Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Let’s Calm Gulf Tensions

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th June, 2019

oil tanjerThe UK government’s Cabinet has been meeting today to discuss rising tensions in the Persian Gulf. Yesterday the Sunday Times revealed that 100 British marines have been sent to the country’s base in Bahrain to strengthen protection for shipping following recent attacks on tankers. The Trump administration has pinned the blame for these attacks firmly on Iran, which denies the charge. But the reactions in Europe have been more mixed. Britain’s Conservative government, keen to demonstrate its essential loyalty to Washington, has said that the evidence points to Iranian culpability, though this is not yet proven, and Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that a proper investigation was needed before blame is attributed — a line supported by some of the smaller Opposition parties. At the same time there has been a call from across the UK political spectrum to calm tensions before things get out of hand. Donald Trump (egged on by Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as his hawkish officials, Mike Pompeio and John Bolton) has been belligerent in his remarks about Tehran. But the Europeans have absolutely no wish to see a military conflict in the Gulf. They also hope to keep the Iran Nuclear Deal alive, despite the US withdrawal, and growing impatience on the part of Iran. The Iranians are now talking about increasing the amount of enriched uranium they produce which is also inflaming the situation. Meanwhile, oil prices have shot up as fears grow that oil supplies could be hit; it would take very little to close the narrow Straits of Hormuz, through which so much of the world’s hydrocarbons pass. The United Nations has been adding its voice to appeals for calm, but alas the UN is a weakened force on the world stage these days, thanks largely to Washington’s hostility and some of the organisation’s own shortcomings. The European Union needs to exercise its diplomatic clout, though that is itself being undermined by the British government’s pursuit of Brexit.

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No, Not Boris!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th June, 2019

Boris Johnson scowlThe first round of the Conservative Party’s leadership contest saw the welcome departure of Esther McVey, among others, but less heartening was the very strong performance by Boris Johnson, who came well out in front. That does not necessarily mean he will win in the end — there is a significant number of Tory MPs who fall into the “anyone but Boris” camp — but he is clearly now the firm favourite. Most of our European partners will be scratching their heads in disbelief, seeing this as proof that Brexit Britain’s disease is not only chronic but terminal. Boris has declared a willingness to press the self-destruct button of crashing out of the EU on 31 October without a deal, even though the economic effect of that is likely to be dire. Of course, when push comes to shove, he might decide not to go for the nuclear option. Consistency is not exactly his strongest characteristic. Bluff, bluster and self-promotion are more his house style. He is arguing that winning two terms as Mayor of London proves he can reach parts of the electorate other Conservative politicians cannot, which may be true up to a point but rather overlooks the fact that his record as Mayor was not brilliant. Remember the tens of millions wasted on the Garden Bridge that never happened, the white elephant of the cross-Thames cable car and the water cannon bought from Germany but never used before being flogged off cheap? His tenure as Foreign Secretary was equally uninspiring, with gaffes galore. There were literally celebrations in the department when he left. As Prime Minister, he would probably be as much of an international liability as Donald Trump, whom he increasingly resembles. Perhaps he even sees the Donald as a role model. But that is absolutely not what Britain need at this juncture. He is the worst of a singularly awful range of leadership contenders, the least bad being Rory Stewart. All of them are bent on pushing through Brexit, but a Boris Brexit would be likely to be the worst of the lot.

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Iran, Islam and Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd April, 2019

Iran-Islam-and-Democracy--653x1024Contemporary Iran is much maligned and little understood in the West, especially in Washington, where the Trump administration (like several of its predecessors) views Iran as the devil incarnate. Of course, the Islamic Republic returns the compliment by frequently calling the United States the Great Satan. Each country has good reason to object to some aspects of the society and government found in the other. Yet international relations would be much smoother, and the world safer, if both made a greater effort to work out what makes the other tick. Hence the great value of Ali M. Ansari’s monumental Iran, Islam and Democracy (Gingko, £30/$44.95). Through his close examination of the leadership records of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Rouhani in particular, the author presents a penetrating view of the complexities and tensions within Iranian politics, far different from the two-dimensional picture proffered by Donald Trump or Binyamin Netanyahu.

The very name “Islamic Republic” illustrates a contradiction at the heart of the system in Iran. Republics — particularly those influenced by French or indeed American revolutionary thought — are inherently bottom-up societies in the sense that ultimate authority derives from the people. But religious societies in contrast are usually top-down. For much of Iran’s history a patrimonial shah or king was in charge, with a firm hand on the driving wheel, and even after the last shah was overthrown in 1979, a new top-down type of authority was imposed, by the Ayatollah Khomeini and since his death, Ayatollah Khamenei. This new authority has the added status of being in principle God-given and it is significant that the spiritual Leader of Iran takes precedence over the elected President, even when the latter has clearly been the Leader’s intellectual superior (not something one could say about Ahmadinejad).

There is an ongoing dialectic between conservatives and reformists within Iranian society and one of the most stimulating parts of this significant book is an extended examination of the record of and expectations regarding the comparatively “liberal” Mohammad Khatami (previously published as a separate volume, now supplemented with additional and more recent texts). Just as conservatives in the country’s religious hierarchy sometimes exaggerate the “threat” of reformist politicians and intellectuals — periodically leading to the closure of allegedly offensive newspapers and magazines — so the West has often put undue faith in the ability of reformists and in particular the Green Movement to affect rapid change. Things move slowly in Iran, where the ousting of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 still rankles. But even revolutions evolve with time. And it seems clear that if the outside world wants Iran to become more “normal” in its internal and external behaviour, then engagement rather than confonrtation is likely to produce better results.

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Bolsonaro Betrays the Palestinians

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th December, 2018

46CF24F3-46D3-4B98-89F9-3FCE0752290FNext week, Jair Bolsonaro will take over as President of Brazil. But already this tough-talking right-winger is setting the cat among the pigeons. At a meeting today with Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the announcement was made that Brazil will follow the US lead by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is despite the fact that there is an international consensus that until there is a final status agreement for Jerusalem — which both the Israelis and Palestinians want to have as their capital — no such move should be made. Until 1967, Jerusalem was divided between predominantly Arab East and Jewish West, but after the Six Day War, Israel occupied the eastern sector and since then has conducted a policy of ethnic cleansing to reduce the Palestinian population and make Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish Stage of Israel. Bolsonaro’s decision on the Embassy will enrage many Brazilians, who traditionally have had good relations with the Palestinians and have supported their quest for full statehood. But this will not bother the man who clearly wants to establish himself as the Donald Trump of South America — loud-mouthed, bigoted and against every progressive group from LGBT activists to environmentalists. In the traditionally left-wing state of Ceará in Brazil’s impoverished north east, where I am writing this, people are bracing themselves for some tough knocks in the year ahead.

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Trump’s Christmas Carol ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th December, 2018

2FAD63ED-0E38-47BA-999D-6189F9410C89Donald Trump is such a preposterous individual that he is actually quite hard to satirise. Satire tends to exaggerate characteristics and exaggerating his is quite a challenge without appearing absurd. However, the pseudonymous author Watt T. Dickens found a nice conceit by recrafting Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol with Ebenezer Trump taking the part of Scrooge (Ebury Press, £7.99). He is visited in turn by Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton (the ghost of Christmas past) and Barack Obama (the ghost of Christmas present) before the deathly ghost of Christmas Future shames him into a modicum of compassion. Barely has his last visitor left, however, before Trump reverts to being the greedy, sexist, racist narcissist that he was at the outset. All his loud-mouthed pussy-grabbing faults are laid bare, and whereas some of the earlier passages are indeed quite funny, by the end one really feels quite sick with the ghastliness of it all. However did that tangerine egomaniac with the impossible hair get into the White House? And how is it only too credible that he might get re-elected in 2020?

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Armistice 2018 Commemoration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th November, 2018

3FD0BB67-E403-4016-BDB7-B1A8C5D35606I found pictures of the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris today deeply moving. President Emmanuel Macron spoke with dignity against nationalism and war. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood next to him, underlining how these two great European powers, which had fought each other three times during a period of just 75 years, are now allies and the mainstay of the European Union — a body which now unites not just most of the countries of Western Europe but also the formerly Communist states of central and Eastern Europe. It was good that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were present, too (even if Trump blotted his copybook by pulling out of an earlier, related engagement because rain was forecast). Despite some recent tensions in the West’s relations with Russia, the Cold War, which kept us teetering on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, is long over. Scores of nations were represented at senior level in Paris, but shamefully Theresa May was not there. Apparently she thought it more important to be at the Cenitaph in London rather than participate in this unique, truly global event. Reportedly she sent David Lidington MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) instead, though naturally he did not get to stand with the top leaders, thus relegating the UK to second rank. At a time when Britain’s reputation is at rock bottom among our EU partners as Brexit loooms and many Conservative and Labour politicians fall over themselves to be rude to the EU and the 27 other member states, while banging the drum of British exceptionalism, this was a serious miscalculation. Theresa May is trashing the UK’s standing in Europe and the wider world, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn just stands on the sideline, nodding.

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Fahrenheit 11/9 ****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd October, 2018

Fahrenheit 11 9Michael Moore has carved out a special place for himself in contemporary US film-making: as an intrusive, progressive Democrat who cares passionately about environmental issues, the abuse of power and the sad state of American society. So no-one is going to go to his new documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 expecting that the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, is going to be given a smooth ride. The parallels Moore draws between Trump and Adolf Hitler and the way that the American public is being softened up to accept demagoguery and dictatorship, as happened in 1930s Germany, are hardly subtle, yet no less effective for that. Moore rightly likens the Trump tactics of holding mass rallies, whipping up crowd fervour against blacks/Hispanics/lesbians or whichever particular minority he is taking a pot-shot at, or the mainstream media, to those of the Fuehrer. Perhaps the most shocking thing to emerge from the film, for a traditional liberal such as myself, is to realise that far from being stupid (as we liberals tend to think) Trump has been very clever in the way he has reached out to the poor white working class, those who treasure the right to bear arms and self-identifying patriots. He knows how to manipulate and resonate, and hopes to be in there for the long haul.

Trump in Fahrenheit 11 9 The overarching message about how the fuck Trump got there (to quote Moore directly) and where the hell this is all heading, is nonetheless somewhat diluted by two very different sub-stories or plots in the film. One is the awful tale of the predominantly black Michigan town of Flint, whose people were poisoned by a water supply contaminated with lead because of the state governor’s switching of the pipes from the Great Lakes to the filthy local river to win favour from contractors. But even Barack Obama gets a big slap in the face over that, as he flew to Flint, to be greeted like a hero, only to dash local residents’ hopes by drinking a glass of the water to show them it was actually OK. That’s one reason many people in the area did not turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Sure, she lost because of the antiquated Electoral College system, which meant that Trump won although she had a majority of the popular vote overall. But Ms Clinton also comes over as a poor candidate, badly prepared and in hock to big business, in contrast to Bernie Sanders, who obviously does rock Michael Moore’s boat. So too — indeed, much more so — the youngsters from Florida who reacted to yet another mass school shooting by standing up and speaking out against guns and then, through social media, organising big rallies across the country. When dealing with them, Michael Moore abandons his usual satirical bent, which makes things a little uncomfortable. But towards the end, the movie swings back to Trump and Hitler and the rise of the alt-Right. So there is an awful lot thrown together in this film, which makes it more uneven than some of his earlier work. But there are enough “oh my God” moments, as well as dark humour and the director’s trade-mark sloppy bear act, to make it fairly gripping throughout.

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What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th October, 2018

Jamal KhashoggiThe disappearance and possible murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has taken on an added disquieting significance with claims in the Turkish media that either his smart-watch or phone recorded him being questioned and tortured in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, to which he had gone for formalities ahead of his forthcoming marriage to a Turkish citizen. The Saudi government, meanwhile, insists that he left the consulate unharmed at the end of his visit, but as there has been no further sign of him since, that statement seems increasingly thin. There have been stern reactions to the affair from a range of world leaders, not least French President Emmanuel Macron; even Donald Trump has said there will be consequences if foul play is confirmed (having earlier expressed concern about any impact criticism might have on tens of billions of dollars-worth of US arms sales). The United Kingdom is also a key ally of and arms supplier to the desert Kingdom and there is growing dismay in London as the days go by with no convincing explanation. The official Saudi line, not surprisingly, is that all the furore is an effort to besmirch the country, though the accusatory finger is tellingly being pointed specifically at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “MBS”, who is the very public face of Saudi “reform”. Meanwhile several leading international figures have pulled out of a big event due in Riyadh shortly. Certainly, the Khashoggi case is something of a PR disaster at a time when MBS is championing his country’s new look. Exactly two weeks ago, I saw Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post, here in London, where he was one of the speakers at a seminar on Oslo at 25 put on by the Middle East Monitor, MEMO. He looked preoccupied, which I put down to jet lag; surely, he cannot have had any inkling of what may have been waiting for him in Istanbul. There is a certain irony that his disappearance occurred in Turkey, however, given the clamp down on journalists and media organisations there. Perhaps the Saudis — assuming the plot theory is true — hoped that the Turks wouldn’t make too much of a fuss. But this is ot a story that can be easily quashed.

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What Hope for Palestine?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th September, 2018

Netanyahu TrumpOn the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Donald Trump met Binyamin Netanyahu for a friendly chat. The relationship between the United States and Israel remains as close as it has ever been. President Trump did say in his trademark casual way that he thought he liked the idea of a two-state solution to the Middle East impasse. But his actions so far have done everything to undermine that goal. First there was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the almost universal convention that until the final status of Jerusalem has been agreed, the Holy City should not be acknowledged as Israel’s capital. The PLO Office in Washington was ordered closed and bilateral relations between the US and Palestine downgraded. Then came the swingeing cuts to US funding for UNWRA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees as well as the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving millions of people — many already on the breadline — destitute. No wonder that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that the Americans are no longer a credible mediator.

Israe; Palestine separation wallThe Netanyahu government, meanwhile, was quick to announce that any future Palestinian state will be a “state-minus”. It won’t be allowed to be in charge of its own defence and security, as Tel Aviv intends to keep control of things militarily right up to the Jordanian border. So in other words, the Occupation would continue in all but name. Moreover, the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in contravention to international law, means that there is no viable Palestinian state left any more. The best that can be hoped for is a few little bantustans within an apartheid system. Anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” in the Israel/Palestine context today needs to study the Nation State law recently passed in the Israeli Knesset. Non-Jews were de facto discriminated against within Israel before the passing of the law, but now that discrimination is officially sanctioned. As the USA under Trump is not going to do anything significant to stop the ongoing deterioration of the situation for Palestinians, it is time for the European Union to step up to the plate and become the Middle East mediator, with economic as well as political pressure on Israel to change its ways. Given Britain’s historical responsibility for mandate-era Palestine, the UK ought to be in the forefront of such action, though that is unlikely so long as Theresa May’s Conservatives are in power. However, one ray of sunshine in the otherwise cloudy landscape is that the Labour Party this week called for the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine following a similar move by the Liberal Democrats last year.

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When the World Laughs at Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th September, 2018

Donald Trump VsignThere was an extraordinary scene at the UN General Assembly in New York when US President Donald Trump declared from the rostrum that his administration had probably achieved more than any other US administration in history: everyone laughed. Even Fox News carried the embarrassing moment live. And when the President said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that reaction!”, they laughed even harder. It really does seem that Mr Trump thinks he is the best leader since Abraham Lincoln, or maybe George Washington. There is no limit to his vanity and self-delusion. But at least he has now felt the pin-prick of polite public scorn. From the whole world. Is he so surrounded by sycophants at the White House that he is unaware what people think? Of course, the smiles on the faces of many of the delegates at the UNGA were bitter ones, as there are so many ways that Trump has harmed the planet in the two years he has been in power, from rowing back on measures designed to limit climate change to trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal. Because he is who he is, even British Prime Minister Theresa May — who clearly did not relish having her hand grabbed by him when she visited Washington — feels she has to suck up to him, reluctantly admitting to a reporter the other day, after repeated questioning, that she does “trust” Donald Trump. Mind you, poor Mrs May is not in a much better position, as much of the world is laughing at her and Brexit Britain too. This is not a healthy state of affairs for the so-called Western World. Of course, Donald Trump may be voted out in 2020, assuming he is not impeached first, whereas Mrs May could in principle be in Downing Street until 2022, though that is looking increasingly unlikely. What a lamentable state of affairs!

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