Thursday, May 16, 2019

ALARM BELLS ON IRAN

There is a concerted effort to paint Iran as the bad guy who might have to be taught a lesson.  Iran is far from perfect, but are they really the bad guy?

Much is made of their support for groups that are labeled terrorist.  Yes, that can certainly endanger some of our friends.  On the other hand it seems they are protecting fellow Shiites where they have been under attack in Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere much like Americans profess alarm over Christians being besieged.  Yes, Teheran uses very scary rhetoric, but has anybody listened to Mr Trump?  Has much notice been given to the ever increasing restrictions on the Palestinians which many consider criminal?

A huge mistake was when Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.  He claimed it didn't go far enough and he would force them to bend to his will.  We all want this to be a nuclear free world where everybody co-operates but in fact there is too much distrust.  Trump treats North Korea with more care, perhaps because he has been made aware they have nuclear weapons.  Libya decided to demolish their nuclear weapons, but that didn't protect Moamar Gaddafi.  Do Americans pay attention to history?

My core contention is that the Iran nuclear agreement not only gave some temporary relief from nuclear fears, but also was an opportunity to build trust that would allow other western concerns to be dealt with.  No matter what agreement the Americans can force upon the Iranians do they really expect others to trust them now?

In 1953 the Iranians had a democratically elected leader who was trying to follow the example of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Americans to share oil revenue.  The British resisted and requested help from the U.S.  After a successful coup, Mohammed was replaced by the Shah.  To consolidate his power he sought help from the C.I.A. to set up SAVAK, a secret police service.  One of the trainers was Norman Schwarzkopf ,later famous for the Iraq invasion.  They also involved the Israeli MOSSAD.  The purpose was to track and control enemies of the Pahlavi family.  The Americans left and SAVAK took a turn for more brutality including torture, executions, censorship.  The first director was repelled, eventually becoming a dissident and was assassinated in such a way to appear an accident.  Agents spied on Iranian citizens to uncover dissidents and as a by product promote distrust amongst neighbors.

With the election of Jimmy Carter the Iranians were coerced into alleviating torture and other abuses of power.  Ironically when the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, Carter also felt an obligation to support the Shah under siege.  This stirred resentment in Iran and led to the hostage crisis that helped undo Carter's re-election.  A few other ironies--during an oil boycott it was Carter who adopted a conservation strategy to make Americans less dependent on Mid-East oil.  This was ridiculed by Republicans who went onto ridicule climate change.  Another irony provided by the Republicans is that they spun an arms deal with the supposed enemy Iranians to finance an insurrection in Nicaragua.

The Iranian Revolution was sparked by civilian discontent.  As is often the case the people rallied behind fundamentalist clergy who in the end took control.  Similarly the Poles rebelled against the Soviets using the Catholic Church as a tool.  In another blog about corruption it was pointed out that when citizens have little room to protest they support fundamentalists.  see http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/thieves-of-state.html

After the Iranian Revolution Iraq thought it would take advantage of confusion in Iran to invade it starting in 1980.  Americans, concerned about the prospect of a prolonged war supported Saddam Hussein including providing expertise on chemical weapons that not only killed an estimated 100,000 Iranians but were also used on Kurdish civilians.  Iran was able to quickly repel the invaders, but the conflict dragged on until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire accepted by Iran in 1988.

In 1988 an Iranian passenger airline was shot done in Iranian territory by an American missile.  Americans claimed they mistook it for a military fighter.    All 290 people on board died. Ronald Reagan expressed regret in a diplomatic note.  United States did not admit legal liability or offer a formal apology but did agree to a financial settlement of $61.8 million.

After 9/11 the Bush administration labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil," although they had provided some intelligence for the crisis.  I have to admit that phrase came from David Frum, a Canadian conservative writer who I have come to like a bit.

There was some concern that Iran would develop nuclear weapons.  They were of course pictured supporting terrorists, threatening Israel and repressive.   Obama judged the priority to be avoiding nuclear weapon proliferation in the Mid East.  Iran had been under an embargo for decades and wanted relief.  Using the talents of John Kerry and co-operation with the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China an agreement was hammered out that restricted Iran's nuclear program and opened up relations a bit.  Many Americans were upset that the United States authorized a huge payment to Iran, overlooking the fact that it was money+interest that had been sequestered after the Iranian Revolution.  Monitoring adherence was part of the agreement and Iran was careful to keep their part of the deal.

I am not privy to intelligence that United States might possess and apparently neither are any other governments.  Iran is under provocation and there are political and social factions that are already quite upset with the Americans.  As the provocations step up and attitudes harden an accidental trigger could initiate a Mid-East war.  It is very likely to be larger than the Iraq War was and is also likely to be divisive among allies and citizens when the world should be prioritizing climate change and other global concerns.

It is not hard to speculate about motives.

At this particular moment Trump appears to be fishing for diversions.  The legal attack and perhaps even more the political attack appear to be making progress.  Another motivation might be to satisfy Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In the case of Israel they have some legitimate fears, although considering they already have nuclear weapons might be a little exaggerated for domestic politics.  Americans are perhaps too beholden to Israel who is making efforts to totally disenfranchise Palestinians.  Trump had some generous donations predicated on supporting Israeli goals.  In the case of Saudi Arabia Trump seems to have formed a relationship, one might say a business relationship. 

The agreement should have been a building block.  United States and Israel could relieve tension over time.  Like Ronald Reagan once said "Trust but verify." That philosophy had a chance until Trump butted in, like he has in so many other ways.

Some other blogs that might be relevant:

earlier thoughts on the agreement
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/the-iran-nuclear-agreement.html 

hopes for an agreement
http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/04/will-we-waste-another-opportunity.html

if you enjoy movies, you might appreciate there are dissidents in Iran and there is also artistry.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/03/three-persian-directors.html 







Tuesday, May 7, 2019

CHINA'S SECRET STRATEGY TO REPLACE AMERICA AS THE GLOBAL SUPERPOWER

China is still a mystery to many of us, however a fascinating one.  Michael Pillsbury recounts his own involvement with China which pre-dates the famous Nixon trip to meet Mao Zedong.  In fact he played a small role for that trip, but now looking back almost fifty years of contact feels America was deceived.

He depicts China as deceptive, cheating foes and determined to be number one in the world.  His arguments are convincing, even more so in the years after publication.

China felt humiliation at the hands of Britain, America and Japan, but had a long range plan to reassert what they feel is their rightful place in the world.  After the 1949 Revolution China declaring itself a Communist nation and realized Russia was predominant in their sphere.  They were not without some fear over Soviet intentions.  America was seen as an enemy for many reasons (Taiwan for one example) but saw America as a counterpoint to Russia.  America also saw China as a counterpoint to Russia.  

Humiliation is I believe the core problem.  Not dealt with as thoroughly it deserved.  The Chinese had the oldest continuing tradition of civilization.  Opium forced on them because British wanted much from China, but China did not see enough they wanted to trade for.

One thing not mentioned in the text was that Pierre Trudeau had made overtures to China beforehand. It seems logical that a connection was made more acceptable by Canadian moves or even concern that Canada was getting a trade advantage denied to American farmers and businesses. 

China assessed that they could be temporary friends with U.S. and lull Americans into complacency.  Both sides aware of some sensitivity of the other.  The Chinese agreed to not make an issue of Taiwan and the Americans gave defensive reassurances regarding Russian aggression and even supplied information regarding Indian troop movements towards Pakistan who was being given support by China.  Each side thought they could use a new partner to deal with Russia.

Decades of Republican and Democratic administrations felt it was in their interest to help prop up China so they would join democracy and capitalism in a western sense.  Those in charge of China had a different agenda.  Develop trade, steal information, build up their strength without alarming the Americans.

It became clear after awhile that they had a few sensitive concerns.  The Dalai Lama was universally admired (very much personally), but represented a rebellious part of China.  Taiwan was considered an integral part of China, but eventually they developed a relationship, but one where China thought they could win Taiwan from the inside.

They promised to loosen up their economy and adopt western practices.   Not quite what happened as the state owned almost half of the businesses and were subsidized. Part of their strategy was to be non threatening and to grow their strength by deception and theft. 

The author gives an example of China's power with a popular American movie, "Gravity."  I saw it and am reminded of some components that seemed innocent at the time.  Sandra Bulloch was endangered because Russians had exploded one of their satellites which was causing debris and shock waves.  Later she was saved as she gained access to a Chinese space station.  The author points out that Russia has never shot down one of their satellites, but China without warning has done so (to test their anti-satellite capability) plus that Chinese space stations are not compatible with American technology.  These facts were obviously known to the producers, but they likely did not want to jeopardize the huge Chinese movie market.  

The book was copyrighted in 2015.  Have we learned much since then?  Today I heard commentators talk about the future dominance of G5 technology which is being led by China.  Read in a New York Times supplement that Chinese are using face recognition technology to track Uighars who they consider dangerous.  China in the past few years has stirred up tension by their actions in the China Sea where other nations (Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan) have claims.  There is still demands to ostracize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan freedom efforts.  Trump has talked very tough on China, but seems willing to have his family do business with Chinese businesses.  Hauwei with Canada forced to detain Chinese CEO by orders of the Trump administration.   China has made friends in Africa where they have identified needed resources and prospective friends.  The Chinese in general are making efforts to build their strength.  They still seem to feel they can conquer economically, but are gradually building up their military strength wasting less resources than Americans.

My own experiences with Chinese were mostly dealing with pet products.  One small company was offered a big sale if we would share the formula.  Another company that recruited me for pet beds and furniture had promised my boss exclusivity, but in the field I learned of a competitor. selling the same line.  When the Canadian owner unfortunately died I dealt directly with the Chinese manager for a brief time, but I think he figured out I didn't have the resources he wanted.  Also with still another company they learned to compete economically they had to accept Chinese manufacturing.  None of these deals worked to my advantage.

What should we do?  The first step might be to improve our understanding of China.  This can involve more intense intelligence efforts, but also academic study and personal contact.  Can we hope that they will change their views and join us as true partners or not?

Contact is important.  Most Chinese citizens know only what the government wants them to know about.  Some approved citizensare allowed to be tourists while many others have studied at universities in America and other western countries.

America beat off Russia during the Cold War with bi-partisan support. We need to support dissidents and demand release of political prisoners.  They need to know our relations hinge at least in part of human rights.  We need to not bend when we are requested to participate

Strengthen relations with Asian countries in particular, but also the rest of democratic countries.  The Pan Pacific Agreement would have been important to maintain economic alternatives to Chinese.  Taiwan is awkward as is the Dalai Lama .  U.S. forces on Okinawa--Japanese constitution re self defense  South Korea   North Korea can be expected to line up wth China

We have to set a better example recognizing that Chinese propaganda can find and distort aspects of our culture.  Credibility can only be manufactured so far.

The Chinese are oncerned over inflaming own population and now Uigar Muslims.  There are still protesters who are not always silent.     Terrorists are a minor concern, but one they share with the rest of the world.  

A good start is to read Michael Pillsbury's book and visit his website  http://michaelpillsbury.net/  He is described as a Chinese hawk and an advisor to Donald Trump, nonetheless he has a viewpoint that is well worth knowing.  His history with the Chinese is very instructive as he describes how he and the governments of both parties were deceived.

Monday, May 6, 2019

May 7th 2019 a Walk to Bayfront Park

Today is about 10 days after my official retirement and my first visit to Bayfront Park.  It is scarcely ten minutes from my front door and for awhile one can pretend they are not in an industrial city.

With kids off to school, the morning is seniors time.    Still early in the season, but one can sense Nature reasserting itself.



 The Sakura project was the planting of Japanese cherry trees.  I have watched them over the years at first little more than saplings.  In 2019 they are growing taller and blooming brighter.









As one goes down to the parking lot there is a split between a path to the CNR railway and the trail.









First time I have seen a turtle at this location.
















Seagulls are very common and I have seen many eating garbage once fascinated by seagulls feasting on french fries with vinegar.  This is the first time I have actually seen one about to eat a fish (from the Hamilton Harbour no less).











Along the trail greeted by Goose and Gander and some very young goslings.  At this time of year most of the goslings are kept safer in Cootes Paradise on the other side of the High Level Bridge.  They must be more trusting of trail walkers.






Cormorants are the most interesting birds.  Her is one on the left flapping his wings to dry off.  They can be tricky to photograph as they are apt to plunge under the water to chase a fish and emerge several meters away.  This island demonstrates a high water level.  It is similar or even the same as one I used for my Facebook background when the water was lower and more land visible.



A redwing blackbird.  They seem to love being near the water.








Two swans.  In a few weeks it is normal for them to nest right near where I earlier saw a turtle.

Somewhere near here I was spotted by an old friend, Barbara with a friend who had noticed beavers had busy gnawing at trees.  Several years ago I had watched with others while a beaver dragged a tree across the trail.






Gaze towards the east and one can the Skyway Bridge and ships in the harbour.







Turn away from the water and one can see trains whizzing by.












Just across from Bayfront Park is a corner that has been used for the Sunset Cultural Garden that had been set up by the Chinese community of Hamilton.  Many years ago I remember signing a petition to reserve this land for a garden.  People had been known to meditate here as it is so peaceful.  There are poems in stone in twelve different languages including Chinese, Korean, Gujarti and Arabic.





Flowers are blooming, but there will be more variety in a few weeks.  So something to look forward to.











I have enjoyed lots of interesting natural settings  in Canada and New Zealand more isolated from cities, but I am grateful that such a place a Bayfront Park exists for it gives me a sense of awe.