonable and dishonourable. The situation is deplorable in all the senses of the word. The leading surrogates who contribute to this folly are even more deplorable than the bullying, blowhard, lying Trump Two-Two. For he is a product of business and a vehicle for entertainment. The surrogates, on the other hand, claim and represent themselves worthy of belonging to a league which requires rational discourse and argument. But they lack any one of its central characteristics.

The worst of it all is that these surrogates are usually set off against, not simply Hillary Clinton surrogates, but against quite brilliant independent analysts like Marc Lamont Hill, Joy-Ann Reid and Angela Rye (who both said to Corey Lewandowski when he put down President Obama and demanded that Obama release his Harvard transcripts – as if this bore any equivalence with releasing tax returns – “You are so out of line right now. Tell your candidate to release his tax returns. Two words: Tax return” and each insisted that “In this moment, I’m going to Beyoncé you: ‘Boy bye,’” Rye added, “You’re so out of line right now.”) Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones (Trump branded him “Mad Max America”) and my personal favourite, Charles Blow, can be added to this list. All are constantly forced to participate in a sham debate in which the proponents of irrationality are given half the media time and these journalists are reduced to taking on the irrationality of their opponents rather than the substantive policies at stake. (As an aside, the Beyoncé lyric comes from her song “Sorry” in which a woman dismisses her husband’s excuses for his affair.)
In accusing them of being deplorable, I am not asserting that the Trump surrogates are ignorant. They have mastered their notes and their rhetorical skills and exhibit them in different ways. I am not accusing them of being stupid. Just defenders and proponents of irrationality even as they demonstrate different degrees of nimbleness in their use of sophistry.

Let me illustrate with reference to each of the surrogates in turn taking on one problem at a time. Perhaps Jeffrey Lord is the person I have seen and listened to the most as a Trump surrogate. With his white hair, whimsical smile and laid back engagement in the debates, he offers himself as a serious defender of Trump Two-Two. He also has a long political pedigree having served in high office in the Reagan administration. There he must have honed his skills in defending Reagan trickle-down economics while burying fiscal conservatism in a bed of debt as Reagan tripled the gross federal debt from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Examine Jeffrey’s defence of Donald Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public.

Arguments for releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• It is an established tradition going back to Richard Nixon
• It is an expectation of the voters
• It will provide evidence about whether or not he has been truthful about his charitable giving
• It may provide evidence or disproof of the suspicions of many and the evidence of a few that during the last decade, Trump’s businesses depend more and more on infusions of capital from Russian oligarchs connected with Putin and partners associated with disreputable dictators around the world
• Most of all, it will provide evidence about whether he pays his fair share of taxes in any reasonable definition of fairness.

Arguments for not releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• They are under audit and any taxpayer has the right to mitigate his tax exposure, an exposure that can be exacerbated by release of one’s financial situation
• The tax returns provide clues to how Trump operates his various businesses that may expose his positions unfairly to competitors
• The release of the information will provide an enormous distraction from the policy issues as reams of people try to mine the returns in the interest of exposing embarrassments. “He’s got a 12,000-page tax return that would create financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from his father’s main message.”
• Unlike other presidential candidates who were political pros, Donald Trump comes from the business world and his returns, as Donald Trump Jr. explained, amount to 12,000 pages in themselves creating an enormous fund for troublemaking.
• This is not a burning issue for the public.

What are the arguments offered in refutation of the claims of the opponents and in support of the Trump campaign position? Against the argument that this is a precedent going back to Richard Nixon, Jeffrey Lord argues that there have been 36 presidents who never made their tax returns public. What is omitted is that these constitute 36 of 43 presidents and 35 served prior to Richard Nixon. Many of these served prior to Abraham Lincoln when there were no personal income tax returns to make public. In any case, the argument does not take on the observance of a well established tradition over the last 7 presidents, excluding Gerald Ford who was not an elected president but nevertheless released a summary of his tax returns though not the entire income tax return. In other words, it is a tradition that extends over one-third of the period in which there have been income tax returns.

Jeffrey Lord doe not argue against the claim that there is a 47-year-old tradition. Jeffrey Lord does not argue that it is an illegitimate tradition. He demeans the tradition by citing irrelevancies to the case – what presidents before Richard Nixon did. He does not note that Richard Nixon resisted releasing his returns but was forced to do so. This is, of course, the well known red herring form of argument, that is an argument which is not an argument, but a distraction that is irrelevant and simply attempts to draw attention away from the issue.

Jeffrey could have argued that the appeal to tradition of the Democrats was itself a red herring since it does not follow that because the tradition had been established for 47 years that this alone made it a valid tradition to continue. That in itself is a form of a red herring argument, but one suspects that if Jeffrey opened that can of worms he would have had to engage in the argument about whether the tradition was a useful one well worth perpetuating for a number of reasons. So distraction rather than engagement seems the preferred course of avoiding a real dialogue.

How does Jeffrey Lord and Trump’s other surrogates handle the argument that the voters expect tax releases to be released? The answer – it is not a burning issue for voters. But the claim was not made that it was a burning issue, only that it was an issue for a large majority of voters overall (74%) and even a majority of Republican voters (62%). The surrogates, however, are probably right that this isn’t a burning issue. In a small sampling in Virginia, the voters were all bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, but 17 of those voters were more troubled by Hillary’s emails while 11 who were more bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax information. Here again, as in the above case, Jeffrey Lord could have insisted that the Democratic case, even the case for the majority of voters, was itself a kind of red herring by concluding that since something is believed in widely does not make it valid. But again the argument is not engaged for the same reasons the first argument was not – because it would mean probing the merits of the practice whether or not a majority believed in it or not. Instead, the counter argument reverted to obfuscation and distraction by the use of the word “burning”.

This is, of course, as irrelevant as the first defence. Issues that are not “burning” in the public mind – the state of Korea’s nuclear arsenal is an example of one far less burning than the issue of release of incomes tax filings – but that does not make it an invalid subject for debate. An issue does not have to be a hot one searing the mind of the public and igniting their fiery wrath to demand attention. It may be only a smouldering rather than a red-hot torrid item, but the stonewalling and sidestepping and engagement in distraction present the possibility of making it a burning issue.

What about the issue of getting to the truth value of Donald Trump’s claims to have given millions upon millions to charity and the assertion that the tax returns would be able to confirm the claim or reveal it as false? Further, even releasing only this part of the tax return could put to rest the suspicion that the claim is an invention, a fabrication, a lie, an inquiry given steam by the evidence that the Trump Foundation had not received a dime of Donald Trump’s personal money since 2007 and that the money it receives has been donated to the foundation by others and then donated in the name of Trump without disclosing the original contributor. However, there is other evidence that in 2009 Trump donated almost a million dollars to charity, $100,000 of that sum ironically to the Clinton Foundation which he subsequently insisted needed to be investigated.

An investigation of Trump’s own foundation was initiated by Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, for making an illegal $25,000 donation to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013 when she indicated that she was considering joining Schneiderman’s fraud case against Trump University. This is not just an impression of illegality. Non-profits are legally forbidden from contributing to political campaigns.

How did Jeffrey respond? He called Schneiderman a “sleaze” on CNN’s OutFront. This is another kind of red herring illogic, usually called an ad hominem argument in which you attack and insult the messenger instead of dealing with the merits of the claim. It is relevant that Schneiderman is a Democrat, supports Hillary Clinton and may even sit on one of her campaign committees. This creates a perception of conflict of interest between his political affiliation and responsibilities as an Attorney General. But it is incumbent on the accuser to demonstrate the conflict of interest, especially in America where senior civil servants are usually political partisans even when not elected, which they often are.

A perceived conflict of interest takes place when an individual can derive personal, usually financial, benefit from actions taken in their professional capacity. Though Schneiderman’s political beliefs would benefit, there is no evidence or even suggestion that there would be repercussions on his pocket book. Further, if conflict of interest was defined as the tension between one’s political conviction and one’s professional responsibility, then the whole American political system would have to be shut down.

What about the claim that the Trump organization receives capital from Putin’s oligarch friends and other authoritarian leaders across the world that will lead to a conflict of interest problem between Trump’s motivation to protect his corporate interests and the interests of the United States of America? Newsweek in its exposé never offered any evidence that any of these activities were illegal, though one Virginia voter named Beverly said that, “I’m concerned what Trump’s hiding in there. There may be business dealings, illegal business dealings. He’s really good at sweeping things out, and I really think he’s hiding something.” Newsweek did point out the conflict of interest this situation would create between Trump’s personal economic interest and that of the United States. That is a real conflict of interest for an individual with multiple financial interests any one of which could corrupt the motives or professional decision-making of the individual if that individual were to gain high office.

Jeff wrote an article (“The Liberal Media Unhinged,” 13 August 2016, for mrac NewsBusters) in which he derided The New York Times, The Washington Post and the “liberal” media in general for using ad hominem arguments and personal insults aimed at Donald Trump that give “’permission from a whole segment of America’s political and liberal media class’ to kooks out there to do whatever – no matter how dangerous, despicable or out of bounds – to Donald Trump.” In other words, it is not Trump Two-Two that engages in the use of insults and ad hominem arguments and raises the possibility of violence against Hillary Clinton, but the liberal press who do so against Donald Trump and give license to commit violence against Trump Two-Two. This is another red herring – accusing one’s opponent of the failings you yourself seem so transparently to demonstrate through hyperbole and the use of flagrantly false analogies.

I will only make two further points about this patently silly argument. The first is the use of the adjective or noun “liberal”. Michael Brenner in a recent article on the distortions imposed on our language took as his first case the denigration of the term “liberal.” Barack Obama in his address last evening to the CBC, not the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but the Congressional Black Caucus and supporters of its foundation, articulately spelled out what it means to be liberal, though it is noteworthy that he avoided the term since it has been so hi-jacked by neo-liberals at the same time as it has been so denigrated that he had to concentrate on its substance. Liberalism means expansion of voting and political rights, equality of justice, increasing the opportunities for all. For Obama, the essence of liberalism is progress based on these measures of improving society on these and other fronts. Liberalism entails the fairer distribution of wealth and making the promise of equality a reality and not just an aspiration. In its idealism, the collective good is equated with the benefits actually enjoyed by individuals.

One can oppose liberalism in the conviction that these benefits are better achieved by decreasing rather than enhancing the role of government, by insisting that a government dedicated to insisting that the collective good and the individual good are best combined, not when the two are presumed to enjoy a synergistic relationship, but when they are seen as in tension and the government as a purported deliverer of fairness is consistently reduced. That is a reasonable ideological division. But when the term “liberal” is used as a slur, when the term is equated with those who lie and malign by the defenders of Trump Two-Two, who has unarguably made a profession of lying, using ad hominem arguments and insults, one despairs for the cause of reason. When words are hijacked and deformed by the language Janissaries, when they laud Trump Two-Two for magnificently ripping “the mask of rationality off the liberal media,” we enter the topsy-turvy world of Alice in Wonderland who opined in Lewis Carroll’s magnificent satire that, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” When Jeffrey refers snidely to the liberal devotion to science – which he places in apostrophes – in the climate change debate, we know we are in the world of the chattering class equivalent of the flat earth society.

What about the argument that releasing the tax returns will provide evidence about whether Trump Two-Two pays his fair share of taxes? Jeffrey Lord’s defence: Democrats “will make a problem out of something. Something that could be perfectly ordinary and average, and they will make a problem out of it. This is what politicians do.” The tax returns could be perfectly ordinary, but may not be. And the issue is whether the release of tax returns would reveal that which is not ordinary or confirm that nothing untoward was done. But instead of addressing the point of the tradition of releasing tax returns, Lord argues that the release may provide ammunition for his opponents so why release them? Precisely to learn whether the returns do indicate that which is not ordinary.

Critics of Trump Two-Two ask why he cannot release the letter from Internal Revenue requesting an audit of certain years? Why can’t Trump Two-two release his returns before 2007 that are not being audited. Those questions are never answered. Instead, all we hear is deflection based on the use of logically fallacious argumentation.

Granados and Blom – UNSCOP

UNSCOP and the Partition of Palestine III

by

Howard Adelman

Dr. Jorge García Granados (Guatemala) versus Dr. N. S. Blom (Netherlands)

What a contrast Jorge García Granados from Guatemala was to Emil Sandström. The differences are unequivocally clear in Granados’ statement of his views at the first informal meeting of UNSCOP in Sandström’s office on 6 August 1947. Instead of starting with the rule of law and, in particular, international law as a first principle, he began with the assertion that, “The core of the problem (is) not legal, but human.” As a humanitarian nineteenth century liberal, rather than one steeped in the rule of law, constitutions were constructs, necessary constructs but not based on natural law. They were responses to both objective problems and fundamental conceptions learned by experience about how societies work best.

García Granados’ views were liberal (in the nineteenth century Latin American sense of one who both espoused these ideals and identified himself as a liberal). He was a “unanimist” who adhered to the predominant 19th century Hispanic American constitutionalism based on an integrative, state-building, model which requires a cohesive ruling bloc rooted in popular support. Liberalism of this variety entailed both liberation from colonial rule (negative freedom) and an ideology of nation building based on a unified elite leadership backed by the people (positive freedom). García Granados was not interested in theory; he focused on what was practicable and implementable in response to the problems faced while deeply informed by the presuppositions allegedly based on experience that he brought to the table.

Though not antithetical to federalism per se, a bi-national state or a federal state with two nations making it up could never achieve this ideal. Liberal Latin Americans supported constitutionalism and a political authority rooted in that constitution with elected representatives and full protection of freedom of the press. They were against authoritarianism and the centralization of power even as they recognized the need for a united leadership elite. But it had to be backed by the grassroots in contrast to the belief of Latin American conservatives. Liberty could and should be combined with order and progress and not with reaction and authoritarianism, propensities he identified with the Arabs in contrast to the Jews. So, on the one hand, a society rooted in dogma and governed by force exhibited the spirit of reaction. A society rooted simply in populism or popular sovereignty flirted with anarchy and chaos. Instead, García Granados celebrated individual liberty and self government by the people and for the people, but led by an enlightened and coherent leadership.

For García Granados, the outcome of UNSCOP was clear. The Jews had to have a land of their own. He came out of the gate as a clear and unapologetic spokesperson for the Zionist cause sympathetic to both the Labour Zionists and the Revisionists because both, he believed, upheld the liberal ideals he upheld. Different approaches to economic organization did not fracture his perception of a more fundamental unity. García Granados was, “Impressed by [the] spirit and work of Jews and their desire for a homeland.” “Jews in Palestine,” he asserted, “developed a new psychology – less desire for material gain than is character[istic] of Jews in foreign countries.” García Granados was the forerunner of those abroad who lauded Israel when it was an idealist country rooted deeply in the kibbutz image, but perhaps also with those who turned against Israel when it became a country like any other, governed by its own interests and facilitating possessive individualism rather than a collectivist ideal.

Ironically, he was at heart a philo anti-Semite if one can accept such a contradiction. The Zionists represented the “new Jew” in contrast to the acquisitive Jews who lived in foreign countries. In his liberal racism, Granados compared Arabs unfavourably to Jews and he would insist throughout that if there were to be a cantonal approach and parity between Arabs and Jews, there should be “no mixing of racial groups.” The Jews were simply superior in their historical development. Though the one on the committee most sympathetic to the Zionist position, he never mentioned the Holocaust. The precedent was the Balfour Declaration endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922 when the international community determined that Jews needed a land of their own from which they could not be expelled.

His positions can be summarized as follows:
• Contradictorily to the idealism and surrender of acquiring money as a goal, he lauded Jews for being richer than Arabs;
• They were also more cultured;
• He insisted that the Arabs would not and could not ensure Jewish rights and cited as evidence the Farhud, the pogrom in Iraq in 1941 (June 1-2) when, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War, Arab riots targeted Jews and Jewish establishments on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot killing 180 Jews and wounding over 1,000 others. Jewish commercial establishments were burned to the ground and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed; this was the precedent that Jews faced if they had to live under the rule of Arabs;
• Jews also needed their own country to solve the DP problem since they had no other place to go throughout the world because of the prevalence of anti-Semitism as evidenced in Britain given the very recent riots there and the attacks against the Jews (This was a theme that influenced every member, even those who opposed partition.)
• Further, like the other members, he was antithetical to British imperial interests; in the name of those interests, Britain, contrary to the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, had failed to ensure that Palestine had become a safe haven for Jews everywhere; the British were colonialists who treated both Jews and Arabs as inferiors and the spate of terrorism was blamed, not on the implacable positions of the two sides, but on Britain;
• It was very clear that García Granados would be adamantly opposed to Britain playing any role in the enforcement of a UN recommendation;
• García Granados (along with Professor Enrique Rodríguez Fabregat) fully accepted the Revisionist Zionist position and insisted that there was never an Arab state in Palestine nor could he ever accept an Arab state there (He should have remembered the dictum, “Never say never,” though he was willing to consider a single bi-national state rather than partition, but from a Revisionist Zionist rather than cosmopolitan liberal perspective.)

Dr. N.S. Blom was a different person altogether. Though initially he only adopted a negative stance rejecting the assignment of Palestine exclusively to either the Jews or the Arabs, it was not at all clear whether he supported a bilateral state, a federal state, cantonization or partition. When he finally submitted his own memorandum on a solution, he had become completely convinced that, whatever conclusion was adopted, any solution would have to be imposed and enforced. (Memorandum, 12 August 1947) So the key determination was not an ideal solution, or one based on the principle of self-determination, but, given that the antithetical positions the two sides had taken were intractable and unreconcilable, an imposed solution from outside was required. Blom, unlike others, focused not on a solution, but on the requisite steps for implementing a solution.

Like all the others on the committee, he supported an end to the Mandate if only for the reason that, unlike Sandström, he envisioned no legal continuity between the granting of the Mandate and the current state. Hence, there was no agency to assume international responsibility and, with the dissolution of the Mandates Commission, there was no longer a system of international accountability established by the Council of the League of Nations. Unlike Ralph Bunche, Blom argued that the new International Trusteeship system was neither the automatic nor natural successor to the Mandates Commission, though he would support its use as the only institutional arrangement realistically available.

There existed a conundrum. The only party with the proper legal and enforcement mechanisms for resolving the Palestine issue was Britain. But Britain was no longer capable of implementing whatever solution was recommended. Further, the key and central question – and again on this issue he was consistent with the other members of the committee, though he articulated it clearest – “The formulation of a final solution will depend in large measure on what the decision is to be as regards Jewish immigration into Palestine.” (p. 3) The core issue was not individual liberty or legal continuity whether of a natural law or a constructivist constitution. The key issue was immigration.

Three choices were available: 1) no further immigration; 2) limited immigration; 3) entirely free immigration. So the question of Jewish self-determination was inextricably linked to the question of immigration. Further, in his perception, “in the minds of many Jews the problem of the Jews in the D.P. camps and the plight of the distressed Jews in Eastern Europe is by far the most urgent.” (pp. 3-4) For Blom, this conviction had been enhanced by Zionist propaganda and by the public relations emphasizing the intolerable conditions in the camps and brought to a zenith of international public attention by the refugee ships.

In contrast, the Arabs fear immigration as a bridgehead to Jewish dominance in the Near East. “If the Arabs are to have the decisive influence in the independent state, all immigration of Jews will be immediately prohibited.” (p. 4) So the best solution would be an alternative locale for resettling the refugees. The issue is one of power – either Jewish dominance and free immigration or Arab dominance and no immigration. Controlled immigration could not be an answer since there was no authority available to exercise that control.

That is why Blom contended that the decision on immigration had to precede the decision on any outcome to the Palestinian issue. Further, the Catch-22 was that a transitional period was absolutely a requisite for implementing any solution. On the other hand, any transitional period imagined would only aggravate the situation. Except possibly under two conditions – if it were of very limited duration and if it were accompanied by very specific and definitive solution. So Blom opted for Ralph Bunche’s preference for a Trusteeship agreement. Further, he argued that, “no Trusteeship agreement for Palestine could be effected unless it met the approval of the United Kingdom Government.”

One cannot help calling out, “Whoa! I thought you said the mandate was no longer workable. How come you are effectively arguing for the continuation of the mandate under the different rubric of a trusteeship?” The answer in his dialectical reasoning was that this was the least worst option once one agreed that the issue was not the solution per se but the mode of implementation and enforcement. Further, in order for the state to be able to enforce any solution, cooperation with one of the communities was a prerequisite. What Blom envisioned was the continuation of the mandate as a trusteeship under the auspices of Britain and enforced by the British army, but paid for by the U.N. The Arabs would be the community relied upon to support this outcome since Jewish immigration would be banned. As for the substantive “final solution,” Blom at that point envisioned a federal state as the least worst option.

What becomes clear in reading Blom’s interjections and his position is that, on the committee, he was clearly the most pro-British, though even he recognized the need to end the mandate. Further, he seemed to be the only one sympathetic to Ralph Bunche’s advocacy of having a Trusteeship arrangement to succeed the mandate. Further, in advocating the federal position, he never clarified how that dealt with what he considered the central issue – that of open, closed or limited and controlled immigration. However, given what he said, he seemed to envision a federal state dominated by Arabs who made up two-thirds of the population and they would impose a freeze on immigration. The British could impose their authority with the cooperation of the Arab community. He never explicitly stated this position as his final solution given that any pro-British stand in the context of a committee antithetical to Britain would isolate him from having any influence. However, Blom as an Indonesian Dutch civil servant had been grateful to Britain’s Lord Killearn who had facilitated negotiations between Netherlands and Indonesian nationalists to arrive at the Linggadjati Agreement on 15 November 1946.

So the puzzle with Blom is why he voted for partition and a separate Jewish and Arab state in the end. That puzzle is only cleared up by reading the files in the Dutch archives rather than the documents of the UNSCOP committee. For like John Douglas Lloyd Hood of Australia, and unlike all of the other members of the committee, both Blom and Hood were under the thumbs of their foreign ministers. They were not, as was supposed to be the case, independent members of the committee. Both were civil servants rather than independent judges or diplomats. This does not mean they were united in their views. After all, even when Blom voted in support of partition against all evidence of his previous assertions, he confessed incomprehension that Hood would, in the end, abstain and would denounce that vote as “not greatly appreciated” and “incomprehensible.”

But wasn’t Blom’s vote even more incomprehensible? After all, he supported a federal state dominated by the Arabs with immigration denied to Jews. However, the most important thing to know about Blom was that he had spent his career as a civil servant in the imperial rule of Netherlands over Indonesia. Like Hood, he had opposed the rest of the committee when they became upset at the British decision to hang the three Israeli “terrorists.” He had opposed visiting the D.P camps in Europe. The Dutch delegation even opposed the right of the Jewish Agency to make representations before UNSCOP or the right even to speak in the General Assembly lest it “set a precedent” for other non-state actors. When their position on the Jewish Agency was defeated at the UN, they worked to restrict the range of matters on which the Jewish Agency could speak. They also seemed to identify the Jewish “penetration” of Palestine with communist infiltration. (Minutes, Dutch delegation, 3 May 1947) Given these attitudes, how did he come to support the majority position of UNSCOP?

On 25 March 1947, the Linggadjati Agreement was implemented to provide for a cessation of military hostilities in Indonesia. The United States of Indonesia, consisting of the Republic of Indonesia (Java, Madura, Sumatra) and Borneo, was to be established. However, two weeks after UNSCOP had been formed and just over two weeks before the committee was scheduled to arrive in Palestine, the agreement met an impasse. On 8 June 1947, the Indonesian government rejected Dutch proposals for a cessation of hostilities. In Indonesia, fighting broke out between the Dutch government and the indigenous population of Java and Sumatra on 20 July 1947 after a final rejection by Indonesia took effect on 16 July 1947 and negotiations ended on 19 July in spite of the intervention of the U.S. The Dutch would need all the support they could get at the UN when, on 30 July, Australia brought the issue before the UN Security Council. Holland declared this to be interference in its domestic jurisdiction. As a result, Hood and Blom, in spite of or because of similar civil servant styles and subservience to their ministries, were not able to collaborate.

Blom had unequivocal instructions from the Dutch foreign office to avoid alienating the Arabs as the Dutch needed their support in the UN to retain a degree of control in Indonesia, especially after Dr. Sukarno formed the Liga Muslimin (Muslim League) to support the Arab-Asian group in the United Nations. Blum was not to take any position opposed to Arab countries. The Arab League had previously passed a resolution on 18 November 1946 recognizing Indonesian independence, but it had not yet given its support for the resort once again to violence in opposing Dutch imperialism. Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam on behalf of the Arab League had supported independence of the Arab states – Egypt on 11 June 1947 and Syria on 2 July 1947.

The clear and explicit turning point for the Dutch position in relation to the Arab League, particularly on the issue of Palestine, came to an end when the Arab League openly supported Sukarno and the Indonesian nationalists in their fight with the Netherlands just two weeks before UNSCOP voted among the various options available. Blom, contrary to his previous position, was instructed to vote for partition rather than against partition.

This was critical, as we shall see. For instead of a tie vote of 2 to 2 on the sub-committee dealing with the constitution, its recommendation would eventually be unanimous in support of partition. To understand why, we now have to turn to explore the position of Ivan Rand of Canada.

Religion, Solidarity and Power: The Contemporary Scholarly Landscape

Religion, Solidarity and Power

by

Howard Adelman

This article is divided into two major parts. Part I is divided in three beginning with a prologue that sets the article amongst contemporary discussions of the relationship of the secular to the religious. The second section of Part I adopts a diachronic rather than synchronic perspective. Instead of orienting the reader within contemporary intellectual space, it offers a sketch of how our new secular religions that characterize our post-modern age emerged out of the trajectory of the past. The third part then sets this paper within the context of other papers discussed at the symposium where this paper was first presented.

Part II gets to the core of what this paper is about – the relationship of solidarity to power in the contemporary world and, more specifically, within the context of traditional religions in competition with contemporary secular religions, and all in competition with each other and with the only secular perspective that is truly idolatrous and not a religion at all. Part II then offers two very specific case studies which are seemingly peripheral to the central issues at stake in the Canadian 2015 political election, but which exemplify the nature of the contemporary struggle between the two dominant secular religions.

Part I: Framing

 

  1. Prologue: Locating this Article in Contemporary Scholarly Landscape
  2. A Philosophical and Historical Overview
  3. State, Society and Contemporary Competing Religions

 

Part II: Case Studies

  1. Solidarity: Coercion, Influence and Authority in Contemporary Society
  2. The Issue of the Niqab in the 2015 Canadian Election
  3. The Issue of Syrian Refugees in the 2015 Canadian Election

 1. Prologue: Locating this Article in Contemporary Scholarly Landscape

Studies of the role of religion and religious symbols in public life have been legion. Some of my own writings (2011) on Quebec and French divisive debates over the hijab and niqab (Adelman blog, 12 October 2015) fit into this classification. The writings of Chidester (1991), Green (1996), Hams (1999), Miller (2005), Lambert (2008) and Fowler et al (2010), as well as many others, have covered the role of religion in political life in America, and certainly peaceful accommodation in civil society (Putnam and Campbell, 2010). We have always had studies of the role of religion in violent conflict by historians (Underdown 1986; Harris 1990; Wilson 1995; Shugar 1997; Martinich 2002) where profound conflicts over fundamental values were at the root of violent clashes. In our time, religious differences have been at the centre of violence in Yugoslavia (Babel 1992), Sri Lanka (Tambiah 1992) and Northern Ireland (Jordon 2013) as well as at work in the peace process itself (Brewer et al 2014).

Religious values, symbols and concepts permeate our secular politics as well (Sung 2007). In fact, if I interpret him correctly, Schewel (2014), who is part of this symposium, claimed that Christ was indirectly the first secularist. For if reconciliation between man and God could not be obtained in one’s lifetime in this world, then, “This created the idea of an autonomous and wholly secular plane of political existence and taught religion to abandon its claim to worldly power.” (p. 50) Nevertheless, even as modernity ushered in what were perceived to be the final stages of shoving religion to the periphery of political life, Elshtain (2008) and Gillespie (2008) documented how deeply religious conceptions underpin the very basis of contemporary politics.

We have also had writings on secular society, especially modernity, as also having its own religious and ethical foundations that provide the basis for cohesion and the peaceful operation of the polity. Traditional religion has also provided the foundation for contemporary culture. The studies of Bellag (1967) and Cristi (2001) try to document that this is not just an influence on secular culture, but has itself produced a civil religion on its own. On the other hand, there does seem to be an increasing trend towards the importance of religious strife in violent conflicts (Bibby 2001) and a wider and broader conviction that our contemporary culture is increasingly divorced from a belief in an unchanging sacred social order that is so characteristic of traditional religion.

On the one hand, religion seems to be everywhere; on the other hand, our society has become increasingly secular (Taylor 2007). Secular in this context refers to the privatization of religion as initially just another distinctive realm among many (usually focused on institutional attachments), a set of beliefs and practices that entail value priorities and even fundamental commitments, and then, in the case of traditional religion, its ostensible exile from the public sphere. For some, this also implied a trend towards extinction of religion from any influence in the public sphere at all.

Religions historically and currently have been a major source of both prejudice and warfare, as well as tolerance, the latter illustrated by Putnam and Campbell (2010). “America peacefully combines a high degree of religious devotion with tremendous religious diversity.” (1) And where is that religion to be found? Not just in churches, synagogues, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples, not just in civil society institutions, but as foundation stones for civil religion and for our most fundamental political institutions.

In this paper I try to do something somewhat different, though clearly complementary, analyzing not just a portion of civil society as a civic religion, but secular society as a whole as itself made up of several competing secular religions, each allied with different variations of traditional religion. They attempt, as religious and political theory have in the past, to reconcile cooperation and solidarity as the foundations for unity in tension with coercive power in a polity. Like traditional religions, the various secular religions include institutions dedicated to its operations, a set of beliefs and even an obligation on the individual to pay attention and participate in certain rituals and rites, including often forms of speaking.

I adopt an international studies perspective even when undertaking very specific case studies of conflicts. For although the contention for power is restricted largely to states, the real competition is global; the debate often becomes most heated over transnational issues even when the discourse is about one woman wearing a niqab at a ritualistic public ceremony when an immigrant is becoming a Canadian citizen. Sometimes those clashes are related to war. Sometimes only which and how many refugees will be received. But in all cases, conflicts over fundamental values are at stake that cannot be resolved by reference simply to empirical data.

At an annual meeting of the International Studies Association (ISA) in 1996, Andy Knight opined that the time was ripe to examine the role of religion in world politics. He stressed focusing on the connection between modern specific conceptions of world order and those embedded in various religious traditions in order to understand the way religious ideas could influence the shape of the international system on the premise that religious and spiritual forces shape our cultures and human institutions, not just political, social and economic forces. I myself have written on the conceptual relations with a focus on eschatology (Adelman 2004; 2011e), but more about the effect of religious conceptions in restoring peace than in bringing about conflict and violence.

Fox and Sandler (2004) articulated the importance of culture, religion and identity in understanding international relations. Just over a decade later, this sentiment was echoed this past year by Janice Stein, former Director of the Munk Centre for Global Affairs at the University Toronto. “Religion has become a major construct that needs to be seriously considered when intervening in cultural wars in foreign lands.” This is a very different conception of the role of religion in political life, for it is not about how religious ideas and concepts permeate current politics, but about how religion is an integral part of contemporary politics in the international sphere.

“Seventy years ago we made a deep mistake in thinking about the world; we didn’t foresee the importance of religion in politics. The post-war consensus was rather that secularization would continue to grow as societies developed and became more educated. As religious beliefs became a respected private matter, the secular liberal order would deepen and strengthen around the world. We now need to understand the important role that religion plays in large parts of the world, and build that into our foreign policy.” (Lynch 2015) Janice Stein reminds us that religious ideas, that the teachings of Lao Tzu, Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the Bab, and Bahá’u’lláh, have not only influenced our conceptions of world order, but have also impacted on the organization of political battles on the ground in the contemporary era.

There is a third way to examine the relationship between religion and culture by pointing within civil society to a civil religion that mediates between secularism and religious tradition as we generally identify it. That civil religion exists alongside of and clearly differentiated from the churches, synagogues and mosques (Bellah 1967; Cristi 2001).

A fourth way looks at the secular non-religious sector as itself consisting of religions (Levinson 2013). In other words, whether encompassing only part of secular civil society or all of it, there exists a collection of values, beliefs, symbols, and rituals that are considered sacred for a particular segment of society and that are institutionalized within a collectivity that can contribute to fostering tolerance or intolerance.

The battle among religions, both traditional and secular, is international. It is domestic as well (Keating and Knight 2004). In my 2011 essays, I documented the differences between the Stasi Commission in France and the Bouchard-Taylor commission in Quebec over Muslim women wearing headscarves. Those differences reflected contradictions between the two dominant secular contemporary religions and the interpretation each gave to liberalism. Much of the French debate, unlike the Quebec one, related to a perceived threat of international Islamism; what was the proper balance between persuasion and protection? In the 2015 Canadian elections, that perspective was introduced into Canadian politics in a major way by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. So did the issue of humanitarianism versus security concerns in the differences over the issue of the Syrian refugees in Canada. (The niqab issue and the Syrian refugee issues will be discussed at the end of this essay to illustrate the warfare between two contemporary secular religions, each with a different set of traditional religious allies.)

Those four different approaches to examining the relationship between the secular and the sacred in contemporary society as it relates to international and domestic politics and particularly those events related to and involving violence are:

  1. The influence of religious concepts on modern secular society and politics;
  2. The role of religion in contemporary international and domestic politics as core religious tensions within that play out in contemporary religious/political wars as well as facilitating peace;
  3. A civic religion that exists between traditional religions and the state;
  4. Secularism itself as a religion and the interaction of traditional religions and various forms of religious secularism.

I am interested in the fourth approach, but one which subsumes the other three as part of the analysis.

Next: 2. A Philosophic and Historic Overview

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

by

Howard Adelman

When Samantha was appointed to chair President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up to actually prevent mass atrocities and genocide as a core U.S. national security interest and foreign affairs responsibility, the cheerleaders for R2P jumped with joy, “At last,” they screamed, “Something will be done about preventing, or, at the very least, mitigating mass atrocities.” Indeed, Samantha Power credited the administration with “an unprecedented record of actions taken to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable.” In reality, the false claim of credit and the inability to mitigate let alone prevent atrocities are two sides of the same coin.

What were these claimed unprecedented actions and accomplishments? And did they have anything to do with the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)?

In the next series of blogs, I will take up a number of specific issues on which Samantha Power at one time or another claimed credit was due to the administration for “an unprecedented record of accomplishment”. I will see what if any connection there is to R2P and briefly deal with the claims made and whether any credit is warranted in a number of specific cases. Of necessity, I will have to be very brief and succinct on each crisis. Before undertaking the specific case study analysis, including Darfur, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Myanmar, I want to raise a number of general faults with R2P and then offer two individual cases – of accountability rather than prevention or intervention as illustrations.

As I will try to show in the case studies, when R2P is actually applied to protect populations in peril, such as the Yazidis in Iraq, the motivation has little to do with protecting that very endangered population. And when protecting an actual population as the real aim, as in Libya, the course of events set in motion by the intervention seems to make the situation go awry leading seemingly to many more deaths and atrocities than might otherwise have been the case. When protection or mitigation actually seem possible and could be effective, as in repressing and even eliminating Boko Haram in Nigeria, the conditions for its application are undermined. All of this will emerge in the case study analysis. In this blog, I offer some theoretical reasons why R2P is inherently bankrupt and why this will always be the case. R2P was not only stillborn when the UN endorsed the doctrine universally by effectively gutting its core premise of making sovereignty conditional instead of absolute, but was sterile at its conceptual birth. The genetics of the doctrine doomed it to crashing.

If the dialectics of the analysis of the theory bothers or deters you, wait until you can read the case study analysis. Alternatively, you can skip this blog and go to a second I will write this morning, a brief review of the movie, The Foxcatcher, a movie that presents, but does not go into the mind of a sociopath who could commit mass atrocities.

Part of the problem with R2P is the difficulty of application – the greater the challenges in figuring how to apply the doctrine, the more worthless it appears to become. For its credit depends upon use, but without a proper line of credit, it turns out to be useless, hence contributing to its increasing loss of credibility. And the more it is not used, the more worthless it appears to be. However, these are but the manifestations of the root conceptual flaws in the doctrine. Let’s start with the central premise of the relationship between the sovereign state and its citizens.

In liberal democratic theory, the governors of a state are responsible for its citizenry and accountable to that citizenry for carrying out a state’s responsibilities. ‘Responsibility for’ and ‘accountability to’ are the two intertwined dialectical links between a population and its government. But in R2P, if a state fails in its prime responsibility of protecting its citizens, that responsibility function shifts to the international community which substitutes its own authority for that of the state. State authority is no longer absolute but conditional upon its exercise and removable with failure. The state is reduced to a trustee of the international community. And that international authority that takes over the responsibility for the citizenry is not responsible to that citizenry. So R2P only works if it undermines the principle of democracy. More importantly, when it does not work – which as I will show is the norm – then responsibility itself becomes emptied of any meaning, thereby even more fundamentally undermining the doctrine of responsibility for and to the people.

If we approach the conceptual issue, not from the nature of a democratic state, that is, the collectivity, but from the other pole of the equation in R2P, the rights of a citizen to protection, we get into another dilemma. Citizens not only have rights of free speech, rights of assembly and the other traditional rights necessary for the preservation and enhancement of a democratic polity, but they have a right not to be subject to mass atrocities. This is not just a right not to be tortured or a right to a fair trial or a right to legal representation. The latter are all rights that belong to the individual in a democratic polity. What we have in this case is a collective right, that is, a right of a community within a polity to continue its existence as a community; if the state denies that right by either trying to evict the community to which an individual belongs (ethnic cleansing) or goes even further and tries assiduously to exterminate that group in whole or in part (genocide), then the only way prevention or mitigation can be effected is by granting a group rights. Inherently, however, this puts limitations on individual rights rather than enhancing them.

If an individual has all of the liberal rights, why does he need to be recognized as a member of a group with collective rights? Where is the added value of the collective right to the individual qua individual? Further, one of the paradoxes at the root of the conception of the nation-state is that when a collection of individuals contract among themselves as individuals to transfer all coercive power to the state on condition that their rights are protected, those rights do not include group rights.

The compact between the individuals and the state goes further. The rights to determine who belongs to the state, that is, who can be its members, is transferred to the state. So if a state wants to abrogate the rights of a group, the only way to protect those rights is to insist they belong to every individual member of the state. But group rights only belong to a group and its members within the state, not to all members of the state itself. So if groups within a state are to have specific group rights – such as aboriginal peoples within Canada concerning the rights of a community to exclude non-aboriginal members or revoke the rights of individuals in that group when they marry non-aboriginals – then it is the group, not the state who defines who is a member of that group. If the state assumes responsibility for that decision – as was done in the Holocaust, in the Rwanda genocide and in some cases of aboriginal rights -, then the very idea of a self-perpetuating collectivity with rights within the state is undermined. The fact is, the issue of collective rights is the Achilles heel of a democratic liberal state. Insisting that a state cannot mistreat any of its minorities and, if it does, the collectivity of all states will take over the responsibility, means only that the irresponsibility only gets writ large and exposed for what it is.

So what has actually happened? The Obama regime has sincerely bought into the principle that the U.S. does have a responsibility when minorities are persecuted. And, unlike the United Nations, it is not just a rhetorical buy-in. As stated above, Obama issued a directive that “the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest of the United States.” But then the most powerful state in the world showed that it could not possibly implement that responsibility – not only for all the minorities being afflicted with atrocities, but surprisingly, not one single one – except when the real and deep motivation is the old fashioned self-interest of the state.

So the issue is not even which group, among all those persecuted, a state should protect. Nor is the issue simply when to apply the doctrine of protection, let alone adopt the last resort of coercive intervention. The inherent incapacity of the most powerful state to protect any group outside its own jurisdiction based on R2P, which requires collective authorization via the United Nations before any action based on R2P is legitimized, undermines both the sovereignty of the state as well as the potency of that sovereignty. Does the endorsement by the UN authorizing military force help, as when the U.N. Security Council authorized military force to protect “civilians and civilian-populated areas” in Libya? R2P does offer permission to a state to act on behalf of the international community, which may provide temporary protection and which can prevent some murders from proceeding, but what happens next? Unless the intervening state or group of states is willing to assume full responsibility for those endangered citizens and not simply provide protection in an acute crisis, then the violence simply recurs in a different form.

Further, if a country decides to become involved, the intervener has to either take full control (unlikely) or to support one side in the struggle, presumably representing those persecuted. Then the persecuted are empowered to destroy their enemies – which inherently means the other side, the persecutors. They take control and sometimes even become the persecutors. Those states which have an interest against that group that have gained power become highly critical of the intervening state as behaving like an imperial power, not as a saviour of minorities. The intervener is no longer the representative of the world community, but only a section of it intent on victory. R2P just becomes a cover for an exercise in imperial power. At the same time, the intervener becomes a producer of victims as well as a protector of victims.

One result is that altruism is depreciated and devalued. Force in the service of altruism is an oxymoron. What is more, the altruism only seems to work when it is intermixed with the self-interest of the intervening state that drives the intervener to assume the full responsibility required to complete the task at hand. Of course, that only further undermines the moral status of R2P. Since the ostensible success, protecting civilians, is difficult to assess and measure, but the body counts, the civilians killed, those wounded as “collateral damage,” are quantifiable – the empirical evidence seems evident for all to see. The cure may be worse than the disease.

What is more, when a state assumes the responsibility for its members, for its citizens, this is an ongoing and continuing duty, not one that ever ends. But intervention inherently demands and requires an exit. Yet there never is an appropriate time to leave by the very nature of the problem. In reality, an intervener leaves when the government of the state within which the intervention takes place insists once again on assuming responsibility, thereby both undermining the R2P doctrine, which is based on the presumption that the will of an individual state is trumped by that of the international community.

Further, the resentment and internal discord within the intervening state are enhanced. A state assumes responsibility for its own citizens, not in gratitude for the “international” community acting as a temporary protector, but because the country has become tired and even resentful of the so-called protector. On the other side, the citizens of the intervener sooner rather than later grow tired of the burden and resentful in turn of the lack of appreciation of those who they sacrificed to protect. Alternatively, the situation gets worse, and the intervener is required to increase its commitment, the self-sacrifice of its citizens and the cost of its project, which in turn enhances the resentment of at least part of the citizenry of the intervening state and exacerbates the divisions and schisms within.

As we shall see, none of these paradoxes and dilemmas has even touched the problem that neither the strongest state in the world and certainly not the international community can possibly assume the responsibility for even a small portion of the atrocities taking place in various parts of the world. So the international community and the intervening state(s) come across as hypocrites incapable of living up to the promises they have ostensibly made.

One of the results of all these inherent failures is a propensity to boast about relatively tiny and insignificant accomplishments, even when one had hardly anything to do with responsibility for them. Before I begin the series of case study analyses, let me offer an example of one case that is neither about prevention nor intervention, but about accountability. The Obama administration supported the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić and boasted about it. What did that support amount to?

Samantha claimed this credit among a long list justifying her successes as the chair of President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up in 2011. It is true that the R2P doctrine is not only about prevention, but also includes punishment of those guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide. But that is not what is novel about R2P. As President Obama said himself on 2 April 2013 upon learning of the arrest of the Butcher of Bosnia, Ratko Mladić: “Fifteen years ago, Ratko Mladić ordered the systematic execution of some 8,000 unarmed men and boys in Srebrenica. Today, he is behind bars. I applaud President Tadic and the Government of Serbia on their determined efforts to ensure that Mladić was found and that he faces justice. We look forward to his expeditious transfer to The Hague…From Nuremberg to the present, the United States has long viewed justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as both a moral imperative and an essential element of stability and peace. In Bosnia, the United States – our troops and our diplomats – led the international effort to end ethnic cleansing and bring a lasting peace. On this important day, we recommit ourselves to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and to working to prevent future atrocities. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide will not escape judgment.”

That is a fair and judicious statement. Obama gave credit where credit was due for the arrest – to President Tadic and the Government of Serbia that first gradually asserted control over the Serbian military. The effort was helped both by EU pressure requiring the arrest of the wanted war criminals as a condition for the entry of Serbia into the EU and the British military and British politicians, particularly Paddy Ashdown when United Nations High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004. Obama did not link the arrest with R2P, but with a long American bipartisan tradition going back to the Nuremberg trials after WWII. He also gave credit to the Clinton administration for its leading role in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia and for forging the peace agreement. The only credit he gave his own administration was for a recommitment to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and his government’s work to prevent future atrocities. None of this had anything to do with the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić.

Even the rewards offered for information leading to his arrest, initially €1 million by the Serbian government, upped in 2010 to €10 million, and $5 million dollars offered by the American government, subsequently supplemented by an offer of €1 million by the U.S. embassy in Belgrade just for information on his location, had nothing to do with those arrests. Initially Mladić was protected by the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska, then after 2002 by the Serbian army and the army of Republika Srpska, then by paramilitary extremist organizations similar to the ones that helped Nazi war criminals escape Germany after WWII, and finally only by members of his own family. Neither strenuous UN and NATO efforts nor offers of bounties led to his arrest – just good police work and serendipity.

Goran Hadžić was the last fugitive war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and he was arrested by Serbian police just over a month after Ratko Mladić near the village of Krušedol, where he had been hiding since his indictment by the ICTY. He had tried to sell a stolen Modigliani painting and police tracked him down. America had no more to do with this arrest than with the capture of Ratko Mladić. President Obama’s statement on Goran Hadžić’s arrest was in the same vein as the previous one, with one exception. “Over the course of its 18-year history, the United States has been and remains a steadfast supporter of the ICTY and its critically important work.” A smidgeon of credit was taken for supporting the ICTY. Was this what Samantha Power was declaring as an example of an “unprecedented action”?

My country may have been the sponsor and midwife of R2P. I continue to believe in military intervention – when possible and when needed. But the overarching doctrine supposedly providing a rationale for such actions is a far greater hindrance than help. It is much better to establish practices than to proceed from an abstract principle, especially one so terribly flawed.