Summit of the year: Trump meeting Kim Jong-un in Singapore
ith the controversial actions of the United States President Donald Trump giving rise to a tumultuous world order, the year that comes to an end in three more days can easily be labelled as a year of indifference to human suffering.
Tens of thousands of children die of starvations and disease in Yemen in scenes reminiscent of Somalia in the 1990s, but Trump has made little effort to stop the Saudi-Arabia-led war on the poorest Arab nation. Even after, the Senate, as a response to Saudi Arabia’s extrajudicial killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, passed last month a resolution urging the US to stop its support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Trump puts business with Saudi Arabia before the urgent need to end the Yemeni people’s suffering which the World Food Programme has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
According to the international charity group, Save the Children, more than 85,000 children under five have died of extreme hunger in Yemen since the war began in 2015, while other aid agencies estimate that of two million Yemeni children, who are mere skins on bones, nearly one hundred die daily in Yemen. The indifference of the world community – or its complicity -- even after seeing the shocking images of dying children is as appalling as it is puzzling.
Despite being beset by regular resignations of senior officials, the latest being Defence Secretary James Mattis, multiple scandals, investigations over collusion with Russia and a government shutdown, Trump is adamant and does what he wants in the way he wants. In his bid to appease Saudi Arabia, Trump also disregards calls to take punitive measures against the Gulf nation for the gruesome killing of Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate office in Istanbul on October 2. Apart from Turkey, the rest of the world has not taken a moral stand on this issue and continues its relations with Saudi Arabia regardless, as though human rights are only a matter to be taken up when powerless states commit excesses.
The year also underlined a depressing reality that the world failed miserably to deal with the life-and-death issue of climate change. With 2018 being regarded as the fourth warmest year on record since 1880, the blow the Trump administration’s self-centred policy dealt to the climate change agreement by withdrawing from it last year had a cumulative effect. With the US, one of the biggest polluters of the planet, not in the picture, the climate conference in the Polish coal town of Katowice this month became just another talk shop.
Trump’s make-America-great-again policy does not allow other nations to benefit at the expense of US sacrifices. He has dismissed climate change warnings as a hoax perpetrated by China.
The year also saw the United States launching a protracted trade war with China. The tit-for-tat trade sanctions had an adverse impact on the growth of the global economy, affecting largely developing nations.
If 2017 was a year of hope for migrants fleeing war and poverty, 2018 is a year of nightmare for migrants, especially those from Latin America.
This week, a second migrant child died in US custody as the Trump administration, which is hell bent on building a border wall -- instead of bridges to bring people together -- persists with its tough stand on migrants coming from Latin American nations. Most of these nations, especially El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, have been pushed into poverty as a result of Washington’s interventionist foreign policy.
Yet another Trump action that paid little or no attention to human suffering is the sanctions imposed on Iran. The Trump administration, in yet another controversial move, withdrew from the seven-nation Iran nuclear deal and slapped fresh sanctions on Iran, denying the oil-producing nation the opportunity to raise the living standards of its people suffering under decades of tough international sanctions. The move also shot up world oil prices deepening the economic crises many developing nations face.
Talking of human suffering and global indifference, Palestine needs a special mention. This year also is yet another annus horribilis for the Palestinian people. The Trump administration’s recognition of the whole of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and the shifting of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem dashed the Palestinians’ hope for an independent state with East Jerusalem as their capital. The defiant Palestinians continue their peaceful struggle, with Palestinian refugees in Gaza launching a Great March to Return to draw the world’s attention to their plight, the injustice caused to them and the humiliation they undergo in the hands of Israeli occupation forces. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed since the launch of the Great March in March this year. Yet the international community’s contribution towards ending the Palestinian people’s suffering is distressingly nominal.
The international community’s indifference to the suffering of the Syrian people continues this year, too. There was little progress on the Syrian front in terms of peace moves. With the Syrian troops now in control of much of the country, and the ISIS terrorists on the run, the war has reached a stalemate. But, it could escalate anytime, as Trump is calling back the US troops from Syria and giving regional power Turkey a freehand to deal with the Syrian Kurdish rebel group YPG which Ankara regards as an extension of the Turkish separatist group PKK.
A woman holds her skin-on-bones son at a malnutrition treatment center in Sanaa, Yemen. Pic Reuters
The Trump administration in a rash decision is also planning to slash the US military strength in Afghanistan by half. Though a US withdrawal is welcome from Syria and Afghanistan, the move should have been accompanied by measures aimed at permanent peace.
In terms of world peace, the biggest event this year was the summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June. The meeting, however, was seen more as a cameo performance by the two maverick leaders than any genuine attempt to strike peace. As the year began, the world was gripped by fears of a nuclear war between the US and North Korea over Pyongyang’s missile tests. After the June talks, North Korea dismantled its nuclear weapon test sites, but is now complaining that the US has not kept to its part of the deal.
The year also saw a slowdown in China’s growth, but its push to expand the Belt-and-Road Initiative is making progress, nevertheless, amid criticism that the BRI was China’s neocolonial project driven by debt diplomacy.
Russia, meanwhile, continues to assert itself in 2018, getting involved in a war of words with Britain following chemical poisoning attacks on Russian dissidents living in Britain.
The year’s another big story is Britain’s struggle to get a Brexit deal approved in parliament to complete its divorce with the European Union in March next year.
In South Asia, the setback the Narendra Modi government suffered in recent elections, the defeat of the Maldivian strongman Abdulla Yameen in the presidential election, cricket legend Imran Khan’s rise to prime ministerial seat and, of course, Sri Lanka’s constitutional coup, dominated world headlines. Another significant development of the year was Malaysia’s general election which saw Mahathir Mohamed’s return to power on a platform of anti-corruption in May.
On a positive note, though 2018 is a year of indifference, 2019 can be a year of hope, or at least let us hope it will be so, as we see a glimmer of peace hope in the distant horizon with regard to Yemen and Syria. Also 2019 could be an eventful year for the US, with the release of the report on the Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump camp’s alleged liaison with Russia likely any time. Will President Trump survive the probe’s outcome? This question may dominate the political discourse next year.