Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2017-12-15 16:25:05 -

It’s the end of another year, so in this column, I want to reflect on what progress we have achieved both globally and here in America, and what I believe lies ahead in the coming year.


On a global level, we made some considerable headway in the fight against the pseudo-religious extremists who are affiliated with al-Qaeda and Daesh. As recently as 2014, Daesh employed as many as 30,000 petty criminals, drug addicts and social misfits as fighters in the 40,000 square miles of territory it controlled in eastern Syria and western Iraq. But by any measure, the so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq has completely collapsed, leaving its remaining foreign fighters and their families at the mercy of Kurdish, Iraqi, Hezbollah and Syrian regime and rebel forces.


In Nigeria, Boko Haram has also lost most of its territory. And rather than use its own fighters to attack police and armed forces in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, it has resorted to forcing innocent women and children to become suicide bombers. While Boko Haram remains a viable terrorist threat in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, it is also a shadow of its former self.


In other parts of the world, both Daesh and al-Qaeda have seen their influence wax and wane. In an effort to distract the world’s attention from the impending loss of its de-facto capital in Raqqa, Daesh spent over $1.5m financing a co-ordinated assault by 500 of its sleeper cell operatives on the police and city prison in the southern Philippines city of Marawi. Although Daesh and the prisoners it freed succeeded in overrunning and occupying Marawi for over four months, armed forces killed 700 Daesh terrorists and their two leaders when they recaptured the city in October.


While al-Qaeda’s leaders, various affiliates and their Taliban allies in Pakistan continue to perpetrate violence against innocent civilians, their sphere of influence is shrinking. In Yemen, United Arab Emirates armed forces expelled them from the main port of Mukalla, Zinjibar, and Mansoura in Aden. Daesh and al-Qaeda have also been driven out of the Pekha, Takhto and Mohmand valleys and into the mountains of Achin near Pakistan.


We have witnessed too some progress in the area of human rights and democracy this year, with the jailing of Ratko Mladic for the war crimes he committed against Muslim civilians in Bosnia in the 1990s. The demise of Robert Mugabe as quasi-dictator of Zimbabwe could also be viewed on the same terms. However, even though the ruling Zanu-PF party appears to have reformed by dumping the G40 group led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, we won’t really know if democracy has taken hold until after 2018’s elections.


Elsewhere, for supporters of human rights and truly democratic political values, 2017 has not been a banner year. In Venezuela, a country with rampant inflation, murder and violent crime as well as a dearth of basic food, clothing and medical supplies, President Nicolás Maduro has succeeded in hobbling his democratically elected domestic political opposition. Maduro first created a Constituent Assembly stacked with his supporters, had the Supreme Court judges he appointed approve his actions and unconstitutional emergency powers, and then rigged the voting in the 23 state governors’ elections.


But while respect for human rights and democratic rule may be on life support in countries like Venezuela, they are all but dead in Russia, the pseudo-democratic home of world’s second largest nuclear arsenal. Russian President Vladimir Putin has successfully used Russia’s oil wealth as a geopolitical foreign policy tool to challenge American interests around the world. Putin has also employed hundreds of Russian hackers to try to influence the outcome of elections in America, France and Catalonia. Even more chillingly, Putin has silenced political opponents like Ivan Skripnichenko and Boris Nemtsov by allegedly having then killed by hired  thugs from the world of organised crime.


China – a democracy in name only – held its quinquennial Communist Party Congress in October, where it anointed the eight men who will rule the country for the next five years. It was no surprise that Xi Jinping will continue to be China’s President for another term, and that the Politburo Standing Committee is once again composed only of men. But many observers were taken aback by the party’s decision to incorporate Xi Jinping’s name and ideas into the party’s constitution. This move makes Xi China’s most powerful leader since Mao, and points to him remaining in power for a lot longer than five more years.


Here in America, there has also been some notable improvement in public attitudes surrounding the sexual assaults and harassment of women by powerful male business, entertainment and news media figures. But the outing of once powerful individuals like Harvey Weinstein is just a start. Time magazine’s recognition of the #MeToo movement as its Person of the Year speaks to the new level of accountability for both individuals and institutions that will expected by the general public and women in the future.


President Donald Trump’s supporters point to his 2016 election as proof that all the women who accused him of sexual improprieties were politically driven liars. But I believe Roy Moore’s Senate election defeat in Alabama, in spite of President Trump’s strong support, has now revived the debate about those women’s accusations against the Commander in Chief.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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