What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

This week ends with Michael Cohen lambasting the president during his Congressional hearings, the collapse of the Hanoi Peace Summit, and a decades-old conflict reaching a nuclear boiling point once again between India and Pakistan.

President Trump’s long-time fixer and personal lawyer Michael Cohen spent Wednesday and Thursday this week in public and closed-door sessions testifying before Congress. He spent much of his time accusing Trump of countless illegal acts before and after he became the President of the United States. While much of this just feels like Democrats stoking the fires of our new era of perpetual (and exhausting) outrage, one can’t really be sure if Cohen was lying or telling the truth. After all, he is going to prison for many things, one of which was lying to Congress.  

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez did an excellent job of asking essential questions and following up with requests for names of others who could corroborate his story — a necessary structure if one is to follow up on his accusations with any success. Many other congresspeople spent their allotted time grandstanding and making speeches about the fundamental lack of ethics in the Trump Administration. That all may be true, but the point of this hearing was to garner information from one of Trump’s closest former allies — one who is not attempting to slither his way into a presidential pardon and whom legitimately ruined his own life doing Trump’s bidding.

This litany of claims against Trump include breaching campaign finance laws with hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, covering up business dealings with the Russian government for a new Trump Tower in Moscow, and being aware in advance of a trove of hacked DNC emails released on WikiLeaks.

While many people blocked off their mornings to watch the proceedings, I find our government to be spiraling further into a dark hole of bread and circus. We’ve all become so engorged by the ballooning political shenanigans in Washington that we seem to miss that very little is actually being done for the American people while we all tune in to the telenovelas that have become our governing bodies.

Another political failure on full display this week was Trump’s highly publicized visit to Hanoi Vietnam to continue talks with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un regarding denuclearization and the end to the Korean War. A cold war of sorts with active fighting between 1950-1953, the North and South Korean communities have been separated by the DMZ (demilitarized zone) since. While most previous American presidents chose not to negotiate with Kim Jong-un or his late father Kim Jong-il, Trump was eager to engage with the unelected dictator. First, with aggressive and untethered tweets calling him “Rocket Man” and a “maniac”, and now with the second round of face-to-face talks regarding the denuclearization of a highly sanctioned North Korea.

It’s important to note that US government officials have been talking denuclearization with North Korea since the mid-80’s with the implementation of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). During some 30 years of talks, it always seems that North Korea isn’t willing to give up its nuclear weapon development program. They often agree to inspections only to refuse entry to inspectors, or, simply deny the existence of underground facilities completely. The talks get close and then fall apart — which is precisely what happened this time around. This is why most presidents refused to spend their time talking as it has yet to prove a useful means of their time and brings legitimacy to the dictator’s rule of North Korea.

Another long-term international conflict is rearing its ugly head in Pakistan and India. After a suicide bomber attacked Indian military forces in the disputed area of Kashmir which left 40 people dead on February 14th, the decades-old conflict has been resuscitated. This attack created knock-on retaliations from the Indian military and responses from the Pakistani military with the takedown of two Indian jets resulting in one pilot being captured. Pakistan’s President Imran Khan has offered to release the pilot as an olive branch to India.

The protracted dispute over Kashmir began in 1947 after English colonizers divided the country along mostly religious lines of Hindu and Muslim. Kashmir remains India’s only Muslim-majority state, with about ⅓ of the region falling on the side of the Pakistani border, and the other ⅔ on the Indian side. This region has been embroiled in conflict for 70 years, and, with three major wars and hundreds of lives lost, the dispute seems to always be just below the surface. While the majority of citizens seek peace, the two countries have yet to manage to sustain it long term.

The general trajectory of these deadly spats between Pakistan and India goes somewhat like this: a terrorist organization based in Pakistan (like the one responsible for the most recent attack on Jaish-e-Mohammed) will attack Indian military operations. This will prompt the Indian military to respond with targeted attacks on terrorists in Pakistan, and then, subsequently, Pakistan will return fire because India is bombing within their borders. Many of these terrorist organizations are technically banned from existing in Pakistan, but it’s poorly enforced, if at all. Many of them will build insurgencies within Indian-ruled Kashmir and actually attack from within.

The over-simplified fix to this long-running issue that many have offered is to rid the region of terrorist organizations completely (definitely easier said than done). The Pakistani government now run by the centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has shifted dramatically from the country’s previous long run of military dictators. While much of their rhetoric is for equality and an end to the corrupt policies that have destabilized the nation, they have much work ahead of themselves to rein in all that challenges Pakistan. With the current crisis between India and Pakistan deepening, one can hope that cooler heads will eventually prevail as they have in the past. It will be the longer arch of a strengthening Pakistani democracy that will potentially end these conflicts for good.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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