On Trump, His Supporters and Isolationism

Too much self-centered attitude, you see, brings isolation. Result: Loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering.

~ Dalai Lama

July 27, 2016

Earlier, I wrote about Donald Trump and the nationalism that he inspires in his followers. Tonight, I want to write about that other word we’re flinging around without defining. That’s isolationism.

Isolationism: The belief that a country should not be involved with other countries: a policy of not making agreements or working with other countries.

As I watched the Republican National Convention last week, I wondered over its many “themes.” “Make America Safe Again”, all right, I get it. People are afraid, shit looks like it’s really out of control, and I don’t blame anyone for his or her fear, I feel it too. I can think over that fear, which I will probably touch on at some other point, but I can understand it. “Make America Work Again”. Again, I can see that. Even though unemployment is under 5.0%  some people aren’t working and many more are underemployed and that’s a deeply personal issue that hits a lot of sensitive spots. Then, on the third night, we get “Make America First Again”. This one threw me for a loop. What exactly was that even supposed to mean?

At first, I thought it must mean something similar to the generic “Make America Great Again”, that it meant retaking our place on the global stage and winning back a right to call ourselves a superpower. But as the night went on, I began to understand that that was not, in fact, what “Make America First Again” was intended to mean. What “Make America First Again” was intended to mean was isolationist in nature. It means, “put America and American citizens first, above all other nations and peoples.”

To be fair, this doesn’t actually sound like such a bad idea. I mean, this is America, we should put our own citizens first, right? What could possibly be wrong with putting our own people first? I can relate. I’m tired of war, that’s how this whole blog came about. I grew up completely touched by war, totally immersed in it. I completely understand being exhausted by war after war after war and having the desire to just say to hell with it all, but I also understand that even though it looks like it, global politics is not made up solely of wars and attempting to remove ourselves from global politics is both futile and unethical.

When I ask Trump supporters how they can possibly defend a man who says we should ban all Muslims from entering the country, I get a seemingly innocuous response, “Well, it’s just for a little bit, just until we get our own shit figured out.”

Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen, and therein lies the problem.

Here’s the thing. We are NEVER going to get all of our own shit figured out for everyone all of the time. It is NEVER going to happen. Anyone who believes that has his or her head buried in the damn sand. It is absolutely impossible to please everyone in a country that has almost 320 million people. I’m sorry if I’ve somehow burst your bubble, but this is reality.

If you look at the basic facts, we actually do have a lot going for us. Despite Donald Trumps’ apocalyptic rhetoric, things are going relatively well. Unemployment is down, the stock market is up. We’re lucky.

Syria is not lucky. 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. 6.6 million people are internally displaced (meaning they are in Syria but not in their homes) and 4.8 million people have left the country. 2.7 million of those 4.8 million people are in Turkey, which isn’t doing so great itself. Perhaps you’ve heard that they’ve recently had a coup?

Turkey is a NATO country. An ally. Not that that matters much to Donald Trump as he’s recently said that he would have to consider whether or not to defend a NATO country in the face of Russian aggression.

See how everything is connected? Seven degrees of separation and all that.

But let me expand on that NATO point for a minute. Specifically, Trump was asked about three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These countries are right on the border of Russia though I doubt many of us would be able to point them out on a map. Here’s a map, for your reference.

map-new-europe-map-1000

You’ll see the three countries in question on the right just below Finland, next to Russia, and just above Poland and Belarus.

Now, back to Trump. What he said in the same interview with the New York Times in which he says he would have to consider whether or not to defend these nations is as follows:

Trump: I would prefer that we be able to continue [upholding our alliances and defending those we have decades-long treaties with], but if we are not going to be able to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth – you have the tape going on?

Interviewer: We do.

Trump: With massive wealth. Massive wealth. We’re talking about countries that are doing very well. Then yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, “Congratulations you will be defending yourself.”

Countries that are “massive” and have “tremendous” wealth. On its face, this looks like an almost reasonable argument, if you take into consideration that we are in fact dealing with a man who will choose economics over morals every single time. The argument goes like this: You don’t pay your bills, you’re big and wealthy and mighty and thus could have paid your bills, sorry, we’re not showing up. We’re going to Make America First Again.

Except that’s not actually the situation we have here. Estonia has a population of about 1.3 million people, Lithuania is at just about 3 million people while Latvia has a population of right around 2 million people. That means that Estonia has a population equivalent to Maine’s, Lithuania has a population equivalent to that of Iowa’s and Latvia has a population about the same as New Mexico’s. In terms of size, Estonia is 17,505 square miles, Lithuania is 25,212 square miles, and Latvia is 24,938 square miles. That means that Estonia is bigger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia while Lithuania and Latvia are about the same size as West Virginia. So…not “massive” at all, as it turns out.

In terms of wealth…well…the GDP per capita for the United States is $55,836.80 according to the World Bank. So what about these tiny Baltic countries with “massive wealth”? Estonia’s GDP is at $17,295.40, Lithuania’s is $14,172.20 and Latvia’s is a WHOPPING $13,664.90. (As a side note, the world’s GDP is reported to be $9,995.60 and Syria’s hasn’t been reported in awhile but the last available data has it at $2,065.54).

Wait…I’m confused then. Trump said if the country is “massive” and has “tremendous” wealth and didn’t pay its bills he wouldn’t defend them. But these countries are not massive and do not have tremendous wealth. Actually, WE’RE the ones who are massive with tremendous wealth. So…why might we not show up again?

Well, because Trump is an isolationist. He doesn’t want to interfere in world politics because he allegedly wants America focused on America. But what he’s not saying is this – we are a global society. The internet has made it so. We have a global economy. We have military personnel in over 150 countries across the globe. We have allies and enemies all over the world. We cannot just shove our heads into the sand and hide because Donald J. Trump doesn’t understand how to deal with globalism.

And that’s really what we’re talking about – isn’t it? He doesn’t understand how to deal with foreign policy. He doesn’t understand foreign affairs. He likely doesn’t know what the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite Muslim is. Hell, he probably doesn’t even know what the difference between a “radical Islamic terrorist” and the Muslim grocer down the corner is. He isn’t equipped to handle foreign relations. He doesn’t understand Japan’s policy on nuclear weapons (which is wholly developed around the fact that we nuked them by the way). He doesn’t understand the delicate relationship between Turkey and its Kurdish population. He doesn’t understand the implications of Brexit. He doesn’t understand what NATO does to protect us. He just doesn’t get it.

His solution? Blather, noise, yelling, ban everyone, break all our ties, hide, then yell again. God bless America. I mean, even before he wanted to refuse entry to all Muslims as a “solution” to home-grown terrorism, he wanted to ban all American doctors from returning to the United States after treating Ebola victims.

Seriously. This guy? This is the guy you actually want to be president of the United States? And to all of you who say that Donald Trump “has a pair” and that’s why you like him, think again. Isolationism in our global world is nothing but a cover up for cowardice.

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Kobani, a Lesson of History Repeating

The tragedy of Srebrenica will forever haunt the history of the United Nations

~ Kofi Annan

October 10, 2014

Kobani is a small town on the border between northern Syria and southern Turkey. In 2004, according to the Syrian census, it had a population of 44,821. Now, Kobani’s population is unknown. It has been estimated that approximately 700 elderly citizens are still trapped inside the town while the Kurds take on ISIS and another 12,000 civilians have fled but have not made it across the border into Turkey.

Kobani is going to fall.

In 1992, during the Bosnian War, thousands of refugees fled outlying villages and towns in eastern Bosnia. They fled to a city called Srebrenica, on the border between eastern Bosnia and western Serbia. Srebrenica was declared a UN “safe zone.” The population of the small city swelled to 50,000 or more. In early July, 1995, while UN peacekeepers looked on, Srebrenica fell.

Beginning on July 11, 1995 and the days that ensued, over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian-Serb forces. Not because they had done anything wrong, but simply because they were Muslim. Thousands of women and girls were loaded onto buses and sent to neighboring Tuzla. The roads were filled with landmines. Some never made it.

I knew a survivor of this massacre. He and his four other brothers (one an infant at the time) made it. Their father, grandfather and uncle did not. Their mother died shortly after seeking asylum for herself and her children in the United States. He was not any different than you or me, except he had lived through this. He was handsome, charming, charismatic; he liked to dance and go to the beach. He had a penchant for odd home remedies, including gurgling vodka for a sore throat. He loved his family, and they were all he had left. His prized possession was his second-hand Mercedes Benz, and he used to tell me his father once drove a Mercedes for Tito, the old Yugoslavian dictator. He cooked amazing food and for a time, he loved me, and I him. He was a hard worker who put in massive amounts of overtime, lived in a small apartment with his brother and didn’t own a bed frame, because he thought they were a waste of money. He appreciated American life, especially fashion, but he missed Bosnia. He identified as Muslim, but he didn’t believe in God, not anymore, not after Srebrenica.

Now UN staff members are calling on this history, the history of genocide, to urge us all that Kobani must not fall. We must not allow another Srebrenica.

Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves.

~ UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura

When I was at school at UNC, I had a friend who was studying international law in the US for a semester. She was from Holland, and she was Muslim. She was older than me, and she kindly snuck me into a bar one night with some of her other international law friends. After we closed down the bar, dancing all night, one of her other friends, a second generation Arab immigrant to Holland, escorted me home. While he tried to woo me, I explained to him that I had a boyfriend. I loved him. He was from Srebrenica.

The wooing immediately stopped and the man’s eyes sharpened. The melancholy seemed to darken his already dark eyes and the frown lines cast a shadow over his olive complexion, “Tell him we are sorry. We are so sorry for standing by and doing nothing.”

I smiled and pet his hand and said thank you, I would tell him. I later found out from my friend that the man who had been trying to win me over was actually won over by me, “That girl has the most integrity of any American I met while I was here, and she’s only 20 years old.”

That stays with me. It meant a lot to me, and still does. What also stayed with me was the guilt that the Dutch still feel over the events of Srebrenica, an occurrence most Americans don’t even know about. It has stayed with the Dutch people. Neither they, nor the Bosnians, have forgotten.

If the same results in Kobani, I fear the Turkish will be imposing the same guilt on their future generations.

Because ISIS is as brutal, if not more brutal, than the Bosnian Serbs. They will not stop at simply winning the city. They will execute anyone there who remains, a punishment for their rebellion. Hundreds, if not thousands, will die, and Turkey, with its tanks and its army sitting on the border, will stand by like the UN peacekeepers in Srebrenica, bearing silent testimony to the atrocities that will likely follow.

Turkey believes that we should intervene; they say that they will not go it alone. They want us to target Al-Assad as well as ISIS, but we are leery of another war in the Middle East. We could not stand by and watch the Yazidis murdered, so we began to strike. We are trying not to stand by and watch the Kurds in Kobani be murdered, but who better to defend Kobani than the Turkish? It is, after all, their doorstep that ISIS is creeping up on. Fighting for Kobani would be a good political move as well, it would help to solidify the tense relationship between Turkey and its own Kurdish minority, who feels that they have been subjected to rampant discrimination and have protested Turkey’s reticence to act. The Turkish Kurds feel an ethnic alignment with their Syrian brethren and the failure of the Turkish government to act makes the Kurdish feel abused, unwanted, mistreated. They feel like Turkey wants ISIS to execute them.

It’s hard to blame them.

For the United States, it’s a precarious balance. We cannot be expected to be the world’s peacekeeper. Turkey is a NATO member as well. It’s not reasonable for Turkey to say to us, “Don’t worry, ISIS is knocking on OUR door, but you got this, right?” We should all be in this together, to prevent another massacre.

At the end of the day, people are people. And those people trapped in Kobani could have been you or me, or your grandfather/grandmother/mother/father/sister/brother if only they had been born in a different part of the world. If Turkey does not act, however, it cannot be said that the blood of the citizens of Kobani is on our hands.

Turkish soldier on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background, stands guard near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc

A Turkish soldier sits on top of a tank, with the Syrian town of Kobani in the background (c) 2014 Reuters/Umit Bektas