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World Press on Qatar Diplomatic Crisis, Assault on Democracy, American Reckoning and Far-Right Protesters: New Age Islam's Selection, 9 January 2021

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

9 January 2021

• Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: A Warm Embrace or Just a Photo Op?

By Tasneem Tayeb

• An Assault on Democracy: What’s Next in the US?

By Ali Riaz

• Can Donald Trump Survive Without Twitter?

By Charlie Warzel

• Neil Sheehan Forced An American Reckoning

By Hedrick Smith

• Far-Right Protesters Stormed Germany’s Parliament. What Can America Learn?

By Anna Sauerbrey

• As The US Descends Into Chaos, What Better Time For Britain To Go The Same Way?

By Marina Hyde

• Senior Republicans Should Recoil In Horror At Trump. But Too Many Still Fear Him

By Jonathan Freedland

• We Should Have Been Ready For It, Yet The Spectacle At The Capitol Came As A Shock

Emma Brockes

• A Return To Civility Will Not Begin To Quell The Threat Of Fascism In The US

By Richard Seymour



Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: A Warm Embrace Or Just A Photo Op?

By Tasneem Tayeb

January 09, 2021

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warmly embracing Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar on January 5 at the Saudi Al Ula airport made for a picture-perfect scene of brotherhood. The Qatari Emir was in Saudi Arabia to attend the 41st summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—the first time since 2017, when four member states of the GCC: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorism, among other allegations. The four countries placed 13 demands which they said Qatar must comply with for the air, land and sea blockade to be lifted.

Qatar not only denied the unsubstantiated allegations, but stood its ground. The country strengthened its ties with Iran and Turkey in the last three and a half years and has emerged from this crisis—the worst in the history of the GCC in the last couple of decades—stronger and more resilient.

According to Middle East and North Africa (MENA) analysts, this has put Qatar in an advantageous position. With strong ties with Iran and Turkey, Qatar is now in a position to heal some of the gaping wounds festering in the MENA region: Libya, Syria and Yemen. In all the three countries, major MENA players such as the Saudis, the Emiratis, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, are divided in their support for rival factions.

While discussing the issue with TRT World, Dr Sanam Vakil, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa Programme, suggested that to resolve the ongoing disputes in the Middle East, "regional investment and regional diplomacy" would be required and that by not having Qatar as a competitor, the GCC would have more to gain in the current situation.

However, the optimism for a more unified GCC should be measured. First of all, on the face of it all, the reconciliation seems imposed on the Saudis, UAE and Egypt by the Trump administration as a last ditch attempt to leave a Camp David style legacy at the end of Trump's tenure. The incumbent US president's son-in-law has taken a keen interest in the affairs of the Middle East in the last four years and has tried, and failed, on multiple occasions to make a mark of his own.

From a preposterous USD 50 billion plan for "a vision to empower the Palestinian people to build a prosperous and vibrant Palestinian society" disclosed at the Manama Workshop in 2019 that went nowhere, to coercing countries to "normalise" ties with Israel, Kushner has tried various means to push forward the Trump administration's agenda for a "Israel First" and Israel friendly Middle East policy, with the backing of the Saudi-UAE axis. Having failed at fully achieving this objecting—the Saudis are yet to normalise ties with Israel—the Trump administration needed to make one last face-saving attempt. With greater control over the Saudis and the Emiratis, major players in the Qatar diplomatic crisis, resolving the GCC dispute was perhaps the most feasible.

In mid-November 2020, US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien asserted that for the US, it was a "priority" to resolve the Qatar blockade issue, adding "I would like to see that get done before—if we end up leaving office—I'd like to see that get done in the next 70 days. And I think there's a possibility for it."

And in less than 70 days, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt—staunch critics of Qatar—agreed to not only shake hands with the country but embrace it, at least superficially. Although initially the UAE seemed to question the possibility of lifting the Qatar blockade—the country's ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, told Israel's Channel 12 after O'Brien's comment, "I don't think it gets resolved anytime soon simply because I don't think there has been any introspection"—the UAE had to ultimately comply with the US plan.

And Egypt sending its Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and not its head of state, to join the GCC summit, is a sign in itself that it is perhaps not fully in agreement with the lifting of the blockade on Qatar. The other participants at the summit were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; UAE Prime Minister and Emir of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad; Emir of Kuwait Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah; Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa; Oman's Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said; and, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.

If anything, Egypt is wary of Qatar's softer approach with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and its support for Al Jazeera, whose coverage of El Sisi's misadventures has so irked Egypt that it has imprisoned the international news channel's senior journalist, Mahmoud Hussein, for more than 1,400 days under inhumane circumstances and without charges or trial.

And the rifts created between the peoples of these nations, stoked by the arbitrary blockade in 2017 on Qatar, is unlikely to heal anytime soon. The people of Qatar have had to face dire challenges in the wake of the blockade. "It is infringing on the right to free expression, separating families, interrupting medical care—in one case forcing a child to miss a scheduled brain surgery, interrupting education, and stranding migrant workers without food or water," said Human Rights Watch in 2017, expressing concern over the situation in Qatar after the blockade was imposed.

If anything, mistrust and skepticism are likely to prevail—at least in the short to medium terms. And on all sides. After all, the Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt had previously, in February 2014, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over the country's stance on the toppling of the Morsi government in 2013. And there is no guarantee that given the chance, the countries in the future won't resort to coercive tactics to subdue Qatar's growing influence in the region. Although this time, it would only be more difficult. And under the Biden administration, the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia is likely to be more transactional in nature.

But given the intricate geopolitical mosaic of the puzzle that is MENA, and the vested interests of the US in the region, things are as transient in nature as it can get.


Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem


An Assault On Democracy: What’s Next In The US?

By Ali Riaz

January 09, 2021

Since the atrocious attack on the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters on Wednesday, the Congress has formally certified the victory of Joe Biden, some Cabinet members of the Trump administration have resigned, and some are considering invoking the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution and removing Donald Trump from office. The highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, has extended his support and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has threatened to start the impeachment process unless Trump is removed from office. A few Republican leaders have blasted Trump for his support of the failed insurrection, and the condemnations from home and abroad against these attacks have become louder. It is against this background that Trump has promised an "orderly transfer of power" to Joe Biden. In a taped video broadcast on Thursday evening, Trump effectively conceded and made a volte face about his support for those who ransacked the Capitol, saying "The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy."

But questions remain as to whether the assault on democracy has ended, whether Trump's promise is an attempt to buy time and avoid the possibility of impeachment, and how much impact the attack will have on domestic politics and the United States' image around the world.

The violence incited by Trump will have an array of negative impacts on both domestic politics and America's international standing. The negative impacts on domestic politics are due to the fact the attack was neither sporadic nor spontaneous, but a result of almost five years of deliberate undermining of democratic institutions. The physical attack was just one step from the rhetoric of Trump and his allies who incessantly denigrated the norms and institutions which are essential to democracy and responsible governance. Since his entrance to the political scene in 2015, Trump has imparted a siege mentality in his supporters, that they are being hounded by the deep state and that someone out there is hatching a conspiracy to take away their country from them. This, in conjunction with the call by Trump in Wednesday's rally to "Walk to the Capitol", was the final act of unleashing a mob. When Trump, who promised to have a "wild" protest, told his loyal supporters that "you will never take back our country with weakness"; the message was not subtle, but rather very loud and clear. The deep anger against democracy found its most potent symbol—the Capitol, the citadel of democratic power. By trampling the culture of tolerance and pursuing divisiveness, Trump had sowed the seeds of anti-democracy; the attack was the fruit of that poison tree. Rhetoric was engendering violence, although in limited scale, but on January 6 it revealed its full force.

This dangerous anti-democratic mindset has been reared by the Republican party for quite some time. The silent embracing of the birther movement, the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and the increasing rightward movement of leaders are just a few examples of how it was mainstreamed. The party will is bound to be a part of American politics, thus the mindset is unlikely to disappear after this incident. There is hardly any indication that the Republican party is ready to address the problem as a party. There are two reasons that the party will not shun the extremist ideology of which Trump is a product, and which he has succeeded in making the mainstay of the party. First, there are leaders who adhere to this ideology. It is their political creed. Second, the fear of losing in the next elections, or worse yet, being defeated in a primary against a Trump-backed challenger. The number of House members who had supported the two objections based on fictitious allegations of election fraud or their interpretations of the Constitution is testimony to both factors. In one instance, 121 House members supported it; in another, the number was higher—138. The politics of expediency triumphed over the interests of democratic norms and institutions. Since Wednesday, some Republicans have criticised Trump, but there was no acknowledgement of their complicity.

In the past four years, violent White supremacist organisations have proliferated—QAnon and Proud Boys are cases in point. Members of the organisations are alleged to be at the forefront of Wednesday's mayhem. They have received Trump's unequivocal support as "patriots". He called upon them to "stand by" and they did, until he said, "Let us walk to the Capitol". He had enormous power and influence on them as the President, but whether they will remain loyal to him after his departure from the White House or find another person is an open question. Some of the Senators who objected to the election results might be vying for this job. Whether these organisations will increase violent acts in the future is unknown at this point. Trump is definitely departing from the White House, but is unlikely to leave the political stage. His dark shadow will loom large over mainstream politics. Perhaps he will remain in person and continue to disrupt normalcy until he becomes a candidate in 2024. In between, the 2022 midterm will become the testing ground of his influence. However, the legacy of Trump will be violence, and aiding and abetting domestic terrorism.

This will be the biggest challenge of governance in the United States; as such, this will be a challenge for the Biden administration. How to address this deep schism will also be a challenge for the media and civil society. Unfortunately, some of the media's roles in the past four years have been deeply disturbing.

Trump's "America First" left the United States alone. US policies have alienated the country from the global community. Whether the US is a reliable ally has become a matter of concern for its allies. Perhaps the most discussed topic in the global media since Wednesday was, does the US have the moral authority to claim to be the standard bearer of democracy and criticise others? The images broadcast to the world on Wednesday created more damage to the US' image than what was done in the past four years.

Undoubtedly, China and Russia, two countries which have been challenging the liberal democratic global order, will find arguments in favour of their model of governance. Authoritarian rulers will find excuses and try to justify their actions using these images. Restoring the standing of the US on the global stage, a promise Biden has made, will be a difficult task. In the realm of foreign policy, this is Trump's parting gift to Biden.

For the Western liberal world, the worrying lesson is, if it is possible in the US, it can happen anywhere. They are quite appropriately understanding that the attack was not only on a building; the very idea of democracy came under physical assault. This is happening in the wake of an ongoing global backsliding of democracy, pernicious polarisation, economic crisis and the global pandemic which has weakened trust in government.

Those who are questioning whether the United States can talk of democracy and insist on others to practice democracy, should take note that for the past four years, Americans have continued to engage in movements to preserve their democratic rights, that media have continued to unmask the authoritarian agenda of Trump, citizens have voted in a free and fair election and chosen their leaders, state-level administrations have withstood pressures from Trump and acted independently, the courts have thrown out at least 60 cases which were filed to delegitimise the elections, and Congress has ratified the will of the people. These are proof that institutions have weathered the crisis and can endure. The past four years have shown the fragility of democracy in the United States, but it is naive to write the obituary of democracy in the United States.

Besides, the crisis of democracy in the United States cannot be a justification for the absence of democracy in any country. The fundamental rights—from freedom of expression to vote freely—of citizens in any country cannot be contingent on whether the US is demanding it. Instead, it is imperative for the people of the respective country to restore it. Many of those who are lamenting the crisis in the United States are not doing it because they are disturbed to see democratic ideas trampled, but are rather trying to justify their support for authoritarianism.


Ali Riaz is a Distinguished Professor of political science at the Illinois State University, a nonresident Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council and the President of the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS).


Can Donald Trump Survive Without Twitter?

By Charlie Warzel

Jan. 8, 2021

On Friday, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account. According to the company, one of the tweets that sealed the deal was “President Trump’s statement that he will not be attending the inauguration” and its implication that the results of the 2020 election were not legitimate. After years of using the platform to spread lies and conspiracies, after countless tweets amplifying white supremacists and QAnon believers, and after attempting to provoke both North Korea and Iran, the justification feels a bit like getting Al Capone on tax evasion. And yet the damage is irrefutable.

Reflexively, it feels a bit odd to care so much about a 74-year-old man losing access to the app he uses to complain about cable news. But the Trump presidency, and indeed almost all of his political career, is inextricable from the platform. He tweeted and tweeted, and the rest of us rejoiced or grimaced in equal measure. Either way, his tweets made news. His account, for better or worse (spoiler: worse), acted as the national media’s assignment editor for a half decade. And here we are.

The obvious question now is: What does this mean for Mr. Trump’s future? Can a disgraced president addicted to outrage and innately governed by the same forces as the attention economy survive without his primary outlet?

I think it all depends on whether Mr. Trump is, himself, a platform as formidable as some of the platforms he uses. I’ve spent the last four years thinking about this guy — almost subconsciously — as the ultimate social media influencer. But, occasionally, I wonder if maybe I’ve had it backward. Yes, Donald Trump is at times the influencer. But does he also behave like the platform?

To think of Mr. Trump as an influencer is to suggest that his message can be contained. That his ideas live and die with him and his ability to broadcast them. To suggest that Trumpism is something bigger — that it is a platform itself — is to argue that Mr. Trump and his followers have constructed a powerful, parallel information ecosystem that is as strong and powerful (one could argue even more powerful) than any system built to oppose it. But anyone plugged into the pro-Trump universe realizes that Trumpism is bigger than the figurehead.

So which is Mr. Trump: the influencer or the platform?

Like a good platform, Mr. Trump has found a way to bring communities with relevant interests together while not thinking too much about the long-term costs.

Like all platforms, Mr. Trump is a natural engine of radicalization — for those who support him and those who oppose him. Consuming more of him leads only to a hardening of one’s ideology. Each rally and every successive tweet is more extreme than the last, propelling most of Mr. Trump’s followers deeper down the rabbit hole and intensifying their enthusiasm or disgust for the president. For this reason, like any good platform, Mr. Trump is a time suck. Evenings, weekends, holidays, you name it — are all derailed by his demand for your time and attention. Both are the ultimate currency to the Trump platform, allowing him to remain the central figure in American life.

And then there’s our relationship to the Trump platform, which should feel familiar to tech observers. It arrives unexpectedly and is nothing quite like what came before it. The shiny object becomes a media darling. Since it’s a novel experience, the new platform is not taken seriously as a world-changing force. The new platform announces itself with a catchy motto explicitly stating its intentions: “Make the world more open and connected,” as Facebook declared in its early days; “Make America Great Again,” as the president declares today. But still we avoid asking the hard question: What would happen if the nascent platform achieves those goals? We don’t think too hard about any of it. Even those who don’t like it partake in the platform, feeding it our attention. What’s the harm? After all, it’s free.

In time we learn that’s not the case. The platform, we find, demands a great deal. Slowly and sneakily it takes and takes little pieces of us. Our data, our attention. It’s not until it’s too late that we learn the platform isn’t free — it only appears so. We learn, to our dismay, that in fact we’ve paid a great price.

Traditionally, a platform is a software framework for others to build on top of. In the case of the social media platforms, their fundamental role is to amass a base of users, connect them and provide people with ways to reach those audiences at scale. Influencers and creators provide the content but live at the whims of the platforms and their rules. They rely on the platforms for audience, and even a subtle tweak of an algorithm can mean fading to obscurity.

It is a precarious existence. When you serve at the pleasure of the platforms, you can be de-platformed. We’re about to see if Donald Trump can truly be de-platformed.


Charlie Warzel, a New York Times Opinion writer at large, covers technology, media, politics and online extremism. He welcomes your tips and feedback: | @cwarzel


Neil Sheehan Forced an American Reckoning

By Hedrick Smith

Jan. 8, 2021

“It looks like a coup,” Neil Sheehan said. “I’ll call Mordecai. He’ll know whose tanks those are.”

It was Saigon, January 1964. I had just shared with Neil the news that I had seen tanks in the streets, surrounding the home of Gen. Duong Van Minh, then the South Vietnamese leader. It was normal for tanks to be on guard to protect Big Minh, as he was known, but what caught my eye was that the tanks’ guns were pointed at the house, not away from it, menacing Minh instead of protecting him. It struck me that someone might be putting the commander in chief under house arrest.

I had recently replaced David Halberstam as The Times’s correspondent in Vietnam and had inherited the working partnership that David had established with Neil, who was then working for United Press International.

As a one-man U.P.I. bureau competing with three Associated Press rivals, Neil usually had to stay in Saigon covering military briefings and Buddhist monks’ self-immolating in protest against the repressive U.S.-backed Catholic regime in Saigon while David went out to the Mekong Delta to cover the Vietcong raids against government posts. They covered each other’s backs and shared their reporting.

Neil died this week at 84. At 27, he resembled a combat-wise veteran from the world of John le Carré, a Cold War journalist in a battle zone of an undeclared war, exposing the corrupt regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem and the brutality of his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, the head of the secret police, and forever penetrating what Neil had already come to see as the veneer of official lies about supposed Vietnamese Army victories over the Vietcong.

There was nothing Neil loved more than cracking a good story, and he had the means to do it. Neil and David had pieced together a rich network of strategically placed sources, one of whom was a steel-haired C.I.A. agent named Lucien Conein, a major source of theirs on the coup d’état that overthrew the Ngo regime in November 1963.

Conein had lost two fingers during what he had described as “a dangerous secret mission” — according to his Times obituary, it was in fact a botched repair of “a car carrying him and his best friend’s wife to an assignation, so the story had a basis in truth.” With a twist of Irish humor, Neil had nicknamed Conein “Mordecai,” after a Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher known as Mordecai “Three-Fingered” Brown.

We needed Mordecai that morning in Saigon. It was not yet 7 a.m., but Neil and I immediately went off in search of the story. When we stopped by the U.S. Embassy to ask what staff members knew about the tanks at Big Minh’s house, the overnight duty officers dismissed the tank action as some unusual but inconsequential military exercise.

Unconvinced, Neil began reaching out to Vietnamese military officers, young colonels, to identify the units involved. I tried some contacts that David had passed along to me. Eventually, Neil reached Mordecai, who confirmed what the Vietnamese colonels had told Neil: Units from I Corps led by Gen. Nguyen Khanh were staging a coup to overthrow the military junta led by Big Minh.

At Neil’s U.P.I. office, just off Tu Do Street in downtown Saigon, Neil and I banged out our stories on rickety old Olivetti typewriters and raced off to the PTT, the telegraph office, to send our coup reports to U.P.I. in Tokyo and The New York Times in Manhattan. But the telegraph office had just been ordered to shut off communications with the outside world, and the teletypists were finishing some messages begun before the shutdown order came in.

Ever resourceful and never daunted, Neil had arrived armed with half a dozen bottles of Johnnie Walker Scotch, which he had purchased at the U.S. military commissary, and he grandly doled them out to the two supervisors on duty and two teletypists. They quickly went to work on our stories, adding them to the last outgoing messages.

I was astonished that such a relatively small bribe worked such wonders. “Oh, no,” said Neil. “I keep these guys well supplied. They really like Scotch. I come by every week with a few bottles.” Then he said, with a toothy smile, “Good will, you know. Essential in our business.”

We had been very lucky, but Neil was a reporter who made luck work for him by being smart, prepared and very well connected. Our competitors were not so lucky that day. The PTT shut down right after our stories cleared Saigon. Neil’s A.P. rivals were stuck with an earlier, mistaken story that a coup attempt had been blocked, evidently relying on the embassy’s version.

In later years, after The Times had hired Neil, we collaborated on many more stories on the internal wars over Vietnam policy in the Johnson administration. Neil was great to work with because he savored both the camaraderie and the mission. He was doggedly loyal to and open with his friends and partners, and he was fiercely driven to get the story. No matter what the barriers, Neil never gave up.

As a reporter, Neil was unflinchingly honest, restless, daring, skeptical, troubled, relentless, probing. Perhaps because of his Irish roots, he was instinctively drawn to the underdog. He was at his best and happiest being a thorn in the side of the establishment, especially about Vietnam, where he had seen the horrific casualties of war, civilian as well as military, airily brushed off as “collateral damage” by American military and civilian leaders.

Until the Pentagon Papers, our most explosive story was the revelation in March 1968 that the request from Gen. William Westmoreland, the United States commander in Saigon, for 206,000 troops, on top of the more than 500,00 already in the war zone, had set off volcanic opposition within the senior policy ranks of the Johnson administration.

By combining Neil’s reporting in the Pentagon with my reporting at the State Department and the White House national security apparatus, we were able to document the growing dissent within the government with a blockbuster story that hit the Sunday New York Times two days before the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic primary. President Lyndon Johnson suffered a moral defeat in that election and very quickly rejected Westmoreland’s request for more troops, ordered a cutback in American bombing of North Vietnam and ended his campaign for re-election.

In 1971, working on the Pentagon Papers story, when Neil and I were holed up together for three months in a suite of the New York Hilton hotel on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, I saw Neil go into his John le Carré conspiratorial mode — understandable, given the 7,000 pages of “top secret eyes only” documents we were hiding.

Neil had our room registered in the name of Gerald Gold, The Times’s deputy foreign editor. We were afraid that if we used our own names, the F.B.I. would find and arrest us before we could get the Pentagon Papers into print. Neil was sure the F.B.I. was tapping our phone. I was skeptical.

Naïvely, I told Neil that I didn’t think the American government would stoop to tapping the phones of American reporters unless they suspected us of espionage — only to learn two years later that the F.B.I. had tapped my home telephone in 1969 because of President Richard Nixon’s anger over leaks leading to stories I’d reported on Vietnam. And those stories were mere hand grenades compared with the kilotonnage that Neil and I now confronted.

So we took precautions. When we ordered room service, we were always “Mr. Gold.” And that is also how we answered the phone. Neil made sure I followed protocol on that.

By this time, Neil and I had each written many stories about the dissembling, distortions, sham reports and outright lies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations over Vietnam, only to have them knocked down and denied over and over again by government spokesmen. So it was immensely rewarding to see proof in the government’s most highly classified documents that our reporting had been accurate and that our inside sources had been honest and on the mark.

But it was also a shock, a palpable body blow to open up documents day after day after day and see how often, how easily, how callously high government officials, civilian as well as military, had lied to or grievously deceived Congress, the media and the American public, and how, even as reporters wary of governmental deception, we had often understated reality.

With a sense of vindication, his sharp brown eyes bursting in anger and amazement, Neil would almost lunge at me as he charged bitterly: “Rick, these bastards in government have been lying to the American people for years and years and years, lying about a war and policies that they knew weren’t working and that they knew the American people would never stomach if they were told the truth. And now we’ve got the goods on them, in their own words, in their own documents. They can’t deny the truth any longer. The American people have a right to know the truth now. They have paid for this truth with blood and treasure, tens of thousands of lives lost and all that the money wasted when it could have been doing good in our own country.”

It was that powerful passion, that profound moral fervor about the people’s right to know the truth, however ugly, however awful, that marked Neil Sheehan as a unique reporter — and that made him uniquely able and morally empowered to tell the most compelling and important story of the Vietnam era.


Hedrick Smith is a journalist and documentary film producer for PBS. He was a reporter for The New York Times from 1962 to 1988. He was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team, along with Neil Sheehan, that produced the Pentagon Papers series for The Times.


Far-Right Protesters Stormed Germany’s Parliament. What Can America Learn?

By Anna Sauerbrey

Jan. 8, 2021

BERLIN — When the first pictures of rioters mounting the steps to the Capitol started to beam across the world on Wednesday, many Germans felt an unpleasant twinge of familiarity.

On Aug. 29, during a demonstration in Berlin against government restrictions to rein in the spread of the coronavirus, several hundred protesters climbed over fences around the Reichstag, the seat of Germany’s national Parliament, and ran toward the entrance. They were met by a handful of police officers, who pushed the crowd back and secured the entrance.

Things went differently at the American Capitol, of course. Still, even if the German protesters weren’t able to enter the building, the shock was similar: an assault on a democratically elected legislature. Some of the German protesters were far-right activists; several waved the “Reichsflagge,” the black, white and red flag of the German Empire, the colors of which were later adopted by the Nazis.

In the days that followed, Germans asked themselves a series of questions: Was this “a storming of the Reichstag,” evoking dark memories of the building being set on fire in 1933, which led to the suspension of the Weimar Republic’s constitution? Was it a sign that our democracy was under threat? Or was this just a bunch of extremist rioters exploiting a blind spot in the police’s strategy?

In a way, it feels inappropriate to compare what happened in Berlin in August to what happened in Washington on Wednesday. The crowd here was much smaller, it did not enter the building, and luckily, nobody was hurt, much less killed. The goals were different, too. American protesters wanted to overturn an election; Germany’s wanted to overturn a set of policies. And most importantly, while some far-right populist politicians backed the Berlin demonstrations, they did not have the support of the country’s leader.

And yet, the similarities are too big to ignore — and I fear that they indicate the arrival of a new phenomenon that may be found in many other countries, too: the decoupling of protest from the real world.

What connects the protesters on both sides of the Atlantic is a deep distrust in officials and a belief in conspiracy theories. In fact, many in both countries believe in the same conspiracy theories. The QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that President Trump will defend the world from a vast network of Satanists and pedophiles, is shockingly popular with many in Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, as it is with the president’s fiercest partisans at home.

The woman who uttered the decisive call to storm the stairs to Reichstag claimed in her speech that President Trump was in Berlin and that the crowd needed to show that “we are fed up” and would “take over domestic authority here and now” and to “show Donald Trump that we want world peace.” She was referring to QAnon.

The similarity that struck me most, however, was how aimless and lost some of the rioters both in Berlin and Washington appeared to be once they had reached their target. At the Capitol, some trashed offices or sat in chairs that weren’t theirs. In Berlin, too, there was no plan beyond this spontaneous gesture of rage and disobedience. Many just pulled out their smartphones and started filming once they had reached the top of the stairs. Is this their revolution? A bunch of selfies?

It seems like protesters on both sides of the Atlantic long for some sort of control, and want to assert their power over legislative headquarters that they see as representative of their oppression. But all they get in the end is a cheap social media surrogate. Their selfies may resonate in their digital spheres — and eventually spill back into the real world to create more disruption — but their material effect may be pretty limited.

In that case, what can politicians do to deal with these extremists?

So far, many politicians have tried to defang the far-right by placating its voters. Since the rise of the Alternative for Germany party in 2015, the mainstream consensus in Germany has been to stress that these voters should not be viewed as extremists, but as angry people, who can and should be won back. Many of them, particularly people in Eastern Germany where the AfD is much stronger than in the West, are seen angry about real grievances, like deindustrialization, job loss, and all the other cultural and economic traumas of Reunification. In some places, this has worked to peel off right-wing voters and bring them back to the mainstream.

But the remaining fringe has only drifted further away. Right-wing leaders and conspiracy theorists have now redirected the anger at made-up causes largely decoupled from real world grievances: Many on the far-right in Germany believe that Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to create a “corona dictatorship” and that vaccines will be used to alter people’s genes. The American equivalent, of course, is that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump.

This is a problem. Political compromise, and ultimately, reconciliation, starts with recognition. But real-world politics cannot follow those who become believers in their alternate realities. A different strategy is needed.

German policymakers have started to realize this — and it’s only become clearer since the August protests. Germany’s secret service has decided to put sub-organizations of the AfD, which is increasingly radical, “under observation,” an administrative step that allows for the collection of personal data and the recruitment of informants within the party. Organizers of the coronavirus protest in August are becoming a focus, too. The minister of the interior banned several right-wing extremist associations in 2020.

Of course, attempts to win voters back, to wrestle them from the grip of the cult, must never stop. But there are no policies and no recognition politics we could offer people who adhere to a cult. Instead, to protect our democracies, we must watch them, contain them, and take away their guns.


Anna Sauerbrey, a contributing Opinion writer, is an editor and writer at the German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.


As The US Descends Into Chaos, What Better Time For Britain To Go The Same Way?

By Marina Hyde

8 Jan 2021

Judging by his preposterous video calling for healing on Thursday night, Donald Trump is tipping both the scales and the effort marks at “late-era Brando”. Apparently reading off cue cards held up by one of the last bunker-buddies yet to resign, the president somehow contrived to make his lines sound both quarter-arsedly phoned-in and bowel-voidingly terrified.

No one should trust a single word he says, naturally, but there was a distinct ring of truth in the quote of one current presidential adviser, who told a New York magazine reporter that Trump was irritated by the scenes at the Capitol simply because they looked “low-class”. As the adviser explained: “He doesn’t like low-class things.” Well, quite. All populists loathe their people, and Trump’s lifetime distaste for exactly those who voted for him and supported him to this most bitter of ends – if it even is the end – is one of his era’s most sledgehammer ironies.

And so it was that the most diehard members of his base were waking up to discover that, for Trump, it was just a one-coup stand. On Wednesday night he told them he loved them; by Thursday he was promising to jail them – probably using the draconian monument executive order he’d brought in to delight them during the Black Lives Matter statue topplings. Life comes at you fast, I’m told.

Quite how well they’ll take the betrayal is as yet unclear. We’re already talking about people whose idea of freedom is so warped that they seem genuinely affronted by the idea they aren’t actually free to stage a coup in a democracy. One guy on Wednesday posted a picture of his son standing inside the Capitol on a statue plinth with the words: “That’s my son!” By Thursday, he was inquiring: “Why are the FBI contacting me?” I was mesmerised by one clip of a Maga insurrectionist who explained, “This is a revolution!” but was positively outraged and appalled that she had been teargassed. America’s service culture runs deep.

And so to the founding fathers of this level of mass delusion. It was nice to hear from Mark Zuckerberg, who grandly announced he’d blocked Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. This is not so much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted as doping the horse, whipping it into a frenzy, encouraging it to bolt, fostering a world in which humans are subjugated by horses, monetising every snort and whinny, allowing the very existence of “humans” and “horses” to become just one of a bunch of competing opinions, and then – only when that one particular horse has outlived its usefulness and seems destined for the glue factory – gently closing the stable door with a self-satisfied little “click”. That said, I very much enjoyed the photos of Zuckerberg’s wife enjoying a carefree surf in Hawaii, presumably taken as a man claiming to be prepared for a violent death was surfing on Nancy Pelosi’s desk.

Yet to break his silence is Rupert Murdoch, holed up in Oxfordshire and already safely vaccinated, even as his highest-profile Fox news anchor, Tucker Carlson, pushes anti-vax propaganda. But there would never have been a Trump presidency without Fox News, with the channel spending years before his election pushing his birtherism, boomer-bait and belief that the news is really just another TV show whose ratings were his primary obsession. Doubling down on all its worst instincts from the moment Barack Obama was elected, Fox News terrified and radicalised with wild disinformation, creating a post-fact black hole so powerful that even previously mild-mannered rivals got sucked into it.

And here we are. The import of events in Washington this week is many things, but one of those is a cautionary tale about what happens when “news” is entirely unmoored from facts. Hopping between the channels as the drama unfolded, I was struck by how much there is still to treasure in UK TV news. Robert Moore’s truly masterful reporting for ITV from right inside the Capitol was miles better than anything I saw on the US channels, where even CNN seemed locked into the punditry format at the height of the action.

And yet … imagine being the country that is RIGHT NOW deciding to get in on the bonkers newsotainment game. Imagine being the country that has watched the last four years unfold in the US, with its bloodlines so easily traceable to the Fox sensibility, and is nonetheless thinking: let’s have a bit of that. Because that’s us, of course. In the coming months, not one but two anti-impartiality news channels will launch in the UK – GB News, backed by Discovery, and News UK, courtesy of that aforementioned adornment to international life, Rupert Murdoch.

You couldn’t move for commentators explaining after the phone-hacking scandal that Murdoch’s spell was broken. In fact, as numerous events have since proved, Rupert Murdoch’s spell is not remotely broken. He is spello intacto. Shortly after Trump was elected, Murdoch protege Michael Gove was flown to New York to perform an adoring colonoscopy on him – “interview”, as he had it. Gove seemingly described every detail of his visit to Trump’s office, right down to who rode in the lift with him – but never thought to mention that Murdoch sat in on the whole thing according to the Financial Times. The public doesn’t like to see how the trick is done, perhaps.

The Trump presidency was arguably the logical result of the type of hyper-partisan disinformation first fostered by Fox News, and the grotesque events of Wednesday were the logical result of a Trump presidency. I wouldn’t be so wishful as to call it the logical end, given that strong rumours persist of a Tucker Carlson presidential run sooner or later. There is always another chapter. As for our next chapter, there will be those wondering after the era-defining events in Washington this week if this is quite the moment for the UK to start chasing this particular Fox. Then again, what’s the worst that could happen?


Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist


Senior Republicans Should Recoil In Horror At Trump. But Too Many Still Fear Him

By Jonathan Freedland

 8 Jan 2021

Surely this would be the moment. Surely the sight of a horde storming the US Capitol, smashing windows and breaking down doors, determined to use brute, mob strength to overturn a free and fair election, surely that would mark the red line. After five years dismissing those who warned that Donald Trump posed a clear and present danger to US democracy, branding them hysterics suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, surely this moment – when they saw the citadel of that democracy overrun by men clothed in the slogans of neo-Nazism (Six Million Wasn’t Enough, read one), waving the Confederate flag of slavery, racism and treason and carrying zip ties, apparently to bind the wrists and ankles of any hostages – would, at long last, make Republicans recoil from the man who had led them to this horror.

After all, the link between Trump and the sacking of the halls of Congress was direct and unhidden. Short of carrying the battering ram himself, he could hardly have done more to lead the mob. “Let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he told the “Save America” rally that preceded the attack, guiding them towards the House and Senate as lawmakers prepared to certify Joe Biden’s election victory. No need to bother with the “strong ones”, he said, referring to those Republicans who were already on side. The crowd was directed to focus instead on “the weak ones”: “We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” The thousands who had gathered, who revere Trump and call him Daddy, did not need to be told twice.

Hours into the attempted – and planned – insurrection, Trump again made plain the bonds that connect him to the men of havoc. “We love you,” he told them in a video message, gently suggesting they go home. “You’re very special.” None of that is a surprise. They were only there for him, summoned to Washington by Trump’s big lie that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen through fraud – that they had been robbed of their champion by a wicked conspiracy that took in everyone from the Chinese Communist party to his own vice-president.

The back of the Republican camel has proved remarkably durable in the Trump era, but surely the president’s role in inciting an attempted putsch would be the straw to finally break it. There are some signs of that, as several star enablers of the Trump era apparently discover their consciences at two minutes to midnight. There have been a couple of cabinet resignations, along with the departure of some White House staff. Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, condemned Trump’s orchestration of the mob as “a betrayal of his office and supporters”. Senator Lindsey Graham declared, “Enough is enough.”

Mike Pence refused to indulge Trump’s delusion that as the ceremonial opener of the envelopes containing the 2020 results, Pence could overturn them. The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, stood against the effort of several colleagues to challenge those results and seven of them abandoned that effort once the rioters were cleared off the premises. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a longtime Trump cheerleader, now urges the president to resign or be removed from office.

If this were a genuine shift by the bulk of the Republican party, it would be welcome – even if it would be several days late and many dollars short. It would attract deserved mockery for the absurdity of claiming to be shocked by Trump’s true nature now, less than a fortnight before the expiry of his term. How laughable to desert Trump for lighting the match this week, when you stood by and applauded as he built up the bonfire and drenched it in gasoline every day since the November election and for the previous four years.

Elaine Chao resigned as commerce secretary, saying she was “deeply troubled” by Wednesday’s events. Yet she was perfectly happy to stand at Trump’s side – literally – as he praised the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 as “very fine people”.

Pence did not speak out when, less than a week ago, a tape recording showed his boss putting the squeeze, Sopranos-style, on Georgia election officials, urging them to “find” the votes that would thwart the democratic will of that state’s citizens and anoint Trump the winner, rather than Biden.

Above all, Pence, McConnell and the rest kept their mouths shut as Trump spun his big lie that the election had been stolen – the lie that would poison the minds of his followers so deeply, they eventually sought to seize America’s representative bodies by force.

This would be the deserved response if Republicans were now collectively recoiling at the monster they had created, and on whose back they have been happy to ride until today. But there has been no such collective recoil, still less a deep reckoning with, or even recognition of, the fact that Republicanism has allowed the toxic far right to enter its bloodstream.

Note that eight Republican senators and 139 members of the House of Representatives still voted to reject the outcome of the November election, even after the storming of Congress. McConnell may have taken a stand, but his counterpart in the House remains loyal to Trump. Pence seems uninterested in leading a cabinet revolt that would remove Trump under the 25th amendment of the constitution, and there’s little sign he’d have the votes around that table of nodding dogs anyway. The White House resignations that have come thus far have not carried much heft: they include the social secretary and the chief of staff to the first lady. Only a single Republican in the House has called for Trump’s removal.

Why such inaction in the face of indisputable evidence that Trump poses a danger every hour he remains in the Oval Office? One YouGov poll provides a clue. Asked whether they support the assault on the Capitol, most Americans say a firm no. But among Republicans, more support the rioters than oppose them, 45% to 43%. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given that less than half of all Republicans believe Biden won the election.

Ambitious Republicans – those such as Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, eyeing 2024 – are aware of that constituency and they are frightened of it. For four years they have not dared offend it. And now the Republican party faces a choice, one that does not disappear with Trump’s scripted hostage video promising to behave nicely – doubtless prompted by fear of removal or of future legal action for incitement – but still refusing to admit he lost. Nor will it recede when Trump finally leaves on 20 January, especially if his most devoted supporters make good on their threat of more violence on, or ahead of, inauguration day.

That choice is stark. Do Republicans continue to take the path laid by Trump, the path of lies and contempt for democracy? Or do they declare that, much as they hate Democrats, they are, in the end, democrats. In a two-party system such as America’s, it’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of the republic depends on their answer.


Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist


We Should Have Been Ready For It, Yet The Spectacle At The Capitol Came As A Shock

By Emma Brockes

8 Jan 2021

“Are you watching this?” I was crossing the road, five minutes late to pick up the kids, and after reading the text, paused to scroll. Whoa. Instantly, I texted someone else. “Is your TV on?” “No.” “Turn it on.” After pick-up, we ran to a doctor’s appointment, where the receptionist had the TV on behind the desk. “This is insane,” he murmured, as someone in the waiting room read a news report aloud to his teenage daughter. When we got home, a few neighbours had come out of their apartments to mill, masked, in the hallway. “The numbers of people who support this look low, but it doesn’t have to be a majority,” said one, darkly.

The absorption into daily life of disastrous events is one the world has grown used to over the last 12 months, which isn’t to say each new disaster isn’t shocking. This is particularly true in America, where no matter how many times one is reminded that millions of Americans hold opinions that seem, to millions of others, actively insane, their public expression never gets less astounding. When the Trump-supporting mob stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, the most flabbergasting thing was less that it was happening, than that after four years of dire predictions, our imaginations had still failed to prepare us.

This was, partly, a selectivity of memory. “It can’t happen here” is a phrase that, even as it was used in conjunction with darker warnings about Trump, betrayed a bedrock faith in American democracy that overlooks its savage foundations. The white supremacist project, still going strong as an overt tenet of even liberal government policy well into the 20th century – black Americans were largely cut out of the New Deal – should at least have raised as a possibility a white mob storming the government at the behest of a racist president. The fact that they looked, in their costumes and homemade gas masks, so utterly ridiculous wasn’t even out of keeping with precedent: that end of the extra-political spectrum has always gone in for fancy dress and flaming theatrics.

From a processing point of view, what was stranger, on Wednesday, was that an event with the force of a foregone conclusion still broke a fundamental rule of superstition: that by anticipating the worst, we invite the universe to pleasantly surprise us. The word “coup” has been used in relation to Trump plenty of times since November. Prior to the president’s incitement of the mob, however, it was, even in sincere contexts, used if not as hyperbole, then at least with the expectation that by naming it we lessened the likelihood it would happen. You could take Trump seriously as a threat to national security, believe wholly in his efforts to corrupt the election and still not get fully behind the notion he would encourage a power grab – not just because he is lazy, chaotic and a fool, but because, as an extremely broad principle, nothing ever tends to unfold as predicted.

The day still had to be lived through. As with 9/11 and the beginning of the pandemic, the unreality of Wednesday’s events butted up against quotidian matters to make them seem even more bizarre. It is a function of human resilience that no matter what happens, you still, as Sylvia Plath put it in The Bell Jar, have to “eat three meals a day and have a job and live in the world”. Many of us ditched the job part of that observation and spent the afternoon trying to dispatch our chores while flipping incredulously between news channels; nonetheless life went on. People from other countries texted. I tried to explain what was going on to my children and didn’t get much further than, “You know how Donald Trump’s a terrible person?”

Once again, the goalposts shifted. With each breach of moral standards, Trump has widened the range of public behaviour that can still be absorbed. His supporters smashed windows and graffitied doors and trashed congressional offices, but they were not an armed militia, which, I caught myself thinking, before turning to analyse the thought in amazement, was something to be grateful for. It could have been worse, as those streaming out of the Capitol building shouted to reporters it would be the next time.

In the hallway outside my apartment, my neighbours and I went over how crazy it was, how we couldn’t believe it, what it all meant and where it would go. “It’s Germany 1933,” said one. And whether or not this was true, we all nodded in agreement, then went back inside our homes to make dinner.


Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist


A Return to Civility Will Not Begin To Quell The Threat Of Fascism In The US

By Richard Seymour

8 Jan 2021

What was this desperado putsch supposed to achieve? The mob of face-painted LARPers, QAnon conspiracists, militiamen, neo-Nazis, Christian supremacists and endtimes preppers who invaded the Capitol building in Washington DC were never going to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

And yet they are far from a few isolated cranks. This crowd, whose actions are supported by 45% of Republican voters, had been called to the capital by Donald Trump. Their “protest” had been incited from the podium by both Trump and Rudi Giuliani, ramming home their betrayal myth that the election was stolen. Trump’s campaign to reverse the election results and subvert constitutional law, backed by several elected Republican officials, has repeatedly inspired violence. Trump has repeatedly backed the militias, from his bellowing approval of their anti-lockdown stunts to his support for vigilante violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, to his call for militia action on election day.

While Trump had been kept under control by the Republican establishment for most of his tenure, the last year – since the lockdown protests began – saw a process of radicalisation of the armed base, the administration and its white suburban supporters. The further the extra-parliamentary right went, the more violent it became, the further Trump went. Any violent exhortation was justified by a hallucinatory anti-communism. What’s more, there has emerged a set of tacit alliances between law enforcement and armed vigilantes, as seen in the Black Lives Matter protests.

Reporting and inquiries will shed light on what happened in the coming weeks, but serious questions need to be asked about how an armed mob was able to “storm” the Capitol building in the first place, wandering corridors to take selfies with cops, exploring computer screens left unmanned by hastily-evacuated staff and hunting for elected officials to confront. It stretches credulity to think they could have taken over the debating chamber, even after what appears to have been a tense armed standoff, without some kind of orchestrated or de facto acquiescence. Their braying triumphalism after they were evicted, claiming victory, glossed over both this and the extraordinarily delayed arrival of the National Guard.

This is all indicative of an incipient fascism, laying the cultural and political groundwork for a violent, extra-parliamentary mass movement of the right. It is a mistake to assume that fascism must take the form of dictatorship. Far-right movements today are shaped by the same factors: the decomposition of parliamentary legitimacy and their inherited organisational weaknesses. In that context, wielding the power of office is a pedagogical, formative experience. It allows movements with thin civic roots to project influence at a national level and try things out.

Fascism does not arrive on the scene with full uniform and programme. The Jewish socialist Arthur Rosenberg traced the origins of fascism as a mass movement to the period before the first world war, when millions were already infected by volkisch, racial-nationalist ideology, and by contempt for democratic government. It consolidates through experimentation, learning the ropes through episodes that, at first, appear amateurish and thuggish, from the beer hall (Munich) putsch to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. First as farce, then as tragedy.

There has been, for some time, accumulating data suggestive of a political rupture on the right. The growing number of people, particularly among the rich, who favour some form of authoritarian government, is one sign. The string of popularly elected, and often re-elected, rightist governments militantly challenging liberal legal norms and institutions is another. The rise of lone-wolf murderers and conspiracist vigilantes is yet another. And there is the proliferation of militias and paramilitaries, often with close relationships to police and the military rank and file. As the contemporary historian Kathleen Belew’s work has demonstrated, many white-power and fascist currents were forged in the furnace of war.

In the United States, the rupture has been building since before the Tea Party movement. During the 2008 election, paranoid racists brought guns and nooses to town hall meetings and called Obama a Muslim, the birth of the “birther” myth. It points to either a split in the Republican party or its complete capture by middle-class enragés. This is a grievous problem for ruthless GOP establishment operators such as Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, who spent years defending the Trump administration, using him to consolidate their electoral base, strengthen a minoritarian grip on government and take over the courts. Their traditional allies, including the National Association of Manufacturers, are not prepared to countenance a party this out of control – but they can’t simply throw away half of the Republican vote.

And this is their problem. Trumpism is not an aberration, but a mass phenomenon. Trump greatly expanded his base between 2016 and 2020, adding more than 10 million votes to its total. He expanded into places and demographic constituencies thought to be closed to him. No other Republican presidential candidate could have done this. And it was achieved precisely through the same means that led to the spectacle in the Capitol. To hope that Joe Biden can defuse this by restoring civility and bipartisanship to Washington would be unforgivably complacent. The United States, and not just the United States, urgently needs an anti-fascist movement. We have not begun to see the end of this.


Richard Seymour is a political activist and author; his latest book is The Twittering Machine



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