Tag Archives: John Kerry

In the Name of Trump

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 8/11/15

It can be interesting to learn the origins of public figures’ names.

For example, knowing that Secretary of State John Kerry’s family name was chosen by his paternal grandfather Fritz Kohn can save us from making assumptions based on his Irish-sounding name.

But Vice President Joe Biden’s name really is of Irish origin, right? No, his ancestry is Irish on his mother’s side, yes, but English on his father’s, except that his middle name Robinette (his father’s mother’s maiden name) is a clue to French Canadian ancestry.

How about Donald Trump? I had guessed that his last name might have been shortened from some longer Eastern European one, but not so. According to Wikipedia:

Trump’s mother was a Scottish immigrant, born on the Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland, and Trump’s paternal grandparents were German immigrants. His grandfather, Frederick Trump (né Friedrich Drumpf), immigrated to the United States in 1885, and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1892. Frederick married Donald’s grandmother, Elizabeth Christ … at Kallstadt, then Kingdom of Bavaria….

So, as in Kerry’s and many other cases, a name was changed in the US: Drumpf (the u would be short, as in “put”) to Trump (after seven years in this country). Probably a good choice: the real estate mogul Donald Drumpf, Drumpf Tower, Drumpf for President—those just don’t have such a convincing ring to them.

So what is the origin of the name Trump to which Donald’s grandfather chose to Anglicize the ancestral Drumpf?…

continue reading at Politics: A View from West Chester

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Filed under 2016 election, Nathaniel Smith, US President

Egypt Gone Bad – An Analysis (3 January 2014)

by Lawrence Davidson, To the Point Analyses

Part I – Going from Bad to Worse

This past week the confrontation between Egypt’s ruling regime and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood intensified. In an act that should make anyone familiar with this ongoing struggle sit up and shake their head, the “military-backed government” in Cairo declared Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization.” In case anyone is inclined to get the sides mixed up, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is defending democracy in this confrontation, and the media’s use of the euphemism “military-backed government” is to be understood as whitewash for military dictatorship.  

The truth is that the Muslim Brothers have behaved in a civil fashion. Indeed, they have shown great restraint in the face of the violent, sometimes terrorist-style provocations of the Egyptian military and police. Always advocating nonviolent demonstrations against the military coup that brought down Egypt’s first honestly elected government in modern times, the Brothers and their supporters have been met with murderous official violence that has killed, wounded and jailed thousands. Thus, when the generals brand the Muslim Brothers “terrorists,” they are using an Orwellian propaganda ploy. As is so often the case, it is the dictatorship that practices terrorism and many of those who are resisting are destined to be its victims.

This doesn’t mean that there has not been violent resistance to the dictatorship. There have been steadily increasing instances of this, such as car-bombings of government buildings and attacks on police and military posts. The violent resistance started in the Sinai region of Egypt and has now spread across the Nile into the country’s heartland. For instance, on 25 December 2013 the police headquarters at Mansoura, a city northeast of Cairo, was destroyed and 15 people died. However, it was not the Brotherhood that launched this or other attacks like it. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (roughly translated as “Defenders of Holy Jerusalem”), a group unaffiliated with the Muslim Brothers, has taken responsibility. None of this matters to the dictatorship in Cairo. It has taken advantage of the violence to attempt to destroy the Brotherhood. This is probably an impossible goal and its pursuit risks civil war.

It is interesting that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’s violence has been described in the Western media as “extremist.” Violence can be considered extreme by definition and this group’s violence is spreading. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has warned that police, soldiers and anyone else associated with the dictatorship is now a target. On the other hand, rarely have the actions of what now passes for a government in Egypt been labeled “extremist” in the media, although the generals have repeatedly killed and maimed nonviolent protesters. In truth it is the dictatorship itself which has set down the options for those who resist it: either give up entirely or pick up the gun. This stands as a lesson in ends and means – the means employed by dictatorial regimes usually don’t allow for peaceful protest and thereby steer the end that is resistance in the direction of violence.

Part II – Abandoning the Democratic Road

There will be many who rationalize Egypt’s military dictatorship by pointing to the flaws of the deposed Morsi government. Some will point out that, even though freely and fairly elected, the Morsi government was soon rejected by growing numbers of Egyptians. Thus, before the coup there were large demonstrations against the elected government. This is true, though the assertion that the protests represented a majority of the population is a politically motivated exaggeration. The problem with this rationale is that, unlike conditions under a dictatorship, there were democratic options open to the those who disliked the elected government. They likewise could have kept up the demand for broader input into government policy until the government compromised. Just before the coup, there were signs that this point was being reached. They could have waited until the next election cycle to attempt to turn the Morsi government out. There is no evidence that Morsi would have prevented future free and fair elections. It is to be noted that one thing the elected government did not do is shoot down protesters in the streets.

It might be that, except for a relatively small youth movement, most of the anti-Morsi coalition were never seriously interested in democracy. From the start of the demonstrations against the elected government, there was little or no hesitation by this coalition to abandon democratic practices. The regulations and procedures put in place by the prior Mubarak dictatorship were repeatedly used to stymie Morsi’s administration. Prominent in the use of this tactic were the courts and judges appointed by Mubarak. It soon became apparent that the anti-Morsi coalition did not have the patience to follow a democratic/electoral route to settling the question of Egypt’s ultimate character. Theirs was an all-or-nothing attitude which quickly led them to call on the military to “save the nation.” What was salvation to look like? One thing that is certain is that the Egyptian military lacks the skill to save, and indeed any interest in saving, Egyptian democracy.

What did this strategy get the anti-Morsi coalition? Did it get them a secular government that respects civil and human rights? Did it get them a government that can be trusted to hold free and fair elections? Certainly not, for the means they employed could not lead to such ends. It got them relief from the maybe of Sharia law in exchange for the certainty of a military coup and the violence through which all military dictators rule.  

What do the military dictators of Egypt think their arbitrary and violent use of power will accomplish? Do they think that the country will return to the situation under Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak when authoritarian intimidation kept religious organizations under control and civil society quiet? Do they think that anyone will really be fooled by the rigged elections they are planning for 2014? If so, they have failed to consider the possibility that the democratic election of Mohammad Morsi may well have changed the historical equation. In terms of history, what they should be referencing is not their own dictatorial past but the events of Algeria in the 1990s. In that place and time, another military regime shut down the pro-Islamic results of a democratic election and triggered a decade of savage civil war. This is an end that is quite consistent with the means used by the Egyptian generals in 2013.

Part III – The Evolving U.S. Response

The United States government had been a consistent backer of Egyptian dictatorships ever since Anwar Sadat made his historic peace with Israel in March of 1979. From that time on the U.S. treasury has been paying out at least $1.55 billion dollars (the publicly used low figure) in mostly military aid to Egypt. That aid has helped sustain a corrupt Egyptian officer corps that now controls a good part of the Egyptian economy and has no one to fight except its own people. 

In February 2011 a genuinely popular and mostly nonviolent revolt forced the collapse of the Mubarak dictatorship. This led to Egypt’s first internationally monitored, free and fair election. For a while it looked like the Egyptian military would be forced out of politics, and U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to accept this turn of events. Even when the Egyptian generals returned to form and pulled off their coup in July 2013, the Obama administration reacted with displeasure and cut off some of the annual aid payments. The only ones in the Middle East who found this objectionable were other U.S.-supported dictatorships such as those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.

However, now the U.S. government might be considering to once more support an Egyptian dictatorship. Suggestions that this might be the case came recently from Secretary of State John Kerry in a speech delivered on 20 November 2013 to the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council. Here Kerry showed an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the events that brought down the Mubarak dictatorship and a remarkably naive notion of what it takes to make and sustain a revolution.  Thus: 

“Those kids in Tahrir Square, they were not motivated by any religion or ideology. They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of all of that and more. And they tweeted their ways and Facetimed [sic] their ways and talked to each other and that’s what drove that revolution. And then it got stolen by the one single most organized entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood.”

The fact that Kerry could make such a diagnosis to a group of allegedly knowledgeable security advisers is chilling. Kerry is way off the mark and here is why:

– The very brave youths of Cairo and Alexandria who began the 2910-2011 protests against the Mubarak dictatorship laid the basis for the conditions that eventually brought down that regime. But they alone could not and did not achieve that goal.

– These youth were not devoid of either religion or ideology. Most were Muslims of varying degree of practice and almost all of them believed in a democratic ideology.   

– Despite their use of social networking and other technologies, the youth groups were too small to make a revolution. 

– The revolution became possible only when much greater numbers were introduced into the streets to transform the demonstrations from large to massive. The decision to bring out those numbers was taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is religious but was also willing to follow a democratic path.

– The Brotherhood could manage to bring out the large numbers not just because it was “the most organized entity in the state” but because for decades it has also been the most effective and popular social service organization in Egypt. 

The truth then is that the Brotherhood did not “steal” the revolution, it made it possible.  

Part IV – Conclusion

Today’s Egypt is a mess. It is an economic mess thanks to decades of military dictatorship, corruption and greed. It is a political mess for the same reason. Whatever faults might be laid at the feet of the elected Morsi government, none of them warranted a return to thuggish military rule — an action which, for all practical purposes, brought the ideals of the Arab Spring to a tragic end.

One can only hope that the U.S. government, rising above the historical ignorance of John Kerry and his speech writers, will hold to principle and have as little as possible to do with the regime in Cairo. It is a nasty regime, brutal to its own people, barbaric in its policy toward the imprisoned population of Gaza and, not surprisingly, in bed with the Zionists and autocratic Gulf monarchs. As for Egypt’s democratic revolution that almost was, one can hope that it survives as a precedent for the future.

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Filed under Lawrence Davidson, Mid East other / S Asia

Trust and Verify and Vomit

By John Grant, This Can’t Be Happening, 9/15/13

The media didn’t waste time lining up US leaders to trash Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent op-ed in The New York Times. There was the expected outrage that such a “dictator” and “tyrant” had the gall to lecture the United States of America. Bill O’Reilly referred to Putin as “a criminal monster.” Charles Krauthammer kept it real and called Putin “a KGB thug.”

My favorite Putin slam was from New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez put it this way: “When I read [the Putin op-ed] I felt like I wanted to vomit.”

That’s great. But the thought of Senator Menendez sometimes makes me want to vomit. I bet these days if the urge to vomit was given as a poll response to the mention of The United States Congress in general and Senator Menendez in particular, the urge to vomit would score very high.

Presidents Obama and Putin

I don’t mean to pick on Senator Menendez, but there is the scandal involving a too cozy relationship with a rich donor and allegations that while on a junket to the Dominican Republic the bachelor senator allegedly hired underage prostitutes. I certainly don’t care if Senator Menendez gets laid while junketing in the Caribbean. It’s his hypocrisy that makes me want to vomit. On the matter of prostitutes, Menendez took a righteous posture last year when secret servicemen on a presidential trip to Cartegena, Colombia were caught paying for sex. Menendez called loudly for the men to be fired, which they were.

When it comes to Syria and Russia and the use of chemical weapons against civilians, the matter of hypocrisy rises to a more profound level. The moral high ground all these Putin-bashers claim does not exist. Mention the words Vietnam, napalm, white phosphorus, agent orange, carpet bombing, shock & awe and depleted uranium and the moral outrage begins to evaporate into crocodile tears meant to stir up more bloody war.

The only hope for a good outcome in the Syrian imbroglio is if everyone concedes there’s plenty of historic evil to go around. One can certainly argue who’s more evil than the other, but that line of argument only ends like the scene in Dr. Strangelove on the redphone between the US president and the Soviet Premier about US bombers headed toward Russia.

“I’m sorry, too, Dmitri … I’m very sorry … All right, you’re sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well … I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am, because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are.”

Calling people bad names should be relegated to the sandbox. What’s needed now in the Middle East is calm, honest, mature discussions of national interests with the real-politic aim of lessening violence rather than escalating it.

By threatening to bomb and set off more violence in Syria, the US president argues, he flushed out the Russian president’s peace feeler, a deal that seems to hang on the removal of chemical weapons from Syria in exchange for an end to the US military goal of regime change. That is, Assad stays in Syria if he gives up chemical weapons, which amounts to a major concession from both sides. Continue reading

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Filed under John Grant, Mid East other / S Asia

Kerry’s claim that only three ‘tyrants’ have used chemical weapons

by Glenn Kessler, The Fact Checker, Washington Post, 9/5/13

“In the nearly 100 years since this global commitment against chemical weapons was made, only two tyrants have dared to cross the world’s brightest line. Bashar al-Assad has now become the third.”

— Secretary of State John F. Kerry, remarks before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Sept. 4, 2013

In making the case for missile attacks on Syria over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, the secretary of state sought to place Syrian President Assad in a rare category: “tyrants” who have used chemical weapons.

We might quibble with the phrase “brightest line,” as some might argue that nuclear weapons would be even more heinous. And, though we unsuccessfully sought clarification from the State Department, we presume the other two “tyrants” are Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (who used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and Kurdish villagers) and Adolf Hitler (who used gas in concentration camps, but notably not on the battlefield, during World War II.) As Kerry put it, ”history — I think everyone here knows — holds nothing but infamy for those criminals.”

But Kerry’s claim is incomplete. There are at least three more instances of chemical weapons use since the signing of the Geneva Protocol in 1925 — a treaty spurred by the horrors of chemical weapons use during World War I, when nearly 100,000 soldiers were killed and 1 million wounded through such weapons.

The Facts

We consulted with Jeffery K. Smart, a military historian who has written extensively on the use of chemical weapons. “There have definitely been chemical weapons used in other instances,” he said.

First, in 1934, Italy’s fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia and used chemical weapons, such as mustard bombs, despite having signed and ratified the Geneva Accord. Emperor Haile Selassie told the League of Nations that there were “tens of thousands” of victims, including women and children, but the League did nothing and the Ethiopian forces were routed….

continue reading and follow links at the Washington Post

See also at The Fact Checker “History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons,” 9/4/13

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Filed under Peace, Security, Terrorism, War