World Review: Capitol Hill riots, Iran withdrawal, ice cream wars, China and the Taliban

In this weekend’s column, Tom Arms reviews the inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots and whether the Republicans are right to stay away. The American withdrawal from Iraq after 18 years will allow Tehran to expand its influence and move up to the border with Israel. Ice cream producer Cherry Garcia is crossing spoons with the Israeli government over its decision to stop sales of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a predictable reaction from the Israeli government. Beijing has made it clear that it is sticking to its policy of non-interference in other in countries’ domestic affairs, despite meeting with the Taliban this week.

The Jury is out on whether the Republicans have either shot themselves in the foot or dealt a political master stroke with their refusal to participate in the congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. To understand why we are where we are we need to go back to 6 January and its immediate aftermath. At that time there was bipartisan condemnation from the leadership of both parties with fingers pointed directly at Donald Trump. The move at that point was for an elder statesmen-type Commission of Inquiry similar to the one that investigated 9/11. But gradually Trump and his congressional acolytes pecked away at the Republican leadership and when the vote for a commission reached the Senate floor it was defeated. So, the next move was for a bi-partisan congressional committee. This required Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, to appoint selected party members to the investigating body. Nancy Pelosi, would appoint the Democrats, and, as House Speaker, had veto power over McCarthy’s appointments. Those nominations turned out to be eminently veto-able (if that is a word). They were almost all far-right, pro-Trump, Stop the Steal, Republicans. When Pelosi asked for alternatives, McCarthy responded by refusing to participate in the inquiry. Pelosi then went out and found two anti-Trump Republicans—Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney—to sit on the committee. This, of course, has led to Republican accusations of bias before the committee called its first witnesses. If the charge is shown to stick in the committee’s deliberations then it will hurt the Democrats in next year’s mid-term elections. If, on the other hand, the electorate is angered by the Republicans’ refusal to allow a non-partisan commission or congressional committee, then it is a win for the Democrats. It could go either way. Most likely the Congressional deadlock will mean that no one’s view will be substantially changed.

US troops are pulling out of Afghanistan, and now, this week, they also started boarding planes heading away from Iraq. This is a big win for Iran, especially as regards Iraq. The US has been in Iraq for 18 years, only two years short of its Afghan sojourn. There are currently about 2,500 US combat troops in the country and an unknown number of special ops units. Biden says that all but a handful will be home by Christmas. At its height there were 160,000 American soldiers in Iraq; first to topple Saddam, then to support various unstable governments, then to combat Isis and finally to oppose the expansion of Iranian influence. All but the last objective has been at least partially achieved. Tehran has been very good at painting the presence of US forces as armed neo-colonialism and a foreign occupation force. They have managed to find backers for this view in both the Iraqi parliament and the military, especially among Shias who comprise a third of the population. The departure of the Americans will allow them more opportunities to improve links and strengthen the corridor in Southern Iraq linking the political vacuums in Syria and Lebanon; thus allowing Tehran to expand its influence and move up to the border with Israel. Successive US Administrations are determined to shed themselves of responsibility of never-ending Middle East wars so that they can focus on the increasing threats in Asia-Pacific. But doing so may come at a heavy price.

It is time for the Israeli ice cream wars. The producer of mouth-watering concoctions such as Cherry Garcia is crossing spoons with the Israeli government over its decision to stop sales of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem for ethical reasons. The Israeli government has responded in typical disproportionate style. President Issac Herzog condemned the move as “economic terrorism.” Israel’s man in Washington, Gilad Erdad, has written to 35 US states urging them to boycott the makers of phish food, caramel chew chew, etc. And finally, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has attacked the company as “anti-Semitic.” The last action is ironic given that the founders of Vermont-based Ben and Jerry are two Jewish lads, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. This raises the sticky issue of whether or not you can oppose or criticise Israeli government policy without being branded as anti-Semitic. Certainly a number of Jews in Israel and the diaspora have come out in support of Ben and Jerry. Does that mean they oppose their own race and religion? Can a Jew be anti-Semitic? As for calling on the individual states to order a boycott of the ice cream and/or its parent company Unilever; well that’s a non-starter because according to the constitution the states have no say in US foreign policy. The ambassador’s letters are a PR exercise in line with what is now a long-standing Israeli tactic of meeting every attack—military, diplomatic or economic—with a disproportionate counter offensive. This time, it looks as if they may get ice cream on their faces.

This week a Taliban delegation visited Beijing for talks. They were invited by the Chinese who saw the writing on the wall and wanted to add a few words before the sentence was finished. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this “could be a positive thing.” Blinken may be a touch naïve because the Chinese agenda in Afghanistan is different from the American. Blinken made his statement in the stated hope that Beijing would push the Taliban towards peace talks with the Afghan government. However, Beijing made it clear that it is sticking to its policy of non-interference in other in countries’ domestic affairs. Their main interest in a likely future Taliban government is two-fold: Xinjiang Province and the Belt/Road Initiative. The Taliban—and before them other Muslim groups—have a long history of supplying the co-religionist Uighurs in Xinjiang with weapons, money and political support. China is worried that a Taliban government in Kabul will increase the flow exponentially. Balanced against that is the historic fact that Afghanistan was a key link in the old Silk Road. The Belt/Road Initiative is the 21st century version and the Chinese would like to revive medieval trade routes as well as build new ones.

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

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2 Comments

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Aug '21 - 11:07am

    China’s increasing influence in Asia and elsewhere will do little to progress democracy and human rights. It needs to be pressed as to whether its stated policy of non-interference extends to other countries’ political systems. Democracy has been hard won in many countries and it would be sad to see it declining at a time when it is sorely needed.

  • Steve Trevethan 2nd Aug '21 - 4:58pm

    Might it help if the USA led « West » adopted a policy of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs?
    Who has gained from the « West’s » occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq?

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