Archive for the ‘foreign relations’ category

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.

Human Rights In A Time Of Popularism

March 13, 2017

Over the past weekend, news headlines featured the reports that Turkey wanted to send diplomates into the Netherlands in order to campaign before Turkish residents living in the Netherlands. The diplomates purpose was said to be aimed at gaining votes for a change in the Turkish Constitution which would increase current Turkey President Erdogan’s power. By US standards, this request seems off base and should be denied. Hmmm.

American’s gut reaction, however, is based more on our sense of isolationism, that is the American public square is off limits to other nations’ political squabbles. Americans do not expect other nations to have an opinion on US politics and for sure, do not want any interference in our internal affairs (for example, the rumored Russian activity in Trump’e election). But what if a foreign country only wish to “spin” their local politics in the US press and attempt to raise favorable sentiments? Who cares?

The Dutch situation, however, is different. The Turkish intervention was aimed at convincing Turkish citizens who were living and working in the Netherlands to vote (absentee) in a Turkish elections. What’s wrong with that?

Popularism is flowering across Europe and in the Netherlands, right leaning politicians are taking every opportunity to remind Dutch citizens that Turkish guest workers are taking Dutch jobs. Post World War II a number of countries, the Netherlands and Germany in particular, invited guest workers from Turkey to come and work. For a complex set of reasons, the guest workers did not assimilate into the greater society. Go along and get along seemed to be the accepted way of life and today there are second and third generation Turkish residents in both Germany and the Netherlands who do not speak their host country’s language. Hmmm.

Popularism, itself, is a bag of many things. Xenophobes, bigots, and religious extremists often live comfortable under this umbrella. Promote discontent, label a minority as the trouble maker, and then promise (without proof) you will fix this mythical problem, and voila, a politician might get elected. Sound familiar?

But in Europe, there is a much more subtle problem under the surface. Turkey wants to become an EU member and gain full entry to the common market. For Turkey this would give their economy a great boost and would enable even larger numbers of Turkish citizens to move freely into other EU countries and compete for jobs. Oh, and by the way, if the Turkish citizens did not find employment right away, they could claim social benefits in their host country. Hmmm.

Most current EU member States have not had much concern when the migrating workers carried Spanish, Italian, Polish or even a Lithuanian passports. A Turkish passport is something else again. Why?

No surprise, most Turks are Muslim.

The Muslim religion presents a different theology, of course, and for religious intolerants, this is sufficient enough. But there’s more.   Muslims bring with them a different sent of customs, including Sharia law, dress codes, and sharply different views on women’s rights (as seen by Europeans).

Most Western people also consider religious freedom to be a core human right. Most modern western people consider woman’s equality and suffrage a human right. So how exactly does one reconcile these two opposing views? How does a country have laws which grant women the right to wear what they wish (within broad standards of decency) and turn an eye the opposite direction when another women is told she must wear a certain religious garb whether she wants to or not?

In times of plenty, a tolerant society would find ways to accommodate Islam. Genital mutilation, stoning, or multiple wives, however, represent a step to far in most tolerant Western societies. While these societies might allow relative free exercise of religious freedom, these practices would be banned.

But, in times of slow growth or decline, the idea of someone from another country coming in a taking work from another citizens is too much to expect. Turkey as an EU/Common Market member has its supporters (those who see gaining access to Turkish customers), but the realities of local country economics when framed in the conflicts of religious customs, it becomes a piece of cake for populists politicians to short circuit any dialog and pitch secular muslims as the same as fundamentalist.

It would be wise not to look down ones nose and say that would not happen in America. Think about the demonization of Mexicans who don’t follow Sharia law, don’t have different rules for women, and dress for the most part indistinguishable from other Americans. And worse, Mexicans are good workers, family oriented, and are church going people. Isn’t that what the idealized American is?

Populist politicians are pickers and choosers. They are also close to rudderless and pick issues which will yield the most votes. And while that might sound great to someone if the issue fits their hot button, one must remember that this populist leader will jump upon a new issue in the future if that serves their purpose better.

Your populist leader may not be your friend for long.  Hmmm.

Proud To Be An American Down Under

February 28, 2017

I have been traveling in Australia for just over two weeks. Tomorrow, I will be returning… on a long couple of flights. With me will be wonderful memories of a warm and friendly country full of polite and generous people. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to polite and generous, Australians tend to be direct and forthright? Well, Australians do tell you as they see it.

Today I was visiting the Museum of New South Wales in Sidney. It is a fine museum, not the Louvre, but it is a serious museum with art from around the world as well as a large collection of Australian (and Aboriginal) art. Wanting to learn more about Australian art and artists, I joined a Museum tour focused upon Australian art and artists.

The tour guide asked the assembled group where each was from. London, Perth, and Philadelphia were the opening locations along with a number from Sydney. No sooner had I announced “Philadelphia”, someone from Sydney asked, “have you been following the news from home while on your Australian visit?”

She followed up with “nothing seems to be going right, President Trump and La La Land”.
Her comments seem to summarize many Australians views of President Trump… a cockup.

For Australians, the Academy Awards mistake of announcing the wrong “best picture” award is inexplicable and must be assigned to the category of pure incompetence.  Australians view President Trump in the same league as the Academy, totally unreal and a cockup in motion.

Internet art (not found in museums) from Europe which I have seen is full of unflattering Donald Trump caricatures depicting Trump are vulgar as well as showing him out of touch with reality. In a short time, President Trump has made “America Un-great Again”.

America, fortunately, is much more than President Trump. I remain confident that DJT will self destruct, either by himself or at the hand of fellow Republicans following the 2108 midterm elections. Hmmm.

In the advice department, if you travel, once again it may be beneficial to bring a maple leaf symbol and claim to be a Canadian.

Should We Be Worried?

May 16, 2016

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton now considered the presumptive nominees (sorry Bernie), the early descriptions of what might come to pass is worrisome to be sure. The media, particularly the television variety which has feasted off Trump’s outrageous conduct during the primaries has a huge responsibility ahead. Will entertainment drown out serious news reporting?

If primaries are the standard, the Presidential race will become another round of “what did the Donald just say?” “He said what about Bill Clinton’s philandering?” “What happened in Benghazi that Hillary won’t talk about?” “Why did Hillary allow US secrets to be put at risk on her private email account?” “What did Hillary discuss with aides about payback they would receive for their financial support?” And so on.

If the news media allows this type of reporting to continue, in the absence of in-depth questioning of both candidates on specific platform promises and exactly how these promises would take effect, the prospects of a President Trump look both very well and very worrisome.

Hillary may have high negatives and may not be trusted by many Americans, but few can question her experience, intelligence, and qualifications to become President. Consider Donald Trump’s business experience, which he offers as proof he can lead the US government, with Hillary’s Senate, first Lady, and Secretary of State experience.

One might see one candidate as cautious, inclusive, and a deep thinker, while the other as narcissistic (look what I did), high risk taker (bully and bluffer and who looks for someone else cleans up the mess), and a blank sheet versus domestic and foreign policy (no relationships with world leaders or in-depth knowledge of cultures and nationalistic conflicts).

It would seem this Presidential race should be open and shut in favor of Clinton. Hmmm.

Maybe it should be open and shut, but it is not in the minds of voters. Too many do not trust the Clintons and most think less of how well government is functioning now. What better candidate could there be than a successful business man and entertainer?

The Clinton “trust issue” is a thin reflection that voters do not think she will even try to “fix Washington” but instead will go along and get along.

Voters are not wondering about what policies might be necessary to ease China into the world order without provoking conflict? Just what type of US foreign policy will facilitate India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea to maintain their growth and not develop destructive conflicts with China? How will European countries develop healthy economies and not threaten Russia? And, how can the US remain helpful to the Middle East but not involved in the armed conflicts?

Trump would suggest these are not important questions (because the US is the greatest country in the world and he is only going to make the US greater). The Trump message is “as a businessman, he encounters problems all the time and he solves them when they arise.  As President, he would do the same.

Clinton is quite the opposite. Policies and strategies are essential in Hillary World. A fair question is “what is going to happen when some of the world’s bad actors do not respond to a Clinton Administration set of policies and strategies?

Debates around these two perspectives could be illuminating without presuming how voters might react. For my money, the choice of President made upon these propositions regardless of its outcome, would be acceptable.

On the other hand, “Crooked Hillary” or “Trump’s disrespect for women” campaign claims are emotional and probably irrelevant. Can the press put “big boy pants” on and steer their questions and observations to a higher level?

Parallel Universes

August 14, 2015

A New York Times article today discussed the Obama Administration’s preparation underway for the President’s upcoming meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping. Not surprisingly the Administration is taking the meeting seriously and the Administration wants to be well prepared. There are trade issues, openness of southeast Asia sea routes, terrorism, cyber security as well as expansion of cultural ties to name a few. Crowded agenda it would appear.

The article, however, focused upon the readiness of President Obama to discuss “human rights”. Hmmm.

Of course human rights are important. One cannot help but wonder, however, why the President of a country which operates Guantanamo Bay detention center where prisoners are held with out charge indefinitely and others who are cleared of charges and still kept imprisoned, can speak to human rights?

The Chinese are dealing with a billion and half citizens and have chosen to impose strict regulations on public displays of dissatisfaction. Anyone who has visited Beijing, Xian, or Shanghai would have found these cities quite fascinating and easy to move around in. Visiting China cannot be confused with cold war era visits to the Soviet Union where “handlers” were assigned to visitors and every effort was made to limit contact with Soviet citizens.

China can certainly make improvements in free speech and the plurality of their political system (China is a one party country). The question is why should anyone expect that a two party China would take a different stance on claiming sovereignty of the South China Sea? Why would a pluralistic China decide to cut defense spending or crack down on cyber activity?

The principles that have worked so well with the US, such as free speech, rule of law, free and open elections, and capitalism should in time be valuable to China too. The Chinese government are competent leaders and will in time find the utility of many of US customs…  when they are ready.  Look at what happened when the US pushed hard for Egypt to adopt democratic elections and imposed a constitution on Iraq.  Unintended consequences.

With the death penalty, Guantanamo, NSA spying, Ferguson, and guns in the hands of just about anyone who wants one, the US ought examine itself before it tries to advise other countries.