Archive for the ‘foreign relations’ 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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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.

History, What’s That?

May 26, 2017

Yesterday, President Trump spoke to an American TV audience from the NATO headquarters backdrop. The ceremonial speech, which was actually made to other NATO Country leaders, and was intended to recognize NATO’s history was timed such that it fell into a good TV slot for a US audience.

The dedication of a new NATO building featured the addition of two symbols of why NATO is important. A large section of the Berlin Wall called attention to the Communist (totalitarian) threat and a piece from one of the twin towers starkly reminded viewers of terrorism. One might argue that for the present, these symbols offered fitting bookends to NATO’s history.

That was not sufficient for President Trump. The President managed to weave into his speech his request (demand?) that NATO member countries pay their NATO dues. President Trump lectured the assembled group calling the failure of most of NATO’s members to reach the 2% level as “unfair” to American taxpayers. Still unsure whether President Trump’s speech was aimed at NATO members or for US domestic consumption?

The general theme which has played out during Trump’s campaign and early days of his Presidency says countries around the world should do more to provide their own defense (and not rely upon the US). Seem reasonable?

So, it was not a stretch to call NATO obsolete, Brexit as a good idea, or to suggest Japan and maybe South Korea should go nuclear. Did the Donald say that?  Surely the President or some of his advisors have read history books about World War I and II.

Every country has groups within their borders who espouse democratic and peaceful ways, AND, other groups who see the world in militaristic, nationalistic tones. These domestic forces compete for power, and when conditions are right (for example, extremes of income distribution, economic depressions, suppression of individual freedoms), militarism takes hold and bad things happen.

Freedom of speech, fair income distribution, open education, and fairly perceived taxation are elements of civil life which keep the balance between moderation and extremism under control.

Attacks on the news media, implementing tax policies which reward the already wealthy, tilting education opportunities away from the public and towards the privileged, and shifting away from progressive taxation, are examples of governmental actions which increase a societies vulnerability towards nationalism. Some politicians around the world are only too willing to mouth “Make Country XYZ Great Again”.

Since World War II, the United States has played a positive role in keeping countries which had armed their nations to the hilt and had wage savage war on their neighbors on an alternative course. With economic stability, there was little political reason to rearm (other than for basic needs). With little rearmament, there was even more reason to use diplomacy when differences between various countries inevitably arose.

Imagine European history where every 10 to 20 years saw armed conflicts among neighbors.  Since NATO’s founding, peace has reigned. Think about Japan and how many people today buy Toyotas, Sony equipment, Seiko time keepers, or Canon/Nikon/Milota cameras.  Better than Pearl Harbor?

And instead someone thinks going nuclear is a good idea?

Clearly if NATO nations agree that 2% of their GDP is the appropriate amount for Europe’s defense, then each member country should be paying that amount on average (temporary exceptions for times of economic recession). Remember, however, most European countries have a parliamentary form of government. This means the officials making up the government can be turned out of office if voters become dissatisfied.

Keeping the public’s support is the necessary act of political governing. Does anyone think that countries not spending the 2% on defense could simply shift their national budgets to include the 2% and not short some other government expenditure? These countries have made choice which their people have approved. A unilateral change could have unintended consequences.

The world, including the US are far better off with a European Union (versus individual fiefdoms), a Euro (versus many different currencies of questionable value), and countries both in Europe and Asia more interested in domestic than foreign policy (versus a a flock of countries each trying to out arm the others).

While this opinion might not play well to the Trump base, it is also likely that President Trump, his nativist advisors, and his core supporters understand little about history or diplomacy.

There are other explanations why the President felt it necessary to impolitely lecture his fellow peers. A simple explanation would be President Trump does not see Angela Merkel, Theresa May, or Emmanuel Macron as his peer. Not a good omen, it can be a lonely world.

Hmmm.

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?