Archive for the ‘foreign affairs’ category

Human Rights

September 14, 2017

There has been a flurry of news reports and opinion columns calling into question Burma’s (Myanmar) handling of its Rohingya minority. The ruling party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized because she, who was once a political prisoner, has not spoken out about her country’s treatment of the Rohingya. The cry of “human rights” fills the air. The Myanmar military, on the other hand, claim the many of the Rohingya are dissidents and seek to cause trouble for Myanmar.

Over the years, American foreign policy has been influenced by factions who stressed “human rights” and sought American officials to speak out when visiting with foreign leaders.

American officials were expected to point out that America’s successful economy was based upon certain human rights, particularly freedoms of religion, speech, and travel.
In practice, foreign affairs is both complicated and complex, often balancing security with commercial opportunities in countries which have little culturally in common with the US. Singling out human rights as a requisite condition for the US to entertain a relationship with another country, history shows, set conditions the US can not always meet .

First, America sees human right violations in others much clearer than it sees violations at home. Second, many so called human rights violations are difficult to distinguish from  behaviors attributed to culture, religious, or martial law events.

When a foreign country imprisons or summarily executes one of its citizens, Americans are often quick to claim that unfortunate person’s human rights had been violated. And to be sure, news reports often show little “due process” involved. But what about the recent spade of police shootings on unarmed Americans? Officials usually claim the officers were fallowing procedures and “feared” for their lives. From another country’s perspective, however, someone with a gun shoots someone without a gun, it might look quite different.

And what about throwing people in jail for long hard sentences? Would it surprise you to hear that the US incarcerates more people per capita than any other country? Of course we hear that these people were given a fair trial, with representation. Hmmm.

And when we hear of ethnic cleansing in some distant country, most everyone thinks this is simply unacceptable behavior. So, how does one judge the Buddhist expulsion of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar and the isolation of Rohingya in Muslim Pakistan? How does one make peace with educated Saudis denying women the right to walk, talk, or express themselves within their Kingdom?

And while one is considering these confusing situations, how does one make sense of American Christians (remember love thy neighbor) finding space within their religious beliefs to shun and discriminate against others based solely upon the other person’s sexual and gender identity?

Calling out some other nation over perceived “human rights” violations could be well intended. What would have happened had Hitler been confronted in 1939 over human rights abuse?

In today’s world, with nuclear weapons available to many countries whose interpretation of human rights differs from what we feel proper, a wiser position for the US might be to redouble its efforts on domestic human rights issues, and if necessary, speak in private with foreign leaders about perceived violations in their country.

Hmmm.

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Leading From Behind, II

September 5, 2017

America’s two major political parties have spent the last decade identifying issues which their supporters held sacred and then blaming their political opponents for supposed transgressions, regardless of what was best for our Country. One of the best examples might be Republican’s claims that President Obama was weak on foreign policy and specialized in “leading from behind”. Evidence abounded, Republicans claimed. Look at the Middle East, North Korea, and Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Hmmm.

Hypocrisy overflowed with each criticism of President Obama. It was on Republican President George W Bush watch that Iraq was invaded and occupied and when Afghanistan’s police mission morphed into nation building. And, it was a Republican controlled Congress which refused to vote any authorization for Middle East military action while the world watched Syria melt down.

So, today we have a Republican President and a Republican controlled Congress. What type of global leadership does America present now?

The first statement that can be made is that when foreign affairs is measured in “tweets”, American is in a leading position.

The second statement might be President Trump believes in “strategy-free” foreign affairs. This second statement enables the President to speak sharply about a subject and then undercut his emphasis with a completely unrelated comment whose consequence is to negate any positive effect his first statement might produce. Witness the call for China to help reign in North Korea one moment and then threatening to punish China with trade restrictions.

The President, of course, is trying to have it both ways (delight his supporters with tough talk towards both North Korea and China while blindly thinking tough talk is enough or that China could care the least about North Korean threats towards the US).

The third statement might be the “proof is in the pudding”. Has President Trump succeeded at anything domestically or in foreign policy? Has President Trump or Congress lined up global leaders behind any Trump policies, especially any aimed at making the global community economically stronger and more secure?

Do world leaders think better of President Trump than his predecessor former President Obama?

The world is a very complicated place and the days of US overwhelming economic and military superiority versus the rest of the world is over. Nuclear weapons lie in many different countries’ hands. Developed Countries are wealthy by historic standards. Further, the national interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and Europe are not aligned other than to think the US already has too much and they have too little. Hmmm.

President Obama left a legacy which President Trump has worked to negate. President Obama comprehended global events as complicated and complex, and requiring thoughtful, integrated US response.  The Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans Pacific Partnership were two worthwhile and potentially useful initiatives which worked on real issues while building trust and partnership.

So President Trump’s attacking or walking away from policies which could help bind nations together (or at least keep them from drifting further apart), seems a bit short sighted.

I wonder if President Trump’s “tweet driven” style could be seen as “Leading From Behind, II”.  Do you think it is as thoughtful as former President Obama’s foreign policies?

White Knuckles

July 31, 2017

There appears to be a collective “oh sh*t” coming from US intelligentsia. It has taken a full six months for think tank members along with other thoughtful Americans to grasp how far out on the branch of sound governance the US has crawled. What do you think of our President now?

Conservative and right of center thinkers have cut President Trump all sorts of breaks. “He’s new at this”. “His staff is not helping”. And who can forget the wounds inflicted by “fake news”. No wonder the world seems muddled when the US ship of State has no rudder.

The think tank world makes its living from keeping an eye on the four corners of the globe.

  • Russia has concluded good times are not coming from the Trump Administration despite what his campaign rhetoric and it is time to get back to business intimidating Easter Europe and opposing US goals in North Korea and Syria.
  • China similarly has concluded President Trump is a paper threat towards their US trade. China reasons their long term interest in being the supreme power in Southeast Asia is theirs for the taking.
  • The Muslim world (lead by the twin dysfunctionals, Iran and Saudi Arabia) has concluded the US is over stretched and therefore they are content to ply the suicidal path of nuclear armaments. (Allah would have wanted that.)
  • And the motley collection of third world countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, most of Africa, and Venezuela, plod along with little recognition how close they are to a failed nation.

The conservative intellectuals also know how leaderless the US current is. Republicans have practiced governance tactics which have lead at best to gridlock and when not gridlocked, to destructive, wrong side of history policies.

Time for a tax cut anyone? Or how about more denial of global warming or the need for 21st century trade practices with both Asia and Europe? And where in the world of international disorder should Mexico stand? Does Mexico rank up there with North Korea, Iran, Russia or China?

President Trump has selected a new chief of staff, a new “silver bullet” so to speak. The conservative intelligentsia know that while General Kelly is a good man and competent choice, there is no reason to expect General Kelly can fix the lack of direction or find the soul of domestic policy. On both scores, there simply is none.

Former President Obama was frequently criticized for “leading from behind”. But few honest brokers could allege President Obama did not understand the world and various global forces at play. President Obama also understood that he would be out on the limb alone because the Republican side in Congress was out to undercut him at every step.

Real thinkers in American think tanks are becoming “white knuckled” as they begin to realize the Commander in Chief has no comprehensive understanding of foreign policy issues and has little interest in listening to anyone who might know.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems a very capable executive but has no background in foreign policy. His professed loyalty to President Trump is very worrisome since the President has no idea of what to do.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Maddis is by far the sharpest knife in the draw and that in and of itself is a long term danger. The US democracy has long been the domain of civilians with military actions executed by military professionals. Where are the foreign policy civilian experts?

General Kelly has a narrow set of options. Hopefully he will find clear thinking experts whose advice he can preferential route to President Trump. General Kelly must at the same time thwart the access of the one dimensional thinkers and former campaign aides who seek to curry President Trump’s favors.

It’s white knuckle time.

A Big Fat Nothing Sandwich

July 4, 2017

On this “Independence Day” holiday, Americans are taking stock of their blessings. Through the years, other Americans have sacrificed much, often their lives, in order to defend the liberties we too often take for granted. This year, Americans do not have to rely upon memories of past valor to appreciate the deeds of past generations. Instead, we can open our eyes and witness a President Trump and Republican Party’s attack on what has made America Great.

The President ran on the campaign promise to Make America Great Again, and most Republicans ran on the idea of “taking back their freedom”. President Trump’s slogan pre-supposes Americans agree that America has slipped or that Donald Trump’s vision is greater than our past.   The Republican Party’s charge of taking back their freedoms similarly supposes that whatever constitutes a “freedom” was theirs to take back. It might be more appropriate to say “take the average person’s freedom and give it to the wealthy”.

The Trump White House’s first six months have marked a bazaar chapter in American history. President Trump’s advisors seem set upon the appearance of keeping campaign promises regardless of whether any of them are in the best interest of the average American.

  • Lower healthcare insurance costs sounds attractive but some 20+ million fellow Americans must lose their coverage while the top earners pocket a huge tax reduction.
  • The world is currently awash in oil. Yet, the President has moved to “drill, baby drill”, no matter what the cost. Could this policy be for the benefit of the average American, or maybe just for the fossil fuel industry barons who stand shoulder, wallets open, for Trump in 2020?
  • President Trump has not restricted himself to just domestic issues. His “bull in the china shop” approach to trade and international relations is poised to sell out most all Americans. Either his naivety or his incompetent has the US ready to begin trade wars on many fronts. In trade wars there are no winners, especially the average American consumer.
  • America is a land of immigrants as most Americans can realize if they research their family tree. Making immigrants the enemy is completely out of touch with our history, not to mention our current economic needs. Without a growing population (immigrants plus birthrate), GDP growth must be low or potentially even negative.
  • But by far the greatest danger facing Americans on this 4th of July is President Trump’s child-like assault upon free speech and the freedom of the press. The President’s endless streak of demonstrably false statements will have the effect of trivializing all public officials speech.  Meanwhile, President Trump’s invocation of “fake news”, while patently unprovable, never the less poisons his supporters thinking and increases the odds that real data and facts won’t interfere with their prejudges and false beliefs. History has shown that free speech and freedom of the press are the first casualties of a budding authoritarian regime.

President Trump demonstrates each day that our Country’s best days are behind us.

So, as Americans celebrate July 4th, and gather around the barbecue grill, the President is sending you “a big fat nothing sandwich”.

 

First Trip Images

May 28, 2017

President Trump is home, back in the US of A. The President’s first overseas trip as President, lasting nine days, was a difficult one and would have been so for any other President. President Trump, however, painted each stop with his own paint brush in a style like no other recent past President. In summary, it could have been worse, much worse, but regrettably it could have just as easily been much better.

  • Trump’s Narcissism. The President does not suffer from a low self image. Each of his hosts (Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, NATO, and the G-7) all played to his vanity. While there is no doubt that Donald Trump was successful in NYC or the East Coast in general, dealing with cut throat bankers, developers, and suppliers. The world stage is different. Trump fed his narcissistic self with romps after hours with beautiful ladies, television appearances and talk radio interviews. Business was business, narcissism was narcissism. The dark side of narcissism on the world stage is that foreign leaders, for the most part, are sophisticated creatures quite adept at using charm to get their ways. Thinking of these leaders as country bumpkins is a recipe for upcoming disappointment.
  • Foreign Policy Based Upon Terrorism. President passed on the opportunity to outline a world leader foreign policy.  In the past, foreign policy was built around the “east-west” divide.  Capitalism versus communism. Democracy versus authoritarianism. Individual liberties versus national ideology. Expansionism versus territorial integrity.  Not with President Trump. By choosing terrorism, President Trump has chosen a concept absent a clear opposition and has shut down a basis for dealing with other real threats to America’s interests, such as Russian aggression, Chinese expansion, North Korean export of nuclear know-how, and failed or failing States from Pakistan to Libya. Al Qaeda, ISIS, or any other faith based radical group represent nuisances rather than existential threats to America. Doesn’t the President know this?
  • Rejections of world themes. President Trump proudly told the Saudis (and assembled leaders of other Muslim countries) that he was not there to lecture them on how they should rule their countries. In other words, subjugating individual freedoms in favor of religious ideology was ok with President Trump. Women, religious minorities, and homosexuals could be subjected to what ever rules the Muslim country wished. There is not a thin line between lecturing and giving a nod of approval. Diplomatic speak provides broad room for the President to speak to strengthening relations without endorsing any particular country’s treatment of women and minorities.
  • In Israel, the President avoided mention of a two State solution or a call for a cease in building new settlements in the occupied territories. This could be seen as diplomatic since we do not know what was said behind the scenes. Any acquiescence of Israel’s expansion into Arab territory, however, seems a path doomed for failure.
  • In Rome, the President lost a unique opportunity to restate his Mexican Wall policy in the name of humanity. The President could have emphasized every country’s need for border security and could have pledged to speed up discussions over a comprehensive solution to the 11 million decent undocumented aliens living in America.
  • At NATO, President Trump hit his narcissistic stride. Rather than seeing the combined strength of the EU to foster shared interest with the US (against those of Russia or China, not to mention the Islamic world), President Trump looked towards each country as small and of much less consequence than the US. No real sense of history could be seen.
  • Finally at the G-7 Meeting, the President chose to withhold endorsement of the Paris Climate Agreement. Good news, he didn’t publicly reject the agreement, but endorse it, he did not. Nothing could be more against the tides of history nor averse to America’s best interests. As with George W Bush’s veto of the Kyoto Agreement, Trumps opposition to the Paris Agreement is a huge sop to conservative groups who wish to make more money than to find ways to slow global warming. The standard conservative anti-climate position is that remedies proposed will be costly and do almost nothing to lower CO2 levels given the output of China, India, and other developing countries. “Nothing” seems incorrect but insufficient may be correct. More must be done to move the new great emitters such as India and China to reduce emission to be sure. But if the US continues to emit at unrestrained levels, the world can only be worse off. If the US joins other countries (including China) there is at least a chance of finding world consensus on emissions. Not clear to a narcissist?

As pundits often say, there is only one President at a time. President Trump is ours. The President’s advisors seem packed with conservative self interested ideologues focused on how to increase the current wealth of the 1 tenth of 1 percent. With a President who appears only interested in himself and flattering recognition, America (and the world) is getting what US voters selected.

Another wake up call from this trip is that we are used to having the US President referred to as the leader of the free world. President Trump’s first overseas trip has provided plenty of reasons to think the free world has no leader.

Self Righteous Indignation

April 26, 2017

The public’s role  is becoming harder every day. The everyday citizens’ task must overcome disenchantment, distrust, or outright contempt for public officials. This weighs heavily upon Americans and makes recognizing the truth nearly impossible. For most Americans, it’s “tune out” time. Despite historically low approval ratings the same people seem to get reelected to Congress and nothing changes. Where has “Camelot” or “It’s Morning in America”gone?

Politics and especially our Congress members have gone high tech. There are researchers, writers, strategists, communication specialists, make-up professionals, booking agents, and lest we forget, “chief of staffs” supporting most members of Congress. Consequently most everything we hear or read from these public officials has been sanitized and reflects a carefully nuanced position statement. Can’t be too careful these days, ones words might come back in the next election.

Let’s consider the Senate and House investigations over whether or how or with whom the Russians interfered with the 2016 Presidential election. Forgetting for a moment the Republican political speak which seeks to avoid questioning the validity of President Trump’s victory, and instead listening to the righteous indignation, typically, “this is a serious matter, if true, and Congress must get to the bottom of these charges”

To be sure if the Russians and members of the Trump campaign team did collude this would and should be front page news. But, the fact that Russian operatives hacked into emails and electronic files, or distributed “fake” news should rank in the “so what else is new”, or the “been there, done that” categories. History of CIA involvement in foreign elections is well documented and decorated US foreign policy’s covert component. So, let’s hold back the crocodile tears.

Today’s news brings a similar but different revelation. When asked by a reporter whether the Russians were supplying the Afghan Taliban weapons, US General John Nickolson responded that “he could not refute” such a claim. Hmmm.

For the press and Congress, this represents just one more piece of evidence that the Russians are up to no good. This is another chance to express righteous indignation. Hmmm.

I wonder how many remember the book “Charlie Wilson’s War” which recounts the cover CIA operation, funded by Congress (largely through Representative Wilson’s efforts), against the Russian attempt to occupy Afghanistan during the 1980s. Been there, done that.

It is of course not in our military’s best interest to have anyone arming the Taliban or financing their activities. There are other covert methods to make the Russians realize this interference is costly for them too.  But righteous indignation is a poor choice.

Whether it’s the Russian interference in US elections or supporting surrogates in world conflicts, the facts are that the world is a tit for tat place. Bombastic statements and doing the “unexpected” have questionable value.  These strategies rank poorly in effectiveness and well behind righteous indignation.  Covert “payback” is more difficult but is more easily understood by adversaries.

Righteous indignation, on the other hand, should be reserved diplomatic exchanges and not used to brain wash the American public.

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?

Hmmm.

This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.