Archive for the ‘America’ Category

30/12/2016

A piece in Foreign Affairs discusses what China will gain from Trump, “China bashing has been a staple of U.S. populist politics for three decades, and the 2016 election was no exception. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly promised to stand up to China and hold it accountable to international trade rules, but the exact wording of her statements usually left her enough wiggle room to avoid action if necessary. President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-trade, anti-China rhetoric, however, unambiguously bound him to decisive action.

Now that he is headed for the Oval Office, Trump will have to make some difficult choices regarding which campaign promises to keep and how to keep them. With Republicans in control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, he won’t be able to blame Congress if he fails to deliver. In fact, he could make good on most of his promises on trade and China through executive action, without Congressional approval. U.S. President Barack Obama’s penchant for governing by executive order means that many of his initiatives can be reversed with the stroke of a pen. Expect a quick end, for example, to U.S.-Chinese cooperation on climate change.

At the very beginning of his campaign, Trump pledged to label China a currency manipulator on day one in office (a promise Republican nominee Mitt Romney also made, in 2012). Trump has also vowed to take legal action against Beijing (domestically and at the World Trade Organization) and to slap punitive tariffs on China if it “does not stop its illegal activities.” Not much wiggle room there.

On top of all this is Trump’s pledge to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership,  Obama’s flagship trade, investment, and intellectual property deal. In theory, the TPP should attract broad support from the U.S. political establishment. In practice, it has become politically toxic. Primarily a tool for spreading U.S. interests abroad, Trump has portrayed it as a Trojan horse for foreign—and ultimately Chinese—influence.

Those were the campaign promises. What is the reality? President Trump’s China policy is likely to be much less aggressive than candidate Trump’s. His language may not have been as carefully chosen as Clinton’s, but his stance is not as extreme as it may appear. China probably has little to fear from Trump. And it may even stand to gain.

Trump has loudly, repeatedly, and unequivocally promised to instruct his secretary of the treasury to label China a “currency manipulator” on day one of his presidency. There is little reason to doubt his commitment to do so. Everyone knows that China is a currency manipulator and has been for the last 40 years. All countries take actions to manage their currencies, but China is more overt about it than most. Diplomatic politesse is the only reason China has dodged the label for so long.

The problem for Trump is that these days, China is more likely to be manipulating its currency up. Most countries accused of currency manipulation are accused of doing the opposite: a weak currency boosts export competitiveness. In fact, of the six countries on the U.S. Treasury Department’s currency manipulation watch list, five are depressing the values of their currencies.

By contrast, China has intervened heavily in foreign currency markets “to prevent a rapid RMB depreciation,” according to a recent U.S. Treasury Department report. The communiqué goes on to note that over the last year China has “sold more than $570 billion in foreign currency assets to prevent more rapid RMB depreciation.” That represents an enormous market intervention to keep the RMB strong—and make Chinese exports less competitive.

China has not been manipulating its currency as a gift to U.S. exporters. It has been intervening to gain accession to the International Monetary Fund’s global benchmark basket of currencies and to put a lid on the massive capital flight of late 2015 and early 2016. So although China clearly is a currency manipulator, and Trump’s Treasury Department might label it as such, the only realistic remedy would be for Washington to continue monitoring China. Right now, Beijing’s  actions are helping U.S. exporters, not hurting them.

Trump’s threat to start a trade war with China is a more serious concern. Here the issue is big steel. Steel is a politically sensitive topic in Midwestern states such as Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio—states that propelled Trump to the presidency. With an eye to 2020, Trump can ill afford to be seen as weak on steel.

But widespread media panic over the possibility that Trump will place tariffs on Chinese steel is largely overblown. The United States routinely slaps punitive tariffs on Chinese exports. For example, in May the Obama administration hit China with tariffs of 451 percent for corrosion-resistant steel and 522 percent for flat-rolled steel. Chinese tires, chemicals, and other products also face heavy anti-dumping duties. The global economy has not ground to a halt.

Given extensive Chinese state intervention in its steel industry (which is largely state-owned), U.S. trade protection against Chinese steel is inevitable. The question isn’t whether to act; it is about how much action to take. The prior existence of relatively uncontroversial Obama administration tariffs in the range of 500 percent doesn’t offer much room for concern about Trump’s future actions on steel.

Some of Trump’s vaguer statements on the campaign trail—for example, that all Chinese exports enjoy unfair trade subsidies of anywhere from 20 to 45 percent—do not bind him to slapping indiscriminate tariffs on all Chinese-made goods. In any case, Trump’s allegations of unfair competition are probably true. Labor and environmental standards in China are atrocious, and state subsidies are rife.

But tariffs are unlikely in industries where there are no major U.S. competitors for Chinese imports, or where goods are manufactured in China by U.S. companies. Industries that may once have been politically sensitive, such as electronics and footwear, no longer are. Trump is more likely to place duties on high-value durable goods, such as subway carriages and specialized construction equipment. These moves won’t make the national headlines, but they will help Trump on the stump in 2020, when he will have to convince Midwestern voters that he delivered on his trade promises.

A GIFT TO CHINA

China’s biggest cause for cheer is that the populist turn seems to have ended all possibility that the United States will ratify the 12-country TPP. The agreement will only enter into operation if at least six of the countries involved, constituting 85 percent of the group’s GDP, ratify it. That means without the United States, there will be no TPP.

The TPP is highly controversial for many reasons, but one thing is clear: it is a United States–centered trade agreement that strongly favors U.S. interests. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly warned that if the TPP came into force, China would eventually “enter the TPP through the back door at a later date.” He didn’t seem to understand that the whole point of the TPP is to set the rules of twenty-first century trading without input from China, then make China agree to those rules in order to join.

Trump’s unequivocal pledge to dump the TPP even compelled Clinton, who had once called the deal “the gold standard,” to disavow it. Now the Obama administration has publicly proclaimed that it will not lobby Congress to ratify the TPP during the lame duck session, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has clearly stated that the bill will not be brought to a vote this year.

Killing the TPP may be the one great gift that Trump (and the rest of the dysfunctional U.S. political establishment) gives to China. When Trump set out on this political odyssey a year and a half ago, he gave a rambling kick-off speech in which he said over and over again how much he loves China. He said that China’s leaders are smarter and more capable than our own. The self-inflicted death of the TPP may just prove him right.

Russia expels US diplomats

30/12/2016

Russia on Friday announced plans to expel 35 U.S. diplomats and ban U.S. diplomatic staff from using a dacha and a warehouse in Moscow in retaliation to Washington’s sanctions, Russian news agencies reported.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the agencies as saying he had proposed the measures to President Vladimir Putin

30/12/2016

Max Boot writes about fighting back against Putin  “Putin’s tenure as Russia’s dictator has been dedicated to twin interlocking goals: to enhance his own power and wealth and that of the country he controls. The more powerful Russia becomes, after all, the more powerful its president becomes, too. In pursuit of more influence, Putin has tried to rebuild the Russian armed forces from a force of low-quality conscripts equipped with weapons that don’t work to a high-quality professional force with cutting-edge weapons. That transformation, only partially complete, has been shown off in Syria, which Putin has used as a showcase for systems including sleek Kalibr cruise missiles and the smoke-belching aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. But as befits an old KGB man, Putin’s heart appears to lie more with “deniable” covert operations rather than with overt muscle-flexing.

Putin has become notorious for using “little green men” — Russian intelligence operatives and Spetsnaz (special forces) in civilian clothing — to infiltrate Ukrainian territory and start an uprising among the Russian-speaking population. And it worked: Russia annexed Crimea and has gained de facto control over much of eastern Ukraine. This tactic of undertaking barely disguised aggression has become known as “hybrid warfare,” and it has consistently left the West wrong-footed because Putin is careful to avoid crossing the normal red lines.

The West has been even more flummoxed by Putin’s campaign of political warfare designed to subvert anti-Russian regimes and replace them with more pliable leaders. The most high-profile manifestation of this effort was the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic targets in an attempt, as the CIA has now concluded, to swing the U.S. presidential election toward Donald Trump, the most pro-Russian politician in America since the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agriculture secretary, Henry Wallace. Russian internet trolls were also busy putting out anti-Clinton, pro-Trump stories, many of them demonstrably false.

Putin’s interference in the election was probably not the decisive factor (for that, blame FBI Director James Comey’s diligent efforts), but in an election decided by 100,000 votes in three states it is impossible to say what made a difference and what did not. Certainly Trump, who once called on Putin to hack his opponent, acts like a man with a guilty conscience, furiously denying not only that the hacks were designed to help him but that they were the work of the Kremlin at all. Putin will get his payoff if the new administration decides to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine — something that is more likely if ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, to whom Putin awarded an Order of Friendship, is confirmed as secretary of state.

Putin’s campaign of subversion and disinformation is hardly limited to the United States, however. It has been playing out across Europe for years, with Moscow supporting far-left and far-right parties that are united by their loathing for the European Union and NATO, the two institutions that Putin rightly sees as the chief impediments to his hopes of resurrecting the Russian Empire or at least a Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

Russia has been most blatant in supporting France’s far-right National Front, which received an 11 million euro loan in 2014 from a Moscow-based bank and wants another 27 million euros to fight next year’s elections. The French presidential election in the spring is a can’t-lose proposition for Putin since both of the leading candidates — Marine Le Pen of the National Front and the mainstream conservative nominee, former Prime Minister François Fillon — favor closer ties with Moscow.

In Germany, Angela Merkel looks likely to win re-election and maintain a relatively hard line against the Kremlin, but WikiLeaks has just come out with a massive leak of German intelligence documents, many of them relating to controversial cooperation with U.S. intelligence agencies. This is widely seen as a Russian attempt to undermine Merkel, as WikiLeaks has long been a favorite bulletin board for Russia’s intelligence services. In Montenegro, the Russians are accused of going even further in orchestrating a political campaign against the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic prior to the Oct. 16 election. When that didn’t work, the Russians apparently tried to launch a coup to overthrow the government, employing Serbian operatives with close ties to the Kremlin.

Little wonder that Alex Younger, the typically secretive head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service, just gave an unusual speech warning that hostile powers such as Russia, which are utilizing “means as varied as cyberattacks, propaganda, or subversion of democratic process … represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty. They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.” His words are echoed by Maj. Gen. Gunnar Karlson, the chief of Sweden’s main foreign intelligence agency, who warnsthat Russian subversion “is a serious threat because in different ways [the Russians] can push themselves into the very foundations of a democracy and influence democratic decision-making.” Russia is currently running a pressure campaign to dissuade Sweden, which is alarmed by growing Russian intrusions into its sovereign waters and airspace, from joining NATO.

It’s easy enough to decry Russian interference, but it’s hard to know what to do about it.

It’s easy enough to decry Russian interference, but it’s hard to know what to do about it. As a first step, it is imperative to document and expose Kremlin machinations, which is why it’s important to probe the hacking of the U.S. election. Congressional investigations, as called for by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, would be one possible approach, but the failed Benghazi committee shows the dangers of congressional grandstanding and partisanship. A better approach, because it would be more serious and nonpartisan, would be an independent commission modeled on the one that probed 9/11; it could be headed by former CIA Directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta.

But public exposure alone is not enough to make Putin cease and desist; indeed, documenting Russia’s schemes could actually enhance his aura of power by showing how cleverly he manipulates his adversaries. President Barack Obama has been shamefully derelict in making Putin pay a price for his aggression. Although his administration has threatened retaliation against Russia, he has not, insofar as we know, delivered. “We’d have all these circular meetings,” one senior State Department official told the New York Times, “in which everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen.” Among reasons for inaction, the Times cites the president’s “fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.” (As if Russia had any intention of cooperating with the United States in Syria!) His failure to more actively oppose Russian efforts during the campaign may have cost Hillary Clinton the election. It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump, the beneficiary of Russia’s cyberattacks, doing much about it, but Obama still has a few weeks in office to act.

Possible responses can run the gamut from further sanctions — including financial and travel freezes on individuals responsible for the hacking — to retaliation in kind. Putin likes leaking Western emails. How would he like it if the National Security Agency leaked the communications between him and his cronies? Or if the U.S. intelligence community released details about his widely rumored overseas bank accounts? This could undermine his hold on power by puncturing his aura of self-righteousness and could even lead to asset freezes that would punish him in the pocketbook.

Beyond all of that, the West in general and the United States in particular will have to figure out how to wage political warfare on its own. That is something that we did in the early days of the Cold War when the CIA was busy helping anti-communists win elections around the world from Italy to the Philippines — and funding Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Encountermagazine, and other organizations to win the battle for “hearts and minds.” Today, Russia, Iran, China, and other closed societies are potentially vulnerable to a campaign designed to empower dissidents, discredit the ruling elite, and help ordinary people get accurate and uncensored news.

Putin suspects the United States of waging just such a campaign against himself and his allies; he holds the CIA responsible for the 2005 and 2014 uprisings in Ukraine that defeated pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych and the 2003 uprising in Georgia, which brought Mikheil Saakashvili to power. The irony is that, beyond the overt and benign democracy promotion efforts of the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington has done little to undermine anti-Western leaders or to promote pro-Western alternatives.

It is high time for that to change. The United States needs to revive the political warfare skills it once possessed and that have since atrophied, as Michael Doran and I argued in a 2013 Policy Innovation Memorandum for the Council on Foreign Relations. Putin has shown himself to be a master of this game; other adversaries, including Iran and the Islamic State, also actively wage political warfare. We don’t have the luxury of saying that it’s beneath us to play that game. Nothing less than the future of democracy is at stake.

28/12/2016

A piece discusses the next china ambassador “Friendship’” is everywhere in China, at least when it comes to dealing with foreigners. International societies are friendship associations. The stores once accessible only to foreign currency holders were called Friendship Stores. Provincial cities court friendly partners abroad. Peace Corps staff, after being slammed too often in Maoist propaganda to make the name palatable, were rebranded as “U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers” when they were finally let into the country. The highest honor bestowed on foreigners is the Friendship Award.

That might make it seem as if “friendship” actually matters. Take the case of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whom U.S. President-elect Donald Trump plans to tap as the next U.S. Ambassador to China. Branstad is supposedly an “old friend” of Chinese President Xi Jinping, a relationship built up on the back of agricultural visits when both were provincial and state-level officials. Branstad doesn’t speak much Chinese, and Xi doesn’t speak much English, and yet the sweet nothings exchanged via interpreter have evidently been enough to forge a relationship, the two perhaps joined by a shared love of corn.

It hopefully goes without saying that people in China are eminently capable of warm and enduring personal friendships. But in the context of international diplomacy, the distinct creature of an official “friendship” is a Band-Aid at best, and proves awfully fleeting as soon as realpolitik intervenes.

The People’s Republic of China’s first official “friendship” was with the Soviet Union, until it ended in mutual denunciations and blood on the ice.

The People’s Republic of China’s first official “friendship” was with the Soviet Union, until it ended in mutual denunciations and blood on the ice.China’s grizzly 1979 invasion of Vietnam started through the Friendship Pass. In 2012, a police guard had to be put on Beijing’s large Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital lest it be attacked by anti-Japanese mobs furious about the squabble over the Diaoyu Islands.

Claimed personal friendship in service of a diplomatic or business objective is even more meaningless. The average Chinese official will refer to someone as an “old friend” after the second meeting. Meanwhile, supposed experts in dealing with China often point to the importance of relationship, or guanxi, for doing business. But actual guanxi, which can often bind Chinese officials together in a code of silence, is built up through a mixture of shared backgrounds, favor-trading, masculine bonding, and, sometimes, mutual blackmail. Branstad and Xi don’t have that; they have never gone to the same school or served on the same Party Committee as young men, they aren’t somehow related by marriage, and it’s safe to assume they’ve never split a bribe. Those are the real markers of trust in China, not glad-handing at occasional conferences.

It’s better to think of friendship as merely a necessary but not sufficient precondition to getting things done in China. In order to receive a regulatory approval, close a deal, or ink a new diplomatic initiative, counter-parties must in the first instance have a baseline of civilized rapport. Then again, in what country is that not the case? It’s hard to imagine any of those things happening anywhere against a backdrop of open hostility.

More dangerously, because friendship has such a fuzzy meaning, anyone can proclaim to have it. More often, declarations that one has or is busy building the stuff can be used to paper over a failing venture, or underlying inadequacies in one’s country-specific knowledge. A foundering negotiation process can be explained away as relationship-building. A resident expat or firm can boast vaguely of in-country ties, whatever the reality. And local hucksters can bamboozle unwary foreigners by trading on connections they may not actually have.

Ultimately, the precondition to successful business and diplomacy in China is exactly what it’s always been: the alignment of concrete interests.

Ultimately, the precondition to successful business and diplomacy in China is exactly what it’s always been: the alignment of concrete interests. A visitor to the megacity of Chongqing representing a U.S. “friendship city” once complained of being unable to get a single meeting there. As a participant in the U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers program, one author of this article was repeatedly reminded that it should have been called the “China-U.S. Friendship Volunteers program,” with the host country first. When the United States was forging diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China, even Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai’s oft-cited bonhomie would have meant nothing without a shared desire to stick it to the Soviet Union.

Xi, of course, is in a position to do as he pleases to help his actual friends. But none of his actions so far have indicated any particular inclination toward the United States. In fact, when interests diverge, longstanding friendships can be quickly forgotten. After all, Xi stayed in Iowa in 1985, and more recently sent his daughter to Harvard College; none of that has stopped him from warning repeatedly of the poisonous influence of Western culture and thought, or overseeing a massive island-building spree in the South China Sea under the nose of the U.S. Navy.

None of this is Branstad’s fault. Some familiarity with Xi is better than none; Branstad is a solid and conventional choice, which may provide a small measure of predictability and comfort to Beijing, not to mention the American business community in China. But when it comes to a host of thorny issues in the bilateral relationship, Donald Trump will call the shots. If Xi and the Politburo feel that China’s interests are being threatened, or that accommodation with the United States is a political risk, then all the friendship in the world won’t mean a thing.

26/12/2016

Rosa Brooks makes the interesting point that America is not a democracy “Donald Trump will not destroy American democracy. True, America’s most loathsome presidential candidate said some typically loathsome things during Wednesday night’s presidential debate. Most notably, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would “accept the result of this election,” Trump launched into a fuming denunciation of the news media and repeated his claim that the election is “rigged.” Pressed by Wallace on whether he accepts the principle that American elections should lead to a concession by the loser and a peaceful transition of power, Trump doubled down: “I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense.”

Trump sure knows how to push people’s buttons. On cue, the global media moved into hysteria mode: “Donald Trump placed an unprecedented question mark over the peaceful succession of power in the United States last night,” spluttered the Times of London. In Germany, Der Spiegel decried Trump’s “shocking refusal” to recognize the election results. In the United States, every major newspaper denounced Trump’s comment: It was “a remarkable statement that seemed to cast doubt on American democracy,” opined the New York Times, while the Washington Post called it a “breathtaking repudiation of American democracy.”

But the only shocking thing about Trump’s statements is that everyone seems to find them so shocking.

It’s no surprise that Trump is shaping up to be a sore loser. He’s been one all his life.

It’s no surprise that Trump is shaping up to be a sore loser. He’s been one all his life. As Hillary Clinton pointed out during the debate, Trump even complained that TV’s Emmy Awards were rigged against “The Apprentice,” the reality show Trump hosted before moving on to the “The Presidential Campaign,” his latest absurdist television drama. (The Television Academy, which bestows the Emmys, begs to differ).

Yes, Trump’s ugly comments smack of fascism. Again, no surprise: This is the guy who wants to make all American Muslims register with the government so they can be more effectively monitored. This is the guy who wants to bring back torture and bomb the children of suspected terrorists. This is the guy who threatened, during the second debate, to send Clinton to prison if he wins.

Fortunately for the world, Trump isn’t the arbiter of election validity. If Clinton wins on Nov. 8, as now appears overwhelmingly likely, the courts, the police, the military, Congress, every federal agency, and the vast majority of American voters will accept her as the nation’s president. Trump can reject the election results if he wants, just as he can reject the notion that the Earth is round if he wants. It doesn’t matter. He can stand on a soapbox and whine, but the Secret Service won’t be letting him move into the White House on Jan. 20, and no one will be handing him the nuclear codes.

That’s not the only reason Trump’s unhinged debate comments don’t present an “unprecedented threat” to American democracy. Yes, they may incite some of his most disgruntled supporters to violence. But here again, this would hardly be new.

Though most Americans don’t know it — or prefer to forget it —

American history is replete with examples of voter intimidation and political and electoral violence.

American history is replete with examples of voter intimidation and political and electoral violence. In 1834, opponents of abolition rioted in New York. In 1856, riots broke out in Baltimore over the disputed mayoral election of Thomas Swann, the “Know Nothing” candidate. In 1871, as many as 30 blacks were killed in Meridian, Mississippi, and the mayor was forcibly driven from office by a white mob. In November 1898, a violent coup by local white supremacists overthrew the elected government of Wilmington, North Carolina. In November 1920, local whites became so incensed when a black man tried to vote that they massacred up to 50 black residents of Ocoee, Florida. 1968 saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and violent clashes between Chicago police and protesters during the Democratic National Convention.

And, of course, there was the most violent political protest of all, also known as the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860, most Southern states seceded from the Union. By the end of the war in 1865, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians were dead.

That’s not an exhaustive list of political and electoral violence in America, just a representative one. If angry Trump supporters take to the streets — or beat up minorities, or grope some more women — it will be despicable. But it won’t be unprecedented. America has seen much, much worse, and the republic has not collapsed.

So don’t panic. Trump won’t undermine American democracy, both because we have a strong rule-of-law culture and because we’ve survived far more serious threats.

But don’t get too smug, either. There’s another reason Trump can’t do much to undermine American democracy, and it’s a dirty little secret: America isn’t really a democracy anyway.

What? The world’s oldest, proudest, and loudest democracy isn’t really a democracy?

No, it’s not.

If democracy implies that each person’s vote should count equally, the United States has never had much of a democracy.

If democracy implies that each person’s vote should count equally, the United States has never had much of a democracy. The Constitution created a greatly diluted form of representative democracy that privileges some voters over others. (And I’m not even referring to slavery, or early restriction of the franchise to white male property holders.) Every state gets two senators, for instance, regardless of population size. Since states with smaller populations have, in recent decades, also had less diverse populations, this gives outsized political power to rural white voters and dilutes the political impact of the demographic changes that have been so evident in urban America.

Meanwhile, the Electoral College further distorts democracy: A candidate can lose the popular vote but still win the presidency. Most recently, more Americans voted for Democratic candidate Al Gore than for Republican candidate George W. Bush in 2000, but thanks to the Electoral College system (and a little assist from the conservative justices on the Supreme Court), Bush became America’s 43rd president.

Toss in racial gerrymandering, interest group politics, campaign finance rules that give disproportionate political clout to the rich, and a bizarre and often discriminatory patchwork of state voter registration rules, and what you end up with is modern America: an oligarchy in which almost half of eligible voters don’t even bother to go to the polls.

That’s the final reason Trump can’t do much to undermine American democracy. It’s already been undermined.

 

26/12/2016

A piece notes the problems of globalisation “votes for Brexit in the United Kingdom and for Donald Trump in the United States have confounded foreign-policy commentators the world over. How could the world’s two great Anglo-Saxon democracies, for centuries the leaders and advocates of a global, rules-based international trade regime, now be leading a path toward isolationism and mercantilism?

In the aftermath of a shock, we tend to rationalize that it is a result of contingent factors, the absence of which would leave the world as we imagined it to be. Perhaps the relationship between Britain and the European Union was always contentious. Perhaps the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis left an unusually large pool of underemployed working-class voters, seeking to lash out against the establishment. A few years sooner, a few years later, and it would all be different.

Yet public opinion data proves the earthquakes of Brexit and Trump are not simply the result of chance or bad timing. Instead, they are the outcome of deepening fissures in the long-running project of globalization. Over several decades, that project has produced significant shifts in public opinion around the world, including ascendant national pride, antipathy to migrants, and growing skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international institutions. Those were tremors warning of a revolt against globalization. It is a revolt that has already defined politics in countries as far apart as Russia, Venezuela, and the Philippines, and it has now reached the established democracies of the West in the form of Brexit and Trump.

The resilience of national identity

First, one of the paradoxes of globalization has been that, as cross-border travel, migration, and trade have increased, attachment to national identity has not weakened, but instead grown stronger. Since 1981 the European and World Values Surveys have asked respondents whether they feel “very proud,” “quite proud,” “not very proud,” or “not at all proud” of their national identity (see chart below). That recent decades have seen an upsurge in national attachment in authoritarian regimes such as Russia or China is unsurprising, yet less noted is a return of national pride in societies that were once thought of “post-national,” such as Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. This surge in national pride has been concurrent with the growth of “new right” political parties, such as the Sweden Democrats (SD), the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands.

National pride need not take the form of chauvinism or nationalism, and yet, these remain its inherent risks. Pride entails a need for recognition, and a feeling that one’s achievements or way of life are worthy of special value, promotion, and protection. A proud public is easier for political elites to manipulate by instrumentalizing external conflicts, or blaming scapegoats within: “take back control,” and “restore our country” are the universal slogans of populist parties and movements.

Hostility toward immigrants

Second, as scholars such as Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have documented, over the past thirty years, Western societies have become more tolerant in a remarkable variety of ways, including toward homosexual marriage, abortion, divorce, and the use of soft drugs. And yet, while such “lifestyle tolerance” has risen markedly across Western countries, “identity tolerance” — tolerance of peoples with different ethnic or religious backgrounds — has moved in the opposite direction. In particular, hostile sentiment towards immigrants has increased steadily decade by decade since the 1980s.

The conjunction of rising lifestyle tolerance with growing intolerance of migrants may appear, at first, contradictory: Should tolerance not extend to all groups and minorities? Yet it has opened the space for a socially libertarian platform within the radical right, defining itself as the defender of a “national way of life” against newcomers who do not share the West’s liberal values. Pim Fortuyn, the openly homosexual Dutch politician who combined a flamboyant social liberalism with unabashed Islamophobia, was the first far-right politician to occupy this ideological space. Yet the same rhetorical strategy has become a cornerstone of Geert Wilders’s PVV in the Netherlands, of Israeli secular nationalists, of the big-tent National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen, and Donald Trump’s libertarian supporters, such as Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. If the true clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, as Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris suggested in these pages, is over social liberties, then the globalization of media and peoples has turned this clash from an international to a domestic one, and one that is reshaping the party systems of major Western democracies. That may be one reason why Western political systems are now following the precedent set by Israel in the early 2000s, in which the collapse of the cosmopolitan center-left in the form of the Labor Party ceded place to a resurgent secular ethnic nationalism led by Likud, Kadima, and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Loss of faith in international institutions

As national identity has grown and resentment of international migrants increased, there has been a corresponding loss of faith in the value and purpose of international organizations, including the European Union, United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the so-called Bretton Woods institutions. That is most evident in Europe, where since 1990, the European Values Study has asked respondents in Europe their degree of confidence in the European Community, and since 1995, the European Union.

Already in the 1990s, skepticism about the European Union was growing among the publics of major EU member states. While the launch of the euro and the founding of the European Constitutional Convention at the start of the new century may have felt like an apogee for the European project, already by this point a majority of respondents in major EU member states felt distrust in European institutions. Further efforts at European integration have been forced against the will of European publics, as evinced from the Dutch and French votes against the European Constitution in 2005, or the Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. The vote for Brexit in 2016 shows the inherent limits in elite-led integration — and the project of global governance more generally.

How did we get here?

Why have citizens across Western democracies become increasingly nationalistic, opposed to mass migration, and suspicious of international institutions? One answer is that this is a consequence of the financial crisis, which has left deep pockets of economic deprivation and underemployment. But that answer is clearly wrong, because these trends have been in place for the better part of 30 years. A more accurate answer would be that they reflect an inherent tension between national democratic sovereignty and elite-led efforts at global integration, and that this tension has now reached its breaking point.

As economies and societies around the globe become more and more interconnected and bound within transnational rules and institutions, the range of policy options available to domestic policymakers has declined. Such constraints range from formal rules, such as the acceptance of the free movement of peoples within the European Union, or the asylum obligations that are outlined under the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or the limits on deficits stipulated in European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact and the implicit economic constraints imposed by global financial and investment flows. Thus, on issue after issue, from corporate taxation, to control over immigration, to fiscal and monetary policy, national elites frequently find themselves unable to deliver policies consistent with public preferences. Instead they have blamed international institutions for their inability to take actions that they privately do not condone. In this way, politicians feel obliged, in the words of Hillary Clinton, to maintain “both a public and a private position.”

Yet the constraints on national sovereignty entailed by global markets and institutions has weakened the mechanisms that once translated popular views into public policy, leading to a “democratic deficit”’ that has left citizens increasingly frustrated with democratic politics, and increasingly with the democratic system itself. At the same time, the institutions of “global governance” have failed not only to provide avenues for popular participation, but also to deliver outcomes that such participation would be liable to generate, such as compensation for the losers from global trade, or protection of the identities and ways of life of local and national communities. In the words of Larry Summers, one of global integration’s advocates, it is a project “carried out by elites, for elites, with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people.”

This frustration has set up a dangerous dynamic, the consequences of which are now only too visible. In many countries, the only viable challenge to an increasingly homogeneous set of decision-makers comes from political parties or movements established by outsiders, such as the tea party movement and now Donald Trump in the United States, or populist parties of the right and left in Europe. These movements explicitly set themselves against a metropolitan and cosmopolitan elite which, they claim — not always without reason — routinely ignores popular demands and policy preferences. As the differences between establishment parties on the left and right have dwindled in many countries, the only way for voters to effect a change in policy has been to rally to parties that reject many of the traditional rules of the democratic game. In this way, as politicians’ responsiveness to citizens has decreased, citizens have been encouraged to turn away from democracy.

Where will this lead? History’s answers are not encouraging. In the runup to World War I, it was widely believed that a new liberal order had been constructed under the aegis of the British, French, and Habsburg empires, yet this world was thrown into utter disarray by the upheavals of war and the Great Depression. Far from eroding the nation-state, the era of elite-led global integration in the years after 1989 has similarly failed to create legitimate transnational institutions, leaving national democratic communities as the primary source of identity, security, and loyalty for citizens. Now that the defenders of the traditional nation-state are regaining the power they have coveted for so long, the future of global governance rests in their hands. At stake is whether they succeed in finding a new balance between national sovereignty and transnational cooperation — or instead, return us to an era of mercantilism, inter-state competition, and great-power warfare.

24/12/2016

Simon Henderson writes that Yemen should be separated, “should Americans care about Yemen? Average Americans probably couldn’t find this remote southwestern corner of Arabia on a map. But it’s time for them to learn. Yemen’s civil war concerns Americans because their close but often awkward ally, Saudi Arabia, has persuaded them to take part in it — and, alongside that brutal war, there’s another that the United States initiated and has no intention of ending anytime soon.

How can the United States ensure the former, Saudi Arabia’s war of choice, doesn’t interfere with the latter? The answer could be to follow the 1953 deathbed advice of King Abdul Aziz, known as Ibn Saud, who supposedly said, “Never let Yemen be united.” Yemen is a problem that probably won’t be solved until it is dissolved.

Paranoia has long been the basis of Saudi policymaking on Yemen. It used to be paranoia about the Yemenis themselves; now it’s about Iranians. Yemen’s Houthi rebels are variously “Iranian-supported,” “Iranian-backed,” or “Iranian-influenced.” The last is my preferred description since it clarifies that, while they model themselves after Lebanon’s Hezbollah and have adopted the slogan “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, power to Islam,” they ultimately want to be masters of their own fates more than Iranian surrogates. (And as members of the Zaidi sect they are only Shiite-like rather than actual Shiites.)

It’s clear the Houthis are a direct threat to the internationally recognized (and Saudi-allied) Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whom they forced to flee the country after joining forces with former Yemeni President and longtime Saudi nemesis Ali Abdullah Saleh (who used to oppose the Houthis until he was forced from power in 2012). But there is good reason to doubt these rebels pose a direct threat to Riyadh, outside the confines of Saudi paranoia.

Nonetheless, as an apparent quid pro quo for tolerating Washington’s nuclear rapprochement with Tehran, Riyadh has demanded U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting to re-establish in Sanaa the rule of Hadi. (Hadi, for the present moment, prefers the greater security of a Riyadh hotel suite.) There’s an additional factor, which makes the favors run 2-to-1 in Riyadh’s direction: Washington wants Saudi involvement and a stamp of approval for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Fear, if not quite paranoia, could also describe official Washington’s attitude toward Yemen.

Fear, if not quite paranoia, could also describe official Washington’s attitude toward Yemen. Its rocky hillsides have been the training areas for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which helped prepare the 2009 Northwest Airlines “underwear” bomber and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. A terrorist incident in the United States with a Yemeni address on it is a realistic possibility, and the American officials who know it are prepared to go very far to prevent it from being realized. A successful attack on a U.S. Navy ship similar to the suicide speedboat that crippled the USS Cole in Aden harbor in 2000, they feel, would be almost as bad.

Until war broke out with the Houthis last year, U.S. Special Forces operated out of the Anad Air Base just north of Aden, playing whack-a-mole against jihadis, with occasionally more significant successes, such as the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the fiery preacher (and U.S. citizen), by a Hellfire missile in 2011. Now U.S. operations are conducted from Djibouti, on the other side of the Red Sea, in Africa. As before, drones are a major part of the effort. There are also, semi-clandestinely, several dozen U.S. special operations forces on the ground.

There’s a crucial difference in Saudi and U.S. interests that quickly becomes apparent. Whereas Riyadh’s thinking is dominated by Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels who control the capital and much of what was once North Yemen (or, more formally, the Yemen Arab Republic), Washington’s anxieties focus on the south, the territory once known as the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. (The modern state we call Yemen was only formed when those two countries unified in 1992.)

The southern expanse of Yemen from the Bab el-Mandeb strait to the border with Oman has technically been liberated by the Saudi-led Arab coalition. In reality, forces of the United Arab Emirates did most of the heavy lifting and now, with residual government forces, have control over the port city (and old capital) of Aden as well as Mukalla farther east. But AQAP continues to find sanctuary in the large stretches of the south where the Yemeni government, and its Arab allies, struggles to maintain control. Fighters claiming allegiance to the Islamic State are also active there.

Washington’s and Riyadh’s separate wars are bound together in a manner not necessarily obvious to outsiders.

Washington’s and Riyadh’s separate wars are bound together in a manner not necessarily obvious to outsiders. The Royal Saudi Air Force and the U.S. Air Force are sharing Yemen’s airspace and adjoining, even overlapping, battle space. The two countries have to cooperate and therefore largely tolerate the behavior of the other party.

But that tolerance is under strain. Even before the horrendous Oct. 8 bombing of a funeral gathering in Sanaa in which more than 140 were killed and several hundred injured, U.S. concern for Saudi tactics had meant reduced levels of cooperation. Inflight refueling was curtailed, meaning that Saudi F-15s could not loiter in Yemeni airspace, waiting for targets to present themselves. And cooperation was reduced on “targeting” — the curious technical word meaning what size of bomb to drop, from what height, from what direction, and even at what time of day, the latter so as to reduce “collateral damage” or, more accurately, civilian casualties. The Saudis had already been targeting clinics and schools and the justification — that the Houthis were placing military stores and headquarters in or close to them — was wearing thin.

The bombing of a funeral two weeks ago was both a humanitarian catastrophe and a major tactical disaster for the overall strategy of the anti-Houthi war. Even though the target was a Yemeni politician allied to the Houthis, bombing such a gathering was contrary to the ethics of the U.S. military. The Saudis only admitted to “coalition aircraft” being involved, a phrasing that suggests the unfortunate reality that they were American-supplied F-15s, carrying American-made munitions. Washington’s power centers — the White House, Congress, and the media — screamed in horror. The blame was spun onto overexcited anti-Houthi agents in Sanaa and the fact that the target was approved at only a low level in the military hierarchy.

The awfulness of the wake-cum-mass-explosive-cremation was overtaken in the news cycle only when the Houthis responded by launching two, perhaps three, unsuccessful missile attacks on the destroyer USS Mason in the Red Sea north of the Bab-el-Mandeb. The United States retaliated by launching Harpoon missile strikes, which pulverized Houthi coastal radar facilities but caused zero collateral damage.

A three-day cease-fire is supposed to come into effect to give a chance for diplomacy by United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania. Largely dependent on food imports, Yemen is on the cusp of a humanitarian crisis. It is probably too much to expect the Houthis and their supporters to lay down their arms. Previous cease-fires have collapsed after Saudi Arabia detected alleged infringements and re-launched airstrikes. This cease-fire can theoretically be renewed; it is an open question whether it will be.

The U.S. strategy should be to maintain a cease-fire that could be brokered into a power-sharing arrangement in the north.

The U.S. strategy should be to maintain a cease-fire that could be brokered into a power-sharing arrangement in the north. Hadi, Washington’s and Saudi Arabia’s man, technically controls from his Riyadh hotel suite the majority of Yemen territory. Unfortunately that land is the empty part of Yemen, with perhaps a population of only 3 million. The Houthi-Saleh alliance controls much less of the ground, but the mountainous part is militarily defensible. Additionally, this territory is home to more than 20 million people, the bulk of the country’s population.

The partition of Yemen, a return to Ibn Saud’s deathbed wish, should have a clear logic for all sides. The south wants it. Hadi himself may prefer it. The crucial local foreign power in the south, the UAE, is also said to think it is the best option. Distracted by its involvements elsewhere, Iran may not oppose it. It may depend on whether Saudi Arabia and, more particularly, its defense minister and deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, can be convinced of the wisdom of his grandfather’s deathbed words.

Barring another outrage in Yemen with civilian casualties or a terrorist attack in the United States, Washington’s efforts over the next few months of political transition at home are likely to be limited. But the problem of Yemen, or of the two Yemens, will be waiting for the next U.S. president.

22/12/2016

An article from Foreign Affairs discusses populism and its relationship to facism, “right-wing movements have mounted increasingly strong challenges to political establishments across Europe and North America, many commentators have drawn parallels to the rise of fascism during the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, a French court ruled that opponents of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, had the right to call her a “fascist”—a right they have frequently exercised. This May, after Norbert Hofer, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, nearly won that country’s presidential election, The Guardian asked, “How can so many Austrians flirt with this barely disguised fascism?” And in an article that same month about the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican U.S. presidential candidate, the conservative columnist Robert Kagan warned, “This is how fascism comes to America.” “Fascist” has served as a generic term of political abuse for many decades, but for the first time in ages, mainstream observers are using it seriously to describe major politicians and parties.

Fascism is associated most closely with Europe between the world wars, when movements bearing this name took power in Italy and Germany and wreaked havoc in many other European countries. Although fascists differed from country to country, they shared a virulent opposition to democracy and liberalism, as well as a deep suspicion of capitalism. They also believed that the nation—often defined in religious or racial terms—represented the most important source of identity for all true citizens. And so they promised a revolution that would replace liberal democracy with a new type of political order devoted to nurturing a unified and purified nation under the guidance of a powerful leader.

Although today’s right-wing populists share some similarities with the interwar fascists, the differences are more significant. And more important, what today’s comparisons often fail to explain is how noxious politicians and parties grow into the type of revolutionary movements capable of fundamentally threatening democracy, as interwar fascism did. In order to understand this process, it is not nearly enough to examine the programs and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, the personalities of their politicians, or the inclinations of their supporters. Instead, one must carefully consider the broader political context. What turned fascists from marginal extremists into rulers of much of Europe was the failure of democratic elites and institutions to deal with the crises facing their societies during the interwar years. Despite real problems, the West today is confronting nowhere near the same type of breakdown it did in the 1930s. So calling Le Pen, Trump, and other right-wing populists “fascists” obscures more than it clarifies.

Like many of today’s right-wing movements, fascism originated during a period of intense globalization. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, capitalism dramatically reshaped Western societies, destroying traditional communities, professions, and cultural norms. This was also a time of immense immigration. Peasants from rural areas, which had been decimated by new agricultural technologies and the inflow of cheap agricultural products, flocked to cities, and the citizens of poorer countries flocked to richer ones in search of better lives.

Then, as now, these changes frightened and angered many people, creating fertile ground for new politicians who claimed to have the answers. Prominent among these politicians were right-wing nationalists, who vowed to protect citizens from the pernicious influence of foreigners and markets. Fascist movements arose in almost all Western countries, from Argentina to Austria and from France to Finland. Fascists became disruptive forces in some countries and influenced policymaking in others, but they did not fundamentally challenge existing political orders before 1914. Their policies and appeal alone, in other words, did not make them truly dangerous or revolutionary. It would take World War I to do that.

That conflict killed, maimed, and traumatized millions of Europeans, and it physically and economically devastated much of the continent. “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime,” British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey remarked at the beginning of the war. And indeed, by the time the war was over, an entire way of life had vanished.

The year 1918 brought an end to the war, but not to the suffering. Europe’s continental empires—Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian—­collapsed during or after the conflict, creating a variety of new states that lacked any experience with democracy and featured mixed populations that had little interest in living together. Meanwhile, in many of Europe’s older states, such as Germany and Spain, old regimes also collapsed, making way for democratic transitions. But like the new states, most of these countries also lacked experience with popular rule—and thus the habits, norms, and institutions necessary for making it work.

To make matters worse, the end of the war, rather than ushering in a period of peace and reconstruction, brought with it an unending stream of social and economic problems. New democracies struggled to reintegrate millions of soldiers back into society and reconstruct economies that had been distorted and disrupted by the fighting. Austria and Germany had to respond to the humiliation of a lost war and a punitive peace, and both were hit with hyperinflation. Across the continent, lawlessness and violence quickly became endemic as democratic governments lost control of the streets and parts of their territories. Italy suffered through almost two years of factory occupations, peasant land seizures, and armed conflicts between left- and right-wing militias. In Germany, the Weimar Republic faced violent left- and right-wing uprisings, forcing the government to send in troops to recapture cities and regions.

Despite these and other problems, fascists at first remained marginal forces. In Italy, they received almost no votes in the country’s first postwar election. And in Germany, Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch flopped, ending with him and many of his coconspirators in jail. But as time passed, problems persisted. European economies had trouble getting back on their feet, and street brawls, assassinations, and other forms of social disorder continued to plague many European countries. By the late 1920s, in short, many Europeans’ faith in democracy had been badly shaken.

DEMOCRACIES IN CRISIS

Then came the Great Depression. What proved so catastrophic about that event was not the economic suffering it caused—although that was bad enough—but the failure of democratic institutions to respond to it. To understand the difference, compare the fates of Germany and the United States. These two countries were hit the hardest by the Depression, experiencing the highest levels of unemployment, rates of business collapse, and drops in production. But in Germany, the Weimar Republic then fell to the Nazi onslaught, whereas in the United States, democracy survived—despite the appearance of some pseudo-fascist leaders such as the Louisiana politician Huey Long and the radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin. Why the different outcomes?

The answer lies in the two governments’ divergent responses to the economic crisis. German leaders did little to ease their society’s suffering; in fact, they pursued policies of austerity, which exacerbated the economic downturn in general and the horrifically high rates of unemployment in particular. Strikingly, even the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, sat meekly by, offering little in the way of an attractive alternative program. In the United States, meanwhile, democratic institutions and norms were longer lived and therefore more robust. But also critical to staving off fascism was President Franklin Roosevelt’s insistence that the government could and would help its citizens, by laying the foundations of the modern welfare state.

Unfortunately for Europe, too many governments there proved unable or unwilling to respond as actively, and most mainstream political parties offered little in the way of viable alternative plans. By the early 1930s, liberal parties had been discredited across much of the continent; their faith in markets, unwillingness to respond forcefully to capitalism’s downsides, and hostility to nationalism struck voters as completely out of synch with interwar realities. With the exception of Scandinavia’s, meanwhile, most socialist parties were also flummoxed, telling citizens that their lives would improve only once capitalism had fully collapsed—and that they could do little to help them in the interim. (Socialists were also indifferent or hostile to concerns about national identity and the evisceration of traditional norms—another politically unwise stance during a period of immense social upheaval.) Communists did at least put forth a compelling alternative to the status quo, but their appeal was limited by an almost exclusive focus on the working class and their hostility to nationalism.

And so in all too many European countries, it was the fascists who were able to take advantage of the declining faith in democracy that accompanied the Depression. Fascists offered both a strong critique of the reigning order and a powerful alternative to it. They criticized democracy as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak and promised to replace it altogether. The new system would use the state to protect citizens from capitalism’s most destructive effects by creating jobs, expanding the welfare state (for “true” citizens only, of course), eliminating supposedly exploitative capitalists (often Jews), and funneling resources instead to businesses that were deemed to serve the national interest. Fascists promised to end the divisions and conflicts that had weakened their nations—often, of course, by ridding them of those viewed as not truly part of them. And they pledged to restore a sense of pride and purpose to societies that had for too long felt battered by forces outside their control. These positions enabled fascism in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere to attract an extremely diverse constituency that cut across classes. Although fascist parties received disproportionately high support from men, the lower-middle class, and former soldiers, they enjoyed a broader base of support than any other type of party in interwar Europe.

Despite all these advantages, the fascists still lacked the strength to take power on their own; they also needed the connivance of traditional conservatives. These conservatives—who sought to preserve the power of the traditional elite and destroy that of the people—lacked mass constituencies of their own and believed they could use the fascists’ popularity to achieve their long-term goals. So they worked behind the scenes to maneuver Mussolini and Hitler into office, believing that they could later manipulate or get rid of these men. Little did they know that the fascists were playing the same game. Soon after being appointed chancellor, in 1933, Hitler did away with his erstwhile conservative allies, whom he correctly viewed as a hindrance to his long-planned revolutionary project. Mussolini, who had been appointed prime minister in 1922, took a little longer to completely secure his position—but he, too, eventually pushed aside (or simply killed) many of the traditional conservatives who had helped make him Il Duce in the first place.

LESSONS FOR TODAY

So what does all of this say about Le Pen, Trump, and today’s other right-wing extremists? They certainly share some similarities with the interwar fascists. Like their predecessors, today’s right-wing extremists denounce incumbent democratic leaders as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak. They promise to nurture their nation, protect it from its enemies, and restore a sense of purpose to people who feel battered by forces outside their control. And they pledge to stand up for “the people,” who are often defined in religious or racial terms.

But if the similarities are striking, the differences are even more so. Most obvious, today’s extremists claim they want not to bury democracy but to improve it. They critique the functioning of contemporary democracy but offer no alternative to it, just vague promises to make government stronger, more efficient, and more responsive.

Current right-wing extremists are thus better characterized as populist rather than fascist, since they claim to speak for everyday men and women against corrupt, debased, and out-of-touch elites and institutions. In other words, they are certainly antiliberal, but they are not antidemocratic. This distinction is not trivial. If today’s populists come to power—even the right-wing nationalists among them—the continued existence of democracy will permit their societies to opt for a do-over by later voting them out. Indeed, this may be democracy’s greatest strength: it allows countries to recover from their mistakes.

But the more important difference between today’s right-wing extremists and yesterday’s fascists is the larger context. As great as contemporary problems are, and as angry as many citizens may be, the West is simply not facing anything approaching the upheaval of the interwar period. “The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would be always in revolt,” Leon Trotsky once wrote, and the same logic applies to the appearance of fascism. In the United States and western Europe, at least, democracy and democratic norms have deep roots, and contemporary governments have proved nowhere near as inept as their predecessors in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, democratic procedures and institutions, welfare states, political parties, and robust civil societies continue to provide citizens with myriad ways of voicing their concerns, influencing political outcomes, and getting their needs met.

For these reasons, the right-wing extremists in the United States and western Europe today have much more limited options and opportunities than their interwar counterparts did. (On the other hand, in eastern and southern Europe, where democratic norms and institutions are younger and weaker, movements have emerged that resemble traditional fascism much more closely, including Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.) As the scholar Theda Skocpol has stressed, revolutionary movements don’t create crises; they exploit them. In other words, true revolutionary threats to democracy emerge when democracies themselves create crises ready to be exploited by failing to deal with the challenges they face.

Things can change, of course, and the lack of true fascist movements in the United States and western Europe today is no excuse for complacency. But what the interwar period illustrates is that the West should worry more about the problems afflicting democracy than about right-wing populists themselves. The best way to ensure that the Le Pens and Trumps of the world go down in history as also-rans rather than as real threats is to make democratic institutions, parties, and politicians more responsive to the needs of all citizens. In the United States, for example, rising inequality, stagnating wages, deteriorating communities, congressional gridlock, and the flow of big money to campaigns have played a bigger role in fueling support for Trump than his purported charisma or the supposed authoritarian leanings of his supporters. Tackling those problems would no doubt help prevent the rise of the next Trump.

History also shows that conservatives should be particularly wary of embracing right-wing populists. Mainstream Republicans who make bogus claims about voter fraud, rigged elections, and the questionable patriotism and nationality of President Barack Obama in order to appeal to the extremist fringes are playing an extremely dangerous game, since such rhetoric fans citizens’ fear and distrust of their politicians and institutions, thus undermining their faith in democracy itself. And just like their interwar counter­parts, these conservatives are also likely enhancing the appeal of politicians who have little loyalty to the conservatives’ own policies, constituencies, or institutions.

Right-wing populism—indeed, populism of any kind—is a symptom of democracy in trouble; fascism and other revolutionary movements are the consequence of democracy in crisis. But if governments do not do more to address the many social and economic problems the United States and Europe currently face, if mainstream politicians and parties don’t do a better job reaching out to all citizens, and if conservatives continue to fan fear and turn a blind eye to extremism, then the West could quickly find itself moving from the former to the latter.

 

 

22/12/2016

An unusual article argues that better relations between America and Russia could lead to worse relations, “Some American presidents have foreign-policy doctrines. Others are inclined to trust their gut. For a very few, their gut is their foreign-policy doctrine. Donald Trump seems to belong to this latter and most rare type. He poses an extraordinary challenge to anyone attempting to imagine how visceral instincts and dispositions can be translated into actionable policies, for good or ill.

The most compelling, and perhaps the most urgent, such challenge concerns Russia. There is a facile assumption that détente and peaceful coexistence between the United States and Russia will now be in the offing. It is an assumption that urgently needs to be reassessed.

Distilling a coherent policy on Russian relations from president-elect Trump’s jumble of campaign catchphrases and provocative one-liners is no easy task— which is why a more reasonable starting place may be to consider Trump’s likely motives for lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin during the campaign, against the pleas of his advisors and running mate. Some America-watchers inside the Kremlin apparently considered Trump’s eccentric pro-Russian pronouncements more as a business gambit than as a rudimentary foreign policy. Many Democrats, on the other hand, seem to assume that Trump’s deferential attitude toward the Russian president reflects undisclosed financial entanglements and perhaps even the Kremlin’s possession of reputation-blackening kompromat.

But Trump’s “cozying up to Putin,” to use Sen. John McCain’s derogatory phrase, is better understood as his way of soliciting support among disenchanted American voters. It helped him position himself as a rebel leader and frame the quadrennial election as a revolution-in-the-making. Above all, it dramatically illustrated his willingness to break radically with the entire Washington establishment, Republican as well as Democratic. To excite the loyalty of his politically alienated voters, he needed to communicate unequivocally that he would have nothing to do with the Washington insiders who had allegedly betrayed them. He did this by signaling his dissent from most of the central foreign-policy tenets of his own nominal party, including the premise that Russia is one of the country’s foremost national-security threats. It was Mitt Romney, after all, who, as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, labeled Russia as America’s geopolitical enemy No. 1.

Trump may have been attempting, in addition, to puff his own legendary savvy as a dealmaker. By transforming Putin from an adversary into a partner, Trump implied, he could reassert America’s global power while staying at home and refusing to send American troops abroad. And at a subliminal level, candidate Trump may also have been playing on his electorate’s dim fantasy that Putin is “a white Christian at war with brown Muslims.”

Of course, making sense of candidate Trump’s electorally expedient stance toward Putin is only a first step toward divining his administration’s potential Russia policy. Some moves, of course, are predictable. Sanctions will possibly be eased. The annexation of Crimea will presumably be accepted informally, though not formally. Cooperation in fighting the Islamic State will no doubt be ratcheted up, although denigrating remarks about Islam will come easier to Trump than to Putin, given the Russian Federation’s large Muslim population. But what can we see if we look past such particular issues and peer through the fog of an amateurish and fractious transition? Is there an overarching strategy that will be informing the Trump administration’s Russia policy?

Trump’s “America First” refrain is obviously more of a slogan than a doctrine. What makes it fascinating as a portent of the new administration’s foreign policy is the way it combines a turn toward disengagement and isolationism with an insistence that America will start “winning” the zero-sum global competition again. To put this in personal terms, president-elect Trump seems bent on wedding Rand Paul’s utopia of American disengagement with Dick Cheney’s utopia of a unilateral America über alles. But can such a marriage of irreconcilables be consummated?

To gain some purchase on the opportunities and dangers of this Janus-faced approach, it helps to recognize how closely Trump’s stance tracks Putin’s posture in international affairs. Trump presumably recognizes the convergence, having contrasted Putin’s bold leadership not only to Obama’s passivity and caution but also to Hillary Clinton’s hawkish fondness for foreign intervention. Without poring over State Department briefing books, Trump has an intuitive sense — justified, in our estimation — that Putin, rather than being a neo-Soviet imperialist, is a besieged leader whose bloody forays beyond Russia’s borders, however risky, have been basically defensive. He understands that Putin’s geopolitical adventures have been driven largely by an abiding anxiety about his country’s domestic weaknesses and Washington’s eagerness to embrace regime change abroad. The same cultural sensitivity that has allowed Trump to tune into the resentments of downwardly mobile white Americans helps explain his empathy for Putin, whose once-powerful country is now bereft of soft power — its economy is uncompetitive, its petrodollar-subsidized living standards are plummeting, and its population is aging and dwindling.

Putin’s foreign policy is marked by a kind of aggressive isolationism. His two guiding principles are disentanglement from the international system, symbolized by Moscow’s recent withdrawal from the Rome Statute of 2000, which set up the International Criminal Court, and a reassertion of Russia’s relevance as a global player, symbolized by the flotilla of Russian warships now participating in the siege of Aleppo. These also happen to be the two principles that inform the paradoxical approach to American power that Trump, too, guided not by experts but by his gut, has made his own.

Given this elective affinity, Trump’s initial discussions with Moscow will be very different from Obama’s ill-fated “reset.”

Given this elective affinity, Trump’s initial discussions with Moscow will be very different from Obama’s ill-fated “reset.” What Trump offers Putin is not simply cooperation on a range of issues where the two countries’ interests overlap. What he offers, instead, is a shared narrative about what went wrong in the post-Cold War world. Verbally, at least, he will hold out the possibility of a reactionary alliance against cosmopolitan liberalism and the rootless globalists who are undermining national sovereignty everywhere we look.

Unfortunately, a shared repugnance for liberal internationalism, celebrated and sealed by the clinking of champagne flutes in the Kremlin, is no guarantee of mutual cooperation or even peaceful coexistence. On the surface, Trump’s repeated assertion that America’s allies are swindling the United States, which reflects a piddling fee-for-service conception of alliances in general and especially of the arguably obsolete NATO alliance, might seem like music to Putin’s ears. But if we more closely examine the political earthquake of Nov. 8, we will see why a shared illiberalism will do little or nothing to reduce tensions between Russia and the United States.

First of all, the populist insurgency that just overthrew the American political establishment represents the very sort of resentment-fueled instability that frightens Moscow most. An ardent opponent of regime change, Putin has been subsidizing populist insurgencies in various European countries not to replace the governing parties but simply to sap the EU’s unity and coherence. Similarly, any hypothetical clandestine Russian involvement in the American presidential campaign was presumably aimed at weakening Clinton before she acceded to the presidency as well as discrediting the American political model in general, not at electing Trump. Nothing would unnerve the Kremlin more than a new rash of Orange Revolutions. The fact that they will now be anti-liberal rather than liberal revolutions is no real consolation. Let’s assume that Trump is being sincere when promising Putin non-interference in the domestic politics of other countries. By inspiring emulators, his seditious example will nevertheless be inherently threatening to ruling elites around the world. And while Putin has every reason to rejoice at Trump’s snide dismissals of NATO, he will be less enthusiastic about Trump’s insistence that all of America’s allies must increase their defense budgets to the promised 2 percent. Spooked by a seasoned dealmaker’s calculated bluff that he will otherwise cut them loose, the truant members of NATO are very likely to do just that.

Second, the U.S. election delivered a fatal blow to the dominant narrative designed to legitimate the Putin regime in the face of Russia’s poor and worsening economic conditions. According to this narrative, all Russia’s problems result from a global liberal conspiracy, led by the United States, to humiliate Russia and prevent it from assuming its rightful place in the world. But in an election covered 24/7 by Russian state media, the candidate who was repeatedly branded as “Putin’s puppet” was elected president by the American people. The way this democratic outcome has sabotaged Putin’s legitimacy formula can be illustrated by the comments of some of Russia’s leading nationalists. In a series of tweets after the election, Alexander Dugin declared that “Anti-Americanism is over”.

And this is not because it was wrong but exactly the opposite. It is because the American people themselves have started the revolution against precisely that aspect of the USA that we all hated. Now the European ruling elite as well as the part of the Russian elite that is still liberal cannot be blamed as before for being be too pro-American. From now on, it should be blamed for being what it is: a corrupt, perverted greedy gang of bankers and destroyers of cultures, traditions, and identities.

But the end of anti-Americanism, prematurely fêted by Russian nationalists, promises to be the beginning of a destabilizing crisis inside Russia. A principal source of Putin’s legitimacy since he returned to the presidency in 2012 has been the obsessively repeated accusation that the United States is a hypocritical superpower, publicly espousing universal values but acting secretly in pursuit of narrow national advantage. Trump’s embrace of “America First,” whatever it means in practice, makes nonsense out of Putin’s endlessly recycled excoriations of America’s inveterate hypocrisy.

On a more practical level, Trump’s election obliges Putin to own the chaos he has sowed in both Syria and eastern Ukraine.

On a more practical level, Trump’s election obliges Putin to own the chaos he has sowed in both Syria and eastern Ukraine. Standing up to the United States was arguably a principal motivation for Putin’s interventions in both countries, justified to the Russian public largely as ways of sticking a finger into America’s eye, revealing its weakness and hypocrisy, and teaching it that Russia cannot be ignored. But the president-elect’s expressed willingness to offer Putin a wide berth in both arenas greatly diminishes the domestic political value of the two incursions as sources of national pride. Here again, Trump’s embrace of Putin may soon come to resemble a kiss of death.

Third, Putin’s reassertion of Russia’s heft on the international stage has depended on his leading the revolt against American-orchestrated globalization. This picture has no doubt been scrambled by Trump’s eccentric argument that globalization is a conspiracy not by, but against, the United States. But the more important development is that the uncontested leader of the deglobalizing world, the most visible counter-revolutionary in the worldwide fight against liberal internationalism, will soon be the president of the United States, a figure immensely more powerful and imitation-worthy than the president of Russia. The unbridled enthusiasm with which Europe’s anti-establishment populists have greeted Trump’s victory reflects the fact that he is perfectly credible as a populist insurgent in a way that Putin, who has dominated the election-proof Russian state for almost two decades, is not. The rise of anti-EU populism in Europe could even have the paradoxical consequence of drawing Trump into a new trans-Atlantic alliance of populist democracies based on a new set of illiberal “shared values.”

Russia’s economic difficulties mean that Putin, to achieve relief from Western sanctions, may enter into a momentary Berlusconi-style bromance with the new U.S. president. But the honeymoon is unlikely to last because Russia’s economic difficulties oblige its government to hunt for enemies, foreign and domestic. It’s likely that Trump will also soon be looking to magnify the role of domestic and foreign enemies to fend off domestic criticism and explain his inevitable failures.

The likelihood of such a parallel search for enemies by two aggressive isolationists should clarify why Trump’s cozying up to Putin during the campaign doesn’t promise to make the world a safer or less hostile place. Parallels may never cross in geometry, but in geopolitics they can violently intersect, to catastrophic effect. What makes matters worse is that the foundation of mutual understanding that allowed Moscow and Washington to manage nail-biting crises during the Cold War has by now completely eroded. Although Trump might be able to reduce the overt animosity between the White House and the Kremlin, he will find it much more difficult to rebuild the two countries’ shared assumptions about how the world works. Senior members of Putin’s entourage have repeatedly resorted to reckless talk of nuclear blackmail, which will make it immensely difficult for Western leaders to keep a cool head in any high-stakes emergency. The paucity of steadying foreign-policy hands in Trump’s inner circle is equally worrying, as is the possibility that Trump’s habit of making friendly offhand comments, whether in tweets or at public rallies, may lead Russia to underestimate the possibility of a violent American response to incursions, say, into the Baltic states.

President-elect Trump arguably won the election by burning his bridges with the Republican Party’s foreign-policy and national-security establishments, but governing will require some of these bridges to be rebuilt. How this will work out in practice is still not known. One thing is certain, however: A gut-level aversion to foreign adventurism will not suffice to keep the country safe. Two proud and thin-skinned leaders with similar worldviews and wielding more unilateral power than it makes sense to confide in any single individual could, after an amiable interlude, all too easily trigger a tit-for-tat spiral of escalating insult and injury that may drag the helplessly watching world toward a catastrophe that no one could possibly intend.

22/12/2016

China said Monday that it had “serious concern” about President-elect Donald Trump’s most recent comments about Taiwan, and warned that any changes to how America deals with the self-governing island could damage diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing. China’s comments came a day after Trump said in a television interview that he didn’t feel “bound by a one-China policy.” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said that established policy is the “political foundation” of any diplomatic relationship between China and the U.S., and that any damage to it could render cooperation “out of the question.” “We urge the new U.S. leader and government to fully understand the seriousness of the Taiwan issue, and to continue to stick to the one-China policy,” Geng said.

Iran, keeping to the deal

18/12/2016

Iran has shipped 11 tonnes of heavy water abroad to bring its stock back under a limit set by its landmark nuclear deal with major powers, according to a diplomat citing a confidential U.N. nuclear watchdog report. The shipment is a step toward resolving a dispute with Western powers including the United States that are keen to prevent Iran from testing the deal’s terms. The report substantiated an Iranian statement last month about a transfer to Oman but does not identify the destination, the diplomat said. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the restrictions placed on Iran’s atomic activities under the July 2015 deal, said in a report last month that Iran’s stock of heavy water had for the second time exceeded a soft limit of 130 tonnes, and the IAEA expressed its concerns to Tehran. “On 6 December the agency verified the quantity of 11 metric tonnes of the nuclear-grade heavy water at its destination outside Iran,” the diplomat quoted the five-paragraph report by the IAEA to member states as saying. “This transfer of heavy water out of Iran brings Iran’s stock of heavy water to below 130 tonnes,” it said, adding that Iran had told the agency that the shipment left the country on Nov. 19.

Trump, liberalism and the search for meaning

18/12/2016

An article argues that Trump has returned America to its norm of fighting over identity, morality and religion, “Americans have elected an “illiberal democrat” as president. That doesn’t mean the United States will become an illiberal democracy — where democratically elected leaders fundamentally erode the rights and freedoms we associate with the classical liberal tradition — anytime soon. But it does mean we could become one. As a minority and a Muslim, the result of this election is distressing — and perhaps the most frightening event I’ve experienced in my own country. That said, there is something admirable in the idea that democratic outcomes will be respected even when people you hate (or people that hate you) come to power. I’ve studied “existential” elections in the Middle East, where there is simply too much at stake for the losers of elections to accept that the victors have, in fact, won. I was nervous about Donald Trump. But I also recognized that he was an unusually compelling candidate in an age when they are few and far between. I remember the first time I heard him give a long, rambling, ad-libbed speech at a raucous rally. It’s not just that I couldn’t look away; I didn’t want to. Trump was funny, charismatic, and vaguely charming but also quite obviously petty and vindictive. His rallies were more like faith-based festivals. This wasn’t politics as an end — it was politics as a means to something else, although I wasn’t quite sure what. But I did know that I had seen it before”.

The writer goes on to point out “It’s almost unfair to compare Trump to the democratically elected Islamists that I normally study, since Trump’s open disrespect not just for liberal norms, but democratic ones as well, has been so unabashed. In his infamous statement during the final presidential debate, Trump refused to commit himself to democratic outcomes if his opponent won. Mainstream Islamist groups that participate in elections — whatever we think their true intentions are — have rarely gone this far. The differences between ethno-nationalist parties, such as Trump’s new Republicans, and religious parties are of course numerous, which makes the similarities all the more glaring. There is the same sense of victimization, real and imagined, at the hands of an entrenched elite, coupled with an acute sense of loss. In both cases, the leader of the movement is seen as the embodiment of the national will, representing “the people.” The overlap between Trumpism and Islamism is no coincidence. In my book Islamic Exceptionalism, which discusses Islam’s tensions with liberalism and liberal democracy, I argue that some public role for religion is necessary in religiously conservative societies. Religion, unlike secular nationalism or socialism, can provide a common language and a kind of asabiyya — a 14th-century Arabic term coined by the historian Ibn Khaldun meaning roughly “group consciousness.” Asabiyya was needed to bind states together, providing cohesion and shared purpose”.

The author crucially argues that “In less religious or “post-Christian” societies, a mainstream Christianity is no longer capable of providing the necessary group identity. But that doesn’t mean other ideas won’t fill the vacuum. In other words, be careful what you wish for: An America where religion plays less of a role isn’t necessarily a better one, if what replaces religion is white nativism. Whether it’s nativism, European-style ethno-nationalism, or, in the case of the Middle East, Islamism, the thread that connects these disparate experiments is similar: the flailing search for a politics of meaning. The ideologies might seem incoherent or hollow, but they all aspire to some sort of social solidarity, anchoring public life in sharply defined identities. During the Arab Spring, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood hoped, at least in the long run, to transform Egypt into a kind of missionary state. The essence of politics then isn’t just, or even primarily, about improving citizens’ quality of life — it’s about directing their energies toward moral, philosophical, or ideological ends. When the state entrusts itself with a cause — whether based around religion or ethnic identity — citizens are no longer individuals pursuing their own conception of the good life; they are part of a larger brotherhood, entrusted with a mission to reshape society”.

Pointedly he contends that “This isn’t necessarily surprising. Western elites too often assume liberalism as a default setting, but after spending more than six years living, studying, and conducting fieldwork in the Middle East, and after witnessing the demise of the Arab Spring, my view of human nature became quite a bit darker. Illiberalism, not liberalism, seemed the default setting. Islamism promised to remove the spiritual confusion associated with individualism and seemingly unlimited choices. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of a Cairo cab with a random guy, who was getting high on hashish and going on about the need for sharia, or Islamic law. He wanted an Islamic state to force him to stop doing drugs because he didn’t want to sin. But he didn’t know how, at least not on his own. Despite watching the march of illiberalism nearly everywhere, from Europe to the Middle East to Asia, I resisted my own conclusions when it came to considering the appeal of Trump’s illiberalism at home”.

He continues “As a personality, he was singular and compelling — but could he really win in a country where constitutional liberalism was so deeply entrenched? Intellectually, I knew we had to take his movement seriously and thought he had a good chance of winning. But as an American citizen with a stake in my country’s democratic ideals, I couldn’t bring myself to actually visualize it as something real. We all need to believe in our better angels, particularly when it comes to the very countries in which we live and believe. The writer Yascha Mounk called Nov. 8 “the worst night for liberal democracy since [1942].” He’s probably right. But there is a perhaps sunnier way to view Trump’s election: It could prove a definitive rebuke to what liberal democracy had, contrary to the intent of its originators, become — the kind of center-left managerial technocracy that was as uninspiring as it was unthreatening. This techno-liberalism could, to be sure, improve people’s lives by nudgingand tinkering around the margins. But aside from the “poetry” of periodic moments like Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, it offered only the prose of technocratic policy — prose that could become its own kind of faith, offering certainty and even a sense of identity, but primarily directed at elites and wonks who believed that the future of politics was in finding the right “facts.” These facts, objective and unimpeachable, would aid in the slow work of, say, refining a flawed universal health-care system and getting Wall Street to behave a little bit better. For everyone else, it failed to offer a substantive politics of meaning”.

Importantly he posits that “Humans need to belong, and so we gravitate toward in-groups of like-minded people. In my case, those like-minded people are of different races and religions, but we share a culture, lifestyle, and a sensibility. We were moved by the kind of joyous diversity on display at the Democratic National Convention. In those images, I could recognize the America that I knew and perhaps the only America I hoped to know.  But most members of the so-called and now somewhat clichéd “white working class” relate to each other more than they could ever relate to me. They see me as different, in part because I am. Is this a kind of nativism? Maybe. But, ultimately, my politics are just as motivated by identity and culture as theirs. The decline of Christianity in the United States has left an ideological vacuum, and for many, perhaps most, modern liberalism is just a bit too boring to fill the gap. Or, to put it differently, it doesn’t provide the existential meaning that they want and even crave”.

He ends “In his seminal essay “The End of History?” the political scientist Francis Fukuyama grappled with the victory of liberal democracy. He wrote that “the struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” But Fukuyama was ambivalent about this, instinctively recognizing liberal democracy’s inherent weakness before most. He ended his article on a prescient if now somewhat terrifying note: “Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.” We are now condemned to live in exciting times. Boredom is, quite clearly, underrated. At the same time, I must confess that as Trump’s victory settled, my despair was coupled with a rush of blood to the head. I felt my fear, including for my family, giving me a sense of purpose. I at least knew what I believed in and what I hoped America could still become. And, in one way or another, even if we don’t quite consciously want it, it’s something we all apparently need — something, whatever it is, to fight for. Now Americans on both sides of the ever-widening divide will have it.

 

“Obama savaged his successor’s stated inclinations on counterterrorism”

18/12/2016

Without ever using Donald Trump’s name, Barack Obama savaged his successor’s stated inclinations on counterterrorism while issuing an impassioned plea not to sacrifice fundamental American values in the name of national security. Obama used the final set-piece security speech of his presidency to present a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name. In doing so, Obama argued that he avoided “overreach” and tacitly implored Trump to follow his template. “People and nations do not make good decisions when they are driven by fear,” Obama warned at MacDill air force base in Florida, before a military audience to whom he paid tribute. “These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon.” Obama reserved a note of retribution for the Republican Congress that he holds responsible for preventing him from closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center. He suggested that he would continue transferring detainees until he leaves the Oval Office on 20 January, even though that tactic alone will not empty the Cuban facility.

“Increasingly trying to control public information”

18/12/2016

“The US military in Afghanistan is increasingly trying to control public information about the war, resulting in strained relations with western organisations offering different versions of events to official military accounts, the Guardian has learned. In a recent incident, the most senior US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John W Nicholson, considered banning or restricting the UN’s access to a military base in Kabul, according to informed sources in both organisations. The dispute followed a UN report in late September claiming that a US drone had killed 15 civilians. Washington insists it only killed members of Islamic State. UN and US military officials declined to speak to the Guardian, but various sources confirmed that working relations were “a nightmare”, as a UN staff member put it”.

Tillerson’s tricky confirmation

16/12/2016

A piece discusses the confirmation propsects of Rex Tillerson, “selecting ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump is facing his first major test with Senate Republicans who are wary of his warming relations with Russia — and have warned his cabinet pick is far from assured. Trump is betting Tillerson’s corporate management experience and support from former GOP statesmen will ease the concerns of a handful of Republican hawks over the oilman’s extensive business dealings with Moscow”.

The piece goes on to note “Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who lost the Republican presidential primary to Trump after being repeatedly belittled as “Little Marco,” said he had “serious doubts” about the nomination, and alluded to Exxon’s vast global assets. “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest,” Rubio said in a Tuesday statement”. The article adds “The Republicans’ slim 52-48 majority in the Senate doesn’t give Trump a lot of breathing room. Rubio sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, which must first clear Tillerson’s nomination before a floor vote. Republicans outnumber Democrats on the panel by just one vote, making Rubio a critical power player if Democrats unanimously seek to block Tillerson’s nomination. Democrats have already criticized Tillerson’s credentials, including Exxon’s opposition to greenhouse gas regulations, questioning of climate change science, and ties to abusive governments in Indonesia and Equatorial Guinea”.

The article notes “The nomination also comes amid reports that the CIA has concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election in order to boost Trump’s chances over Hillary Clinton. Lawmakers in both parties have pledged to investigate the matter. Four Republican senators who have needled Tillerson’s Russia ties — Rubio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, James Lankford of Oklahoma, and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain — are now the focus of an expected and concerted lobbying push by Trump’s allies and aides. Graham, who also challenged Trump for the presidential nomination, called it “unnerving” that Tillerson received the Russian government’s Order of Friendship award in 2013. McCain, meanwhile, has openly questioned the Texas oilman’s loyalties. “I don’t see how anybody could be a friend of this old-time KGB agent,” McCain told CNN Monday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

The piece goes on to mention how “Trump, however, has a powerful ally in Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, whom the president-elect also reportedly considered for the role of top U.S. diplomat. In a statement, Corker called Tillerson “a very impressive individual [who] has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.” But the committee’s Democrats already are gearing up for a fight. Sen. Ben Cardin, the panel’s ranking Democrat, has said he’s “deeply troubled” by Tillerson’s “close personal ties with Vladimir Putin” and vocal opposition to U.S. sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Those sanctions gummed up a few of Exxon’s largest deals in Russia, including a Siberia agreement with the state oil company potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. Cardin — who said Tuesday he will give Tillerson a fair nomination hearing — is expected to drill down into the businessman’s views on Russia, Ukraine, and Exxon’s stance on global warming. And other Democrats have made clear they will call out Republicans for hypocrisy if Tillerson is easily approved after years of GOP lawmakers accusing the Obama administration of going soft on Putin”.

It later makes the point “Democratic attacks, however, must contend with a flood of support for Tillerson by GOP House and Senate leaders and elder statesmen, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State James Baker. Tillerson “would bring to the position vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world,” Gates said in a statement. “He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States.” Critics were quick to point out that Baker is a partner at a law firm whose clients include Exxon and its Russian business partner, the Rosneft state oil company. Rice and Gates also have connections to Exxon through their consulting firm, Rice Hadley Gates. But their names still resonated with some of Trump’s most prominent critics”.

It concludes “Tillerson’s nomination will also face a tough campaign from liberals and Democratic pressure groups active on climate change issues. “He and other company executives led ExxonMobil in funding outside groups to create an illusion of scientific uncertainty around the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change,” Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said in a statement. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump promised to draw on top private sector talent to run the country, and on Tuesday said Tillerson’s skills are exactly what Foggy Bottom needs. “His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of state,” Trump said in a statement. “Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none.”

“For the first time in eight years it would cut back oil production”

16/12/2016

A report discusses the recent news about an oil production cut, “OPEC surprised the world by announcing that for the first time in eight years it would cut back oil production to nudge up crude prices. The deal, to start in January, would see OPEC member countries trim their combined oil output by about 1.1 million barrels a day, to 32.5 million barrels of oil a day, according to a statement released after the group’s ministerial meeting on Wednesday”.

The writer goes on to mention “It’s a long-delayed response to a flood of oil that has outstripped global demand for the stuff and kept prices less than half of what they were in 2014. It’s also an indication that OPEC, and especially Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer in the group, is willing to again play a role as market balancer — potentially bringing some longer-term stability back to the global oil market”.

Crucially it notes that “Riyadh, who championed OPEC’s drill-till-you-drop approach two years ago, will take the brunt of the pain, agreeing to an output cut of nearly 500,000 barrels a day from record-high levels of production of 10.673 million barrels a day. Iraq, the cartel’s second-biggest producer, will cut 210,000 barrels a day. In all, OPEC members — famous for their fractiousness and an inability to share the pain — appear to have agreed to trim production by about 5 percent each. Even Russia, which isn’t a member of OPEC but whose breakneck oil production has contributed to the glut, agreed to gradually rein in output by 300,000 barrels a day. In answer, crude oil prices leapt upward by over 10 percent to top $50 a barrel for the first time in a month. While that’s great news for cash-strapped petro states like Iraq and Venezuela — and an early Christmas gift for the U.S. oil patch — it’s a little less cheery for consumers, who will have to pay a bit more at the pump”.

The writer mentions that “Under OPEC’s surprise agreement, one country caught a break: Iran will be allowed to increase production by about 90,000 barrels a day while everyone else cuts back. Tehran has been adamant that it must regain market share that it lost while facing U.S. and Western sanctions that halved its oil exports from 2012 through last year. OPEC’s first agreed cut since 2008 — when oil prices collapsed late in the year after hitting record levels in the summer — comes when the group’s members are reeling. OPEC is on track to earn just $341 billion in oil exports in 2016, down from a record $920 billion in 2012. That has hammered oil-dependent states, making it tougher for Iraq to fight Islamic State, for example, or Venezuela to craft a functioning economy. Even wealthy states, like Saudi Arabia, have felt the pinch, burning through about $180 billion of currency reserves and slashing public-sector salaries in the last two years”.

He goes on to point out, “OPEC’s rediscovery of discipline could be enough to help rebalance the market next year and push up oil prices — if, that is, members actually adhere to it, and if rejuvenated U.S. oil production doesn’t spoil the party before it gets started. OPEC members don’t have a great record of actually sticking to agreements they make. And political feuds between members, notably Saudi Arabia and Iran, had a habit of boiling over into OPEC meetings and torpedoing agreements in the past. “We believe much uncertainty remains with respect to global oil supply in 2017,” said Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners. That’s primarily due to OPEC’s “poor track record of adhering to production quotas and ongoing supply disruptions around the globe,” he added. Another OPEC cut might be needed in the second half of next year, he said. Meanwhile, U.S. oil companies, who need higher crude prices than their Middle Eastern counterparts, have just been waiting for an uptick to drill even more. And thanks to a couple years of belt-tightening, U.S. drillers have gotten great at cutting costs and squeezing out productivity gains, making it easier to thrive in a low-price environment. Renewed U.S. production on the back of rising prices could simply end up prolonging the glut, push prices back down, and end up costing OPEC billions”.

Putin’s man in the White House

16/12/2016
The piece notes “The Russian president and his country had played an outsized role in the U.S. election cycle, with Trump’s unwavering praise for Putin’s strong style of rule and the role of Russian hacker groups taking centre stage. In Russia, the American vote had also become a centerpiece of broadcasts by state media, which often recited Trump talking points about the election outcome being rigged and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s intention to start a war with Moscow. The Kremlin appeared to shed its anxieties over a Clinton presidency as the Russian parliament burst into applause as news of Trump’s victory speech was relayed to lawmakers. But for Putin, the outcome of the U.S. election is about more than executing Moscow’s strategy of breeding chaos during the presidential election and discrediting America’s political system. Russia’s intervention in Syria, coming on the heels of a deeper crisis triggered by the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, put U.S. cooperation with Moscow on the table for U.S. and European policymakers but had few takers in the West. Now after more than two years of biting economic sanctions and international isolation, Putin has a way to restore Russia’s global status and reopen ties with the West — and its name is Donald Trump”.

The author argues “Those in the Kremlin do not “want to own Syria or Ukraine. They want their interests to be taken into account,” Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates and the former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council from 2004 to 2007, told Foreign Policy. “In a strange way, that entails working with the United States, albeit on terms more favorable to Russia.” And Putin may be able to reach those terms with Trump after he assumes office on Jan. 20, 2017. Throughout the election cycle, Trump made improved cooperation with Moscow a tenet of his campaign and a consistent policy position. The Republican president-elect touted that he will “get along very well” with Putin and showered praise on the Russian leader, calling him a “better leader than Obama.” Other campaign comments indicate that his administration would be willing to roll back Washington’s current support for Ukraine, anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria, and even NATO members — which Trump has criticized for failing to pay their fair share of the costs for their security in Europe. These changes, according to Trump, would be justified by the possibility of enlisting Moscow’s support in the wider fight against the Islamic State and radical Islamic terrorism around the world”.

The writer contends that “In contrast, Hillary Clinton and the prospect of her presidency has been a point of contention in Russia since her term as secretary of state that began 2009 and ended in 2013 with frayed ties between Moscow and Washington. On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidate branded Putin a bully on the international stage and Trump as his puppet. In response, Russia’s state news outlets routinely portrayed Clinton as old, corrupt, and a danger to Moscow and the world. In the lead-up to the U.S. general election, relations between Russia and the United States have hit an all-time low in the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union with the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, Putin has flexed Russia’s power in new and often unpredictable ways: tearing up nuclear agreements, deploying new nuclear-capable missiles to the exclave of Kaliningrad, and buzzing NATO planes and ships with Russian aircraft. And although the Kremlin is certainly encouraged by the prospect of a grand bargain between the United States and Russia, Moscow is still apprehensive about the real estate mogul taking the helm. Because though extending the olive branch to a Trump White House might improve relations with Washington, the Kremlin is aware of the growing anti-Russian sentiment among U.S. policymakers”.

Crucially he argues “It is hardly clear exactly how Trump will make it easier for Putin to advance his goals abroad, but Moscow is certain to capitalise on the turmoil that the unconventional Republican’s victory will sow in world capitals. “It’s better for Russia if the USA is in domestic political crisis, and a Trump victory would underscore exactly such a crisis,” Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told FP. In a search for cracks in the Western facade to exploit, Moscow is likely to try to use confusion over Trump’s victory to breed disunity on U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia. Both Brussels and Washington have renewed sanctions into 2017, but fatigue in Brussels is growing, and it is not assured that the European Union will maintain the economic measures without pressure from Washington. Should the EU sanctions fail to be renewed in January, it would be a massive victory for Putin — ending Russia’s isolation with the West and earning international recognition that the Kremlin has restored Moscow’s global influence lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union”.

He ends “In considering how to rebuild ties with a Trump administration and still balance its strategic interests in the Middle East and Europe, Herbst believes that the Russian president should be wary of “giving the president-elect reason to reconsider the views that he has expressed on NATO and Ukraine.” Moscow still controls the levers to ramp up the bombardment of Aleppo or spark new fighting in eastern Ukraine that could create a headache for President Barack Obama during his final weeks in office. Even now that Trump is slated to transition to the White House, the Kremlin still needs to be prudent about provoking Washington too far”.

 

Tillerson at State?

14/12/2016

The New York Times reports that “Trump settled Monday on Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, to be his secretary of state, transition officials said. In naming him, the president-elect is dismissing bipartisan concerns that Mr. Tillerson, the globe-trotting leader of an energy giant, has a too-cozy relationship with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia. Mr. Trump planned to announce the selection on Tuesday morning, bringing to an end his public and chaotic deliberations over the nation’s top diplomat — a process that at times veered from rewarding Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most loyal supporters, to musing about whether Mitt Romney, one of his most vicious critics, might be forgiven. Instead, Mr. Trump has decided to risk what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight in the Senate”.

The article mentions that “In the past several days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had warned that Mr. Tillerson would face intense scrutiny over his two-decade relationship with Russia, which awarded him its Order of Friendship in 2013, and with Mr. Putin. The hearings will also put a focus on Exxon Mobil’s business dealings with Moscow. The company has billions of dollars in oil contracts that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia, and Mr. Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.

Mr. Tillerson has been publicly skeptical about the sanctions, which have halted some of Exxon Mobil’s biggest projects in Russia, including an agreement with the state oil company to explore and pump in Siberia that could be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on Saturday that Mr. Tillerson’s connections to Mr. Putin were “a matter of concern to me” and promised to examine them closely if he were nominated.

“Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” Mr. McCain said on Fox News.

Mr. Trump has fanned speculation about his choice for secretary of state for weeks. In the end, he discarded not only Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney, but also an endlessly changing list that at times included Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee; David H. Petraeus, the former Army general and C.I.A. director; and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and presidential candidate in 2012.

Mr. Romney, Mr. Petraeus and Mr. Corker, the three leading runners-up, all received calls late Monday informing them of Mr. Trump’s decision, according to people familiar with the president-elect’s final choice.

He settled on Mr. Tillerson, a deal maker who has spent the past four decades at Exxon, much of it in search of oil and gas agreements in troubled parts of the world. A native of Wichita Falls, Tex., who speaks with a strong Texas twang, Mr. Tillerson, 64, runs a company with operations in about 50 countries, and has cut deals to expand business in Venezuela, Qatar, Kurdistan and elsewhere.

If confirmed as secretary of state, Mr. Tillerson would face a new challenge: nurturing alliances around the world that are built less on deals and more on diplomacy.

That could prove to be a special test when it comes to Russia, where Mr. Tillerson has fought for years to strengthen connections through business negotiations worth billions of dollars. Under his leadership, Exxon has entered into joint ventures with Rosneft, a Russian-backed oil company, and donated to the country’s health and social programs.

In his new role, Mr. Tillerson would have to manage the difficult relationship between the United States and Mr. Putin’s Russia, including the economic sanctions imposed after Moscow intervened in Ukraine and occupied Crimea. Last month, President Obama and European leaders agreed to keep sanctions in place until Mr. Putin agrees to a cease-fire and to the withdrawal of heavy weapons from front lines in eastern Ukraine.

Other Republicans who have challenged Mr. Tillerson’s potential selection include Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who expressed concern in a Twitter post on Monday about his relationship with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump favored Mr. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, initially, but quickly grew weary of his penchant for drawing outsize media attention. Mr. Trump was also troubled by reports of Mr. Giuliani’s business entanglements overseas. And some of the president-elect’s closest advisers, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saw Mr. Giuliani as a poor fit for the job.

That led to interest in Mr. Romney, who had called Mr. Trump a “fraud” and a “phony” during the campaign. Mr. Romney had also highlighted Russia as a danger to United States interests during the 2012 race.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Romney made peace, meeting twice and speaking periodically by phone. But some of Mr. Trump’s advisers, including his last campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, warned publicly in a series of television interviews that some of his supporters would quickly drift away if Mr. Romney were chosen for the job.

Mr. Tillerson emerged as a contender on the strong recommendations of James A. Baker III, the secretary of state under President George Bush, and Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary, according to a person briefed on the process.

Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, argued strongly for Mr. Tillerson, and the president-elect was intrigued.

Mr. Trump met with Mr. Tillerson for more than two hours on Saturday at Trump Tower in Manhattan. To his aides, Mr. Trump described Mr. Tillerson as in a different “league” than his other options.

Mr. Romney acknowledged late Monday night in a Facebook post that he had been passed over, writing, “It was an honor to have been considered for Secretary of State of our great country.”

“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening,” Mr. Romney wrote.

The case for Petraeus

12/12/2016

Boot writes “Trump has made a terrific choice — his best one yet — in choosing retired Gen. James Mattis as his secretary of defense. Mattis is not only a first-rate operational commander who will inspire fear in U.S. enemies and devotion among its troops, but also a serious student of military history and strategy who has thought deeply about issues of war and peace”.

Boot goes on to argue “The only cost in appointing Mattis, along with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as national security advisor, is that it could take David Petraeus out of the running for secretary of state on the theory that the administration can’t have retired generals filling all of the senior national security posts. That would be a mistake. Petraeus would be a superbly qualified secretary of state — one who already has more diplomatic experience than most of those previously selected for this position. He is not, to be sure, the only qualified candidate. Mitt Romney would also be good selection because he is a man of decency and intellect and his selection would show that Trump does not harbour a grudge against those who opposed him during the campaign. If Romney is chosen, one can imagine other qualified critics of Trump being asked to serve in lower-level, if still critical, positions. But of the leading candidates — a list that apparently now includes not just Petraeus and Romney but also Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and former governor and ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr. — it is the retired general who has the deepest experience in, and knowledge of, world affairs”.

It goes on to point out “Although he spent 37 years in uniform and rose to four-star rank, Petraeus is in some ways not the prototypical general. He is a man, after all, who holds a doctorate in international relations from Princeton and who stood out from his peers for his cerebral approach to his job. One of his signal achievements was producing, along with Mattis, an Army/Marine field manual on counterinsurgency that served as the intellectual blueprint for the surge that he led as the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. He went on to serve as head of Central Command, as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and as director of the CIA. In all of those positions his duties were as much, if not more so, diplomatic and strategic rather than purely military. Having known Petraeus for 13 years — I first met him when he was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul in 2003 — I have been impressed by his sure grasp of all the levers of power, most of them non-kinetic. In Iraq in 2007-2008, he was a virtuoso at getting his message across with American journalists and lawmakers in order to buy himself more time to win the war — while at the same time turning the screws on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to get him to reach out to marginalized Sunnis. He understood that the key terrain of the conflict was in the realms of politics, diplomacy, and communications, not the use of force per se — although he also did not hesitate to use force in a targeted and effective way”.

Boot notes “Later, as head of U.S. Central Command from 2008 to 2010, he became America’s dominant voice in the Middle East, outshining the State Department because of his connections across the region and the credibility that he brought to meetings with military and political leaders. Since leaving the government, Petraeus has maintained a peripatetic global travel schedule as chairman of the KKR Global Institute and a partner at the investment firm. He has also weighed in on many issues far beyond the military realm. For example, he co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations task force on North America that called for strengthening relations between the United States, Mexico, and Canada — a welcome alternative to the protectionist and xenophobic rhetoric that the president-elect often indulged in during the campaign”.

Boot does not mention his leaking of classified information that detracts from his achievements………

Boot goes on to note “In short, Petraeus is far more than a narrow-minded military man. Indeed, he may not have won Trump over as swiftly and completely in his job interview as Mattis did, because he does not conform to Trump’s cigar-chomping impression of what generals should be like; Petraeus is more in the Eisenhower mold than the Patton mold. That is why no one should be troubled if Petraeus becomes the third general to occupy a senior national-security post. Far from giving a pro-war tilt to the new administration, he would be an important restraint on a president who has spoken far too freely of bombing various countries and of torturing terrorists. The chief knock on Petraeus, aside from the fact that he would be another general, is the unfortunate circumstances under which he was forced out of his CIA job in 2012. He resigned after his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, became public. He subsequently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts of sharing classified information with her, agreeing to spend two years on probation and to pay a $100,000 fine. Many critics are agog that Trump would even consider hiring Petraeus after spending the campaign claiming that Hillary Clinton should be locked up for her mishandling of classified information on her private email account. In truth, both the Clinton and Petraeus cases are minor ones that have nothing in common with the criminal acts of Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, both of whom took highly classified information and made it public to the detriment of American national security. There was no public release of any classified information on Petraeus’s (or Clinton’s) part. In fact, Petraeus assigned one of his staff officers, Col. Mike Meese (now a part of the Trump transition team), to ensure that Broadwell, who also had a security clearance, did not reveal anything she wasn’t supposed to in her book”.

Boot ends “It is telling that Snowden is now claiming in an interview from Moscow, eagerly promoted by the Kremlin’s propaganda organs, that Petraeus’s transgressions were more serious than his own. That simply isn’t so — it’s like comparing jaywalking with bank robbery — but that Snowden is saying so suggests that the Kremlin does not want to see the secretary of state position go to someone who would be expected to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s aggression. No doubt Putin would be more comfortable with a candidate like Rex Tillerson who, as the Wall Street Journal notes, has “some of the closest ties among U.S. CEO’s to Mr. Putin and Russia.” Petraeus has already paid a price for his transgression that goes well beyond his guilty plea on a misdemeanor. He lost his CIA post and he was subjected to public humiliation, which is especially painful for someone who has always valued his well-earned reputation for rectitude. It would be overkill if Petraeus’s one-time error were to forever disqualify him from public service. He still has much to offer a country that he has spent most of his life serving. As secretary of state he could follow capably in the footsteps of his hero, Gen. George C. Marshall.

Brennan warns Trump on Iran deal

10/12/2016

The director of the CIA has warned US President-elect Donald Trump that ending the Iran nuclear deal would be “disastrous” and “the height of folly”. In a BBC interview, John Brennan also advised the new president to be wary of Russia’s promises, blaming Moscow for much of the suffering in Syria. In his campaign, Mr Trump threatened to scrap the Iran deal and also hinted at working more closely with Russia. Mr Brennan will step down in January after four years leading the CIA. In the first interview by a CIA director with the British media, John Brennan outlined a number of areas where he said the new administration needed to act with “prudence and discipline” – these included the language used regarding terrorism, relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and the way in which the CIA’s own covert capabilities were employed”.

“Prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement”

10/12/2016

The Senate and House armed services committees have agreed upon a compromise National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement of ships and aircraft. Senior armed services committee aides told reporters this afternoon that their compromise bill includes $3.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending aimed at adding 16,000 soldiers, 4,000 airmen and 3,000 Marines to the force. That money covers not only the military personnel costs associated with the higher force but also increased operations and maintenance costs. “One of the things that we were really focused on was getting after the readiness issues,” an aide said. “All that money went to readiness issues, particularly in the area of end strength,” with an eye specifically towards “operations and support for Air Force and Marine Corps aviation readiness shortfalls.” Marine and Navy aviation leaders have said that barriers to rebuilding readiness go beyond just funding for personnel and flight hours and also include a lack of spare parts to keep planes ready, a backlog of planes at depot maintenance facilities and other logistics and maintenance-related issues. The armed services committee aides said money was reallocated within the base budget, keeping within the Bipartisan Budget Agreement spending caps, to increase funding for aviation spares and maintenance to further help boost aviation readiness.

All the president’s generals

08/12/2016

A piece discusses the number of generals Trump is appointing, “In  the 1990s, during Bill Clinton’s second term, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (A), National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (B), and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (C) would meet weekly for what was called the “ABC lunch.” When the rest of us minions gathered in the White House Situation Room for one crisis or problem or another, we always had the sense that the agenda was kind of fixed, with the statements of the principals a choreographed ballet reflecting agreements already reached at that lunch table. If current trends from President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees continue, the new lunch crowd may all be senior generals in the U.S. military. With National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn now joined by Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, and both Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Kelly being considered as a possible secretary of state, three of the five institutions most centrally involved in U.S. national security policy could be headed by former senior military officers. That would be an unprecedented event in American history, a serious challenge to the tradition of civilian control over the military, and a danger to U.S. national security”.

The piece notes that “This dominance of U.S. national security policy by retired general officers is a trend long in the making, but Trump’s appointees would seal the deal, upsetting the delicate balance of civil-military power in U.S. foreign-policy institutions. Since the start of the Cold War, and particularly in the shaping of a containment policy that emphasized the growth and use of military force (largely at the hand of Paul Nitze in National Security Council memorandum 68 in 1950), the Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, military service chiefs, and combatant commanders have become the 800-pound gorillas of U.S. foreign-policy making. Arguably, the last secretary of state to articulate U.S. national security strategy was John Foster Dulles. Since then, no secretary of state has led the development of national security policy, whereas the Defense Department has regularly trotted out a National Defense Strategy and the Joint Chiefs a National Military Strategy. The gap between the money and people available to the civilian foreign-policy institutions has grown exponentially, with defense budgets running as much as 12 times that for civilian foreign-policy engagement. The responsibility for dealing with international tensions and conflicts is still embedded in a Cold War context. U.S. security assistance support to other countries, while nominally channeled through the State Department budget, is almost entirely designed and implemented by the military services and defense contractors. The exceptional ex-general that proves the rule, Dwight Eisenhower, who happened to be president, was concerned about the rising influence of the Defense Department and the military in U.S. policy and society, leading to his coining of the term “military-industrial complex” in his 1961 Farewell Address, though very little changed, as a result”.

It mentions “In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the expansion of military responsibility for U.S. national security policy and international engagement has grown exponentially. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan turned the U.S. military into an occupying power, with a broad expansion of the role the armed services played in foreign-policy making and implementation. As governance and development became military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, money for security assistance in those two countries — plus Jordan, Pakistan, and, eventually, dozens of countries around the world — flowed into the Pentagon. The Defense Department deliberately sought a wide expansion of its statutory authorities to provide foreign and military assistance, programs historically the responsibility of the State Department under the Foreign Assistance Act. From Iran to Iraq to the “war on terrorism,” the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been largely left in the dust, both in terms of budgets and responsibilities. Flynn, Mattis, and the other generals who may emerge at the top of Trump’s policy machine were all involved in this expansion of authority and in these wars. Why should we care? If they are competent individuals, so the argument goes, it shouldn’t matter if they were military men once upon a time, right? Aren’t generals the best people for these jobs, given the troubled world we live in? No and no. There are four reasons why the emergence of generals at the top of U.S. national security policy is a bad idea for the United States”.

It posits “First, these appointments break an important tradition of separation between civilians and the military in U.S. governance. Although some military officers have ended up in politics (Ulysses S. Grant, Eisenhower, among others), it is uncommon; as Samuel Huntington emphasized in his classic 1957 study of U.S. civil-military relations, The Soldier and the State: “The military officer must remain neutral politically.… The antithesis of objective civilian control is military participation in politics: civilian control decreases as the military become progressively involved in institutional, class, and constitutional politics.” There has been a history of struggle over this principle, but Huntington’s point is that policymakers and particularly the president are best served when generals stick to their profession and provide their best military advice to the civilians, who are in charge of making policy decisions. Putting a gaggle of military men at the apex of policy (and not just military policy) advice to the president simply sets that foundational principle aside. The second reason begins with a caveat: There is ample evidence that having military officers at the policymaking table is important and that they are frequently conservative about the use of military force. Indeed, generals are well-educated in strategy but not particularly in statecraft — the combination of the tools a competent head of state needs to have at his or her disposal when engaging the world. When generals talk strategy, they are talking deterrence and the conduct of combat, not about the “other means” in Carl von Clausewitz’s classical formulation. Sitting atop the State Department does not suddenly make a general an expert in diplomacy”.

He points out “The fundamental bias — and a necessary bias — of trained officers is to create a military and to advise civilians about the contribution of that military to national security policy. It is a military mindset, a necessary part of their professional expertise, and borne of years of training and education. But it is not a balanced view of how the United States should engage the world. As such, the military paradigm is likely to be the dominant narrative, to the detriment of broader thinking about statecraft. That paradigm focuses on solutions to tactical and strategic problems but not on the nuances of managing intractable international issues. One can readily imagine the starting point to a conversation among generals about the Syrian crisis being about the application of greater or lesser U.S. military force, rather than the tools of diplomacy or negotiation. But that’s an easy one. Is the answer to Nigerian instability and the scourge of Boko Haram further deployment of U.S. forces, training, and weaponry — or a deeper engagement in civil institutions and placing pressure on the Nigerian regime to eliminate corruption and establish effective governance? Is the key to dealing with China’s assertive presence in the South China Sea an aggressive U.S. military buildup in the Pacific or a diplomatic strategy that deals with the surrounding countries and seeks to resolve the most contentious issues? It’s not that the generals are ignorant, but simply that diplomacy is not their stock in trade nor what they’ve spent their lives thinking about and planning for. The differences may appear slight, but they send U.S. global engagement in two very different directions”.

He adds “Third, despite the widespread public respect for the military, the United States has yet to confront the reality that after 15 years of using armed forces to establish order and security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against terrorist organizations, the record is largely one of failure. Americans live with a myth that the military is the only effective “can-do” organization and that failure in missions such as Iraq and Afghanistan was only because the military was not tasked with doing more. But a decade of training, assistance, and governance support in Iraq led directly to a regime that was nearly overwhelmed by the Islamic State. Afghanistan teeters on the edge of takeover by a combination of Taliban and warlords. And the aggressive, invasive counterterrorism effort in more than 80 countries, led by a more militarized CIA and U.S. special operations forces, may have killed a lot of people but has resulted in the death of not one terrorist organization that existed before 9/11. In fact, it has arguably stimulated their growth and the expansion in the number of terrorist attacks. This history of failures has gone unremarked; the Defense Department and the services continue to whistle through the graveyard of buried policies, rearranging the next step as if it were the first, and patting themselves on the back as heroes for what they have accomplished”.

Pointedly he argues “Despite his campaign rhetoric about firing generals, President-elect Trump is on the verge of rewarding the very same men he recently derided for a “can’t-do” record. But the rest of the world knows well the failures. They are a result of local incompetence, the inability of military personnel to carry out nonmilitary tasks, institutional inflexibility, and, most basically, an abiding ignorance about the difficulty of changing another country through the use of force. Trying harder doesn’t do it better; trying harder has the tragic outcome of reinforcing a record of failure and alienating the very populations the strategy is designed to help. And finally, the continued recourse to military officers as the answer to our national security needs makes the imbalance at the heart of American statecraft a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we act as if the military is the best instrument of statecraft, the more we reinforce the notion that civilians are not competent to carry out national security policy. Moreover, the most difficult long-term national security issues we face, like climate change, are not easily susceptible to military solutions”.

He ends “Civilian control over the military is a fundamental value of our democracy. Generals — even retired ones — should advise, not make policy. A successful national security policy depends on restoring the civil-military balance that has been lost in the lopsided approach of the last 15 years, one that has clearly failed to the detriment of U.S. security. Our civilian national security institutions need reinforcement to help restore that balance; but with two generals in place and a possible third to come, it is very late in the day to restore this important equity”.

 

“Anyone expecting Germany to fill America’s shoes will be disappointed”

08/12/2016

An excellent article in the Economist rejects the view that Germany will become the leader in liberal international globalism after Trump takes office, “To visit Berlin is to be confronted at every turn by reminders of the evils that Germans do. Memorials to the Holocaust and other wartime atrocities dot the city. In Kreuzberg, a scruffy-but-hip neighbourhood, posters and leaflets denounce milder German iniquities, from urban gentrification to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a hated trade deal between the European Union and America that the election of Donald Trump may have killed for good. Outside Germany, though, Mr Trump’s victory has left disaffected liberals gasping for German benevolence. Brexit, the refugee crisis and the rise of drawbridge-up populists across Europe had already punctured the West’s self-confidence. Now, after an election campaign in which Mr Trump trashed immigrants, vowed to rewrite trade deals and threatened to withdraw America’s security guarantee, the West’s indispensable nation appears to have dispensed with itself. Desperate for a candidate to accept the mantle of leader of the free world, some alighted on Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor”.

The writer points out that “It is easy to see why. Unflappable and patient, dedicated to the freedom she had thrust upon her as a young East German physicist in 1989, Mrs Merkel is a beacon to those who fear the flickering of the liberal flame. She likes markets, trade and good governance. Her commitment to helping refugees fleeing strife in Syria contrasts with the anti-migrant turn elsewhere in Europe. Mr Trump’s victory should extinguish any speculation that Mrs Merkel will not seek a fourth term as chancellor next year in Germany’s federal election; expect an announcement soon. Yet anyone expecting Germany to fill America’s shoes will be disappointed. Consider Mrs Merkel’s approach to crisis management, from the euro to Ukraine to refugees. Each played out differently, but Mrs Merkel’s prevarication was consistent: humming and hawing over bail-outs for indebted governments; taking Vladimir Putin at his word before realising he was a liar; reacting to the refugee surge rather than trying to prevent it. For those seeking stability, Mrs Merkel’s taste for hesitation may be a feature, not a bug, but it hardly makes for bold leadership”.

He correctly notes “Nor does German assertiveness inside Europe run smoothly. Seventy years after the second world war, protestors in Greece and Spain who resent Germany’s strict approach to fiscal stewardship still resort to Nazi tropes. The occasional attempt to form “anti-austerity” (read: anti-German) axes inside the EU elicits terror in Berlin. The world’s progressives may have loved it, but some in Berlin were uneasy at the chiding tone of Mrs Merkel’s letter of congratulation to Mr Trump, which pledged co-operation on the basis of a commitment to liberal values. “We are protected by our terrible history,” says Joschka Fischer, a former foreign minister. “You cannot say, ‘Make Germany Great Again’.” More importantly, Pax Americana has always required American bite. Germany, with a defence budget one-fifteenth that of the United States, no nuclear deterrent and an instinct for pacifism, has neither the ability nor the aspiration to act as the world’s liberal hegemon. This is a country that went through agonies over whether to arm Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic State. Inside Europe, let alone elsewhere, only France and Britain have the ability to project power, and that suits Germans fine. Put bluntly, if Mr Putin’s tanks roll into the Baltics it will not be the Bundeswehr that takes the lead in rolling them back”.

Rightly he points out that “Mrs Merkel’s ambitions are altogether smaller. First among them is to hold together the fracturing EU, via a blend of prayer and policy. Germany is pinning its hopes on France, its eternal partner inside the EU, electing a sane president next year—ideally Alain Juppé, the centre-right front-runner. Franco-German comity should help EU governments find common ground on defence co-operation, the focus of their efforts over the next few months. (Mr Trump’s questionable commitment to NATO should provide another spur.) Should the politics prove propitious, Germany may one day be open to more ambitious schemes, such as greater integration of the euro zone. But grand visions of EU institutional change, let alone a German-led reshaping of the world order, are off the menu in Berlin. The priority is stopping the rot. Meanwhile Mrs Merkel, her political capital depleted by the refugee crisis, must hold the line at home. Owing in part to the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the coalition that emerges from next year’s election will probably command a Bundestag majority far smaller than the one Mrs Merkel’s centrist grand coalition enjoys today. That will limit the chancellor’s room for manoeuvre, at home and in Europe. The political fragmentation is also disinterring old questions about Germany’s geopolitical allegiance. The Westbindung (Western integration), a staple of German foreign policy since Adenauer, is fraying as extremist parties on the left and right cosy up to Russia”.

He concludes “And what about Mr Trump? For now, Germany retains a touching faith in America’s institutions to rein in the president-elect’s worst impulses. But from his vicious campaign to the chaotic management of his transition, there is every sign that Mr Trump will prove to be another of the erratic politicians, like Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy, who have tested Mrs Merkel’s patience. Russia is a particular worry. If Mr Trump abandons Ukraine and allows America’s sanctions to wither, Mrs Merkel’s task of maintaining European unity will become almost impossible. Germany’s stake in the global liberal order is immense. Its export-led economic model relies on robust international trade; its political identity is inexorably linked to a strong EU; its westward orientation assumes a friendly and engaged America. All of these things may now be in jeopardy, and Germany would suffer more than most from their demise. But do not look to Mrs Merkel to save them, for she cannot do so alone”.

 

 

Trump backs Abadi?

08/12/2016

The prime minister said he expects the incoming Trump administration to grant Iraq a greater degree of logistical support in its war on terror, and dismissed suggestions by Donald Trump in the election campaign that he would seize some of Iraq’s oil production as a kind of “reimbursement” for U.S. efforts in Iraq. Trump said in September that he would “take the oil” from Iraq, claiming that the Iranians would step in otherwise. “I am not going to judge the man by his election statements,” al-Abadi said with a smile. “I am going to judge him by what he does later.” He called Trump, who he spoke with by phone soon after his election victory, a “pragmatic man” who would reassess the situation once in office. But Iraqi oil, he said, belongs to Iraqis. “The Iraqi people will not allow any country to take possession of their own resources,” he said in the interview held at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital.

“Trump’s election feels like a nightmare”

06/12/2016

An article argues that Trump is the end of the world as we know it, “The only thing that makes nightmares tolerable is that you never do experience the consequences. You might be falling from a great height, but you wake up — or miraculously change scenery — before you can hit the ground, or even wonder about survival. For most of the world, Donald Trump’s election feels like a nightmare that lacks that one saving grace. For the last few days we have all been in free fall, with the ground fast approaching, except that we also know we are wide awake. Difficult as it is, however, it’s time to start thinking about what exactly awaits the world after it slams into its new political reality. This is not an easy task. While Trump is a man of strong words, he is not one of consistent views. Over the course of the last 12 months, he has flip-flopped on just about every issue, from the welfare state, to civil rights, to nuclear proliferation and the use of American military power”.

The writer points out that Trump may well undermine democracy, “First and foremost, we must not underestimate the possibility that Donald Trump may prove a serious threat to liberal democracy in the United States. In the campaign, he has attacked every norm of democratic politics: He has threatened to jail his opponent and to disregard the result of the election if he loses. He has attacked the independence of the judiciary and promised to muzzle the free press. This may be the verbal expulsions of a man to whom the art of saying extreme things without thinking them through comes very lightly, but it is just as likely to be a reflection of the depth of his authoritarian impulses. And even if his victory at the polls has not been nearly as resounding as the immense power it has given him suggests, it did make one thing clear: A shockingly large number of Americans were not put off by this authoritarian rhetoric. They may be willing to go along if he decides to walk the walk as well. The hundreds of political scientists (myself included) who signed a letter warning of the danger Trump may pose to liberal democracy did not overcome their professional reluctance to engage in partisan politics on a whim; they were motivated by the similarities they saw between Trump and to the many undertakers of democracy in other historical periods and geographic areas”.

The writer points out that Trump may end the dream of a multi-ethnic democracy, “It is rarely noted that democracy took hold in many European countries at the precise moment when decades of war and ethnic cleansing had turned them extremely homogeneous. This is probably no coincidence. In the modern era, democracy has always gone hand-in-hand with nationalism. And the popular perception of who truly belongs to these nations has, in turn, been deeply restrictive. In most times and places, you did not truly belong to the volk unless you descended from the same ethnic stock as the majority of your co-citizens. This is one way in which the United States really was at one point, if not quite unique, then certainly special. For despite its long and deep history of radical racial injustice, it was tempting to think that America had in some ways become a genuinely multiethnic democracy. Even as many whites jealously guarded their privileges, for example, most had come to accept that blacks or Latinos were fellow Americans”.

He contends that the illiberal order will continue to rise, “During the election campaign, global opinion polls showed an overwhelming preference for Hillary Clinton in most parts of the world. But these polls missed a crucial detail: among the illiberal populists who are now on the rise in such diverse countries as France, Sweden, Hungary and Russia, Trump has always enjoyed strong support. Nigel Farage, who helped bring about Brexit as the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, campaigned with Trump. Other illiberal populists were among the first — and the most enthusiastic — to celebrate his victory. Marine Le Pen, of France’s National Front party, congratulated Americans on “choosing their president of their own accord instead of rubber-stamping the one chosen for them by the establishment.” Geert Wilders, the Dutch far-right leader who recently out-Trumped Trump by calling for on an outright ban on the Quran, rejoiced in the fact that “politics will never be the same…. What America can do, we can do as well. There is a reason for their joy. While the far-right leaders who have enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years are virtually always deeply nationalist, they now see themselves as part of a common enterprise: to divorce liberalism from democracy. In a liberal democracy, the rights of minorities are protected and independent institutions like the judiciary rein in the power of the government. In the illiberal democracies which the vanguard of the illiberal international has established in countries like Turkey or Poland, by contrast, minorities are scapegoated for political gain and independent power centers are systematically undermined”.

He ends most worryingly discussing how America’s allies may look elsewhere, “Even in the best case, American foreign policy will remain unpredictable for the coming years. For countries whose security has always depended on the reliability of their American allies, this is deeply scary. For now, they will be extremely vulnerable to the caprices of President Trump. That insecurity cannot be a good feeling. And so, if decision-makers in capitals from Berlin to Tokyo have any ounce of strategic vision, they must now be hard at work in figuring out how to become less dependent on the United States. But their options are sparse. They could invest much more heavily in their own defence, and doubtless many of them will. But for countries like Germany or Japan, it would be incredibly costly to modernise their armed forces sufficiently to be able to do without the protecting hand of a friendly hegemon. They could strengthen alliances with countries that still do share their values. But those are few and far between, and they are unlikely to be stronger than themselves militarily. Finally, they could seek the reassurance of nuclear weapons. But this is likely to engender significant domestic opposition and may prove counterproductive if it scares their neighbors into an arms race. And so, the most realistic alternative among all the possibilities available to America’s longtime allies may be to move away from a values-based system of international alliances. In a world in which there is no reliably liberal democratic hegemon left, smaller nations will be very tempted to scurry for protection wherever it might be on offer. And if that comes to pass, then the Western liberal order may disintegrate more quickly than we might have imagined a few short years ago”.

Expanded powers for JSOC

06/12/2016

The Obama administration is giving the elite Joint Special Operations Command — the organization that helped kill Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs — expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe, a move driven by concerns of a dispersed terrorist threat as Islamic State militants are driven from strongholds in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials said. The missions could occur well beyond the battlefields of places like Iraq, Syria and Libya where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has carried out clandestine operations in the past. When finalized, it will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multiagency intelligence and action force. Known as the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” the group will be designed to take JSOC’s targeting model — honed over the last 15 years of conflict — and export it globally to go after terrorist networks plotting attacks against the West. The creation of a new JSOC entity this late in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration deliberations. It is unclear, however, if the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will keep this and other structures set up by Obama. They include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

“The result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”

04/12/2016

Max Boot, echoing William Inboden, writes about the similarities between Trump and Obama, “It is hard to imagine two presidents more dissimilar than Barack Obama, the cerebral and elegant liberal law professor, and Donald Trump, the brash populist and reality TV star. But if Trump’s campaign pronouncements are anything to judge by, his foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s than either man would care to admit. And not in a good way: Trump shares with Obama a desire to pull back from the world but lacks Obama’s calm, deliberative style and respect for international institutions. A Trump presidency is inherently unpredictable — no one knows how much of his overblown rhetoric to take seriously — but if he does even half the things he suggested on the campaign trail, the result could be the end of the post-1945 Pax Americana”.

Boot goes on to note “One of Trump’s top priorities is to improve relations with Vladimir Putin. In a post-election phone call, Trump told the Russian dictator that “he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Sound familiar? Obama spoke in virtually identical terms when he took office in 2009. Hence his failed “reset” of relations with Moscow. This was part of Obama’s larger rejection of what he saw as the moralizing, interventionist approach of the George W. Bush administration. (Obama also thought that Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia’s president, would be a more accommodating partner than Putin, who remained as prime minister.) During the 2008 campaign, Obama made a big point of saying that he would talk to any foreign leaders without any preconditions — a stance that his primary challenger, Hillary Clinton, criticized as naive. In office, Obama has re-established relations with the Castros in Cuba and Myanmar’s junta, reached a nuclear deal with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Iran, and did little to back up his calls for Bashar al-Assad to leave office. Instead of enforcing his “red line” with Syria, Obama agreed to a Russian-orchestrated deal under which Assad was supposed to give up his chemical weapons (a pledge the Syrian despot has not fully carried out). Obama has also refused to take any military action to stop Assad’s assaults on civilians, notwithstanding his creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board. Obama has often expressed his admiration for George H.W. Bush, and he has largely governed as an amoral realpolitiker who has put American interests, as he defines them, above the promotion of American values. Far from proselytizing for freedom and democracy, Obama has given a series of speeches in venues including Cairo and the Laotian capital of Vientiane — speeches that, to critics, have sounded like apologies for past American misconduct. (Obama’s aides have claimed he was merely “reckoning with history.”) When Iranian protesters took to the streets in the 2009 Green Revolution, Obama did not express support because he feared that doing so would interfere with his attempts to engage with the Iranian regime”.

Boot contends that “On only a few occasions has Obama allowed idealistic considerations to gain the upper hand in his cold-blooded foreign policy — and never for long. He did intervene in Libya to help topple Muammar al-Qaddafi — an intervention Trump supported at the time but now criticizes — but he did little to try to shape post-Qaddafi Libya and gives every indication of regretting his initial intervention. He also called for Hosni Mubarak to step down as Egypt’s ruler during the Arab Spring but did not oppose the subsequent military coup that ousted an elected Muslim Brotherhood government and installed the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It is obvious that human rights promotion, while not dismissed entirely, has not been an animating principle of the president’s foreign policy. More broadly, Obama has given every indication that he does not see America as an exemplar but rather a deeply flawed nation whose forays abroad often have harmful consequences. In a 2009 press conference, Obama dismissed the idea that America is “uniquely qualified to lead the world,” saying, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” That doesn’t mean that Obama hates America, as the cruder right-wing attacks have had it. In the very same press conference, he went on to say: “Now, the fact that I am very proud of my country and I think that we’ve got a whole lot to offer the world does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise and that includes us.” Thus Obama sees the United States as imperfect but virtuous as long as it acts in concert with others — something that it has not always done”.

The piece argues that “Trump, who has a far more jaundiced view of America than Obama does. In a revealing July 20 interview with the New York Times, Trump dismissed concerns about the massive violations of civil liberties being committed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime in Turkey: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” In a similar vein, Trump dismissed concerns that Putin kills journalists: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” This is the kind of moral relativism that Republicans once denounced but now accept from the president-elect. As with Obama, Trump’s refusal to see America as a country with a mission leads him to look askance upon interventions abroad. Like Obama, he eschews nation-building and expresses a preference to work with foreign rulers regardless of their lack of democratic legitimacy. Trump reiterated to the Wall Street Journal after his election that he plans to end support for Syrian rebels and align with Russia in Syria: “My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.” And never mind that Iran, Russia, and Assad are all committing war crimes. Trump’s approach is quite different from what Clinton advocated during the campaign; she called for no-fly zones and safe zones. But it’s not so different from Obama’s current policy, which provides a modicum of aid to the Syrian rebels but tacitly concedes that Assad will stay in power”.

It concludes “This is not to suggest that Trump’s worldview is identical to Obama’s. One of their big divisions is over international institutions. Obama negotiated an international accord to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases; Trump has said global warming is a Chinese hoax and called for pulling out of the Paris agreement. Obama negotiated a nuclear accord with Iran; Trump promises to renegotiate it, calling it a “disgraceful deal” and an “embarrassment to our country.” Obama is a free-trader who negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Trump is a protectionist who vows to withdraw from the TPP, rip up NAFTA, and impose tariffs. Obama has been supportive of NATO, working to expand the forces that the alliance deploys in Eastern Europe and the Baltics to guard against Russian aggression; Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and questioned the need to station U.S. troops to defend countries that don’t pay enough for the privilege. In sum, Obama is a believer in international organizations and international law; Trump is not. It is hard to imagine Trump saying, as Obama did: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” In turn, it is hard to imagine Obama ever threatening to bomb the “shit” out of another country, to steal its oil, or to torture detainees — all of which would constitute war crimes”.

He ends “In the terms coined by Walter Russell Mead, Obama is a Jeffersonian, while Trump is a Jacksonian: The former believes that the United States should perfect its own democracy and go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” whereas the latter believes that “the United States should not seek out foreign quarrels” but that it should clobber anyone who messes with it. What unites Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, in spite of their substantial differences, is that both support quasi-isolationism — or, if you prefer, noninterventionism — unless severely provoked. Obama has been intent on pulling the United States back from the Middle East. The result of his withdrawal of troops from Iraq and his failure to get more actively involved in ending the Syrian civil war has been to create a vacuum of power that has been filled by the likes of the Islamic State and Hezbollah. Undaunted, Trump has said he wants not only to continue the pullback from the Middle East (he wants to subcontract American policy in Syria to Putin) but also to retreat from Europe and East Asia. He has suggested that he may lift sanctions on Russia and pull U.S. troops out of countries (from Germany to Japan) if he feels they are not paying enough for American protection. It is quite possible, then, that Trump’s foreign policy would represent an intensification rather than a repudiation of Obama’s “lead from behind” approach. American power survived eight years of an Obama presidency, albeit in diminished form. If the president-elect governs the way he campaigned (which, admittedly, is not necessarily a safe assumption), there is good cause to wonder whether U.S. ascendancy will survive four to eight years of Trumpism. The post-American age may be arriving sooner than imagined, ushered in by a president with an “America First” foreign policy”.

Obamacare critic at HHS

04/12/2016

Trump named a vociferous critic of Obamacare and a policy consultant on Tuesday to help him overhaul the healthcare system that Republicans have targeted since Democrats enacted sweeping reforms in 2010. Republican Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, and consultant Seema Verma will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a powerful agency that oversees government health programs and insurance standards. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, arriving at Trump Tower in New York, promised a “busy day” as the team continues filling key positions. The president-elect planned to announce his pick for transportation secretary, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told Fox News. Trump, a Republican, cast Price and Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health law formally known as the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the choice of Price, calling him “far out of the mainstream” in his stance on government efforts such as Obamacare and Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and disabled, and on Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization. “Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” Schumer said.

“Mattis may break with Trump’s practice”

04/12/2016

A report notes that Trump has picked Mattis for DoD, “Trump said Thursday he has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who has said that responding to “political Islam” is the major security issue facing the United States, to be secretary of defense. “We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told a rally in Cincinnati, the first stop on a post-election “thank-you tour.” Trump joked that the media and audience should keep the news to themselves. “We are going to be announcing him Monday of next week,” Trump said. “Keep it inside the room.” Mattis, who retired as chief of U.S. Central Command in 2013, has often said that Washington lacks an overall strategy in the Middle East, opting to instead handle issues in an ineffective one-by-one manner”.

It goes on to mention ““Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?” Mattis said at the Heritage Foundation in 2015, speaking about the separate challenges of the Islamic State and Iranian-backed terrorism. “I suggest the answer is no, but we need to have the discussion. If we won’t even ask the question, how do we even recognize which is our side in a fight?” To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass legislation to bypass a federal law stating that defense secretaries must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exemption just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950″.

It adds that “Miller, a spokesman with the Trump transition team, tweeted that no decision had been made, but Trump’s son Donald Jr. retweeted a report saying that Mattis got the job. Mattis, 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, a strategic thinker who occasionally drew rebukes for his aggressive talk. Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. Like Trump, Mattis favours a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries abroad, especially Iran. The general, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” Mattis said the next president “is going to inherit a mess” and argued that the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration last year may slow Iran’s ambitions to get a nuclear weapon but will not stop them. But he added that “absent a clear and present violation,” he did not see a way that Washington could go back on it, because any unilateral sanctions issued by the United States would not be as valuable if allies were not on board. “In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Middle Eastern nations alike, the sense is that America has become somewhat irrelevant in the Middle East, and we certainly have the least influence in 40 years,” Mattis said”.

It goes on to argue “Mattis may break with Trump’s practice of calling out allies for not doing enough to build stability. Mattis served from November 2007 to August 2010 as the supreme allied commander of transformation for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, focused on improving the military effectiveness of allies. Trump called NATO “obsolete” earlier this year before saying later that he was “all for NATO” but wanted all members to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defence, a NATO goal. “The president-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” said a former senior Pentagon official. “He’s a warrior, scholar and straight shooter — literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone and would certainly speak truth to this new commander in chief.” But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s personnel choices, said: “If there’s any concern at all, it’s the principle of civilian control over the military. This role was never intended to be a kind of Joint Chiefs of Staff on steroids, and that’s the biggest single risk tied to Mattis. For Mattis, the biggest risk for him personally is that he will have a national security adviser in the form of Mike Flynn whose management style and extreme views may arch Mattis’s eyebrows and cause conflict over time. It’s no fun to be secretary of defense if you have to constantly feud with the White House.” Mattis, whose nicknames include “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” has had a leading hand in some of the U.S. military’s most significant operations in the past 20 years. As a one-star general, he led an amphibious task force of Marines that carried out a November 2001 raid in helicopters on Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, giving the Pentagon a new foothold against the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Using the call sign “Chaos,” he commanded a division of Marines during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and returned there the following year to lead Marines in bloody street fighting in the city of Fallujah”.

It ends “He was considered a leading contender to become commandant of the Marine Corps in 2010 but was bypassed in favor of Gen. James F. Amos. Instead, Mattis replaced Petraeus as the chief of Central Command, overseeing U.S. military operations across the Middle East”.

Mattis at DoD?

02/12/2016

An article profiles James Mattis who could be the next defence secretary, “If President-elect Donald Trump picks Gen. James Mattis to be his secretary of defense, the retired Marine and combat veteran may be a moderating influence on the impulsive incoming commander in chief. But Mattis shares a hawkish view of Iran echoed by others in Trump’s national security team, raising the potential specter of a conflict with Tehran. The president-elect’s hints that he will nominate Mattis for the job have raised hopes among conservative policy experts and some lawmakers in Congress that the former commander could add strategic perspective and prudence to a Trump White House sorely in need of both. Revered as a war-fighting legend in the Marine Corps, the “warrior monk” is also well-steeped in history and strategy and carries around a copy of Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.” Trump, a novice in foreign affairs, has often relied on his instincts and his shoot-from-the-hip style throughout his career in real estate and, more recently, as a presidential candidate. And given Trump’s isolationist campaign trail rhetoric and trashing of U.S. alliances, some former defense officials and lawmakers believe Mattis could steer the president-elect and his national security team away from hasty action or a radical break with America’s traditional foreign policy”.

The piece adds “Nominating Mattis, who only retired from active military service three years ago, also will test a long-established principle of civilian control of the armed forces. Trump has already appointed a retired three-star Army lieutenant general — Mike Flynn — as his national security advisor. At least two other retired generals have met with Trump as possible candidates for secretary of state or other top positions: Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly and Army Gen. David Petraeus. Only Mattis would require a congressional exemption to serve as a civilian secretary of defense. It’s unclear if Mattis’s forceful personality will ultimately gain Trump’s ear and shape his decisions. Yet his moderating influence is already on display: Trump told the New York Times last week that after a conversation with Mattis, the president-elect re-examined his views on waterboarding and torturing terrorist suspects, a stump speech staple. Trump said he was “surprised” Mattis didn’t think such tactics were useful and that the president-elect came away “impressed by that answer.” Mattis is famous for his blunt, salty language when speaking to troops preparing for battle. But the retired four-star general has often displayed a nuanced understanding of geopolitics that contrasts with Trump’s black-and-white view of the world, say officials and officers who have worked with Mattis. His nomination would also serve to reassure prospective Republican appointees to the Pentagon, many of whom are ambivalent about signing up to work for the Trump administration, given the president-elect’s off-the-cuff remarks and nativist “America First” rhetoric during the campaign”.

The article adds “When it comes to the threat posed by Iran, however, Mattis seems closer to other Trump advisors and most Republican lawmakers. In a speech last April, Mattis ranked Iran as “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East” and cited Tehran’s hostile rhetoric toward Israel and Persian Gulf states. Mattis sharply criticised President Barack Obama over the nuclear deal negotiated with Tehran last year. His view of the danger posed by Iran, coupled with the hawkish outlook shared by Flynn and Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), could pave the way for heightened U.S. tensions with Tehran. Mattis led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, overseeing U.S. forces across the Middle East. He later said his first three questions every day during those years were “Iran, Iran, and Iran.” A former Centcom official told FP that Mattis spent much of his time there focused on Iran and the potential threats it poses”.

It adds that “Mattis would eventually be forced out of his job at Centcom in 2013 after a series of disagreements with the White House over Iran. He argued — unsuccessfully — for a tougher military posture designed to deter Tehran from backing its proxies in Yemen and elsewhere in the region, a view shared by many others at Centcom. But unlike other hawks advising Trump, Mattis is more realistic about U.S. options in the Middle East, former colleagues said. He recognizes that a unilateral bid to dump the Iran nuclear deal — which was negotiated between major powers and Tehran — might harm American interests. Instead, the colleagues said, Mattis probably would argue for enforcing every provision of the nuclear deal, insisting that Iran abide by the agreement “to the letter.” “He’s not a rash guy. He’s not looking to tear the lid of this thing and just duke it out,” the congressional staffer said. The former Centcom official agreed. “You have a number of people who are coming onto the [Trump] team who are going to take a strong line on Iran,” but “Mattis really brings an enormous range of experience on these issues that would be very important and that requires you, frankly, to be very realistic in understanding the vast capabilities and limitations of American power.” In his April speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., Mattis questioned the benefits of the Iran nuclear deal but said “there’s no going back” on it and the next president would have to live with it”.

It mentions that “Yet he also is a voracious reader, fond of quoting Marcus Aurelius and comfortably fluent in ancient history and geopolitics. He has a relentless work ethic and is a demanding boss, with no patience for shoddy work or missed deadlines. Widely respected across the government, Mattis likely would win broad and swift support from both parties in Congress if he is nominated as the next Pentagon chief. But lawmakers would have to make an exception for Mattis. By law, a defense secretary must have retired from active military service at least seven years before taking the job. His nomination would require amending current legislation, thereby expending some of the new administration’s already shaky political capital. Congress has granted such an exception only once before, in 1950, for retired Gen. George Marshall, when he served as President Harry Truman’s defense secretary to manage the Korean War. But Marshall was a staff officer and a diplomat. And although Mattis has a breadth of experience from his 44 years in uniform, he may struggle as a civilian administrator of the sprawling Defense Department bureaucracy and its $600 billion budget. Some senior defense officials are wary of Mattis possibly taking over the Pentagon and applying military-style leadership to a largely civilian workforce”.

It adds that “Having several recently retired military officers serving in top administration positions would mark an unprecedented break with convention. It could send a charged symbolic message that the top brass favour one political party over another and that civilian leadership has failed and only former generals can repair the damage. “They are all independently extremely capable as individuals, but appointing them all creates an optics problem,” said Edelman, now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Trump reportedly mulled naming Flynn to the Pentagon job. But unlike Mattis, the retired Army intelligence chief would have faced stiff opposition in Congress to amending the law and allowing him to take the post. Whoever gets the job, one of the first big issues the incoming defense secretary will face is the Pentagon’s budget, which is currently funded through a stopgap measure slated to expire next March. Trump has promised to dramatically increase defense spending by roughly $100 billion over the course of his first term to pay for dozens of new warships, hundreds of planes, and tens of thousands of additional troops — increases that have not come along with any proposed change in U.S. strategy. But it’s unclear how the massive arms buildup would be funded, as Trump has also promised a big tax cut and a major investment in infrastructure projects across the country. The battle over military spending could spark feuds not only between Republican and Democratic lawmakers but among different factions inside the GOP — with some fiscal conservatives reluctant to raise federal spending even for defense”.

Trump’s dangerous Syria policy

02/12/2016

Charles Lister argues that Trump’s Syria policy would be a disaster, “Trump explained for the first time since his election victory his position on the crisis in Syria. In his remarks, he laid out his determination to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State and to cease support to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime: I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria.… My attitude was you’re fighting Syria; Syria is fighting ISIS; and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria.… Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are. Though this is an extraordinary simplification of a highly complex crisis, the president-elect’s views on Syria do evince some consistency — just not the consistency he apparently intends. Trump says he wants to focus on destroying the Islamic State. But the main effect of the policies he describes would be to eliminate the moderate opposition to the Assad regime and to empower extremism”.

He adds “Before considering all the disastrous effects of Trump’s policy, we should examine why even his stated justification for it doesn’t hold water. A brief history lesson should suffice to demonstrate the Assad regime’s lack of counterterrorism qualifications. This is the government whose intelligence apparatus methodically built al Qaeda in Iraq, and then the Islamic State in Iraq, into a formidable terrorist force to fight U.S. troops in that country from 2003 to 2010. Hundreds of American soldiers would probably still be alive today if it had not been for Assad’s state-backed support to the Islamic State’s direct predecessors. Meanwhile, Trump’s suggestion to partner with Russia in “smashing” the Islamic State is little more than a non sequitur, given Russia’s near-consistent focus on everything but the jihadi group. According to recent data monitoring airstrikes across Syria, only 8 percent of areas targeted by Russian airstrikes between Oct. 12 and Nov. 8 belonged to the Islamic State. With only one brief exception — the capture of Palmyra from the jihadi group during an internationally imposed cessation of hostilities — the Kremlin’s focus has unequivocally and consistently been on fighting Syria’s mainstream opposition, not the Islamic State. Much of its targeting has been against U.S.-linked members of Syria’s opposition”.

Lister argues “contrary to Trump’s statement, the United States knows precisely who “these people” receiving U.S. support are. The CIA has been running an intricate web of relationships with dozens of moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups since late 2012. Today, this program, code-named Timber Sycamore, continues to provide support to 80 such “vetted” groups across Syria in coordination with international and regional allies. The U.S. role in this multilateral effort has ensured a modicum of control over the breadth of international support for the Syrian opposition, and over the risk that extremists will gain control over opposition weapons or fighters. In fact, contrary to an increasingly popular narrative, fighters in these vetted groups are not, with very few exceptions, handing over U.S. weapons to jihadis, nor are they wandering off to join the extremists themselves. The cornerstone of the CIA effort has been to supply rebel groups with U.S.-manufactured BGM-71 TOW anti-tank guided missiles, which have ensured that the moderate opposition has remained a relevant actor in the conflict. Thus far, according to publicly available information, at least 1,073 TOW missiles have been sent to Syria and used in combat, only 12 of which have changed hands and been used by nonvetted groups — amounting to an impressively low proliferation rate of 1.1 percent. Of all the groups that have enjoyed “vetted” status, only two have been defeated by groups linked to al Qaeda and one was withdrawn from the program for questionable activities”.

He goes on to point out “Trump appears to be indicating a preference for combating the symptoms of a crisis — that is, terrorism — while strengthening their principal cause: Assad’s dictatorship and his refusal to negotiate. Although Syria’s moderate opposition is far from perfect, withdrawing U.S. support and thus the basis of its international legitimacy will only undermine U.S. interests in Syria. But the dangers of Trump’s policy are far greater than that. If Trump follows through on it, he risks exacerbating six major threats to U.S. domestic and international security; Al Qaeda’s de facto affiliate in Syria has positioned itself perfectly to reap the benefits of a decrease in U.S. support to the moderate opposition. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, has spent more than four years embedding itself in the Syrian revolution and presenting itself to opposition groups and civilians as a partner and protector of their national movement. These efforts have guaranteed that its power will increase markedly should more moderate groups suffer a reduction in support. In other words, erroneously labeling the mainstream opposition as universally “extremist” today will produce a self-fulfilling prophecy and create a threat of far greater magnitude than what was posed by the Islamic State in 2014″.

Lister notes “The widespread perception that Washington is indifferent to the suffering of Syrian civilians has led ever more members of the Syrian opposition to consider al Qaeda a more willing and more effective protector of their lives and interests than the United States, the supposed “leader of the free world.” Trump’s proposed abandonment of the Syrian opposition would permanently cement that perception and make Syria a pre-9/11 Afghanistan on steroids. This should be deeply troubling to anyone concerned about international security, given Syria’s proximity to Europe”.

Lister argues that Trump would encourages allies to go it alone “A U.S. decision to disown the Syrian opposition would undermine its European allies and enrage its regional partners. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar in particular have been determined supporters of Syria’s armed opposition since its earliest days, often with a cooperative U.S. ally in hand. Which is not to suggest that these states have always been effective: It is no secret that the chaotic and disorganized support provided by these states to armed groups in Syria in 2011 and 2012 played a role in the FSA’s failure to coalesce into a single unified organization.  It was U.S. support that managed to help organize the armed opposition. From late 2012 onward, the U.S. role in the multinational “operations rooms” in Turkey (the MOM) and Jordan (the MOC) imposed some control over the influx of military equipment and finance. Removing that U.S. role risks re-creating the chaos and infighting that ruled the early days of the Syrian crisis, but this time in a context where extremists are poised to swiftly take advantage. Al Qaeda’s well-publicized “rebranding” of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham also makes it an increasingly likely recipient of support from exasperated regional states. Given that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham now outwardly claims to have done away with its “external” ties to al Qaeda, it would not be altogether surprising to see Qatar or Turkey — for example — switching the bulk of their support to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and similar groups were the United States to cease supporting the opposition. Although regional states have yet to explicitly propose throwing their full weight behind Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group’s growing military capabilities and levels of lethal and nonlethal equipment, especially since its rebrand, already suggest some level of direct or indirect state support”.

Lister writes that Trump could be giving ISIS another chance “Although a U.S.-Russian alliance would likely increase the threat to the Islamic State’s territorial holdings in Syria, at least in the short term, such a partnership would be an invaluable long-term boon to the group’s propaganda. Were Russia to employ the same carpet-bombing tactics it has used in its attempt to crush the Syrian opposition, the consequences of such “victories” would ensure that the Islamic State has a ready-made narrative to attempt a determined resurgence with some level of popular acceptance or even support. While the Islamic State’s recovery in Iraq between 2010 and 2014 was driven by Sunni resentment at a perceived sectarian leadership in Baghdad and a raging civil war next door in Syria, its future recovery could feasibly be empowered by widespread Sunni fury at the brutal and indiscriminate U.S.-Russian assault launched on Islamic State-held populations in 2017. Trump has spoken frequently about the dangers posed by domestic terrorism. But a potential U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria could also further energize the Islamic State’s calls for attacks against targets in the West, particularly in the United States. The Islamic State has maintained a potent capacity to “inspire” foreign attacks during its times of success, but one should not underestimate the possibility that it could spark an even greater homeland terrorism threat while in retreat. Paired with the possibility that Trump may introduce newly oppressive domestic policies on immigration and other issues relating to race and religion, this scenario portends greater threats, not a safer America”.

Lister suggests that he could empower Iran “As a staunch opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, it is surprising that Trump appears to be proposing Syria policies that would save Iran from a geopolitically crippling defeat and strengthen its regional influence. For years prior to the Arab Spring, Syria represented the existentially important “glue” holding together Iran’s spheres of influence — from Tehran to Baghdad to Damascus to Beirut. Assad was Iran’s most important Arab ally, and his proximity to Lebanon ensured that Hezbollah remained a truly formidable terrorist organization. Since the Syrian crisis erupted, Iran’s role in protecting the Assad regime has been of paramount importance, consistently outweighing the role played by Russia on the ground. This is for one simple reason: An Assad defeat in Syria would dismantle Iran’s regional empire, leaving a gaping hole at its heart. It would also pose a serious threat to Hezbollah, the world’s only terrorist organization whose armed forces are a recognized paramilitary actor in a nation-state. Despite having lost some of its popular appeal in the Arab world, Hezbollah in particular appears to have emerged stronger from the Syrian crisis. It has received highly significant arms shipments from Iran and Assad: Only this past Sunday, Hezbollah held an impressive military parade in western Syria”.

He contends that Trump’s policy would strengthen Russia “Trump has indicated that he thinks Vladimir Putin is a “great” man and has described how he is “doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia.” This ignores the fact that Putin seeks to secure a Russian rise at the expense of American power and influence, not in equal partnership with them. Putin is a deft strategist and tactician who has consistently outplayed an Obama administration known to favour drawn-out deliberations when faced with troubling issues abroad. When faced with Trump who says he wants to “bomb the hell out of” terrorists and withdraw from costly situations overseas, Putin is well-placed to offer a relationship of cooperation that he knows will benefit Moscow a great deal more than Washington. An inevitable consequence of a U.S.-Russia partnership in Syria would be their eventual attempt to negotiate an enforced settlement for the civil war. Paired with Trump’s erroneous suggestion that confronting Assad would damage counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State, Syria’s opposition would conclude that their presumptive negotiating partners would be expecting them to surrender and accept an Assad “victory.” The pursuit of such an objective would fail before it started. It would also give Assad, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and their militia allies the excuse — with quiet U.S. complicity — to treat the entire Syrian opposition as if it were no different to the Islamic State. Doing so would encourage further war crimes; make any negotiations in Syria practically impossible; and further embolden an aggressive Russia, giving it the confidence to act with impunity elsewhere, in direct opposition to U.S. interests”. 

He adds that it would worsen that refugee crisis with all its knock on consequences in Europe.

 

 

 

Republicans, resisting Trump?

02/12/2016

It is no surprise that Democrats in the U.S. Congress will oppose Donald Trump but the most important resistance to fulfilling the president-elect’s agenda is beginning to emerge from Republicans on Capitol Hill. A small number of influential Republicans in the Senate are threatening to block appointments to Trump’s administration, derail his thaw with Russia and prevent the planned wall on the border with Mexico. The party held onto control of the Senate at the Nov. 8 election but by only a thin margin, putting powerful swing votes in just a few hands. That empowers Republican Senate mavericks such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both were bitter rivals to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Paul, a libertarian lone wolf, says he will block Senate confirmations if Trump nominates either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be secretary of state. South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham has started publicly outlining places he might be willing to oppose Trump. He is against the Mexican border wall and is delivering warnings against Trump’s intention to revoke legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children – although that would not require congressional approval. Graham, a traditional Republican foreign policy hawk, strongly disagrees with Trump’s attempt to improve ties with Russia.

“Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote”

01/12/2016

Ballot counting continues and new figures released by The Associated Press on Wednesday show Hillary Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote by more than 2.3 million. The numbers reported Wednesday place Clinton at 64,874,143 to Trump’s 62,516,883, for a total difference of 2,357,260. In percentages, Clinton has won 48.1 percent of the popular vote, and Trump has 46.4 percent of the vote. In the Electoral College, however, Trump has 306 votes, while Clinton has 232.

Duterte changes sides

01/12/2016

Max Boot writes about Filipino foreign policy and the consequences of its turn to China, “International relations theorists of a “realist” persuasion like to claim that states are rational actors pursuing their strategic interests in an anarchic world where power alone matters. Ideology and domestic politics do not much concern these thinkers; they believe that a nation’s foreign policy is much more likely to be shaped by factors such as geography, demography, and economics. This was the viewpoint of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who famously tried to realign China from being a foe of the United States to a friend — never mind that the Chinese leader they had to deal with was Mao Zedong, one of the worst mass murderers in history. “Nixinger” believed, correctly, that China’s interest in countering Soviet power would lead it to draw closer with the United States. But even in the case of China the applicability of realist insights was limited. China did not begin the transformation that would make it a leading economic force and trade partner of the United States until Mao had died, replaced by the reformist Deng Xiaoping. Even today China is more foe than friend of America”.

Boot goes on to point out how “Today, the Philippines is Exhibit A in illustrating the limits of the realist conceit that some unvarying strategic logic governs foreign policy. The Philippines has seen a vertigo-inducing change in its foreign-policy orientation since Rodrigo Duterte became president this summer. This crude populist is now transforming the Philippines’ relationship with the United States in a fundamental and worrying manner. The Philippines is America’s oldest ally in Asia, and until recently one of the closest”.

Boot mentions how “In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an agreement with then-President Benigno Aquino III that would allow U.S. forces more regular access to bases in the Philippines and increase the tempo of training exercises and military cooperation between the two countries. Now that achievement looks increasingly like a dead letter. Duterte journeyed to Beijing this week to announce his “separation from the United States” in military and economic terms. “America has lost,” Duterte said. He claimed that a new alliance of the Philippines, China, and Russia would emerge — “there are three of us against the world.” His trade secretary said the Philippines and China were inking $13 billion in trade deals; that’s a pretty hefty signing bonus for switching sides. Duterte said he will soon end military cooperation with the United States, despite the opposition of his armed forces. What could account for this head-snapping transformation? Manila’s strategic and economic interests have not changed. While China is the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner, its largest is Japan, a close American ally and a foe of Chinese expansionism. The third-largest trade partner is the United States”.

He notes that “the Philippine people remain largely pro-American. English is the lingua franca of the Philippines. The Armed Forces of the Philippines have many decades of cooperation with the United States and have been built in the image of the U.S. military; they have no experience working with China’s People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, and despite Duterte’s nasty rhetoric and ad hominems, the United States continues to express its desire to protect the Philippines. This massive geopolitical shift is entirely Duterte’s doing. It cannot be explained any other way. It is a product of his peculiar psychology. He has long been ideologically hostile to the United States — he has called Obama a “son of a whore” — and he feels an ideological affinity with China’s authoritarian rulers. Although elected democratically, Duterte is a strongman in the making. He has already violated the rule of law to unleash death squads that are said to have killed at least 1,900 people, including a 5-year-old boy, in the name of fighting drugs. He has cited Hitler as his role model: “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there is 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” He has also said “I don’t give a shit” about human rights. China’s rulers don’t put their worldview quite so crassly, but they, too, don’t care much for human rights. The Duterte-Xi Jinping marriage thus seems like a natural match”.

Boot point out that “From the American viewpoint, Duterte’s flip-flop — assuming it leads to a lasting strategic shift — is a potential disaster. Aligned with the United States and its regional allies, the Philippines can provide a vital platform to oppose Chinese aggression in the South China and East China seas. If the Philippines becomes a Chinese satrapy, by contrast, Washington will find itself hard-pressed to hold the “first island chain” in the Western Pacific that encompasses “the Japanese archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, and the Philippine archipelago.” Defending that line of island barriers has been a linchpin of U.S. strategy since the Cold War. It now could be undone because of the whims of one unhinged leader. China could either neutralise this vital American ally or even potentially turn the Philippines into a PLA Navy base for menacing U.S. allies such as Taiwan, Japan, and Australia. At the very least, the U.S. Navy will find it much harder to protect the most important sea lanes in the world; each year $5.3 trillion in goods passes through the South China Sea, including $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade”.

He notes that “The opposition is already making hay over Duterte’s China trip. A Supreme Court justice in Manila has warned the president that, were he to give up sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, it could result in his impeachment. The only good news from the American standpoint is that what Duterte is doing could be undone by a more rational successor, assuming that democracy in the Philippines survives this time of testing”.

Trump, asking for business favours?

29/11/2016

A spokesman for Argentina’s president has denied that Donald Trump asked for a business favour when Mauricio Macri called the US president-elect to congratulate him on his victory. Local media reports have alleged that Trump asked Macri for help over a stalled construction permit for a 35-storey project called Trump Office in downtown Buenos Aires. A source told the Guardian that the information came from Macri’s staff. “Trump asked him to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires – it wasn’t just geopolitical chat,” said journalist Jorge Lanata on his Sunday night news programme, Periodismo Para Todos. According the programme, the Buenos Aires building project became bogged down in bureaucratic red tape earlier this year, and was raised by Trump during the telephone call last Monday. “Macri told Trump that Argentina is welcoming foreign investment now, and Trump replied that he has a $150m investment in Argentina stalled because of a building permit in Buenos Aires,” journalist Romina Manguel, who described the alleged conversation on the programme, told the Guardian”.

Obama, attempting to secure his legacy

29/11/2016

A report discusses the legacy building attempts of President Obama, “With less than three months left in office, President Barack Obama will soon relinquish his foreign-policy legacy to the gimlet-eyed gaze of historians and presidential scholars. But before that happens, the White House is hellbent on completing an ambitious to-do list that will face a considerable head wind in Congress.  Eight years ago, the energetic senator from Illinois came to power on a promise to end the bloody wars and counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush, a Republican. But the 8,400 troops currently in Afghanistan and 5,000 in Iraq — not to mention regular airstrikes on Islamist fighters in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia — demonstrate the intractability of America’s post-9/11 conflicts. And though Obama closed the book on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program, the lasting presence of the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a stinging reminder of unfulfilled campaign promises to do away with the excesses of the Bush era”.

It goes on to mention how “Other widely touted achievements, such as the Iran nuclear deal or the rapprochement with Cuba, could be rolled back by Obama’s successor or Congress. Just last week, days before Secretary of State John Kerry received a peace award in Ireland for securing the Iran deal, House Republicans announced plans to pass a 10-year reauthorization of sanctions on Tehran that could undermine the landmark accord. For the president’s critics, that deal is the most vulnerable part of his foreign-policy legacy. “The Iran deal will be in trouble no matter who is elected,” said James Carafano, a conservative foreign-policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. Obama’s supporters say an underappreciated aspect of his legacy — the successful restoration of America’s standing in the world after Bush’s presidency — may be the most in danger”.

The author adds that “Another major part of Obama’s legacy relies on galvanizing Congress in the dying days of his presidency. On trade, Congress has yet to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive pact involving 11 Pacific Rim countries and the United States that the White House views as essential to boosting U.S. exports and checking China’s influence in the region. And on Syria, U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire have failed in a conflict that has killed at least 400,000 people and displaced millions more”.

The article notes the list of items Obama will try to protect “In his final months in office, Obama will be keen to prevent any attempt by Congress to undermine the Iran nuclear agreement reached in July 2015 between Tehran and world powers. The president maintains that he already has all the authority he needs to reimpose economic penalties if Tehran violates the deal and is seeking to stave off growing bipartisan support for renewing the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires in December. However, hawkish Democrats want to send a clear message to Iran that the United States stands ready to resume economic sanctions if needed. And some Republicans want to introduce additional measures that could broaden possible sanctions. Some of those new sanctions could amount to poison pills that effectively sabotage the Iran deal, possibly prompting Tehran to renounce the agreement”.

He adds that “Congressional Republicans could also forgo tinkering with sanctions in exchange for promises to pursue another bill that imposes economic penalties against Iran for its ballistic missile testing. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, adamantly wants both bills approved, which could prevent Republicans from using either legislation as a political messaging tool”.

The piece notes that he will also try to cement counterterrorism policies, “In July, Obama released policy guidance outlining in unprecedented detail his extensive rules on drone strikes, “kill or capture” missions, and detention. But because little of Obama’s so-called counterterrorism playbook is enshrined in law, a future commander in chief could reverse key parts of it. Brookings Institution legal scholar Benjamin Wittes said laws regarding the use of force and armed conflict are “frankly pretty permissive” and the next president will have “wiggle room” to change the way U.S. counterterrorism missions operate. “If we’re going to kill people — and, by the way, we’re going to kill people — you have to have a process for it,” Wittes told FP. “Otherwise, it becomes sort of Putin-esque. If you don’t know the rules, then you’re in a very scary world.” Obama has steadily loosened the rules of engagement for American troops and aircraft in places like Afghanistan and Somalia, where U.S. special operations forces are accompanying local forces on the ground. In Afghanistan, U.S. special ops commandos have been given the green light to fight the Islamic State and the Taliban — in loosely defined self-defense missions — as American troops accompany Afghan army units in the field. In June, Obama allowed U.S. aircraft to target both extremist groups in Afghanistan”.

Rightly the piece admits that “Obama has already all but lost the fight on another early campaign promise — to shutter the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Though the Obama administration has steadily whittled down the inmate population since 2009, 60 men remain detained there”.

Revising the 9/11 terrorism bill

It ends that he hopes to revise a terrorism bill, “The first and only veto override of Obama’s presidency came in September when Congress voted overwhelmingly to allow 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the terrorist attack. But less than 24 hours later, Congress’s top Republican leaders announced they might rewrite the legislation “so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the 348-77 vote. That was the same argument cited by Obama when he vetoed the legislation. But the president might be blocked from reversing the law from within his own Democratic Party. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is expected to become the next Senate Democratic leader, remains opposed to any changes. And no lawmaker — either in the House or Senate — has yet offered to rally support for revising the law, a congressional aide told FP on condition of anonymity”.

Trump’s U-turn on climate change

29/11/2016

Trump said on Tuesday he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of a landmark international accord to fight climate change, in a softening of his stance toward global warming. Trump told the New York Times in an interview that he thinks there is “some connectivity” between human activity and global warming, despite previously describing climate change as a hoax. A source on Trump’s transition team told Reuters earlier this month that the New York businessman was seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change. But asked on Tuesday whether the United States would withdraw from the accord, the Republican said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.” A U.S. withdrawal from the pact, agreed to by almost 200 countries, would set back international efforts to limit rising temperatures that have been linked to the extinctions of animals and plants, heat waves, floods and rising sea levels. Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, also said he was thinking about climate change and American competitiveness and “how much it will cost our companies,” he said, according to a tweet by a Times reporter in the interview. Two people advising Trump’s transition team on energy and environment issues said they were caught off guard by his remarks. A shift on global warming is the latest sign Trump might be backing away from some of his campaign rhetoric as life in the Oval Office approaches.

Trump backs off prosecuting Clinton

29/11/2016

Some of Donald Trump’s strongest conservative supporters are voicing anger and disappointment at the president-elect’s comments on Tuesday that he might back off his campaign pledge of pursuing a prosecution of former rival Hillary Clinton. Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, took a more compassionate tone toward the Democratic presidential nominee than during his campaign, when he talked about a possible criminal investigation of the opponent he dubbed “Crooked Hillary” if he won the White House. Chants of “Lock her up” echoed throughout his campaign rallies, with Trump supporters angrily alleging corruption related to her use of a private email server while secretary of state and to foreign contributions received by the Clinton Foundation charity. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious,” Trump told the Times, adding that launching an investigation was “not something I feel very strongly about.” Conservatives who had reveled in the possibility of a Clinton prosecution were not pleased. Breitbart News, the outlet once led by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, published a story on Tuesday under the headline, “Broken Promise: Trump ‘Doesn’t Wish to Pursue’ Clinton email charges.”

Trump, bankrupting America

27/11/2016

Daniel Altman writes that Trump will bankrupt America, “Trump has done the United States a peculiar favour. By campaigning on promises to cut taxes and raise government spending, which economists agree will increase the national debt by trillions of dollars, he has at least been honest about his party’s abandonment of fiscal conservatism. But there is more to his strategy, which may well bankrupt the nation just as he bankrupted so many companies. Think back to the eight-year presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Both spent heavily on the military while cutting income taxes dramatically. Both left the nation with such huge debts that their successors were forced to raise taxes — George H.W. Bush despite his famous campaign promise, and Barack Obama despite the painful aftermath of a deep recession. Some of Reagan’s and Bush’s advisors also claimed that cutting taxes would increase tax revenue, so great would be the resulting boost to economic activity. That notion has been shown to be false for the United States, time after time. Trump, at least, has employed no such pretension. Rather, he has relied on his usual business strategy, starting with the seduction of starry-eyed investors (now voters) with the glamour of the Trump name and promises of monumental proportions. The next steps — the ones that led him to repeated bankruptcies — are more ominous: Lever up a mountain of debt, and then leave others to foot the bill when repayment becomes impossible. Americans already know what happens when this strategy comes to Washington. Reagan and the younger Bush let the nation live beyond its means, too, stealing from legions of unborn Americans to fund their grand ideas. They also stole from as-yet unelected presidents; whoever followed them in power would be the ones to pay the piper. Their own party would return when times were good again”.

Altman writes that “This politically cynical budgeting has happened in other rich countries, yet it wasn’t until the late 1990s in the United Kingdom that one party finally called it out. No more “Tory boom and bust,” said then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and his cohorts in the Labour Party as they shamed their Conservative predecessors. Instead, they chose to abide by a “golden rule” — in which the government would be bound to balance its budget over the length of the economic cycle, socking money away in the good times and then using it to soften the bad ones. The Labour government stuck to its word — at least until the global financial crisis hit — leaving the British national debt 3 percent lower, as a share of gross domestic product, than before they took power. Some commentators said Labour could have done even better, but contrast their record with Reagan, who ballooned the national debt by 12 percent of GDP, and Bush, who erased a rainy-day fund worth $5.6 trillion and ended up increasing the debt by 2 percent of GDP by the end of 2007. As with his Republican predecessors, any sort of “golden rule” seems to be far from Trump’s thinking, unless we’re talking about interior decorating. The first victim of his presidency is likely to be Paul Ryan’s reputation for prudence. The speaker of the house and the rest of the Republican-led Congress will likely rubber-stamp Trump’s plans for spending and tax cuts, though there is little need for stimulus at this point in the economic cycle. Of course, they had no trouble dashing similar plans when the nation truly needed stimulus in 2010 and 2011, but back then their overriding goal was to derail Barack Obama’s presidency. To be sure, not all of Trump’s economic proposals are irredeemable, yet even the ones that show some promise are half-baked. The corporate income tax is an unnecessarily volatile source of revenue for the federal government, and even experts aren’t really sure how it affects the economy. So lowering the rate from 35 percent to 15 percent — or even eliminating it entirely — isn’t such a bad idea. But the revenue would have to be replaced with other taxes, preferably stable ones like individual income taxes, and Trump has no such plans”.

He argues that “Investing in infrastructure is also something the economy needs, though more now for long-term growth than for any immediate stimulus. Of course, that infrastructure must actually be useful for the former effect to take hold, and it’s not clear that a big wall on the nation’s southern border would fit that description. The road system, energy grid, and water and waste systems are far more urgent priorities. Regardless of how taxes are cut and money is spent, adding 30 percent of GDP to the national debt hardly seems like a good idea. At the moment, the debt is still about 75 percent of GDP. Among the countries labeled as “advanced economies” by the International Monetary Fund, only struggling Italy, Japan, and Portugal are higher. The Treasury’s canny refinancing of the debt at low interest rates has made the current burden bearable. But there’s little more it can do, though, especially if Trump’s spending forces interest rates back up”.

He ends “A combination of rapidly rising deficits and higher interest rates could make the nation’s debt unsustainable even within Trump’s four-year term — and that’s if his stimulus works. If he stays true to his record in business, another bankruptcy could be on the horizon. This time, though, there won’t be any second chances, and all Americans will be left holding the bag”.

Russian missiles in Kaliningrad

27/11/2016

Moscow will deploy S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems in the exclave of Kaliningrad in retaliation for NATO deployments, a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday. Russia has previously said it periodically sends Iskanders to Kaliningrad, but until now it has said these were routine drills. Moscow has not linked the moves explicitly with what it says is a NATO military build-up on Russia’s western borders. After the election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, who has said he wants closer ties with the Kremlin and has questioned the cost of protecting NATO allies, some analysts predict an emboldened Moscow could become more assertive in eastern Europe”.

Realignment after Trump

27/11/2016
 Lee Drutman posits that the nature of the American political system is changing, “By the numbers, the 2016 election was not very different from the 2012 election or the 2008 election. Donald Trump won because he did slightly better in a few key states than Mitt Romney did. The map changed slightly. But as with previous elections, there were few swing voters. The election was decided primarily by disappointing turnout among core Democratic constituencies. But by the substance, the 2016 election was very different. Donald Trump romped through the primaries, breaking with conservative orthodoxy. He ran as a very different type of Republican. He was ardently nationalist, promising to rip up trade deals, make America more isolationist, and start imposing tariffs to protect American manufacturing. He promised to tighten borders, reduce immigration, and protect Social Security. His core voters were downscale whites, voters who a generation ago had been Democrats but moved over into the Republican camp for cultural and identity reason”.

Drutman goes on to argue “Now the big question is whether he will try to reshape the Republican Party along these lines. If he does, American politics will be in for some significant changes. The Republican Party will look different in substance. And the Democratic Party will, too, in response. This seems like a very likely scenario. In understanding why Trump is going to remake the Republican Party, note that his candidacy and his core movement were based around challenging the party establishment. Throughout the campaign, he has welcomed a steady stream of fights with establishment party leaders, most prominently Paul Ryan. Trump is not a man who forgives grudges. He’s a man who punishes his enemies. He’s a man who above all wants to win. Now he is about to be president. He will never be in a stronger position to be the transformative figure he clearly sees himself as. Here, it’s worth paying attention to what he has been saying. Look at the top priority in his stated plan for his first 100 days in office: “FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.” This is not an olive branch. It’s a shot across the bow. Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tersely responded: “It will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” Or look at the proposal Trump gave prime real estate to in his acceptance speech. A major infrastructure rebuilding program: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.” Again, McConnell noted a big infrastructure bill was not his top priority. After all, it sounds suspiciously like President Barack Obama’s stimulus that McConnell and his fellow Republicans once opposed so adamantly as reckless spending”.

The piece contends that “Interestingly, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been enthusiastic about Trump’s infrastructure bill, more so than Republicans. In a statement, she said: “As President-elect Trump indicated last night, investing in infrastructure is an important priority of his. We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill.” And remember that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were most opposed to granting Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Note that the first item on Trump’s list of “seven actions to protect American workers” is renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA, and the second is withdrawing from the TPP. It’s also worth noting that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has been aggressive in going after China for currency manipulation, also a Trump priority (No. 3 on his list of “actions to protect American workers”). Obviously, there’s much that Democrats disagree with Trump on. But typically, incoming presidents focus first on the issues where there is unity within their party, in order to capitalize on the momentum of their victory and rack up their achievements. By contrast, Trump has prioritized issues that divide his party and, together with his strident tone on social issues, make him sound more like a Southern Democrat from around the time most of his voters think America was great. Party systems in the United States are inherently unstable. Because it is a two-party system, the party that wins is the party that builds the biggest coalition. But the bigger the coalition, the more unstable it is”.

Crucially he writes “As the political scientists Gary Miller and Norman Schofield have astutely noted: “Successful American parties must be coalitions of enemies. A party gets to be a majority party by forming fragile ties across wide and deep differences in one dimension or the other. Maintaining such diverse majority coalitions is necessarily an enormous struggle against strong centrifugal forces.” Or as political scientists Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson similarly put it: “By their very nature, all party alignments contain the seeds of their own destruction.” The United States has had six party systems in its history. By party system, I mean relatively stable coalitions that relitigate the same set of issue battles. Each, until now, has lasted for at most 36 years. That seems to be about as long as a coalition of enemies can stick together, before some issue divides them”.

He contends that “The first system lasted from roughly 1792 to 1824 (32 years), the next from 1828 to 1856 (28 years), one from about 1860 to 1896 (36 years), another from about 1896 to 1932 (36 years), and another from about 1932 to 1968 (36 years). The current alignment came out of the 1968 election and has been pretty consistent since about 1980, when the Reagan coalition really solidified. The Reagan coalition was built around a mix of traditionally upper-class, economically conservative voters, very religious “values voters,” and “Reagan Democrats,” which became the nickname for the disaffected working-class whites whose aversion to the Democratic Party’s condescending elitism and racial liberalism overwhelmed their hope that government could somehow help them out. What these voters had in common was that they felt the Democratic Party didn’t represent them. The enemy of their enemy was their friend. For decades, these different voters came together around a shared “conservative” ideology of “limited government.” For the traditionally Republican economic conservatives, this meant low taxes and low regulation. For newer converts to the Republican coalition, limited government primarily meant not taking their money so that poor black people could get a generous welfare check. Anti-communism and a strong America abroad were powerful cementing forces. But as time went on, cracks emerged. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Iraq War turned sour, jobs went overseas in old-line manufacturing regions, and then the economy cratered”.

Crucially he posits that “More and more, the downscale Republican voters felt they were being betrayed by their party’s elites. Eventually, the only thing that united these factions was the story that America was engaged in a Manichaean struggle between good and evil in which Democrats were definitely on the side of evil. Now that Republicans control all branches of government, there is no more Obama to organize against. Now that the campaign is over, there is no more “Crooked Hillary” to unify the party around. Now they will have to wrestle with the consequences of their anti-government, anti-Washington rhetoric. And now that they finally have power, Republicans will have to find a way to reconcile two competing visions for the party: the traditional small-government, free-market, internationalist mode that many in Congress ran on and the new nationalist, populist, isolationist mode that Trump is bringing to town. In some places these views can be reconciled. But in many places, they cannot. The party will have to decide. Trump will almost certainly be bringing the fight — and looking at how he won, the electoral map is on his side. Republicans won by taking back old industrial states and winning big among working-class whites. This is now the core voting bloc of the Republican Party”.

If Republicans move in a Trumpist direction, what happens to the more upscale cosmopolitan Republicans who would have preferred Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or John Kasich, who promised they would never vote for Trump, but probably did anyway because party loyalty made it too hard for them to envision a Clinton in the White House again? Some of them will revise their beliefs so that they could still feel comfortable as Republicans. Nobody likes cognitive dissonance, and partisanship is almost always stronger than ideology. But if Trump continues his strong anti-immigration stance, continues to encourage white identity politics, and takes American foreign policy in an isolationist direction (and it’s hard to imagine him doing otherwise), more and more cosmopolitan Republicans are going to feel disenchanted with the Republican Party and start to feel homeless. This may not amount to that many voters. But it amounts to a lot of potential donors. Democrats will also have many ways to shore up their existing base in the near term. If Republicans toughen law enforcement in ways that disproportionately harm people of colour, continue to make it harder to vote for people of colour, and take away health insurance from 20 million poor people by repealing Obamacare, Democrats can reasonably bet on tremendous backlash among minority voters who didn’t fully grasp what was potentially at stake for them in this election because they were not inspired by Hillary Clinton and her policy papers. They can also rely on millennial voters, especially minority millennials, feeling less complacent in future elections. Almost their entire adult lives have been under an Obama presidency, and they took it for granted that America was becoming a more tolerant, inclusive nation. Clinton wasn’t inspiring, but Trump couldn’t really win, could he? Most likely, these voters will feel different after four years of a Trump presidency. These are reasonable assumptions for Democrats to make”.

Drutman goes on to argue “As much as Democrats might talk about winning back working-class whites, the reality is that there’s not much they can do at this point, other than wait for wages to continue to stagnate for rural and exurban whites and hope that perhaps these voters will decide things really are hopeless after four years of a Trump presidency. This might sound cynical, but with Trump as the newly enthroned tribune of the white working class, there aren’t many other realistic options. Of course, this is risky strategy for Democrats. For one, policy and even economics may not matter as much as emotional valence. Trump voters were excited because somebody finally recognized and acknowledged their plight in a way that felt genuine. Perhaps this is all Trump has to do. As long as he picks fights with the right enemies, he can continue to become the champion of the forgotten man. This may even allow him to bring in some of the (mostly white) Bernie Sanders supporters and help him win alliances with battered industrial unions who are as protectionist as Trump is. Moreover, to the extent that he can tone down some of the overt racism and attempt to speak directly to African-Americans and Hispanics who also feel like powerful elites in Washington have conspired against them, his message may resonate even more broadly. Again, although Trump may not grasp policy, his campaign is testament to his remarkable understanding of human psychology. People, above all, want to be recognized and acknowledged. They want somebody on their side. And the more Trump picks fights with unpopular Washington “establishment” types, the more he might gain in popularity, regardless of his policy successes. Democrats also will face internal fights. There will be many in the party who will now be convinced that Sanders would have won, because he tapped into the anger in the country in a real and genuine way. And they’ll want Democrats to move in this direction”.

Interestingly he notes how “it’s hard to see the Clinton wing of the party giving up power. After all, there will now be new and shiny fundraising opportunities for Democrats to be had among wealthy cosmopolitan business leaders and environmentalists (especially in Silicon Valley) who are terrified by Trump. And it’s hard to see how Democrats distinguish themselves by being Trump-like populists, just without the racism. This, then, continues to be the Democrats’ coalition moving forward: highly educated professional whites, especially women, and minority voters. This is essentially the Obama coalition, but with more of an emphasis on diversity and tolerance, and even more of a role for wealthy cosmopolitans. Again, the core story of realignment going forward is not so much a tremendous bloc of voters shifting parties, but rather both parties shifting their substance to become more in line with the sympathizers they now need to excite most. If Democrats define themselves as the party that is opposed to Republicans (as they must), they will soon find themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility (as opposed to the Republicans, who will again run huge deficits), as the party of international responsibility (as opposed to the more isolationist and nationalist Republicans), and as the party of global business (as opposed to the protectionist Republicans). They will continue to be the party of environmentalism (the stakes of this will get even greater soon) and the party of diversity and tolerance. This is the realignment that is happening. And with a President Trump, there is now a change agent to accelerate these forces”.

 

“He will have to change in some fundamental ways to be effective”

25/11/2016

Peter Feaver and William Inboden question if Trump can be a good president, “Trump shocked the pundit class, the media, Washington, D.C., the United States, the world, and yours truly. We were wrong about Trump’s electoral prospects, thinking he had little to no chance to win. Is it possible we were wrong about Trump’s governing prospects? For the sake of our nation and the world, we hope so. We do not regret our #NeverTrump stance. We did not oppose Trump merely because we thought he would lose. We opposed Trump because we did not consider him fit to be commander in chief”.

They argue “we did also think he would lose, and had steeled ourselves for the hard work of rebuilding the Republican brand on national security while remaining in our cheap seats in the bleachers among the loyal opposition. And like just about everyone else, we were wrong. Trump, who has defied the expert prognosticators for almost 18 months, did it one more time, and on the day that counted the most. Could it be that we were also wrong about our assessment of how good a President Trump would be? Sure, Trump became a better candidate in the last week or so, staying on message and avoiding the late-night tweets. But he did not become better on the policies. He did not assemble a stronger national security team. And he did not adjust his policy stances on a Muslim ban, on trade, on immigration, or on shirking our allies”.

They continue “He only won the election. While that is no small achievement, it is also just marks the beginning of the hard journey to responsible leadership and governing. He is now our president. He does not have our unwavering support, but because he is now our president-elect, he has our initial support. We want him to succeed as president because if he succeeds, America succeeds. We continue to believe that he will have to change in some fundamental ways to be effective as president of all Americans. He will need to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own. He will have to study policies more, and polls less. He will have to assemble a capable cabinet and senior national security team. He will have to listen to people who disagree with him to figure out what he can learn from them rather than merely figure out how to attack them. And he will have to understand that America cannot be as great as it needs to be if we stay as divided as we are right now. That means he will need to work with the leadership of both parties — most of whom did not want him to be president — to find areas of common purpose. He will need to begin by reaching out to those Republicans and conservative leaders who opposed him and take meaningful steps to unify the party, then take meaningful steps to unify the country. He has not demonstrated such statesmanship in the past; we hope he can now rise to the occasion, and rise to the calling and dignity of the office”.

The authors point out that “We close with two final thoughts on foreign policy and national security. First, President Trump must immediately start campaigning to win the trust and respect of a constituency he completely ignored until now: foreign leaders and foreign publics. They do not have a vote in our election, but our election results matter to their lives. Most were greatly concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean and they will have a great incentive to hedge against the United States, protecting themselves from their worst-case fears of what Trump might do. He would be wise to reach out to our allies to reassure them and speak calmly but forcefully to our adversaries to deter them. It’s time to throw out the campaign slogans disparaging our allies. Trump can best advance American interests by mobilizing other countries to partner with us. Specifically, we urge President-elect Trump to prioritize outreach to NATO allies, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. Presidents and nations need friends — and the Trump presidency will start on a stronger foot if it does not start off in isolation. Doing so will give President Trump a stronger and more responsible hand should he seek to take audacious steps such as confronting China over trade imbalances or revisiting the nuclear deal with Iran”.

Their second point is that “Trump must beef up his foreign policy and national security team. Some of the best people on the Republican side of the aisle are #NeverTrumpers, like us, and so are ruled out of consideration. But fortunately for the country, some very fine professionals kept their powder dry and so are available to serve. We hope the Trump inner circle will reward competence and experience, and not just enthusiastic loyalty. And we hope our friends will heed the call. The voters have spoken and have chosen Trump as our president. Civil servants, foreign service officers, the intelligence community, and the uniformed military are all expected to obey the lawful orders of President Donald J. Trump, and to work hard to implement his policies. All of us, whether inside or outside government, should do what we can to help him craft policies that are in America’s interests and can help protect and promote our national security”.

They conclude “We have never believed that America stopped being great, and so did not embrace the “again” part of Trump’s campaign catchphrase. But we hope that as our new commander in chief and diplomat-in-chief, President-elect Trump will appreciate that he inherits the historic leadership mantle of a great nation, and will rise to the occasion to preserve that greatness”.

 

US peace with North Korea?

25/11/2016

If a U.S. administration of Donald Trump withdraws troops and equipment from South Korea and secures a peace treaty ending war on the peninsula, it could lead to normalizing relations with North Korea, a Pyongyang envoy told Reuters on Thursday. But for now North Korea will pursue its policy of “simultaneous development” of both its nuclear program and the economy, So Se Pyong, North Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva said. “It will be continued.” So spoke in an interview at the diplomatic mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Geneva, as North Korean officials began “unofficial and informal discussions” with U.S. academics and former U.S. officials in the Swiss city. “The (DPRK) delegation is here now. But as you know, it is a ‘Track 2’,” he said, referring to the latest informal meeting in a series this year. The two countries have had no official dialogue since Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2011. Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s negotiator for the stalled talks on its nuclear program, leads the four-person team, he said.

Trump’s cabinet, coming together

25/11/2016

A report in The Hill notes how Trump’s Cabinet is coming together, “President-elect Donald Trump is rewarding allies with top roles in his administration as he prepares to enter the Oval Office in January. Trump is also showing a willingness to bury the hatchet with former rivals, considering some of them for Cabinet positions”.

For secretary of State the article notes how “Mitt Romney appears to be the current front-runner to become the nation’s top diplomat despite openly feuding with Trump during the campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal. The former Massachusetts governor delivered a stinging rebuke of Trump in March, warning Americans about the businessman and calling him a “phony” and a “fraud.” Trump hit back, labeling Romney a “failed candidate” for losing the 2012 presidential race. While the pair appear to have put the past behind them, some differences over national security seemingly remain, especially surrounding their views of Russia. Romney slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “thug” late last year as Trump praised the Russian leader. Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s most trusted allies, is also seen as a top contender for secretary of State. The former New York City mayor was once seen as the favourite for the position. Some Republicans have expressed concerned over Giuliani serving in the position, including lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has come out in opposition to his appointment. The Journal reported that there’s an internal struggle between members of Trump’s team over whether the businessman should tap Romney or Giuliani –– or look elsewhere”.

For DoD the article notes that “Trump said he is “seriously considering” retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to helm the Pentagon. The real estate mogul praised Mattis as “the real deal” and the retired general has earned an endorsement from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The president-elect has already indicated he listens to the retired senior military officer, who would require a special waiver from Congress to serve in the position. During a meeting with The New York Times on Tuesday, Trump told journalists that he asked Mattis where he stands on waterboarding and was surprised to hear that he was opposed. While campaigning, Trump embraced waterboarding as an interrogation method, despite international law banning the practice”.

For AG the piece notes the nomination of Jeff Sessions, but mentions how “the Alabama senator’s nomination set off a political firestorm among Democrats and civil rights groups who voiced concerns about Sessions overseeing the agency’s Civil Rights Division. In 1986, he was denied a federal judge position over allegations that he called the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until he learned they smoked marijuana.” Sessions denied making some of the comments and said others were taken out of context. Sessions is likely to be confirmed with a GOP-controlled Senate. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) was also named CIA director the same day Sessions was nominated”.

For DHS it notes how “Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee who helped advise Trump during his campaign, is among those in the running. McCaul is considering a primary challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2018, but has indicated he’d be interested in a role in the Trump administration. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is also being considered for the role. He drew headlines for a photograph of himself meeting with Trump where he might have revealed his plans for the agency. Other potential contenders include retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly and Frances Townsend, a homeland security and counterterrorism expert who served in George W. Bush’s administration, according to The Washington Post“.

For Treasury the names are a mix of Wall St bankers who may attempt to rein in Trump’s protectionism and others not fit for any office, “Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) has been mentioned as a contender and he met with Trump last week to discuss tax policy and financial regulations. He’s been a vocal opponent of the Export-Import Bank. But the House Financial Services Committee chairman has said he isn’t seeking a position and doesn’t expect an offer, though he would still have the conversation if Trump’s team reached out. Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker who was Trump’s national finance chairman, is another name for this position”.

HHS is said to go to “Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a former orthopedic surgeon, is seen as a front-runner to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, sources told The Hill. Price has been a leading opponent of ObamaCare and introduced a bill last year to repeal and replace the law. Trump has repeatedly vowed to dismantle President Obama’s signature healthcare law once he takes office, though in recent weeks he has signaled a willingness to keep certain parts of the law. Republicans expect to place ObamaCare high on the agenda next year with majorities in both chambers. The chairman of the Budget Committee has also had a role in drafting the healthcare section of House Republicans’ “Better Way” agenda. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited and a close Trump ally, was seen as a candidate for this agency, but ruled out an administration job in a CNN interview”.

For ambassador to United Nations, “Trump announced that he tapped South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Haley, who supported Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the primary, also has a contentious history with Trump. She took a thinly veiled shot at Trump during the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union and linked his rhetoric to the 2015 shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C. Haley, an Indian-American, was the first woman and minority to be named to a senior role in the incoming administration.  The two-term governor doesn’t have much foreign policy experience, though she’s spent time abroad when negotiating trade deals for businesses in the Palmetto State. If she’s confirmed, Haley would be the first ambassador since Madeleine Albright to go straight to the U.N. without serving in any other federal government job”.

For the education system, the article notes how “Betsy DeVos, a leading proponent of school choice and charter schools, announced Wednesday that she accepted Trump’s offer to serve in the top Education post. DeVos was the second woman nominated to Trump’s Cabinet, hours after Haley’s nomination was announced. She currently serves as the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an education group that advocates for school choice policies. DeVos, former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, is a billionaire GOP donor who had withheld support for Trump and attended the Republican National Convention this summer as a delegate backing Ohio Gov. John Kasich. She could face scrutiny over her previous support of Common Core, a set of education standards that Trump railed against during the campaign. DeVos backed Common Core when it was at the state level, but opposed it when it became a federal standard”.
Worryingly Ben Carson might be on the loose, any job would be dangerous with Carson “in charge” but it appears that he has been offered HUD, “After expressing disinterest in serving as secretary of Health and Human Services, Ben Carson said this week that he has been offered the top job at HUD. Carson hinted in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he would accept a position in the incoming administration, though he has said he will be thinking it over during the Thanksgiving holiday. Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business adviser, said the job at HUD matches Carson’s interests and that the retired neurosurgeon, who grew up in poverty in Detroit, could help rebuild America’s inner cities. On the campaign trail, Trump made an appeal to minorities, specifically African-Americans and Hispanics, that he would strengthen inner cities. Carson has yet to make an official decision, but Williams told The Hill last week that Carson has no government experience. “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency,” Williams said”.

Gingrich, power behind the throne?

25/11/2016

An article notes the role of Gingrich, “Gingrich has taken himself out of the running for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. But the former House speaker, who became one of the businessman’s closest campaign advisors, has carved out an unprecedented and potentially powerful place under the next administration, Foreign Policy has learned. In a telephone interview, Gingrich described his upcoming role as an informal advisory position for the “Republican coalition,” between the broader GOP and White House. He described the job — which he said he’d do for free — alternately as “chief planner,” or some combination of “chief,” “senior,” “advisor” and “planner.” It will examine how to “modernize and reform” the federal government. “I made it clear I wanted to have this unique role, and I had no interest in a cabinet job,” Gingrich told FP, speaking from an airport lounge Thursday night”.

The report notes “However, Gingrich maintained Trump should find new blood, from beyond the Beltway, to staff up the new administration. So far, the president-elect has not heeded Gingrich’s advice: On Friday, Trump announced he would nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be his attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas as his CIA director. Trump also tapped retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as White House national security advisor, putting the onetime Obama administration military spy chief at the center of most of the government’s most sensitive policy. All three have decades of Washington experience among them. But Gingrich has said throughout the 2016 election that Trump should surround himself with people who, like him,  disagreed with establishment policies and were prepared to buck 15 years worth of conventional wisdom about warfare. “At least Trump has the guts to say: ‘You know, that didn’t work,’” Gingrich said. “Which is a big improvement over pretending it did. …All he has to say is: ‘I’m assembling a very fine team of generals, admirals and others who have disagreed with the current policy. And they are prepared to develop a policy that we believe will work.” Gingrich also termed as “bizarre” reports that Trump was to meet this weekend with 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to discuss whether the former Massachusetts governor would be a good fit for as secretary of state. Romney and Trump frequently clashed during the 2016 campaign”.

He mentions that “Gingrich sounded warmer toward other possible State picks, from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, whom he called “clearly outside Washington” and “not establishment figures.” Although Trump’s team announced its first tranche of cabinet and transition officials Friday, its work already has has been slowed by a belated purge of lobbyists necessary to maintain the president-elect’s campaign pledge to “Drain the Swamp” in Washington. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is overseeing the transition, has reportedly required its team members to forgo lobbying for at least five years after serving Trump, and to give up lobbying on behalf of foreign governments forever. Gingrich has made millions since leaving Congress in 1999, from consulting fees for mortgage mammoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the pharmaceutical industry. As speaker, he helped then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, get the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress, calling it, “a vote for history, larger than politics.” Later, Gingrich backed the invasion of Iraq. As a presidential candidate himself in 2011, he backed the U.S.-led military intervention in Libya. Trump falsely claims he opposed both interventions”.

It ends “If Gingrich sees the irony of one of Washington’s best-known political creatures endearing himself to Trump by urging the obliteration of the Beltway GOP establishment, he did not let on. “I think he should find as many new people as he can — there’s lots of talent in America. It doesn’t just live in Washington,” Gingrich said, then allowed, “Maybe a few. It’s sort of like having a little saffron in your Bouillabaisse.”

“Increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010”

23/11/2016

The European Union agreed on Tuesday to increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010 after Britain softened its opposition, a breakthrough that may signal British support for defense co-operation even once outside the bloc. A day after agreeing a new defense plan aimed at making Europe less reliant on U.S. help, EU governments increased the 2017 funding of the European Defence Agency, which helps countries develop aircraft and other assets, by 1.6 percent, in line with inflation and taking the modest budget to 31 million euros ($33 million). While well below the 6.5 percent rise the agency wanted, it was the first time in six years that Britain has not blocked an increase at the agency whose budget has shrunk 15 percent in real terms, EU officials said.

“Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership”

23/11/2016

Robert Barnes writes that the election has re-shaped the Supreme Court, “The political earthquake that hit has enormous consequences for the Supreme Court, swallowing up Judge Merrick Garland’s ill-fated nomination and dismantling Democratic hopes for a liberal majority on the high court for the first time in nearly a half-century. In the short term, Republican Donald Trump’s victory means that at some point next year, the nine-member court will be restored to full capacity, once again with a majority of Republican-appointed justices”.

Barnes argues that “Democratic attempts to filibuster Trump’s choice would likely lead Republicans to end that option for Supreme Court justices, just as Democrats did for other judicial nominations when their party controlled the Senate. Trump’s upset victory likely changes the court’s docket as well: Court challenges to President Obama’s regulations regarding the Affordable Care Act and immigration, which have preoccupied the justices in recent terms, will likely disappear under a President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. The long-term question will be Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership, and whether he gets the chance to do more than choose the successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Two of the court’s liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, are 83 and 78, respectively. Moderate conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is 80. As long as those three stay, the court’s rulings on sensitive social issues — protecting abortion rights, affirmative action and gay rights, for instance — are secure. “A lot of the big things are actually ones on which the court already has a so-called liberal majority,” Neal K. Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Obama, said before the court’s term began last month. Tuesday’s election assures that Kennedy will remain the court’s pivotal justice, for now. Trump has said he will draw his Supreme Court nominee from a list of 20 judges and one senator: Mike Lee of Utah. All appear to be more conservative than Kennedy, the court’s longest-serving justice. Kennedy is the member of the current court most likely to be in the majority when the court splits 5 to 4 in its most controversial decisions. Most of the time, he sides with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s other remaining conservatives: Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito”.

The piece goes on to note that “on some social issues, Kennedy sides with the liberals: Ginsburg, Breyer and Obama’s two choices for the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He joined them and wrote the majority opinion finding that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry; in fact, Kennedy has written all of the court’s cases protecting gay rights. Last term, he wrote the decision approving the limited use of race in college admission decisions, and voted to strike down a Texas law that the court said imposed unnecessary burdens on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. But three of the five justices supporting those issues are the oldest on the court. Abortion rights advocates immediately sounded an alarm. “President-elect Trump has publicly pledged to overturn Roe and promised punishment for the one in three American women who will have an abortion in her lifetime,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. She was referring to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision assuring a woman’s right to an abortion. Garland, a moderate liberal who is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, would likely have replaced Kennedy as the justice in the middle. Obama nominated him last March in part because Republicans in the past have said he was the most likely Democratic nominee to win confirmation”.

The writer points out that the “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared on the night of Scalia’s death that Republicans would not act on any Obama nominee. The move brought charges that McConnell had politicized the process, but the gambit worked: It will now be a Republican president making the lifetime appointment to replace Scalia. Trump has said his nominee will come from the list compiled with the help of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the legal group, the Federalist Society. His nominee will be like Scalia in seeking to overturn Roe and be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Trump has said. All eyes will now be on the court’s oldest members, Kennedy and Ginsburg. Replacing Kennedy with a more stalwart conservative would immediately impact the court’s dynamics. He has given no indication about how long he intends to serve on the court. Ginsburg has said she will serve as long as she is up to the job. She would likely be loath to allow Trump to pick her successor; she caused an uproar this summer when in media interviews she called him a “faker” and said she feared for the court and the country if he were elected. Ginsburg turned aside calls from some liberals that she retire years ago, so that Obama could name her replacement. She said it was unclear whether the Senate would confirm her successor. And she told The Washington Post that there was no rush: She felt it was likely that another Democrat would be elected after Obama”.

 

Mattis at DoD?

23/11/2016

In a sign that Donald Trump was zeroing in on his choice for defense secretary Saturday, a senior transition team official told Fox News the retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was a “very strong candidate” for a Cabinet post. The retired general was one of several people who met with Trump in New Jersey during the day on Saturday. Trump wouldn’t say whether he was offering Mattis a job, saying “we’ll see.” But as they posed for cameras before sitting down for their meeting, Trump pointed to Mattis and called him “a great man.” Earlier, an official with the transition team confirmed the retired general was under consideration to lead the Pentagon. Mattis succeeded David Petraeus as commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees all military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has field commander experience in Afghanistan and both U.S. wars in Iraq, and retired in 2013.

GOP, constraining Trump?

21/11/2016

A piece discusses how the GOP will constrain Trump, “Some of the most powerful foreign-policy makers in the U.S. government are outside of President-elect Donald Trump’s control and are already signaling an early end to the honeymoon period over their fellow Republican’s security and diplomatic stances. No matter whom Trump picks for his cabinet — and who might actually accept top posts implementing his “America First” foreign policy — he’ll have to contend with GOP congressional committee chairmen at the top of defense, intelligence, and diplomatic panels in both the House and Senate, many of whom are wary, at best, of his approach to issues ranging from Russia to the Syrian civil war to immigration. Most of the sitting chairs on these panels will remain where they are next year — and just emerged from an election season of defending, dancing around, or distancing themselves from the controversial GOP presidential candidate. On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the incoming president’s proposed thaw of U.S.-Moscow relations was “unacceptable.” An spokesman said he has no intention of leaving his powerful committee perch next year. McCain was responding to Trump’s comments a day earlier in which he said he’s “very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia,” followed by Moscow’s announcement on Tuesday of a renewed air assault on rebel-held areas of Syria and reports of resumed bombings on Aleppo. “With the U.S. presidential transition underway, Vladimir Putin has said in recent days that he wants to improve relations with the United States,” McCain said in a statement, referring to the Russian president”.

Reassuringly the report mention McCain’s role, “McCain and Trump have long been at odds. Still, McCain’s statement served as an early-warning shot that Trump may find himself with a less pliant Congress than he expects on cabinet confirmations and the contentious foreign-policy issues that buttressed his campaign. Former GOP presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking for himself and McCain, told reporters Tuesday that whether on the Syrian conflict or lethal aid to Ukraine, “on all things Russia” they are going to be “hard-ass.” “He is president of the U.S. and the leading diplomat for our country,” Graham said of Trump, whom he has opposed from the outset. “But Congress has a role in all of this.” Trump’s relations with Congress will be defined both by the campaign scars and the staffing of his administration. Trump is reportedly considering several senators for top cabinet jobs: Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee for secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for secretary of defense or attorney general, or even GOP primary rival Sen. Ted Cruz for the Justice Department. He’s also reportedly looking at Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) for the job of Pentagon chief, although a person close to the Trump transition team told Foreign Policy that Hunter, at least, is an unlikely pick. Earlier this week, Sessions appeared to be the front-runner for secretary of defense, and “once he decides how he wants to spend the next four years, he can do whatever he wants to do” in the administration, said the person familiar with the Trump transition, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Reports Wednesday morning suggested he is leaning toward attorney general”.

Interestingly it adds how “McCain has made clear that he will challenge Trump on any number of fronts stemming from sharp — and often philosophical — disagreements over congressional oversight and America’s role in the world. Beyond the warming relations with Putin, McCain also is at odds with Trump’s stand to keep open the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, for example, as well as the president-elect’s vow to bring back “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” when interrogating terror suspects. McCain was tortured as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam and sponsored legislation to ban the practice. On Syria, Trump has suggested that Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad largely be left alone to battle Sunni rebels in the name of fighting terrorists. That’s anathema to McCain and other Republican hawks. “At the very least, the price of another ‘reset’ would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people,” McCain said Tuesday. Trump’s positions on Syria — as well as Russia — have also troubled Corker, though he advised the president-elect throughout the campaign. Corker has called for the United States to be tougher on Assad and provide Ukrainians with lethal defensive aid. He recently described Putin as “very brutal” in enacting policy. On Trump’s coziness toward Moscow, Corker said, “I don’t share those views, and I think one needs to be careful about responding to flattery, let’s just be honest.” Additionally, Corker has backed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform and rejects banning Muslims from entering the United States as “completely counter to the values and principles of our great nation.” Trump has reversed himself several times on the ban he first called for in the wake of the attack last December in San Bernardino, California”.

It points out how “Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, (R-N.C.), has stopped far short of criticizing Trump’s relationship with Putin. He was reluctant to the point of dismissive about siding with U.S. intelligence indicating Russian hackers sought to meddle in the presidential election to the Republican nominee’s advantage. But the closer Trump’s relationship with Putin, the more difficult it may be for Burr to go along — especially if primacy over U.S. foreign policy turns into a battle between the White House and a staunchly GOP Congress. “Donald Trump is not an ideologue,” Burr said Tuesday in trying to assuage concerns about the Trump administration. “He’s barely a Republican.” Key House chairmen also appear unsettled by Trump’s security policies — especially as they pertain to Russia. They include:

  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who told FP this week that Trump should tread carefully with Putin. Nunes has emerged as one of the Trump transition team’s key national security advisors after ousters in recent days.
  • House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas), who last month said he told Trump that Russia was behind the political campaign hacks, but that the nominee didn’t believe there was enough evidence. McCaul, who advised Trump on national security, saidit’s “not [Trump’s] strength.”
  • House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) did not endorse Trump during the campaign and has refused to say whether he voted for the GOP standard-bearer. Thornberry has voiced “concerns” about Trump’s foreign policy, although hewelcomed Trump’s pledge to end sequestration, the budget caps that limit defense spending.
  • House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called for better vetting of refugees, but said Trump’s Muslim ban was unconstitutional.

However, congressional Republicans may still find themselves rallying around the new president on domestic issues that excite their constituents. Unanimously re-elected to his post Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled support of Trump’s plans to overhaul Obamacare and enact strict immigration policies. So, too, has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was also unanimously re-elected in pro-forma elections Wednesday.Both are eager to demonstrate unity after a divisive campaign in which Trump declared war on the party”.

The piece ends “Trump may see some lawmakers, such as Corker, as more effective allies on Capitol Hill than in his cabinet. In a statement Monday, Corker told FP that he’s “excited” about the opportunity for Trump and the Congress, given that the GOP will control the White House and both chambers. But he made clear that he also wants to restore Congress’s role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, and touted his committee’s “progress in restoring Congress’s constitutional role in advancing U.S. interests internationally.”That could well serve as a strong check on Trump’s vision of America’s place in a new world order: back at home”.

US and Philippines start joint exercises

21/11/2016

U.S. and Philippine special forces will begin annual combat exercises on Wednesday in a sign such joint drills are continuing despite vocal opposition by the Philippine president. The U.S. military says that so far there’s been no reduction in cooperation with the Philippines, a longstanding U.S. ally, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to do so and his expressed desire to expand security ties with China and Russia. But in a sign of a possible restriction, Philippine army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said Tuesday both the U.S. and the Philippines have agreed to forego live-fire drills in the field during the month-long Balance Piston exercises which will take place in the western province of Palawan. He said about 40 elite Filipino troops are taking part but wouldn’t say how many Americans. He didn’t give a reason for dropping the live-fire maneuvers. The Philippine defense department has said Duterte wants such overt assault drills to be discontinued. In Washington, Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said Tuesday that there’s been no change so far in U.S.-Philippine military cooperation”.