World Review: Troubles in Poland, Nigeria, Brazil & the US, and Colin Powell

In this weekend’s commentary on world affairs, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms reviews the conflict between Poland and the Commission over the primacy of EU law. Nigeria is in a bigger mess than usual as corruption is exacerbated by Jihadism, the pandemic, a rapid rise in gang violence and a resurgence of Biafran secessionism. Brazilian senators are investigating Bolsonaro’s responsibility for 600,000 Brazilian covid-19 deaths. In the States, Trump aide Steve Bannon will go to prison for a year for contempt of Congress. Colin Powell who died this week, was universally recognised as a decent and honest man.

Poland and the debate of national law v. EU law continued to dominate the European agenda this week as it moved up to heads of government level. The Poles remain intransigent and are backed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel played her normal conciliator role when she urged compromise while at the same time stressing the central role that the acceptance of the primacy of EU law plays in the European Union. Commission President Ursula van der Leyen took a harder line when she said that if Warsaw failed to toe the legal line it would lose $66 billion in covid aid. The problem would be easier to resolve if it involved one or two arcane legal issues. But the Polish government’s dispute is with EU laws that affect their illiberal legislation regarding press freedom, LGBT rights and independence of the judiciary.

Nigeria is in a mess. To be more precise, it is in a bigger mess than usual. And because it is the most populous African country (211,400,000) and the continent’s second biggest economy, this is bad news for Africa and bad news for the world. The cause is the age-old problem of corruption exacerbated by Jihadism, the pandemic, a rapid rise in gang violence and a resurgence of Biafran secessionism. Boko Haram has carved out a caliphate the size of Belgium in the northeast corner of the country and Nigeria’s federal forces have made no headway in combatting it. In the southeast the Igbos are making noises about reviving the secessionist dream that failed so dramatically a half a century ago. At the same time roaming gangs have kidnapped 2,200 people so far this year. The instability has led to 8,000 Nigerians being killed since January. More than two million have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have died of starvation and disease. Nigeria has plenty of petro dollars which could be spent on resolving the above problems. But it suffers from endemic corruption complicated by rivalries between the more than 250 competing ethnic groups and politicians intent on skimming off the top, middle and bottom.

Some of the Brazilian senators investigating President Jair Bolsonaro handling (or mishandling) of the coronavirus pandemic wanted the Brazilian president charged with crimes against humanity and genocide. But political pressures and possibly a realisation that this was an overstatement and threatened to devalue the term “genocide” meant that the commission of inquiry changed the wording to “a crime of epidemic resulting in death.” That does not in any way mitigate Bolsonaro’s responsibility for 600,000 Brazilian covid-19 deaths, the second highest after the United States. Bolsonaro has called coronavirus a little flu; blocked a national lockdown; branded as “tyrants” local governors who did lock down in their regions; told Brazilians to “stop whining” when deaths reached new heights and dismissed opportunities to buy new vaccines.

It looks as if former Trump aide Steve Bannon will go to prison for a year for contempt of Congress. He will also probably have to cough up a $100,000 fine. The House of Representatives this week voted 229 to 209 to refer Bannon’s case to Attorney General Merrick Garland for a final decision on whether or not to prosecute. On the surface it appears to be an open and shut matter. Bannon was subpoenaed and refused to testify, claiming that ex-president Donald Trump’s lawyers advised him to assert executive privilege. There are two problems with his claim. One, he was not working in the White House on 6 January and two, executive privilege for misdeeds committed while in office ends when a president leaves the White House. Otherwise, Gerald Ford would not have needed to pardon Richard Nixon. It seems that Bannon actually has a lot to offer the investigation. He has publicly said that he knew about “extreme events” in advance of the riots and in a podcast the day before said: “all hell’s going to break loose tomorrow.”

The fact of the matter, however, is that the American wheels of justice grind incredibly slowly. It is expected to take several months at the earliest before any prosecution reaches a courtroom and then it can be delayed further by arcane legal arguments. This could easily take past the mid-term congressional elections and buy Trump time to prepare for 2024. As for the prison sentence and fine, a spell inside seems to be a badge of honour for former Trump aides and the fine will probably be paid by Republican backers, although Bannon can afford it. He is worth $20 million.

It was Englishman Henry Wotton who said: “An Ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie and intrigue for the benefit of his country.” The 1604 observation was tailor made for 21st century US Secretary of State Colin Powell who died this week. He was universally recognised as a decent and honest man, and the second Bush’s administration ruthlessly exploited his blameless reputation to justify an unjustifiable war. Powell joined the US army in 1958 as a second lieutenant when the number of Black officers could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand, if that. He served three distinguished tours in Vietnam as well as in Korea and Germany before Ronald Reagan chose him as his National Security Adviser. He returned to the army as a Lieutenant General but was quickly promoted by President George H. Bush to four-star full general rank and appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

When Bush’s son “Dubya” moved into the White House he was surrounded by a sea of neo-conservative advisers who were generally regarded with distrust and suspicion by the international community. They needed a man of impeccable credentials as top diplomat to offset their reputation. Powell was the obvious choice. Powell was the only one in the administration that the world might believe when he told the United Nations that the US had “solid intelligence” that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was a lie. He knew it was a lie. He said it because he was ordered to do so and he was an army man who had been ordered by his commander-in-chief. He regretted it almost as soon as words were uttered and later described his UN speech as a “blot” on his otherwise largely unblemished legacy.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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This entry was posted in Obituaries and Op-eds.


  • Steve Trevethan 24th Oct '21 - 3:09pm

    Thank you for your article.

    Bearing in mind the thousands that died in the second Iraq war which Mr. C. Powell did so much to facilitate, might it be more accurate to describe Colin Powell as a war criminal?

    What does it say about our main stream media that it lauds an architect of an illegal war, based on lies, and ignores the fate of a man who was involved in no deaths and exposed some of the gratuitous cruelties of that war?

  • Peter Hirst 28th Oct '21 - 4:20pm

    I don’t see how Bolsonaro’s actions cannot be included in crimes against humanity. I am thinking more of him burning the Amazon that mishandling Covid. Until leaders realise their actions have consequences all we have are punishments that fit the crime.

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