A massacre in the wings
A cat-and-mouse game is about to become a massacre. For the last 7 years, forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria – backed by Iran and Russia – have been pursuing rebel forces holding out in towns around the country. The towns, and the civilians within them, have been mercilessly bombed into submission; those civilians left alive then flee to the next town.
Western countries, and Turkey, have provided patchy support for the rebels, and, at the same time, tried diplomatic means to negotiate a peace. They have failed.
The rebels, now reduced to a ragtag bunch including hardline jihadists, have been cornered in a small province, called Idlib, in the north west on the border with Turkey. They no longer enjoy the support of the West.
The rebels are preparing to fight to the end. Jihadists have erected gallows in the major towns; the nooses are for the necks of anyone thinking of fleeing – civilians are a handy human shield. But they’re not going anywhere
Turkey has warned Syrians thinking of fleeing into Turkey that if they do, they risk being shot by Turkish soldiers. Turkey fears the influx would bring the extremists; it’s a fear shared by the West.
And so, as the rest of the world turns its back on the civilians trapped in Idlib, Al-Assad’s forces, and the Russians backing them, prepare for the final sweep.
When the pen is a sabre
Bob Woodward has a lightsabre in his pocket. Okay, it’s a pen, but within the dark side of US politics, this veteran journalist is a Jedi Knight. That pen has felled many a villain, presidents included. Woodward, and his Washington Post colleague Carl Bernstein, were the award-winning journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Woodward has drawn his lightsabre again. On 11th September he published his latest book – “Fear: Trump in the White House”. It describes a president who, according to his own staff, is “unhinged” and “a professional liar”. Those serving the Oval Office remove sensitive documents from his grasp and purposely block his most dangerous impulses.
What makes this book so different to other books about the president, is that Woodward is a highly respected investigative journalist with a passion for fact-checking. He also has the ability to get people who matter to talk to him. For example, Woodward quotes Chief of Staff John F. Kelly saying of Trump, “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.”
Bob Woodward may be only one man, but the force is strong with him.
Things may get nasty
Liberalism is a political philosophy centred around a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets and limited government intervention. It made the modern world.
Since the early 1800s, it has helped to increase global life expectancy from 30 years to 70 years, and reduced the share of people living in extreme poverty from 80% to 8%.
But now, in Europe and America, popular revolt against liberal ideals dominate the political conversation; China is showing that dictatorships can thrive; and Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, is proving that liberalism’s most beloved attributes, however venerated in the west, are vulnerable to manipulation.
The propagation of fake news across unquestioning social media, deepening inequality between the rich and poor, the instigation of tariffs between countries by the most powerful political leaders, and the pressures of migration flows across borders are threatening liberalism’s essential ideals.
In Europe, leaders in countries such as Hungary and Poland are taking advantage of a growing anti-immigration sentiment to preach the virtues of ‘illiberal democracy’ and an authoritarian crackdown on liberal ideals. In South Africa, EFF leader and MP Julius Malema has found fertile ground in record high unemployment and a sluggish economy for his military-framed socialist rhetoric.
History holds evidence of the crushing of liberalism; it would be wise to take heed.
[These articles originally appeared in Issue 16 of Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 17 September 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. Fox Bytes is published weekly to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]