Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Trump Spring

The third Republican primary has come and gone, and Donald ‘no Muslims’ Trump has booked another victory. South Carolina proved yet again that his supporters will in fact turn out to vote, giving him 33% of the vote, followed by 22.5% for Marco Rubio and 22.3% for Ted Cruz. Meanwhile in Nevada, Hilary Clinton eked out another disappointingly small victory against Bernie Sanders. So with three real candidates left on the Republican side to the Democrats’ two, what are some concrete ways this bizarre election could go? Continue reading

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4 reasons ruling a country is really hard

Over the last weekend I participated in the 62nd Harvard National Model United Nations, as the culmination of the United Netherlands course I’ve taken this last semester. While others from my delegation participated in simulations of UN debate, I took a slightly odder role – that of Minister of Health in the Cabinet of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, 1978. The simulation covered the two years between the communist coup in April ’78 and the Russian invasion in ’79, and was essentially a kind of war game. My fellow communist cabinet members and I took actions on social reform and security, and then received updates from the Harvard staff on the new situation based on what we’d done. While the simulation ended with us all dying in a Soviet invasion, it was a useful reminder of just how tricky it is to run a country. Continue reading

Russia jet downed in Syria – 3 scenarios

This morning the worst fears of many came true – a Russian fighter jet was shot down by NATO forces at the Syrian border. What exactly happened to the jet is not entirely clear. According to Turkey, it was shot down by their fighters in Turkish airspace after being warned numerous times. According to Russia, it was shot down 4km inside Syrian territory. Most indications are, however, that the Russian jet was inside Turkish territory for a very short time, and was leaving when shot down.

While the pilots managed to bail out, they apparently landed within rebel territory in Syria, and one rebel group has posted footage allegedly showing that one of the pilots was dead when he hit the ground. President Putin has already responded, calling it “a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists”, and saying there will be serious consequences for the relationship with Turkey. So what will happen next? Here are a few scenarios: Continue reading

Terror in Paris – two responses

Over the last few days it’s been hard not to think about Paris. I heard about the attacks in Oxford, in the evening after a gala hosted by the Oxford Model United Nations conference. When the news came through that over a hundred were dead and that Paris was in lockdown, the joy slipped out of the room. As removed from the events as we were, we were horrified, lacking words for a response. That’s still the way I feel now about the actual shootings. Just like after the Peshawar school shooting, it’s impossible to understand the sheer hatred, the cult-like dedication, that can bring someone to execute 19 people at a café, or 89 people enjoying a concert. It’s so far removed from war, from politics, from a cause, that you just can’t get a grip on it, on the violence of the act.

1920px-national_gallery_london_in_french_flag_colours_after_paris_attack_282303161768129In the aftermath as well, it feels like this time is different. There’s still the expressions of solidarity and of “we are not afraid”, but they seem a little empty. This could have been absolutely any one of us. People across Europe are scared, and it’s hard to just say “that’s what the terrorists want”. Well, this time they’ve succeeded.

The reaction in France this time is not one of peaceful marches, but one of war. Hollande has declared war on Islamic State – whatever that may mean – and it is looking like it will actually make a difference to their policy. This, together with the recent bombing of the Russian Metrojet in the Sinai, may finally line up the West and Russia on the same page. Assad can wait – Islamic State must be destroyed.

And while I still fully stand behind the idea that only tolerance and inclusion can defeat the ideology of terror, the response to IS itself must be one of full on confrontation. There can be no doubt that they pose a significant and direct threat to not only the Middle East (which has been obvious for years), but to the West and to Russia. When 129 people are massacred in a European capital in the name of a self-proclaimed state, mere calls for tolerance will not suffice.

At the same time though, continuing respect for and inclusion of Muslims is incredibly important, both practically and morally. They have absolutely nothing to do with this, and any response must not be aimed at them. It is too easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in anti-Muslim sentiment, and we must make the right distinction between Muslims and the group which perverts and twists their faith. It is an organization despised by almost everyone, with nothing to offer the world but hate. Again, for them, there can be no tolerance.

Destroying Islamic State by no means easy, as I’ve pointed out many times on this blog. But the events in Paris make painfully clear how quickly the cost of letting the Syrian Civil War run on can spread across the world. There are few good answers to the situation in Iraq and Syria, but the West must truly engage in helping to bring peace to these states, not just bombing them, no matter how complex this will be. If the killings in Paris can help eventually bring an end to one of the worst wars of the 21st century, maybe some good can come out of this evil.

I might significantly revise my opinion on some of this in the coming days and weeks, but this is what I’m thinking now. Besides, it’s always useful to get ideas out of my head and on to paper.

Why Is Donetsk Airport So Important?

Great explanation of why the fall of Donetsk Airport is such a blow to the Ukrainian war effort. Together with the shelling of a trolley bus, it’s a hard day for Donetsk.

In Moscow's Shadows

Still image taken from handout aerial footage shot by drone shows outline o airplane in the snow at the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport damaged by shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces, in Donetsk Not looking its best

As of writing, after having almost lost Donetsk’s poor, battered airport to rebel forces, the Ukrainian army seems to have launched a counter-attack which has at least stabilised the situation, and may even mean they will take it back in its entirety. This is ‘proper’ war in all its boy’s own pyrotechnics, with armour, artillery and close-quarters fighting, and has left the recently-rebuilt and once-glittering airport a blasted ruin. So why is it so important?

1. Symbolism.Kiev’s forces have, to be charitable, a mixed record in fighting this conflict. Regardless of the scale of Russian assistance to the rebels–sometimes in the form of direct intervention, largely through men and materiel–the government forces have often seemed badly-prepared, unable to follow through local successes and, frankly, badly commanded. The “cyborgs” defending the beleaguered airport for so long, despite near-constant threat of snipers, artillery and outright assault…

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From Syrians in Australia to democracy in Hong Kong

As I’m busy leading new students around the Hague for my university’s intro week, here are some more in-depth stories from this week that you may have missed.

Counting Russia’s secret dead

While Putin maintains that there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, organisations of soldiers’ mothers say differently. While taking the side of the separatists is popular for now, will support start to drop off as bodies return across the border?

Australia and Assad

Documents released by the Guardian show that Australia is going to unbelievable lengths to get rid of its Syrian refugees, even coordinating with the Syrian consulate. The documents just go to show how intent the Australian government is on stopping the flow of refugees – even when that flow is far smaller than that of other countries.

Hong Kong and ‘democracy’

This week the Chinese government announced that Hong Kong will not be able to choose its own leader in 2017. Instead, they will only be able to choose from pre-approved candidates – a move that will block pro-democracy candidates from running. The arrangement breaks from previous agreements, and shows Hong Kong’s fragile place in the ‘one country two systems’ framework.

 

Israel and Palestine – 5 problems for peace

Yesterday Egypt announced that Israel and Hamas had agreed on a long-term ceasefire to end the weeks of conflict that have left over 2000 people dead. While there have been short lived ceasefires before, this one is open ended and seems more likely to last. Apart from both sides ceasing rockets and air strikes, the agreement also means that aid and construction materials will be allowed through the blockade into Gaza. The two parties will meet again in a month to try to work out trickier points such as the disarmament of Hamas. However, this is just an end to this particular war. Without a permanent peace to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hamas and the IDF will be at each other’s throats again. So why is that peace so hard to achieve? The following are some of the biggest issues blocking the path of peace. Continue reading