29 September, 2020

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The Topsy-Turvy World Of Today

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Trump in Hanoi, Samantha Power in Colombo, and Indo-Pakistan farce: The topsy-turvy world of today

To pick up where I left last week – on the rise millennial socialism in America, there are quite a few historical and contemporary quirks that might be of interest to the curious. ‘When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold’ was the stock phrase in the second half of the twentieth century when America was the dominant super power. The statement was a direct adaptation of what Prince Metternich had said of revolutionary France during the ‘age of revolution in Europe’, in the 19th century: “when France sneezes, Europe catches cold.” In the 21st century, there is no chance whatever of the world catching anything from the millennial socialist sneeze in America even if it turns out to be a strong one. It is also a sign of the waning US power and influence in today’s world that America finds its President travelling to Hanoi to stage a performance of diplomacy with his counterpart from North Korea that began as farce and ended as failure. 

In a somewhat different sign of soft power and influence, Samantha Power, the US representative to the UN under President Obama, visited Colombo last week to felicitate Mangala Samaraweera for completing 30 years in politics. More than American influence, this was an instance of Sri Lankan politics seeking external validation, a yearning, if it could be so called, that did not pre-occupy Sri Lankan politicians who completed 30 years and more in politics in years past. One might blame, or praise, globalization for this. Globalization has given the political class everywhere the means for striking solidarity and validation across state boundaries even while losing political support in their own national societies. To paraphrase the old, or the New Testament call to redemption: what profits a politician if he gains support in the whole world but his party loses the election at home?     

On a different matter, globalization has not been able to make any dent in the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Last week, they exchanged air strikes for the first time in history, even though the two countries have fought three wars over Kashmir since 1947. The belligerent situation was triggered by the killing of 40 Indian paramilitary police personnel in Kashmir by suicide car bombing carried out by Pakistani militants. The escalation to air strikes could have been avoided but the Modi government was not about to give up the chance to whip up patriotism just over a month before national elections in India. Fortunately, there is strong public and stakeholder opinion in both countries against any further escalation and the Modi government seems to have realized that there is no path to winning the April-May elections in India by going to war with Pakistan.

Nothing is the same

The point of my discussion is how circumstances have changed since the time India and Pakistan fought their three wars over Kashmir (the fourth one was over Bangladesh) and the time now when even an actual war between them would seem not only farcical but also fake. Cross-border, non-state terrorism is a new phenomenon, while the old Cold War alliances have all been turned upside down. Pakistan then was the US outpost in what was then the SEATO alliance that included, besides the US and Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, France, UK, the Philippines and Thailand. India was the leader of the ‘non-aligned’ world but leaning heavily on the Soviet Union. 

No one messed with Afghanistan, perhaps heeding Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s condescending advice to his successor Alec Douglas Home, “My dear boy, as long as you do not invade Afghanistan you will be absolutely fine.” Home did not invade Afghanistan but lost to Harold Wilson the first and the only election he called, in 1964, after one year as Prime Minister. It was Leonid Brezhnev who sleep-marched the Soviet army into Afghanistan fifteen years later. Nothing has been the same since, across the Khyber Pass.

Now America has inherited the Afghan curse from the long defunct Soviet Union. America is also closer to India than Pakistan and Israel is reportedly one of the sources of inspiration to the Indian government in the current sabre rattling. On a side note, the Attorney General in Israel is bringing charges of corruption against his own Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the AG’s action seems to be undermining Netanyahu’s chances of holding on to power in the April 9 election. He is quite capable of pulling off an electoral victory yet again from the jaws of defeat, as he has done so many times, by playing Israel’s eternal existential card. No one will be accused of triggering a regime change in Israel from the outside, as Mr. Netanyahu has his strongest ally in the current US President.             

President Trump has his own troubles and travelled to Hanoi to divert attention from the mounting allegations in his own country, not so much against his politics as President as against his businesses before he became President. Trump is perhaps the only person in the world to actively solicit the Nobel Peace Prize, and the main reason for this craving is that Obama was given the peace prize soon after he became President in 2009. Trump’s grouse is that Obama was given the prize “for doing nothing”, and got the Prime Minister of Japan to send a petition to the Nobel Prize Committee on his behalf, and has been hoping to boost his claim by achieving denuclearisation of North Korea and peace in the Korean peninsula. Neither prospect was within his grasp in Hanoi to start with, so he made the best of a bad situation by staging a friendly walkout from the summit, and hoping that the walkout will grab favourable headlines back home in America. Back home, more than two-thirds of Americans are mocking Trump, but the near 30% support that Trump has been consistently having is a disturbing symptom for any society that wants to become more civil, more generous and a more equal society.

Trump is not going to be aware of this but his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, of all places, is another historical oddity. In 1975, when Saigon was recaptured by the Vietnamese during America’s war in Vietnam, and young Kim was not even born, Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung travelled to China to solicit the Red Army’s support to overrun South Korea concurrent with the fall of South Vietnam. China declined. Some might say a great opportunity for communism in Asia was lost, but many in China and Vietnam today would see it differently. Both China and Vietnam are market economies run by Communist Party governments – “ardently capitalist communists”, as The Economist gloated a while ago. Now it is the turn of America to project the new millennial socialism, but no one is catching cold. In the Marxist schema – the socialist revolution was supposed to first breakout in advanced capitalist societies. For strong historical and material reasons, revolutions broke out in less but unevenly developed societies. As Engels saw it, history was beginning to turn its skein from the wrong end. Without their knowing it, the American millennials might be at the right end of history.              

Political Anniversaries

As anniversaries go, it was not only Mangala Samarweera who celebrated his 30 years in politics but also John Amaratunga who celebrated his forty years, and perhaps further reminding Mangala that he is still “Khema’s boy.” While Samantha Power went from America to felicitate Mangala, no one went from the Vatican to felicitate John Amaratunga. Thank God for that. But the political troika of Rajapaksa, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe was in full attendance for John Amaratunga. I am not sure if Mahinda Rajapaksa was present in Mangala’s celebrations, but he was given special mention by Samantha Power in her speech – recalling where it all began for Rajapaksa and Samaraweera – when they founded the “Mothers’ Front” in the 1990s to fight for justice and for compensation for those who were deemed ‘disappeared’ owing to the actions of state and non-state actors. 

Then the two men were opposing the juggernaut of a UNP government. Mangala Samaraweera in his speech recalled the inspirational leadership of Chandrika Kumaratunga in ending the UNP rule after 17 long years. President Sirisena remarked that Mangala Samaraweera’s political beginnings in the opposition have prepared him well for politics in government. Mr. Samaraweera has also made a name for himself for bringing about ‘regime change’ by political realignments and electoral success. In 2005, he shifted loyalties from Chandrika Kumaratunga to Mahinda Rajapaksa. Then he fell foul of the Rajapaksas and has since been fighting the Rajapaksa juggernaut that had come to replace the earlier UNP juggernaut. He was one of the masterminds behind the defection of Sirisena in 2014 and the defeat of the Rajapaksas in 2015.  

It is one thing to mastermind regime change, but quite another to deliver as a government. By that metric or yardstick, it can only be said that the present government in which Mangala Samaraweera has played so big a role has grossly over-promised and grossly under-delivered. Worse, the present government stands accused of the same corruption in government that it has failed to prosecute its predecessor for. This is not to take way from the encomiums that Samantha Power showered on him at the BMICH, but only to lament that things could have been and should have been done differently.         

As Samantha Power said towards the end of her speech, “My country and your country are facing turbulent times … But critically, while our respective institutions have bent, they are not breaking in the US, and they are not breaking in Sri Lanka.” The only difference is that in the US, the ‘turbulence’ started after the 2016 presidential election, while in Sri Lanka a new government was elected in 2015 to put an end to the Rajapaksa turbulence that was beginning to churn and destroy Sri Lankan democracy. The felicitation of Mangala Samaraweera would have been a great deal more fulsome and authentic if he and Ranil Wickremesinghe had delivered even a quarter of what they handsomely promised in 2015. Were that the case, Samantha Power could have been spared the discomfort of travelling 8000 miles to felicitate Khema’s boy.   

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    Sir, 1947, and 1965 were over Kashmir. 1971 led to the creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan. (Ironically now the world;s longest border wall dubbed the “Wall of Death” is on their border with India, created by India). I am guessing you are counting 1999 as the 3rd war over Kashmir in Kargill? That is considered more limited is it not? and Pakistan came under a lot of US pressure during Clinton’s regime. It came out well with India regaining most of the territory it first lost to the suprise attack by Pakistan across the LoC. Crazy Crazy world noh? Remember how the US lied to its people and convinced 80% of its people to believe Saddam was behind 9.11? How Obama underestimated ISIS and called them a Junior Varsity team and how under him and Hillary they lost over a Billion dollars worth of weapons to ISIS as accounted by the US GAO? how Libya was eviscerated and made into a tribal unstable land with no unified government and islamists still? Wonder if he will give back his Nobel? Samantha Power was a failure in her objectives.

    • 2
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      Mr Rajan Phillips, with respect, you have missed mention of the MOST IMPORTANT international event of the week – the United Nations Court ICJ ruling on the Chagos Islands that has put in question US military Base Diego Garcia in the INDIAN OCEAN and calls for de-colonization of the Indian Ocean.
      Indeed, Trumps visit to Asia, Sam Power’s visit to Sri Lanka and the Indo-Pak fake war, were timed and designed to distract us from the anticipated story of British and US colonialism in the Indian Ocean and the call to de-colonization issued in the Hague.

  • 0
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    All super powers are dominating the world and yet, poor countries do not have anything in this world.. Do you think he will visit any poor country .. He went to Hanoi? why US never want North Korea to be strong.

  • 0
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    I think some one does not like Imran Khan talking to Modi. both have to find our who instigated the attack on Indian Police or soldiers. Modi had so many troubles, and now the election times, all coming from International forces I suppose. I think under congress, it is easy to manipulate the India. It is not what most of us think.

  • 4
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    Good stuff Rajan,. Thanks!
    Yes, Samantha Powers’ visit to praise Mangala who was happily crashing the Lankan rupee on the behest of the Washington Consensus and the IMF debt trap project in Lanka, ( as in Argentina, Greece, Ecuador etc), and the pathetic Indo-Pak stand-off seemed timed and designed to distract us from what has been termed a “blockbuster” judgement, by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ruled that the UK should end its control of the Chagos Islands and hence America’s Diego Garcia Military Base in the Indian Ocean “as rapidly as possible”. and the need to De-colonize the Indian Ocean to benefit its communities.
    Diego Garcia Base being in question has signigicant implications for the US project to set up military logistics Hub in Lanka with the collusion of Trumpland’s puppet Bondscam Ranil.
    The ICJ ruling on Chagos has exposed the horrific details of how the US marines gased the dogs of Chagos islands and forced its peoples out in 1960 to set up a military base. The Human Rights Tall stories and fake narrative that US and UK feed former colonies in Asia are Africa as they continue to exploit then is coming undone with Brexit Britain asked to vacate Chagos islands. The infamous and violent partnership in Crime of UK and US colonial project exposed in Chagos.

  • 2
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    Mahinda Rajapakse was in Mangala Samaraweera celebrations and there is a Newspaper photo about it.

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 0
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    So what’s new? Neo-colonials acted even more privileged than their former white masters against Sri Lankans for 70 years. Of course the likes of Ms. Powers and the manipulative western politicians are going to fall over themselves to do a mutual H/J for their colonial pimps.

  • 0
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    To the layperson, the world may appear to be topsy-turvy but there are behind the scene hands manipulating us.
    .
    Trump has assessed that the Nobel Peace Prize will enhance his chances of a second term. He is prepared to U-turn long held foreign policies. He knows that he can do an ‘Aung-San-Suu-Kyi’, again, to his advantage.
    Sarkozy invaded Libya for a similar purpose.
    Former Aus PM Bob Hawke won election on a non-nuclear platform but U-turned within a week of victory.
    This list can get very long!
    There was a time when the Bernie Saunders views were considered treasonable.
    .
    Surely Samantha Powers visit to felicitate Khema’s boy has something behind it.
    .
    The recent India-Pakistan stoush is really ominous. The pregnant pause is NOT because, as Rajan Philips puts it, “………the Modi government seems to have realized that there is no path to winning the April-May elections in India by going to war with Pakistan”. It is not ‘a ‘realisation’ but ‘an assessment’. There is the Modi-silence which is observed in cases of religious violence.
    .
    All these possible because the lay-people of the world were, are, will remain, suckers.

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    As usual more half baked stuff from “‘expert”‘ expat Philippapulle. Why does CT give space for these guys. Thanks to Mano R, Kalupahana and JD for pointing the Topsy Turvy facts in this opinion piece.

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