At G-20 in Hamburg, Trump should call for peace, not war
Just before he went to Hamburg for the G-20 summit, President Trump launched his visit to Europe with a stopover in Poland, where he ws greeted by its right wing president, Andrzej Duda. If what he did in Poland is any indication, hopes for what he might achieve in Hamburg aren't too high. In Poland he made a bellicose speech, painting the "West" as being under assault from an uncivilized and dangerous world. He backed Polish government attacks on its own free press and supported its nationalist outlook. | AP

HAMBURG, Germany – Years ago the 35th U.S. president made a speech in Germany, four words of which, in American-accented German, remain famous: “Ich bin ein Berliner!”- “I am a Berliner!” (The president’s words, translated literally meant, “I am a jelly donut!”)

That was John F. Kennedy. Will the 45th president, soon to visit Germany’s second city, emulate him and tweet “I am a Hamburger! Wow!” Whatever he tweets, Donald Trump’s encounter with Vladimir Putin on Friday, their first ever, can have immense importance for the world, no matter what it thinks of either of them.

The giant port, known for its gales and floods, is already facing storms which have little to do with North Sea winds or waves. All kinds of important people are gathering there this week for the G-20 meeting of heads of state, and although it has no statute or mandate from any organization but itself, a lot of waves may be created.

Its host, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been in Berlin until now, welcoming the Chinese president and two youthful giant pandas, to be lent to the Berlin Zoo (for $1 million a year). She hopes they may help her and her Christian Democratic party win the elections in September. The pandas can’t vote, but maybe their charm will rub off on the party, overcoming the not-so-charming vote of nearly all Christian delegates against same-gender marriage, while all other parties voted successfully “Ja” – and voted also also for the right of same gender couples to adopt.

In Berlin itself the Christian Dems lost all representation in the city Senate last December with the takeover by the Red, Red, Green coalition of the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens.

When Merkel, a genuine Hamburger, arrives in the hometown of her birth in 1954, she will find a dish of mixed pickles far less charming than bamboo-chewing Meng Meng and Jiao Qing. It will mean a “bon jour” to the worrisome new French president, Emmanuel Macron, with his big majority in the Assemblée Nationale, who seems to be copying Napoleon or Louis XVI. (We may recall their fates!) And maybe a sarcastic “How do you do?” to a worried Theresa May, who forfeited her majority in Parliament and hopes no one recalls the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots.

Also present will be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, whose party was swamped in a Tokyo state election; his corruption record is winning him the nickname “Dis-Honest Abe.” Erdogan of Turkey will be there too; his recent referendum victory was a sure thing after he threw thousands of people – the kinds who might vote incorrectly – judges, generals, policemen, journalists and writers – out of their jobs and into prison. Other charming guests will include Michel Temer, king of corruption in Brazil, Enrique Peña Nieto from Mexico, a rival for that title, and the equally gifted Jacob Zuma.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia decided against appearing in person, perhaps due to recent British details for a tale almost rivaling the Arabian Nights; how for decades his super-rich kingdom was the major purveyor of the most vicious distortions of Islam, whose spread of hatred is a major factor in terrorism. It has also been a top customer for British, American, German, French and other bombers, tanks or other weapons, to be used most tellingly against the children of Yemen. His presence in Hamburg might embarrass almost everyone, so it is better if he keeps to his home palaces with his entourage and harem.

Two far more numerous groups will be in Hamburg; many are already there: those coming to protest the gathering and those to protect it.

The protesters are engaged in a whole week of activities; an evening dance event, a regatta of canoes, rowboats, kayaks and rafts to temporarily block off the harbor, a series of rallies, dozens of meetings and symposia, a march of symbolically gray-clad figures, and a giant protest on Saturday, with a hoped-for attendance of somewhere near 100,000.

A broad spectrum of organizations has been planning counterdemonstrations to G-20 since it was first announced. Big protest groups like Attac, Campact and Blockupy are backing it, also the strong local Die Linke (the Left Party), the northern region of the German Labor Federation, some churches, agricultural groups opposed to gene manipulation and monopoly seed control, ecology groups like Greenpeace and various opponents of globalization and the deportation of refugees.

Also present will be the provocative so-called “autonomous” group, an estimated 5,000 from all over Europe, noted for masked conflicts with the police, for shattered windows, overturned and burned-out squad cars, luxury vehicles and dumpsters, all the “left-wing terrorist” stuff the mass media love to report. They plan to defy police “red lines” around “no go zones” but want no violence, they say, “unless the cops start it.” They will be featured at one event on the evening before the official Saturday meetings, titled “Welcome to Hell!” Their announced intention is to entirely disrupt the whole G-20 event, a meeting of the top exploiters of the world, to be opposed tooth and nail, dumpster for dumpster.

The city and government officials are officially committed to permitting organized peaceful dissent, and the Hamburg government is run by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Even the courts, after many to’s and fro’s, OK’d the presence of the demonstrators. But black blocs are black blocs – and cops are cops, nearly 10,000 from Hamburg, nearly 20,000 from other states. There has already been trouble. First, a group of Berlin cops, preparing for their protective actions, held a fine orgy in their temporary HQ, with enough public intoxication, fornication, urination and a naked dance (with a side weapon as ornament) to get them sent home in disgrace.

Perhaps to compensate for such human failings, three police units invaded the tent sleeping quarters of one protest group, waking them up after midnight and confiscating their tents – despite court orders. Yes it may turn out to be a hot weekend!

But one basic question looms behind all of it; the meeting between Trump and Putin, a matter fraught with confusion, distortion and deception. I know that this is controversial and many people of good will do not agree on this matter. To some extent, however, shady methods were used to deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination and it is convenient for some to cover up some of the poor decisions made in the election campaign by emphasizing alleged interference by Russia in the election.

Many believe that in reality it was mistakes by the Clinton campaign that were the biggest contributors to her defeat. In any case much of this is water under the bridge but what is still relevant is that the issue of alleged Russian interference  is being used to create an alarmingly belligerent atmosphere up to and at the G-20, part of the long effort of a small, powerful group in Washington and environs to break any resistance to their will to worldwide expansion.

As General Wesley Clarke described it, the effort has gone ahead, country by country, most recently in North Africa and the Near East. Yet Russia, since Yeltsin dropped out, is a main obstacle. Over the years it has been possible to surround European Russia with an iron ring, whose military installation and missile bases extend from Norway and the Baltic countries down to Georgia and Azerbaijan, including Russian exits to world waterways in the Baltic and Black Sea. The undisguised attempt to close this ring completely, blocking off the Black Sea and moving even closer to Moscow, was quite openly pursued by people like Victoria Nuland, Deputy Secretary of State, and was only barely stopped, in desperation against total, hostile encirclement, by Putin in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. The current policy is to suffocate Russia economically, blocking its vital oil and gas export routes to western Europe and ruining the economy with sanctions. A few candid politicos have tattled their end goal; regime change in Moscow, perhaps with a Maidan Square episode in Red Square.

These matters are of vital importance this weekend. With NATO troops in full battle array less than 150 kilometers from Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, with U.S. forces shooting down Russian-allied aircraft in Syria, with NATO ships and planes maneuvering in hailing distance in the Baltic and the Black Sea, not to mention Ukraine – the dangers recall Europe in 1939. It seemed at first that Trump, loony as he seemed, was at least ready to negotiate with Putin about peace.

These hopes have dimmed, partly because he felt he must prove his distance from Putin, partly because of the pressure from decoration-hungry generals and sales-hungry armaments giants. He has already launched a frightening bombing raid in Syria, dropped a gigantic bomb in Afghanistan, increased frightening threats to North Korea (for doing, after all, nothing worse than the military testing by ten other atomic-armed countries). It seems clear that Trump knows little more of the outside world than hotels and other business deals. Both he and his backers are dangerous. Hamburg offers a thin chance that Putin and Trump can somehow take a few steps away from the precipice.

Can we afford to abandon such hopes – and such pressures? Some of the protesters, maybe taking cues from some op-ed writers at the Washington Post or whoever their backers, seem to be trying to turn protest against many bad things – climate destruction, globalization, oppression, exploitation – into a jolly but mindless attack on everyone –  Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and Merkel, without a word of analysis.

We need not love Putin any more than Trump, Erdogan or Merkel, we can hate them all as capitalist villains, but we must look at the facts: There are 761 US military bases spotting the earth like a bad case of measles, with provisional bases bringing it close to 1,000. Russia, except for a few remnants in one-time USSR republics, has two bases in Syria, its only bases in the Mediterranean. Those of NATO are in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, Morocco and the adjoining Red Sea. The U.S. spends yearly over $680 billion on its military, NATO an additional $273 billion – and Trump insists both raise this sharply. Russia spends $93.7 billion. Russia has one aircraft carrier, the USA has ten. A look at the map clinches the matter; who endangers who here? If we count aggressive words as well – U.S. Senators talking of the Russian “foe,” words Putin never uses, it seems difficult to explain how the threats can be called equal.

The meeting in Hamburg, whatever else is achieved or obstructed, should be used to pressure Trump and the NATO countries to negotiate with Russia and join in safeguarding a peaceful world. There is then more than enough repression and deforestation, and a dozen other things, which must be fought against. But first of all, I am convinced, against confrontation, which can all too easily mean nuclear war.


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled the U.S. in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. One of his books is available in English: “Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany” (2003, University of Massachusetts Press).

 

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