2017 ushers in a new era with the realization that the rules in politics and international affairs have been steadily changing over the course of several decades. As those working in the political industries of the world struggle to realign themselves into position that will be favorable, they fail to grasp the nature of change that they have long resisted. In large part, it is because change threatens the wealth and power of those who benefit the most from the status quo. It is also because the affluent and influential have been able to hide from the need for change by ignoring and discrediting change agents so long that they no longer know how to change. More importantly, it is because change requires them to risk their wealth and power.
The US, which happens to be the world’s only superpower and happens to influence the policies of all countries, expects great change, for better or worse, under President Donald Trump. Like once-inexperienced President Barack Obama, who campaigned on a “change” mantra, yet tended to defer to public and foreign policy precedent, Trump is a change agent who will shake things up in certain areas, neglect the need for change in others, and push regression in other areas that were changed for the better. Having campaigned as anti-Obama, Trump is expected to initially embrace the inverse of Obama, which means rejecting traditional Republican stances as well. Trump is not, however, likely to maintain his anti-Obama, anti-Washington status while he is fated to become a transitional leader in a much larger campaign for change.
The Middle East provides the International Community a constant stream of entertainment and heartache due to an inexplicably complex web of cultural rivalries, violent extremists, and unresponsive, self-serving governments that use a combination of socialism, psychological warfare, and brutal violence to crush dissent. When criticized by those they cannot victimize, such as the United States, the abusive public officials of the Middle East play the victim. Although this victim-victimizer mentality is on display throughout the region, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring Revolutions and other efforts by the oppressed to voice their grievances, it is no more apparent than when allies of the United States and Europe try to use it to further their own political interests.
Capitalizing on a seemingly well-choreographed coup attempt in July of 2016, Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has been able to further his crackdown on political revivals and dissent. Unwilling to buy into the post-coup narrative, the US has not provided Erdoğan additional aid in his quests to decimate those he identifies as “terrorists.” Thanks to the US-Russian Conflict, Turkish-Russian cooperation on Syria, and the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish police officer, Erdogan has an opportunity to play the US and Russia against each other. By accusing the US of sponsoring terrorists groups like the Islamic State in line with Russian propaganda, whether true or false, Erdogan is capitalizing on this opportunity for his own political benefit. He is also sabotaging Turkish’s long-term relationship with the West.
Religion is the bedrock of the Holiday Season. Although Christmas has been thoroughly commercialized, while many observers of Christmas, Hanukkah, and various other celebrations embrace holiday traditions for social reasons and tolerate the religious message, pervasive public displays of religious symbolism raise questions about the role of religion in a democratic society. With control of the Executive Branch of the US government returning to the Republican Party, which is seen as a more religious political faction, even though Donald Trump is not a particularly religious person, the role of religion in government is of particular concern.
In the US, for example, the First Amendment guarantees the religious freedom of all citizens. For the religious, this means the government cannot infringe upon one’s worship of God and must protect citizens from religious persecution. For the nonreligious, this means the government must protect one’s right to abstain from religion. When it comes to cultural traditions, such as the public celebration of Christmas, the religious are more inclined to argue that government must protect the religious rights of citizens by honoring Christmas and an equalizing embrace of other religious traditions; whereas, the non-religious are more inclined to argue that government officials must protect the religious freedoms of citizens by distancing themselves from religious symbols and religious traditions.
The United Nations has voted to condemn Israeli settlements to the surprise of no one. The Obama Administration’s decision to abstain from the vote and allow the vote to go forward is, however, an unexpected departure from America’s traditional sheltering of Israeli policy from international criticism. Although the Obama Administration’s failure to veto the UN resolution is terribly upsetting to pro-Israeli factions and being framed as the product of a feud between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, those blindly criticizing the decision need to listen and recognize the threat to Israel that comes from silencing valid criticism of Israel.
International law and acts of the UN are largely unenforceable, unless a world power like the US acts on it, thus the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements is thoroughly symbolic in nature. As the world’s only superpower, the US response to such efforts actually matters far more than the actual resolution. Under traditional wisdom, the US needs to control the “message” to shape the world’s perception of Israel. By suppressing criticism of the Israeli government’s policies, opposition and threats to Israel can be suppressed. The problem with this kind of traditional wisdom is that the suppression of dissent actually tends to inspire greater criticism and opposition.
Fake news, especially the propagation of fake news by the so-called professional media, has blossomed into a full-blown crisis that only promises to grow. Although inaccuracies and propaganda have always plagued the news, search engines results based on popularity, social media, and the manner in which the Press shares under-verified stories on a national level to save money at the expense of much needed investigative journalism have transformed an ongoing issue into a crisis of credibility. The issue of fake news adds to an already growing distrust of media outlets that cater to the political bias of their owners as they rely more on often-biased “analysis” and “commentary.”
Unfortunately, journalist will, and do, abuse the power of the Press by scrutinizing the actions of those they dislike and those whose views they oppose until they find something trivial to create scandal over. A journalist lacking ethics is a very dangerous person, especially if he, or she, is seen as a credible source. After all, a journalist, whose job is to improve communication between influencers and the general public, is capable of significantly altering how the world functions. A journalist must have integrity, a sense of responsibility, and a desire to offer transparent, constructive reports. It cannot be the goal of a journalist to cause harm for the sake of journalistic recognition.
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