- 18 Dec 19
Donald Trump, transactional politics, Greta Thunberg... The Whole Hog looks back on the political chaos that dominated the news in 2019.
Oh for a quiet life! There may have been good news out there in the wide earthly world, but mostly it felt like carnage, chaos and confusion. Weather patterns worsened. Global tensions increased, centring on trade wars, transactional politics, insurrections, the rise of old spheres of influence and the fall of others, the ebb and flow of wars - the end of the Isis caliphate, for example, and the proxy war in Yemen - the climate change crisis, deforestation, inter-ethnic and sectarian violence, racism, fascism...
It's tempting to start in Afghanistan, since the Americans announced a plan to withdraw in January. In effect, they abandoned the country to the Taliban. It also opens it up to Russia, China and Iran. It could even spell the end of the so-called Great Game, the wars and intrigues involving those three states and the British Empire which began in the early 19th century.
India and Pakistan will, of course, be very wary of their northern neighbour falling under anyone else's spell. They came close to war last year over Kashmir and might yet come to blows. The prospect of four or five nuclear powers getting into a tangle in Central Asia is frankly appalling...
It's the world in microcosm. The USA is in withdrawal mode, diplomatically and militarily. Under the yellow peril, Donald Trump, has focussed its global interests in trade wars with China and the EU. Meanwhile, concerns over its treatment of the Uighur minority and recent problems in Hong King notwithstanding, China advanced in trade and diplomacy. In Syria the war is said to be over, but it's not. Yes, Kurdish forces took the last Isis stronghold and ended the caliphate; and later in the year the US killed its leader al-Baghdadi. But that didn't mark the end of jihadism and atrocities. There were suicide bomb attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka at Easter that slaughtered over 320 and counting.
Donald Trump's treachery reached new depths. Overnight, and without warning, he decided to pull US troops out of Syria, leaving the Kurds, until recently the US's key allies in the war against IS, isolated as the Turkish army and air force attacked. Ostensibly it was to create a safe zone, but in truth it was a present from Danald Trump to a fellow autoocrat, the appalling Recep Tayyip Erdoan - who set out to pound the unfortunate Kurds into oblivion. They have learned, yet again, not to trust outsiders. In his colossal arrogance and cynicism, Trump dismissed concerns, saying these were basically tribal wars fought over unimportant sandpits but he was wrong, and he knew it. It was a grievous betrayal, of allies and of trust. It handed Syria back to Assad; and it left Turkey and Iran dominant in the region, under Russia's overall sphere of influence.
Many US allies have been deeply unsettled. Trump is a transactional politician. He has no principles and can't be trusted. As a result, Saudi Arabia, to name but one, has been looking for new allies, and has recently sent a member of the royal family to try to navigate a way out of the appalling, atrocity-riven war in Yemen.
If Trump pulled the US back from on-the-ground battlefields he did the opposite in relation to trade, ratcheting up the tariffs on Chinese and European imports and testing their resolve, including targeting Huawei. This is all 'biggest dick' stuff. But it will only distract people for so long. The first major investigation into the Trump presidency, the Mueller report, may have failed to prove collusion, but it did not exonerate him. And now, the impeachment process has begun over his pressure on the Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in return for a deal. Transactions once again. He's a Mafia don with bad hair.
These dust storms are extremely dangerous. Yet they obscure two other threats that are ultimately likely to prove a bigger long-term threat. The first of these is climate change. A new front in the battle to combat the scourge started in 2018 when Greta Thunberg began spending her school days outside the Swedish Parliament holding up a sign saying "School strike for the climate". It is her generation and the next, if there is one, who are going to have to face the consequences of our present lifestyles. It is, almost certainly, the biggest challenge we all ever face, unless there's an all-out nuclear war.
The second involves social media, digital technology and artificial intelligence. Greta Thunberg's generation will have to deal with a digital world in which everything is allowed; no untruth is so egregious as to warrant exclusion; decisions are increasingly made by an unregulated, unelected and ungovernable tech elite; and literal and virtual thuggery are legitimised by their click-quotient. Machines will become ever more intelligent and discerning. The tech monoliths have shown already that they are devoid of any sense of morality or ethics. The bottom line is that Governments will have to step in. If they're not already too late.
You can read the complete 'Whole Hog On 2019' in one brilliant sweep in the Hot Press Annual – in which we distill the highlights and low-points of the year, across 132 vital, beautifully designed pages. Starring heroes of the year Fontaines D.C. on the front we cover Music, Culture, Sport, Film, Politics, the Environment and much, much more. Buy this superb publication direct from Hot Press here.