Upon Reflection (6 November-10 November)

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

Selected News Headlines

for the
Working Week
6 November-10 November 2017

Catalonia ex-officials surrender to Belgian police

6 November 2017, BRUSSELS, Belgium – BBC – On Sunday 5 November, Carles Puigdemont and four other members of the now outlawed provincial Catalonian government surrendered to Belgian authorities.

Puigdemont and his colleagues fled to the EU capital as soon as Madrid imposed direct rule on Catalonia last week.

Puigdemont stated that he would not return to Spain unless he was guaranteed a fair trial. He and his associates are charged with sedition, rebellion, misuse of public funds and breach of trust.

The Catalan self-imposed exiles were freed by Belgian authorities on Sunday night, and are awaiting the see whether the EU will issue its own arrest warrant against the Catalan rebels.

Things in Catalonia took a decided turn for the worse when the Spanish constitutional court ruled that the pro-independence referendum run by the former Catalan Parliament was illegal (08/11). So now, following Madrid’s sacking of the Puigdemont-led pro-independence regional government, the imposition of direct rule from Madrid, by dissolving the regional parliament and calling for new Catalonian elections in December, one would think this swift control of the Catalan ‘situation’ by Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy, would have been enough to contain the restlessness of the Catalonian people. Not so.

The Constitutional Court’s decision has inflamed local sentiment. Pro-independence Catalans took to the streets of the region to block road and rail transport, and bring the economy of the region to a halt (08/11).

It is unlikely that the new Catalan elections, to be held 21 December, will do anything other than further irritate pro-independence Catalans.

The most important thing for Madrid is to ensure that Puigdemont’s political stakes do not include ‘martyrdom’, which may increase the level of support he has among his people.

The more the Spanish government pushes to punish Puigdemont and his supporters, the more likely that organised political violence will grow out of Catalonia and bring with it a total rift between Madrid and Barcelona.

Saudi Arabia makes fresh arrests in anti-graft crackdown: sources

8 November 2017, RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Reuters – In a move that will have long term implications for the longevity of the new Saudi monarch who was elevated to the KSA throne in 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz has implemented sweeping anti-corruption measures nation-wide. Many observers of the Saudi monarchy may well believe these measures long overdue. King Salman and his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seems driven to modernise Saudi Arabia and to create a new powerbase that will support them in this mission.

But there are risks a-plenty.

By marginalising the Wahhabist clergy that has blighted the monarchy’s foreign policy and general appeal, the ambitious King has angered a significant conservative element within Saudi Arabia that is not shy about the use of repression and force to get its way.

Targeting more distant members of his enormous and wealthy family will likely raise their ire towards the King. There is also the prospect that they join forces with disenfranchised Wahhabists to undermine, if not rid themselves entirely of this ‘up-start’ 81-year-old monarch.

Then there’s the continuing war in Yemen and the Cold War against Iran.

Iran’s hand is seen behind most things considered anti-Saudi – from the war against Yemen, to the standoff with fellow GCC state, Qatar.

King Salman may be happy to continue these struggles since any ruler who wants to solidify his authority, needs a sense of impending national crisis to do so.

A war against a sectarian enemy like Iran fits this bill perfectly.

By looking at Iran as the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-interfering external enemy, King Salman could try his hand at using the Iranian threat to unify his people during a time of massive internal reform. History shows this to be a tried and proven method for new leaders who look to establish themselves.

However, militarising King Salman’s internal political support from among the military and the Saudi National Guard can be a trap in itself. The royal court would be forever in debt to Saudi security services, which would be a problem in itself. It would mean that King Salman and Saudi security services will always have to be in step with one another.

That Saudi Arabia needs to modernise and normalise its relationship with the rest of the international community goes without saying.

That King Salman sees himself as the ‘change agent’ to make this happen may well be a positive thing.

However, Saudi change will not come risk free. The anti-corruption drive has already netted more than a handful of powerful enemies that will need to be dealt with decisively. Failing to do so may see King Salman’s reign as being an aberration with older, more established interests biding their time to re-impose themselves on the Saudi state.

Why the White House Dreads a Flynn Indictment

6 November 2017, WASHINGTON D.C., United States – The Atlantic – Last week’s indictment of Trump former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, as well as the guilty plea of former foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous, in the never-ending Trump-Russia scandal may well have been a balm to Americans who were always anti-Trump, or who abandoned their support of Trump as his presidency progressed this year.

But to those true believers, they continue to place their faith in their commander-in-chief in spite of a growing evidentiary trail that shows members of the president’s 2016 campaign team did have strong and enduring ties to the Russian Federation.

So far, nothing solid implicates that the president himself has a direct tie to Russia, but the relentless Mueller investigation is digging deep.

Some believe it is only a matter of time before we hit the ‘mother-load’ of evidence that shows that Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, was in fact a stooge of the Kremlin, and that without the support of Russian intelligence services, he would never have moved in to the White House. This might well be a fantasy of the Democratic Party and especially the Clinton camp whose loss to Trump was taken personally.

What such wishful thinking tends to overlook is that there was a significant swing to the anti-establishment right within the United States during the Bush/Obama years.

A lot had to do with perceptions of maladministration by the Washington elite, and their pursuit of crony capitalism and corruption.

It certainly had a lot to do with perceptions that Washington, otherwise known to some as ‘the swamp’, failed to rule for all Americans. That it was totally out of touch with national public sentiment.

In the end Trump won his presidential campaign due to his ability to reach out to those who felt that ‘established interests’ were successful enough not to be beholden to the very electorate that sustained their power and privilege.

Picking Trump was perhaps a strange choice, but to an angry and embittered electorate, desperate to see the return of better days, a logical one in the end.

Why not pick out the ‘loose cannon’ to make a tilt at the establishment’s obvious complacency and contempt for the people? It would be the final insult and a sign that the people have spoken.

Unfortunately, it seems that the best laid plans of mice and men robbed the people of their victory.

Trump rules for elite interests, just as former administrations did.

However, the Democrats’ mythologising of the ‘Trump-Russia’ scandal obviates the need for the Democrats to do any soul-searching. They do not need to reflect on their failings to reach out to the people of the United States; hurting from changes to government, business and corporate practices being enforced on them ‘for their convenience’.

It serves the influential Clinton camp to have Trump act as their bogeyman, a ‘traitor’ and ‘Putineesta’ in the back pocket of Russian intelligence because they will never own up to their own role in their humiliating defeat to the Trump campaign last year.

One year on from Trump’s successful presidential race, placing the entire nation’s fate in the Mueller investigation does nothing to help the United States. Washington is broken and there are few men and women of the calibre and ambition necessary to fix what ails the US capital.

It seems the US has had its rise and decline moment. What comes next will be very different from what preceded it.

If Mueller’s next scalp, as many predict, will be Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, what will be his high crime and misdemeanour? Corrupt business ties to Russia? That would hardly be a surprise. In a free market, retired military personnel are free to earn their post-service remuneration wherever and however they can. Times are hard and there are too many pigs at the trough for this sort of thing not to happen.

However, what would be a surprise would be if Flynn were exposed as key interlocutor between his boss, then presidential candidate Trump, and Russian intelligence.

Were this to come to pass, then the existential crisis would go beyond a broken political system; it would tear the heart out of the American Republic, exposing its most prized asset – love of country – to abject ridicule.

If on the other hand, the Mueller investigation fails to find evidence of Russian interference in getting Trump elected, historians will reflect on this moment as one of the most damaging destabilisation campaigns ever waged on a sitting US president. That in itself will have long-lasting and unforeseen effects on the United States.

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