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I don’t think he’s looking for war. He actually ran on a platform of avoiding war and criticising Clinton and Obama for starting too many wars or participating in too many wars. I think that in his mind he thinks two things. One, that the way to get better deals between countries is by making them afraid of you because that gives you more leverage. So by threatening them and showing them you’re a little bit crazy you get better leverage and therefore better agreements, ones which are more advantageous to you. And that was a big part of his critique of Obama – [Trump said] he was terrible, his trade agreements were disadvantageous to the US and all that.
Then the other aspect is that I think they think that being tough and strong and showing that you’re willing to fight, that actually fosters more peace because when people fear you they are less likely to take provocative steps. The problem with that kind of thinking, a lot of wars often happen unintentionally because things escalate and spiral out of control in a framework where there is high tension which is what happens when you start threatening countries. And so I think that certainly when it comes to China and particularly when it comes to Iran, there is a serious danger that they could stumble themselves into a war even though they may not want one.
If you look at at the likely basis of war cooperation between the United States and Russia, it certainly begins with the threat they each perceive. I think a long time fixation of Putin and Russia, going back to the War on Chechnya, is this obsession with what they regard as Islamic radicalism. They are obviously both fighting in Syria and shared targets include Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Even president Obama tried to create cooperative frameworks between the United States and Russia based on these shared enemies. I think Trump is seeing an opportunity as well. The question then becomes: will this detente between the US and Russia, if it happens, expand beyond just national security cooperation? Will they actually share this kind of internationalist right-wing agenda confronting China, uniting hard-right groups throughout Europe and even in other places? And will there be this broader coalition, this broader agenda which they can pursue?
I think Trump has demonstrated, contrary to what people thought or were hoping, a readiness to act on a lot of the more radical proposals he advocated during the election. There is this sense that people in the military or the intelligence community will somehow impede him from doing things like targeting the family members of terrorists or even potentially using tactical or regional nuclear weapons and I don’t think that’s a very realistic hope. But I think you’re already seeing, whether it’s the raid in Yemen that killed Anwar Al-Awlaki’s six-year-old daughter and this Muslim ban, you see government agents throughout these agencies obediently carrying out these orders with no resistance, no objection, no dissent. And so I think that he has the power to do the things that he talked about doing. More importantly and more troublingly, both Obama and George Bush worked vigorously to defend and expand the legal framework that Trump would be able to cite in order to justify doing the policies he has advocated. So there is this bipartisan framework in place that he can draw from in a very potent way.
I think that the American public has proven fairly reliable that as long as certain abuses are confined to foreign nationals – and in particular those they are told are terrorists – they are willing to tolerate virtually anything. There was very little public outcry when the Bush administration opened CIA black sites and when they tortured people. If they’ve become a little embarrassing or too public such as Abu Ghraib then maybe there will be some public backlash, but in general as long as you’re confining it to people that you’re able to convince the public are deserving or are terrorist or just Muslim radicals there’s not a lot of opposition coming from the public. And I think that a much broader concern is what happens if there’s a terrorist attack. The instinct of Trump and his advisers, what they’re waiting for is to be able to demagogue that attack to raise fear levels and justify even the most extreme policies that right now probably aren’t imaginable. I think if he’s able to successfully exploit the fear in those emotions surrounding an attack on that magnitude then I think there will be very little public resistance.
I think we ought to take it very seriously both because it starts with Muslims being targeted and then also because it will inevitably expand beyond that. If you look at the history of, not just the US, but the West in the post 9-11 era, it’s one programme after another from law enforcement and government agencies in the name of stopping radical Islam or terrorist attacks or whatever the nomenclature is. And once those powers are vested they are almost expanded well beyond the original targeted groups. The Patriot Act is probably the best example. When it was enacted it was supposed to be temporary. We were told it was necessary because of the terror threat and it’s now 16 years old – it’s the opposite of temporary, it’s a permanent part of our fixture, and then I think 85% of the cases it’s used in are in non-terrorism settings for drug crimes, for financial crimes, completely unrelated to national security. These powers take root but nobody cares because everyone’s told it’s only going to be Muslims who are affected, then eventually it starts to erode all basic liberties for everybody.
I think that they regard Trump as a particular threat to the the prevailing order. He’s questioned the kind of foundations of post-World War Two American power whether its commitment to NATO, or just a general position he has with regards to whether regime change wars are justifiable and in particular whether the CIA proxy war in Syria is something that ought to be expanded or continued. In pretty every one of those cases he’s either taken the position that’s the opposite of what the CIA wants for its own power or ideology or he’s asking serious questions about his commitment to continuing this bipartisan framework [between Democrats and Republicans]. And so I think they regard Trump in particular as a unique kind of threat, and I think they’re much more comfortable with a standard, right-wing politician. Some of it is about internal jockeying for power which you often see with governments. I think they also feel threatened by people like General Flynn who have a lot of hostility towards the intelligence community bureaucracy, and will be worrying about what their place is likely to be if he gains too much authority.
But the FBI has the exact opposite posture to the CIA in that they were very favourable to Trump, and so I think there is a very serious danger that Trump can and intends to empower the FBI and use it as his personal police force which I do think can then start to reintroduce dangers. I think we’re going to see a lot of dirty game playing whether it’s leaking or fabricating claims or just outright subversion – I think you’re going to see a lot of that from each side.
It helps. The idea of the constitution and of the courts and the reason why these judges have life tenures is because they’re supposed to be immune from political sentiment. No matter how popular a particular abuse is (because these judges can’t be removed from office, they don’t have to run for election), the idea is that they will defend these rights even when it’s really impossible to do so. But that’s the the theory! The reality is that these judges have been nominated by Republican Presidents and even under Democratic Presidents who knew that judges who were too pro-Liberty and anti-police state probably couldn’t get confirmed so you have years or even decades of judges who have been confirmed who have demonstrated a willingness to justify and defend really radical police power, especially ones that have been put in place in the name of national security. So the practical matter is that you will see some resistance, some push back, some limits imposed from the judiciary, but I certainly wouldn’t want to count on the judiciary saving the Republic from Trump’s abuses.
I think the best hope by far for imposing limits on Trump is citizen activism. And I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs so far in the form of the spontaneous protests that erupted at airports across the country where there were reports of Muslims even with green cards being detained and denied access to lawyers. The strikes that taxi drivers did in protest really created a lot of problems at the nation’s ports and airports. I think the Women’s march, although a little more organised, was also an impressive display of citizen activism. How far that can be sustained and how much risk it’s willing to incur is still an open question. But when I think about the meaningful limits that will likely be imposed on Trump, I think there will be some from the media, some from courts. I think there will be a very little bit from Congress but that the most impactful will be from whistleblowers, leaking things, and then also citizen protest.
I think the Trump administration is going to be very interested in harshly punishing whistleblowers, people who expose secrets that make them look bad. And this is where I think Obama bears a huge amount of blame which is that his administration was more vindictive in punishing whistleblowers than any in American history. More leakers were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 during president Obama’s three years in office than had been prosecuted under all administrations, all presidents combined previously. He ended up prosecuting eleven people and there was a total of four cases in a hundred years before Obama took office. So they really were extremely aggressive in creating this legal landscape where sources and whistleblowers can be punished and I think what they did to Snowden, Manning and Drake has really laid the groundwork for Trump to be extremely vindictive as well in punishing people who leak.
I actually think the Trump presidency presents an opportunity to make progress on a lot of these areas. You couldn’t get a protest of 100 people organised when Obama was president to defend Muslim civil liberties even though he was bombing 5 out of the 7 countries that Trump is stopping visitors entering the United States from. And now you see these massive marches under Trump in defence of basic rights of Muslims which is really encouraging. I think the more Muslims are visible, the more active they are, the more vocal they are, the more people will get to know them as individuals and the harder the demonisation of them will become. So I think that is an important component of it. But I also think that it’s really critical to look at the roots of things like Brexit and Trump and understand that there has been this Neoliberal project for the last three decades throughout the West, of globalisation and free-trade, that has destroyed people’s economic security and ways of life by the tens of millions. These people have had their backs turned on them and have been scorned when they’ve complained and see very little hope for their future. It’s always easy to scapegoat people in order to raise fear levels when people feel anxious and victimised and angry. I think that in the US and UK and throughout mainland Europe you’re seeing that right now to a great extent.
Before Obama was elected there was this CIA report which described worries the CIA had over what it said was this growing anti-war sentiment throughout Europe. I think by this point a government in Holland had fallen as a result of its participation in the War in Afghanistan. The CIA was worried that this anti-war sentiment was going to spread throughout Europe and that governments would be forced to withdraw from Afghanistan and leave the US with all the burden. What the CIA concluded ultimately was that the best way to solve this would be the election of Barack Obama because it would paint this pretty, progressive, fresh, face, and paste it over what had been George Bush’s face and he would become the face of these new wars and it would make people feel a lot better.
That’s essentially what happened. The anti-war movement disappeared. It was really amazing to watch, this last month, all these new anti-war liberals and democrats expressing such anger over the fact that Trump had killed civilians in Yemen, when the US under Obama has not only been killing civilians by the dozens in Yemen for many years but also arming and otherwise supporting the Saudis as they savage that country. There was barely anybody paying attention to that because it was President Obama doing it. On the one hand if I had to choose between indifference under Trump and anger over Trump, I would pick anger, but I know that it is grounded in partisan cynicism and not actual conviction. I don’t look at the people doing that as reliable allies.
I think this is a genuine history-shaping moment. I think there has been historical stagnation for the last 20-30 years, at least since the fall of the Soviet Union and with the US being the sole super-power and the EU kind of stabilising as a junior partner to the US, there’s been a kind of stability to the world order. And I think that this world order is actually unravelling. I think radical change is likely and that historians will talk about this as something really important.
How that plays out I think is still unclear. It could produce positive outcomes, it could produce negative outcomes – it’s the same as when you uproot any system and then there’s a battle over what you replace it with.
As somebody who spent a good year and a half reading through the most top-secret documents from both the US and UK governments, my impression of the relationship between the UK and US is like the US walks around with this rabid, drooling, insane dog on a leash and any time the US wants to engage in some extreme belligerence or threatening behaviour, it just unleashes its rabid, tiny, little, yapping dog which is the British government. And so obviously the British government is subservient to, and is a junior partner to what the US does, but it is also tries to demonstrate its importance and loyalty by always being the one willing to go that extra mile when it comes to radicalism, aggression or law-breaking, or just general disregarding of international law and that’s the relationship that Theresa May intends to have with Trump.
In the surveillance context, for example, GCHQ would always volunteer to do the most aggressive programmes, the ones that other governments felt they couldn’t do because of legal constraints or ethical quandaries. In the military context you see the same thing. British troops and British military units have often been deployed to the most troublesome areas because the US knows they will be willing to be a little more aggressive and take a little more risk to prove themselves and their importance. I think the US exploits their sense of inadequacy and weakness by daring them to prove that they’re willing to go a little bit further than everybody else. I think that’s become the security relationship between the two countries.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali