Dangerous president must be stopped in his tracks

 

Donald Trump: threat to world peace

Can I bring myself to write once more about Donald Trump? Can you bear to read any more about this malign man?

In chemistry a catalyst increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being altered. Last November the American electorate introduced a catalyst into the delicate chemical mix that is international politics.

And sadly the effects are all too clear to see.

As this chemical reaction intensifies, it is clear that we are living now in a world at greater risk of explosion than any time since the Cuban crisis marred the beginning of JF Kennedy’s presidency.

Trump promised America would no longer be the policeman of the world. It would turn in on itself: no more foreign policy initiatives, no more intervention in wars in far off places. He offered instead an isolationist United States, focused on making itself ‘great again’ through a domestic political agenda that put American first.

Yet in the miserable months since his inauguration – with its bitter and twisted address when he talked about “American carnage” – he has been unable to resist undermining the delicate balance that has sustained what peace we have had since the end of the world’s second global conflict.

At home he has been slowly undermining his predecessor’s health care reform – depriving millions of a basic human right to health and well-being. Abroad he has been dismantling foreign policy initiatives designed to make the world a safer place.

Obama neutralised Cuba with a rapprochement with the Castros; he was not able to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his accord with Iran, ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons, made the middle east a much safer place. Kim Jong-Un in North Korea remained a threat, but was being increasingly isolated.

One by one, Trump has undone those achievements.

Just months after it opened, the United States’ embassy in Havana is under threat of closure.

His wilful denunciation of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the United Nations was met this past weekend with the launch of a Iranian missile which demonstrates they can, if they wish, attack their bitter enemies in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. By demonising Iran in front of an astonished UN General Assembly, Trump undermined moderates who had been winning the battle against the mullahs.

North Korea was belittled. “Rocket Man” was abused before the world, gratuitously insulted in a manner designed to provoke a reaction. And a reaction is what he got. North Korea’s foreign minister told the UN it was now evitable that North Korean rockets would “visit” the US mainland.

Let us not forget that the only country to use atomic weapons in anger thus far was the United States.

There has been much commentary on the irrationality of Jong–Un; he has been painted as a comical figure by the west. To be fair, Jong-Un does what he can to prove those prejudices correct.

But put yourself in his shoes for a moment. His embattled country has been vilified, and his opponents have done all they can to bring it to its knees. He has been humiliated repeatedly and taunted on Twitter, on television and now on the floor of the United Nations – an organisation that is built on the principle of mutual respect.

Given the belligerence of the United States, the Russian arsenal, French and British independent deterrents, and the emergence of nuclear nations such as India, Pakistan and Israel – why shouldn’t North Korea, or for that matter, Iran wish to arm themselves with nuclear weapons too.

I am not for one moment advocating the proliferation of nuclear arms; merely highlighting the imperialism of the nuclear haves who are holding the world to ransom.

The death last week of Stanislav Petrov, a nuclear worker who quite possibly saved the world from conflagration, is a timely reminder that we are all at risk while these weapons exist. Petrov was on duty when Russian’s early warning system indicated an incoming American strike. He decided it was a false alarm and did not report the warning to his superiors.

Back to our catalyst now. The attention-seeking president of the United States is a real and present danger to the world. He is being treated with kid gloves because of the client status of many western powers. The United States is ‘too big to fail’.

But the price of their silence may well be the destruction of the very political, social and economic systems they are struggling to maintain.

Jong-Un is a dangerous man. But Donald Trump is the greater threat to world peace and it is time those governments who give him tacit support recognised that.

  • This article appeared in The Irish News on 26 September 2017

 

 

 

Ireland deploys poetry in diplomatic offensive

Writer, Seamus Heaney, Poet, Author, Creative

Seamus Heaney: an inspiration

The Twitter-sphere is a pretty ugly place at times. It seems to bring out the worst in people.

Online some seem to think there is a freedom to say things they wouldn’t voice in person; and even those of us who are used to bar-room language can find it offensive.

I have been known to use the occasional expletive – generally when someone behaves ungraciously on the roads. But I don’t particularly want to be subjected to an unwanted stream of four letter words when I am trying to check out the latest on Brexit, the news from North Korea or the latest update from my daughter’s school.

But I can be pretty sure that a few scrolls of my Twitter feed in, someone will display the lack of imagination needed to use anything other than the f-word.

I can choose not to watch Mrs Brown’s Boys. But other than leaving Twitter, I cannot switch these idiots off. They are invariably retweets and from people I do not follow.

But there is one oasis of calm amid the invective, and it comes from an unsuspecting source. The Irish ambassador to the United States, known online as @DanMulhall, sends a daily snatch of verse into the microblogosphere.

He did it religiously during his time as ambassador to the Court of St James, and new Twitter followers in the United States are now getting used to the tide of verse coming from the Irish Embassy in Washington.

As I type this column I am looking at four lines from Theo Dorgan tweeted by him:

Each word steps firmly out

And stands in time’s mirror.

I set these things down in silence,

Fire for the ice of our old age.

Yesterday we were treated to six lines from Thomas Moore’s The Last Rose of Summer. The ambassador is clearly going through a slightly melancholic phase, as well he might.

Once seen as the plumb job in Irish diplomacy, being sent to Trump’s America might well be the equivalent of being dispatched to Outer Siberia (no offence meant to the Siberians who are, by all accounts, a hardy and well-meaning crowd).

Might it be that the Irish Government is hoping Mr Mulhall’s approach to Twitter might rub off on President Trump – though only God knows what verse the president might resort to. America has many great poets, though I doubt Trump is acquainted with any of them – well perhaps the anonymous author of the bawdy ballad Eskimo Nell.

Trump, who offended his British allies last week with an ill-judged Tweet on the London tube bombing, could do with civilising. And Dan Mulhall is the man to do it.

I met him only once when he was a dashing press aide to Irish Foreign Minister Dick Spring. A man with no airs and graces, he makes friends easily, and everyone he has met leaves his presence feeling better for having been in it – even if only for a short journey in a cramped taxi talking about the peace process.

London lamented his passing, as did Scotland where he was Consul General. America is a more difficult place to make an impression on, but the relationship is critical for Ireland – more so now ironically.

Britain’s retreat from Europe leaves a vacancy for a mediator between America and the European Union. Once again Britain’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. And in the way jobs are leaching away from the City of London to Dublin, Britain’s place in the world is diminishing too. Europe needs a country that can talk to the USA, and Ireland is now clearly it.

The Irish have long known the importance of soft power. And poetry is a potent weapon.

Can poetry change the world? I asked myself when I sat down to write this piece. After the Peterloo Massacre, Shelley spoke for the British working class: “Shake your chains to earth like dew/ Which in sleep had fallen on you/ Ye are many – they are few.”

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956 spoke for the disaffected Beat generation; Pablo Neruda was a poet diplomat who stood against Pinochet and may well have been murdered on his orders; another poet diplomat Czeslaw Milsoz was admired by Seamus Heaney – a man whose own verse spoke eloquently for his country and community.

Ireland, as Mulhall knows only so well, is the creation of poets, and the better for it. If more diplomats and politicians spent time with their poetry books rather than their apparatchiks, the world would be a better and a safer place.

Keep Tweeting Mr Mulhall.

The article appeared in The Irish News on September 19 2017

Peace prize tarnished by silence over persecution

Peacemaker or not: Suu Kyi’s reputation on the line

There is the rhythm of poetry in her name, and for a generation Aung San Suu Kyi was the champion of democratic values in southeast Asia. Bravely she stood against a military regime that had controlled Burma since 1962.

Burma is a country in conflict, and even its name is subject of ideological dispute – many refusing to use the military’s preferred name: Myanmar.

Like many countries, Myanmar has a colonial past. The British held sway until the Second World War when the Japanese swept in. The Union of Burma emerged from the ruins of war as an independent country.

The negotiations with Britain were led by Aung San, regarded as the father of Burmese independence, although assassination ensured he did not live to see it. His daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, was only two when he died. Suu Kyi was educated at Oxford and worked with the Burmese-born Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, for three years.

The military-led one party state presided over the collapse of the Burmese economy. By 1988 outrage overwhelmed fear and the people took to the streets.

Suu Kyi was in the frontline. In the election of 1990 her party – the National League for Democracy – won overwhelmingly. The junta did what juntas do and declared the vote invalid. She was placed under house arrest, and her dignified defiance over the next two decades won admirers around the world.

Her advocacy for human rights has been lionised by many pivotal figures in global politics – Tutu, Mandela, Obama. Universities have showered her with honours, in 2012 she was invited to address both houses of Parliament at Westminster, she has been given the freedom of Dublin, and Bono has anointed her as one of his heroes.

“The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity,” she has said. “It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations.”

For her championship of democracy, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just a year after the election that propelled her into the international limelight.

Accepting the prize on her behalf, her son Alexander said: “This prize belongs not to her but to all those men, women and children who, even as I speak, continue to sacrifice their wellbeing, their freedom and their lives in pursuit of a democratic Burma. Theirs is the prize and theirs will be the eventual victory in Burma’s long struggle for peace, freedom and democracy.”

Stirring words, and words fulfilled by the 2015 election when her party took the reigns of power. Constitutionally blocked from the presidency by her foreign marriage, she is now Burma/Myanmar’s State Counsellor – president in all but name – and leader of her nation.

That election was the end of a dream for all those who supported her through her trials. But that dream has become a nightmare for proponents of human rights around the world. A tide of human misery – hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims – has flooded neighbouring Banglashesh.

Suu Kyi’s silence in the face of such human misery was bad enough. Last week she resorted to the weasel words of discredited politicians when she said the world did not know what was happening because of “fake news”. A chilling phrase which is fast becoming the last refuge of the damned.

Condemning the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, Desmond Tutu (also a Nobel laureate) said: “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country.

“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

The Buddhist majority in Burma does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens of their country, they have been systematically persecuted, and the emergence of Rohingya militants has been used by the military, and Buddhist activists, as an excuse to crack down on the beleaguered minority.

Suu Kyi is trapped by the military on one side who remain a potent force in the country, and her own supporters on the other who support the suppression of the Rohingya people.

As John F Kennedy once said, when caught on the horns of a dilemma, one must do what is right.

Suu Kyi must use her position as a voice for peace; she must demonstrate to her people and the world that human rights does not discriminate between peoples. Every day she fails to act she further tarnishes her reputation, and brings the Prize that saw her through years of persecution into disrepute.

  • This article first appeared in The Irish News on September 12 2017