Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ category

The Week That Wasn’t

June 24, 2019

If one looks and listens closely, there is evidence that President Trump is getting his “number” called fairly often. In addition, it appears his rhetoric is not as effective as in the past to get the public’s eye off his mistake. 

China is sinking the President’s ship without much effort.  China’s selective tariffs have hurt farmers and Trump’s tariffs have hurt untold businesses and are now hurting Americans in their pocketbooks.  The President claims China is hurting big time but where is the evidence to support that claim?

The southern border continues to be a joke where each blustery Trump statement acts like a puff of smoke.  When the air clears, the immigrant situation is the same or worse.

This past week the President struck new colors with Iran and diplomacy.  Chicken hawks such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both whooping up a war cry against Iran (recognize that it will be other Americans sons and daughters going off to fight), the President talked tough and then he didn’t.  The President blinked and called off punitive airstrikes at the last minute showing his own “red line” was mostly pink or white.

The President offered a humanitarian justification for choking at the last minute.  Hmmm.  From someone who doesn’t know how to tell the truth, and believing now the President suddenly tell the truth, is a big pill to swallow.   Most Americans assume Trump was telling another falsehood.  Americans were relieved since there is little stomach in the nation for another Middle East conflict. 

Why the pull back?  Maybe, the President got concerned about getting involved in a Middle East War, this one on his watch.   And, without a doubt, President Trump was cognizant of the 2020 campaign and the promises of no interventions.  While voters can’t be sure what the President’s reasoning really was, past experience strongly suggests Trump wanted no parts of anything that could blow back on him.

Not to be outdone by foreign affairs, the President hyped a stepped up ICE campaign to “round up millions” of illegal residents.  The tough guy had spoken.  At the last minute, once again the President blinked and called off the program for at least two weeks.

“The program”, even in its suspended state, is unclear.  News reports identified up to a million refugees who sought asylum, were given a court date, released, and then disappeared.  Pundits, however, suggest that ICE lacks the capability to find a million people as well as the resources to deport them. 

Just the same, the President probably thinks he scored a victory with his supporters with his threat and by not following through, never revealed how hollow a threat he had made.

The lesson involved in these two situation is sadly that both never should have occurred and calling them off at the last minute teaches all others how to call the President’s bluff.  Hmmm.

Iran is a bad regional actor and as a theocracy, should be carefully watched and even more carefully approached.  As a theocracy, Iran can always justify its action (no matter how devastating to Iranians) because god (Allah) said so.

There is practically nothing this President or any one else can do to shut off the flood of refugees and undocumented immigrants… at the border.  Central America is poor and America is wealthy.  If the President, instead, devoted his attention to finding a political solution with a comprehensive immigration reform, there is hope that undocumented immigration could be controlled.  But it is clear that a solution does not fit the President’s needs and he will continue to use the border as a campaign prop.   

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The Anti-S Word

March 10, 2019

Anti-Semitism is one of many hate filled belief systems.  Anti-Semitism purports to call those of Jewish heritage unfit to live freely among the world community and assigns all sorts of calamities to conspiracies amongst Jewish persons.  Anti-Semitism extremists seeks the “final solution” as demonstrated in Nazi Germany.  So to label someone as an anti-Semite is a serious charge.  Hmmm.

Ilham Omar, a newly elected Democrat Representative from Minnesota, has been awarded the label “anti-Semite” twice in the last couple of weeks.  First, Omah referenced “it’s the Benjamins, baby” for why Jewish lobbying groups were successful promoting aid for Israel.  Omar was referencing AIPAC and the flow of lobbying money aimed at influencing US foreign policy.  Hmmm.

Next, Omar questioned out loud how someone could be loyal to the US and Israel at the same time.  At a minimum, Omar was calling out the apparent hypocrisy of many in Congress who are outspoken about their unconditional support of Israel (and by extension Israel’s mis-treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories).

Now if one has been watching and reading current events and recognizes the name Sheldon Adelson and still denies that money has been used to steer US foreign policy, it will be difficult to discuss this topic further.  Along the same lines, if one does not recognize the extra-legal actions where Israel confiscate Palestinian lands in order to build Israeli settlements, or creating roads within the occupied lands where only Israelis can drive are signs of misguided domestic policy if not outright apartheid, then anti-Semitism will have no practical definition bounds.  Any criticism of Israeli policy will be definition be “anti-Semitic.   Hmmm.

Israeli’s conservative (both religious and political) government often denies the existence of lobbying activity or the planned creation of new settlement and permanent occupation of the West Bank.  Subsequently, the Israeli Government will admit the facts and justifying them on the need for self defense.  “Israel must (will) defend itself”.   Who could expect less.

And clearly Arab extremist groups have and continue to plan horrible atrocities against Israelis. Neighboring Arab countries still deny, 70 years after the establishment of a Jewish State, Israel’s right to exist.  So why shouldn’t Israel execute extraordinary policies to ensure its survival?

Unfortunately, when a State becomes theocratic (for example Israel’s constitution defines Israel as a “Jewish State”), all paths to rational debate ceases.  (God gave the land to Israelis, the Bible tells us)  Concerned?

Think about Iran which is also a theocracy.  Is Iran a rational State?

Israel has in the past agreed to take a path towards a “two state solution” where a sovereign state of Israel exists along side of a sovereign state of Palestine. While avowing a two state solution, Israel’s specific behavior has been anything but that.  Is that an anti-Semitic statement?

Pundits and critics should be careful about how easily they throw around the term “anti-Semitic”.  Representative Omar is both young and inexperienced.  Her choice of words may also have been poor but to throw the “Anti-S” word was premature, shut down discussion, and elicited sophisticated hypocrisy from those with hidden motives. 

Instead, one should insist upon learning the facts such as “how much money does flow from Jewish lobbying groups to US legislators”, “what due process has been used (and how often) to take land from West Bank Palestinians and build new Israeli settlements”, and “how does US “Israel Policy” serve US national interests”?

Representative Omar is a poor target for Israel supporters to justify using the “anti-S” word.  Rather, if Representative Omar’s words upset Israel supporters, they would be better served ignoring Omar (and not giving her a public stage) and temper their worries by studying whether Omar’s claims have merit.   

Unfit From Any Angle

February 11, 2018

The current crowd that comprises the Republican Party’s Congressional members are unfit to govern. So tell me something that I didn’t know already. Hmmm.

Throughout the Obama years, Republican leaders postured time and again about Obama Administrations incompetence. Republicans pointed to the slow growing US economy, the size of Federal Deficits, and the ruinous impact the Affordable Care Act was having upon jobs were rallying calls. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the Republican message never the less kept reinforcing the dooms day outlook.

From the day former President Obama took office, while the US economy was steadily slipping into the dangerous territory between recession and depression, the Obama Administration pushed for a balanced approach between Keynesian economic stimulation and “doing the right thing” legislation.

The 2008 economic decline bottomed out and the Affordable Care Act came into law providing healthcare for millions more. General Motors was saved from itself, consumer protection measures were put in place, and human rights enforcement became the Justice Department’s focus.

The Economy grew around 2-2.5%, unemployment steadily decreased, while America’s GDP growth lead the pack of developed countries. In foreign policy, the Obama Administration proposed that the Middle East policies should not cloud or block America’s view that an emerging super power China must be dealt with. Also, Iran and North Korea both were subject to diplomatic efforts aimed at controlling those countries’ nuclear programs while also recognizing the limits of military force. And, climate realities were met straight on with the US announcing it would join the Paris Climate Agreement in hopes of a global effort to confront global warming.

During President Trump’s first year, the past 8 years have been “denied”. The President has appointed, and the Republican controlled Congress has confirmed, Cabinet Secretaries who were either unqualified or were avowed opponents of each Department’s goals. Turning the Asylum over to the inmates would summarize the executive branch.

Important trade alliances were cast aside and the “what does this mean” slogan America First was substituted. America First is sure fired, naive call which is certain to result in less international cooperation. But the best was yet to come.

The Congress tried it best to repeal and replace Obamacare only to find that strong grass roots support for the Affordable Care Act existed and a repeal threaten the electoral viability of Republican Congress Members. Disappointed but not deterred, the Congress moved on to “tax reform” which in short order emerged as “tax cuts”.

The rush for tax cuts was strange since most business people would ask what would be the spending plan against which levying taxes could logically be set. Republican leaders and spokespersons, however, tried to frame the tax cuts as a means to grow the economy faster and magically paying for themselves.

The tax cuts passed with Republican votes and America woke up to the news that these tax cuts would add another $1.5 trillion to the deficit. Republicans then touted the GDP growth rate as already accelerating, (a near impossibility due to any recent cause and effect).

Republicans claimed that economic growth was now 3% and heading north. Republicans did not say that other modern countries were also experiencing economic growth and relatively speaking, the US was growing no faster than its major trading partners.

Even worse was the recognition that when the US economy heats up, the risk of inflation increases too. So the perfect storm is forming.

Inflation is around the corner, unemployment is near bottom (so where are the workers going to come from to man the heated economy), Republicans’ anal Mexican policies are severely restricting much needed labor, and after 10 years of expansion, sooner or later a real contraction must take over.

But there is more.

This week Democrats and Republicans compromised, not on prudent budget cuts, but instead on fiscally irresponsible, unpaid government spending. This compromise resulted from a basic inability to set national priorities and in order for one group (like Defense spenders) to get their funding, they had to go allow with Democrat favored domestic policies.

Americans will have the GOP to thank for

  • expensive healthcare
  • rising inflation
  • no tools left to stimulate the economy (taxes have already been cut and interest rates are still low) when inevitably the economy slows and slips into a recession.
  • Trading partners will take care of themselves first (as instructed) taking away a consumer of our goods and services.
  • Federal Debt interest rate costs will begin to choke out other spending.
  • A darkening view of the utility (not mention the honesty) of elected officials will occur to more Americans.
  • The American Dream and the necessary “can do” spirit will be stunted.

In real life, most Americans do not have the experience or the time to understand what their Republican elected leaders have put in play.  America First sounds good, and who is not in favor of lower taxes.  For unexplained reason, for profit insurance companies standing between Americans and their doctors sounds better than Government (as in all other modern healthcare systems around the world).

There are many reasons Republican Congress Members are unfit.  Most likely the corrosive effect of money is at the root.  Wealthy individuals have organized and fueled ideologues to frame issues and mold public opinion.  Money speaks, lots of money speaks louder.

The Republican Party has found ballot box success parroting these wealth back conservative think tanks.  Americans are about to find out from real experience, Republicans are unfit to govern.

Trapped By Words

January 22, 2018

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump joined other Republicans who heaped criticism upon former President Obama for the existence of ISIS. Joining people like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Trump stressed that the Obama strategic decision to withdraw combat troops from Iraq was a sign of weakness and in a Trump Administration, there would be no weakness.

ISIS, Trump said, was a direct result of Obama’s foreign policy.

After one year as President, I wonder what President Trump thinks? I am not concerned about what he tweets but rather what he really thinks.

ISIS is just another name for al Qaeda or Taliban or Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah or Hamas. These radical Islamic groups have existed for many years and represent Muslim factions that seek power and find strict Muslim fundamentalism backed by guns as an effective technique to seize power and hold it.

History has shown that these groups can be held in check only through authoritarian measures.

Had Republicans owned up to George W Bush’s doomed decision to invade and occupy Iraq (and to a lesser extent, President Bush’s decision to allow the morphing of US Afghan foreign policy to nation building), in other words owning up to having opened Pandora’s box in the first place, a far more comprehensive foreign policy might have been found. Alas that did not happen.

So, today the Government finds itself surreptitiously increasing American military presence in Afghanistan and doing the same in Syria and Iraq. The current American posture is ready made for an unforeseen event (like a full scale ambush of US soldiers or an intra-region squabble between Middle East neighbors trapping American forces).

One might cut President Trump a break on this since Pandora’s box is open regardless if Republicans won’t own up. But the President is not going to get any break because he has chosen to side publicly with Israel when common sense would dictate the role of “honest broker”.

What could possibly motivate President Trump to announce moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem?

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq is now woven into the modern Middle East history. For the time being, radical Muslim fundamentalism has access to money and weapons.  There is also plenty of “ugly American” examples which appeal to poor, less educated Arabs and provide the necessary support military units need.

President Trump was, from day 1 of his Administration, trapped by the words of denial by his and other leading Republicans. During President Trump’s first year in office, he has managed to increasingly trap himself (and all of us too).   In a Middle East world where no exit can be seen, cautious words speak louder than foolish ones.

$700 Billion For Defense?

September 19, 2017

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a Defense authorization bill which carries a $700 billion price tag. Championed by Senator John McCain, the Defense bill has been positioned as absolutely necessary to keep America’s world leadership role secure. With North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and ISIS posing threats to American interests, McCain feels it is imperative that defense spending increase.

There is a problem, however, “where will the money for this spending come from”?

Republicans have suggested their new Graham-Cassidy “Obamacare repeal and replace” will save tax payers money. Republicans do not, however, say one must accept less coverage, revisit open season on pre-existing conditions, and allow less Medicaid funding if Graham-Cassidy becomes law. Hmmm.

Tax reform has been held out also. The GOP promises to stimulate the economy, put people to work, and in the his process generate the same or greater tax revenue with lower tax rates. (Sound like a free lunch?).

But there is a far bigger problem than finding funding sources. What would the Trump Administration spend the increased defense budget on?

What is the Trump foreign policy? What is its goals and what strategic relationships would the Administration employ?  What would be the State Departments’ role?

President Obama proposed “pivoting” US military assets from the Middle East where arguably, it was no longer necessary to secure the region’s oil reserves to the far East where China was posing new worries about freedom of the seas for all nations.

Underpinning Obama’s vision was protecting free trade and independence of the region’s trading partners. Countries which prosper are simply less likely to find hostilities attractive.

What does President Trump see? “Making America Great” does not meet commonsense tests. Why would any country, especially a Southeast Asian country cooperate with the US if the outcome was a zero sum, America wins-the other country loses?

And the Trans Pacific Partnership, aimed directly at building win-win trade relationships, along with discrediting the Paris Climate Agreement which called for cooperation among the worlds nations appear not part of Trump’s vision.

How can anyone conclude other than President Trump sees “going it alone” (with a big stick) as his preferred strategy, either because it is simple and he can understand it or because he now finds his campaign rhetoric has boxed the US into a tight spot.

Spending $700 billion on defense may be in the US best interest but until a clear and coherent US foreign policy emerges, these expenditures will be wasteful in themselves, and will require deep cuts in domestic expenditures since there appears to be no appetite amongst Americans to pay more in taxes.

The potential cost of Trump presidency is becoming clearer.

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.

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?