Archive for the ‘History’ Category

native Americans and birth of the FBI

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

This is a story that I was not familiar with. I am adding the book to my reading list.

Oklahoma was set aside as Indian Territory before the Civil War. It was opened for settlement by white farmers and ranchers around 1890. Then oil was discovered, and Indians lost not only their land, but also their lives. (more…)

China, North Korea and US foreign policy

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Will China apply pressure on North Korea to make it behave? FT journalist James Kynge thinks this is unlikely, for it is not in the interest of China to have US troops on its border. (more…)

more on Trump as War President

Monday, April 17th, 2017

I am very worried. So is FT columnist Gideon Rachman.

President Donald Trump is signalling resolve — vowing that the US will stop North Korea’s nuclear programme and hinting heavily that he is prepared to take pre-emptive military action. ….

Any such conclusion would fly in the face of standard military advice, which holds that it is impossible to “take out” the North Korean nuclear programme with a single wave of attacks and that therefore, following any such assault, South Korea, Japan and US bases in the region, would be exposed to retaliation.

The US military is well aware of the risks entailed by a first strike on North Korea. So it is encouraging to recall that General HR McMaster, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, has written a book lambasting US generals for not giving frank advice to politicians during the Vietnam war.

Set against that is the danger that Mr Trump — after a chaotic start to his presidency — has concluded that military action is the key to the “winning” image that he promised his voters. The president lapped up the bipartisan applause that he got for bombing Syria. He dropped a huge conventional bomb on Afghanistan shortly afterwards and his son, Donald junior, tweeted his exultation — complete with an emoji of a bomb.

Gideon Rachman, “Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un and the risk of nuclear miscalculation“, Financial Times, 18 April 2017 (gated paywall).

Rachman’s position is more nuanced than this brief brief passage suggests. Read the full column to see alternative – less frightening – options open to Mr Trump.

Donald Trump as War President?

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Dutch historian Ian Buruma has written a must-read column for Project Syndicate. His main point is that war is a way for political leaders to become popular.

Here are four paragraphs from the essay, which is ungated. Take time to read the full column, if you haven’t already done so, by clicking on the link below.

[S]eemingly on the spur of the moment, Trump ordered an attack by 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base. After years of horrendous bombings and torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, after adamantly refusing to allow Syrians to escape the carnage by coming to the US as refugees, and after making clear only last week that the US would do nothing to topple Assad, Trump saw pictures of children foaming at the mouth after another chemical gas attack, and changed his mind. ….

People may have grown sick of the wars unleashed by George W. Bush, but the reaction to Trump’s Tomahawks even in the august New York Times has made one thing clear: when the commander-in-chief confronts an enemy abroad, people will support him, as though it were their patriotic duty. And if bombing an air base is a mark of moral leadership, questioning it is not just unpatriotic, but also immoral, as though one does not wish to do something about those poor children subjected to Assad’s poison gas.

Even if Trump’s Tomahawks won’t solve the conflicts in the Middle East, and even if they actually make matters worse, he has achieved an important victory at home. In the eyes of many critics, he now looks presidential. And he may have repaired, if only temporarily, a serious rift among the Republicans. ….

Trump still has no strategy, not in the Middle East, and not in Asia, where North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, is doing his best to grab the news and provoke Trump by testing nuclear devices and long-range missiles. But Trump now knows what to do to be admired as a great leader. …. An attack on North Korea, unlike a runway in Syria, could actually lead to nuclear war. But Trump’s moral dimension has been restored. It will be beautiful.

Ian Buruma, “Trump the War President?“, Project Syndicate, 11 April 2017.

The column is available in translation from the original English to Spanish, German, French and four other languages. Mr Buruma (born 1951) is Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

death of a Lebanese peacemaker

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

Peacemakers, sadly, are uncommon in the Middle East.

Samir Franjieh … died in Beirut on April 11. He was 71.

He emerged from one of the country’s Maronite Christian dynasties, and was unusual in Lebanon’s parochial political arena, devoting energy to big themes and wide Arab horizons. …. He showed daring in a region where assassination is often the reward of those bold enough to be inclusive. ….

It was fitting that figures from Lebanon’s dizzying mosaic of Christian and Muslim sects flocked to his funeral mass, in concelebration of his life. ….

He believed there was a formula, tantalisingly within reach, that could reconcile broken societies. Lebanon, he thought, in light of its history of sectarian strife, as well as a state run jointly by Muslims and Christians, was uniquely placed to distil it.

David Gardner, “Samir Franjieh, Lebanese writer and politician, 1945-2017“, Financial Times, 14 April 2017 (gated paywall).

Wikipedia has a short entry on his career and personal life, spelling his family name as “Frangieh”.

Donald Trump needs Stephen Bannon

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Edward Luce, chief US columnist for the Financial Times, has surprisingly good things to say about White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, the infamous alt-right internet site.

Specifically, Mr Luce claims that Mr Bannon “is the only person in the Trump administration who comes close to having a strategic brain”. Details of how others close to Trump lack this, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, secretary of defence James Mattis, national security adviser HR McMaster, and secretary of state Rex Tillerson, are in the full column.

Mr Bannon is still around. ….

Like him or loathe him, Mr Bannon’s perspective is consistent. …. The US has spent too long following the strictures of the Washington foreign policy establishment, which rarely hears of a missile strike it does not like. Mr Bannon was reportedly opposed to last week’s attack. He had his reasons. The first is that the US cannot afford to be sucked into another Middle Eastern quagmire. ….

The Trump campaign was the first successful pitch to blue-collar voters in Republican history. Mr Bannon was one of its architects.

It is impossible to shed tears for Mr Bannon. It would also be premature. He is still a stone’s throw from the Oval Office. Moreover, not all of his advice is outrageous. A politician should at least try to redeem some of what he promised to the voters. If Mr Trump’s election signalled anything, it was that the Washington establishment was a busted flush. American politics deserved to be disrupted. It still does. Mr Bannon’s fortunes are the best measure we have of whether Mr Trump remembers why he was elected.

Edward Luce, “Why Donald Trump still needs Stephen Bannon“, Financial Times, 13 April 2017 (gated paywall).

the aftermath of Trump’s air strikes

Monday, April 10th, 2017

FT columnist Gideon Rachman has written a must-read op-ed for today’s Financial Times. (more…)

the US strike against Syria

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

The editors of the Financial Times write that Friday’s barrage of missiles might discourage Assad from using chemical weapons in the future. Now, they conclude, Trump’s government should “translate this show of resolve into something resembling a policy”. (more…)

the FT interviews Donald Trump

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

[This was] one of the most fascinating interviews I have conducted during my 32-year career at the FT. ….

Here are my [six] main impressions, based on the 25-minute interview in the Oval Office and several other conversations with Mr Trump’s top team at the White House. ….

3. The power structure in the Trump administration is more like a medieval court than a conventional US presidency. There are powerful factions, the family and the irascible Emperor. Let’s begin with the factions. While fluid and tactical, they roughly divide between the realists led by Jared Kushner, the president’s influential son-in-law, Gary Cohn, former number two at Goldman Sachs and now head of the National Economic Council, and Wilbur Ross, the private equity billionaire turned commerce secretary; the other camp is led by Steve Bannon, the economist nationalist, ideological firebrand, and the political brain behind the president.

In this structure, Mr Kushner is perhaps more influential than Rex Tillerson, secretary of state; Mr Cohn is arguably more important than Steve Mnuchin, the ex Goldman executive who is now Treasury secretary; and Mr Bannon is more powerful than Reince Priebus who nominally occupies the most important post as White House chief of staff.  [Emphasis added.]

Lionel Barber,”A conversation with Donald Trump in the Oval Office“, Financial Times, 6 April 2017 (gated paywall).

The other five impressions are equally interesting. Mr Barber is editor of the Financial Times. An edited version of the full interview is posted here.

Donald Trump is unpredictable. Just 10 minutes after this was posted to, news of Mr Bannon’s demotion was posted!

The news of the shake-up was first reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday. Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert would also take on a lesser role as part of the reshuffle. ….

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of national intelligence, who had their roles downgraded in January as well, have now been returned to their previous positions.

Mamta Badkar and Demetri Sevastopulo, “Steve Bannon removed from National Security Council role“, Fast FT, 5 April 2017 (gated paywall).

the unrepresentative US Supreme Court

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

There are 205 accredited law schools in the US. If Neil Gorsuch is confirmed for the Supreme Court, two-thirds of the current justices will have studied at just one of them: Harvard. ….

The late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose seat Mr Gorsuch would fill, criticised the court’s “strikingly unrepresentative character” in dissenting from a 2015 ruling that found same-sex marriage constitutional.

“Four of the nine are natives of New York City,” wrote Mr Scalia. “Eight of them grew up in east and west coast states. Only one hails from the vast expanse in between. Not a single southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans) or even a Protestant of any denomination.”

Mr Scalia was speaking from experience: he graduated with distinction from Harvard Law School in 1960 and is among 20 justices — almost one-fifth of the total — who studied there. ….

The populist Mr Trump chose Mr Gorsuch for the court over Judge Thomas Hardiman, whose resume bore a blue-collar tinge. Mr Hardiman, an appeals court judge from Pittsburgh, was the first person in his family to graduate from college and drove a taxi before graduating from Georgetown Law school.

David J Lynch, “Harvard provides the benchmark for Supreme Court justices“, Financial Times, 4 April 2017 (gated paywall).

President Obama (a graduate of Harvard Law School!) chose Judge Thomas Hardiman for the Supreme Court, but Republicans in the House refused to consider Hardiman, leaving the vacancy for Donald Trump to fill.

Mr Lynch joined the Financial Times in March 2016 as a Washington correspondent. Previously he was a senior writer with Bloomberg News. He was never a student at Harvard, but he does have a master’s degree in international relations from Yale University. This is a very nice op-ed. Highly recommended!