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The Peter Young Column: All Hands On Deck To Recover From Dorian

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Peter Young

OLD habits as a diplomat die hard, so even in retirement I shy away from commenting in this column on domestic politics. However, in the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Dorian perhaps, for once, such self-restraint can be put aside temporarily in offering a view following the publicity last week about the involvement of two former Prime Ministers in dealing with the crisis.

In my last column, I suggested that it would be important to establish some sort of structure to coordinate the extraordinary amount and variety of assistance now being organised for the humanitarian relief effort in Abaco and Grand Bahama. My main point was that it would be vital to appoint a strong and experienced individual with the necessary power to act decisively as an official coordinator of the whole operation.

As well as overseeing contributions from local sources, this would include interacting with international relief organisations such as the United Nations World Food Program and with the governments and agencies of donor countries providing aid and material assistance.

Ideally, this would require a person of some stature and experience – perhaps a retired public figure with the appropriate personal authority and influence in handling what has already become a huge job of considerable complexity. The Prime Minister has appointed separate hurricane relief and redevelopment coordinators for Abaco and Grand Bahama, but what I had in mind was a supremo or someone in overall control who would report directly to the Prime Minister and be accountable to him.

Despite fears about jockeying for position mentioned in Dr Minnis’s recent statement, might it not be beneficial in such a time of crisis to take advantage of the offers of assistance from the former Prime Ministers who could bring to bear their unmatched experience, authority, influence and contacts?

The same could be said of another high-powered public figure with experience, drive and a proven track record like the recently retired Cabinet minister Brent Symonette. Such people are surely better equipped than anyone else to fulfil such a demanding task.

Others are better qualified to judge than I am, but it seems to me that the way this catastrophe is handled may well determine whether the FNM wins the next election.

If - in the coming months and beyond - the operation to clean up after the storm and to provide relief followed by recovery, restoration and rebuilding, is judged to be successful, it is the FNM government itself that will receive the credit in the longer term. Equally, if the people on the ground fail to deliver, the FNM will receive the blame rather than those directly responsible.

So, in accordance with the old adage that the art of leadership is the delegation of authority, it surely makes sense to put in place the best individual – someone with real clout and authority and with a track record of getting things done – in order to achieve the full recovery and reconstruction of both Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Britain’s political turmoil intesifying

I hesitate to write too much about Brexit because of the risk of overkill. But some comment is needed, I think, as events are moving fast.

During the period up to the UK’s agreed departure from the European Union on October 31, the disruption and chaos are likely to grow worse, with some commentators now saying that, while moving towards an historic constitutional crisis, the country’s political system is in meltdown. The opposition Labour Party wants another referendum and has rejected the offer by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a General Election while the Liberal Democrats want to stop Brexit altogether.

Since the return of MPs from the summer recess, they have successfully pushed through legislation which effectively rules out the UK leaving on October 31 without a deal by forcing the Prime Minister to seek another three-month extension of the departure deadline unless he can secure a deal before the next EU Summit meeting in mid-October.

This week will be significant because, at the time of writing, Mr Johnson is meeting the European Commission President, together with the EU’s chief negotiator, in Luxembourg for talks about a deal. Presumably, they will be discussing modification of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by his predecessor. With only forty-four days to go until departure, Mr Johnson is reportedly concentrating on a new deal to include what has been termed “meaningful change” to the Irish border backstop, since he needs this in order to sell any such fresh deal to the House of Commons.

In addition, this week the UK Supreme Court is due to reach a decision on the legality of the Prime Minister’s prorogation or suspension of the Westminster Parliament. The indications are that the court may conclude that it is a political matter and therefore not a proper issue for it to consider and that there is no legal basis on which to make a judgment. If that turns out to be the case, MPs are due to sit again on October 14 for The Queen’s Speech setting out the Government’s agenda for a new parliamentary session.

The coming weeks will be fraught with uncertainty. But what is for sure – and is sad for the whole country – is that the behaviour of MPs in recent times has precipitated, in a divided country, a furious backlash amongst members of the public who have clearly lost all respect for their representatives at Westminster.

Anniversary of devastating world war

While, inevitably, most people remain focused on Dorian – and will surely continue to do so in the foreseeable future – it might be interesting to dwell briefly on an important and historic event earlier this month in the shape of the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War.

Some consider that the global warfare from 1939-45 started with Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 or can even be traced back to the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. But most historians agree that the outbreak of the Second World War was Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and Britain’s and France’s declaration of war in response two days later after Hitler failed to respond to their ultimatum to withdraw his forces.

At the early stages of the conflict Britain experienced one setback after another, including the enforced evacuation of its expeditionary force from Dunkirk in 1940, though victory in the Battle of Britain fought in the skies that autumn forced Hitler to postpone his invasion plans.

But Prime Minister Winston Churchill realized that American involvement was essential so that, while President Roosevelt described Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 as “a date which will live in infamy” that brought the US into the war, Churchill declared that that night he “slept the sleep of the saved.”

It was against this background that, while watching President Trump’s sometimes contentious encounters with his fellow leaders at the recent G7 summit in France, I found it interesting to ponder on America’s political and military involvement in the rest of the world.

In creating a nation secure within its own borders and between two oceans, successive US presidents were mindful of George Washington’s admonition in his farewell presidential address not to become involved in “inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attitudes to others” and to steer clear of permanent alliances internationally – and the nation managed largely to avoid such entanglements and alliances until its late entry in 1917 into the First World War. This was followed by a period of isolationism during the 1930s until the horror of Pearl Harbour.

Once the sleeping giant was aroused the outcome of the conflict could never be in any doubt, however long it took to defeat both Germany and Japan. Not only did the US ensure the rebuilding of a shattered Europe through the Marshall Plan but it has since maintained a military presence in many places around the globe and has consolidated its vast power and influence almost everywhere.

Having won the Cold War, it has now developed valuable traditional alliances for world peace, and Western nations rely on the US’s global involvement for protection of the liberal world order. But, in my view, the policy during the second Bush presidency – after the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003 – of seeking to spread democracy through nation-building was both misguided and doomed from the start because it was inherently impossible to impose on other countries such a system which was, in many cases, alien to the people concerned. Moreover, the proponents of such a policy grossly underestimated the strength of local history, tribal loyalties and existing systems and values.

Nonetheless, the US is the guarantor of Western security and stability and long may that continue. But it took the bloodiest war in history to change everything.

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