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Why Both Trump And Hillary Are Bad News For The Middle East

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By Sabah Kochhar:

Hillary and Trump

Following Donald Trump’s emergence as the lead GOP candidate in the run up to the 2016 American elections, and given Hillary Clinton’s popularity against fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders, it appears most likely that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be the two frontrunners for next US President. While much has been said about Trump’s “building a wall against Mexico”, “banning Muslims” and Clintons’ past on prison justice reform and allegations of corruption: few have looked at both candidates’ foreign policy proposals with equal thoroughness.

What is evident is that regardless of whoever the winner is, both Trump and Clinton fail to offer much promise in the foreign policy department, particularly in respect to the vast inconsistencies vis-à-vis the Middle East.

Trump, who has pushed forth his rhetoric of “America First”, has been quite vague on issues of how he plans to engage (or not) with Iran, post the historical Obama-Rouhani talks marking the end of the sanction era. Moreover, Trump is said to have spoken passionately about “fighting the Islamic State”, but that has also been one of Obama’s priorities in the past, and Trump has yet to state a concrete plan except heavy-handed rhetoric amidst nativist frenzy.

On April 27, the projected Republican nominee for President spoke at the Center for the National Interest, where he did state that America had been overburdened in paying the NATO’s dues and that its allies such as South Korea or Japan were not doing enough. This has, so far, been one of the only concretely laid out measures Trump has proposed. What’s also interesting is that Trump seems to be in denial about BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, calling out his lie: that of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Which is at a direct clash with what Trump said to reporter Anderson Cooper in an interview in March – “I was against the war in Iraq. OK?” However, as Ben Smith pointed out, “On the war’s first day, he called it a “tremendous success from a military standpoint“.” Most importantly, though, while Trump hasn’t officially stated them as policy missions, he has indulged the thought of using a nuclear bomb even in Europe, as well bragging about doing away with the entire families of terrorists, if his past is something to go by.

But while Trump seems more about all-talk, double standards and no action, opponent Clinton’s approach to war is only marginally better. Many have pointed out how Hillary has advocated for a more hawkish foreign policy than both Democrats and Republicans, her past actions being cited as militaristic than anyone else in the race. Her legacy includes her support for the Iraq war, the 2011 Libyan war and the siege in Afghanistan. Her friendship with Henry Kissinger is also a matter of notoriety, given Kissinger’s role in 1971 Bangladeshi war crimes (he continues to remain non-indicted; a parallel to Bush and Blair’s roles in Iraq). Hillary’s firm stance in favour of sidling up with ally Israel and the murky track record regarding the accountability of Israeli and American violations in Palestine makes her ‘liberal’ stamp even more dubious. In one of her recent speeches, given at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, some onlookers went so far as to say that her die-hard, pro-Israel belligerence “sounded like Netanyahu“!

But then again, for all the talk of framing Republicans and Democrats as two sides, it’s crucial to note that the American approach to foreign policy in the Middle East has long been pursuing the same underlying theme: that of global superpower as well as super-policeman. Even as many of us, my own self included, hails Obama’s relatively socialist policies, and a progressive, charismatic attitude, the reality remains that he too has failed to live up to many of our expectations. Noted journalist Glenn Greenwald writes in a scathing account of Obama’s drone policies that despite Obama’s Democrat and socialist labels, his foreign policy and failure to live unto the promises of shutting down Guantanamo, have proven the Democrats’ hypocrisy. “Somehow,” says Greenwald, “it was hideously wrong for George W. Bush to eavesdrop on and imprison suspected terrorists without judicial approval, yet it was perfectly permissible for Obama to assassinate them without due process of any kind.”

When it comes to drones, the seeming invisibility of an attack makes it virtually harmless. And unlike a full-scale war that the Bush era bought, the imminence of drones is yet to be registered in the minds of the American public which remains far removed and disaffected from its lived realities; unlike a Pakistani or Yemeni victim killed by a drone in a remote region.

Even though we talk about “likely foreign policy” that the incoming President would bring, the chances of any radical change are slim. American support for Israel will not wane. Neither does there seem to be a near-end to the crisis in Syria with Clinton herself proposing a “no-fly zone” (a probable war with the Assad regime and bombing down ISIS at the same time?) albeit with the risk that the US will be drawn into further military involvement without any long-term and sustainable solution to this vicious cycle.

What’s clear from all this is that most Americans have no choice. It’s not “progressive” Democrat Hillary versus “bad for the Middle East” Republican Trump so much as it is a choice between a slightly lesser evil. But all through this heavy-handed talk, it only seems that the very people living in these regions – the non-American civilians at risk – are the only ones entirely left out of the debate.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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