Brief Peace

I am watching a series on the History Channel entitled “Impossible Peace,” which poses the question, why was the period of peace between WWI and WWII so brief, only 27 years?  One would have thought given the terrible toll on life and destruction in WWI that humankind would have learned a lesson and done anything possible to avoid another such world war.  But, on the contrary, the masses of people and the various nations seemed primed to continue the even more terrible bloodshed and destruction.

What were the reasons for the brief interlude of peace:

  1. The destruction of several major Empires, the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian and Turkish Empires, resulted in the break-up into many new nations, such as Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Iraq and others, that were unable to maintain stable governments and economies.
  2. While The USA owed ca. 6 billion dollars to the European countries (UK, France and Germany) before WWI, at the end of the War they owed the US 10 billion dollars.
  3. After WWI the Allies in the Treaty of Versailles imposed an indemnity on Germany to pay reparations of 33 billion dollars.  Although there was a conference held in 1920 to reduce this financial burden, it never happened.  This was because the French and British owed so much to the Americans they needed the money from Germany, and the US got into the 1929 market crash and the great depression and also demanded payment.
  4. All the countries involved made fiscal mistakes that exacerbated the financial crisis.  The American Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, signed by Pres. Herbert Hoover, that imposed tariffs and restricted foreign imports, that only made the European crisis worse.  The British suddenly abandoned the gold standard in 1931, that restricted the availability of credit.  The Germans made things worse for themselves by simply printing money to pay for the reparations, that caused the hyper-inflation that ruined their economy.
  5. During all these economic and governmental crises, the tendency was for peoples to go to the extreme and to seek leaders who confidently offered them simplistic solutions.  Thus the rise of Communism in Russia (Stalin), Fascism in Italy (Mussolini) and Spain (Franco) and Nazism in Germany (Hitler), all authoritarian regimes.
  6. Britain had its worst general strike in 1926, including the miner’s march on London.  But, they were too civilized to actually mount an anti-monarchical revolution.  In the USA, the appearance of jazz, women’s liberation and prohibition, led to the rise of gangsters controlling several cities (such as Capone in Chicago), but they never needed to take over the government.  In France, people simply drank more wine, and American tourists and artists flocked there because of the devaluation of the Franc and the easy-going way of life.
  7. There was a strong feeling among many Germans that they should have won WWI, and they only lost because they were stabbed in the  back by the Jews who controlled international finance.  The turn to hyper-nationalism was an attempt by an arrogant society to makeup for the loss by ridding themselves of all Jews and stealing their capital.  However, it did not work, because even though they murdered nearly all the Jews of Europe and stole most of the capital of the conquered peoples and countries, they still lost WWII.
  8. One should not discount the role of tribal hatred and the desire for territorial aggrandisement in the 1920’s-30’s.  The French and the Germans hated each other, the Germans hated everyone else, especially the Jews, the Hungarians and the Romanians hated each other, and the Poles and the Russians and so on.  The Japanese considered the Chinese as inferior and invaded in 1932 and set up a puppet colony in Manchuria called Manchuoko. From there they invaded China proper and inflicted terrible civilian casualties, especially massacring at least 100,000 in Nanking in 1938.
  9. One could regard WWII as a continuation of WWI, that essentially destroyed the remaining Empires, those of Britain and France. Although they ended up controlling more territory after WWI than before, they did not have the finances or the manpower to retain these territories, so the process of losing their empires was one of the outcomes of WWI that continued in WWII.
  10. Britain and France intended to carve up the Turkish Empire according to the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty, and keep the areas in their own Empires,  France was given a Mandate over Syria and Britain over Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) to establish self-determination.  But, France put down an uprising in Syria in 1925 by bombing Damascus, and Britain used extreme measures in Palestine, as well as Ireland, China and elsewhere.  Only 3 years after the end of WWII, Britain lost India and Palestine, and then Iraq.  France eventually lost control of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and the Levant (Lebanon and Syria).
  11. Although Pres. Wilson was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations in 1920, the US Congress in a fit of isolationism refused to join it.  Consequently the absence of the US from the League of Nations robbed it of US influence at a vital time.

These are some of the reasons the peace interlude was so brief. After WWII the Allies had learnt the fiscal lessons of WWI by not demanding impossible reparations from Germany and not imposing tariffs and economic repayments from allies. On the contrary, the US Marshall Plan sought to rebuild West Germany, in a democratic image.  So far WWII has not been followed by WWIII, even though the Cold War came close (Korea, Vietnam, etc).  Now we just have local wars, such as Congo, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Muslim terrorism.  Maybe we have finally learnt our lesson.  But, there are people out there with guns and armies, such as Iran, that still want to destroy us.

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Femicide

I was shocked to read that so far this year 24 women and girls have been murdered in Israel, many of them by their spouse or other family members. Most recently an Ethiopian Israeli has been captured after the body of the 13-year-old daughter of his ex-girl-friend was found strangled. Of course, there is a lamentable culture of femicide in Arab culture, when family members murder any female in their family who is suspected of infidelity.

Israel is by no means alone in this area of femicide, the murder of a female because of her gender.  In fact, in El Salvador with a population of 6.1 million, less than that of Israel, over 300 women were murdered so far in 2018.  The rates of femicide in countries such as South Africa, Argentina, Honduras, India and Mexico are also among the highest.  Unfortunately, this is an abhorrent crime that is as old as humanity itself, and it will be hard to stamp it out.

Today is a national day of protest in Israel against domestic violence, supported by the Government, during which women will go on strike and demonstrate.  There will be demonstrations in all universities and public places culminating with a large demonstration this evening in Tel Aviv.  How much difference it will make remains to be seen, but it is hopefully the beginning of a new attitude in civilized countries opposing violence against women.

The US-China Trade Deal

Perhaps the most important outcome of the recent Buenos Aires G20 Summit was the hour-long meeting between US Pres. Trump and Chinese Premier Xi Jingping that came to a compromise conclusion.  Those who feared an all-out trade war will be disappointed.  The two trade giants agreed on a temporary truce in which Trump agreed not to boost tariffs on bn$200  of Chinese goods from 10% to 25% on January 1 for 90 days and China will buy a “very substantial” amount of US agricultural, industrial and energy products. Meanwhile, Beijing says the two sides agreed to open up their markets and to engage in further negotiations.  

Many had blamed Trump for starting a trade war that could be ruinous for the US and the world.  But, in effect China blinked first.  As Trump pointed out, not only was China cheating on its trade agreements, but they need the US trade more than the US needs theirs, and so in order to save their economy they had to come to terms.  This is precisely what is happening.  China could ill-afford to have these b$200 tariffs slapped on to their goods exported to the US, so they agreed to change their trade practices, that gave them a very unfair advantage contrary to the regulations of the World Trade Organization.  In future China will buy US goods to even the trade balance between the two countries.  This will be a great boost for the US economy and is in fact a great victory for Trump in re-negotiating trade agreements between the US and other countries.  

Over time, previous Presidents have ignored these unfair bilateral trade practices of other countries, either out of fear of causing a trade war or because they genuinely believed that the US should allow its industry and trade to suffer in order to help these less fortunate countries.  As an example of this Trump signed the tripartite US-Canada-Mexico trade deal at the Summit to replace the previous NAFTA, that Trump deemed unfair to the US.  It must have been acceptable to the leaders of Mexico and Canada because they very quickly agreed to the revised deal and signed the agreement at the Summit. 

Another trade partner of the US that has been using unfair one-sided practices is the EU, principally Germany, that for example expected no US tariffs on its cars exported to the US, but retained tariffs on its imports of US cars.  Trump is also pushing for a level playing field here too.  With his initial victory against China, the fear of an international trade war will be greatly reduced and we can expect positive outcomes for world trade.   

A Russian Romance?

At first glance it seems strange that US President Donald Trump would be cozying up to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin.  After all, not only has Russia (under the Soviets) been a traditional adversary of the US, but Putin himself has basically destroyed democracy (such as it was) in Russia, and has turned it into an authoritarian dictatorship.  In doing so he has murdered about 30 journalists as well as numerous politicians.  His chief opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in broad daylight in the center of Moscow in 2015.  A clear warning to anyone thinking of opposing Putin.  He has also expanded Russian power and influence by annexing the Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine and essentially taking over Syria.  All this you would think, in a conventional sense, would make Putin an enemy of the US and of Trump.

But, consider what could be behind this strange coupling.  My explanation is one word – China.  In the current ranking of Gross Domestic Product (GDP; i.e total size of the economy), the US is of course ranked #1, and second comes China, and China’s economy has been growing at a phenomenal rate (of 5-10% pa).  In the IMF listing of countries Russia comes 12th in this category. So from the point of view of competition or rivalry for world-wide domination based on economic factors, China must be seen as the major competitor for the US, not Russia.  This is why we have seen Pres. Trump emphasizing tariffs that are intended to make a fair playing field with China, because Chinese leaders have been manipulating their currency and their tariffs to gain advantage over the US, that previous Presidents had essentially ignored.

On the other hand, in the list of most powerful countries in the world, published annually by US News and World Report, after the US, Russia comes second, and China is third.  If you had to choose which country to be friendly with in order to avoid an international conflict and yet improve your relative situation, I submit that it would be better to choose Russia and not China.  China has embraced capitalism (although with an authoritarian system of government) and although it has expansive plans regarding the area of the South China Sea, there is no doubt that Russia under Putin is more expansionist.

I believe Trump’s apparent cozying up to Putin accomplishes two things: first, it sends a message to China that it is possible that the two most powerful states on earth, the US and Russia, can combine against it; second, it attempts to disarm Russia to some extent by undermining the traditional anti-Western views of the rulers of Russia.  This is hard-ball power politics on the international stage.  You certainly don’t want China and Russia to be allies against the US.  Trump is flexing US muscle and playing the game according to new rules.

The Migrant Crisis

All over the Western world from California to Greece there is a migrant crisis.  And this is not merely a function of the economic progress of the West, which in some cases has not been so great (including the southern tier of Europe from Greece to Spain), but rather the fault of the political and economic failure of the Islamic, African and Spanish-American worlds.

All along the southern borders of the EU there are hundreds of thousands of migrants clamoring to get into the EU and particularly the northern EU states (Germany, Scandinavia, Britain).  All along the southern US border there are hundreds of thousands of Central Americans (Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Mexican) clamoring to get into the USA.  But, the fact is that none of the developed Western countries are required to take the vast majority of these economic migrants.  That is not true of so-called refugees who have legitimate political reasons and who can apply for asylum, but they are a small minority of the migrants.  The problem is how to distinguish the latter from the former.

The immigration crisis of 2016-7 resulting from the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars, that resulted in a flood of migrants streaming across Turkey into Greece and thence into the Balkans and trying to make their way mainly to Germany is largely over.  This is because the Assad regime has largely won the Syrian civil war, the Iraqi civil war is largely over and Germany took over a million immigrants.  But, now in Europe the flow is more from Libya, which is a failed state with no effective government, and hundreds of thousands of Black Africans and North Africans  are streaming thru Libya across the Mediterranean mainly to Italy.

Several Governments have closed their borders, against EU policy, including Serbia, Hungary, and now Italy.  The current more right-wing government in Italy has said it can take no more migrants.  The ship Aquarius filled with a thousand migrants was refused entry to Italy and France and ended up in Spain.  Two other ships are following this.  The Italian Government is right in that the pro-migrant organizations are in effect operating a taxi service, taking migrants from boats off Libya to Italy,  Certainly it is laudable to save lives, but there is simply no more space for all these people.  They should be off-loaded in Libya, not Europe.  This is the only way to stem the tide.

In the US, the mistaken policy of separating children from their parents, that was introduced during the Obama Administration, has now been rescinded by Pres. Trump.  But, drastic measures are indeed needed to re-establish the southern US border, and if it takes building a wall, so be it.  Yes, the US was built by immigrants, but times have changed.  Crime and drugs are clearly a major component of the neglect of the southern border by previous US Administrations.  As a legal immigrant to the US, I resent these thousands of illegal immigrants expecting to be able to enter the US without due process.  Let there be immigrants, but let them only be legal according to US law.

 

 

 

US leaves UNHRC

Among the articles in The J. Post on the US decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council was one by Seth Frantzman entitled “Is the UNHRC an old boy’s club of dictators?”  This contains a very illuminating table that lists members of the UNHRC that shows unequivocally how biased it is.  Out of its 46 member states there have been (from 2008-2018) 26 that are are considered to be “not free” based on analysis by the Freedom House, an international agency that monitors human rights around the world. And these countries have been re-elected time and time again, and by this means prevent criticism of their own human rights records.

Such countries as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Ethiopia, Cuba, China, Vietnam, Russia, Qatar, Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, and so on, all with scores on the Freedom index of less than 36% , pass judgement on western democracies and Israel.  Not only has Israel been censored more times than all other countries in the world combined, but the UNHRC has a permanent item (#7) on its agenda requiring that it rejudge Israel every six months.

This is a ludicrous situation whereby countries with no human rights protections are able to sit almost permanently in judgement on all others.  The problem is that if only countries with good human rights records were allowed to be members, then it would be a mainly American-European Club and open to criticism by human rights violators (most of the rest of the world) that it was biased.

It was right for the US to leave the UNHRC, because the situation is farcical.  It’s like the foxes guarding the chicken coop.  The UNHRC needs to be disbanded in its present state as useless.  But, how the UN could reform itself seems beyond the realm of possibility.

 

The US-N. Korea Summit

Most analysts agree that the summit between Pres. Trump and Kim Jong-Un in Singapore was more style than substance. Yet it was undoubtedly a historic occasion.  Previous Presidents of the US have shied away from meeting with the dictators of N. Korea for fear of giving them credibility and legitimacy.  But, Pres. Trump is characteristically both more impetuous and more canny.  He and his advisers realized that the kind of brinkmanship practised by the rulers of N. Korea was designed to gain them media coverage and status on the world stage.  To deal with them means accepting that this is their goal.  Letting them “strut their hour upon the stage.” was a necessary part of getting a deal, as Trump would see it.  They want to be taken seriously as major players and having a one-on-one meeting with the President of the US was their price for any further agreement.

Whether or not Kim Jong-un can be trusted or whether or not Trump can insist on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as realistic verification of missile and nuclear programs remains to be seen, but this summit was the first essential step.  In doing so Trump exceeded the expectations of all previous Presidents who refused to actually deal with the dictators of N. Korea.

Apart from the future prospects for peace and stability in Korea, with the active support of China, the  world has learnt a lesson.  That is that Trump is both unpredictable and can threaten to use the superpower force of the US with evident success, but is always prepared to deal.  The rest of the world is now waiting to see what happens with Iran.  The Iranians are similar to N. Korea in that they are an absolute dictatorship with expansive goals, yet their primary interest is to ensure the continuity of their regime.  If Trump were to likewise threaten them with the power of the US military unless they change their ways,  they will likely cave like N. Korea, and come into the fold and do a deal, this time a real deal that is in US interests.  How backing down and dealing with the US will affect their credibility and the long-term stability of their regime is another issue.

Many people have been concerned by the apparent rift between the G6 and the US as revealed at the G7 summit in Canada.  Some have likened this to the preference by Pres,. Obama to engage with America’s enemies (Iran, Russia, China) rather than cultivate America’s allies.  However, there is fundamental difference between Obama and Trump in this regard.  Obama was trying to act like a European nation, using persuasion and diplomacy, while Trump emphasizes American exceptionalism, using power and threats.  In that respect Trump is more American and eschews the European approach to trying to deal with enemies, rather than treating them as enemies.  Which approach will produce more results for the US remains to be seen, but the Summit with N. Korea seems to point the way to future progress.