Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Inside Washington: Acts and scenes

Followed by  Thomas Gorguissian

Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula

A ground invasion is the only way to locate and destroy North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a letter reflecting its assessment of a possible war on the Korean peninsula. The assessment also mentioned that “North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons” and that the country “has a long-standing chemical weapons programme with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood and choking agents.”

The letter, written by Rear Admiral Michael J Dumont, the vice director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, was released in response to a request for information from two House members about “expected casualty assessments in a conflict with North Korea.” It was published just as President Trump was starting his 12-day trip to Asia. Before the trip, National Security Adviser General H R McMaster told reporters that one of the major goals of Trump’s visit to Asia will be to rally allies to pursue the “complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.” The Pentagon in its assessment noted the possibility of “opposition from China or Russia,” and mentioned that both “Russia or China may prefer to avoid conflict with the United States, or possibly cooperate with us.”

According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service it was estimated that as many as 25 million people on either side of the border, including more than 100,000 US citizens, could be affected by a war on the Korean peninsula. 

Recalling what was said before by President Trump on North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un, the US president’s language and rhetoric is attracting the close attention of media and politicians during this Asia trip, which includes Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.

 House of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) issued a statement on the Asia trip last Friday, November 3rd, the day the President started his travels. “This trip is an important opportunity to strengthen America’s critical role in the region – from supporting security partnerships and democracies to calling out human rights abusers to encouraging trade alliances,” chairman Royce said, continuing: “The president must reiterate our commitment to changing North Korea’s behaviour through financial pressure and hard diplomacy. The Kim regime is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons capable of striking all 50 US states. Now is the time to totally isolate the Kim regime, and cut off the hard currency it needs to sustain its rule and fund its weapons programmes. This means compelling China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, to fully cooperate.”


Questioning Silicon Valley

Last week, Congress started to question and definitely grilled the tech giants. Representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Google were on Capitol Hill for three Congressional hearings over two days, during which they were questioned about Russian meddling on social media in the 2016 elections. The CEOs of these three tech giants were absent from these hearings; they sent instead their legal representatives. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) expressed his displeasure at this tactic, saying, “I’m disappointed that you’re here and not your CEOs, because we’re talking about policies and policies of the companies. . .  If we go through this exercise again, we would appreciate seeing the top people who are actually making the decision.”

As was expected, the senators appeared skeptical that tech companies are doing enough now to combat fake news and hate messages on their platforms in the future. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, blamed those tech companies for Russian interference. “You bear this responsibility,” she said. “You’ve created these platforms.” During these hearings Facebook disclosed that 146 million Americans may have seen Russian-linked ads or content on its platforms ahead of the 2016 election. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas wondered why WikiLeaks was able to operate “uninhibited” on Twitter. “Is it bias to side with America over our adversaries?” Cotton asked. “We’re trying to be unbiased around the world,” Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, answered. Edgett continued, “We’re obviously an American company and care deeply about the issues we’re talking about today, but as it relates to WikiLeaks or other accounts like it, we make sure they are in compliance with our policies just like every other account.” 

Commenting on the larger issue, Emily Parker, a fellow at the think tank New America, wrote in New York Times on 2 November: “Some of the Russian propaganda on social media was cribbed from content that was posted by Americans. Yes, social media helps propaganda spread farther and faster. But Facebook and Twitter didn’t force users to share misinformation. Are Americans so easily duped? Or more alarming, did they simply believe what they wanted to believe?” Parker concluded: “Social media platforms magnify our bad habits, even encourage them, but they don’t create them. Silicon Valley isn’t destroying democracy — only we can do that.”

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