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Foreign Policy Blunder

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 02, 2018

Once I read our government had abstained on the United Nation's resolution to condemn the United States decision to anoint Jerusalem as Israel's capital I raced to the Tunapuna cemetery to reacquaint myself with the words on C. L. R. James's gravestone, which read: "Time would pass, old empires would fall and new ones take their place, the relations of countries and the relations of classes had to change, before I discovered that it is not quality of goods and utility which matter, but movement; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from, where you are going and the rate at which you are getting there" (Beyond a Boundary).

As I read the epitaph, I could not help but think of the caliber of men and women who constructed the PNM and the close collaboration of James and Williams as they sought to set our nation along a solid path of decency and self-respect. Such was Dr. Williams's respect for his people that he had the guts to stand up to Uncle Sam (at the threat of possible assassination) when we needed Chaguaramas for the capital of an independent West Indian federation. Even George Chambers, our second prime minister who we vilified as being "duncy," opposed the US invasion of Grenada. He recognized that our being a sovereign nation called upon us to take a principled position even when faced with the threats of the United States.

My thoughts went back to James because he was an internationalist who, like Williams, understood that one's foreign policy is only an extension of one's national policy. It follows necessarily that if one's national policy is in shambles its foreign policy may well follow a similar trajectory. While our government's abstention may have been construed as a reasonable position I wanted to know why it voted that way.

My disappointment came when I read the government's incoherent rambling of what was offered as a rationale for its position. It stated that Trinidad and Tobago's position has always been "to support steadfast recognition of the state of Israel with secure territorial borders as well as establishment of a Palestinian state."

So far, so good.

It continued: "We would wish to see the United States play a major role in bringing this about by preserving its position as an influential broker in all negotiations which would have peace and security as its primary objective." This leaves one to ask how the US could maintain its position as an "influential broker" when its pronouncement shows it to be on the Israeli side. Mark Landler commented: "While evangelicals or some hardline, pro-Israeli American Jews exulted, the Palestinians seethed—leaving Mr. Trump's dreams of brokering a peace accord between them and the Israelis in tatters" (New York Times, December 29).

When President Donald Trump, in defiance of most of the sovereign states of the world, unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he violated prior UN resolutions that recognized east Jerusalem as occupied territory. One observer noted that "as recently as December 2016 the UN Security Council resolution 2334 stated that the expansion of Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and other parts of Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 are a flagrant violation of international law" ( Neither President Trump nor Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, forgave the US (and President Obama by inference) for not voting against this resolution.

While some observers recognize Jerusalem as the de facto capital of Israel, many astute observers believe that the fate of Jerusalem should be worked out in a final resolution of the two-state solution which our government sees as a just resolution to this international problem. However, once the US came out in Israel's favor it forfeited its role as an honest broker thereby preventing it from acting in the way the T&T government hoped it would act.

It might be that our government felt it would pay a high price if it defied the wishes of the US government, and there is a place in foreign policy for those kinds of decisions. Our government might even have felt that under the circumstances caution was the better part of valor. Yet, I do not think that our present government puts as much thought into these decisions as they ought to. The present cabinet does not possess the necessary brain power and/or experience to arrive at foreign policy decisions that are in the best interest of the state. Recent foreign policy appointments, the low profile of the foreign minister and the erasure of his voice in the articulation of our foreign policy indicate the little importance we place in this aspect of our affairs.

As I meditated upon James's injunction, I observed an equally judicious epitaph nearby. It was on John Morton's tombstone. Morton was a Canadian missionary to the East Indians from 1867 to 1912. The epitaph read: "He being dead yet speaketh." I suspect that he intended to tell us that our sages have some truths they wish to convey to us. In my words, "Listen up! It's not how fast we are going but our ability to think through what we want to achieve as a nation."

We should listen to these words of wisdom?

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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