World Review: Biden bombing, lawyers circle Trump, trade deals, vaccination and Suma

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms looks at the dilemmas that faced Joe Biden as he ordered an attack on pro-Iranian militia in Iraq. In another dilemma, Biden could hold up any talk of a UK-US trade deal if he thinks that the Good Friday Agreement is threatened or damaged by Boris Johnson’s tactics on Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, prosecutors are getting closer to Donald Trump. The charging of a Trump Organisation employee could provide more information about Trump’s financial dealing. The organisations’ assets will also be frozen and banks are likely to call in their loans. former South African President Jacob Zuma has been jailed for contempt of court. And Israel is providing an object lesson in Covid complacency.

In international relations—as in life in general—the choice is rarely between in good and bad. Instead, it is too often between bad and worse. That was the basic choice facing Joe Biden when he pondered whether or not to attack pro-Iranian militia in Iraq in retaliation for the roughly 40 attacks since January against the 2,500 US troops still in Iraq. Let’s make it clear, this was not a straightforward Trump-like revenge attack. High stakes demanded a more nuanced decision-making analysis of the consequences. Would such an attack torpedo Geneva talks on reviving the Iran Nuclear Accord? Would it demonstrate to the new hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi that the Biden Administration is determined to extend a new agreement beyond the issue of uranium enrichment? Will the death of five militia men deter or increase the possibility of more attacks on American soldiers? What will be the reaction—formal or informal– of the other members of the P5+1 negotiating group (Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China)? Will it convince Israel that the US will deter the Iranians and thus forestall Israeli attacks?  What about the left-wing of his own Democratic Party? These and other factors were all considered before the attack and minimised or maximised after it.

Donald Trump needs money to maintain his lavish lifestyle in Mar a Lago and run for president in 2024. For money he has historically relied on the Trump Organisation to provide it. That corporate mulch cow is now in danger along with possibly Trump himself. The Manhattan District Attorney appears to taking a roundabout—and well trusted—route of indicting a Trump lieutenant as a means of gathering more damaging evidence on the ex-president himself. This time the initial target is the Trump Organisation’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg who appeared in court, in handcuffs, on Thursday, to plead not guilty to a long list of corporate and personal criminal charges ranging from tax fraud to grand larceny. DA Cyrus Vance Jr (son of the former Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter) has made it clear that the investigation is “ongoing” and soon after Weisselberg’s appearance it was hinted that the CFO was “helping investigators with their inquiries” in return for a possible reduced sentence plea. Trump must be worried despite protestations to the contrary.  He will certainly be displeased at the fact that his organisations assets will be frozen and the banks are likely to call in their loans. He may, however, survive financially thanks to the continual stream of cash from gullible Republicans who believe that only Trump can represent them and that the “deep state” stole the election from their hero and is now pushing him into the dock.

For the first time ever, former South African President Jacob Zuma saved his country a substantial sum of money. At least for the time being. The South African court’s verdict of Contempt of Court has landed Zuma in prison for 15 months for failing to appear before the Constitutional Court for failing to answer allegations of fraud and corruption and at least postponed a lengthy and expensive court hearing.  Acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe said the court was sending “an unequivocal message… the rule of the law and the administration of Justice prevails.” The nine-year rule of Zuma from 2009-2018 was marked by widespread corruption which international accountants believe cost the South African government $83 billion. He was able to cling to power for so long because of his dominance within the Zulu tribe which in turn controlled the ruling African National Congress. But by the end of 2017 even the Zulus had tired of Zuma’s mounting and seemingly endless cases of abuse of power. He was unceremoniously turfed out of office with a vote of no confidence in February 2018. Since then, his successor Cyril Ramaphosa has focused on repairing the damage of Zuma’s Administration at home and abroad. A key part of that damage limitation exercise was ensuring that Zuma was brought to justice despite the ex-president’s revolutionary credentials as a former inmate of Robben Island. The contempt of Court ruling is a feather in Ramaphosa’s political cap. It is also a big boost for the South African judiciary. Throughout the apartheid years its insistence on the rule of law was a major block to the excesses of the White regime. Now it is performing the same role against corrupt Black politicians.

To use a golfing metaphor, the Northern Ireland Protocol has been knocked into the light rough and could be on its way to the long grass. But whether it is the long or short grass, the Northern Ireland Protocol will remain in play and hold up other negotiations with the EU and probably the US as well. Basically, Brussels and Westminster have agreed to delay until September 30 the implementation of Northern Ireland’s importation of chilled meats from Mainland Britain. There are good reasons for this 1- It shows flexibility 2- Both sides want to lower the political tensions in the province, especially as it’s the middle of the Marching Season. The Protestant’s anti-Catholic drums have been muted by lockdown restrictions. But these are stuttering to a half and Orange Order marchers will expected to be out in force through July and August. And, finally, 3- the election of hard-line Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party has thrown a spanner in the works and all sides need time to adjust. One possible solution being mooted to break the impasse is that chilled meats are declared an exception while other products are quietly accepted as subject to EU tariffs and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains open. This may not, however, be acceptable to Irish-American President Joe Biden who is said to be considering the appointment of a special envoy to Northern Ireland. He is entitled to do so as the US is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. Biden—with the support of Congress and 33.3 million Irish-Americans—is expected to hold up any talk of a UK-US trade deal if he thinks that the Good Friday Agreement is threatened or damaged by Boris Johnson’s insistence on British sovereignty in Northern Ireland over the Protocol and implementation of the already negotiated Withdrawal Agreement. The promised US-UK Trade Deal is the jewel in the crown in Johnson’s Global Britain policy.

Israel is providing an object lesson in Covid complacency. It was the first country in the world to almost fully vaccinate its population. At the beginning of June, it registered zero new cases. On 30 June it registered 100 new cases. The population has been ordered to return to wearing masks indoors and the Israeli border has been temporarily closed to tourists—even if they can prove that they have been doubly vaccinated. The problem is the new Delta Variant which appears to be twice as transmissible as previous versions of the disease. It is causing fresh spikes in several places in the world. Russia had prided outside on having been largely missed by the pandemic. Not anymore. In less than a month it has jumped from 8,000 to 20,000 new cases a day. Globally, John Hopkins University has recorded 182,734,585 cases of Covid-19 and 3,957,585 people have died.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” was published on 15 October.

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8 Comments

  • John Marriott 4th Jul '21 - 10:02am

    Despite all his ‘crimes and misdemeanours’ it was the IRS that got Al Capone in the end and not the FBI. Could this be the way to deal with Trump?

  • A happy independence day to you too, Tom.

  • John Marriott 5th Jul '21 - 12:41pm

    Did anyone see the article featuring the Tory ‘Minister for Africa’ getting his Zambia’s mixed up with his Zimbabwe’s in his ‘tribute’ to the late Kenneth Kaunda? Mind you, they both begin with ‘z’ and not that many words do feature that letter in English!

    Yet again, judging by the response so far, it would appear that Mr Arms’ efforts appear to be largely wasted on the rather insular LDV addicts! Is it really a case of lack of interest or rather, as Yogi Berra famously said; “déjà vu again”?

  • Peter Hirst 5th Jul '21 - 1:59pm

    Regarding Northern Ireland, it is not easy to see how a long-term solution can be found. Like during The Troubles some compromise might be found eventually. Giving N. Ireland special status might solve a lot of issues and at least compensates its inhabitants for being between a rock and a hard place.

  • John Marriott 6th Jul '21 - 9:49am

    I notice that Mr Arms appears to have missed Afghanistan off this week’s ‘To do’ list. Yet another attempt on the part of the West, or some of it, to plant the seed of democracy in an alien land, I’m afraid. We tried to get a grip on it in Victorian times, the Soviet Union tried a few decades ago and now the USA appears to have thrown in the towel.

    It’s not certain that the Taliban will regain power; but I wouldn’t bet on it. So, with radical Islam in charge again in Kabul, with the tightening of its grip in Tehran, I wonder how long it will take for the more radical elements to get the upper hand in Pakistan? Imran Khan will need borrow from his cricketing years and play a few strokes to cover while bowling a few of his famous beamers (a bit like a curve ball in your summer game, Tom). As captain much will depend on how he sets his field. I notice that The Guardian has cottoned onto this in one of its editorials today.

    I feel really sorry for all those Afghan women and girls in particular who will probably be denied more education if their present precarious Government collapses and their country returns to the Middle Ages. However, I seem to recall that, the last time they tried to run the country, the Taliban more or less gave up. So, perhaps they have learned some lessons; but, quite frankly, I doubt it.

  • Perhaps Rudyard Kipling’s depiction of Kafiristan is once again the future of Afghanistan. In 1895, the whole of the Kafiristan territory came nominally under the sway of the Mohammadzai tribal ruler, Amir Abdur Rahman. To further his ambition to establish a centralized state under his authoritarian control, he created the first standing army. Abdur Rahman wanted to force every community and tribal confederation to accept his single interpretation of Islam due to it being the only uniting factor. After the subjugation of Hazaras, Kafiristan was the last remaining autonomous part.
    The Kafirs were forcibly converted to Islam, little respect was shown to women. Usually they were mistresses and slaves, saleable chattels and field-workers. All the field-work fell to them, as well as all kinds of inferior occupations, such as load-carrying. They had no rights as against their husbands or, failing them, their male relations. They could not inherit or possess property.
    The great majority of the tribes of Kafiristan were made up of clans. A person’s importance was derived chiefly from the wealth of his family and the number of male adults which it contained. The power of a family, as shown by the number and quality of its fighting men as well as by the strength of its followers, was the index of that family’s influence. Weak clans and detached families, or poor but free households, carried their independence modestly. The lowest clan above the slaves sought service with their wealthier tribesmen as henchmen and armed shepherds.
    Many contentious struggles have raged about the creation of the nation-state of Afghanistan. A revolt by the Pashtuns of easterm Afghanustan ended the rule of King Amanullah in 1929. King Nadir (1929-1933) restored the preeminence of Mohammadzai central control with tribal assistance. The 1978 coup d’etat deposed the rule of the Mohammadzai tribe and the Soviet-Afghan War introduced political parties which brought new leadership patterns into being, altering tribal structures and reshaping ethnic identities.
    The Taliban is dominated by the majority Pashtun tribesmen and they will need to contend with Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other ethic groups across the country. Given Afghanistan’s fractious history, it is unlikely to be an easy alliance.

  • John Marriott
    “it was the IRS that got Al Capone in the end and not the FBI. Could this be the way to deal with Trump?”

    Unlikely that Trump will be done on Tax matters. Not least there are some very effective protections for the very rich in the US when tax is concerned these days. In addition, he has been under permanent audit from the IRS. If you are going to get a tax case it would probably have been found.

    That detail aside it is disturbing how many people seem to want to “deal with” certain political figures on minor legal technicalities.

    As someone who should have been one of the weakest political candidates the fact his opponents seem obsessed with taking him down with bureaucratic legal matters rather than understanding what his candidacy appealed to and provide alternatives.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Jul ’21 – 1:59pm:
    Regarding Northern Ireland, it is not easy to see how a long-term solution can be found.

    It was absurd to allow the EU to impose a customs border within the UK. The Northern Ireland Protocol could only have worked if they adopted a ‘light-touch’ implementation as originally agreed.

    The border needs to be coincident with the Ireland border – where it belongs. That border needs to remain practically invisible. There are two main proposals on how to do this: Lars Karlsson’s Smart Border 2.0 and the Centre for Brexit Policy’s Mutual Enforcement. Both plans are complementary…

    ‘Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for Customs control and the free movement of persons’:
    https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2017/596828/IPOL_STU(2017)596828_EN.pdf

    This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the AFCO Committee, provides background on cross-border movement and trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland and identifies international standards and best practices and technologies that can be used to avoid a ‘hard’ border as well as case studies that
    provide insights into creating a smooth border experience.

    ‘Smart Borders 2.1 – How we can solve the Brexit Irish Border Challenge? The Missing Piece’:
    https://www.larskarlsson.com/?p=5298

    It is likely that the three pictures above – the “missing link to a frictionless border” – would have made my original report even more understood, however it is never too late to clarify an idea.

    ‘Correcting the Damage Caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol. How Mutual Enforcement Can Solve the Northern Ireland Border Problem’:
    https://centreforbrexitpolicy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Correcting-the-Damage-Caused-by-the-Northern-Ireland-Protocol-5-Feb-21.pdf

    What is desperately needed is an approach that enables Brexit to be delivered for the whole of the UK and at the same time addresses the EU concerns about the integrity of its single market. Given the problems being experienced and because we have already left the EU, it is essential that the arrangement be put in place quickly. […]

    The system requires each side to rely on the other to enforce their rules – not on border checks.

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