Archive for the ‘US elections 2016’ Category

30/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A GIFT TO CHINA

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

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

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

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

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“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”.

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.”

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.

Brennan warns Trump on Iran deal

10/12/2016

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

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

08/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

“Trump’s election feels like a nightmare”

06/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

Expanded powers for JSOC

06/12/2016

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

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

04/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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”.

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.

 

 

 

“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.

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”.

Russian missiles in Kaliningrad

27/11/2016

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

Realignment after Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

25/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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”.

Europe’s own nuclear deterrent?

25/11/2016

Europe needs to think about developing its own nuclear deterrent strategy given concerns that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could scale back U.S. military commitments in Europe, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Roderich Kiesewetter, foreign policy spokesman for the conservative bloc in parliament, told Reuters that Germany could play an important role in convincing nuclear powers France and Britain to provide security guarantees for all of Europe. “The U.S. nuclear shield and nuclear security guarantees are imperative for Europe,” he said in an interview. “If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes.” Kiesewetter’s comments reflect grave and growing concerns across Europe about what Trump’s election will mean for the United States’ commitment to NATO and to providing a strategic nuclear deterrent against a potential attack by Russia. In his campaign speeches, Trump repeatedly called for Europe to do more for its own defence and said Washington might not defend a NATO member that had not shouldered its fair financial share of the costs of the alliance”.

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”.

 

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”.

 

 

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”.

“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”.

Germany’s shock at Trump

11/11/2016

Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen described Donald Trump’s gains in the U.S. presidential election as a “huge shock” on Wednesday and asked him for assurances on his commitment to NATO. Von der Leyen told broadcaster ARD that the Republican candidate’s strong showing was “not a vote for him but rather against Washington, against the establishment”. “It was a big shock when I saw the way things are heading,” she said as Trump edged closer to winning the White House with a series of shocking wins in key states such as Florida and Ohio, rattling world markets”.

“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”.

“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.

Dems, 2016 and Iran

03/11/2016

An interesting article argues that Democrats are getting a “pass” on the Iran deal during these elections, “Democrats in Congress found themselves squeezed in a political vise over the Iran nuclear deal. President Barack Obama leaned heavily on fellow Democrats to back the agreement in the biggest lobbying effort of his administration. And pro-Israel groups launched a full-court press against the deal, spending tens of millions of dollars on adswarning lawmakers they would have “blood on their hands” if they endorsed the accord. In the end, the White House won the heated political battle, securing just enough support among Democrats in the Senate to stave off a bid to block the deal. But many Jewish groups and donors at the time warned Democratic lawmakers who supported the Iran agreement that they would pay a steep political price in the 2016 election”.

Pointedly, the writer argues “Yet more than a year later, no Democrat has been kicked out of office over the nuclear deal in a primary and it’s unlikely that any Democratic incumbent will lose their seat in the Nov. 8 election because of it. The much-anticipated blowback has yet to materialise, despite opinion polls that show a majority of Americans oppose the agreement. Although the Republican Party is hitting the issue hard in Senate and House races across the country, conservative Jewish organizations and activists have mostly pulled their punches and resisted funding rivals of lawmakers who voted for the Iran agreement. Both opponents and supporters of the deal agree the main reason the issue has not become a political spoiler is the man at the top of the Republican ticket, Donald Trump. The toxic nature of Trump’s candidacy, from his comments denigrating women to his refusal to accept the election result if he loses, has dominated the campaign and pushed aside policy debates that normally occur in presidential contests. He has turned off swaths of conservative Jewish and pro-Israel activists by trafficking in anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well bashing immigrants and U.S. allies, while praising Russian President Vladimir Putin”.

The author mentions “In last week’s presidential debate, Trump called the Iran agreement “the stupidest deal of all time, a deal that’s going to give Iran absolutely (sic)nuclear weapons.” But the Iran agreement barely featured in post-debate media coverage, largely because of Trump’s jaw-dropping comment that he was not sure if he would accept the results of the election. “This hasn’t exactly been a policy-oriented campaign season,” said Jeff Ballabon, a former media executive who runs a conservative pro-Israel super PAC called Iron Dome Alliance. “Like pretty much every substantive issue, Israel and the Iran deal have taken a back-burner to matters of personality, conduct, and style.” With Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton consistently ahead in national polls and widening her lead in key states, pro-Israel hawks are mostly resigned to a Clinton victory and see no reason to antagonise the next administration — as well as a possible Democratic majority in the Senate”.

Naturally he notes how “Sheldon Adelson, the conservative Jewish megadonor known for his hawkish stance on Israel, spent at least $98 million on Republican candidates in the 2012 elections. This year, the Las Vegas billionaire and his wife have spent only about $40 million on campaigns nationwide. And generally, Jewish donors have shunned Trump in a dramatic way. Of all funds contributed to major party candidates this year by Jewish donors, 95 percent went to Clinton and only 5 percent to Trump, according to an analysis published last month on FiveThirtyEight. That’s a sharp contrast to the 2012 presidential campaign, when about 71 percent of the $160 million given to major party candidates went to Obama’s reelection campaign and 29 percent went to the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. The funding four years ago roughly reflected the breakdown of the Jewish vote in that election. Until it became clear Trump would be the nominee, organizations and donors on both sides of the Iran nuclear issue were bracing for a no-holds-barred brawl in the election season. To national security hawks and conservative Jewish groups in Washington, Democrats — particularly incumbents who openly endorsed the deal — looked vulnerable and ripe for defeat at the ballot box”.

The report notes “Advocates of the deal, however, say Trump’s antics and insults are not the only reason the issue is not gaining more traction. They argue the agreement is working, and that there is no smoking gun that shows Iran is violating the deal and secretly building nuclear weapons. The agreement offers “a way to defang Iran’s weapons program without firing a shot,” said Jessica Rosenblum of J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group that supports the agreement.  “It’s good policy and it’s good politics.” The agreement clinched in July 2015 between Iran and major powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, imposed strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions that were choking the Iranian economy. The White House says the agreement blocks Iran’s potential path to a nuclear weapon as it imposed extensive international inspections and forced Tehran to dismantle a heavy water reactor, remove thousands of centrifuges for uranium enrichment, and ship out stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium. But opponents maintain that easing sanctions enables Iran to bankroll its militant proxies across the Middle East, and opens the door to Tehran acquiring a nuclear arsenal in 15 years when certain provisions of the agreement expire. Critics also object to how the deal was implemented. Republicans were outraged over a $400 million cash payment that Washington sent Iran on the same day last January that several American prisoners were released by Tehran. The United States sent the funds to settle a longstanding claim by Iran before an international tribunal. The money had been set aside to pay for weapons that were never delivered because the pro-U.S. monarchy fell following the Iranian revolution of 1979”.

Interestingly it notes “Throughout her campaign, Clinton has never shied away from expressing her support of the deal, even though a majority of Americans say they oppose it. She has argued the agreement “lowers the threat” posed by Iran and has vowed to hold Tehran accountable for other activities that fall outside the deal. Americans disapprove of the deal, 57 percent to 30 percent, according to a February poll by Gallup. And surveys have shown Republican voters overwhelmingly oppose the accord. Yet some polls indicate a majority of Jewish voters support the deal, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outspoken opposition. Anxious to retain a GOP majority in the Senate, Republican candidates and conservative political action committees see the issue as a winner. The Iran nuclear deal is a frequent talking point in pivotal Senate races in Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Illinois, with Republicans seeking to portray their opponents as naive and weak on national security. In New Hampshire, Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte is gambling that her opposition to the nuclear deal can help her fend off a serious challenge from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. Ayotte made the issue a key part of a $4.2 million advertising buy for her campaign”.

Clinton’s latest scandal

30/10/2016

The presidential election has been thrown into further controversy in light Clinton’s emails, “With just days to go until the election, a fiercely defiant Hillary Clinton demanded answers Saturday about what she suggested is a politically motivated renewal of a previously shuttered federal inquiry into her use of a private email server at the State Department. As her campaign scrambled Saturday to respond to FBI Director James B. Comey’s decision to notify Congress about renewing the email investigation, Clinton and her top aides characterized the action as inappropriate and irresponsible”.

The article mentions “Clinton’s Republican rival, Donald Trump, seized on Comey’s letter in an apparent effort to shift focus from his own controversies and score a last-minute surge in a race that even his staff has admitted he has been losing. The Democratic nominee’s strongly worded response to the new inquiry signaled a decision to go fully on offense against Comey and confront the email issue and Republican attacks head-on. It signaled clearly the havoc wrought by Comey’s announcement — and Democrats’ strategy to head off game-changing political damage from a development that had left them sputtering inside and outside the campaign. The campaign’s internal panic over the renewed FBI scrutiny was evident almost immediately after the news broke Friday. Clinton was in the air, flying from an airport in White Plains, N.Y., to campaign in Iowa. Upon landing in Cedar Rapids, she and her top aides remained cloistered in her cabin for more than 20 minutes before she emerged and ignored questions shouted at her by the press”.

It goes on to note “On Saturday morning, the campaign hastily arranged a telephone briefing with Clinton’s top two aides — campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook. The briefing took place on just over 20 minutes’ notice. In addition to the unusual firepower — Podesta does not brief the media regularly — the campaign took the additional step of providing a transcript after the fact, the better to reap any benefit from Podesta’s strong language. Podesta, a longtime Clinton family confidant, sounded agitated and angry during the call with reporters early Saturday afternoon as he described Comey’s surprise announcement Friday as “long on innuendo and short on facts,” allowing Republicans to “distort and exaggerate” its message. Podesta also sent a strongly worded letter to supporters. In her appearance Saturday, Clinton stopped just short of accusing Comey, once a registered Republican, of partisan interference in the Nov. 8 election. But she did not attempt to conceal her anger. Other Democrats went much further, issuing scathing assessments of Comey’s motives and timing, as the potential for new legal jeopardy involving the Democratic nominee roiled an already tumultuous campaign. On Saturday afternoon, the Clinton campaign sent an email with urgent talking points for its high-level surrogates about Comey’s “controversial action.” Among them was to demand that Comey “immediately provide the American people with more information.” The congressional black and Hispanic caucuses organized a news conference to denounce Comey, at least three Democratic senators drafted a letter of complaint Saturday, and the Democratic National Committee issued a sharply worded statement”.

It goes on to note how “The approach was notable given the kid-glove treatment accorded Comey by Clinton and her campaign before now and the long silence that followed the initial news about Comey’s letter on Friday. Several hours passed before Clinton or anyone on her staff weighed in on the issue, at which point Podesta called on Comey to provide more information about what he was after. Of chief concern to Democrats is whether the development, and the uncertainty surrounding it, will cause supporters to disengage or stay home. Meanwhile, the development has been a political gift to Trump, who drew huge applause Saturday when he called Clinton corrupt and untrustworthy. Trump said he thinks that some of the thousands of emails that Clinton deleted “were captured yesterday,” even though officials do not yet know what is in the emails. He also suggested, without evidence, that there was “a revolt” in the FBI that led to the letter being sent. Trump devoted most of a noontime rally in Golden, Colo., on Saturday to telling his supporters about the FBI letter and detailing the controversy. “As you have heard, it was just announced yesterday that the FBI is reopening their investigation in the criminal and illegal conduct of Hillary Clinton,” Trump said about 10 minutes into the rally. He then walked away from his lectern and applauded the news along with his supporters, who began chanting: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” “This is the biggest political scandal since Watergate, and it’s everybody’s deepest hope that justice, at last, can be properly delivered,” Trump said to more cheers. “Hillary has nobody to blame but herself for her mounting legal troubles. Her criminal action was willful, deliberate, intentional and purposeful.” While Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state was illegal, Comey earlier this year said that the FBI found nothing that would lead to a criminal charge”.

It later goes on to point out how “Comey’s letter, sent to eight congressional committee chairmen and ranking Democrats, states that “the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into the potential mishandling of classified information when Clinton was secretary of state. That inquiry ended in July without criminal charges, which Clinton’s campaign hoped would sweep away some of the cloud of suspicion around the candidate over her decision to use a private communication system for her government work. Voters continue to tell pollsters that they disapprove of her handling of the email issue, with many doubting that she has been fully truthful. But until now, the issue seemed to be receding, and Clinton had sounded increasingly confident as she maintained a lead in most national polls over the past several weeks. Polls had begun to tighten even before the FBI development, and it is unclear what effect it will have. In his letter, Comey said, “The FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.” Comey said it is unknown whether the information “may be significant.” According to two people familiar with the matter, the newly discovered emails were found on a computer seized during an investigation of former U.S. congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner is separated from his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin”.

 

Trump’s terrible October

30/10/2016

An article in the Hill argues that Trump’s own base are beginning to reject him, “When Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told GOP nominee Donald Trump from the podium of the Democratic National Convention in July that “women are gonna be the reason you’re not elected to be president,” she probably didn’t forsee a sinking ship of this magnitude. Trump’s terrible October began Oct. 7, when an 11-year-old video from “Access Hollywood” came to light. In it, Trump describes his past sexual assaults of women: “I don’t even wait.” his was followed by a line of women who have come forward, describing events where, they claim, Trump actually sexually assaulted them (Trump denies these stories are true). New York magazine lists over 20 allegations of Trump’s mistreatment of women that have come out in the past month. And the list grows”.

The report goes on to note how “all of that the three public debates where the public consensus seems to be that Clinton bested Trump, three out of three. October was a terrible month for candidate Trump among women, one might think. Few were shocked when an ABC/Washington Post poll, taken between Oct. 20 and Oct. 22 by Langer Research Associates, was released, trumpeting a headline that Clinton was now in advance of Trump by 12 percentage points nationally among likely voters. That’s what the poll — a snapshot in time — says. But look at the movie, see where the action is, and a different picture emerges”.

It adds “Comparing two ABC/Washington Post polls taken a month apart, Trump’s disaster of October didn’t occur among women, the majority of whom already supported Clinton. Trump’s disaster occurred among his base: men. In the first poll taken Sept. 19-22 — before the “Access Hollywood” video came out — Trump was favoured over Clinton by 19 points among all men, a huge advantage for Trump, which reflects the historical advantage Republicans have had with men in presidential elections. But by the late October poll, the results had flipped. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now leads Trump by 3 points in the same group — a swing of 22 points — roughly equivalent to one in five men ending their support for Trump during the past month. That’s a huge swing. One might expect that there is a similarly large swing among women; perhaps larger. But there isn’t. In September, women favored Clinton over Trump by 19 points; come October, that advantage did not measurably increase. A mere 1 point changed — It’s now 20 points — minuscule in comparison to the 22-point swing among men”.

It explains that “The impact was greatest among white men without a college degree. These men are supposed to be Trump’s base — and indeed, they still are the largest single demographic that supports Trump, according to the October poll. But comparing the September and October polls, one sees Trump’s base is abandoning him. In September, Trump enjoyed being 59-point favourite over Clinton among this demographic, but by October, this lead had shrunk to only 31 points — a change equivalent to Trump losing support of one in four white blue-collar men in October. That’s an abandonment. That’s an evaporation”.

It describes how “There can be more than one explanation for this change. First, it could be that men are abandoning the Trump ticket, and switching to Clinton in droves. A second possibility lies in that “likely voter” qualifier — it could be that men are simply abandoning Trump; and even if they are not pledging themselves to vote for Clinton in November, they’ve removed themselves from among likely voters, thus changing the outcome. There’s a third possibility: The men are lying to the pollsters. The polls were taken by phone, so one might expect the poll subjects were at home, or at work, perhaps in the presence of their spouse. In early October, an article in The Week describes that 12 percent more wives are voting for Clinton than thought by their male spouses. Likewise, 8 percent more husbands are voting for Trump than thought by their female spouses. Spouses are deceiving each other, perhaps to keep the peace at home”.

It ends “And, so, in the wake of Trump’s awful behaviour coming to light, more blue-collar men might be finding it difficult to assert that they’re voting for Trump while they’re on the phone with a pollster with their wife sitting nearby, even if their intention for the privacy of the ballot box is different. We won’t know for certain until a poll that isolates the subjects, or until Election Day. But if we accept these polls for what they say, the conclusion is clear: There has been an enormous swing from Trump to Clinton among men in the past month, a swing largely due to an evaporation among Trump’s base: white men with no degree. And while white women have also moved from Trump toward Clinton, the migration has been smaller in comparison. White blue-collar men have been, and continue to be, Trump’s base. But, his base has abandoned him in October in such numbers that, if he weren’t so loudly denigrating her, Trump might hear the fat lady sing”.

 

“The party of conspiracy-mongering, authoritarianism, and white power”

30/10/2016

Max Boot writes that “As a confirmed #NeverTrump conservative from day one, I should be ecstatic at the way Donald Trump’s campaign has cratered since the Oct. 7 revelation of an audiotape in which he boasted of groping women. Numerous women have now come forward to testify that this was not, as the Republican nominee claimed in the second presidential debate, an empty boast. The Real Clear Politics average has Hillary Clinton seven points ahead nationally in a two-way race; a landslide is becoming increasingly likely. And yet, although I’m relieved that Trump is unlikely to be our next president, I remain profoundly disturbed and depressed that so many of my fellow Republicans continue to back him despite the growing evidence of his degeneracy and lunacy. Their position in the campaign’s waning days — sitting on the Trump Train as it hurtles toward the precipice — bodes ill for the future of the Republican Party”.

Boot writes that “Sensing his impending downfall, Trump has been ranting that the election is rigged against him, hinting that his opponent is high on drugs, and demanding that she be locked up. Even more disturbing is his claim that Clinton is engaged in a conspiracy with a shadowy cabal of “international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends, and her donors” — language that echoes centuries of anti-Semitic slurs. Trump has also been issuing empty threats to sue the New York Times and vainly trying to rebut the sexual assault charges against him — for instance, by putting forward a notorious British fabulist and self-proclaimed pimp to assert that he was on the very same flight, in the very same first-class cabin, nearly 40 years ago when Trump was alleged to have groped a female passenger and that absolutely nothing untoward happened. The more Trump talks, the more demented he sounds. At the rate he is going, he will end the campaign in a psychiatric ward — or on his own TV channel, which is pretty much the same thing”.

The article mentions “And yet all of his unhinged harangues have barely dented Trump’s support among his slavishly loyal base. A recent Fox News poll showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 7 percent overall, but Trump is still getting 80 percent of the Republican vote — only 10 points lower than John McCain, a war hero, received in 2008. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found 72 percent approve of his threats to imprison Clinton — a violation of the most basic norms of democracy. A survey by Public Policy Polling observed that among Trump supporters in Florida, 40 percent say Clinton is literally a demon — a claim advanced by the crackpot talk-radio host Alex Jones, who says the Democratic nominee “stinks” of sulfur. These surveys suggest that most of the GOP base is so disfigured by pathological, unreasoning hatred of Clinton — a flawed candidate, to be sure, but also a centrist Democrat with ample qualifications for the presidency — that they will embrace any alternative, no matter how vile. Most Republican leaders know better than their followers how unqualified Trump is for the highest office, yet precious few are willing to act on their inner conviction. Sens. John Thune and Deb Fischer finally called on Trump to drop out after the release of the Access Hollywood audiotape — but then, after he thrilled the base with his out-of-control performance in the second debate, they announced that they will still vote for him”.

Boot writes that “Their stance is as incoherent as that of Sen. Marco Rubio, who said Trump could not be trusted with the nuclear arsenal and then, without retracting that grave (and accurate) accusation, endorsed Trump anyway. So now Rubio thinks that the nuclear codes should be given to a man who cannot be trusted with them? Rubio is part of the vast majority of Republican officeholders who have refused to abandon Trump even as disturbing details of his behaviour toward women have come to light, on top of his already well-known racism and xenophobia and his ignorance, avarice, and dishonesty. Those still endorsing Trump include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, though the latter has tried to have it both ways by saying he would not campaign for Trump. Long known as the champion of principled conservatism, Ryan looks increasingly opportunistic. Far more repulsive has been the behaviour of Trump’s most devoted surrogates, who are willing to say or do anything, no matter how meretricious, to advance their master’s ambitions. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Gov. Chris Christie, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and of course Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, have been enthusiastically parroting the campaign’s risible claims that Trump is a “genius” for not paying taxes, that his boasts about grabbing women’s genitalia are just “locker room talk,” that all of the sexual assaults detailed by numerous accusers “couldn’t possibly have happened,” that WikiLeaks (a front for Russian intelligence run by an accused rapist) is a wonderful source of information, and that the election is being “rigged” by some mysterious, all-powerful force”.

He rightly goes on to argue “Precious few Republicans will emerge from this past year with a shred of integrity intact. The honor roll of #NeverTrump politicos includes Mitt Romney, the Bushes, Sens. Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, and Lindsay Graham, as well as Govs. John Kasich, Larry Hogan, and Charlie Baker, among just a few others. A few more Republicans who had previously endorsed Trump have very belatedly turned against him, including Sens. Mark Kirk, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, and Cory Gardner. That’s it. That’s the small remnant upon which the Republican Party will have to be rebuilt if it is not to become Trump’s party in perpetuity — and, Kasich aside, there is no one in the bunch who has been spoken of as a likely presidential contender. Almost all of the politicos who are rumoured to be eyeing 2020 — a group that includes Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Scott Walker, Ryan, and Rubio — have been tainted by their embrace of the least qualified and most dangerous presidential candidate in U.S. history“.

He concludes “As someone who has been labouring in my own small way to advance conservative principles since the 1980s (I have written for all of the major conservative publications and served as a foreign-policy advisor to the McCain, Romney, and Rubio campaigns), I am shellshocked to find that so many people who were supposedly on “my” side are actually on Trump’s side — or are simply unprincipled power-seekers who will be on the side of anyone who promises to deliver votes for them. Am I still a Republican? I’m not sure, because I don’t know what the Republican Party stands for anymore. Is it still the party of principled conservatism, promoting freedom at home and abroad, or has it permanently become the party of conspiracy-mongering, authoritarianism, and white power? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question”.

 

Clinton and white Catholics

28/10/2016

A report in the New York Times notes how Clinton is gaining support amongst white Catholics, “Since the election of Ronald Reagan, white Catholics have flocked to Republican nominees for a raft of reasons, including their stances on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. But this year, something seems different. “Trump is the exception to the rule,” Carol Robinson, 67, said as she left an afternoon prayer meeting in this a Philadelphia suburb with other enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. “He’s a loose cannon.” Roman Catholics are the country’s second-largest religious group after evangelical Protestants, and they are as diverse as the country itself, with young liberals, cultural conservatives and, increasingly, Democratic-leaning Hispanics”. But now, the Clinton campaign senses a rare opportunity to block Mr. Trump’s narrow path to victory by making inroads with a core part of the church: white Catholics, a prized group of voters who have defied predictions this year. Though a string of polls had shown Mr. Trump opening a lead among white Catholics, a new poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Mr. Trump hemorrhaging support”.

The piece notes that “The five-day poll, which ended two days after the release of a recording in which Mr. Trump joked about groping women, and before several women came forward to say he had forcibly kissed or touched them, showed him effectively tied with Mrs. Clinton. The poll showed 42 percent of white Catholics supported him, and 46 percent backed her, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. “That’s not where Trump wants to be in the homestretch, particularly with a core constituency in Midwestern battleground states,” said Robert Jones, a Public Religion Research Institute pollster. He added that white Catholics, much more than the white evangelicals who have largely remained loyal to Mr. Trump, seemed to be defying the Republican Party’s gravitational pull. Both campaigns see openings: Mr. Trump in hacked emails released last week in which members of the Clinton campaign spoke critically about Catholic conservatism, and Mrs. Clinton in Mr. Trump’s un-churchmanlike behaviour and his tussling with Pope Francis. The pope, on his way home from Mexico in February, suggested that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” if he preferred building barriers over bridges. Mr. Trump, not one to turn the other cheek, responded that Francis’ remarks were “disgraceful.” The episode did not hurt Mr. Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries; in fact, many Catholics believed the pope was improperly meddling in American politics”.

The report adds that “Francis may be more quietly influencing the Catholic vote in other ways. He has moved the church to emphasize inclusion and the welfare of the poor over divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality. And his personnel changes have effectively left Mr. Trump’s conservative backers without much support from prominent Catholic clergy members“It’s a concern among a lot of Catholics that maybe we’re not going to hear the kind of strong message that we heard in past elections,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest who runs an anti-abortion group and is advising Mr. Trump. In 2004, a powerful group of Catholic archbishops publicly advocated the re-election of President George W. Bush. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said that if given the chance, he would deny communion to Mr. Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry, because of his abortion stance”.

The article mentions how “Pope Benedict XVI elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal, but Francis has since essentially demoted him from his Vatican position. And when Cardinal Francis George, a combative voice on social issues from his high perch as the leader of the Chicago Archdiocese, took ill in 2014 (he died the next year), Pope Francis replaced him with the more inclusive Blase Cupich, who has focused his energies on climate change, gun control and immigration reform. The pope announced this month that he would elevate Archbishop Cupich to the rank of cardinal, while passing over the United States’ reigning conservative heavyweight, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who has remained outspoken in his criticism of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Prominent Catholic lawmakers are now targeting voters on behalf of the Clinton campaign. This month, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held a round-table discussion with nuns in Dubuque, Iowa. The campaign has also created “heritage” outreach programs to try to appeal to voters with immigrant backgrounds, such as Irish and Italian, who are often Catholic. The director of the Clinton campaign’s Catholic outreach program, John McCarthy, said that lay Catholic leaders he met with in Dubuque repeatedly said they were uncomfortable with Mr. Trump. “The divisive rhetoric is what is really pushing people away,” Mr. McCarthy said. But the Trump campaign has done its own outreach”.

Unsuprusingly it notes “The Trump campaign is also courting Catholic conservatives by highlighting a recent comment from Mrs. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine — himself an observant Catholic — that the church will one day support gay marriage. And it is making the most of every mention of Catholicism in the hacked Clinton campaign emails being released by WikiLeaks. In one 2011 conversation about Rupert Murdoch in particular and prominent Catholics in general, Jennifer Palmieri, who later became the communications director of the Clinton campaign, wrote: “I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.” The Trump campaign has also highlighted a 2012 email urging John D. Podesta, a former president of the Center for American Progress, to “plant the seeds of the revolution” against “Middle Ages dictatorship” within the Catholic church. Mr. Podesta, who is now Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, responded by writing that he and his allies had created groups for just such a purpose.

Dems take the Senate?

26/10/2016

An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of a Democratic victory in the Senate, “Democrats are now extremely confident they will capture control of the Senate next month in the wake of Donald Trump’s drop in the polls and an intensifying civil war in the Republican Party. Winning the majority is a given, Democratic officials told The Hill, adding that signs point to a pickup of seven seats and possibly more on Election Day. To win control of the Senate, Democrats need to pick up four seats on Nov. 8, or five if Trump wins the White House”.

The report notes that “But they say the billionaire businessman has no chance of becoming commander in chief and that his bombshell comments about groping women have tilted races around the country. Democrats contend they’re on track to pick up seats in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. “You’re looking at a potential plus-seven night,” said a Senate Democratic strategist. “I mean, that is a huge night for us if that’s how it goes down.” The last big Democratic wave election was in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won the White House and Senate Democrats netted eight seats. And then, Republicans weren’t as starkly divided as they are now. The intraparty brawl unfolding in the GOP has Democrats wondering whether seats they had given up on in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Arizona may be within reach after all. Some Democratic strategists think a nine- or 10-seat victory is not out of the question”.

It adds that “A senior Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s seat in Florida is back on the table and that Ohio, where GOP Sen. Rob Portman had pulled away from his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, may become competitive again. Democrats canceled ads in Florida and in Ohio after Portman built a double-digit lead there in recent weeks. The aide floated the possibility of shifting money away from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where more moderate voters are likely to be turned off by Trump’s lewd comments, to races in more Republican-leaning states. That probably won’t happen, given the risky nature of such an unorthodox move, but the talk shows that some Democrats want to go big, believing the Republican Party is in the middle of a historic meltdown”.

The article adds that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch ­McConnell (R-Ky.) has told colleagues throughout the election cycle that it is possible for Republicans to lose the White House, even by a large margin, and keep Senate control, pointing to various historical examples. “It’s never a good strategy to start measuring the drapes with still weeks to go in an election, especially when you are pulling resources out of competitive races,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Clinton and Trump are tied in Ohio, according to an average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics, but those surveys were conducted before Trump’s most recent scandal”.

It mentions that “Some Democratic strategists don’t want to wait another week to get all the polling data because time is of the essence with Election Day less than a month away. The biggest problem Senate Democrats face in expanding the map is a lack of financial resources. While the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised more money than its counterpart, Republican-allied outside groups have flooded money into expensive battlegrounds such as Florida and Ohio, forcing Democrats to retreat and focus on cheaper races in Missouri and North Carolina. Rubio has not retracted his endorsement of Trump, who defeated him for the presidential nomination. Portman on Saturday said he could no longer support Trump and would instead write in his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. If Trump vents his anger on Portman by attacking his tenure as U.S. trade representative or his past support for trade deals, it could cost the senator at the ballot box. Trump this week lashed out at Republicans who pulled their support, such as Portman and vulnerable Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), tweeting: “Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary. They come at you from all sides.” Ayotte initially said she supported Trump but declined to endorse him. She now says she won’t vote for him”.

It notes how “Republican candidates who stick with Trump risk turning off Republicans who might decide to sit the election out. But those who withdraw their support from Trump may see a sizable chunk of the GOP base vote against them in retaliation. “This is the worst Catch-22 I’ve ever seen in politics. These Republicans are absolutely damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic strategist at Global Strategy Group. With the election shifting decisively for Clinton — hardly a Republican strategist in Washington thinks Trump can win now — Democrats are beginning to wonder if they might be overly focused on Senate races they’ll end up winning handily. “Do you aim for a bigger night that would help you build a sea wall against losing the Senate in 2018, when we have such a terrible map?” the senior Senate Democratic aide said. Republicans are defending 24 seats this year compared to the Democrats’ 10, but in two years the advantage will be reversed. Democrats will have to worry about 25 seats while Republicans will have to defend only eight. “If you take that leap of faith, everything is in play. If Republicans stay home en masse — whichever side of the civil war they’re on — sure, everything is in play,” the source added. Arizona, where Sen. John McCain (R) appeared to be cruising to reelection, is no longer a slam-dunk for the GOP, Democrats say, especially if Trump declares war on Republicans who abandon him”.

 

“Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead”

24/10/2016

Hillary Clinton has opened up a 12-point national lead over Donald Trump among likely voters with less than a month to go before Election Day, a new poll finds. Clinton takes 50 percent support in the Monmouth University survey released Monday, which has Trump at 38 percent. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has 5 percent support, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein takes 2 percent. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, led by only 4 points in the same poll last month, edging Trump 46 percent to 42 percent. It’s the third recent poll to show Clinton leading by double digits nationally, although other surveys show a tighter race. An ABC News/Washington Post survey released over the weekend put her advantage at only 4 points over Trump, the Republican nominee, well within that survey’s margin of error. The RealClearPolitics average shows Clinton leading Trump by 6.3 points nationally in a four-way race. Clinton’s lead in the new poll is reduced to 9 points, 47 percent to 38 percent, among all registered voters nationally.

Trump, the outlier

20/10/2016

An excellent article by Kori Schake notes that Trump is an outlier in his views, “You may have missed it, what with all the campaign tawdriness of late, but the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its biennial survey of American public opinion on U.S. foreign policy, which not surprisingly this year focuses on Republican attitudes. Much coincides with surveys conducted by Pew and other reputable pollsters, but I learned three things reviewing the Chicago Council data that I hadn’t understood before: Republican positions on globalization and trade shifted in 2008; Democrats are more supportive of trade than their presidential nominee; and the great divergence in stances on immigration now evident between Republicans and Democrats is the result of dramatic changes in viewpoints among Democrats, not Republicans”.

She writes that “First, though, it merits saying how much consensus remains across the political spectrum about America’s role in the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to want a strong military, participation in our existing alliances, and additional alliance relationships. And most Americans favour our country acting through international institutions and support international agreements as a means of protecting and advancing our national interests. In fact, 89 percent of Americans support strong alliances, and we like NATO best of all. Sixty-eight percent of Americans even approve of a stronger United Nations, that bête noir of the right. There is also considerable agreement over the threats we face, with strong majorities of respondents most worried about terrorism and nuclear proliferation (especially that of North Korea). Seventy-five percent of Republicans put terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, a higher proportion than did after 9/11. Democrats are more concerned about financial crisis and climate change than Islamic fundamentalism — but 49 percent of Democrats see the latter as a critical threat, too”.

She notes “The journalist Peter Beinart wittily observed that Democrats are the new Republicans: advocates of engagement with the world, proponents of trade and globalization, optimists about the future. The Chicago Council’s data bear that out. You would never know it from listening to Hillary Clinton equivocate on trade, but 74 percent of Democrats favour the Trans-Pacific Partnership; even 56 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders support TPP. Because the Chicago Council provides time-series data, it’s possible to see that the Republicans’ disaffection with globalization started in 2008 — before the Lehman Brothers collapse that started the financial crisis. Still, six in 10 Republicans continue to support globalization”.

Pointedly she writes “And Donald Trump supporters are not the outliers many consider them to be: 40 percent view trade as positive for the U.S. economy; 45 percent believe globalization has helped U.S. companies; 52 percent say globalization has been good “for consumers like you”; 49 percent agree that globalization has been beneficial for their standard of living. Where Trump supporters differ from other Americans is in their concern that despite those advantages, globalization has been damaging to jobs and job security. Moreover, Trump supporters are not outliers from traditional Republican positions on military strength, alliances, or international institutions. More Trump supporters than other Americans favour keeping U.S. military bases in Japan and Korea, though their candidate has made statements to the effect that continuing these relationships would be contingent upon cash. Even 50 percent of Trump backers want America to have a shared leadership role in the world and think the NATO alliance is essential — again, an area where the GOP standard-bearer’s views have been less than supportive”.

She ends “Interestingly enough, Trump voters are also those least affected by the diversity immigration brings. Such data reinforce the findings of sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on religious tolerance in America: The more exposure people have to difference, the more tolerant they become. Overall, the Chicago Council data are incredibly reassuring. There remains a broad, deep consensus among Americans about an engaged role in the world being positive for our security and our economy, that the allies and institutions we built from the devastation of World War II continue to deserve our support, and that trade is an essential component of our prosperity. Where differences have emerged — on immigration, for example — they result in increasing tolerance by liberals rather than growing intolerance by conservatives. It is alarming the extent to which one would come to very different conclusions listening to the Democratic nominee on trade or the Republican nominee on, well, everything.

Clinton to get tough with China

20/10/2016

Hillary Clinton privately said the U.S. would “ring China with missile defense” if the Chinese government failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear program, a potential hint at how the former secretary of state would act if elected president. Clinton’s remarks were revealed by WikiLeaks in a hack of the Clinton campaign chairman’s personal account. The emails include a document excerpting Clinton’s private speech transcripts, which she has refused to release. A section on China features several issues in which Clinton said she confronted the Chinese while leading the U.S. State Department. China has harshly criticized the U.S. and South Korea’s planned deployment of a missile-defense system against North Korea, which conducted its fifth nuclear test this year. But Clinton said she told Chinese officials that the U.S. might deploy additional ships to the region to contain the North Korean missile threat. If North Korea successfully obtains a ballistic missile, it could threaten not just American allies in the Pacific, “but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically,” Clinton said”.

Wikileaks, Trump and Russia

16/10/2016

“Former Trump adviser and confidante Roger Stone on Wednesday denied the suggestion that he had “advance warning” of the release by WikiLeaks of hacked emails purported to be from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone, who is not a formal part of the Trump campaign, said he and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have a “mutual friend.” After Podesta on Tuesday suggested Stone was in collusion with the website, Stone called the claim “categorically false.” “I have a back-channel communications with WikiLeaks,” Stone told NBC News. “But they certainly don’t clear or tell me in advance what they’re going to do.” Emails purported to be stolen from Podesta’s Gmail account were released by WikiLeaks on Friday. Some of those emails appear to show excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street banks. More emails were released Wednesday.

“An agreement to potentially cap oil production”

16/10/2016

Keith Johnson writes that OPEC is benefitting America through its limits in production, “OPEC, the dysfunctional cartel that has gifted case studies in the “prisoner’s dilemma” to business schools for years, unveiled an agreement to potentially cap oil production this year in what amounts to a last-ditch effort to shore up the price of crude after a costly two-year nosedive”.

He adds that “This week’s announcement, which for now remains little more than a promise among big producers to keep talking in November, is the first indication that the oil exporter’s club might be getting serious about reining in runaway oil production. If implemented — and all the details must still be worked out — such a cap on production could nudge crude prices higher. That would be great news for oil-dependent economies from Maracaibo to Moscow and a huge relief for the battered finances of Persian Gulf monarchies. News of the possible accord goosed markets around the world, sending crude up 6 percent Wednesday and boosting major stock markets as well. But OPEC’s hopes of successfully colluding for once to jack up the price of oil are also getting a rousing welcome in a more surprising place: the United States, still the world’s biggest consumer of crude oil”.

The article notes that “Since the OPEC oil embargo and gas lines of the early 1970s, the United States has tried to convince Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia, and other big producers to keep the taps open so that oil remains abundant and affordable. But almost a decade into a major U.S. energy boom-and-bust cycle, many parts of the United States now stand to benefit — just like Saudi sheikhs do — from rising prices at the pump. “Since we’re in a bust phase, and we’re so dependent on energy production for growth, and because it’s hurting so badly, now [a price hike] looks like just what the doctor ordered,” said Robert McNally, the founder and president of the Rapidan Group, an energy consultancy”.

Johnson writes that “This year, many major U.S. producers were crowing about the “death” of OPEC, after the oil-producing cartel seemed to have shot itself in the foot by flooding the global market with cheap oil since November 2014. Yet some of those same wildcatters, including Harold Hamm — the chief executive of Continental Resources and energy advisor to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — have spent recent weeks begging OPEC to slash production to shore up prices. That’s because the prolonged spell of cheap oil has hammered U.S. oil companies that require higher prices to stay afloat; as a result of the drop, tens of thousands of oil patch jobs have evaporated. It is a spectacular turnaround for a country historically scarred by OPEC embargoes, supply manipulation, and price spikes. The 1973-74 embargo led to long gas lines, spiking prices, and eventually Jimmy Carter’s sweaters. In 2008, as oil prices hit an all-time high, President George W. Bush implored Saudi Arabia to open the spigot and bring relief to embattled American consumers”.

Crucially Johnson argues “Today, U.S. oilmen are asking for just the opposite — proof of how fundamentally the fracking revolution has transformed the United States from a gas-guzzling importer into a major producer (and exporter) of crude oil. “It’s notable that a large part of the industry, of the U.S. oil patch, is now rooting for Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC to come together and manipulate the market and push up prices,” said Jason Bordoff, the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and a former Obama administration energy advisor. “That’s something we used to lament.” OPEC’s plans, if consummated, could take on a political tenor during this election year. The vast majority of U.S. oil production is concentrated in states that typically vote Republican, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. That’s one reason Trump’s campaign has been trying to convince global oil producers to throttle back so that oil prices can recover and jobs could return to hard-hit areas in West Texas and the Bakken shale fields in North Dakota. The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment”.

Johnson mentions how “The downside risk, though, is for the rest of the economy. Higher oil prices would mean rising prices at the pump, just as Americans are returning to the road in force with record-high demand for gasoline this summer. Bordoff noted that despite the importance of oil drilling to regional economies, cheap energy is still better, on net, for the U.S. economy as a whole. In other words, what’s good for the goose in the oil patch and parts of many red states, may not be good for the gander that is the rest of the country. To be sure, OPEC’s big announcement won’t by itself take care of the world’s oil glut, which since the summer of 2014 has knocked crude prices from about $115 a barrel to roughly $40. The big producers inside the cartel agreed in principle to cap their combined oil output at between 32.5 million and 33 million barrels a day by the end of the year. If successfully carried out, that would represent a slight decline from the all-out summertime production of recent months, which technically would make it OPEC’s first cut in almost a decade”.

Pointedly Johnson ends “even the tougher production target would do little, McNally said, to erase the overhang of crude oil sloshing around. That’s because OPEC expects the world to consume about 32.5 million barrels of OPEC crude per day anyway, meaning the market won’t start eating into the massive stockpiles of crude stored in tanks and tankers around the globe. More to the point, OPEC members have agreed only to meet again in November to try to hammer out all the painful details, such as which countries will reduce production by how much. Those are the very same shoals of self-interest that have sunk untold OPEC agreements over the last half-century. At the same time, two of OPEC’s biggest players — Saudi Arabia and Iran — are still at loggerheads, making a lasting agreement even tougher to secure. After sloughing off economic sanctions this year, Iran is racing to boost oil production and exports and regain lost market share. That makes it much less willing to stomach production cuts for the benefit of OPEC rivals, especially Riyadh. Yet even with all those uncertainties, coloured by OPEC’s own dismal track record of maintaining internal discipline, benchmark crude prices continued rising Thursday to tickle $50 a barrel”.

Dems retake the House?

14/10/2016

An article from the Hill discusses the possibility of the House being taken by the Democrats, “House Democrats are thinking the once unthinkable: They have a real shot at winning the lower chamber next month. Such a shift would require a robust wave, as the Democrats would need to steal at least 30 seats from the largest Republican majority in decades”.

The report adds “But the implosion of Donald Trump‘s presidential bid — and the Republican civil war sparked by his incendiary campaign — has left Democrats with fresh new hopes that the GOP nominee will doom the Republicans down ballot and return the Speaker’s gavel to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after six years in the minority wilderness. On Wednesday, Democrats blasted out their first bit of evidence in the form of an internal poll finding that Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat, has taken a 2-point lead over Rep. John Mica (Fla.), a 12-term Republican who has endorsed Trump. Even a month ago, Mica was considered the favourite. But the race has tightened since then, stoking the notion that Trump will be a considerable drag on the Republican brand”.

The piece goes onto mention “Commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the poll is the first district-specific survey to be aired following Friday’s release of a 2005 recording in which Trump boasts about grabbing women by the genitals. The video has torn the GOP apart, causing Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to distance himself from Trump’s campaign and prompting dozens of Republican lawmakers — many facing tough reelection contests — to condemn their nominee and revoke their earlier endorsements. Democrats view the turmoil as an enormous boon to their congressional odds”.

The piece notes how “Republican strategists are quick to dismiss the Democrats’ optimism, arguing that individual candidates will be able to connect to their districts and, where necessary, separate themselves from Trump. “We hear Democrats predict cycle after cycle that they can win the majority, but it’s clear their talking points are the definition of insanity,” Katie Martin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday in an email. “Our members’ hard work is recognized by their constituents and will be rewarded this fall.” House Democratic leaders, who have an incentive to talk up their chances of winning the House to open wallets and generate enthusiasm, are doing their best to use Trump’s controversy for momentum”.

Interestingly it adds “On a conference call with House Democrats Tuesday, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) said with Trump’s meltdown the Democrats “are expanding our universe of opportunities,” according to a source on the call. And Pelosi predicted the Democrats would retake control of the House if the election were held this week. While not taking any contest for granted, Luján said Trump’s influence has made every close race a little more winnable, and he urged his Democratic colleagues to pitch in financially so the DCCC can expand its battleground”.

The piece argues that “Both parties are now anxiously awaiting the results of new race-specific polls in battleground districts. Democrats have commissioned several dozen such surveys designed to gauge the effect of the latest Trump scandal on vulnerable Republicans, many of whom have been successful distancing themselves from their combative presidential nominee. Those results should be trickling in by week’s end. Both parties can be expected to release only good news. “We’ll see how these head-to-heads come out, and whether there’s any trickle down,” a House Democratic official said Wednesday, tamping down expectations of a House takeover”.

It continues noting “In the meantime, the Democrats’ campaign arm is targeting every House Republican by tying them directly to Trump, regardless of whether the lawmakers are sticking by their divisive nominee. Those candidates who are still supporting Trump, like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), are being attacked for being “blindly partisan” in backing a candidate who “not only assaults women, but is unfit to be president.” Those who have dropped their support for Trump, like Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), the DCCC is accusing of acting out of “craven … self-preservation.” Democratic contenders in tight contests, like Jacky Rosen in Nevada, are fundraising on Trump’s new comments. And outside groups like the House Majority PAC have piled on, spending millions on new ads targeting vulnerable Republicans like Reps. Coffman, Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) and David Valadeo (Calif.). Then there are the second-tier Republicans, once thought of as safe, who Democrats now see as targets. They include Reps. Mica, Scott Garrett (N.J.), Darrell Issa (Calif.) and Kevin Yoder(Kan.). They’re even eying a potential pickup in Montana, where freshman GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke won with 55 percent of the vote in 2014. “If there’s a real wave I think that one opens up,” said a Democratic strategist. Democrats have their own liabilities at the top of the ticket. Hillary Clinton has long been under fire for using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of State; she’s confronting a steady drip of WikiLeaks dumps revealing embarrassing campaign emails; and her approval ratings have been consistently below 50 percent, according to national polls”.

Crucially it ends “Still, the Republican divisions are unprecedented in modern times, and Democrats have been only emboldened by an NBC poll, released Monday, showing that voters favour a Democratically controlled Congress by a spread of 7 points — a jump above their 3-point advantage just a month ago. Increasingly, they think Trump’s name atop the ballot might be radioactive enough to deliver both the Senate and House back to their control”.

Russia hacks the GOP

14/10/2016

The Russian government’s cyber-espionage campaign against the American political system began more than a year ago and has been far more extensive than publicly disclosed, targeting hundreds of key people — Republicans and Democrats alike — whose work is considered strategically important to the Putin regime, official sources told NBC News. The targets over the past two years have included a Who’s Who of Hillary Clinton associates from her State Department tenure, the Clinton Foundation and her presidential campaign, as well as top Republicans and staffers for Republican candidates for president. Starting in earnest in 2015, Russian hackers used sophisticated “spearphishing” techniques to steal emails and other data from Capitol Hill staffers, operatives of political campaigns and party organizations, and other people involved in the election and foreign policy. That’s according to NBC News interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. officials, private sector cybersecurity experts and others familiar with the FBI-led investigation into the hacks. “For the past two years, there has been a massive increase in hacking by the Russians,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a cybersecurity expert whose CrowdStrike firm was retained to investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee.