By Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe
The overwhelming condemnation of American recognition of Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel by the 193-member UN General Assembly, is now a matter of history. The repudiation of the American uncivility by the international community came after the US had vetoed an identically worded resolution agreed upon by the other 14 members of the UN Security Council. Now the World has put America on notice that all American and Israeli actions aimed at altering the status or demographic composition of the City of Jerusalem contrary to relevant resolutions of the Security Council would be illegal, and therefore null and void. The resolution reaffirms 15 Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including the requirement that the city’s final status must be the subject of negotiations between the parties.
The respite created by the UN resolution provides an opportunity to review the circumstances that led to Donald Trump’s boorish declaration. Chief among the factors deserving attention would be the role American corporate media played in twisting Trump’s proverbial arm. From a developing country perspective, the truly remarkable courage poorer UN member countries showed in the face of bullying and threats of economic reprisal by Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, his henchwoman at the UN, is worth preserving for posterity. Then, a careful look at the motivations behind the seven countries that voted with America and Israel (against the 128 countries that backed the resolution) would be useful in understanding the role corrupt Third World governments play in sustaining the ongoing menace of neocolonialism.
In looking at the crucial role US corporate media played in forcing Donald Trump’s hand to make the notorious Jerusalem declaration, it would be an understatement to say that once again, they implemented a tried and tested operational strategy commonly used to manipulate American politics and military power to suit their vested interests. The corporate media used subtle psychological pressure to prevent Trump from gaining another extension of time on the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as all his predecessors had been doing since 1995 and Trump himself did in June 2017. In the lead up to the deadline for the next renewal — that was due by 6 December —the corporate media began applying pressure on Trump from many fronts.
A barrage of lurid testimonies by a procession of Hollywood actresses on cases of sexual harassment allegedly perpetrated by movie industry hobnobs and some little-known politicians, published in the first week of December, across print and electronic media, was clearly a subtle reminder to Donald Trump of his own Achilles’ heel! Then came the ‘leaks’ from special counsel
Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign that two of his former aides would be indicted, and two others — including the former national security adviser — were in the process of negotiating plea bargains. The Israeli media, in the meantime, was providing a running commentary on Trump’s meetings through the week, foreshadowing the would-be announcement well in advance.
These moves, clearly aimed at making Trump feel dangerously exposed and vulnerable, worked to make him ‘jump’ to keep the promises on Jerusalem he had made to evangelical Christians during the election campaign. Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel and committed Zionist, are thought to have pushed hard for the declaration. So the declaration was made on 6 December. Seasoned observers found the dying down of focus on sexual harassment cases, leaks from Mueller’s inquiry or the follow-up on the declaration per se, not particularly surprising. It appeared as if the declaration had got burnt in the series of unseasonal wildfires that ignited across the rich Ventura and Santa Barbara counties of Southern California, in its immediate aftermath, providing the media with a convenient distraction from Trump’s atrocity. Then they moved on to other things!
On the US bullying of poorer members of the UN in the lead up to the resolution, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened that the US would be ‘taking names’ of those who voted against the US. She also wrote to the UN ambassadors of more than 180 member countries warning that any vote in favour of the resolution would be considered a personal affront by the president. Trump himself announced the day before the resolution that he would withhold billions of aid dollars earmarked for countries that voted against the US. In a speech before the General Assembly immediately before the vote, Haley threatened to cut off US funding to the UN over the vote. Remarkably, poor African countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria ignored the threats and supported the resolution with 15 African states with Cameroon, Rwanda, Malawi and Equatorial Guinea abstaining. Kenya and Zambia failed to show up. The thuggery failed to bring about the result Nikki Haley demanded! Out of 193 member countries of the UN, the US had managed to garner the support of just seven other countries, excluding Israel.
An analysis of the resounding UN vote will not be complete without a look at the circumstances of the group of seven poor countries that voted with America, — Guatemala (population 16.91 million), Honduras (9.2 million), Togo (7.97 million) and the tiny Pacific islands Micronesia (105,544), Marshall Islands (53 127), Palau (21 729) and Nauru (11 359). Though the seven countries representing a collective population of 34.2 million (out of a total world population of 7.6 billion) failed to register a blip in the radar of international condemnation of America, motivations behind their betrayal of international solidarity make interesting reading.
Firstly, the entitlement of Pacific micro-islands with such small populations to a full vote at the UN, equivalent to that of countries like China, India and Russia needs to be seen as a travesty of democracy. It further belittles the level of support the US received at the UN. Secondly, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru have a history of being under formal American control, and religious and cultural influence, later converted toa so-called Compact of Free Association (COFA) in 1986. The COFA guarantees America military operating rights in those islands, in return for some economic help. Therefore, their votes cannot be considered an exercise of free will and they treat voting alongside America at the UN, particularly on resolutions that are critical of Israel as a formality. The cases of Guatemala and Togo provide much more interesting examples from a politico-economical point of view.
A case of ‘birds of a feather
The seemingly dishonourable unison between the new imperium the US and the poor Third World country Togo conjures up images of ‘birds of a feather flocking together’. Togo, officially known as the Togolese Republic, is one of the smallest countries in West Africa with a population of approximately 8 million, bordered by Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. Togo has been under the rule of a man named Faure Gnassingbé since 2005, who became president following the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who became president after a military coup in 1967, and ruled the country for 38 years until his death. When Gnassingbé’s father died in February 2005, in a plane en-route to France, the military named him as the successor, later formalising the appointment at an election held in April 2005. Gnassingbé’s accession to the post however, was accompanied by violent opposition protests that left hundreds of people dead. In 2015 he was reelected with almost 59 per cent of the vote in an election marred by malpractice and violence. Over half a century of family rule is facing anti-government protests — marked by chants of ‘50 years is too long’ — currently spread across the country. Togo’s support to the US at the UN can be seen as a desperate attempt by Faure Gnassingbé, to gain US help to suppress public protests against his authoritarian rule that have been gathering momentum over the last year.
Guatemala, another basket case
Guatemala is a country where political class is deeply entrenched in crime and corruption to such an extent that a unique UN-backed international body — The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) —was created to collaborate on national investigations of Guatemalan prosecutors. Personal concerns of the country’s president Jimmy Morales regarding current investigations on his own integrity, on the lookout for a quid pro quo or two, could well be behind Guatemala’s vote.
Jimmy Morales — a television comedian and a fanatical evangelical Christian with no political experience and no real policy platform — became president of Guatemala in 2015, winning 70 per cent of the vote – after commanding less than one percent in polls just six months prior to the election. Most analysts attributed Morales’s success to his simple campaign slogan — ‘not corrupt, not a thief’ — that was well received by a population sick and tired of deep-rooted, terminal levels of corruption in the country.
But like with most politics and politicians in the Third World, hopes of a corruption-free future began to unravel quickly. In January 2017, Morales’ older brother and adviser and one of his sons were arrested on corruption and money laundering charges.The arrests triggered large public protests demanding for Morales’ resignation. He refused to step down.
Morales’s position became fragile due to the news that hehimself was being investigated by the CICIG. In August 2017, the CICIG and the country’s attorney general confirmed an initial investigation of Morales, recommending that his legal immunity be withdrawn. Morales’ reaction was to attempt to declare the CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez,a Columbian national, ‘persona non grata’, as a precursor to his expulsion from the country. But his foreign minister refused to sign the executive order, prompting Morales to sack the foreign minister. On Aug. 27, Jimmy Morales ordered the immediate expulsion of the CICIG head, but within hours, the country’s Constitutional Court blocked the move. He is in dire straits, and the pro-America vote at the UN was certainly one way out of trouble for the Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales.
The status quo of Togo is a typical African case of a country with a sad colonial past,cynically manipulatedby the neocolonial power through the elevation of corrupt individuals amenable to external exploitation to power.
Togo was part of the infamous ‘Slave Coast’ region of West Africa that was the source of more than 12 million slaves exported across the Atlantic to Brazil and the Caribbean between the early 16th and the 19th centuries by Portuguese, Dutch, French and British slave traders. Around 15 per cent of the slavesare believed to have perished at sea from sickness, murder at the hands of the crew, and suicide.
Colonial occupation of Togo began with the arrival of German missionaries in 1847 that led to the German declaration of a ‘protectorate’ called Togoland in 1884. With the German surrender at the outset of the first war in 1914 to Britain and France, the two colonisers helped themselves to the western and eastern parts of Togolandrespectively, through an agreement signed in 1919.In 1922, the League of Nations formalised the British and French‘mandates’ that remained until 1946 when Togoland was placed under UN trusteeship.
France as the colonial power of Eastern Togo in the early 1950s did their utmost to insulate Togoland from the influence of the nascent African independence struggle and Pan-Africanism founded by Kwame Nkrumah who came from the adjoining Gold Coast, later the independent state of Ghana. They started a process of making Togoland an autonomous republic within the French Union, formed a party named Togolese Party of Progress and appointed a man named Nicolas Grunitzky — the scion of a German Jewish coloniser (of Polish origin) and a Togolese mother — prime minister in September 1956.
But, the Togolese people demanded complete independence, and following UN representations, Sylvanus Olympio’s Togolese National Unity Party wonthe elections held in April 1958. Nicholas Grunitzky went in to exile. Togo became fully independent on April 27, 1960 and after the 1961 elections, Sylvanus Olympio became the first president. The independence however, was tragically short-lived: on 13 January 1963, in the first military overthrow of an elected government in sub-Saharan Africa, Togo’s first President Sylvanus Olympio was shot dead outside the US Embassy in the capital Lomé, while attempting to seek sanctuary there. The killer was sergeant Étienne Gnassingbé the father of Togo’s current ruler. Nicholas Grunitzky was brought back from exile to assume the presidency, and he was confirmed in office in subsequent elections held under a new constitution and legislature. Not long after, Grunitzky visited Israel in 1964, to be offered the customary Jewish welcome of bread and salt in Jerusalem.
On January 13, 1967, Étienne Gnassingbé (who had changed his name to Gnassingbé Eyadéma), then promoted to lieutenant colonel and chief of staff by Grunitzky, ousted him in a coup. Legislative elections since 1967 were held under a new constitution that formally placed Togo under civilian one-party rule headed by Eyadéma in 1979 and in 1985 Eyadéma was re-elected with almost 100 percent of the vote. He won the presidency in three subsequent rigged elections in 1998, 2001 and 2003. At the time of his death, having been president for 38 years, Eyadéma was the longest-serving leader in modern African history. The corruption continues in the form of his son’s rule, aided and abetted by the neocolonial power. A vote for US at the UN is the quid pro quo Faure Gnassingbé was prepared to exchange.
In trying to interpret the despicable behaviour of America in international affairs and their behaviour at the UN, they clearly rely on the observations of the type made by their first President George Washington. In a letter dated August 17, 1779 to Robert Howe, a Continental Army general from the Province of North Carolina during the American Revolutionary War, Washington wrote in reference to the risk of espionage by the British: ‘Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder’.
The challenge the developing world faces in dealing with neocolonialism is to defy the colonialist attempts to fulfil their objectives by relying on cynical observations on human nature of the type George Washington made. The UN General Assembly resolution of 21 December 2017 showed the potential to reject and resist. That is another reason that makes the condemnation of American aggression at the UN all the more gratifying.