Trump backs Abadi?

08/12/2016

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

“Trump’s election feels like a nightmare”

06/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

Expanded powers for JSOC

06/12/2016

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

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

04/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obamacare critic at HHS

04/12/2016

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

“Mattis may break with Trump’s practice”

04/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

“No immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief”

04/12/2016

There will be no immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief, the country’s defense minister said, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed a new military leader on Saturday. Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa will replace retiring army chief Raheel Sharif when his three-year term ends on Tuesday, a rare example of a smooth transition in a nation where army chiefs have a history of clinging to power. General Sharif, who is not related to the prime minister, has proved popular with ordinary Pakistanis but during his tenure relations between the army and the civilian government have often been tense. Relations abroad have also frayed, with the United States and Afghanistan complaining of a lack of action by Islamabad against Afghan Taliban militants based on Pakistani soil, while a stand-off with old foe India over Kashmir has soured relations. Bajwa was one of several high-ranking candidates put forward for the job by the army but little is publicly known about him or his ideological stance on key issues, including relations with India or how to tackle home-grown Islamist militants.

Mattis at DoD?

02/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Korean agrees intelligence-sharing with Japan

02/12/2016

The South Korean government has approved an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, moving the pact a step closer to fruition as North Korea continues to make progress in its nuclear weapons and missile programs, a report said Tuesday. The approval of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was announced at a Cabinet meeting presided by Yoo Il-ho, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, the Yonhap news agency reported. The South Korean defense chief and Japanese ambassador were to officially sign the deal Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Seoul. The agreement would enter into effect immediately since it does not require parliamentary ratification. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that Japan was working to arrange the signing date, but did not offer further comment. The U.S., Japan and South Korea signed a trilateral information-sharing agreement in 2014, but a Japan-South Korea deal would remove the United States as an intermediary and streamline the exchange of North Korea-related intelligence between Tokyo and Seoul”.

Trump’s dangerous Syria policy

02/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Republicans, resisting Trump?

02/12/2016

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

UK, leaving the single market?

01/12/2016

A news report from the Guardian notes that the UK is unlikely to stay in the single market, “Britain is unlikely to be able to remain a member of the single market, according to a document photographed in the hands of a senior Conservative official on Downing Street. A handwritten note, carried by an aide to the Tory vice-chair Mark Field after a meeting at the Department for Exiting the European Union, could be seen to say: “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.” And in a further embarrassment, it added “French likely to be most difficult.” It also suggests that a deal on manufacturing with the EU should be “relatively straightforward” but admits that services, such as in the financial or legal sectors, are harder. One idea cited in the note is a “Canada-plus” option, suggesting Britain could look to replicate the free trade deal hammered out by the EU over seven years with Ottawa. However, it suggests that the UK would be seeking “more on services” than was agreed in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (Ceta). A government spokesperson distanced Theresa May from the document, saying: “These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government’s position in relation to Brexit negotiations.” However, the fact they appeared to have been taken during a meeting with officials or even ministers – given May’s tight-lipped approach to the negotiating strategy – means that they will be pored over”.

The report adds “The woman carrying the document appears to be Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Field, who is vice-chair of the Conservative party, working on international issues and MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Field does not have a formal Brexit role but does take a keen interest on the impact that leaving the EU could have on the country’s financial services, many of which are based in his constituency, and is likely to have been speaking to senior figures about this issue. The notes also said: “Transitional – loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations.” That could suggest that ministers are not keen to enter a transitional deal after the end of the article 50 period, despite May hinting last week that this would be possible. Other comments include: “Difficult on article 50 implementation – Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first”, in reference to lead negotiator Michel Barnier. “Got to be done in parallel – 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won’t provide more detail,” it adds. “We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered Single Market.” The document appears to reflect a discussion about the prospect of a trade deal like that of Norway, which is a member of the European Economic Area”.

It points out that “That appears to refer to the drawbacks of taking on the Norwegian model, which has the country outside the EU and its customs union, but inside the single market. The reason Brexit supporters do not want to follow that idea is the requirement that Norway accepts free movement of people and is under the jurisdiction of the European court. The document was being carried out of 9 Downing Street, the Brexit department, and into No 10 Downing Street when it was photographed. It comes after reports that there is a sign on the DExEU exit doors reading: “Stop! Are your documents on show?”. It emerged on Monday that the government faces the prospect of a second legal challenge to its Brexit plans, with the group British Influence threatening a judicial review over whether leaving the EU means Britain must also automatically leave the European Economic Area and hence lose the free trading benefits of the single market”.

It concludes “She has made clear that there will have to be more controls on immigration from the EU and wants to see an end to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice – which is why many think Britain will come out of the single market. But the lack of further details from No 10 has alarmed many formerly pro-EU Labour and Tory MPs, who are increasingly cooperating in an attempt to stop a “hard Brexit”. Their key demands are staying as close to the single market as possible, a transitional deal to cushion the economic effect of leaving and more parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations. Some former remain politicians, including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major, are even pushing for a second referendum to allow the public to vote on or even veto any deal for leaving the EU. It was also reported in the Sunday Times that Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, backs a transitional deal with the EU to cushion the impact of Brexit for businesses until at least 2021″.

 

“Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote”

01/12/2016

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

Duterte changes sides

01/12/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump, asking for business favours?

29/11/2016

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

Obama, attempting to secure his legacy

29/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revising the 9/11 terrorism bill

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

Trump’s U-turn on climate change

29/11/2016

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

Germany, wary of China

29/11/2016

An interesting report notes how Germany is refusing to sell its industries to China, “Germany withdrew its support for the sale of semiconductor firm Aixtron to a Chinese bidder. The decision apparently came after U.S. intelligence officials warned Germany that the sale would give China technology that it could use for military purposes; so, too, did it follow months of increasingly protectionist chatter by Gabriel, who has stressed that Europe’s high-tech industry “should not just be sold off.” Beijing has made clear that it has “great concern” over this turn of events, according to Deutsche Welle.  It’s not difficult to see why: Chinese firms, often state-owned, were happily buying and investing in Europe until the continent’s economic powerhouse pumped the proverbial breaks. Per Bloomberg, Chinese companies have announced bids or bought German companies to the tune of $12 billion this year”.

The piece notes how “That’s part and parcel of China’s so-called “New Silk Road,” which envisions links between China, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Europe. Gaining access to markets there is important for Beijing: China and France announced a fund for joint overseas investment; China-U.K. trade is booming; and China initiated the 16+1 framework with Central and Eastern European countries for diplomatic and, ahem, economic relations. Some Europeans have welcomed Chinese money with open arms. The U.K., for example, eagerly courted Chinese investment in recent years, as France is doing now. And for some countries and sectors — such as busy container ports like Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Greece’s Piraeus — Chinese largesse is helpful indeed. But fears are starting to grow in Europe that Chinese money has geopolitical strings attached”.

The author writes that “many in Germany including Gabriel want to push back against what they see as a strategic swoop by China to gobble up key companies in high-tech sectors. Gabriel has taken issue with Beijing’s opposition to opening up its own market to foreign investment. EU Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who, unlike Gabriel, is a member of Angela Merkel’s political party, has also criticized China’s buying spree. Oettinger went so far as to refer to Chinese people as “slit eyes” and “sly dogs” in a speech to business leaders in Hamburg. Oettinger later clarified that he meant Chinese are clever, and thus Europe should not be complacent in its dealings with China and the technological and digital sectors. It remains to be seen if Oettinger’s clarification will be enough to open doors for Gabriel, who embarks Tuesday on a five-day trip to China to see German business leaders and Chinese government officials”.

Trump backs off prosecuting Clinton

29/11/2016

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

Trump, bankrupting America

27/11/2016

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

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

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

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

Russian missiles in Kaliningrad

27/11/2016

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

Realignment after Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Obama speaks to Putin

27/11/2016

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for about four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, a White House official said. “The president urged President Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, underscoring the U.S. and our partners’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the official said. The summit is taking place in Peru’s capital, Lima. Obama also emphasized the need for their two countries’ foreign ministers “to continue pursuing initiatives, together with the broader international community, to diminish the violence and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” the official said.

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

25/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

US peace with North Korea?

25/11/2016

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

Trump’s cabinet, coming together

25/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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

23/11/2016

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

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

23/11/2016

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

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

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

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

 

Mattis at DoD?

23/11/2016

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

GOP, constraining Trump?

21/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US and Philippines start joint exercises

21/11/2016

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

“Putin wants to challenge the notion of a U.S.-led world order”

21/11/2016

A piece warns of how Putin is taking control ofthe Middle East, “Sir Lawrence Freedman defines strategy as “the art of creating power.” This is a useful lens through which to consider one of this year’s key geopolitical trends: Russia’s return to the Middle East. Apart from its close ties to the Syrian regime, which date back to the 1970s, Moscow has had no substantial role in the Middle East since 1972, when President Anwar Sadat kicked Soviet advisors out of Egypt. Why return now? At a general level, it’s clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to challenge the notion of a U.S.-led world order and encourage the return to a multipolar one, though there are certain self-imposed constraints on his ambitions. Although he has intervened in Georgia and Ukraine, he doesn’t seem willing to start a wider war by attacking any Eastern European states that are already members of NATO. In the Middle East, however, Putin has a theater to undermine Western influence, and to create power for himself, without the risk of triggering a war with the West. As any demagogue knows, one way to create power out of nothing is to find a division and then exploit it. In the Middle East, the fundamental division Russia has exploited is the one between the West’s aversion to Islamists, on the one hand, and human rights abuses on the other. The conflict between these aims often produces equivocation in Western foreign policy. It also opens up political space where Russia can operate by investing in repression and discounting democracy”.

The article correctly notes how “Moscow unequivocally supports the current authoritarian regimes in Damascus, Cairo, and Tobruk, which it portrays as bulwarks against the spread of radical Islam. In Egypt, Putin has consistently backed President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s actions against the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, in the face of widespread evidence of repressive tactics by his military government. Since 2013, Russia has stepped in to provide arms to the Egyptian government, exploiting U.S. reluctance to provide military hardware that could be used for domestic political repression. Although Egypt continues to depend on much greater levels of financial support from Washington than from Moscow, this action exemplifies Russia’s strategy for exploiting any seam between the United States and its regional allies when Washington equivocates between security and human rights. We see the same thing in Libya and Syria, where Russia does not contend with an established U.S. partner. In Syria, despite human rights atrocities by the Syrian government that have attracted Western scorn, the West has not been able to explain how getting rid of Bashar al-Assad’s regime would improve the country’s security, since that could lead to a rise in Islamist anarchy. Putin has exploited this gap by unreservedly backing Assad, leaving the West arguing for a gradual “transition” away from the Syrian president. And that further boosts the influence of Russia and Iran, the only countries with the leverage to initiate any such transition”.

The piece argues that “Though Putin has tried to insert himself into several other areas of Middle Eastern politics this year, we should not exaggerate his influence. Recall for example that the propaganda value the Russians attached to a Syria bombing raid from an Iranian base in August irritated Tehran, and the Russians were kicked off the base three days later. Likewise, Putin’s attempt to carve out a role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process this year, which appears primarily designed to challenge the United States as the key broker, is not likely to result in any breakthrough. So is Putin a strategic mastermind or a reckless gambler? The reality is more prosaic. Yes, Russia has made diplomatic gains this year, notably in eastern Libya and Turkey, and has propped up Assad, but this has come at serious long-term economic cost to Russia”.

It expands on this point noting how “As any demagogue knows, the only way to maintain power generated out of nothing through division is to keep stoking the flames of perpetual conflict upon which these divisions depend. But when you make a perpetual enemy out of the West, you can’t be surprised when you seem to be perpetually on the receiving end of economic sanctions and a general wariness by Western firms to invest in your country. It’s possible that Putin believed his actions in the Middle East would give him leverage to bargain sanctions away, despite the fact that Ukrainian and Syrian sanctions are not formally linked. But it’s more realistic to assume that Putin’s encouragement of a state of perpetual conflict with the West makes a relaxation of sanctions unlikely in the near term. If anything, Putin has boxed Russia into a position where it must increasingly orient its economy toward China, and away from the West, which gives Beijing considerable leverage over Moscow. It’s also important to note the role of deception and bluff in Russian strategy. This is a way of generating power out of nothing, but it’s a duplicitous kind of power that in the long run destroys one’s credibility. Take for example Russia’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite being on different sides of the Syrian civil war, Putin has managed to bring Riyadh into its diplomatic orbit through cooperation on oil policy, given how both Saudi-led OPEC states and Russia need substantially higher prices for government budgets to break even”.

It posits that “Moscow has voiced commitment to such cooperation, and the Saudis appear to have bought into this assurance — for without it, Russia could simply gobble up much of any market share conceded by a Saudi production cut. But Riyadh will almost certainly lose out in any such deal. Last month, Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft, said his company would not take part in any such cut, implicitly contradicting Putin. Russia seems to want to get the Saudis to sign on to a deal Moscow has no real intention of supporting. But it’s hard to see how long Putin can trick them into doing the heavy lifting. In the short term, the official announcement of an OPEC-Russia oil production deal, which is expected to come this month, will temporarily lift prices. But in the long term, when the deal breaks down, as it must, it will erode Putin’s credibility with Riyadh and OPEC. Gauging the success of Putin’s strategy really depends on the time frame: In 2016, Russia is up in the Middle East; in the longer term, the damage he has done to the Russian economy by breaking with the West will outweigh the value of an alliance with the likes of eastern Libya or even perhaps Turkey. Already battered by low oil prices, the Russian economy can hardly afford to be unplugged from Western capital markets and investment”.

He ends “But maybe Russian international success is entirely the wrong way of thinking about what Putin gains from a strategy of perpetual conflict. Strategy might be the art of creating power, but the power the strategist is most interested in might be at home. Perpetual conflict abroad clearly helps rally popular support among Russians to keep Putin entrenched in the Kremlin, even as his country rots around him”.

Obama’s reassurance mission

19/11/2016

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

Flynn as NSA, a Putin apologist

19/11/2016

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rand Paul, early opposition to Trump

19/11/2016

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

Consistory 2016:titles and deaconaries

19/11/2016

Today, Pope Francis held his third extraordinary consistory to create 17 new cardinals of whom 13 are electors under 80. The College of Cardinals now stands at 228 with 121 electors. This will fall to 120 with the aging out of Cardinal Sarr on 28 November. The full list of cardinals and their titular churches are:

  • Mario Cardinal Zenari: Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci fuori Porta Cavalleggeri
  • Dieudinne Cardinal Nzapalainga CSSp: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’ Andrea delle Valle
  • Carlos Cardinal Osoro Sierra: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere
  • Sergio Cardinal da Rocha: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in via Flaminia
  • Blasé Joseph Cardinal Cupich: Cardinal-Priest of San Bartolomeo all’Isola
  • Patrick Cardinal D’Rozario CSC: Cardinal-Priest of Nostra Signora del SS. Sacramento e Santi Martiri Canadesi
  • Baltazar Enrique Cardinal Porras Cardozo: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni Evangelista e Petronio
  • Josef Cardinal de Kesel: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
  • Maurice Cardinal Piat CSSp: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Teresa al Corso d’Italia
  • Kevin Joseph Cardinal Farrell: Cardinal-Deacon of San Giuliano Matire
  • Carlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes: Cardinal-Priest of Santi Fabiano e Venanzio a Villa Fiorelli
  • John Cardinal Ribat MSC: Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni Battista de’ Rossi
  • Joseph Willaim Cardinal Tobin: Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria della Grazie a Via Trionfale
  • Anthony Soter Cardinal Fernandez: Cardinal-Priest of Sant’ Alberto Magno
  • Renato Cardinal Corti: Cardinal-Priest of San Giovanni a Porta Latina
  • Sebastian Koto Cardinal Khoarai: Cardinal-Priest of San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio ad Acilia
  • Ernest Cardinal Simoni: Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala

With this consistory, Cardinal Nzapalainga of Bangui becomes the youngest member of the College, just before his 50th birthday, he overtakes Cardinal Mafi of Tonga who held that title since he was created a cardinal. Cardinal Nzapalainga will in all probably vote in two or possibly three conclaves given his age. During this consistory Pope Francis added two new titular churches, San Alberto Magno and San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio ad Acilia. With Cardinal Tobin having since the announcement of the consistory been transferred to Newark, has seemed to try to stress that most of his choices of prelates are personal, rather than attached to a particular diocese.

Rocco writes “Beyond the widely-noted presence of Papa Bergoglio’s first three red hats from the US – the country’s largest crop of new electors since 1969 – among other distinctions of the new intake is the College’s youngest member by far (49 year-old Dieudonne Nzapalainga from the war-torn Central African Republic, the first cardinal born after Vatican II); in Italian Cardinal Mario Zenari, the first scarlet-clad figure in memory to be serving as a Nuncio, in his case to a roiled Syria; and while nearly half of the electoral class are religious – an unusually high five of the 13 – in Bangladesh’s Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, the 73 year-old prelate is the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross elevated into the Roman clergy since 1958. (On top for the return to red for one of the Golden Dome’s community, it bears noting that Notre Dame went a full 3-for-3 with this class’ Stateside delegation: Cardinal Kevin Farrell earned his MBA there, and even before today, Cardinals Blase Cupich and Joe Tobin were already among the most prominent hierarchs in the Fighting Irish cheering section.) While Francis continued the long-standing custom of elevating distinguished clerics older than 80 – four, in today’s case – having completed three rounds of topping off the College, one significant tweak to the practice has now clearly established itself as a pattern: in keeping with St Ignatius’ exhortation against his spiritual followers receiving earthly honours, the first-ever Jesuit Pope hasn’t given the red hat to a single one of his confreres, whose eminent contributions in theology were routinely honored by prior pontiffs”.

Rocco adds that “In another change, for the first time since his resignation, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI didn’t attend today’s rites. Instead, Francis and the new “princes of the church” boarded mini-buses immediately after the Consistory to visit Papa Ratzinger in the chapel of his residence at the old Mater Ecclesiae convent”.

John Allen argues in an article “pretty much everything a pope does exercises leadership and shapes culture in the Church, whether or not it comes wrapped in a binding magisterial declaration. Today is an excellent illustration of the point, as Pope Francis created 17 new cardinals in an event called a “consistory,” 13 of whom will be eligible to elect his successor. Francis delivered a talk this morning, which was notable for its plea to avoid in-fighting at a time when public crossfires involving bishops seem increasingly common. In reality, however, the most important statement of the day was made well in advance, in the form of his picks for new Princes of the Church”.

Allen says there are three main points to bear in mind, the first being something of a trope, the consistory as a “global village”, “Francis is famously a pope of the peripheries, and nowhere is that drive to lift up previously ignored or marginalized places more clear than in how this pontiff awards red hats. This time around, there are new cardinals from Papua New Guinea, the Central African Republic, Bangladesh and Mauritius. The last two, Bangladesh and Mauritius, have a combined Catholic population that doesn’t quite get to 700,000, making them essentially large parishes by the standards of many other places. Today’s consistory builds on the previous two held by Pope Francis, in 2014 and 2015, in which he created cardinals from Nicaragua, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Capo Verde, and the Pacific island of Tonga. (By the time Francis is done, it seems plausible there won’t be an island nation left on earth without its own cardinal.) While the internationalization of the College of Cardinals dates back at least to the era of Pope Paul VI in the late 1960s and 1970s, eroding the traditional Italian stranglehold on the institution, what’s striking under Francis is that his cardinals don’t just come from the other usual centers of global Catholic power, but literally from all over the map”.

Allen argues that “All this is calculated, of course, to ensure that the College of Cardinals is better reflective of the entire 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church around the world, especially places long accustomed to not really having a voice. Seen through a political lens, there’s another implication worth considering: These appointments also make the next conclave, meaning the next time cardinals gather to elect a pope, far more difficult to handicap. Many of these cardinals represent cultures where the usual taxonomy of left v. right simply don’t apply, and they’re not part of the traditional networks of ecclesiastical influence and patronage. As a result, they’re likely to bring fresh perspectives to the task of picking a pope, one more difficult to anticipate and, therefore, even more fascinating to watch unfold”.

Secondly, Allen points out that the balance of power is shifting in the US, “For the first time, Francis is creating new American cardinals: Blase Cupich in Chicago, Joseph Tobin in Newark (formerly of Indianapolis), and Kevin Farrell, head of his new department for family, laity and life (formerly of Dallas.) All three would be seen as center-left figures in some ways reflecting the spirit of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, an approach to church life that appeared to recede in influence during the years of St. Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Just in the days around today’s consistory, Tobin was issuing warnings about the church facing difficult years ahead fighting the Trump administration over immigration and refugees, and Farrell was chastising Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia over the restrictive guidelines Chaput issued to implement Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia. Granted, the mere fact these three figures are now cardinals – two residential, one based in the Vatican – doesn’t automatically alter the landscape within the U.S. bishops’ conference. In fact, a face-value reading of the recent elections within the conference, in which Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was chosen president and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles vice-president, would be that the center-right camp is still the governing majority”.

Interestingly however, Allen writes that “Inevitably, however, Cupich, Tobin and Farrell will now have greater influence in American church affairs, including grooming other bishops who could, over time, recalibrate the outlook and priorities of the conference. In any event, it’s clear that Francis was making a definite ideological and pastoral statement with his American picks, which are destined to reverberate for some time to come”.

Lastly Allen points out that the number of cardinals in the Curia has shrunk, “As of today, Pope Francis has created 44 of the cardinals who will elect his successor, of whom only six are Vatican officials. In this most recent crop, Farrell is the only one with a Vatican post, assuming one doesn’t include the pope’s ambassador in Syria, Mario Zenari, who’s part of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. For those keeping score, that means that only 13 percent of Francis’s picks so far have gone to Vatican officials, whereas traditionally Vatican prelates have counted for over a quarter of the College of Cardinals, a share that was boosted under emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Obviously, the net effect of these selections over time will be to reduce the influence of Vatican officials, not merely in the governance of the Church but also in the selection of the next pope. The argument for such a transition, of course, is that the Vatican is supposed to be of service to the Church, not the other way around, and ensuring that the whole Church is better reflected in making decisions is a healthy thing. On the other hand, Vatican officials often represent the institutional memory of the Church and provide a firebreak against the Church being swept away by the shifting tides of a given era’s fashions. As a generalization, they often represent a sort of “continuity vote” that can balance impulses for quick change. A somewhat diminished “continuity vote” is thus another factor making the future more uncertain, more difficult to forecast, and thus a more compelling drama to watch”.

Trump vs Pence?

19/11/2016

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

Trump’s transition in disarray

17/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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

“Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders”

17/11/2016

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

Burden sharing in EU

17/11/2016

An article discusses the future of the military power in Europe, “No modern military today is complete without an air defense system — something that can protect citizens from intruding enemy aircraft. But for small countries, such acquisitions don’t come cheap. Just buying an air defense system costs almost $400 million; that’s not including maintenance costs, which tack on further millions of dollars. For a country like Latvia, whose tiny defense budget can barely cover the cost of the system itself, those kinds of numbers can push an indispensable piece of equipment out of reach — unless it can find a partner to team up with. Latvia and Lithuania, neighbours on the Baltic Sea, are about to try just such a scheme. As part of a plan about to be signed by both governments, the two countries will not only buy a host of equipment together but also share maintenance costs. It’s an effort that could foreshadow the future of European military cooperation — for better or worse”.

The piece goes on to point out “Ever since the United Kingdom, a longtime opponent of further EU military cooperation, voted this summer to leave the club, Brussels has revived its discussions about an EU army and a shared defense budget (or, at the very least, closer defense integration). Last month, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament that an EU military headquarters would be a first step toward building a joint military. But most experts believe a massive undertaking like a “European Army” is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon. And the fact that EU countries still haven’t mastered the far simpler act of joint procurement is typically cited as a case in point. On paper, teaming up with an ally for joint military procurement seems like an easy choice. It’s not just that by ordering in larger quantities, countries can get discounts. By jointly ordering the development of new military equipment, friendly nations can also share the development costs. Successful joint procurements could, in theory, free up resources that could then be spent on other equipment. The buyers also get interoperable equipment — that is, weapons systems that can easily communicate with each other. That’s a huge plus for European countries, including NATO members and non-NATO members like Sweden and Finland, whose armed forces regularly exercise and conduct operations together”.

He notes that “such procurement efforts are still rare in Europe — largely because their history is full of disappointments. Take the A400M military transport plane. During the 1980s, eight European countries jointly commissioned the aircraft, which was being developed by companies from several of the countries. The partner countries were told to expect delivery of their planes by 2009. Though the Cold War ended in the interim, European armed forces still desperately needed such an aircraft to transport troops and equipment, especially during their joint operations in Afghanistan. Having the same transport aircraft fleet would have been akin to having identical bus fleets, even allowing countries to borrow from one another if necessary. But delays intervened — and then intervened again. The first planes were delivered just three years ago. By that time, several buyers had already given up and bought other planes, partly because design requests made by one of the countries had added significant weight to the plane, reducing its lifting capacity”.

Not supurisngly he notes that “Even among the closest of allies, joint procurements tend to go sour. The Swedish Armed Forces are about to end up with 48 cannons (officially known as artillery pieces) instead of the 24 they were originally looking for because procurement partner Norway decided the planned artillery didn’t fit its requirements. A recent attempt by the closely allied Nordic countries to jointly procure helicopters also failed, as did a planned submarine procurement by Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the end, only Sweden was interested in buying the submarines made by the Swedish firm Kockums. “We’ve not even been able to do anything with Finland so far, though of course I hope that will change,” said Sven-Christer Nilsson, the former chairman of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration. According to Dick Zandee, a senior fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and former head of the EDA’s planning and policy unit, joint procurements tend to go wrong for two reasons: diverging military requirements and conflicting industrial interests”.

He writes that for the EU defence remains exempt from standardisation, “European governments and defense contractors realize the current situation is untenable, particularly given that Russia is in the middle of a defense spending program aimed at increasing its share of modern weaponry from 10 percent of its arsenal to 70 percent. The EDA is gaining a bit more credibility in setting joint EU standards. NATO’s Standardization Office, which has been grappling with the same issues since the founding of the military alliance, is also running more acquisition programs than in the past. And on the contractor side, some companies including France’s Nexter Systems and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are successfully building a new generation of tanks and armored vehicles that will fit the requirements of both the French army and the Bundeswehr”.

He adds “There is some precedent for success: The Netherlands and Belgium’s naval cooperation program, Benesam, for the past two decades has featured not just joint training but operations as well, and the two navies share ownership and maintenance of a shared fleet. Benesam’s success is due in part to the fact that the two countries don’t have competing naval shipbuilders — and that their governments are willing to give up some military independence in return for pooled resources. Latvia and Lithuania, the two Baltic states about to embark on a large-scale partnership, are also lucky in that they, too, don’t have large domestic defense sectors to consider. Their plans also don’t require any attempt at joint development; they’ll only be buying off-the-shelf products built in other countries (and in many cases already used by other countries’ armed forces). Urbelis even says, optimistically, that Lithuania may team up with Latvia, Estonia, or Poland for further procurements. But the days of a true common market for defense, let alone an EU army, remain a distant dream — possibly one that will never come to pass. “Armed forces are the most powerful symbols of national sovereignty,” Linnenkamp said. “Countries want to have the ability to produce military equipment at home.” The irony, he added, is that although the steel, mortars, and tanks may still be produced at home, the computer chips that direct the equipment’s actions now mostly come from countries like Thailand”.

“China’s first aircraft carrier is now ready to engage in combat”

17/11/2016

China’s first aircraft carrier is now ready to engage in combat, marking a milestone for a navy that has invested heavily in its ability to project power far from China’s shores. The Liaoning’s political commissar said in an interview with Tuesday’s Global Times newspaper that his ship is “constantly prepared to fight against enemies,” signaling a change from its past status as a platform for testing and training. Senior Captain Li Dongyou’s comments appear to indicate that the ship has taken on its full aviation complement. Purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine more than a decade ago, it was commissioned in 2013.

Francis shapes the College

17/11/2016

John Allen writes about the meaning of the new consistory, “It may be election season in America, but that’s definitely not the vibe one gets in ecclesiastical Rome these days. Pope Francis is in good health, he remains fully in charge and operating at a breakneck pace, and there’s no sense that a transition is imminent. As a result, no one’s spending a great deal of time thinking about papabili, meaning potential candidates for the papacy, because most people don’t believe the job is going to be available anytime soon. On the other hand, there’s a consistory, meaning the event in which a pope creates new cardinals, so at least in theory the candidate pool is getting fresh blood. Moreover, virtually all the cardinals of the world will be in Rome for the event, which makes a consistory the closest thing in the Catholic Church to the Iowa Caucus – an early campaign milestone, when all the candidates are on display and anything seems possible Granted, from a faith point of view there’s something far more important than a political cattle call that will be happening on Nov. 19″.

He writes “Seen through the eyes of belief, it’s about men donning garments whose very colour symbolizes their willingness to shed their blood to protect the papacy and the Church, it’s about the continuity of the Church through time, and about the role of the papacy as the symbol and instrument of unity of the universal family of faith. However, all of that doesn’t mean there isn’t a political subtext too – grace builds on nature, after all, it doesn’t replace it – and so here are three things to look for on the political level as we prepare for Iowa on the Tiber”.

The first of these Allen says is the new pababili, “Generally the first thing Vatican-watchers will ask is whether a given consistory injects an obvious new candidate to be pope into the mix, and in this case, the early consensus would seem to be, “probably not.” Scanning the list, it seems clear that Francis chose many of these cardinals to lift up neglected corners of the world such as Papua New Guinea, Mauritius, and Bangladesh, which is a great boon for the local church, but it also means those prelates are relatively unknown. In other cases, Francis appeared to choose men in sync with his pastoral vision of the Church, which is clearly the case, for instance, with his picks in the United States – Archbishops Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, Blase Cupich of Chicago and Kevin Farrell, formerly of Dallas and now heading the Vatican’s department for Family, Laity and Life. For now there still seem to be other cardinals with the same profile who are more plausible contenders. Among the Americans, for instance, that’s likely Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has the spirituality, balance and languages voters often want, and, as a bonus, as a member of the pope’s C-9 council, now has a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the Vatican and what it takes to lead. If you were to put guns to the heads of most Vatican-watchers today and demand they cough up a pick for the next pope, the names you would most likely hear are already cardinals”.

Crucially he writes “On the “keep it up” side of debates over Pope Francis, beyond O’Malley, you’d probably hear Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, or perhaps Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines; on the “time for a change” side, you’d probably get Robert Sarah of Guinea, or Marc Ouellet of Canada, or Péter Erdő of Hungary, who’s also the president of the council of European bishops’ conferences. In terms of a compromise satisfying some of what each camp might be looking for, and who has the added attraction of being the smartest kid in class, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria is still a popular pick. If you were forced to select a possible pope just from this new crop on Nov. 19, however, two names seem the most likely bets: Archbishop Carlos Osoro Sierra of Madrid, Spain, and Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico. Both are Francis-style pastors in the sense of personal simplicity and closeness to ordinary people, but both also have reputations for being a bit more doctrinally firm, which may be a quality many cardinals see as desirable the next time”.

Allen writes about a continuity vote with Francis aving not appointed 44 electors, Benedict having appointed 56 and John Paul, 21 electors, “In other words, Francis will have more then twice as many of his own picks in the College of Cardinals as those he inherited from John Paul II, and is approaching numerical parity with Benedict XVI. Let’s assume the next consistory takes place in the fall of 2018, by which time 15 more cardinals will have turned 80, thereby creating another 15 vacancies, and let’s assume Pope Francis is still going strong and fills them. Four of the cardinals who will age out by then are John Paul II appointees and 9 by Benedict, while two are actually men Francis elevated in 2015. At that point, the new breakdown would be: John Paul II: 17, Benedict: 47, Francis: 57 To put the point differently, by next time Francis likely will have appointed roughly half the men who will choose his successor. More and more, this is becoming “his” College of Cardinals. That, of course, is no guarantee that the cardinals will elect a clone of Pope Francis. Benedict had named a majority of the College of Cardinals by March 2013, and clearly they opted for something different by turning to Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina. However, as in most conclaves, the pivotal issue next time is likely to be continuity or change vis-à-vis the papacy that just ended, and the more Francis has the chance to name men who share his own broad outlook, the more the odds of a basic “continuity” vote go up”.

The other point he raises is about demographics, “Americans know that the shifting demographics of this country, especially the burgeoning Latino/a constituency, are a major reason why the electoral math has shifted in favour of the Democrats. In the College of Cardinals too, Pope Francis is promoting something of a demographic inversion, naming progressively fewer Vatican officials and “Westerners,” especially Europeans, and more Princes of the Church from the developing world. One key take-away is this: When Francis was elected, 35 percent of the college was made up of officials of the Roman Curia. If a conclave were to happen right after Nov. 19, the curia’s share would be only 28 percent. Even within the developing world, Francis often prefers to lift up new cardinals from out-of-the-way places, reflected this time in his choice of another cardinal from an island nation – last time it was Tonga, this time Mauritius”.

Crucially Allen writes that “Unlike the United States, however, it’s far from clear that simply by virtue of overhauling the demography of the college, Francis is ipso facto promoting his own reform-oriented, mildly progressive agenda, at least on some fronts. If anything – and this is, naturally a broad generalization to which there are many exceptions, since we’re talking about a pool of roughly 800 million people – Catholics across the developing world tend to be more traditional, both in terms of faith and practice, than their Western peers. (A political scientist might inject an observation here about a longstanding paradox for the Catholic left. It’s a core principle for most Catholic progressives to celebrate diversity, and yet in terms of policy, that diversity may not always quite take the Church where its most ardent advocates would like it to go.) Perhaps the most immediate effect of the pope’s demographic shift is simply to foster a greater degree of uncertainty about how things might shake out in a future conclave. He’s creating a cohort of cardinals who have never been part of the usual theological and political controversies in the West, who may look at them with either boredom or frustration, and who may bring a wildly different set of priorities and “voting issues”. In other words, what Francis is doing by shaking up the usual suspects is to make the next papal election far more difficult to handicap – and therefore, of course, far more fascinating to watch”.

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.

Mexico’s newest cardinal

15/11/2016

A piece on Mexico’s newest cardinal notes that “Pope Francis’s choice of Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico as a cardinal is yet more proof that Latin America is shaping up to go in the same direction as the rest of the Catholic Church, but it is equally a sign of continuity with his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Made archbishop of Tlalnepantla, just north of Mexico City, by Benedict in 2009, and ordained a bishop by St. John Paul II back in 1997, Aguiar Retes has long been a key figure in the Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, known as CELAM”.

The profile adds “As vice-president of CELAM from 2003 to 2007, Aguiar Retes worked closely with Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires in the run-up to the fifth CELAM assembly in May 2007, which was held at the famed shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. The concluding Aparecida document was written by a drafting team headed by Bergoglio. The Mexican prelate not only managed to impress Francis but also his peers: he was elected president of CELAM in 2011, a position he held until last year. Back home in Mexico, he has served both as secretary general and president of the Mexican Bishop’s Conference. Ever since Benedict picked Aguiar Retes for Tlalnepantla, he’s been seen as the natural successor of Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, who will be obliged to present his resignation to Francis next year, when he turns 75”.

The piece adds “According to Jorge Trasloheros, professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University and a long-time church observer, Aguiar Retes is a “worthy disciple of Benedict XVI, with a great ability to subtly penetrate the labyrinths of reality, a deep grasp of the changing times we’re living in, and the invitation to make the dialogue between faith and reason the distinctive ethos of Catholic thinking.” Yet, he added, with the cardinal-to be’s pastoral sense, his commitment to the faithful, and his strategic mind, Aguiar Retes is also very much a Pope Francis man. Like Francis, he understands the importance of a shepherd capable of being at the front, among, and at the rear of his flock. Those who have worked with him point to his great serenity, analytic ability and capacity for dialogue. They say he is demanding but also patient and clear in his directives. Marilú Esponda, a lay communications expert who served as Aguiar Retes’s spokesperson when he was secretary-general of the Mexican bishops’ conference, describes her former boss as a “great human being, affable, serious, but close to the people, smart, and with great empathy to understand society’s problems.” “He gets along very well with conservatives and has been criticized as progressive for being friends with many people on the left,” Esponda told Crux, adding that he often speaks of discernment, the fruit of his formation with Jesuit spiritual directors. Esponda recalls Aguiar Retes reaching out to convince her to become the first director of the Mexican Bishop’s press office which he instituted”.

Interestingly it notes “Nor is he afraid of shaking things up in order to increase efficiency, something Aguiar Retes did both in the diocese and in the bishop’s conference, seeking out the advice of professionals when they were needed to plan out the strategies. The archbishop is currently driving a “Continental Mission” in his diocese, to put into practice the conclusions reached in Aparecida, back in 2007. The document remains a key template for Francis, who hands it out to political leaders from the region when they first visit him in the Vatican. The Aparecida meeting was headed by Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, with Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga as a member of the drafting committee. Both are now part of the group of nine cardinals that advises the pope. The “continental mission” was the challenge issued by Aparecida to the Church of Latin America to be in a permanent state of mission, awakening Catholics to their vocation to evangelize. Aparecida is the blueprint for Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the November 2013 exhortation widely described as the Magna Carta of Francis’s papacy. The document says the “missionary option” implies that the Church’s structures and ways of acting should be geared towards the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her own self-preservation”.

For background it adds that “The diocese of Tlalnepantla, part of Mexico City’s greater urban area, is an area of great contrasts, with industrial development and extreme poverty sharing the streets with organized crime. Aguiar Retes’s fostering of a permanent mission has led to a small yet dedicated army of lay missionaries. He was born in 1950 and ordained in 1973 after concluding priestly studies in Mexico and the U.S. Montezuma seminary. Soon after he went to Rome to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and when he went back to Tepic, his home city, in 1977, he was appointed rector of the local seminary. In the 1990s he went back to Rome to study for his doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Beyond his native Spanish, Aguiar Retes is fluent in Italian, English, French and German. The archbishop is the second Mexican red hat Francis will have awarded: Alberto Suárez Inda of Morelia was also made a cardinal during the 2014 consistory. With these two, Mexico now has six cardinals, four of them under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope”.

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.

Francis reshapes the CDW

13/11/2016

An article in the Catholic Herald discusses recent appointments, and dismissals, in the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, “While the more eye-catching curial reforms of the Francis era have, thus far, centred on the combining of smaller department into new “super-dicasteries” and other obvious structural changes, yesterday saw a fairly broad reshaping of a curial department in the form of its personnel. The new members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments were announced in the Vatican Press Office’s daily bulletin, and the names and sheer numbers of the new members have raised a few eyebrows. In total, 27 new members were appointed, and there was a distinctly global complexion to the announcement, with many of the new members coming from sub-saharan Africa and further afield. While the African bishops as a group tend to be known for their doctrinal orthodoxy, liturgically they are much more diverse, with the continent producing some of the most stridently traditional liturgists in recent years, as well as the current and former heads of the Congregation itself in Cardinals Arinze and Sarah, while also being home to some of the most “enculturated” liturgies in the Church”.

The piece notes that “While the global membership of this, or any congregation, is a fairly rough indication of how this, or any Pope, sees the Catholic world, it is worth noting that in Rome, as everywhere else, the decisions tend to be made by those who show up. Consequently, more attention is often paid to the appointment of bishops or cardinals who actually live in or near Rome who can attend the ordinary business meetings of the congregation, and consequently are expected to wield a more immediate influence in the working of the department. There are a number of names included on the list of 27 new members which fit into this category. Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has been made a member; as he has grown more and more into the traditional role of Papal Prime Minister, his inclusion is hardly surprising and seems to indicate Pope Francis’ confidence in him serving as the curial centre of gravity”.

Correctly it reports that “generating much more public reaction, has been the inclusion of Archbishop Piero Marini. Marini is a controversial liturgical figure, having served as secretary to Annibale Bugnini, the Archbishop responsible for the liturgical reforms which followed Vatican II, and is also the former master of papal liturgical ceremonies. His preferences for liturgical dance, and other deeply “enculturated” forms of expression in the liturgy, have proven somewhat controversial in the past. In addition, he is notoriously and publicly impatient with those favouring the Extraordinary Form and other traditionalist liturgical practices, like the celebration of Mass ad orientem. According to a long-circulating Vatican rumour, he was originally intended to become the Prefect of the Congregation when Pope Francis first took office, but such was the resistance of the Congregation’s members that he was passed over for Cardinal Sarah. Also of note is the appointment of Cardinal Beniamino Stella as a new member of the CDW. Cardinal Stella currently serves as Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and has privately earned a reputation for being fiercely opposed to the rise of seminaries and priestly societies which promote or lean upon particular forms of liturgy in their formation and ministry; his personal campaign for “one priesthood, one formation, one seminary” would seem at odds with the liturgical diversity which has been favoured in recent years. While the appointment of 27 new members to a single congregation is bound to have an impact on its character, it must be noted that the Vatican announcement failed to mention which of the current members of the congregation would be staying on. This has not stopped instant and vociferous internet speculation from taking off, with some websites insisting that Cardinals Burke, Pell, Ouellet, and Scola were all leaving the congregation. This speculation, for that is all that it is at the moment, is being framed as a removal of the “Ratzingerians” and a purge of the traditionalists from the congregation. Meanwhile the new Rome-based members are being pitched as arch-modernists who will leave Cardinal Sarah effectively isolated at the top of his own congregation. Wild interpretations of this sort should be taken with a large measure of salt”.

Interestingly the piece mentions that “In the first place, none of the supposedly departing “Ratzingerians” has actually been confirmed as yet. Even if these so far unconfirmed reports are true, they fail to account for the considerable depth of experienced members of whom nothing has yet been said, and who can be assumed to be carrying on until we hear otherwise. These include formidable minds and characters like Cardinal Peter Erdö, the Relator General of the Synod of Bishops’ General Assembly; Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Columbo and former Secretary of the CDW; Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, former Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and current head of the Apostolic Penitentiary; and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. While the simultaneous appointment of 27 new members to any congregation represents a real changing of guard, as with so many of the acts of this pontificate there has been an instinctive rush to interpret events through the most ecclesiastically partisan lens to be found”.

Crucially it adds “While it is true that some of the new members have distinct and forceful thoughts on liturgy, few can contend that they are unqualified for membership. Similarly, while it may come out that some of the more seasoned traditionalists in the CDW have not had their membership renewed, it would be a gross overstatement to insist that there has been some kind of philosophical coup, or that there are not still several loud and authoritative voices to be heard on both sides of the liturgical discussion. Surely the whole point of a global and diverse membership is to have the best of all sides in the conversation”.

 

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

13/11/2016

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

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

13/11/2016

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

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

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

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

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