Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ category

$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.

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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?

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”.

 

ISIS’ Last Stand?

June 9, 2017

The long awaited attack on Raqqa, seat of the ISIS provisional government, is about to, or has just begun. After months of pondering, “do we arm the Syrian Kurds or not”, the US has done so and the battle which will ultimately oust ISIS leaders, is at hand. Will ISIS collapse or move to another spot is unclear. Whether the ousting will put an end to terrorist activity, however, is problematic. Why is that and does it matter?

Before there was ISIS, there was al Qaeda. And while ISIS and al Qaeda did their thing, there was also al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. All these organizations have applied extreme Islamic fundamentalists thinking to the secular world. All of these organizations have tried to carve out a more comfortable life for themselves at the expense of someone else. Sound like thugs or common criminals?

A few days ago, a terrorist attack took place in Iran, a country run by religious extremists. ISIS claimed responsibility thereby pleading guilty to these senseless killings.

Do you think this operation was the dying gasps of a defeated organization?

The Iranian attack served a useful, but unintended, consequence. The attack pointed to a source predating al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Wahhabism.

Wahhabism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In a “give to Caesar what is due” type of arrangement, the royal Saudi family supports, to the exclusion of others, the Wahhabi version of Islam. In return, the Wahhabi clerics support the royal family and look the other way should a royal sheik go over the line with cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

So, no matter what happens with ISIS, the beacon of ultra conservative Islam, and any ridiculous or anti-social behavior one associates with ISIS or Saudi Arabia (like women’s covering and societal restrictions) will have a sponsor, who from time to time, will think god wants them to enforce such beliefs on the “infidels”. A nuisance for sure, but not an existential threat, to be sure.

Consider that last week a single armed person went into a Florida business and shot four innocent people before taking his own life. In another shooting this week in Pennsylvania, a single armed person went to a grocery store after-hours. This person barricaded the exits and then began shooting, killing three people, before taking his own life. Both of these mass killings had the markings of terrorist inspiration but alas, both turned out to be just home grown insanity.

London, Manchester, and Paris have experienced “ISIS inspired” despicably violent acts recently. Despite large sums of money and hard work by anti-terror professionals, tragic incidents have still occurred. These tragedies are red meat for clever politicians who only too gladly paint the world filled with terrorists, like they are behind every tree. Regrettably, it appears the world is also filled with gullible people only to ready and willing to swallow this populist bait and accept shallow recommendations from these dangerous, self serving politicians.

Candidate Trump and his many right wing supporters were only too ready to talk tough towards ISIS while campaigning. Now as President, Trump continues to talk tough but has little to show for it. For the rest of us, former President Obama less inspirational tones that required one to think about the real nature of terrorism, resonate as wise and informed.

  • Extreme Islam is a problem for everyone including non-extreme Muslims.
  • Extreme Islam’s threat to America pales in comparison to tragedies of everyday American life.

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.