Trump Withdraws from the North Korea Summit: Now What?

A coin intended to commemorate the North Korea deal
A newly released, ill-fated commemorative coin. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/world/asia/coins-trump-kim-jong-un.html

Regularly, on the campaign trail, President Trump promised to disrupt Washington politics. In a rare move, it would seem he undersold himself. His snap decision to withdraw from the proposed June 2 summit with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea has birthed disruption on a global scale. Disruption, confusion, and shock.

The cancellation was classic Trump – equal parts muddled, brash, and careless. He hinted at it two days prior, enigmatically intoning that “we’ll see what happens”, and that there was “a very good chance” it would all come to nothing. And then, two hours ago, nothing was come to – arrived at thanks to an open letter by Mr Trump to Mr Kim, which declared that the meeting would be “inappropriate” thanks to North Korea’s displays of “tremendous anger… in [their] most recent statement” (said statement being a pointed rebuttal of Vice President Mike Pence’s invocation of “the Libya model”). A press conference followed, and more contradictions with it.

“A lot of things can happen”, assured Mr. Trump. “Including the fact that, perhaps, it’s possible the existing summit could take place, or a summit at some later date… Nobody should be anxious. We have to get it right.” In the meantime, of course, there would be “very strong sanctions”, together with military chest-puffing – “we are more ready than we have ever been before”. The overall sentiment was this:
“This meeting couldn’t happen because North Korea has been rude. That naturally doesn’t rule out the possibility of future meetings, which would be lovely. Alternatively, of course, war is always an option. Cheerio!”

Three immediate and necessary questions are hereby raised:

  1. How did we get here?
  2. Whose fault is the withdrawal?
  3. Where do we go now?

Let us begin at the beginning.

How did we get here?
If any sort of peace process does emerge from this mess, the real hero will not be Donald Trump, but sport. Prospects of talks began with a New Year’s address by Kim Jong-Un, which floated the possibility of a North Korean delegation at the Seoul Winter Olympics. As much was agreed upon a week later at the first set of bilateral talks in three years. With Spring came a timely diplomatic thaw, and on March 6 Kim floated the possibility of denuclearisation talks with the United States. Two days later, President Trump agreed.

On March 27, Kim Jong Un met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. We shall return to that date later. Next came two meetings between Mr Kim and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and, on April 20, the announcement that North Korea no longer wished (or needed) to carry out nuclear tests. All seemed set for a historic moment.

Then John Bolton happened. On April 29, the national security advisor appeared on Face the Nation and invoked “the Libya model” of total disarmament as the essential goal behind any negotiations. This infuriated North Korean officials, who recalled a different Libyan model – that being 2011’s “how to publicly kill a dictator, featuring sodomy-by-baton” – the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Furious diplomatic responses escalated tensions, particular when Vice President Pence made the same invocation, and was called a “political dummy” in reply. The next day, the meeting was off.

Who’s fault is the withdrawal?
At first glance, the blame would lie almost entirely with the President Trump. First glance is, of course, probably right in this case, but it’s worth examining the withdrawal in greater detail.

First, North Korea’s aggression. Mr Trump implied that the DPRK’s harsher tone was the result of coaxing by Chinese President Xi Jinping, following the aforementioned March 27 meeting. Obviously, it’s impossible to know for sure what was said between Messrs Xi and Kim, but persuasion of the kind Trump refers to seems unlikely.

Brian Wong, a Hong Kong native and Vice-President of Economists Without Borders – Oxford, finds it implausible that Mr Xi interfered. Firstly, they say, because the Chinese President wishes to minimise instability on China’s North-East, and secondly because he wished to pivot away from the Korean peninsula and on to greater affairs.

This sentiment is echoed by Dr Hyun Bang Shin of the LSE, who argues that the confrontational North Korean remarks don’t represent “anything new”, but rather a longstanding “geopolitical tactic” which should have been expected. He attributes them firstly to the repeated invocation of the Libya model, and secondly to North Korean angst over ongoing military drills in the South – drills which included F-22 fighter jets and very nearly included B-52 bombers. The latter were withdrawn after the North complained that they were “a provocation”.

Dr Shin described the Libyan allusion as “a great insult” to North Korea, whom he characterised as pursuing a Vietnam-style transition model, wherein the communist party maintained power whilst opening their nation up to the world. He believes that in comparison to this fracas and the tensions which sprung up from training exercises, President Trump’s theories about Xi Jinping have “low credibility”.

Where do we go now?
The summit’s cancellation is a blow to hopes for global nuclear deproliferation. Mr Trump’s flirtatious attitude to nuclear weapons is on display in his letter, where, in between passages of wistful regret, he reminds Mr Kim “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” In his subsequent press conference, the President returned to the possibility of military intervention if necessary. Of such conflict, Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT, told Vox “Make no mistake, that would mean attacking a nuclear weapons power, and someone in the region or even in the United States may eat a nuke.”

When asked whether China may enter the game as a moderating force, Brian Wong deemed it unlikely. They said Mr Xi would “keep Kim ‘tame’”, but outlined that, as his goals regarding North Korea centred on maintaining a status quo of small skirmishes and low-level tension so as to encourage dependency on China, there was little incentive to pick up where America had left off.

Dr Shin is yet more uncertain about what lies next. When asked he admitted to still being “a bit shocked”, before opining that the strongest onus now lay on the shoulders of South Korean President Moon Jae-In. He had been a central mediator, and still enjoys the support of the South Korean people, who had rallied behind his commitment to signing a peace treaty with the North.

President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have all repeated that a later summit remained on the table. But this ghost of a promise withers in the light of today’s events. The optimism of early 2018 has vanished from the table, and has been replaced by confusion and angst and bruised egos. The immediate fate of the Korean peninsula is uncertain. Its long term fate doubly so. Mr Trump closed his letter by remarking that “This missed opportunity is truly a sad moment in history.” Yes, Mr. President. So it would seem.

 

Read my article on what Donald Trump’s election meant in 2016 here.

The Left’s Jewish Problem

Originally written for Smoke Magazine, June 2017

British Police To Step Up Patrols In Jewish Communities
Source: http://www.ottawajewishbulletin.com/2017/02/british-jews/

On March 30, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, insisted (again) that “Hitler supported Zionism”, and that there was “real co-operation” between the fuehrer and attempts to establish a Jewish state. Livingstone contends that Zionist groups (who were calling, in desperation and fear, for Jews to leave a continent which had routinely attacked and murdered them for 1000 years) were supported by the emerging fuhrer. He claims, then, that the political movement responsible for Israel’s creation was once supported by the ultimate villain – Hitler – and thus, by implication, that same movement must also be suspect.

We have seen outcry, and outrage, and calls for Livingston’s expulsion from the Labour party, but this response is not universal. Many socially conscious members of the British left have rallied to defend the former mayor, arguing that he was just stating a fact.

Let us, for the moment, set aside how absurd the idea of Hitler supporting a Jewish state is. Let us also disregard the blatant perversion of history (in truth, Hitler encouraged the deportation of Jews to Palestine as a means to get them out of his country, and when that didn’t work fast enough, he gassed them). Let us focus, instead, on the fact that this story is not new.

Last year Malia Bouattia was elected NUS President. She had called Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost” and, speaking at a conference on “Gaza and the Palestinian Revolution”, had claimed that “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” were falsely portraying “resistance… as an act of terrorism”. When Jewish students objected, Bouattia refused to apologise, saying “that for me to take issue with Zionist politics is not me taking issue with being Jewish.”

Let’s ignore, for now, how precisely the descriptions of “Zionist-led media” echo claims of a grand Jewish conspiracy. Let’s forget, also, how that legitimate “resistance” includes enough suicide bombings to have a wikipedia page dedicated to them. And let’s return, again, to how this story is not new.

A 2016 report by the AMCHA Initiative found nearly 100 more antisemitic incidents on American college campuses than in 2015. Meanwhile, in Australia, the NSW Young Greens are boycotting the nation’s largest Jewish student organisation (AUJS), on the grounds that it supports Israel.

Let’s gloss over how AUJS is an explicitly Jewish (not “Zionist”) organisation which continues to proudly advocate for a two state solution. Let’s brush aside a footnote from that AMCHA report which informs us that rising antisemitism correlates directly with “anti-Zionist” activity on campus – and let us be reminded, as we seem so prone to forget, that this story is not new.

It is here that an obvious qualifier is needed. Israel is not perfect. There are too many instances of Israeli authorities abusing Palestinians; of its government flouting international decrees on settlements; of conservative politicians refusing to even consider negotiation. All without mentioning Hafrada – the forced separation of Palestinian and Israeli populations in the occupied territories.

Neither is Israel evil incarnate. It is the most liberal, democratic nation in the Middle East. Israeli forces have a historical goal of ending violence (because they fight for their right to exist). By contrast, their enemies’ goal remains destabilisation, and, as a result, terrorist tactics are frequently employed. Finally, even policies like Hafrada are complex – it is responsible for a substantial drop in fatal terrorist attacks.

The point here is that the Israel/Palestine conflict is a complex one. A simple narrative of innocent victims and evil Zionists doesn’t cut it. Yet the left (supposedly the more nuanced side of politics) frequently, happily, returns to this image. And, in turn, this obsessively simple vision bleeds into plain old antisemitism.

It takes many forms, this antisemitism. It hides in the carelessly loaded language which you just wouldn’t use with other minorities. It clothes itself in the lies and fraudulent history used to justify hating Israel. It’s at its most open when Jewish students across the world are made to feel unsafe by leftists who call them Zionist pigs and write declarations of war signed “love, Hamas”.

It’s hard to overstate how much of Western history is tied up with hating Jews. The Catholic Church did not absolve the Jewish people of the collective crime of deicide (killing Christ) until 1964. Martin Luther wrote fervently and frequently on the vileness of the Jewish soul. The Holocaust was only new in that it industrialised what was previously the domain of a few dozen peasants armed with pitchforks. The Western response to it marks the first time the governments of Europe came even close to squaring with their history of antisemitism. That it took six million deaths to achieve this should give us pause.

 

Critiquing Israel does not require antisemitism. But too often, in too many spaces – the Labour party; university campuses; even the NUS – it excuses it. If the left is serious about its doctrine of “privilege” – that the consequences of past sins reverberate through the modern day – then surely on this, of all topics, a tad more awareness of the ground on which they tread (and the words they speak while there) would be advised. Then, maybe, this oldest and saddest of stories would begin, at last, to end.

 

 

 

Teenage Wasteland

Originally published 16 December 2016

What Brexit means for millennials

A rush and a push and the land is ours

You’d be forgiven for relaxing. Four months on, and the sky hasn’t fallen. The economy has continued to grow, and yes, the pound has dropped, but it’s still short of its lowest rank against the Euro back in 2008. Consumer confidence remains not just high, but comparable to pe-GFC levels, and retail sales have stayed strong. The UK doesn’t feel like it’s on any kind of precipice – cultural; political; or economic, and while Brexit continues to dominate political discussion, it does so in the abstract, as the political affair of the day, the new thing to be spoken of in Westminster. And with a supreme court hearing and (potentially) a parliamentary vote still in its way, the reality of Brexit seems further off than ever.

But all is not quite so well. If Brexit is a divorce, it is one which is yet to go to court. Solicitors; tribunal fees; alimony – all these have yet to be paid, and, much to the disappointment of the great and learned teacher K. West, no pre-nup has been signed. In short, the reality of Brexit depends entirely on Theresa May’s negotiating prowess. Assuming the supreme court and parliamentary voting do not conspire to kill the policy in its crib, the Prime Minister will push for a “best-case-scenario” where Britain has trading access to the European single market, but can set its own rules on immigration and product standards. Given that every nation in the EU has veto power over the terms of Brexit, such an outcome seems unlikely, particularly considering their incentives.

Nigel Farage proudly declared that he hoped Brexit would spell the beginning of the end for the European Union. This is precisely what Donald Tusk and his fellow bureaucrats fear. They have strong political incentives to deny Britain a favourable trade deal, and thereby sustain the consensus that staying in the EU is the preferable option for places like Greece and Catalonia, which have flirted with the idea of leaving in the past.

Nor can Britain depend on German manufacturers to come to its rescue by lobbying for a unrestricted trade deal so as not to lose British export revenue. Angela Merkel has made it a feature of her administration to be willing to ignore business’ demands – having implemented a minimum wage, early retirement, and quotas for women despite lobbyists’ objections. Moreover, manufacturers may not even want such a trade deal – Mathias Wissman, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry described “keeping the European Union together” as “our priority”.

None of this means that a successful Brexit resulting in Theresa May’s much-vaulted “global Britain” is impossible, just that many barriers stand in its way. If things do not go to plan, Britain could find itself subject to debilitating trading costs with its former closest partners; with financial services and business (currently responsible for almost a quarter of the nation’s tax revenue) having fled to now-more-global cities like Frankfurt; Paris; or Barcelona. Either way, the consequences will be most strongly felt by young people.

It’s the best years of your life they want to steal

Millennials voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and it’s not hard to see why. The sheer uncertainty generated by Brexit is probably its greatest risk. We don’t know what the final negotiations will look like; we don’t know how said negotiations will be conducted; we don’t know how business will respond to the process; and, apparently, not even MPs know how the reality of Brexit should be pursued. And for a generation only now emerging into this globalised world as either students or young professionals, such uncertainty is deeply troubling – in many ways.

It’s worth, then, breaking down the ways Brexit affects young people specifically – the direct intersections between millennial concerns and Boris Johnson’s political crusade. This section aims to do just that:

 

  • Universities: University fees will not rise in the next two years. Universities’ incentives are to maintain the £3.7billion revenue brought by foreign students, and have no need to raise fees (thereby driving down applications) at least until Brexit occurs. Even then, their priority will be to maintain an international focus – making it as easy as possible for European Union students to access British education. However, the realities of politics mean that when Britain is no longer part of the EU, EU students will become international students, and a resulting change in fees of some kind is inevitable.
  • Employment: Thus far, Britain has avoided recession. But, as described above, the economic future of the nation is uncertain. If trade is hurt by Brexit a recession is unmistakably on the cards. This is bad news for young people. Under 30 year olds commonly bear the brunt of economic downturns – their relative inexperience and low standing within the corporate ladder makes them among the first victims of corporate downsizing, and businesses routinely lower their intakes of graduates during economic turbulence.
    The long term consequences are also troubling – research from Harvard and the Universities of Toronto and Columbia has shown, repeatedly, that there exists a sustained income gap between graduates who enter the economy during prosperous and turbulent times. Those who find themselves newly in the job market during a recession can suffer from lower wages for up to twenty years as a result.
    In addition, the cyclical unemployment likely to result from such a recession can become structural if Brexit is not carefully handled. If business drifts to more globally accessible cities on the continent, the consequent downturn could create a generation trained for jobs no longer found in the UK. A glimmer of hope here comes in the form of ideas like the one offered by German MP Sigmar Gabriel, who proposed offering young Britons EU citizenship if they chose. Such pathways to European connectedness may prove a lifeline to British millennials, unless the negotiations are handled masterfully.
  • Housing: The UK’s housing market has continued to grow in value thanks to  a sustained increase in demand which remains unmatched by supply. While some, like Chris Grayling MP, argue that Brexit’s consequent reduction in immigration will create greater opportunities for young people to enter the housing market (by reducing overall demand), monthly mortgage approvals remain at less than half their pre-crisis levels – a factor unlikely to be changed by Brexit’s uncertainty. Indeed, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit could well cause homebuilding to slow as investment ebbs, compounding the difficulty in entering the housing market. Moreso perhaps than any other, the future for young people in housing depends utterly on the nature of Brexit’s negotiations.
  • Free Movement: A key argument for Brexit was greater control over the UK’s borders. This means clamping down on immigration, and, consequently, on free movement through the UK’s borders.

 

All in all then, little good news. The vote on Brexit was proposed by a Prime Minister who never believed in the process. This curious reality means the policy became official before any planning or organisation had been done at all. None of the loudest voices for the leave campaign were national lawmakers at the time – they were lobbyists, and lobbyists do not diplomats make. Such uncertainty leaves many young people asking, in the immortal words of Axl Rose, “Where do we go now?”

Only time will tell.

Student Rents Beyond Students’ Reach

Originally published on 26 January in The QH

Students are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of basic accommodation, according to new data uncovered by the Liberal Democrats. Last year saw a 16% rise in the number of students falling behind on rent payments, with over 17,000 halls residents facing rental arrears. Furthermore, 97 students were evicted from halls in the same period, more than double the 40 who’d had tenancies cancelled the year before.

The figures come following a Freedom of Information Act reveal, and are based on responses from 90 universities. They show that average rental fees have risen from £4,583 a year in 2012-13 to £5,208 in 2016-17, up 13.6%.

The report also shows that The Universities of Brunel, York, Leicester, Leeds and Warwick have the most students in rent arrears nationally.

NUS Vice President Izzy Lenga called the figures unsurprising “given our broken system of student financial support – which doesn’t even begin to cover the ever-increasing cost of basic accommodation… Rather than falling into the easy temptation to label these as cases of rent avoidance, we instead need to urge the government and the higher education sector to wake up to the reality that students are being priced out of housing and their education.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran called the news “deeply worrying”, and blamed the rise in financial difficulties at least partly on the government’s decision to scrap several student grants. She called on the Prime Minister to “rethink this punitive policy and reinstate grants for the students from lower income backgrounds”, and added that the Department of Education should “work with universities to address the reasons behind the rapidly climbing costs of rent in their halls”.

The Department of Education replied “Students from the lowest-income households who started their courses this year have access to the largest ever amounts of cash-in-hand support for living costs. This government increased means-tested maintenance support for full-time students on the lowest incomes by 10.3% in 2016-17 compared with the previous grants and loans package, with further increases in both 2017-18 and 2018-19.”

Nevertheless, the news comes against the background of an NUS Report from 2017 which said student finances nationwide were in “desperate” shape, with 71% of the 2000 respondents admitting that they were “stressed and anxious” about finances.

Another 2017 Survey, conducted by Save the Student, found that the number of students participating in drug trials, gambling and adult work to support their finances was on the rise. One respondent called student life “a [constant] battle between surviving and eating and getting an education”, while another testified that “All my money goes on rent, I have no money to socialise or even sometimes eat.”

 

Huffington Post Ends Unpaid Contributors

Huffington Post Newsroom
The Huffington Post Newsroom – Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/06/huffington-post-jobs-mobile-editor_n_6815050.html

Originally published 26 January 2018 in The QH

“Citizen journalists” will no longer be featured by The Huffington Post, with the publication announcing the dissolution of its contributor network – an online body of over 100,000 unpaid writers.

The move comes as part of a combined effort to declutter the website and refocus on professional, verified journalism – all the more essential, The Post claims, in a world of “fake news”. The site’s restructuring also includes the addition of new “personal” and “opinion” sections.

In an official announcement, editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen said the changes were intended to address today’s “cacophonous world”, and help strengthen democracy against “the tsunami of false information we all face daily”.

The Huffington Post’s notion of a “contributor network” – giving a media platform to anyone who offers a voice – might seem quaint in the age of Twitter, but it was revolutionary when first launched in 2005. The content was a mix of reportage and personal essays. There were examples provided by many public figures – including Oprah; Jennifer Aniston; and then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007.

But most notable was when the purely amateur pieces made national news – such as when Mayhill Fowler, an aspirational campaign journalist, quoted Obama as deriding working class voters for “[clinging] to guns or religion.”

The move to scrap this 13 year old bastion of democratised journalism might be taken by some as a move towards elitism, particularly from a publication which made citizen journalism a sticking-point of its original manifesto. But Lydia Polgreen has a point – the internet is a very different place from 2004, with a wide array of social media platforms for anyone to use, and swamped by an increasing glut of fake news.

Even the Huffington Post was not immune from the creep of suspicious, unverified content – with a contributor (bylined as Waqas KH) submitting a positive piece about Felix Sater, a Russian-born former Trump Organization executive. It was soon revealed that the mysterious contributor – a Pakistani national – had been paid to provide the content, which was later deleted.

In the end, the move signals a significant shift for The Huffington Post’s editorial agenda – moving away from Arianna Huffington’s liberal populism to more thoroughly vetted and nationally focused reportage. Ms Polgreen has said as much, commenting “We’re thinking less about how many people are crawling around the halls of Congress asking the same questions to the same senators all day every day,” adding that she aspired to “a large cadre of [Huffington Post] journalists” across the United States.