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Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Have you been following the tortuous twists and turns surrounding the brutal torture, killing and apparent dismemberment of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2? Can you make sense of all the claims and counterclaims? Do you know who ‘did’ the deed? If you answer yes to all these questions, please step to the head of the class.

Here is what we do know. Mr. Khashoggi visited the consulate to get some paperwork done for his upcoming marriage to Hatice Cengiz, who waited for her beloved outside. He never exited. The Saudis claimed, in chronological order that he a) left the consulate (somehow avoiding his fiancee), b) they do not know where he is, c) he was killed following a fight at the consulate, d) ‘rogue elements’ were behind the killing and e) no one senior back in Riyadh knew about or ordered the assassination. Well, it turns out that a), b), probably c), d) and now e) are all falsehoods.

The Washington Post reported that the CIA on Friday had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter. This is important as intelligence agencies do not normally issue such statements publicly, as this can expose sources and/or methods and that is a no-no in the intelligence world. We can debate for ever why they did this – are there ‘rogue elements’ in the CIA? – but in the end it is significant and is one more confirmation of what many have been saying for weeks anyway, i.e. that the orders to kill Mr. Khashoggi came from the very top. For its part, the European Union has asked the Saudis to ‘shed clarity’ on what happened.

So that’s that then, right? Case closed. Not so fast.  The Saudis shockingly (not) have denied the CIA assessment and President Trump has equally shockingly (not)said he has not made his mind up yet, since he was personally told by his Saudi cronies that MBS was not involved, preferring to wait a few days for his administration to issue a ‘full report’.  Saudi-friendly media have also written that the US has yet to reach a ‘final conclusion’.

What to make of all this? Well, for one the continued Saudi denials and obfuscations can safely be ignored. The Kingdom has tied itself into so many knots through its repeated lies that no sane person would give what it says now any credence. Starburst is the most popular Online Slot in the Online CAsino World ever. Play Starburst to enjoy these amazing rewards. With the fast gameplay presented in both mobile and desktop devices, this slot is an amazing game that one should definitely try out. Saudi Arabia may still be seen as an important international player thanks to oil, but on this issue it must be seen as an unreliable partner.

Now on to Trump. That he has not embraced the CIA report is of course a surprise to no one. He openly mocked the FBI reporting on Russian collusion in the 2016 elections and that too is not unexpected. This most unpresidential of presidents cannot get past his own interests and ego and does not accept any criticism over anything he does. He has invested a lot in Saudi Arabia – and especially MBS – having made the Kingdom his first foreign visit after becoming president (can anyone forget that truly bizarre photo of him and the Saudi King putting their hands on that metal globe??) and cannot seem to let go or admit any error of any kind. That his son-in-law Jared Kushner is also beholden to the Saudis is not helping as The Donald seems to have made an amateur his front man on Middle East issues.

Whether or not Saudi Arabia, and more importantly MBS, are ever truly taken to task over the death of Mr. Khashoggi remains to be seen. The Kingdom is, after all, a very influential player and has been playing the US in particular for decades. For the rest of us who are not smitten with the desert princes there are very real and very crucial questions on whether Saudi Arabia should be seen as an ally on any number of fronts (‘war on terror’, what to do about Iran, etc.). The truth is that the Saudis are not, and never have been, a reliable friend and we need to see beyond the purely surface ‘reforms’ that MBS has graciously introduced (allowing women to drive, cracking down on some clerics etc.).

No, the Saudis are not the friend of the West or of anyone else for that matter. They hew to their own agenda and interests. In addition, their hateful version of Islam is the key to understanding much of modern Islamist extremism, even if they too have been hit with attacks (poetic justice?).

It is time to call the Saudis what they are: pick your own phrase as long as it does not imply they are on our side.

Phil Gurski is Director, Security and Intelligence at TheSecDev Group. He served for over 30 years as a strategic intelligence analyst specialising in radicalization, and homegrown Islamist extremism with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment(CSE), Public Safety Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). He is a member of New Canadian Media.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 07 November 2016 11:47

In Praise of Donald Trump

Commentary by Darren Thorne in Toronto

On the eve of the U.S. Presidential election, and with apologies to the Bard for the inversion, I come not to bury Donald Trump, but rather to praise him.

Of course, at this point, those appalled by the unremitting ugliness of his rise in American politics can afford to be magnanimous, as Trump himself has buried his campaign more effectively than anyone else could have dreamed of. 

While he will never lose the backing of his most diehard supporters, it has become clear that his latest scandals – the devastating combination of videotaped assertions of sexual braggadocio which appear to betray a predilection for, well, sexual assault, and then a deluge of women coming forward shortly thereafter to accuse him of exactly that crime – ended any hope of Trump drawing enough additional support to make him truly competitive in the election. 

The truth is, despite the last minute recurrence of the Clinton email issue, the 2016 presidential race has effectively been over for weeks. Judging by the extended temper tantrum Trump has been throwing with his deranged, whining claim that the election is somehow “rigged”, on some level he already knows it.

So what words of praise could one possibly have in relation to Donald Trump’s foray into U.S. politics?

Rejection of facts

He is, after all, responsible for coarsening the political, and likely societal, culture of America in unprecedented ways.  His campaign seemingly thrived off of normalizing almost any type of bigotry one could name, be it overt racism against Hispanics or blacks, Islamophobia, xenophobia or just good old-fashioned misogyny.

It took the rejection of facts and the shameless telling of untruths, if not bold-faced lies, to entirely new levels – which is saying something, given that we are talking about the realm of politics.  In debates and in the media, Trump insulted and denigrated his rivals so viciously that one almost had to admire his talent for doing so.

Most damagingly for the American body politic, at every step of the way Trump encouraged his supporters to de-legitimize and turn on anyone who thought differently than they did. And finally now, thanks to his preposterous claims that the election is “rigged”, his rhetoric threatens to undermine public faith in the political system itself and may be sowing the seeds for post-election violence. 

As an aside, I’ll note that, generally, when the person on the train next to you starts ranting about how a shadowy cabal of bankers, media, politicians and their inner city minions are secretly conspiring to ruin society, that tends to be the point at which most of us stop making eye contact.

Racism and sexism still alive

But, despite all of this, Trump has unwittingly done America a service, in two ways.  First, he has revealed the true depth of division and intolerance which apparently simmers just below the surface of American society. The success of his campaign has put the lie to the claim that racism and sexism are spent forces in North America, as at this point it seems clear that his campaign has not thrived in spite of his bigotry, but rather because of it.

Second, though Trump’s campaign exposed these societal fault lines, America should be grateful that the candidate’s personal flaws ultimately prevented him from exploiting these skillfully enough to succeed at the ballot box.  

Trump is certain to lose this election, but only because his pettiness, inability to control himself and loathsome, narcissistic boorishness has meant that he has been unable to fully harness the societal divisions he has stoked and thus ride them to electoral success. 

Still, if nothing else, Trump’s success should serve as a wake-up call. The danger is that this is something a more disciplined, genial candidate with the same sensibilities might well have been able to do. Trump has manifestly exposed this danger, and made clear the racial and economic fault lines that America’s leaders, of both parties, must address, if they do not want to eventually see an even more dangerous sequel to this fiasco.

This is for the good, but it is less clear where America goes from here. The sad truth is that the country is likely to exit from this election even more divided than before. Trump’s rise has also made it abundantly clear how helpless even well-meaning and principled Republicans are in preventing their party from succumbing to its basest instincts. 

So it will be a hard road forward, healing these rifts. But thanks to Donald Trump, no one can now underestimate how vital the need is to do so.

For that, ironically, America owes him a debt of gratitude.  Now let’s hope that after November 8th, none of us have to see or hear from him ever again.

Darren Thorne (B.A., LL.B, LL.M) is an international lawyer and adjunct law professor, specialized in international affairs, development and constitutional and international human rights law. He was previously counsel to Ontario's Deputy Attorney General and has an extensive history of international legal and project work throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

Published in Commentary

WASHINGTON—A Canadian politician offered a positive view of the country’s experiences with Syrian refugees during a July 11 briefing session south of the border, where the current political climate is far less welcoming of migrants.

Arif Virani shared some observations about Canada’s experience during a briefing session on Capitol Hill attended by a number of U.S. congressional staffers and moderated by the Washington bureau chief of The Economist magazine.

 

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Washington, D.C.: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday announced that he and U.S. President Barack Obama  had “committed to make our borders more open and more secure, and we agreed in principle to expand preclearance to Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, as well as rail service in […]

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Published in Politics

By Surekha Vijh

WASHINGTON: The Indian embassy here hosted a reception on April 18 to celebrate Vaisakhi, the festival symbolizes the harvest season, and thanks for a bountiful harvest.

Over

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By PV staff.
Two peaceful demonstrations took place Saturday in front of the White House in Washington DC. They consisted of Sierra Leoneans in support of and against the dismissal of former Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana.
According to one observer, demonstrations like these, if held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, would have resulted in extreme violence and loss of property, possibly loss of lives too, because criminals would have joined the demonstrators (the real demonstrators could not (...)

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Published in International
Monday, 02 March 2015 04:52

Obama Meets with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Editor's note: The following is a transcript provided by the White House of remarks made by President Barack Obama and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia during a recent visit of the latter to Washington. A video clip of the event follows the remarks of the two leaders.
It's a great pleasure to welcome once again the President of Liberia, President Sirleaf. She has been a great friend and ally of the United States. And Liberia and the United States obviously have an (...)

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A Sanatan Dharam temple was vandalised in Washington state with windows broken and the word “Fear” painted on it, less than a fortnight after another temple was attacked, reports IANS. Members of the the Sanatan Dharma Temple in Kent, about 30 km from Seattle, who came for worship Friday “were greeted by shards of broken […]

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Published in International
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 11:31

After the splash in the US, the hard part

by Raj Chengappa 

Washington DC has the reputation of being one heck of a tough town. With heads of state visiting it frequently, America’s capital is not easily impressed. While Narendra Modi on his maiden visit as Prime Minister made a big splash, the badshahs of the Beltway — the host of think tanks that shape opinion in its power circles — are not as euphoric as some in India are.

Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institute told me he thought that Modi’s visit had more "sizzle than steak". He added: "I give his visit a B+. There were no disasters, no big breakthroughs, but the ground for further discussion and action has been prepared." Cohen does reflect the views of a sizeable section of opinion shapers who had almost written off India before the Modi visit. Many US policy wonks were disillusioned with India’s inability to deliver on its promises. One example: India had yet to fulfil its part of the 2008 Indo-US nuclear deal to enable American companies to set up power reactors.

To Modi’s credit, at the end of his US visit he had turned the situation around and "brought India back in the game," as Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put it. Tellis thinks the visit had "big achievements but also big incompletes". To him Modi reached out effectively to the diaspora and his Madison Square Garden rally, which 30 US Congressmen attended, showed that he had built the Indian American card into a major force of political support.

The American business community has begun to believe in the India story again.

Despite these successes, there were many things that remained incomplete. American business is aware that for any successful transaction with India many limitations remain. While Modi is expected to keep his word and speed up the cumbersome process of clearances, US corporates are not confident he would be able to address issues such as land acquisition and infrastructure like power shortages quickly enough. Modi was able to convince another major player, American business, to revise its poor opinion about the new government, particularly after its incremental first budget, and also India’s blocking of the Trade Facilitation Agreement at the WTO recently. Tellis believes Modi’s other major achievement was that he was able to build a personal connect with the US President, best symbolised by the fact that they not only had an extended bilateral meeting but also Barack Obama broke protocol and personally took him around the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Guarded optimism

Many like Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre believe that Modi has a limited world view. They find it hard to swallow that India kept mum when Russia flexed its muscles against Ukraine and occupied its territory. And that India did nothing beyond expressing support for America’s renewed war on terror against the ISIS despite dangers to its own security. Krepon says, "There is guarded optimism, even skepticism, about the outcome of the Modi visit. There is a wait-and-see attitude as to how much can he translate what all he promised into reality."

To his credit Modi was able to turn around the relationship from one of despair and frustration to that of optimism and hope. Known to be a problem solver and doer, Modi is unlikely to allow the relationship to drift again and will push for rapid implementation of the summit outcomes. A first sign was that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval stayed back to engage in intensive discussions with his counterpart Susan Rice and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel.

"[...] Modi has already demonstrated his ability for decisive action and is expected to bring about the big changes needed to put the relationship back on track.

From an Indian standpoint, a major achievement of the visit was the announcement that India and the US would begin "joint and concerted" efforts to dismantle safe havens for terrorists and criminal networks and disrupt all financial and technical support for them, naming the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Dawood Ibrahim, Haqqani and Al-Qaida for specific action. In doing so, Modi achieved India’s primary goal of harnessing the US support to tackle Pakistan’s cross-border terror networks as a whole and not selectively.

Turning over a new leaf

The American business community has begun to believe in the India story again. On key American concerns like the nuclear liability issue the joint Indo-US interagency group has been set up to work out a viable solution and speed up the purchase of American nuclear power reactors. On defence, the extension of the framework agreement by 10 years and the proposal to identify technologies that India could co-develop and co-produce with the US will give it the much needed impetus.

Contentious issues like India’s approach to WTO and intellectual property rights remain but at least both sides are talking to understand each other’s point of view and work out a solution. Stung by the skepticism among US circles, an Indian official argued, "If people think of the Indian Prime Minister as one who would bring about incremental change they are on the wrong side of history. Modi has already demonstrated his ability for decisive action and is expected to bring about the big changes needed to put the relationship back on track." Now comes the hard part of delivering.

Raj Chengappa is the current Editor-in-Chief at The Tribune India and was the former Managing Editor at India Today. He has written and anchored over 150 path-breaking cover stories for India Today on a range of subjects, including foreign affairs, security, politics, defence, and many more.

This post was original published in The Tribune India and has been re-published with permission. 

Published in India

By Surekha Vijh

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Modi hasn’t eaten in five days. Americans are baffled, yet he is going from one high profile appointment to another, all critical in subject and

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Published in India
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