Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Anonymous Attack on Donald Trump

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

An unsigned opinion column, titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” appeared in the Sept. 5 New York Times.

The writer, a senior official, claimed to be part of a secret “resistance” inside the government protecting the nation from its commander in chief, who was portrayed as incompetent and dangerous.

Not surprisingly, calls for Donald Trump’s removal from office reached a crescendo pitch from his many enemies inside the political establishment.

Trump supporters fired back. “The official complains about the president’s supposed lack of principles,” wrote Kevin McCarthy, the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, two days later, in a response in the Times

“However, it is clear that his real grievance is that the president does not share his principles, on issues like trade and foreign policy.

McCarthy contended that “there is a permanent political class in Washington that believes that it has a divine right to rule the American people.

“The members of this political class claim to love democracy, but they are ‘working diligently’ to ‘insulate’ the government from democratic decisions. They claim to love the norms that protect constitutional government, but shatter constitutional norms of executive power. They claim to be above party and ideology, but are in fact so blinded by groupthink that they cannot tolerate any challenge to their 1990s-era consensus on trade, immigration and foreign policy.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in her own Sept. 7 op-ed in the Washington Post, argued that what this anonymous author was doing was very dangerous.

“Everyone in government owes a greater loyalty to our country and our Constitution than to any individual office­holder. But a central part of our democracy requires that those who work directly for the president not secretly try to undermine him or his policies. What the author is describing is an extra-constitutional method of addressing policy disputes within the administration.” 

Haley called the action “cowardly” and “anti-democratic.”

Issues like free trade and foreign policy “were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign,” National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty observed, in a Sept 6 piece, “No, This is Not How You Run a Resistance.” And the writer’s side “lost the popular debate.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat agreed. In “Thwarting Trump, or the Voters?” published Sept. 6, he suggested that the most troubling thing about the anonymous op-ed was that the author didn’t seem to acknowledge “any distinction between protecting America from Trump’s erratic personality and extra-constitutional whims and frustrating the agenda that won our president the White House.”

Trump’s opponents are making it the “new normal” to investigate, interrogate all known associates and acquaintances and relatives of a president. This has now been extended to anonymous attacks.

In a major piece of irony, as Rutgers University historian Jackson Lears noted in “Aquarius Rising,” in the forthcoming Sept. 27 New York Review of Books, today “the dream of impeaching Trump has driven much of the Democratic Party into an uncritical embrace of the FBI and the CIA. 

“The institutions that have conducted illegal surveillance of American citizens for decades have been suddenly transmuted into monuments of integrity.”

Trump may be “amoral,” ill-tempered, erratic and narcissistic – I’m an American citizen and I didn’t vote for him – but these are not criminal, or impeachable, offenses.

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon pursued an unwinnable war in Vietnam that resulted in more than 58,000 American deaths. Bill Clinton bombed Serbia for 78 days in a campaign not sanctioned by the UN. 

And George W. Bush destabilized the entire Middle East and caused the death of some 4,500 soldiers in Iraq. How much blood is on Trump’s hands?

The November Congressional elections in the United States will, in a sense, be a do-over of the 2016 presidential election.

Because if the Democrats capture the Congress, they will impeach Trump and remove him from office.

But removing a president should be done through the ballot box, by the American public -- or American democracy will never be the same again.

Germany's Former African Colony in Spotlight

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
The first genocide of the 20th century occurred not in Europe but in South West Africa (now Namibia), a colony that had been annexed by Germany in the early 1880s.

Now, a debate has emerged regarding the genocide and its meaning within German 20th-century history, particularly the extent to which it can be seen as a precursor to Nazi crimes.

Most people know that Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Portugal controlled massive empires in Africa from the late 19th century until the 1970s.

Less well known is the fact that Germany, though a latecomer to colonialism, also managed to acquire a number of African possessions, but lost them all after its defeat in the First World War.

Its colonies included what are now Burundi, Cameroun, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanganyika, and Togo. 

Germany came late to the scramble for colonial territory. But many Germans viewed colonial acquisitions as a true indication of having achieved nationhood, and demanded their so-called “place in the sun.”

So Germany joined other European powers in the so-called “scramble for Africa,” and in fact hosted the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, which carved up the continent. 

Rebellions in the newly-acquired German colonies when they took place were brutally crushed.

The uprising in South West Africa by the Herero people, known as the Maji-Maji rebellion, in retaliation against land seizures by German colonists, began in 1904. The Nama people joined the uprising in 1905.

As a result, between 1904 and 1908, as many as 80 per cent of the Herero, believed to number around 100,000 a century ago, perished, either killed by German soldiers or left to die of thirst and starvation in the desert. 

Some 20,000 members of the Nama tribe were also murdered.

Lothar von Trotha, the German commander in Namibia, in an infamous “extermination order,” declared that “every Herero, with or without rifles, with or without cattle, will be shot.”

Dozens were beheaded after their deaths, their skulls sent to researchers in Germany for discredited “scientific” experiments that purported to prove the racial superiority of white Europeans.

By 1908, as David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen write in The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism, only 16,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namas were left alive.

“Our understanding of what Nazism was and where its underlying ideas and philosophies came from,” they contend, “is perhaps incomplete unless we explore what happened in Africa under Kaiser Wilhelm II.”

Germany has rightly concentrated its critical energies on the Holocaust, according to German historian Jurgen Zimmerer.  “But that has also meant that there has been much less awareness of the crimes of colonialism.”

Zimmerer, a professor of history at the University of Hamburg, in his book From Windhoek to Asuschwitz: On the Relationship Between Colonialism and the Holocaust, examines the relationship between colonialism and the Holocaust. He situates Nazi crimes firmly within the global history of mass violence. 

The German colonial wars against the Herero and Nama represent, he argues, a “decisive link to the crimes of the Nazis” and were an “important source of ideas” for Germany’s war of annihilation in eastern Europe after 1939.

One scientist who studied race in South West Africa was a professor of Josef Mengele, the doctor who conducted experiments on Jews in Auschwitz. Heinrich Goering, the father of Hitler’s commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe, was the colony’s first governor.

The most influential interpretation of the connections between the era of imperialism and Nazism was actually offered decades ago in Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece, The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951.

According to Arendt, European imperialism served as a laboratory of racial doctrines and anonymous bureaucratic policies that were based on “decrees” rather than the rule of law. 

This past August, skulls and other remains of massacred people used in colonial-era experiments were handed over by Germany to Namibia at a church ceremony in Berlin.

Michelle Muentefering, a minister of state for international cultural policies in the German foreign ministry, asked “for forgiveness from the bottom of my heart” to Namibia’s culture minister, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa.

Negotiations are now focusing on how Germany will compensate and apologize to Namibia.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Can the American-Turkish Relationship be Saved

by Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Pioneer Journal

Turkish-American relations have been on a downward curve for some time now. Disputes over Ankara’s role in Syria, its policy towards its Kurdish population, and its growing hostility towards Israel, have been among the major irritants. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and Islamization of the country’s political system have worried Washington for some time.

On July 24, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoglu said Turkey will not implemen U.S. sanctions on Iran. Erdogan called Iran “a neighbor and a strategic partner.”

He also appears determined to deploy the Russian-made S-400 air and anti-missile defense system on Turkish soil.

Now, there’s a new issue. As far as Erdogan is concerned, the United States is intentionally sabotaging Turkey’s economy. Remember, this is a man who sees conspiracies around every corner.

There’s no doubt, though, that the Turkish economy is in dire straits, at the same time as relations with Washington have continued to deteriorate.

The growing diplomatic crisis with the administration of President Donald Trump has now pushed the country’s economy into a full-fledged currency crisis. 

The Turkish lira has lost about 40 per cent of its value over the last 12 months. And, because Turkish banks and firms have borrowed heavily in foreign currency, the lira’s freefall threatens to bring much of the private sector down with it.

Economic growth had become dependent on a steady flow of foreign capital to finance domestic consumption and investments in housing, roads, bridges, and airports.

But these good times have come to an end, with the Trump administration’s decision to use sanctions to press Turkey to release Andrew Brunson, an Izmir-based American evangelical pastor arrested during the purges that followed the failed coup against Erdogan two years ago.

National Security Adviser John Bolton indicated in an Aug. 21 interview with Reuters that Turkey could end the crisis with the United States “immediately” if Brunson were freed. 

But a Turkish court has rejected an appeal for Brunson’s release, drawing stiff rebuke from President Trump, who said the U.S. would not take the detention “sitting down.”

Washington considers Brunson a political hostage while Ankara insists he’s a suspected terrorist and spy.

It also hasn’t helped that Erdogan has put his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, in charge of the treasury and finance, and that Erdogan would personally appoint the Central Bank governor as well as Central Bank deputies and monetary policy committee members.

It’s so bad that the International Monetary Fund may have to be called in for temporary financial assistance.

Erdogan on Aug. 25 insisted that the unity of the Turkish nation against the attacks targeting their political and economic independence would prevail.

“As we tackle attacks against the Turkish economy today, our biggest guarantee is the commitment and determination of every member of our people to take hold of their independence, nation, and future,” he declared.

The Turkish government also thinks Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are using Brunson, a member of the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America, to shore up the Republicans’ Protestant evangelical base in advance of the November mid-term Congressional elections.

How has it come to this?  President Erdogan has fostered an authoritarian political culture over the past few years, as he marshalled ever more power while destroying most organs of civil society, a free press, and the education system.

Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination, by trampling on civil liberties and of autocratic behaviour.

His election victory in June has accelerated this process, as he quickly transformed Turkey’s parliamentary system into an executive presidential system with almost no checks and balances.

His glorification, appearance of infallibility, and ultimately political survival are portrayed as Turkey’s supreme goals. Every other objective is only undertaken in order to strengthen his rule. 

In this political structure, he feels entitled to be above all laws and to enrich himself and his close associates. He has become a modern Ottoman sultan.

Sooner or later economic pressures will force Turkey to adopt fixes that will stabilize its currency and financial markets. 

But that will not revive long-term private investment, bring back talent that is leaving the country in droves, or foster a climate of freedom that will allow Turkey to thrive, unless there is fundamental change in the country.

In 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, 79 per cent of Turks polled said they had an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. It’s probably higher now.