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General News    H3'ed 3/26/18

Tomgram: John Feffer, Springtime for Despots

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Fifteen years ago last week, the U.S. invasion of Iraq began. It was to be beyond glorious. It was to signal the start of an unprecedented new era in which a single imperial superpower, left alone on the planet, would organize more or less everything to its own taste for the first time in history -- and by force of arms, if necessary. There had never been such a moment in this world of ours. And don't forget, for the top officials of George W. Bush's administration and their neocon backers, geopolitical dreamers of the first order, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was just a starting point, while all those protesters out in the streets insisting that such an invasion would be catastrophic were obviously fools of the first order. No question about it, the invasion would be a "cakewalk" with even better to follow.

Well, what a piece of cake that walk would turn out to be, inaugurating as it did a rolling catastrophe of sprouting terror movements, failed states, and uprooted populations across the Greater Middle East and then Africa -- and only 14 years later, the Trump era. After all, without the invasion of Iraq, the pouring of staggering numbers of American dollars into disastrous, never-ending wars, and the subsequent "invasion" of this country by (fears of) an onslaught of terrorism, ISIS, and refugees, President Trump would have been unimaginable.

Standing at the side of some highway to hell, he is the American equivalent of a failed state and, as TomDispatchregular John Feffer, author most recently of Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe's Broken Dreams, suggests today, he's in the process of making everything oh-so-much worse. Think of Donald Trump as the invasion of Iraq raised to a global level. In the years after the 9/11 attacks but before he arrived on the scene, the U.S. helped unsettle parts of the planet stretching from Pakistan to at least Libya. As Feffer so vividly points out, President Trump now seems intent on unsettling the rest of the planet by going to war, in his own unique fashion, with the international community. Consider his approach the latest version of the shock-and-awe or "decapitation" tactics which began that 15-year-old invasion. What could possibly go wrong? Tom

Trump to the International Community: Drop Dead
Washington Takes on the World
By John Feffer

Donald Trump has a plan to solve America's drug crisis: kill the drug dealers.

"We have pushers and drugs dealers, they are killing hundreds and hundreds of people," Trump said at a recent White House summit on opioid abuse. "Some countries have a very, very tough penalty -- the ultimate penalty -- and by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do."

Trump claims he got the idea for killing drug dealers from his pal, Chinese president for life, Xi Jinping. That's a first: an American president openly borrowing a criminal justice program from an autocrat (and a Communist one, to boot). To be fair, Trump clearly also had in mind the experience of a democratic country. In the last two years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged a spree of extrajudicial police executions aimed at the drug trade that, according to Human Rights Watch, has left more than 12,000 Filipinos dead. Although the International Criminal Court has launched an inquiry into Duterte's "crimes against humanity," Trump has praised him for doing an "incredible job" with his anti-drug program.

The president's embrace of the death penalty for drug dealers is but one example of his across-the-board scorn for human rights as he buddies up with the world's most notorious autocrats and directs the Pentagon to ensure that ongoing human rights catastrophes around the world grow even worse. Meanwhile, he's proposed slashing State Department programs promoting democracy and human rights, while trying to roll back movements for rights and freedoms in the United States.

Think of him as a driver who's been licensed to operate the world's largest vehicle despite his utter contempt for the rules of the road. Not surprisingly, the traffic forecast is bleak: with hardliner Mike Pompeo about to take over as secretary of state, his department will prove even less of a speed bump in the president's dangerous game of chicken with the global community.

Two Cheers for Hypocrisy

U.S. foreign policy used to be reliably two-faced. Washington would regularly call out its adversaries on human rights abuses while largely ignoring the egregious violations of its closest friends. During the Cold War, for instance, the U.S. routinely lambasted the Soviet Union for its appalling record on human rights but handed out free passes to Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, the Shah of Iran, and others of their ilk.

Sure, the State Department has been issuing an exhaustive annual report on human rights violators that, for half a century, provided grim details on repressive governments like those of the Saudis and Egyptians. But that didn't stop successive administrations from supplying those same autocracies with virtually all the weapons and military aid they claimed they needed, even as Washington maintained an arms embargo on China instituted after Beijing cracked down on the Tiananmen Square protests in June 1989. And when the United States does lift such embargoes, as with Vietnam in 2016, it has everything to do with geopolitics (containing China) and nothing to do with human rights.

Now along comes Donald Trump, a thoroughgoing hypocrite on practically every subject -- except human rights. There, he has extended the blind eye of American policy to just about everyone. With a few exceptions that prove the rule, he could care less about such abuses, even when they involve his own administration -- including wife-beaters, Nazi sympathizers, and the incorrigibly corrupt, not to mention U.S. military personnel abroad (or ICE employees in this country).

Consider these telling changes in the Trumpian era. When the State Department released last year's human rights report, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn't even bother to hold the traditional press conference or present the findings himself, though he was in Washington at the time. This year's report, unreleased and overdue, will reportedly give shorter shrift to women's rights and discrimination of various kinds, prompting an outcry from more than 170 human-rights organizations. "This sends a clear signal that women's reproductive rights are not a priority for this administration, and that it's not even a rights violation we must or should report on," an unnamed State Department official typically told Politico.

The writing has been on the wall in big block letters from the earliest moments of the Trump era. In May 2017, in his first town hall meeting with State Department staff, Tillerson warned that human rights should not become an obstacle in the U.S. pursuit of national interests, a shot across the department's bow that contributed to a wave of subsequent resignations. Similarly, the administration's first National Security Strategy barely mentioned human rights.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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