Relief workers for International agencies sit with me in Dhaka (Bangladesh). They are talking about the difficulties faced by the Rohingya people who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh over the past several months. Over 650,000 people from the Rohingya community came into Bangladesh since August 25 of last year.
War is defined by noise. It is earthshattering. The sounds of exploding bombs and gunfire, of screams and pain: these are the aural coordinates of battlefields. The modern battlefield is not defined by remoteness. The new battlefield is often in the middle of a city, where fighters of all kinds move between destroyed houses to capture streets and hold neighborhoods.
What ails the royal court of Saudi Arabia? The Crown Prince—Mohammed Bin Salman—has arrested 11 rich and powerful princes and about 200 businessmen. These men of great wealth and might are being held in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Their assets are being seized in stages.
On August 21, President Donald Trump announced that he plans to send more thousands of U.S. troops to Afghanistan to extend the American war that began in 2001. The speech Trump gave has no details, only a tweetable line: ‘We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.’
Raoul Peck, the Haitian filmmaker, opens his new film – Der Junge Karl Marx (2017) – in the forests of Prussia. Peasants gather fallen wood. They look cold and hungry. We hear horses in the distance. The guards and the aristocrats are near. They have come to claim the right to everything in the forest. The peasants run. But they have no energy. They fall.
On June 14, when United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas asked him about the government’s policy toward Iran. “Well,” Tillerson paused, “our Iranian policy is under development.”
Last Thursday, the head of the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), Anthony Lake, arrived in Amman, Jordan after a heart-wrenching tour of war-ravaged Yemen. ‘Stop the war,’ said Lake. It was a clear message. No subtlety was needed.
A day ago, a Saudi jet fired on a convoy of cars in Mawzaa district, Yemen. The strike is reported to have killed at least twenty civilians, many from the same family. These cars carried families who were fleeing renewed fighting near the city of Taiz in southwest Yemen. “Nowhere in Yemen is safe for civilians,” said Shabia Mantoo of the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This incident, like others before it, says the UNHCR, “demonstrates the extreme dangers facing civilians in Yemen, particularly those attempting to flee violence, as they disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict.”
“Our city is in ruins,” said Ayman who lives in the western part of Mosul. “They have treated us like we are absolutely nothing.” Who is the “they” in Ayman’s statement? ISIS surely, but also the Iraqi military and its US allies.
As news came that Saudi Arabia and six other countries had cut ties with Qatar, I called an acquaintance who retired from the Qatari foreign service. ‘What do you think of this mess,’ I asked him. He was reticent to talk. ‘I fear an invasion from Saudi Arabia,’ he said.
Fighting inside Syria continues with grave implications for its population. Gains by the Syrian Arab Army, the government’s force, and its proxies had been swift in the past few months. These forces seized Aleppo and opened a corridor all the way down to Damascus, as well as taking Palmyra from ISIS and other towns in southern Syria.
This is the old ‘guns vs. butter’ scenario taught to young students in elementary economics classes. If economics is a matter of choices over scare resources, and if budgets are a way to project your values, then Trump has made his views clear – guns matter more than butter.
You went through the legal channels, faced all the vetting and then—because of time—fell into a trench. You were reduced to your passport, and since it is hated, you were hated. One U.S. agency confounds another. This is chaos. Trump is not draining the swamp, he is muddying the waters.