Murari Sharma: Kavanaugh has failed the job interview

On 27 September 2018, I watched the testimony by Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in the US Senate Judiciary Committee and could not help to conclude that the US justice system has lost its soul in these hyper-partisan times. Though the hearing is only part of the vetting process, if it were the only process, Kavanaugh has failed to establish his bona fides and failed his job interview.

For starters, the US President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Kavanaugh for the vacancy left open in the Supreme Court by the retirement of Anthony Kennedy.  Ford has alleged the judge had sexually molested her when both of them were in high school. He said he never did it.

Both Ford and Kavanaugh did it under oath. She said with 100 percent certainty that Kavanaugh assaulted her. He said, though sometimes he drank too many beers, he never assaulted Ford. Evidently, one of them has lied under oath and committed a crime, but it would be impossible to know who has been mendacious until an independent body carries out a thorough investigation.  

Both Ford and Kavanaugh made their cases forcefully and emotionally. Several times, both suffered a broken voice. Both had backers in the Judiciary Committee. Democrat senators were soft on Ford. Republican senators asked Rachel Mitchel, a prosecutor tapped by the all-male Republican senators to question Ford, and openly urged and egged on the judge to spit fire against the Democrats. 

Other than that, their presentations were in sharp contrasts.  Ford was calm, clear, coherent, professional and believable. In contrast, Kavanaugh was hysterical, angry, incoherent, obfuscating, evasive, openly political and unprofessional. If they were being interviewed for their academic grade, Ford would have received my A+ and Kavanaugh no more than a C.  

Similarly, if Ford and Kavanaugh were competing for the same one vacancy and if I was one of the selectors, my vote would have gone to Ford, not Kavanaugh. I have several reasons for such evaluation.   

One, Ford was measured, civil, polite, composed, and apolitical. These are qualities the American people would want in Supreme Court justices who are appointed for a lifetime. Kavanaugh was just the opposite — hysterical, rude, restless and threatening, and highly political. He openly lashed out at Democrats, almost half of the Judiciary Committee membership — 10 out of 21 members. 

Two, Supreme Court justices, appointed for a lifetime, must in principle stay, and act, above the political fray. Ford mentioned that she was independent and acted like one, without slinging partisan muck. On the other hand, the man who was supposed to be above politics attacked one party as if he was one of the political operatives, not a judge who must apply the law without fear or favor.  

Three, Ford’s presentation and answers were clear, logical and coherent, like that of an accomplished judge, even though she was the victim of a sexual assault by Kavanaugh.  In contrast, the judge was evasive, obfuscating, and frequently illogical and incoherent. 

Four, I am sure both Ford and Kavanaugh rehearsed their presentation prior to the testimony, but their public presentations were in sharp contrast. She could have been more hysterical because she was the victim. But Kavanaugh was way more hysterical, aggressive and over-rehearsed, giving the impression that he was hiding the facts behind the drama. Perhaps, he rehearsed too much.

The judge might have imitated the hyper combative style of President Trump who nominated him. The style the privileged minority grievance and anger shown towards the lesser mortals who are trying to hold them to account. But there is a significant difference between them.

Trump has been using elite victim-hood and anger to score political points and prolong his rule beyond the first term. It makes his style politically understandable. Kavanaugh, a judge, must have been balanced, judicious, and professional.  But he was ill-tempered and hysterical and therefore professionally inexcusable. 

What makes Kavanaugh’s performance dreadful is that, if he is confirmed, the Supreme Court, already polarized between conservative and liberal justices, will be further politicized. At 53, as a lifetime judge, his legal views will shape the course of the US justice system for decades in the wrong direction. 

On a personal level, I fully sympathize with Ford who was sexually assaulted. If Kavanaugh is innocent, as he has claimed he is, I equally sympathize with him. But the issue has already tarnished his image beyond redemption. Even if the Republican majority in the Senate rams his nomination through (though FBI is asked to investigate the allegations before the Senate vote), his public image as a reckless sex predator when he was young will stick to him forever regardless of the FBI’s findings.

As a result, even when he uses his best legal mind, his legal opinions and verdicts will always be suspect of partisan and anti-women bias. Therefore, it would be best for the US justice system for Kavanaugh to pull out his candidature and let someone else without such controversy take the seat in the Supreme Court.  

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Murari Sharma: Damage that will Take a Long Time to Repair

The American President Donald Trump returned to his country after wrecking havoc to US relations with its closest allies and cozying up with its strategic rival, Russia, who is also viewed by US allies as a threat to their democracy and security. He has created a fine mess, and it may take many years to rectify. You can wreck things up quickly but you require a long time and right policies to repair the damage. 

His first trip was to Brussels, to the NATO summit, where Mr. Trump rubbed other NATO members the wrong way by bullying. While he was right to insist that other NATO members reach the target of 2 percent of their GDP to be spent on defense, Mr. Trump didn’t stop there. He asked them at that last minute to up the spending to four percent, something that had not been discussed, and threatened to pull out of the organization if the allies did not heed his demand. 

From Brussels, Mr. Trump flew to London where he insulted his host and stayed away from London. He undermined the sitting Prime Minister Theresa May, his host, and sang paeans of Boris Johnson who had just resigned his post and who was doing everything to undermine the prime minister. He said Mrs. May was wrecking the negotiations with the European Union and Mr. Johnson would make a fine prime minister.

That was not all. Mr. Trump broke the protocol by walking ahead of Queen Elizabeth. He mostly avoided London where huge protests took place throughout his UK trip against his intemperate remarks and false claims made by him multiple times in the past. 

Mr. Trump had insulted the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, blaming him for the terrorism and spate of knife crimes in London. He had even said mentioned the non-existent bloodbath on different occasions, though so far whatever has happened here in comparison to what happens every now and then in gun crimes in the United States. 

From London, he flew to his golf course in Scotland, where protests became a constant feature. But the worst happened in Helsinki when he met with Mr. Putin.  From there, Mr. Trump walked into his most embarrassing performance in Finland where he met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. 

Mr. Trump’s officials, as well as the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, had warned Mr. Trump to act tough with Mr. Putin with respect to Russian tampering of US elections and role in Syria and other hot spots. But Mr. Trump not only didn’t raise the irritating issues, at least as much as is publicly known, he also put down his own intelligence agencies and sided with Mr. Putin on the election tampering. As he returned to Washington to a barrage of criticism from all sides, Mr. Trump rowed back by saying that it was a slip of tongue. 

That was not all. He branded the European Union, something the previous US administrations had helped build to keep the peace in the perennially warring European states, as the biggest enemy of the United States. Besides, he criticized Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, while he lavished his praise on Mr. Putin on multiple occasions.

It all came on top of the trade war that has started between the USA on one side and the European Union, China, and other countries, on the other. Mr. Trump has also threatened to pull the US out of the World Trade Organization, the successor of GATT, which the US had helped create for rule-based international trade.

Where will this destruction of the existing world order without anything to replace it lead? Chaos.  It will harm not only the United States and its allies, it will also weaken the World Trade Organization, and other mechanisms that have kept the world’s strategic and trading balance largely stable. It will adversely affect the rest of the world and seriously.

Will it make America Great Again, as Mr. Trump has vowed to do? Highly unlikely. 

When will the sun shine on Mr. Trump? He has already silenced his officials by ruthlessly firing those who disagreed with him. Congress, both houses controlled by the Republicans, could bring stop Mr. Trump from all this nonsense by standing up to him. But as the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has said, the Republicans in Congress have proved spineless to prevent Mr. Trump from his madness and shamelessness.      

So the ‘Trump madness’ will go on during Mr. Trump’s term unless Congress changes hands in November this year. It may continue if the American people give Mr. Trump another term. Because of Mr. Trump’s unprincipled and erratic actions, Mr. Putin and other leaders who flout democratic norms are having a great time.

But the United States and the rest of the world will pay dearly for Mr. Trump’s actions. We don’t know what other dangerous ideas Mr. Trump has up his sleeves and how much more damage they will do. But what Mr. Trump destroys as the occupant of the White House will take decades to mend. Building something is always takes more time and resources than destroying it.

 

Murari Sharma: Communist Unification, Budget and G-7 meeting

The old edicts go, a barking dog does not bite. After several months of high expectations, my friend, a former senior government official, wondered with me recently, on the condition of anonymity, about the KP Oli government.

Indeed, Nepali people had high hopes from the government because it was a majority government after a long time and Prime Minister Oli had made tall promises, which to his critics sounded deluded and even insane. There were reasons for optimism.

The electoral coalition of the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center had won a clear majority in the federal parliament leading the two parties to a merger and unification. This communist unification is a rare event in Nepal’s political history for which Prime Minister Mr. Oli and to a certain extent, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the co-chair of the CPN without any appendix, deserve appreciation.

While there are many economic and social challenges to progress in Nepal, one thing is different this time in terms of leadership. Prime Minister Oli does not have children to engage in personal corruption to amass wealth for his children, which has been the case with former prime ministers with children. This gives hope that the government would formulate and implement policies promised in the manifestos of the coalition partners.

I do not agree with the regressive elements in their manifestos. For instance, you need consolidation of agricultural land so that mechanized agriculture with high production and productivity becomes possible, not further fragmentation of land in the name of land reform to please communist voters and hold the country back.

Similarly, I do not agree with their promise to let the political workers engaged in revenge killings, like Bal Krishna Dhungel, to be released or not persecuted and jailed. Neither do I agree with their anti-industry labor militancy, the type the Maoists have promoted.

But many elements in the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Center manifestos are what Nepal needs to make a leap forward. Just to name a few, it is a great idea to depoliticize civil servants and teachers, focus on transport and other physical infrastructure, and pursue a balanced foreign policy. But the performance of the KP Oli government in the first three-plus months gives little room for optimism because whatever started with a bang had ended/may end with a whimper.

For instance, dismantling syndicates in various sectors — every sector of Nepal has syndicates, starting with politics — was a great idea. But as the efforts to this effect started having a bite, leaders have begun to peddle back. Once the existing transport syndicates were weakened to introduce new transport companies owned and blessed by communist leaders, the Transport Minister Mahaseth removed the man from the Transport Department who had been instrumental in doing it.

Similarly, the newly-minted Communist Party of Nepal co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal has threatened Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa not to punish the non-performing contractors because he lives in a house given to him by a contractor. Given the Maoist cadre’s strong-arm tactics in contract awards, Dahal could very well be at the top of the corrupt construction syndicate.

We all know Mr. Dahal is at the top of the crime syndicate. He pushed for the release of his supporter and a convicted murderer Bal Krishna Dhungel from jail and paved the way for the culture of impunity. Prime Minister Oli said his case was just a strand. A great and pithy orator must have known that even oceans are collections of small drops.

Mr. Dahal has been trying his level best to save Maoist criminals who engaged in revenge killing from the law. If the government releases politically connected criminals, then what moral right does it have to jail politically unconnected criminals? Even Mr. Oli was found crying over the persecution of those thugs who were connected with the CPN-UML.

On a broader and more important level, Mr. Oli promised a nimble government, but he ditched the promise and expanded his government to make it a coalition government, which are the epitome of corruption. But Mr. Oli will not have the same level of control on the cabinet members from the Federal Socialist Forum. He had shown wisdom in not appointing a deputy prime minister, but as the first sign of corruption, he had to appoint two deputy prime ministers who would jockey for power.

While the Oli government is engaged in these little things, his big promises — making provincial and local governments effective and sustainable, ending tuins (ropes to cross rivers) in two years, connecting Kathmandu by rail, Nepal having its own ship, etc. — have not gone forward much or gone in the wrong direction.

The recently presented budget of 1.31 trillion rupees has abandoned many of the key promises Mr. Oli had made before and after the election. Yet, the budget is quite good with the customary weaknesses of a developing country. Unfortunately, it is being opposed from within the ruling party because it does not reflect their personal priorities. I hope Mr. Oli rises over this bickering.

Speaking of budget, most notable among the things gone wrong is related to provincial and local governments. The Oli government has failed to check these where it must and checked in areas where it must not. For instance, these governments have set salaries, allowances and other facilities that their revenue cannot sustain, which will leave no money for development activities and make Nepal more dependent on foreign assistance for development than ever before.

It brings me to foreign relations. While the Oli government seems to strike a new balance between India and China, which is necessary, it has yet to grapple with winder foreign relations issues. For example, US President Donald Trump has upended the existing global governance, which will have direct and indirect impacts, most of them adverse, for Nepal.

Mr. Trump has withdrawn from the Transpacific Trade Partnership and the Paris Treaty on climate change. Likewise, he has threatened to pull the USA out of the North American Free Trade and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He has triggered a trade war with the imposition of tariffs on the import of aluminum and steel, which has prompted China, European Union, Japan, Canada and Mexico create similar protectionist barriers against American products.

He undercut the recent G-7 meeting over the trade dispute with other countries. Not only he called on other members to invite Russia to join the G-7 again, he also riled against other members of the exclusive club of rich countries and withdrew the United States from the joint statement released at the end of the summit.

All this is pushing the world towards trade war, which will impact Nepal directly and indirectly through China and India. While our neighbors and the rest of the world are taking steps to minimize disruption to their trade and to maximize their benefits in the midst of adversity. I doubt Nepal has done anything to protect itself from this fallout.

Mr. Oli’s adage-filled speeches must not only entertain but also deliver if he wants people to believe him. I hope my friend, who has begun to give up on Mr. Oli and his government with some justification, would be proven wrong.

Murari Sharma: Black-and-white world

Are you worried about your future? About the future of your children? We live in a grey world, but when you have leaders that tend to see things only in black and white, you have to worry.  I am talking about the reactions to what Prime Minister KP Oli and President Donald Trump, both sorts of cult personalities, do. 

Cult personalities command blind loyalty from their supporters and aversion from others. Some sections of Nepal praise Mr. Oli to the sky and others view him as someone on the steroid, of course, to treat his illness. Likewise, Mr. Trump is a hero for arch-conservatives, while for others, he is a crazy moron. 

Take Mr. Oli’s recent India visit, for example. Mr. Oli’s party colleagues and supporters have characterized the visit as a grand success. The Nepali Congress Party has said it was a lost opportunity and his detractors have faulted him for leaving out many important issues from the conversation. What is the truth? 

Hegemons often extract advantage from their smaller counterparts during high-level visits or official negotiations. India and China, the regional hegemons, do the same. Who does it overtly and widely, who does it covertly and narrowly, depends on their political systems, level of transparency required by them, and on the scope of engagement with other nations.  

If the leader of a small country comes home from a trip to bigger countries without unduly compromising his national interest, that is a success. If he comes with substantial assistance as well, that is a remarkable success, assuming that the assistance will materialize.

We do not know what transpired between Mr. Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in the one-on-one talks. If Mr. Oli has not made any undue compromise in those talks, then the visit should be deemed as a success, because he did not give in anything publicly and secured promises of support for his pet projects, rail, and waterways. It is a different question how quickly India implements its commitment.

Those areas were not probably the most urgent needs for Nepal, but when the next election arrives in five years, we will ask Mr. Oli what promises he had made in the last election were fulfilled. Besides, it is a matter of approach to development.

For good reasons, some believe in balanced development; others in unbalanced growth, in which two or three key sectors lead the way to take off. The Soviet Union, which focused on power, roads, and railways, was the best example. So it becomes a question of an ideological bend of commentators.

It leads me to the second subject: Mr. Trump.

As we have witnessed, Mr. Trump is constantly in the news. Whatever he says or does polarizes the United States. For instance, his immigration pronouncements and policies. His arch-conservative base blindly supports his racist, anti-immigration comments and policies as if they are coming from God. His opponents see him and his words as racist.

Similarly, Americans are divided over the Special Counsel investigation into Mr. Trump’s collusion with Russia during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump and his close supporters view the investigation as a witch hunt. To safeguard the integrity of American democracy, his opponents find the investigation legitimate and essential. Even most Republican leaders want the investigation to proceed to its logical conclusion. 

Mr. Trump’s tariff on import of steel and aluminum and on Chinese goods has received a similarly divided reaction. His core supporters believe he is right, but his opponents worry about the potential trade war that will hurt America, China and the rest of the world. China has already announced its own tariff on American products. 

Ditto about Mr. Trump’s treat to tear the six-country nuclear deal with Iran.

In any democratic political system, differences across the political divide are common. But cult leaders evoke a more visceral reaction from their supporters as well as opponents because of their provocative words and deeds.  Unfortunately,  they often end up harming themselves, like committing suicide or pushing others to do it to make their point or to escape a concocted apocalypse.

That is what worries me. Both Mr. Oli and Trump have become sort of cult leaders due to his unmeasured words in Mr. Oli’s case and his unmeasured words and whimsical deeds in Mr. Trump’s case. They are prone to interpreting national interest  — protecting sovereignty and independence and promoting the prosperity and welfare of citizens — as they see fit and act accordingly.

Obviously, that could prove dangerous if there are no people around them to check their impulses by reminding them that the world is more grey than black and white.

Murari Sharma: Trump, May, and Oli

The world is hurtling towards an unfamiliar territory or the territory that was thought left behind as not good and un-visitable anymore.  It is happening in politics and economics, and it will only end in tears and pain, as before.  Nepal will be no exception.

We are once again going back to rabid nationalism and identity politics that had given us wars, chaos, economic disruptions, and poverty for the majority across the world. From Roman wars, intra-European wars, and European colonial wars across the world, as well as the intra-Asian wars and Asian wars against Europe were all geared to control resources for the rich and powerful countries. This series effectively ended after World War II, when a rule-based global governance emerged to use the global resources for the benefit of all.

The United Nations, GATT, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund,  the World Trade Organization, regional cooperation, such as the European Union, as well as international conventions and covenants were the products of the rule-based global governance. Unfortunately, some powerful countries have been ditching them for their narrow national interest, on course back to the pre-World War II chaos and possibly wars and misery.

Leading this regressionist trend is the US President Donald Trump with his America First slogan. He has threatened the United Nations and the countries that opposed the US decision to transfer its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the disputed Jerusalem with serious consequences. He withdrew from the hard-earned Paris climate treaty and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade; has threatened to pull the US out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He encouraged Britain, as a presidential candidate, to exit the European Union, which had ended the centuries of wars between European countries and made them prosperous. He has now slapped 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs on the imported steel and aluminum, which may trigger a trade war. Amazingly, he has even tweeted that trade war would be good for America.

The bulk of the Conservative leaders, spurred by the recidivist nationalist impulse to old nationalism and mercantilist desire, inveigled the British people to vote for Brexit promising the freedoms and goodies they cannot deliver and hurt a regional mechanism that has been a bulwark of peace and prosperity in Europe. Now Theresa May, the current prime minister, to have a cake and eat it, has come with red lines that will hurt the British economy and its standing in the world.

Both Donald Trump and Theresa May despise the rule-based political engagement and trade and economic exchange that benefits all, not just a few, though the larger chunk still goes to the big and powerful. For instance, the larger the trade of a country, the higher the benefits for it; the larger the coastal area of a country, the larger the exclusive economic zone and the right to exploit marine resources further afield. But that has not been enough for Mr. Trump and Mrs. May.

While they are leading the journey to old nationalism, they are not alone on this trip. China has been stepping on the toes of other countries in the Pacific as far as the Spratley Islands, triggering territorial discord with more than half a dozen countries, thanks to reviving Chinese nationalism, especially under President Xi Jinping, who has also thrown out the term limits for himself.  Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, is imitating Xi in South Asia. While he started on the right foot, he quickly assumed a hegemonic policy and has now lost Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nepal.

If Mr. Modi had not imposed the economic blockade against Nepal in 2015 and his functionaries had not directly interfered in Nepal’s politics, as his predecessors were doing, the anti-Indian sentiment, a.k.a. nationalism in Nepal, might not have flourished and the left alliance would not have obtained a nearly two-thirds majority in the general election for the national parliament and victory to the alliance in six of the seven states.  While nationalism has brought the left alliance this far and let it form the government at the center and six states, what will Prime Minister KP Oli and his government will do from this point onwards? Will they follow the toxic nationalist bandwagon or take a pragmatic tack?

Nationalism is necessary to arouse the public to come together, and sometimes, to draw a wedge between them. However, it will not deliver growth to the country and prosperity to the Nepali people. Growth and prosperity require wise management of national resources, unobstructed transit facilities and economic assistance from the neighbors and capital assistance from other development partners from across the world.

For this, Nepal needs a careful domestic policy, balanced foreign policy, and productive external economic policy. Our immediate neighbor’s preferences are different in terms of Nepal’s domestic policy. For instance, Beijing wants strict security control to prevent Tibetans from crossing the border between Nepal and China. New Delhi and Western capitals want just the opposite. China wants Nepal to restrict human rights, whereas India and Western countries stand on the opposite side.

Similarly, in the foreign policy domain, China wants Nepal to be close to it; so does India. Neither will be Nepal’s best interest. In external economic policy, both countries, more India than China because of the geography, want control over Nepal’s natural resources. Siding with one against the other would be counterproductive irrespective of which neighbor did what before now. Maintaining the right balance in these three areas for the best advantage of Nepal and the Nepali people is the challenge to KP Oli, the new prime minister of Nepal.

China would want a return on its political and economic investment in the left parties now. India, having invested in the other parties, would want to weaken the left government and destabilize Nepal. Mr. Oli needs to find a modus vivendi with India so that New Delhi remains a constructive partner of his government to maintain peace and promote investment and prosperity in Nepal. If too much dependence on India has not been good for Nepal, too much reliance on China will not be either.

The question is: Whether Mr. Oli and his government can overcome the nationalistic hangover from the election time and govern is a way that is in the best interest of Nepal. Which is to say strike a balance between opposite external interest, so the national interest can be served optimally. Will he imitate the nationalist leaders like Donald Trump, Teresa May, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi and a number of communist leaders who have been one-sided and dictatorial after getting the levers of power or will he put democracy and progress at the front and center and govern as a wise leader who would go down in history as one of the greatest statesman of Nepal. 

Murari Sharma: An inward-looking America is bad for America and the world

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, to Bangladesh, in recent months. This number is steadily rising towards a million. If President Donald Trump had not withdrawn the United States from the world, the generals in Naypyidaw probably would not have ordered the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Rakhine State.

Some American leaders and celebrities have declared President Trump unfit for his office. Some psychologist and mental health experts have doubted his fitness as well. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz says Trump “has fascist tendencies.” These things are for the American people to decide. 

I respect the American people’s decision. So I am interested only in how Trump’s policy and personality have been affecting the United States and the rest of the world, including Nepal.   

Donald Trump ran on the nationalist, anti-trade, and anti-regional arrangement agenda and won the election. Naturally, nationalists in general and far-right nationalists, in particular, have felt that his election has mainstreamed their own beliefs. Trump is not one of the mainstream internationalist Republicans, who believe in free trade. And he sees regional groupings and their collective strength to bargain antithetical to US interest.

His personality is volatile, impulsive, and unpredictable. His threat to North Korea or his urge to investigate Hillary Clinton’s already investigated emails, his tweets at 3 am, his Access Hollywood tape, his call on Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, his trashing of minority judges because they decided against him in court cases, etc. do not speak for his trust and dependability. 

Already, Trump’s policies and personality have produced some negative impacts for him, the United States, and the rest of the world. For instance, his military general has said he would not follow Trump’s ‘illegal order.’ His attorney-general has said cannot abide by his urge to investigate his opponent. Such cases put Trump’s command and control in doubt.  

The United States has already suffered some significant setbacks on the world stage. For instance, he withdrew the United from the Paris climate change agreement, and China and Europe stepped in.  Washington has lost the opportunity to lead and shape the climate change agenda, and it might miss the climate-friendly technology gravy train.  

Likewise, President Trump withdrew from the Transpacific (trade) Partnership negotiations, but the other countries in the region have decided to move forward with the negotiation without the United States. Washington has effectively ceded the leadership of and influence in the region to China. 

Citing that the agency was anti-Israel, Trump withdrew the United States from UNESCO even though it had rejoined the agency after staying out for several years. The agency will continue criticizing Tel Aviv, now without any moderation from the United States. 

Trump has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if other members do not agree to amend it to America’s advantage. He has issued similar threats to several other countries. These countries will move on without the United States because they can do it now.

The United States is a major economic player, but it is not as indispensable now as it was 30 years ago. For example, according to WTO, the European Union was collectively the largest trading bloc in 2016 with the trade volume (export+import) of 3,821 billion dollars, followed by the United States 3,706 billion, and China 3,685 billion. China and Japan together posted 4,937 billion dollars. 

Similarly, while the US remains the foremost technological and financial powerhouse, other countries have been catching up and reducing US leverage. China is charging ahead in green technology. America is near the bottom in the industry’s share of GDP. London has superseded New York as the largest financial center.

During President Trump’s recent visit to Asia, the relatively reduced stature of the United States was visible. For instance, Japan and South Korea — where Trump’s trust rating is 17 and 24 percent, almost one-third of his predecessor — did not provide many trade concessions to oblige him. It is yet to be seen whether they buy American weapons in the volume Trump wants. 

China treated Trump nicely for not raising human rights issues and keeping at bay the dumping and currency manipulation issues, which he had raised repeatedly during his presidential campaign. It signed a few relatively minor trade deals. Beyond that, there was nothing to write home about. 

In Vietnam, the APEC countries rebuffed Trump’s single-minded emphasis on bilateral trade and decided to move ahead with the TPP without the United States. In the group photo, Trump was made to stand in the second row, slightly to one side.

In the Philippines, Trump endorsed his equally volatile counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, who has been killing anyone suspected of being involved in drugs, blatantly violating human rights and the due process of law. And yet, Duterte made his soft corner for China clear as soon as Trump left Manila.

While there is nothing wrong for a leader to promote his country’s national interest, the problem is with the identification of such interest.  The Trump brand fails to recognize the fundamental logic that Winston Churchill had recognized long ago: With power comes resources and responsibility. If you do not have one, you will not have the other either. Paul Kennedy has asserted that the empires of yore rose and fell with their command over resources.

For instance, the industrial revolution gave Britain resources and power to bring much of the world under its control. When Britain was stretched thin, the resource-rich United States powered ahead. The colossal loss it suffered in World War I and II and in the independence of its colonies relegated Britain to the second, even third-rate power. 

If the Trump brand of Make America Great Again succeeds, the United States is likely to follow the British trajectory. To prevent such a course, the United States needs to continue building alliances to share the cost and maximize benefits for its friends and allies around the world.

That brings me to Myanmar. The Myanmar military systematically persecuted the Rohingyas, the Bengali Muslim minority, and the Nobel Prize-winning foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi did not stop them. She even sought to brush the issue under the carpet, including in her speech at the UN General Assembly in September this year.  

If the Myanmar generals had not witnessed the United States abdicating its global leadership, they would have thought twice before ordering the ethnic cleansing, thanks to the UN provision for humanitarian intervention in cases of extreme human rights violation. To be sure, the provision has been inconsistently implemented. But the mere possibility of it could have restrained the generals.  

As for Nepal, the outcome has been mixed in the past under Republican and Democratic presidents. For example, President Johnson, a Democrat, and President Reagan, a Republican, welcomed King Mahendra and Birendra in America, respectively. Often Republican presidents have been more liberal in providing aid and trade concessions.

But President Trump is different. He wants to cut aid, reduce trade concessions, terminate the Temporary Protection Status for thousands of Nepalis living in the United States, and end the diversity visa program. So, the prospects under Trump are not bright for Nepal. I will be happy if proven wrong.

 

Murari Sharma: Confront Rise of Racism in West

Recently, someone I know told me that a white customer asked her to go back home at a store in London, where she works. Such incidences have substantially increased after the 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union.

No wonder, England and Wales recorded 80,393 hate crimes in 2016/17, a spike by 29 percent over the year before, according to the Home Office. Eighty-five percent of them were broadly race related — 78 percent race and 7 percent religion related.

Racism is not new in the West. For various reasons, it had taken a back seat for some time, but now it has come back with a vengeance. Should we care about racism in the West?

Indeed, we should stand up to racism everywhere, particularly in the West because what happens in the West spread across the world like wildfire. Western countries set the global political standards and control global commerce and institutions. If unchecked, the resurgent racism will lead to bloodshed in Western countries and elsewhere.

There was a time when Westerners treated non-Whites as sub-human. They liquidated the Red Indians, Aborigines, Maoris, Eskimos, etc., appropriated their land and riches, and consigned them to reservations and to the margins of society.

They colonized Asia, Africa, and Latin America, plundered their wealth and resources, and enslaved their citizens and treated them like animals. In many places in India under the British Raj, for instance, the Indians and dogs were not allowed in. The locals could not ride the same bus and train and could not go to the same school in South Africa.

World War I weakened and World War II destroyed European powers, and colonies successfully removed them and secured independence. The United Nations, established to prevent wars and promote human rights of all, nudged racism from the center. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans stood up against racism and colonialism and won independence and equality for their citizens.

Some pursued violent means to do so, like in South Africa and Vietnam. Others shamed the foreign powers to do it, like the Indians under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. Yet, much blood was shed in the process.

But racism remained very much alive in Western countries in a major segment of the population, only constrained by the law in the book and propriety in public. If racism were not alive, the celebrated British leader Winston Churchill would not have caused the great Bengal Famine to feed the White British and let the poor Indians die of hunger, arguing that they had never enough to eat anyway.

Or Enoch Powell would not have made a name for himself by being openly racist. Or Ku-Klus-Klan and other White supremacist groups would have vanished from the earth’s face.

In recent times, racism has risen its ugly head once again in the West, and it is being mainstreamed under the patronization of several rightist and far-rightist Western leaders. Start with the US President, Donald Trump, and the United States.

Though Trump has barely escaped personally implicating himself as a racist, he has done everything racists often do. He had paid fines for discriminating against the blacks in his properties. He has hired ultrarightist as presidential advisers. He has demonized minority people, including a senior judge, and patronized White supremacists groups.

Remember his comments on the Charlottesville mayhem where a White supremacist drove a car into the peaceful protest against the far-right rally or his comment about an American judge of Mexican ancestry?

More broadly, a large number of Americans entertain racism in private; otherwise, Trump would not have been the president.

Now Britain. Brexit, the British decision to leave the European Union, is largely a product of Britain’s closet racism. I have already cited the rise racist hate crimes in the country. While some like the UKIP leader Nigel Farage have been openly racist, a large section of the British leadership and public proved to be racists privately.

Elsewhere in the West, too, racism has raised its dirty head. For instance, in the 2017 presidential elections in France, the National Front President Marie Le Pen secured more votes than the socialist and conservative candidates. She lost to Emmanuel Macron, of En Marche, a new Party, bagging 34 percent votes in the second round.

Norbert Hofer the right-wing, nationalist Freedom Party secured the largest number of votes in the first round of the presidential election last year in Austria last year and lost the ballot in the second round by a small margin.  The same party clinched the third place with 26 percent votes in the parliamentary elections there this year.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party, emerged as the third largest in the German parliament in the 2017 elections. Its leaders, Alexander Gauland and Frauke Petry, are in leagues with Farage and Le Pen.

How will this phase of racism end? In bloodshed, as in the past. For example, if push comes to shove in the minorities in the West will fight back. The disenchanted have been already joining the terrorist groups. Terrorism will increase, and so will the revulsion towards minorities, in a spiral.

Sure, those who resort to extremism own the blame for their choice and action. However, society at large that has failed to integrate them or pushed them inadvertently to extremism cannot remain blame-free either. The net effect would be increased acrimony and bloodshed.

Therefore, racism ought to be contained in the West, before it gets out of hand, to protect humanity from another cycle of violence and bloodshed. Though only Western people can do it, the voice of the rest will be important to give heart to the fair-minded Westerners and widen their support in the West.

Britain’s statistics are frightening. In other Western countries too, hate crimes have increased significantly in recent time. If fair-minded people across the world do not join forces to defeat it in the West,  the resurgent racism there will engulf the rest of the world quickly as well.