Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
May 26, 2017
Mr. President: The thirst for war is ancient. As old as disputatious neighbors or rival
tribes, it is enticing -- a siren call for the strong, presenting as it does a quick, easy
and final solution. That it is often not, has hastened the end of royal dynasties
(Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs and Romanovs after WWI) and empires, including the
British. There are cogent arguments both world wars could have been avoided: the
first, Europe fell into in accidental haste; the second, an end of a trail leading from the
So here we are in the 21st century and a West increasingly subject to violent small
scale attack. The latest has 22 killed, 59 wounded, after a pop concert in
Manchester, U.K. -- the perpetrator, a native-born UK citizen of Libyan descent
apparently radicalized by ISIS/Daesh, which has claimed responsibility. A nasty
intrusion into the usual comfort and security of life in Europe, it has captured
headlines across the world to the delight of Daesh. Like a shattered mirror, it and
other such incidents scar our consciousness with jarring images -- images not to be ...
after a concert in Manchester, a marathon in Boston, walking across Westminster
bridge in London, or a French promenade (in Nice) on Bastille Day.
But back to another reality: the police in the U.S. kill over a thousand people on
average each year in what is termed justifiable homicide; on British roads, 1810
people died in 2016 alone. While none of this is much comfort to the bereaved of
Manchester, such mundane statistics like road casualties seldom hit the headlines,
although posing at least a hundred times greater probability of occurrence. Also the
spate of IRA attacks in the last quarter of the 20th century clearly dwarf those
resulting from British involvement in the Middle East and North Africa as a junior U.S.
partner -- a region so devastated, it is hardly recognizable as the relatively thriving
Iraq, Libya and Syria of the past.
From reality to the unreal draws us to the image of Donald Trump, sword in hand,
stepping to the rhythms of a Saudi dance. And a King Salman lamenting the
destruction of a once advanced Syria, as if he were a mere observer and the
devastation divorced absolutely from his own hand. Such amnesia is irrelevant when
the whole is oiled by a $350 billion ($110 billion down) arms deal.
The day before Hassan Rouhani had been reelected Iran's president after a tough
battle against hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Khamenei. Perhaps it was the exultation of the moment but the usually diplomatic
cleric, UK educated lawyer, and architect of the US peace deal could not help
reminding Trump of where he was, a country where there has never been an election.
That Mr. Trump is unconcerned about such niceties or freedoms or human rights was
clear from his speech. In the end, it was Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan who toned down
the belligerence by calling for dialogue as the only way to a sustained peace. All it
earned him was a snub.
Undeterred, Mr. Trump proceeded to Israel and a repetition of Benjamin Netanyahu's
Iran mantra, of it aiding terrorism because it supports Hizbollah. People forget that
the Shia in Lebanon at first cheered the Israeli invasion of the country in the 1980s.
They only turned against them when they began to covet the waters of the Litani river
and would not leave, leading to Amal and Hizbollah which drove them out.
Onward for Mr. Trump to the Vatican and a frosty reception from the Pope, who
presented him with an olive branch embossed medallion and a copy of his encyclical
on the environment. The Vatican Foreign Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin
encouraged Mr. Trump to stay in the Paris Climate Accord. Despite the cold
shoulder, he and his family got their photo-op.
Then to Brussels and another gaffe: he accused NATO members of not fulfilling the 2
percent-of-GDP contribution. Well in the first place, the amount is not mandated;
second, it is not about a contribution to NATO -- NATO's expenses are paltry,
amounting to less than $2 billion. What the 2 percent figure actually represents is a
recommended guideline for each member country's own defense spending so that it
can provide adequate support to the others in a time of need. The German Defense
Minister Ursula von der Leyen's prompt response: Germany doesn't owe NATO any
Mr. Trump knows all this. He might appear stupid to Europeans as he ignores basic
facts, but the public shaming was intended actually to bolster him with his own
ill-informed voters back home. Of course, some Europeans are voluntarily increasing
spending due to deteriorating relations with Russia, spending for which Mr. Trump will
no doubt take credit.
So goes the European odyssey of our newly minted warrior president.