Russian Bounties, China Human Rights, Climate Change and the Week in Review
July, July, July! Never seemed so strange. We are trying a new format for the week in review – let us know what you think. Remember to listen to our podcast, wear your masks, and enjoy a safe and happy 4th of July. [BTW, if you like the new format, or hate it, please let us know — just reply to this email.]
The week started off with what would have been the weirdest story in any other year besides this accursed one: Bounty-Gate 2020. The New York Times reported that the GRU, a Russian military intelligence unit, offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. The report also said that U.S. President Donald Trump knew this and did nothing about it.
From there, the story quickly metastasized. The Washington Post wrote that several U.S. service members had been killed as a direct result of the Russian bounty program. President Trump claimed he never was briefed and called it fake news. His National Intelligence Director, John Ratcliffe, confirmed that the president had not been briefed, which raised the question, how incompetent must a President be to have set up a system where he or she would not be informed of news of this magnitude? To top it off, Carl Bernstein wrote a truly damning article about President Trump’s general behavior towards American friends and foes.
As the dust settled, we know little more than when the week began. Russia has vehemently denied the allegations. President Trump has vacillated between calling it a hoax and insisting he never saw the information. Congress got sufficiently concerned with the allegations that in a rare moment of bipartisan consensus, the House Armed Services Committee voted to include an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act preventing President Trump from removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan without Congressional approval (a worry perhaps also informed by the impulsive decision to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany without bothering to let German Chancellor Angela Merkel in advance).
Will this be the fatal blow to the President to whom nothing seems to stick? Democratic candidate Joe Biden certainly seems to think so, and the polls suggest he comes by the optimism honestly. What would that mean for U.S. foreign policy really, though? For instance, Biden released a statement on July 1 lambasting China for human rights abuses, in which he said, “As President, I will put values back at the center of [U.S.] foreign policy.”
The last president who put “values” at the center of U.S. foreign policy invaded Iraq in a misguided attempt to bring American-style democracy to the Middle East. Have alumni of the George W. Bush administration launched a pro-Biden super PAC because they detest President Trump or because they see in Biden’s staunch liberal internationalism the same kernels of their discredited neoconservatism – an ideology as responsible as any for the global mess the US has made these past 19 years and counting?
Of course, not everything is America’s fault, and for all its flaws, the United States is hardly the source of all good or all evil that its believers and its detractors make it out to be. China took center stage again this week because of new reports suggesting that its treatment of its Uighur population is truly revolting. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told the Associated Press that they seized a shipment of waves and beauty accessories “suspected to be made out of human hair.”
At Perch Perspectives, the first rule of objectivity is transparency. Some of our employees on-staff have family members who were survivors of the Holocaust. One of the innumerable crimes committed against European Jews was the use of their bodies to make soap and their hair to make textiles. China has insisted its “reeducation” camps in Xinjiang are to target extremism, but it is getting harder to ignore the truly shocking reports coming out of Xinjiang: hundreds of thousands in camps, forced sterilizations and abortions, and now this latest bombshell. For some of us, it is impossible to read these reports about what China is doing to its Uighurs without a deep and personal sense of foreboding and nausea.
China is a remarkable country and the Chinese people are heirs to a remarkable civilization. As Americans, we have little claim to criticize China for how it manages its internal affairs: America’s founding included the mass killing of indigenous Native American communities and there is still somehow an argument over whether black lives matter in the year 2020. As human beings, however, we have every claim in the world. China denies committing these atrocities. We have long hoped those denials have a basis in fact, but how much evidence can those hopes stand up against? And how long will the world stand by?
Beyond the visceral and personal disgust, there lie deeper analytical points: this is a truly disturbing indicator of the future viability of the People’s Republic of China. Political power achieved at such cost is inherently brittle and often requires constant terror or conquest to uphold. Furthermore, other countries will eventually have to pick a side. Just look, for instance, at this map of countries that either support or criticize China’s new National Security Law in Hong Kong. Economic decoupling and political spheres of influences have already become geopolitical facts: how long before mutually exclusive ideologies based on irreconcilable moral attitudes and conceptions of justice cement these processes in place?
Speaking of ideologies: climate sovereignty already seems to be emerging as an ideological undercurrent of the 2020s. Climate change is a slow, incremental process, but the emergence of climate politics is occurring at a much faster rate. Consider that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared earlier this week that he wanted the UK to produce the world’s first zero-carbon emission long haul passenger plane in the world before anyone else. This comes just a few weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron made aerospace industry bailouts in France contingent on a green overhaul of the industry – to include production of a carbon-neutral plane by 2035.
A geopolitical race for who can produce the best environmentally friendly technology between two of the most technologically advanced countries in the world? As the kids say these days, “we’re here for it.” We are less here for the latest data from Brazil’s Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE). It’s an incredible data set that shows that deforestation in Brazil so far in 2020 led to the loss of 85 percent more land than last year – and also indicated that fires in the Amazon rainforest were already higher this June compared to last June, which could be a disturbing indicator heading into August, when fires kick off in earnest.
As if on cue, Macron bragged to a Citizen’s Climate Convention on Monday (after getting his rear-end handed to him in French municipal elections by The Greens) that he had canceled negotiations with Mercosur, the South American free-trade bloc, in part because he was unhappy with Brazil’s environmental policies. Welcome to climate politics, where competition can spur innovation but also where the climate itself can be weaponized for explicitly political and ideological ends.
India and China still have not resolved their border conflict; India banned 59 Chinese apps, China told India to take it back, and meetings between military officials on both sides have yielded nothing.
Gunmen allegedly associated with the Jalisco Nueva Generation drug cartel (CJNG) attempted to assassinate Mexico City’s secretary of public security, Omar García Harfuch.
Germany assumed the presidency of the European Union on July 1.
77.9 percent of Russian voters said yes to constitutional reforms that could keep President Vladimir Putin in power until 2036.