eyes on the U.S.

Clinton To Counter Trump’s Gloom-And-Doom Message

Upside-down at an anti-Trump rally in San Diego
Upside-down at an anti-Trump rally in San Diego
Josh Rogin


The Democratic National Convention will feature plenty of well-earned criticism of Donald Trump’s isolationist, revisionist, immoral and self-contradicting foreign policy agenda. But if Hillary Clinton wants to win the argument, she must also convince voters that the world is not in the catastrophic state that Trump would have them believe.

Foreign policy was always going to be a big part of the 2016 presidential election, as far as the Clinton campaign was concerned. Its candidate spent four years as secretary of state and is running on her record of service. What the Clinton team did not anticipate is that it would be set opposite a Republican who would spend months stoking fear of what’s happening outside our borders while proposing the most radical retrenchment of U.S. commitments abroad since before World War II.

Clinton aides watched Trump’s convention last week with a mix of satisfaction and concern. They believe that the clear confusion inside the GOP about its foreign policy message, combined with Trump’s lack of basic knowledge on important issues, gives Clinton an opportunity to draw a sharp contrast. But they also fear that Trump’s contention that the world’s crises are boiling over into Armageddon is creating a narrative that will stick through November.

“America is far less safe â€" and the world is far less stable â€" than when Obama made the decision to put Hillary Clinton in charge of America’s foreign policy,” Trump said in his speech to the Republican convention Thursday. “This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

At their convention, Democrats plan to spend considerable time pushing back against Trump’s doom-and-gloom messaging. Obama has already begun. At a news conference Friday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, he criticized the GOP convention’s “vision of violence and chaos everywhere,” saying it doesn’t match most Americans’ experience.

Clinton campaign aides tell me that theme will be reinforced in Philadelphia by surrogates who they think have greater credibility and stature than the national security speakers at the Republican convention, most of whom disagreed with Trump’s national security policies anyway. In addition to Presidents Obama and Clinton, the convention lineup will include former defense secretary Leon Panetta, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former ambassador Wendy R. Sherman.

Wednesday night’s focus will be national security, aides said, although veterans and national security-minded lawmakers will also speak on other nights. The message will be that Trump’s pessimism and fear-mongering are not only incorrect but also dangerous, and that his threats to allies such as NATO are counterproductive.

It’s not difficult to make the case that Trump is a foreign policy risk. But Clinton will also have to engage on her performance as secretary of state, which Trump has taken aim at. Although Clinton campaign officials insist that they are running on Clinton’s record at the State Department, in practice that has not always been the case.

The Clinton campaign never settled on what parts of her foreign policy record to tout. Last year, campaign chairman John Podesta said she would highlight laying the groundwork for the Iran deal, the “pivot” to Asia, her work on Internet freedom, her fight against terrorism and her advocacy of human rights abroad.

In a new ad this month, the campaign offered a new menu of foreign policy achievements. The ad pointed to Clinton’s involvement in negotiating a cease-fire in Gaza. It referred indirectly to the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia before saying she “took on Vladimir Putin.” The ad also claims she “stood up against the trafficking of human beings.”

Each of these “accomplishments” came with some disappointment. The Iran deal is unpopular. Clinton was for engaging Putin before she was against it. The pivot to Asia involved the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she has disavowed. The fight against terrorism is not going great.

And nowhere in the campaign’s messaging is Clinton’s role in pushing for intervention in Libya, her advocacy for arming the Syrian rebels and her work aiding Egypt’s transition from dictatorship to democracy (before it transitioned back). She has defended these policies in primary debates but so far has not wanted to spend time on them, despite Trump’s badgering.

After Trump told the New York Times last week that he would not necessarily uphold U.S. commitments to NATO, a bipartisan group of top national security officials wrote an open letter to reassure allies that Trump’s rhetoric does not mean the United States has fundamentally shifted on core values and interests, at least not yet.

Clinton has most of this week to convince voters that an internationalist, cooperative and optimistic U.S. foreign policy is not a lost cause in a world gone mad. If she fails, Americans may just follow Trump down his doomsday path.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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