BY M. R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: Before sounding off on the most news-worthy developments let me briefly comment on Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s impending visit to China (at this writing).
As reported by onlinekhabar.com, Gwayali’s diplomatic foray is to pave the way for discussions at the highest policy level between Nepal and China.
WAY UP NORTH
It is expected to lay the groundwork for Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s official visit to China and, even possibly, for that of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal, talked about for years but which has not yet come to pass.
While it is now not possible to hazard any detailed prognoses it may be useful to consider the contextual backdrop to Gyawali’s journey.
For one thing, it comes after Oli has returned from New Delhi where, among other things, there has been a great deal made about prospects of enhanced connectivity and goodwill between Nepal and India.
All this, despite Nepal’s searing experience during the 2015 blockade, not to mention Indian shenanigans in toppling the earlier Oli-headed coalition and blatantly attempting to block the Left Alliance stellar victory in the general elections!
For another, it takes place in the wake of sweeping, significant changes in China, with Xi now enjoying political power unparalleled since the days of Mao Zedong.
Besides, it is surely notable that such pregnant transformations are taking place when, according to credible multiple sources including Indian, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s once-coruscating political stars are beginning to dim, while the ugly scourge of separatism is seemingly fast raising its head south of the Vindyas!
Finally, one will be remiss in not recalling, vide last week’s column, the grotesque ‘Free Tibet’ snafu that occurred at a reception for Oli at the Nepalese Embassy: this would hardly have escaped Beijing’s notice.
The week began with the dramatic announcement by House Speaker Paul Ryan of his retirement, come January, shattering the hopes of a strong showing by the Republican party in the November mid-term elections, given his record as a popular leader and effective fundraiser.
Although a raft of other hot-button issues – including those involving porn stars, hush money and President Trump’s personal attorney – made big headlines and consumed much of the airwaves’ oxygen, there can be little quarrel that the biggest event of the week just over was Saturday’s combined missile strike by the US, the UK and France on Syria’s chemical weapons research, storage and military targets.
Timed seven years after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, it was projected as punishment for Syrian president Assad’s use of chemical weapons. While Germany did not join in the strike, Chancellor Angela Merkel went public saying that the use of chemical weapons was “unacceptable”.
British Prime Minister Teresa May explained the UK position, thus: “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civil casualties.”
There seems little doubt that the combined strike – firing 105 missiles – was executed with “precision” as underlined by the fact that there were no known civilian casualties at the concerned sites, as well as no reports of chemical-agent leakage.
Although Russia, for one, called the strikes a violation of international law, revealingly, as the New York Times bureau in the Russian capital reported it, “there is sense of relief among Russian officials that the operation had not escalated into a direct confrontation with their forces in Syria.”
In the event, Moscow would limit its support to Assad to rhetoric – and a convening of a UN Security Council meeting, whose outcome was pre-ordained with the US, UK and France being veto-wielding members.
Though American military officials admit that their strikes did not completely eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons capability, they do believe that they have degraded it enough so as to dampen any new move on Assad’s part to use them anytime soon.
In any case, two things are worthy of note: one, that Saturday mission was limited and designed to avoid collateral damage, with the clear message that there would be more of the same, if necessary; and two, that Assad has been able recover most of the territory held by the rebels, on the ground.
On a separate plane, the strikes, without Congress’ approval, impelled Sen. Tim Kaine (D, Va) to characterize it as “illegal” – though, as a NYT editorial recalled, since the 9/11 attacks executive order authorizing military action have been invoked “at least 37 times to justify attacks by the Islamic State and other militant groups in 14 countries.”
High political drama was served free to all via the war of words between President Trump and former FBI director James B. Comey, dismissed by the former months ago and therefore nursing a mammoth-sized sense of revenge.
In a much publicized ABC news interview, Comey said Trump is a serial liar, treats women like “meat” and is a “stain” on all who work for him. Calling the president “morally unfit”, Comey defended his handling of the Clinton email scandal, conceding that he should’ve worked harder to find a way to convey that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified emails while Secretary of State was “extremely careless – more than just the ordinary mistake but not criminal behavior.”
Comey timed his interview with release of his blistering memoir, “A Higher Loyalty” in order to raise alarm about the dangers, he says, Trump poses to the country.
Trump, for his part, issued a string of angry tweets calling Comey a “slimeball” saying that the notes that Comey says he took of their meeting were “fake”.
With Comey on a media-blitz and Trump’s power and position it will be fascinating to watch how the next few days or weeks unfold.
Only in the US of A!
Strike on Syria, the Comey-Trump wrangle and more
BY M. R. JOSSE