Trump And The World

What Trump Talks About When He Talks About War

Atomic cake
Atomic cake
Sruthi Gottipati

-OpEd-

When U.S. President Donald Trump recounted last week's bombing of Syria to a Fox News journalist, the first direct U.S. assault on the regime of the war-torn country, he shared an anecdote — in vivid detail — about eating chocolate cake with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-A-Lago estate.

Trump: "I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We're now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it. So what happens is, I said, we've just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq."

Journalist, momentarily flummoxed: "Headed to Syria?"

Pause.

Trump: "Yes, heading toward Syria."

So he remembered the dessert served, but forgot the country targeted.

The missile strikes, which enmesh the U.S. deeper in the Middle East, a region Trump's predecessor spent two terms trying to extract the country from, killed seven people, including four children, Syrian state media claims — a charge the White House denies. Trump's jocular attitude toward the U.S. attack is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake." It could only come from a president who sleeps soundly at night, unperturbed by how much devastation can be wrought by just a jowly nod from the commander-in-chief.

Trump appears to employ military options with the nonchalance of scheduling a weekend getaway at Mar-A-Lago.

Indeed, there was more to come. On Thursday, the U.S. dropped the "mother of all bombs," shortened to the sprightly moniker MOAB, on an ISIS target in Afghanistan. This was the largest non-nuclear device ever unleashed in combat. Reuters quantified it: "The bomb's destructive power, equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, pales in comparison with the relatively small atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War Two, which had blasts equivalent to between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT."

In a week where Trump suddenly reversed his stance on multiple foreign policy fronts, the decision to use such a weapon begs the question where all this is headed. A new arms race with Russia? Nuclear showdown this summer with North Korea? Trump appears to employ military options with the nonchalance of scheduling a weekend getaway at Mar-A-Lago.

Barely three months ago, Trump was sworn in as the president in an inauguration that sent collective jitters around the world. This real estate billionaire, who has quipped that he could "stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" without losing voters, was assuming the most powerful office in the world that gave him access to the country's nuclear codes.

In a divided nation, some analysts worried that domestic policy failures would mean that Trump would turn toward foreign shores to bolster his popularity at home.

Sure enough his domestic policy has thus far failed. And sure enough he is casting his eyes abroad. The attack on Syria led to fawning media attention for the first time for a president hungry for approval. For Trump, it was just desserts.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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