Upon Reflection (15 May-19 May)

Time to consider weekly global headlines in an ever-changing world

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
15 May-19 May 2017

Syrian Crematory Is Hiding Mass Killings of Prisoners, U.S. Says

15 May 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The New York Times – Declassified photographs were released by the US intelligence community, suggesting that the Syrian Sednaya prison complex had an adjoining crematory reminiscent of ‘NAZI concentration camps’.

The very hint of NAZI-style atrocities being committed by countries that fall outside of American influence is normally used to test public appetite for war or escalating an existing military commitment.

As NAZI Germany is considered by many the benchmark of modern evil, it is hard to refuse the government of the day the use of military force against countries that are accused of perpetrating heinous atrocities.

Making Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad a ‘Hitler-like’ figure, puts the case forward that he needs to be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

We saw this twice before. With Saddam Hussein in 1990, during Iraq’s invasion and occupation of neighbouring Kuwait; and in 2003, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq. Stories of Saddam’s NAZI-like behaviour swept through both tabloid and mainstream media outlets on both occasions.

As yet, beside the satellite pictures and third-hand statements of what Sednaya prison may or may not be, there is little evidence to confirm that this facility’s prime purpose is to exterminate people.

What is known is that the Syrian government is running a very dirty civil war – backed by the Russians, the Iranians and Southern Lebanese Hezbollah.

What is known is that enemies of the Syrian government are certainly tortured and killed as part of the Assad government’s desperate attempt to claw back is dominance within Syria.

What is also known is that the myriad of rebel groups opposing Assad gain from Assad being seen as the epitome of evil because were the US to up its stakes in Syria, many would be the net beneficiaries of special forces training, new and more devastating weapons – and the prospect that the US may increase airstrikes targeting Syrian government forces.

The USAF airstrike (18 May) against a Syrian government military convoy could be the shape of things to come.

Hillary Clinton launches political action group Onward Together

16 May 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The Guardian – While you can’t keep a good woman down, Hillary Clinton’s inability to ‘go quietly into the political night’ indicates that she wants to redeem herself and possibly relaunch her political ambitions for the 2020 US presidential race.

The former US presidential candidate, devastated by the defeat at the hands of Donald J. Trump, has been making a series of impromptu media appearances to show her continuing ‘strength in defeat’.

However, the problem with a potential Clinton run in 2020, if indeed this is what Hillary is planning, is that those same people who thought she was not an ideal candidate may not have changed their mind on the Clinton brand.

Furthermore, the Democratic Party should avoid the temptation of playing a Game of Thrones-style vengeance fantasy for America’s top job. A Clinton comeback would certainly smack of this and would further tarnish the office of the president of the United States.

Another thing for the Democratic Party to avoid is bringing the baggage of the past into the future. The American people have to bury the Trump legacy and the only way to do so is to choose a candidate who is a clean skin, one who can successfully unify the American people, while at the same time remake the US into a strong, successful democracy. A Clinton run, for all the political theatre that might engender would not be good for the United States and its damaged political institutions. Besides, anyone hungry for office motivated by the need for redemption and revenge, never ends well.

Trump and Turkey’s president show strained unity at White House meeting

17 May 2017, Washington D.C., United States – The Guardian – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited US President Trump in Washington D.C. The two leaders stood along side each other in a moment of political awkwardness – Erdogan troubled by America’s backing of the Syrian Kurds which has implications for Kurdish separatists within Turkey (the PKK).

While Trump may be pressured by his advisory staff to make peace with the Turks considering they are an important NATO member, behind the scenes there must be bureaucratic fights over what takes precedent – arming Kurds in Syria or placating Turkish national sentiment over the Kurds, not just within Turkey but also in countries with assertive Kurdish communities in neighbouring states.

This is an uncomfortable position for the United States.

Facing the prospect of mobilising proxy forces for an attack on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa (Syria), the Syrian Kurdish YPG militias are some of the most formidable in the war-torn country. But being formidable makes them a threat to Turkey’s long-term interests in suppressing Pan-Kurdish nationalism which may well include the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Rojava, the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as well as the 15 million Kurds within Turkey. Pan-Kurdish nationalism, if allowed to fester, would alter the balance of power in the Middle East against the Arabs, the Turks and the Iranians.

Two Arab states have already lost control. Iraq’s Kurds are semi-autonomous. Nothing short of a war would bring Iraq’s Kurds to heel. Baghdad is not in the position to carry out this sort of operation. In Syria, Rojava is an autonomous area. In spite of Russian and Iranian military support, Damascus is unlikely to retrieve this area, even if it manages to hold on to the greater part of Syria.

Both the KRG and Rojava are known to harbour PKK sanctuaries, a fact that angers and frustrates the Turkish government. Ankara is unlikely to be able to fight a total war against all Kurdish areas both within Turkey and over the border in Syria and Iraq.

Under these complicated conditions, it is unlikely that US-Turkish relations will ease up. Indeed, existing tensions between the two countries are likely to escalate, keeping the Erdogan government tied to Russia for the foreseeable future.

What this may mean for Turkey’s continued membership of NATO is uncertain, however, a soft landing for Washington and Ankara is unlikely.

UK election: Theresa May’s extraordinary coup

19 May 2017, London, UK – CNN – As Prime Minister May heads to the 8 June polls, she appears untouchable.

In spite of the continuing controversy surrounding Brexit, May is surrounded by good fortune, the most important of which is the collapse of the British Labour Party. The lacklustre leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has doomed the Labour Party to defeat well ahead of the election.

One of May’s strongest suits is the fact that she has managed to successfully stifle dissent within her own party. She appears in control and as politics is mainly about ‘perception’, unless something dramatic happens to the UK in the lead-up to the national elections, Theresa May will be returned to office with a stronger mandate to lead. She has effectively neutralised resistance to Brexit, keeping on message and focussed on her electorate and their immediate needs and expectations.

Whether May’s good fortune can continue after the 8 June election will depend on a number of factors:

  1. Her negotiations with the EU regarding Brexit
  2. The health of the British economy and
  3. The rudderlessness of the Labour Party

While many were thinking that the idea of another referendum on Scottish independence might be a major issue for May, Edinburgh has its own set of political problems that would only escalate were Scotland to secede from the UK.

So far, it’s a case of ‘all the way with May’.

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