Archive for the ‘Republicans’ Category

“Intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election”

20/12/2016

Lawmakers in Congress intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election, raising chances of a clash with President-elect Donald Trump. Trump continues to reject the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow is to blame, telling Time Magazine that he does not believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind the hacks. House Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would convene a bipartisan, independent commission to look into alleged Russian attempts to interfere and sow distrust in this year’s voting. On the Senate side, a senior Republican told CNN that he will be directing his committees “to look deeply into what Russia may have done in regarding our election.” The congressional moves come as Time published an interview with Trump in which he dismissed the intelligence community’s October assessment that it had high confidence that Russia was behind hacks. They largely targeted Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump is quoted as saying”.

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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.

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.”

Bibi tries to influence Trump

16/12/2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would discuss with Donald Trump the West’s “bad” nuclear deal with Iran after the U.S. president-elect enters the White House. Speaking separately to a conference in Washington, Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clashed over the Iran deal and Israel’s settlement construction on the occupied West Bank, which Kerry depicted as an obstacle to peace. During the U.S. election campaign, Trump, a Republican, called last year’s nuclear pact a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. He has also said it would be hard to overturn an agreement enshrined in a U.N. resolution. “Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That has not changed and will not change. As far as President-elect Trump, I look forward to speaking to him about what to do about this bad deal,” Netanyahu told the Saban Forum, a conference on the Middle East, in Washington, via satellite from Jerusalem. Trump takes office on Jan. 20″.

 

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.

“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”.

 

“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.

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”.

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.”

“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”.

Obama’s reassurance mission

19/11/2016

The last time President Barack Obama took questions from reporters abroad, he dismissed Donald Trump as an “unqualified” peddler of “wacky ideas,” expressing confidence during his September swing through Asia that voters would ultimately reject the candidate who ran so vocally against his own agenda. Now, as he embarks upon his final scheduled overseas trip as President, Obama faces an altogether different scenario: Trump is his successor, and instead of a cheering farewell tour, he’s embarking upon a reassurance mission for deeply shaken foreign allies. At stops in Greece, Germany and Peru, Obama will be left explaining the US election results to foreign counterparts whose anxieties about Trump he’s been fueling for more than a year by denouncing Trump from podiums across the globe. Obama must now convince foreign governments and populations that the future isn’t as bleak as he once predicted.

Flynn as NSA, a Putin apologist

19/11/2016

A report in the Washington Post notes how Trumps choice of Michael Flynn for NSA brings experience and controversy, “The most influential national security job in the still-forming Trump administration will go to a retired three-star general who helped dismantle insurgent networks in Afghanistan and Iraq but then surprised — and sometimes dismayed — colleagues by joining the political insurgency led by Donald Trump. As national security adviser to Trump, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn would be responsible for helping a president with no national security experience navigate complicated global issues including the unfinished campaign against the Islamic State, the expansionist agenda of China and rising aggression from Russia. Flynn’s selection for the post was confirmed Thursday night by a person close to the Trump transition team who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations. As a decorated military intelligence officer and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn has deep experience to draw upon as he serves as Trump’s principal point of contact with the State Department, the Pentagon and a collection of U.S. intelligence agencies that have surged in power and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks”.

The report notes that “Flynn has also shown an erratic streak since leaving government that is likely to make his elevation disconcerting even to the flag officers and senior intelligence officials who once considered him a peer. Flynn stunned former colleagues when he traveled to Moscow last year to appear alongside Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at a lavish gala for the Kremlin-run propaganda channel RT, a trip Flynn admitted he was paid to make and defended by saying he saw no distinction between RT and U.S. news channels such as CNN. Flynn said he used the trip to press Putin’s government to behave more responsibly in international affairs. Former U.S. officials said Flynn, seen dining next to Putin in photos published by Russian propaganda outlets, was used as a prop by the autocratic leader. Flynn was forced out of his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 over concerns about his leadership style. After the ouster, he frequently lashed out in public against President Obama and blamed his removal on the administration’s discomfort with his hard-line views on radical Islam. Spurning the decorum traditionally expected of retired U.S. flag officers, Flynn became a fervent campaigner for Trump and was given a high-profile role speaking before the GOP convention, an appearance in which he led the crowd in “lock her up” chants against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton”.

It mentions how “McChrystal and retired Adm. Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, contacted Flynn and urged him to show more restraint, with Mullen warning that Flynn’s behaviour could jeopardize White House trust in the military. Flynn dismissed those concerns in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this year, saying efforts to quiet him impinged on his free speech rights. “When someone says, ‘You’re a general, so you have to shut up,’ ” he said, “I say, ‘Do I have to stop being an American?’ ” Flynn continued to campaign for Trump and has said he has admired the mogul since their initial meeting. “I was very impressed,” Flynn said in the interview with The Post. “Very serious guy. Good listener. Asked really good questions . . . I found him to be very attuned to what was going on around the world.” Civil rights groups denounced the Flynn selection, saying he has refused to reject Trump’s repeated statements supporting the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects. Trump has also advocated killing or capturing innocent relatives of terrorism suspects. Asked about such proposals, Flynn said in an interview with Al Jazeera this year that he is a “believer in leaving as many options on the table right up until the last possible minute.” “Michael Flynn has exhibited basic contempt for international law, including the Geneva Conventions and laws prohibiting torture,” said John Sifton, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “By offering the post to Flynn, President-elect Trump will be cementing a dark return to the illegalities of the Bush administration and further undermining the foundation of the international human rights system.” A longtime Democrat and native of Rhode Island who grew up in a military family, Flynn has articulated an increasingly dark vision of the direction of the United States, saying that it has fallen into a struggle between “centrist nationalists” and “socialists.” He has also warned that the United States is failing to adequately address the threat posed by what he calls a “diseased component” of Islam”.

The report ends “That view, and his willingness to voice it publicly, put him in close alignment with Trump, who has called for Muslims in the United States to be registered, subjected to loyalty tests and in some cases deported. In February, Flynn tweeted a link to a YouTube video with the message: “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: Please forward a link to this video so that people may learn the BASICS of Islam.” As national security adviser, Flynn would be a White House insider in a unique position to influence Trump on almost all aspects of foreign policy. Trump has shown scant respect for the intelligence and institutions that shaped Flynn, dismissing an intelligence community assessment that Russia was interfering in the presidential election as “public relations.” Trump has also said he probably knows more than American generals about how to succeed in conflict zones such as Syria”.

 

 

Rand Paul, early opposition to Trump

19/11/2016

Rand Paul, a newly reelected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this morning that he is inclined to oppose former U.N. ambassador John Bolton or former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani if either is nominated for secretary of state. “It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.” Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment”.

Trump vs Pence?

19/11/2016

In short, it’s clear that, pre-election, Trump and Pence differed dramatically on major planks of Trump’s foreign policy platform—and that these differences seem to boil down to fundamentally different conceptions of America’s rightful role in the world. But whether the disagreement comes to anything now will turn on whether Trump’s stated positions were, in fact, bluster borrowed for purposes of cultivating an authoritative, know-something posture during the campaign, or if they represent genuine convictions on which he means to run his presidency. If they turn out to be the former, we will need to pivot from a literal or philosophical interpretation of Trump’s campaign promises to a close examination of Pence’s.

Trump’s transition in disarray

17/11/2016

The New York Times reports that Trump’s transition is in disarray, “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world. One week after Mr. Trump scored an upset victory that took him by surprise, his team was improvising the most basic traditions of assuming power. That included working without official State Department briefing materials in his first conversations with foreign leaders. Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser”.

The article notes how “The dismissals followed the abrupt firing on Friday of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was replaced as chief of the transition by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail. Prominent American allies were in the meantime scrambling to figure out how and when to contact Mr. Trump. At times, they have been patched through to him in his luxury office tower with little warning, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt was the first to reach Mr. Trump for such a call last Wednesday, followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel not long afterward. But that was about 24 hours before Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain got through — a striking break from diplomatic practice given the close alliance between the United States and Britain. Despite the haphazard nature of Mr. Trump’s early calls with world leaders, his advisers said the transition team was not suffering unusual setbacks. They argued that they were hard at work behind the scenes dealing with the same troubles that incoming presidents have faced for decades”.

It adds that “Trump himself fired back at critics with a Twitter message he sent about 10 p.m. “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions,” he wrote. “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!” The process is “completely normal,” said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, who emerged on Tuesday as the leading contender to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of state. “It happened in the Reagan transition. Clinton had delays in hiring people.” Giuliani, who made his comments in a telephone interview, added: “This is a hard thing to do. Transitions always have glitches. This is an enormously complex process.” There were some reports within the transition of score-settling. One member of the transition team said that at least one reason Mr. Rogers had fallen out of favour among Mr. Trump’s advisers was that, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he had overseen a report about the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which concluded that the Obama administration had not intentionally misled the public about the events there. That report echoed the findings of numerous other government investigations into the episode. The report’s conclusions were at odds with the campaign position of Mr. Trump, who repeatedly blamed Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent and the secretary of state during the attacks, for the resulting deaths of four Americans”.

Not supurisingly the article notes “Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official who had criticized Mr. Trump during the campaign but said after his election that he would keep an open mind about advising him, said Tuesday on Twitter that he had changed his opinion. After speaking to the transition team, he wrote, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away.” He added: “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.” Mr. Cohen, a conservative Republican who served under President George W. Bush, said Trump transition officials had excoriated him after he offered some names of people who might serve in the new administration, but only if they felt departments were led by credible people. “They think of these jobs as lollipops,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, weighed in as well. On Tuesday, he issued a blunt warning to Mr. Trump and his emerging foreign policy team not to be taken in by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom Mr. Trump praised during the campaign”.

The piece mentions that “Some of the early transition difficulties may reflect the fact that Mr. Trump, who has no governing experience or Washington network and campaigned as an agent of change, does not have a long list of establishment figures from the Bush era to tap. His allies suggested that might ultimately prove positive for Mr. Trump if he was able to assemble a functioning team that would bring new perspectives to his administration. For advice on building Mr. Trump’s national security team, his inner circle has been relying on three hawkish current and former American officials: Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration and a founder of the Center for Security Policy. Mr. Gaffney has long advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including that President Obama might be a closet Muslim. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Prominent donors to Mr. Trump were also having little success in recruiting people for rank-and-file posts in his administration”.

“Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders”

17/11/2016

As he had during the campaign, Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders and suspicious of those considered part of what one insider called the “bicoastal elite,” who are perceived as trying to “insinuate” themselves into positions of power. Those in the inner circle reportedly were winnowed to loyalists who had stuck with Trump throughout the campaign and helped devise his winning strategy. They include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and members of Trump’s family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner. “This is a very insular, pretty closely held circle of people,” said Philip D. Zelikow, a former director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a senior figure in the George W. Bush transition. “Confusion is the norm” for transitions, he said, “but there are some unusual features here, because they’re trying to make some statements.” “They feel like their election was a lot of the American people wanting to throw a brick through a window,” Zelikow said. “They want to make appointments that make it sound like glass is being broken.” Increasingly, among the shards are more mainline Republicans in the national security field. In an angry Twitter post Tuesday, Eliot Cohen, a leading voice of opposition to Trump during the campaign who had advised those interested in administration jobs to take them, abruptly changed his mind, saying the transition “will be ugly.”

Priebus and Bannon, establishment and racist

15/11/2016

President-elect Donald Trump announced Sunday that Reince Priebus will serve as his chief of staff, while Stephen Bannon will serve as chief strategist and senior counselor.  Priebus is currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), while Bannon was the chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign. Bannon previously served as the chairman of Breitbart News, an “alt-right” news site that supported Trump’s bid. “Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory. Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again,” Trump said in a statement. Both names had been floated as potential White House staff members in the days since the election. Bannon said he looked forward to continue working with Priebus after the election victory.

Russian’s hack US think tanks

15/11/2016

A Russian hacking group began attacking U.S.-based policy think tanks within hours of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, according to cyber experts who suspect Moscow is seeking information on the incoming administration. Three cyber security firms told Reuters that are tracking a spear-phishing campaign by a Russian-government linked group known as Cozy Bear, which is widely suspected of hacking the Democratic Party ahead of the election. “Probably now they are trying to rush to gain access to certain targets where they can get a better understanding on what is going on in Washington after the election and during the transition period,” said Jaime Blasco, chief scientist with cyber security firm AlienVault. Targets included the Council for Foreign Relations, said Adam Segal, a security expert with the think tank. His colleagues include former U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and former Reagan administration State Department official Elliott Abrams. Representatives with the Russian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment. Moscow has strongly denied that it was behind the hacks.

“A palpable sense of dread settled on the intelligence community”

13/11/2016

The election results were only hours old Wednesday when a sober team of intelligence analysts carrying black satchels and secure communications gear began preparing to give President-elect Donald Trump his first unfiltered look at the nation’s secrets. The initial presentation — to be delivered as early as Thursday — is likely to be a read-through of the President’s Daily Brief, the same highly classified summary of security developments delivered every day to President Obama. After that, U.S. intelligence officials are expected to schedule a series of meetings to apprise Trump of covert CIA operations against terrorist groups, the intercepted communications of world leaders, and satellite photos of nuclear installations in North Korea. The sessions are designed to bring a new president up to speed on what the nation’s spy agencies know and do. But with Trump, the meetings are likely to be tense encounters between wary intelligence professionals and a newly minted president-elect who has demonstrated abundant disdain for their work. A palpable sense of dread settled on the intelligence community Wednesday as Hillary Clinton, the candidate many expected to win, conceded the race to a GOP upstart who has dismissed U.S. spy agencies’ views on Russia and Syria, and even threatened to order the CIA to resume the use of interrogation methods condemned as torture”.

“Outside-the-box iconoclasts and establishment Republican allies”

13/11/2016

Rumours on Trump’s cabinet are starting to circulate, one article notes, “Early on in his campaign, the Republican businessman sent a warning shot to the party’s old guard by promising to hire “new voices” instead of gray-haired apparatchiks “who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Those remarks, which came in Trump’s first major foreign policy address in April, put many GOP hawks on notice, and precipitated a number of high-level defections to Hillary Clinton, including prominent neoconservative Republican Bob Kagan. But individuals familiar with the Trump campaign’s thinking tell Foreign Policy the real estate tycoon’s cabinet is likely to include a mix of outside-the-box iconoclasts and establishment Republican allies, including even Bush-era foreign policy hawks. Trump’s preference for political outsiders, especially those with private sector experience, has been reflected in his reported consideration of Forrest Lucas, co-founder of the oil products company Lucas Oil, as interior secretary, and Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs alum, for treasury secretary. For secretary of state, a variety of names are under consideration, including Newt Gingrich, who loyally defended Trump through a range of controversies and gaffes during the campaign. Most famous for his role as House speaker and architect of the GOP’s Contract With America in the 1990s, Gingrich is also a historian of modern European history. His Tulane University doctoral thesis, “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960,” looked at the role of colonialism in the Central African country. He also taught history at West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia, in the 1970s. Another top candidate for the Foggy Bottom job is Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has repeatedly blasted Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and intervention in Syria — positions that put him at odds with Trump, who has openly praised Putin and expressed a desire to warm relations with the Cold War adversary”.

The article mentions how “Corker has used his gravitas on the committee to defend Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy views, and even gone so far as to describe Trump as a “Bush 41” Republican on diplomatic issues. In August, Corker said he’d “strongly consider” serving under Trump as secretary of state. Also under consideration for the job is John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. Oftentimes the face of Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy, Bolton was a controversial figure at the U.N., but could refashion himself for a Trump presidency centered around “America First” policies. For secretary of defense, a handful of nominees are on Trump’s short list, according to two people familiar with his thinking. The would-be picks include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the businessman’s most loyal ally in the Senate and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who repeatedly criticized the GOP for moving too slowly to embrace Trump. The close relationship between the two men dates back to 2005, when they both opposed a $1.2 billion United Nations plan to renovate its Manhattan headquarters. During his victory speech, Trump specifically praised Sessions, calling him “highly respected in Washington because he’s as smart as you get.” Though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is officially the head of Trump’s transition team, Sessions has played an increasingly active role, leading many to believe he will have his pick of plum administration jobs”.

The report notes that “Another potential nominee for the top Pentagon job is Jim Talent, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Missouri senator. For four years, Talent served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and focused his attention on military readiness. In a recent opinion piece in the American Spectator, Talent expressed “profound discomfort” with Clinton and Trump. But he defended his decision to vote for the real estate mogul — “it’s the right thing to do, not an easy thing” — because Trump has a plan “for rebuilding America’s armed forces.” A “Reagan-era buildup of the military” he wrote, “will be the most important contribution he could make to American security.” “I have concerns about aspects of Trump’s approach to the world, and particularly his view of America’s alliance relationships,” Talent wrote. “On the other hand, there is a reasonable chance that Trump would adjust his views on those points as he actually confronts the challenges of his presidency.” Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, could also land the top Pentagon job but would have to receive a waiver from Congress because of a law requiring retired military officers to wait seven years before going back to the Pentagon as the top civilian leader. Flynn has also been rumoured for White House national security advisor, a powerful role that would not require Senate confirmation”.

It goes on to mention that “Potential contenders for CIA director include Flynn and ex-Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Rogers, who unlike Trump is a Russia hawk, has reportedly been playing a senior role on the Trump transition team. The position of attorney general could go to either Christie or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, according to a report by NBC News earlier this week. Both men have been among Trump’s most loyal surrogates, though Christie could be a liability given the cloud of corruption charges hanging over the “Bridgegate” scandal. Walid Phares, an American scholar of Lebanese descent, has been nominally serving as a Trump foreign-policy advisor for several months. He could fit in as a White House senior advisor, according to one Trump insider. Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration spokesman to the United Nations, is on a list of candidates for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Grenell had been appointed top national security spokesman for Mitt Romney, only to abruptly resign after social conservatives in the party rose up to denounce his selection as an openly gay Republican. Grenell has more recently used his Twitter feed to denounce Hillary Clinton and American political press coverage”.

It ends “For secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, one Trump insider said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a contender. On Wednesday, Politico reported that conservative Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke is also a potential candidate. He gained prominence at the Republican National Convention in Ohio when he declared “blue lives matter” in solidarity with law enforcement officers. Christie could fit into that cabinet position as well”.

Trump, bankers and populism

11/11/2016

“According to CNBC, Trump is considering JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon as treasury secretary. Dimon is the leader of the largest of the Big Four banks in the United States, so he’s hardly unfamiliar with how business is done on Wall Street. Multiple reports also show that Trump is considering Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs official, for the same post. Mnuchin served as the businessman’s campaign finance chief during the 2016 campaign. It appears as if Mnuchin is more likely to take the job, given his prior relationship with Trump. Dimon has said repeatedly that he has no interest in the job. The banker also bashed Trump’s policies in his 2016 letter to JPMorgan Chase shareholders”.

 

“Hoping against hope that he will grow in the White House”

11/11/2016

Max Boot writes that Trump may not be so bad after all, “Nov. 9, 2016, is a dark, depressing day for me and for the slim popular majority of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton. It is easy on a day like this to fall prey to one’s worst fears. Is this the dark night of fascism descending on America? Maybe. Is this the triumph of white supremacists? Could be. Is this the end of NATO and the triumph of Vladimir Putin? Quite possibly. I admit that I am deeply worried that these cataclysmic scenarios could actually come to pass. This really could be Apocalypse Now. But I have to admit it’s also possible that the worst won’t happen and that Trump will exceed the low-low expectations that greet his ascension. In truth, although I have been warning — along with many others — of the catastrophic consequences of a Trump presidency, I have no idea what he will actually do. Nobody does, probably including Trump himself. If there is any optimism to be gleaned on this day after, it lies in the very fact that Trump has been so utterly incoherent on just about every policy issue”.

He argues that “On immigration, for example, he began by promising to build a wall that Mexico would pay for and to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. He ended the campaign by saying that U.S. taxpayers would build the wall with Mexico eventually paying us back and that deportations would proceed “in a very humane way” targeting “gang members” and “drug peddlers.” What about mass deportations? “We’re going to make a decision at a later date.” He even suggested that he would not rule out a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On homeland security, at first he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” By the end of the campaign, this radical idea had been dropped. It had “morphed,” he said, “into an extreme vetting from certain areas of the world,” whatever that means. In the battle against terrorism, he began by calling for taking Iraq’s oil, for bombing the “shit” out of the areas under Islamic State occupation, for torturing terrorists and killing their relatives — all of which would constitute war crimes. At a March 3 debate, he insisted that the military would carry out his orders even if those orders were illegal under international law; the very next day, however, he reversed himself and said he wouldn’t order the armed forces to do anything illegal. By the end of the campaign, he was saying that “after taking office, I will ask my generals to present to me a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS. This will require military warfare but also cyberwarfare, financial warfare, and ideological warfare.” In other words, the anti-ISIS plan is TBD”.

Boot writes that “On abortion, he used to describe himself as “very pro-choice.” During the campaign, he became so anti-abortion that he called for women who get the procedure to be punished, before walking back that position. Now he says he’s in favour of overturning Roe v. Wade and letting the states decide, which would effectively mean that abortion would remain legal in almost every state. On U.S. troops overseas, he has called NATO “obsolete” but also said he wants it to play a bigger role in the war on terrorism. He has said that if U.S. allies don’t “pay up” for the protection provided by American troops, he would withdraw them, but he has also said this is only a bargaining position and implied that he doesn’t really mean it. He has said he didn’t care if South Korea and Japan acquired nuclear capabilities after the withdrawal of U.S. forces but subsequently denied saying that. What are we to make of all this?  My conclusion is that Trump has few fixed principles beyond self-promotion. He wants to make America “great” but has little idea how. He has expressed certain sentiments — in favour of being strong and surprising our enemies, against political correctness, immigration, and disadvantageous trade treaties — without knowing exactly how they would translate into policy”.

The piece adds “During the campaign, I thought this was a tremendous weakness, because Clinton had policy knowledge and specifics that he lacked, but in office it could be a saving grace. If Trump were to staff his administration with competent professionals with prior government experience, and if he were to listen to their advice, he could actually wind up implementing a fairly conventional conservative agenda in many respects. He could be especially positive in economic policy, where he has promised to cut taxes and regulations — a promise that, if not offset by job-killing tariffs, could turbocharge growth. Granted, the Trump we saw on the campaign trail was so erratic that it’s hard to believe he will be disciplined and prudent in office. But I’m hoping against hope that he will grow in the White House — that the office will make the man. Because if that doesn’t occur, the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate”.

“It faces a know-nothing reality TV star”

11/11/2016

An article argues that China has won the US election, “The election of Donald Trump will be a disaster for anyone who cares about human rights, U.S. global leadership, and media freedom. That means it’s a victory for Beijing, where as I write, the Chinese leaders near me in the palatial complex of Zhongnanhai are surely cracking open the drinks and making mean jokes. There are four major victories for the Chinese leadership here, tempered by one possible fear. The first victory is the obvious one, the geopolitical victory; China no longer faces the prospect of Hillary Clinton, a tough, experienced opponent with a record of standing up to bullies. Instead, it faces a know-nothing reality TV star who barely seems aware that China has nuclear weapons, has promised to extort money from U.S. allies around China like South Korea and Japan, and has repeatedly undercut U.S. credibility as a defense partner. Trump is also exactly the kind of businessman who is most easily taken in by China — credulous, focused on the externalities of wealth, and massively susceptible to flattery. A single trip, with Chinese laying on the charm, could leave him as fond of China’s strongmen as he is of Russia’s Putin”.

The writer argues “Countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines, uncertain about who to back in the contest for power in the Pacific, will swing massively China’s way, preferring a country that keeps its promises to one that can turn on the pull of an electoral lever. The strongest U.S. allies, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, no longer confident in the U.S. nuclear umbrella, will begin seriously considering other alternatives — like acquiring their own nuclear deterrent, prompting new tensions with China. Generally, these developments will only embolden China. After the 2008 financial crisis, Beijing was convinced the world was going its way, resulting in a spate of overconfident military moves in southeast Asia which pushed some countries more firmly into the U.S. camp. Now China’s confidence will return, and few in the region will have confidence in Washington’s ability to provide shelter from China’s nascent hegemony. Taiwan, already facing tough mainland rhetoric after electing anti-Beijing leader Tsai Ing-wen, will feel completely isolated — and perhaps be vulnerable to actual invasion — without the firm promise of U.S. protection. The second victory is in the contest between authoritarianism and democracy. From a Chinese point of view, an electoral system that produces somebody like Trump — utterly inexperienced in governance but a skilled demagogue — is an absurdity, the equivalent of picking a major company’s CEO through a horse race. In China, leaders need to be carefully chosen, groomed, and pushed, gaining experience at every level of the Communist Party system before being anointed for the top job. (That comes amid a flurry of brutally nasty and corrupt internal struggles at each level, mind you.) China aspires toward the Singaporean model of carefully controlled elitism, a country in which Trump represents, in the words of one writer, everything they were taught to fear about democracy. The crudity of Trump’s triumphant campaign gives credence to Chinese media’s criticisms of a “chaotic political farce.” The likely split between the popular vote and the Electoral College will only further the often-made case that U.S. democracy is a sham”.

Sadly he writes correctly that “Trump himself has given every sign of governing like the authoritarian leaders China has favoured from Myanmar to Zimbabwe. Every piece of paranoid security theatre he has threatened, from a ban on Muslim immigration to the wall with Mexico, will be used by Beijing to justify its own myriad oppressions. That leads to the third victory, on human rights. Every year, the United States puts out a report on China’s human rights calamities — and every year China responds with its own report, a mixture of indignant bluster and genuine poking at American sore spots, from police treatment of minorities to the gender gap in pay. But under President Trump, Beijing’s stockpiled ammunition against U.S. hypocrisy on human rights looks set only to grow, given his close ties to white nationalist groups, the likely gutting of civil rights, and his — and his supporters’ — attacks on the notion of press freedom. Any Western attempts to call out China’s reassertion of traditional patriarchy, from the arrest of the Feminist Five to the Communist Party’s absence of female leaders, can be countered with any number of references to the new groper-in-chief. Resurgent Republican homophobia will be a gut blow to China’s gay rights movement. Calls for transparency in China’s military spending and local government budgets can be met by pointing out the victory of a candidate who never even bothered to release his tax records”.

He ends “the fourth victory is on media credibility. The almost unanimous condemnation of Trump by newspapers from across the political spectrum — to tragically little effect on the voters — will strengthen the case made by Chinese state media that Western media isbiased and elitist. When China wants to bash Trump, on the other hand, they’ll point to the failure of TV news to call out his myriad failings. Those are contradictory criticisms of Western media, of course, but Chinese state media has never balked at hypocrisy, so expect both points to sometimes be made in the same article. (China has been quite happy bashing both the shortsightedness of referenda and the corruption of the EU over Brexit, for instance.) Secondly, the failure by pollsters — even Nate Silver, though laudably uncertain compared to others, had Clinton as two-to-one favourite — will be used by China to cast doubt on the claims of experts across Western newspapers. But there’s one major worry that may mute the celebrations in Zhongnanhai. Although China regularly trashes the US, the country’s growth has been dependent, ironically enough, on a strong, stable and prosperous United States willing to trade with the world. Globalization, as Chinese authors have repeatedly argued in the last few months, is vital for a country that needs the markets of others to keep pushing its population into the middle class and achieve the dream of being a “moderately prosperous” country by 2020″.

He concludes “If Trump actually follows through on his protectionist plans, and his decisions have the same effect on the United States as they have on his many failed businesses, China’s own economy, already quivering, will start to shake. Beijing’s ambitious plans to develop other global trade networks through the “One Road, One Belt” scheme may be able to compensate for that — or may prove just as unstable in a rudderless world. China and the United States have often been compared to the two wings of the global economy; if one goes, they spiral down together”.

Rouhani, Trump and the deal

09/11/2016

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the U.S. election results would have no effect on Tehran’s policies, state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying, noting that Iran’s expanding economic ties with the world were irreversible. “The results of the U.S. election have no effect on the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rouhani said. “Iran’s policy for constructive engagement with the world and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions have made our economic relations with all countries expanding and irreversible.” He added that Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers has been reflected in a United Nation Security Council resolution and cannot be dismissed by one government”.

“Trump does not have the traditional cadre”

09/11/2016

Politico discusses the Cabinet of Trump, “President-elect Donald Trump does not have the traditional cadre of Washington insiders and donors to build out his Cabinet, but his transition team has spent the past several months quietly building a short list of industry titans and conservative activists who could comprise one of the more eclectic and controversial presidential cabinets in modern history. Trumpworld has started with a mandate to hire from the private sector whenever possible. That’s why the Trump campaign is seriously considering Forrest Lucas, the 74-year-old co-founder of oil products company Lucas Oil, as a top contender for Interior secretary, or donor and Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary”.

It notes “He’s also expected to reward the band of surrogates who stood by him during the bruising presidential campaign including Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, all of whom are being considered for top posts. A handful of Republican politicians may also make the cut including Sen. Bob Corker for secretary of State or Sen. Jeff Sessions for secretary of Defense. Trump’s divisive campaign may make it difficult for him to attract top talent, especially since so many politicians and wonks openly derided the president-elect over the past year. And Trump campaign officials have worried privately that they will have difficulty finding high-profile women to serve in his Cabinet, according to a person familiar with the campaign’s internal discussions, given Trump’s past comments about women. Still, two Trump transition officials said they’ve received an influx of phone calls and emails in recent weeks, as the polls tightened and a Trump White House seemed more within reach. So far, the Trump campaign and transition teams have been tight-lipped about their picks. (The Trump campaign has declined to confirm Cabinet speculation.) But here’s the buzz from POLITICO’s conversations with policy experts, lobbyists, academics, congressional staffers and people close to Trump”.

For secretary of State the report notes that “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a leading Trump supporter, is a candidate for the job, as is Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Corker has said he’d “strongly consider” serving as secretary of State. Trump is also eyeing former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton”.

It notes that for Treasury “Donald Trump himself has indicated that he wants to give the Treasury secretary job to his finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, a 17-year-veteran of Goldman Sachs who now works as the chairman and chief executive of the private investment firm, Dune Capital Management. Mnuchin has also worked for OneWest Bank, which was later sold to CIT Group in 2015″.

For Defence the article mentions “Among the Republican defense officials who could join the Trump administration: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a close adviser, has been discussed as a potential Defense Secretary. Former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) have also been mentioned as potential candidates. Top Trump confidante retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, would need a waiver from Congress to become defense secretary, as the law requires retired military officers to wait seven years before becoming the civilian leader of the Pentagon. But Trump’s chief military adviser is likely to wind up some senior administration post, potentially national security adviser. And other early endorsers like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) could be in line for top posts as well”.

For AG the piece says that “People close to Trump say former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s leading public defenders, is the leading candidate for attorney general. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another vocal Trump supporter and the head of the president-elect’s transition team, is also a contender for the job — though any role in the Cabinet for Christie could be threatened by the Bridgegate scandal. Another possibility: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, though the controversy over Trump’s donation to Bondi could undercut her nomination”.

For Interior Palin is mentioned while for Agriculture, “There are several names being considered by Trump aides for Agriculture secretary, according to multiple sources familiar with the transition. The president elect has a deep bench to pull from with nearly 70 leaders on agricultural advisory committee. The most controversial name on the transition’s current short list is Sid Miller, the current secretary of agriculture in Texas, who caused a firestorm just days ago after his campaign’s Twitter account referred to Clinton as a ‘c—.‘ Miller said it was a staffer mistake and apologized. Other names include Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as well as Charles Herbster, Republican donor and agribusiness leader; and Mike McCloskey, a major dairy executive in Indiana, according to Arabella Advisors, a firm that advises top foundations and is closely tracking both transition efforts. Bruce Rastetter, a major Republican donor in Iowa, and Kip Tom, a farmer who ran for Congress in Indiana this year but was defeated in the primary, are also among those being considered, Arabella said”.

For Commerce Trump will really shake things up by appointing a multimillionare business chief, “Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, a Trump economic adviser, could fit the bill. Dan DiMicco, the former CEO of steelmaker Nucor Corp and a Trump trade adviser, is another possibility. Trump is said to also be considering former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the job”.

For HHS it notes that “Among the names receiving buzz: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ben Carson, former GOP presidential candidate. Carson has received the most attention lately for HHS, even from Trump himself. At a recent anti-Obamacare rally, Trump went out of his way to praise Carson by calling him a “brilliant” physician. “I hope that he will be very much involved in my administration in the coming years,” Trump said. One longer shot would be Rich Bagger, the executive director of the Trump transition team and former pharmaceutical executive who led, behind-closed-doors, many of the meetings this fall with health care industry donors and executives”.

For education “Trump has made clear the Education Department would play a reduced role in his administration — if it exists at all, as he’s suggested he may try to do away with it altogether. The GOP nominee has also offered a few hints about who he would pick to lead the department while it’s still around. Among those who may be on the shortlist is Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who ran against Trump in the primary but later endorsed the Republican presidential candidate. Education Insider, a monthly survey of Congressional staff, federal officials and other “insiders,” said in May that Carson was Trump’s most-likely pick. Another possible education secretary under Trump is William Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution who was worked on education matters for the Trump transition team. Evers worked at the Education Department during the Bush administration and served as a senior adviser to then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings”.

It appears that for DHS “One person close to Trump’s campaign said David Clarke, the conservative Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., is a possible candidate for Homeland Security Secretary. Clarke has cultivated a devoted following on the right, and he spoke at the Republican National Convention in Ohio, declaring, “Blue lives matter.” Christie is also seen as a possible DHS secretary”.

 

Putin congratulates Trump

09/11/2016

Putin congratulates Trump

Trump wins, everyone else loses

09/11/2016

The New York Times reports “Donald John Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday in a stunning culmination of an explosive, populist and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held ideals of American democracy. The surprise outcome, defying late polls that showed Hillary Clinton with a modest but persistent edge, threatened convulsions throughout the country and the world, where skeptics had watched with alarm as Mr. Trump’s unvarnished overtures to disillusioned voters took hold. The triumph for Mr. Trump, 70, a real estate developer-turned-reality television star with no government experience, was a powerful rejection of the establishment forces that had assembled against him, from the world of business to government, and the consensus they had forged on everything from trade to immigration”.

It contends “The results amounted to a repudiation, not only of Mrs. Clinton, but of President Obama, whose legacy is suddenly imperiled. And it was a decisive demonstration of power by a largely overlooked coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters who felt that the promise of the United States had slipped their grasp amid decades of globalization and multiculturalism. In Mr. Trump, a thrice-married Manhattanite who lives in a marble-wrapped three-story penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue, they found an improbable champion. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Mr. Trump told supporters around 3 a.m. on Wednesday at a rally in New York City, just after Mrs. Clinton called to concede. In a departure from a blistering campaign in which he repeatedly stoked division, Mr. Trump sought to do something he had conspicuously avoided as a candidate: Appeal for unity. “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” he said. “It is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.” That, he added, “is so important to me.” He offered unusually warm words for Mrs. Clinton, who he has suggested should be in jail, saying she was owed “a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.” Bolstered by Mr. Trump’s strong showing, Republicans retained control of the Senate. Only one Republican-controlled seat, in Illinois, fell to Democrats early in the evening. And Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, a Republican, easily won re-election in a race that had been among the country’s most competitive. A handful of other Republican incumbents facing difficult races were running better than expected”.

Pointedly it mentions “Trump’s win — stretching across the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania — seemed likely to set off financial jitters and immediate unease among international allies, many of which were startled when Mr. Trump in his campaign cast doubt on the necessity of America’s military commitments abroad and its allegiance to international economic partnerships. From the moment he entered the campaign, with a shocking set of claims that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals, Mr. Trump was widely underestimated as a candidate, first by his opponents for the Republican nomination and later by Mrs. Clinton, his Democratic rival. His rise was largely missed by polling organizations and data analysts. And an air of improbability trailed his campaign, to the detriment of those who dismissed his angry message, his improvisational style and his appeal to disillusioned voters. He suggested remedies that raised questions of constitutionality, like a ban on Muslims entering the United States. He threatened opponents, promising lawsuits against news organizations that covered him critically and women who accused him of sexual assault. At times, he simply lied. But Mr. Trump’s unfiltered rallies and unshakable self-regard attracted a zealous following, fusing unsubtle identity politics with an economic populism that often defied party doctrine. His rallies — furious, entertaining, heavy on name-calling and nationalist overtones — became the nexus of a political movement, with daily promises of sweeping victory, in the election and otherwise, and an insistence that the country’s political machinery was “rigged” against Mr. Trump and those who admired him”.

The piece adds that Trump “seemed to embody the success and grandeur that so many of his followers felt was missing from their own lives — and from the country itself. And he scoffed at the poll-driven word-parsing ways of modern politics, calling them a waste of time and money. Instead, he relied on his gut. At his victory party at the New York Hilton Midtown, where a raucous crowd indulged in a cash bar and wore hats bearing his ubiquitous campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” voters expressed gratification that their voices had, at last, been heard. “He was talking to people who weren’t being spoken to,” said Joseph Gravagna, 37, a marketing company owner from Rockland County, N.Y. “That’s how I knew he was going to win.” For Mrs. Clinton, the defeat signaled an astonishing end to a political dynasty that has colored Democratic politics for a generation. Eight years after losing to President Obama in the Democratic primary — and 16 years after leaving the White House for the United States Senate, as President Bill Clinton exited office — she had seemed positioned to carry on two legacies: her husband’s and the president’s. Her shocking loss was a devastating turn for the sprawling world of Clinton aides and strategists who believed they had built an electoral machine that would swamp Mr. Trump’s ragtag band of loyal operatives and family members, many of whom had no experience running a national campaign”.

Correctly it adds “on Tuesday night, stricken Clinton aides who believed that Mr. Trump had no mathematical path to victory, anxiously paced the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as states in which they were confident of victory, like Florida and North Carolina, either fell to Mr. Trump or seemed in danger of tipping his way. Mrs. Clinton watched the grim results roll in from a suite at the nearby Peninsula Hotel, surrounded by her family, friends and advisers who had the day before celebrated her candidacy with a champagne toast on her campaign plane. But over and over, Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate were exposed. She failed to excite voters hungry for change. She struggled to build trust with Americans who were baffled by her decision to use a private email server as secretary of state. And she strained to make a persuasive case for herself as a champion of the economically downtrodden after delivering perfunctory paid speeches that earned her millions of dollars. The returns Tuesday also amounted to a historic rebuke of the Democratic Partyfrom the white blue-collar voters who had formed the party base from the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mr. Clinton’s. Yet Mrs. Clinton and her advisers had taken for granted that states like Michigan and Wisconsin would stick with a Democratic nominee, and that she could repeat Mr. Obama’s strategy of mobilizing the party’s ascendant liberal coalition rather than pursuing a more moderate course like her husband did 24 years ago. But not until these voters were offered a Republican who ran as an unapologetic populist, railing against foreign trade deals and illegal immigration, did they move so drastically away from their ancestral political home. To the surprise of many on the left, white voters who had helped elect the nation’s first black president, appeared more reluctant to line up behind a white woman”.

Crucially it mentions how “From Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, industrial towns once full of union voters who for decades offered their votes to Democratic presidential candidates, even in the party’s lean years, shifted to Mr. Trump’s Republican Party. One county in the Mahoning Valley of Ohio, Trumbull, went to Mr. Trump by a six-point margin. Four years ago, Mr. Obama won there by 22 points. Mrs. Clinton’s loss was especially crushing to millions who had cheered her march toward history as, they hoped, the nation’s first female president. For supporters, the election often felt like a referendum on gender progress: an opportunity to elevate a woman to the nation’s top job and to repudiate a man whose remarkably boorish behaviour toward women had assumed center stage during much of the campaign. Mr. Trump boasted, in a 2005 video released last month, about using his public profile to commit sexual assault. He suggested that female political rivals lacked a presidential “look.” He ranked women on a scale of one to 10″.

Worryingly it turns to January where “Uncertainty abounds as Mr. Trump prepares to take office. His campaign featured a shape-shifting list of policy proposals, often seeming to change hour to hour. His staff was in constant turmoil, with Mr. Trump’s children serving critical campaign roles and a rotating cast of advisers alternately seeking access to Mr. Trump’s ear, losing it and, often, regaining it, depending on the day. Even Mr. Trump’s full embrace of the Republican Party came exceedingly late in life, leaving members of both parties unsure about what he truly believes. He has donated heavily to both parties and has long described his politics as the transactional reality of a businessman. Mr. Trump’s dozens of business entanglements — many of them in foreign countries — will follow him into the Oval Office, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest. His refusal to release his tax returns, and his acknowledgment that he did not pay federal income taxes for years, has left the American people with considerable gaps in their understanding of the financial dealings. But this they do know: Mr. Trump will thoroughly reimagine the tone, standards and expectations of the presidency, molding it in his own self-aggrandizing image. He is set to take the oath of office on Jan. 20”.

Comey get’s it wrong

07/11/2016

A newsreport from the New York Times covers the revelations that the director of the FBI found nothing new in Clinton’s emails.

It opens “The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, told Congress on Sunday that he had seen no evidence in a recently discovered trove of emails to change his conclusion that Hillary Clinton should face no charges over her handling of classified information. Mr. Comey’s announcement, just two days before the election, was an effort to clear the cloud of suspicion he had publicly placed over her presidential campaign late last month when he alerted Congress that the F.B.I. would examine the emails. “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” Mr. Comey wrote in a letter to the leaders of several congressional committees. He said agents had reviewed all communications to and from Mrs. Clinton in the new trove from when she was secretary of state. The letter was a dramatic final twist in a tumultuous nine days for both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey, who drew widespread criticism for announcing that the F.B.I. had discovered new emails that might be relevant to its investigation of Mrs. Clinton, which ended in July with no charges. That criticism of Mr. Comey from both parties is likely to persist after the election. While the new letter was clear as it related to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey’s message was otherwise vague. He did not say that agents had completed their review of the emails, or that they were abandoning the matter in regard to her aides. But federal law enforcement officials said that they considered the review of emails related to Mrs. Clinton’s server complete, and that Mr. Comey’s letter was intended to convey that”.

The report adds “One senior law enforcement official said that as recently as Friday, it was not clear whether the review would be completed by Election Day. But after days of working in shifts around the clock, teams of counterintelligence agents and technology specialists at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington finished their examination of the thousands of emails. Officials had decided to make their decision public as soon as they had reached it, to avoid any suggestion that they were suppressing information. According to the law enforcement official, many of the emails were personal messages or duplicates of ones that the bureau had previously examined during the original inquiry”.

It notes that “Kellyanne Conway, Donald J. Trump’s campaign manager, lamented the fact that Mr. Comey had again inserted himself into the election, but she predicted that his conclusion would have no effect on the outcome. “The investigation has been mishandled from the beginning,” Ms. Conway said on MSNBC, arguing that Mrs. Clinton had wasted taxpayer money and federal resources because of her email practices. “She was reckless, she was careless, she was selfish.” The new review began after agents discovered a cache of emails in early October in an unrelated investigation into the disgraced former congressman Anthony D. Weiner, the estranged husband of one of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides. When searching Mr. Weiner’s laptop for evidence of whether he had exchanged illicit messages with a teenage girl, they discovered emails belonging to the aide, Huma Abedin. That announcement renewed talk of an investigation that had shadowed Mrs. Clinton for much of the Democratic primary campaign. She and her aides had been under investigation for improperly storing classified information on Mrs. Clinton’s private email server. The discovery of new emails raised the prospect that the laptop might have new information that would renew the F.B.I. inquiry”.

For context it mentions that “Federal law enforcement officials had said for the past week that only something astounding would change their conclusion that nobody should be charged. But the mere potential for legal trouble was enough to make Republicans gleeful, and Mr. Trump highlighted the F.B.I.’s actions in campaign ads. At the end of a rocky week for Mrs. Clinton that included wild, false speculation about looming indictments and shocking discoveries in the emails, Mr. Comey’s letter swept away her largest and most immediate problem. Republicans immediately accused Mr. Comey of making his announcement prematurely. “Comey must be under enormous political pressure to cave like this and announce something he can’t possibly know,” Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, wrote on Twitter. Mr. Comey’s move is also sure to prompt questions from Democrats. Most important among them: Why did Mr. Comey raise the specter of wrongdoing before agents had even read the emails, especially since it took only days to determine that they were not significant? Just hours before Mr. Comey sent the letter to Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats said hearings should be held to examine how Mr. Comey had handled the matter. After the letter’s release, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the Justice Department “needs to take a look at its procedures to prevent similar actions that could influence future elections.”“There’s no doubt that it created a false impression about the nature of the agency’s inquiry,” she added”.

It ends noting how “The F.B.I. director’s vague, brief announcement on Oct. 28 left Mrs. Clinton with few details to rebut and little time to do it. Many current and former F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials said Mr. Comey had needlessly plunged the F.B.I. into the politics of a presidential election, with no clear way out. A long list of former Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., chided Mr. Comey. Despite the fact that the bureau did not find anything that changed its original conclusion about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Comey has insisted that he had no choice but to inform Congress about the new emails because the investigation had been completed and he had pledged transparency, according to senior F.B.I. officials. Because of Mr. Comey’s Oct. 28 letter, Attorney General Loretta Lynch made completing a review of the emails a top priority. Late last month, Mr. Comey ordered agents to work around the clock to sift through the messages. That process, senior F.B.I. officials said, was painstaking, because each message that had been sent to Mrs. Clinton had to be reviewed to determine whether it had sensitive national security materials”.

Trump, doing permanent damage

07/11/2016

Stephen Walt writes the damage done during the election could be permanent, “assuming, Hillary Clinton is elected president, the collective sigh of relief heard ’round the world could well be deafening. Way back in June (i.e., before the revelations about Trump’s fondness for groping women surfaced), a Pew Research Center survey found that more 80 percent of Swedes, Germans, French, British, Japanese and Australians, had “no confidence” in Trump’s ability to handle foreign affairs. Their scepticism wasn’t surprising, insofar as the Republican nominee had already revealed himself to be the living embodiment of the “Ugly American” stereotype: a bumptious blowhard who knows little about foreign policy and isn’t troubled by his own ignorance. There are undoubtedly some U.S. rivals who will be disappointed by his defeat: the Islamic State will be deprived an ideal recruiting poster, Putin won’t have an admirer in the White House, and Xi Jinping won’t get to go up against rank amateur with a short attention span and long record of failure. For the rest of the world, however, it will be a moment to exhale and to be grateful for a bullet dodged”.

Walt writes that “That sense of relief may be short-lived, however, because Trump’s candidacy and the broader condition of American politics have already done considerable damage to America’s image overseas. If you talk to foreigners a lot (it’s part of my job), you mostly hear repeated expressions of bewilderment: they find the Trump phenomenon as hard to understand as America’s fondness for guns. The French newspaper Liberation called him the “American Nightmare,” and a diverse array of foreign media outlets offer similar appraisals. Or as the New York Daily News headlined in March: “As [Trump] sinks lower, he does lasting harm to America’s image in the world.” But it’s not just Trump. In fact, the entire 2016 election has been a pretty poor advertisement for American democracy”.

Not supurisingly he notes “To make matters worse, the Trump campaign has revealed that a fair number of Americans seem to like the Donald’s disdainful and bigoted views of Muslims, Mexicans, and most U.S. allies. It can’t be encouraging for the citizens of other countries to discover that a non-trivial chunk of the American body politic is xenophobic, racist, protectionist, and ill-informed. That may always have been true, but it took the Trump campaign to put it up in bright lights. 2016 also reveals that the two-party system (or at least the two parties that currently dominate that system) is badly broken. More than 150 million Americans are technically eligible to be president, yet somehow this long and costly process produced two major-party candidates with historically strong negatives and repeated episodes of bad judgment. And it’s not like the alternatives were any better. The Republican primary was a clown show — I mean, seriously: Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Chris Christie? Ben Carson? — and the reason why a boorish cad like Trump could steamroll them all. On the Democratic side, all those earnest Sanders supporters never seemed to realise he was both a one-note candidate and one of the least popular or effective members of the Senate. If this collection of contenders was the best the American system could offer up, no wonder foreign observers are beginning to think something is broken. Alas, the problem isn’t just the campaign. The recurring dysfunctions at both federal and state levels reinforce the growing sense that something has gone badly awry with America’s other political institutions. Congress can’t pass budgets or ratify trade agreements, won’t even bother to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees, won’t vote either to authorise the use of force or to withhold authorization, won’t conduct genuine oversight of the intelligence community, and won’t perform any of the other key functions the Founding Fathers designated for them. Instead, representatives and senators spend more time “dialing for (campaign) dollars” than they do legislating, while the rascals most responsible for all this obstructionism keep getting reelected. Several U.S. states are flirting with bankruptcy; gerrymandering is endemic; media outlets spew fact-free bile on a daily basis; and the country’s existing institutions seem incapable of undertaking clear, obvious, and farsighted initiatives and then bringing them to fruition”.

Pointedly he notes “Perhaps the only consolation in all this is that politics in the U.K., the Philippines, Turkey, Italy, and many other places have been equally unsettling. And there is a silver lining, at least potentially. If global impressions of American democracy could decline so sharply from 2008 to 2016, then in theory they could swing back just as quickly now. Engineering that shift will be Hillary Clinton’s greatest challenge. The success of her presidency — including the success of her foreign policy — will depend not on whether she ends the Syrian civil war; resolves the disputes over the South China Sea; caps North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs; conjures up a stable government in Yemen, Libya, or South Sudan; liberates Crimea; gets major carbon emitters to abide by the Paris climate accord; or successfully manages any of the other foreign-policy problems that her advisors will be eager to address. Rather, the success of her presidency will depend on whether she can figure out a way to get America’s democratic system working again. Not perfectly or brilliantly, perhaps, but at least competently. The surest way for her to fail at that task would be to take on a bunch of ambitious new burdens abroad. She may be tempted to do so, because then she wouldn’t have to deal with a pesky or obstructionist Congress and she’ll get some grudging support from interventionists, hawks, and the numerous special interest groups which are always trying to get Washington to do something, somewhere, on behalf of someone”.

 

 

Return of the Blob?

05/11/2016

A report addresses the return of the “Blob” as Obama prepares to leave office, “Obama’s presidency sent Washington’s foreign-policy hawks, or “the Blob,” as White House aide Ben Rhodes once disparagingly called them, into the wilderness. But the Blob is back, facing its best opportunity in eight years to push for a greater U.S. military role in the Middle East, this time in Syria. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, hold vastly divergent positions on how to bring the five-and-a-half-year war in Syria to an end. As secretary of state, Clinton favoured arming Sunni rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and has proposed installing a no-fly zone or safe zone to protect civilians from Russian and Syrian government bombers. She has also called for providing additional arms and training to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. It’s less clear, however, how far she would go in arming opposition groups devoted to toppling Assad”.

The piece adds “Neither Clinton nor most of the others who are calling for a tougher military response in Syria are advocating the kind of full-fledged intervention, with U.S. ground forces, that the United States has undertaken over the past 15 years in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, her proposals have emboldened those who believe that only American firepower is capable of forcing Assad to pursue a peace deal in good faith. Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition, says he believes both Clinton and Trump would pursue a “more aggressive” Syria policy than the Obama administration — though he has no expectations of U.S. forces entering the war to fight Assad”.

He notes “plenty of voices still believe that Obama got it right by withstanding pressure from Washington’s foreign-policy establishment to bomb Assad and increase arms deliveries to a hodgepodge of rebel groups, many of whom have become entangled in alliances with extremists. Some experts say there is even scepticism within Clinton’s tight-knit group of foreign-policy advisors by some who doubt the wisdom of deepening America’s military involvement in Syria. As for a Trump presidency, the GOP nominee has expressed little interest in taking down the Syrian leader, saying in the Oct. 19 presidential debate that “you may very well end up with worse than Assad” if others vie to fill a leadership vacuum his departure would create. Instead, Trump would prefer to work with NATO allies and Russia to defeat the Islamic State: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got together with Russia and knocked the hell out of ISIS?” he asked at a rally in July. As Obama leaves office next January, foreign-policy wonks will have their best opportunity yet to recalibrate and redirect U.S. policy for Syria. Here’s a mix of hawkish and dovish proposals, as outlined to Foreign Policy, the next president could consider”.

The first involves “no-bomb zones”, “Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Russia’s deployment of advanced missile defense systems would prove more complicated for a Clinton presidency than when she first began pushing the idea of a no-fly zone from inside the Obama administration. But Lister said the United States and Turkey have already effectively created no-bomb zones for Russian and Syrian aircraft in northeastern Syria and northern Aleppo. He suggested deploying international commandos to other areas in Syria to deter airstrikes. Lister also estimated that some 70 armed opposition groups, which he deemed “sufficiently moderate,” have been vetted by the CIA and Defense Department to receive military assistance from the United States”.

It continues with another option which suggests cutting off the rebels with the hope that the war will then end “Some critics of a military solution in Syria see the crisis from an entirely different perspective: They believe the Obama administration did not move fast enough to cut off allied support for the rebels who are linked to extremists — including the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham — a dynamic that prolonged the war in Syria. “Escalation has failed to win this proxy war. It has only prolonged it and increased the death toll,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. While no fan of Assad, Landis said the regime’s atrocities do not justify providing military and logistical support to rebels in the dim hope of a political transition that might bring a better outcome. Even so, Landis said there’s still time for the next U.S. president to get the policy right. “The U.S. should help bring the Syrian civil war to a quick end in order to reduce the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. “The U.S. can assist in this by refusing to send more arms and money to the rebels and to encourage our allies, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to reduce arms shipments and money flows to insurgents.”

A more aggressive strategy is outlined with decisive military force, “A new U.S. president will need to impose and maintain a credible cease-fire in Syria, said Andrew Tabler, a Syria scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By most accounts, a U.S.- and Russian-brokered initiative to stop the fighting in eastern Aleppo unraveled in September after Damascus and Moscow restarted a massive bombing campaign. Tabler said Syria paid no price — nor has it ever — for violating the fighting pause. But he said Washington could enforce future cease-fires by launching cruise missile strikes from U.S. warships, or from a neighbouring country, to destroy Syrian airfields and other targets. To avoid escalating tensions with Moscow, the United States would need to limit its targeting to military facilities where the Russians are not present”. In August, Tabler co-wrote a New York Times op-ed with Dennis Ross, a former Middle East envoy who initially supported, but later regretted, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq”.

Importantly it adds “punishing Assad’s regime is easier said than done. Russia has signaled it will use its influence at the U.N. to block attempts by the United States and its allies to further sanction Syria for dropping chlorine-filled toxic bombs on opposition-controlled towns. The new president will have to find a way to overcome Russian opposition”.

The other option is to simply increase the arms to the rebels “The Syrian civil war will either end in defeat for one party or it will come to peace as the result of a negotiated settlement that most likely will be based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué, brokered by the United Nations. Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said he prefers the diplomatic outcome. But getting there will require a military buildup of Syria’s beleaguered rebel forces”.

The last option, and perhaps by far the weakest as it would give Russia and Iran the status and influence they crave is to do a deal “A grand bargain would require buy-in from key regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and especially Iran and Russia, Bowen said. The deal should also entail “security service reform including demilitarization of militias and the withdrawal of foreign forces,” he said.