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International Criminal Court Condemns Trump’s ‘Unacceptable Attempt To Interfere’ With Prosecutions

The International Criminal Court has condemned the Trump administration's decision to authorize sanctions against court staff, saying it amounted to "an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court's judicial proceedings."

An executive order by Donald Trump announced Thursday authorizes sanctions against ICC staff investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

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What Makes Coronavirus So Different From Earlier Crises?

The coronavirus pandemic is hardly the first national crisis that Americans have faced in this century. But it’s different from the previous ones, and we are not ready for it.

What sets it apart from the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and the Great Recession is that it will require us to make unwanted sacrifices. Absorbing that stark necessity has taken time and sapped our willingness to act.

After the 9/11 attacks, the message Americans got was not to hunker down in fear. “The American people have got to go about their business,” said President George W. Bush. “We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop.”

He urged “the traveling public” not to be deterred: “Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

His recommendations made perfect sense. The danger of any particular American dying at the hands of terrorists was close to zero, and it would only have cheered Osama bin Laden if people were terrified of boarding planes or gathering in crowds. Going on with our usual routines was the right thing to do.

It was also easy. The same was true of what was demanded of ordinary citizens after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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These weren’t World War II. We didn’t have to endure rationing of gasoline, meat and other goods; we didn’t have to worry about ourselves or our kids being drafted; we weren’t exhorted to buy war bonds. Our patriotic duty was to fly the flag, support the troops, sing “God Bless America” at ballgames and not much else.

The only real sacrifices came from the small share of families with members serving in the armed forces. The line heard then was: “Marines are at war. Americans are at the mall.” And why not? Depriving ourselves of shopping, movies and dinners out would have been no help in defeating our enemies.

We also had the money to spend, because these were the rare wars that didn’t require us to pay higher taxes. In fact, Bush got a tax cut enacted while they were going on.

Spending money was also good citizenship during the Great Recession. When businesses are going under and workers are losing their jobs, the last thing economists would prescribe is a frenzy of frugality – which would make the downturn longer and more severe.

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Those Americans who were unemployed or underemployed had to scrimp and do without, but everyone else was morally justified in doing just the opposite. The less people changed their habits, the better for the economy.

The coronavirus doesn’t fit the old templates, which explains the reluctance of government officials and citizens to do what has to be done. Its arrival in the United States was only a matter of time, but weeks went by without serious action. The impulse was to wait and hope the disease wouldn’t amount to much — an impulse that served to magnify the epidemic.

Only in recent days have political and business leaders faced up to the need to stop people from going about their normal lives. St. Patrick’s Day parades, Broadway shows and sports events have had to be canceled or postponed. Otherwise, people would jam together in obstinate disregard of the risks to their own health and the public’s. Employers have just begun allowing, or ordering, employees to work from home.

The epidemic has sent the stock market tumbling, and it may cause a recession. But this time, shopping, traveling and eating out are not the solution.

Millions of Americans have grown up without ever being asked to deprive themselves of much of anything for the greater good. One reason is that back in the 1970s, a couple of presidents requested sacrifices, only to find that they had made a burnt offering of their political futures.

In his 1974 “Whip Inflation Now” campaign, Gerald Ford asked Americans to join carpools, cut down on food waste and lower the heat in their homes. In 1979, faced with an energy crisis, Jimmy Carter urged those steps and more. Neither appeal went over well. Voters evicted them at their first opportunity.

But this time, we can’t afford to go on as before. We’ve often been told that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. This time, the lack of fear is scarier.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Trump’s Taliban Deal Is Already Falling Apart

The peace deal Donald Trump struck with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan is already falling apart, with the top U.S. commander saying that the Taliban is already violating the agreement by resuming attacks on Afghan forces.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that if the Taliban continues with the level of violence, he will recommend that the military not withdraw troops from Afghanistan, as laid out in a deal Trump announced on Feb. 29.

“To date, Taliban attacks are higher than we believe are consistent with an idea to actually carry out this plan,” McKenzie said, according to the Associated Press. “If they’re unable to draw down the current level of attacks, then the political leadership will be able to make decisions based on that.”

The deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban would require the group to renounce al-Qaida and prevent terrorist attacks in the country. In exchange, the United States would begin drawing back troops from the country, with a full draw down to occur in 14 months.

Trump personally took credit for the deal, saying, “We think we’ll be successful in the end.”

However, it apparently took less than two weeks for the Taliban to drop its end of the deal, carrying out at least 76 attacks since the deal was announced, the New York Times reported.

One Democratic senator who was briefed on the situation said he thinks Trump got played by the group.

“I got a classified briefing today on the agreement with the Taliban. I have been a supporter of negotiations with the Taliban, but the more I learn, the more concerned I become that Trump got fleeced,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted late Monday night.

According to Murphy, “The Taliban’s security guarantees are so vague as to be effectively void. It’s not clear how we will track whether they are indeed renouncing terrorist groups.”

McKenzie was asked about this specific concern on Tuesday. He agreed that it was challenging to determine whether the Taliban was, in fact, renouncing al-Qaida.

“That’s something they [the Taliban] are going to have to demonstrate that has not yet been demonstrated,” he said, according to the AP.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Flees Afghanistan, But America Is Still There

It's over. Donald the Dealmaker says that he has ended America's long nightmare in Afghanistan, finally terminating 18-plus years of grinding war (the longest in U.S. history). After more than 2,400 Americans killed (another 20,000 wounded), more than 100,000 Afghan citizens killed (countless more maimed) and roughly $2 trillion wasted, Trump is crowing that he's negotiated an end to the ridiculously expensive and pointless military adventure.

Only … he hasn't. His flimsy four-page document, signed with a group of Taliban officials on Feb. 29, is not an end to hostilities and does not require disarmament or even a cease-fire. It's just a cynical, face-saving device so Trump can withdraw a few troops and then claim in his reelection campaign that he's fulfilling his 2016 promise to end "endless wars." This so-called Afghan peace accord merely asks Taliban warlords to agree to — get this — a seven-day "reduction in violence." There's not even a clear statement on what constitutes a reduction or violence, much less any agreement on steps toward achieving real peace.

The deal is so weak that Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, could muster nothing but weasel words to describe it. "We are now on the cusp of having an opportunity which may not succeed," he mumbled. Taliban leaders, however, were not at all wishy-washy about signing, boldly staging a victory parade just before the ceremony and hailing the event as "a day of pride" for their win over "invader Americans." Few U.S. military leaders think the deal will stick, privately saying they doubt it'll even survive until our November election. Even as it was being signed, Pentagon chief Mark Esper emphasized that the U.S. "would not hesitate to nullify the agreement" and resume the war if the regional warlords act up, which some almost certainly will.

Oops … some already have. The seven-day hiatus in hostilities promised by Trump's peace ploy was violated just three days after it was signed! On March 3, the Taliban mounted 43 attacks on security checkpoints run by the U.S.-backed Afghan military, killing at least 25 of our allied soldiers. This was followed the next day by our own drone attack on the Taliban fighters. Embarrassingly, this sudden re-eruption of outright war came only a few hours after Trump bragged to reporters that he had telephoned the Taliban's chief peace negotiator, who had assured him that Taliban leaders "don't want violence." Our wheeler-dealer-in-chief called it "a very good talk."

Talk aside, war is real, and it's not ended by a presidential PR job. Far from withdrawing from Afghanistan, Trump's hoked-up agreement actually creates conditions for more U.S. involvement, including his concession to release 5,000 Taliban fighters from Afghan prisons, summarily reversing military gains that Americans and allies died to make. Moreover, the deal extends U.S. entanglement by specifically committing our troops and taxpayers to continue backing and financing the weak Afghan military indefinitely — while also pledging to continue paying for and propping up this wobbly nation's notoriously corrupt, deeply divided and hopelessly incompetent government.

In short, as usual in a Trump deal, this one is all about him — far from extricating the U.S., it's an escape clause written for his political advantage.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Taliban is an inordinately complex and perplexing collection of regional warlords who resist all central governmental authorities. Not for nothing is this violent, inhospitable land of rural mountain wilderness known as the "graveyard of empires." While its tribalism and religious fundamentalism are repressive and primitive, its people have repeatedly outfoxed and outlasted such "conquering" powers as imperial England and the Soviet Union.

In dealing with them, poor Donald is simply in over his head, and as we know, he doesn't listen to advisors who might be smarter than he is about the treacherous nature of fighting the Taliban. Indeed, while Trump referred to the guy he telephoned on March 3 as "the leader of the Taliban," he's not. He's Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who's not an honored warrior but a career Taliban politician. As pointed out by the CIA's former chief of counterterrorism for Afghanistan, the mullah's contingent of dealmakers "are largely disconnected from and disrespected by the Taliban's senior leadership." Perhaps that's why our president's negotiated peace deal lasted three days.

The larger lesson, though, is that brute military force by an outside power — whether in Afghanistan, Vietnam or wherever next — is not a path to victory, much less peace. For years, even as former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump and their political enablers (generals, Congress and the media) were bragging that they were bringing democracy to Afghanistan, they were jiving and outright lying. As one strategic planner, Army Gen. Douglas Lute, admitted in 2015, "We didn't know what we were doing."

Tell that to the thousands who've died from the ignorance and lies of our so-called leaders.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.