Month: March 2017

Communications student makes the big time

Here is the maximum coverage Sunday’s Serbian presidential election has gotten so far in the US:

Balkan readers: what do you think? Did National Public Radio get it right?

Tags : ,

What has Trump actually accomplished?

It’s only a hundred days or so, but President Trump promised lots of things would happen within that time period. What has he actually accomplished? I’m not asking what he has done. I know full well he has signed many executive orders. But what difference has it all made, or will make in the foreseeable future?

Precious little would be my guess. Obamacare is here to stay, unless Trump and his minions manage to undermine it with smack talk. Yesterday’s effort to undo Obama’s climate change actions will be challenged in the bureaucracy, in court, in Congress, and by economic reality. Coal isn’t coming back. Everyone but the coal miners knows it. The border wall is looking doubtful, and the Mexicans are certainly not going to pay for it. Manufacturing jobs are not returning to the US, despite the President’s frequent misuse of company announcements. NAFTA and the Iran nuclear deal are still in place, even if the Trans Pacific Partnership is not.

This is a dismal record relative to his promises, but it doesn’t mean Trump has had no impact. More than one hundred people died in an American bombing in Mosul, and other bombings in Syria and Yemen are causing more collateral damage than in the past. The Administration denies loosening the rules of engagement (those govern where you can bomb based on what information), but it’s like border enforcement: tell the operators that you won’t hold them accountable for abuses and you can be pretty sure some will abuse.

When I spoke in Rome last week at the Italian Institute for International Affairs, no one objected to my identifying Trump as an enemy to those who have benefited from the post-World War II Pax Americana. Trump’s popularity is not only low in the U.S., it is dismally low abroad as well. Even the Russians no longer like him, as it has become all too clear that he will be unable to deliver America into their hands. Today the Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify the accession of tiny Montenegro to NATO. Moscow will be disappointed, as it tried last October to block Podgorica from joining the Alliance by sponsoring a coup against its president. I needn’t mention how little Chancellor Merkel thinks of Trump, never mind the Australian prime minister and many other (formerly) close allies.

There are of course Trump fans around the world. Brexiteers like him, but he won’t be able to visit the UK any time soon because the protests would be massive. The Saudis are anticipating his wholehearted support for their war in Yemen, but you can bet most Yemenis won’t be so enthusiastic. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu used to like Trump, but his ardor cooled after the President tried to restrain settlement-building in the West Bank. The Chinese are developing a taste for Trump because he is so easy to buy off: a quick decision on a trademark issue for one of his companies seems to have bought them a reversal of Trump’s resistance to the One China policy.

I know lots of people who did not like President Obama. Some thought him hostile to private enterprise. Others thought him irresolute in foreign policy and national security. Still others resented his failure to push harder on human rights issues abroad or to protect civil liberties at home. All these folks would happily trade in Trump for a third Obama term, which is what Hillary Clinton promised to serve.

But being president is not a popularity contest. A president can remain in office for his full four years no matter how unpopular he is. Trump is not going away anytime soon, unless the Republicans in Congress come to believe that he represents a threat to their re-election or to the election of a Republican president in 2020. The investigation of his campaign’s link to the Russians is the best bet for convincing Republicans to betray him. Let’s hope it can be wrested from Devin Nunes’ grasp and put in the hands of someone more independent and responsible.

Tags : , , , , , , , ,

Making a success of failure

After more than seven years of promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Republicans last week couldn’t find enough votes in the House of Representatives they control to pass a watered down version of what they had promised to do. That’s the good news. Obamacare will remain in place. Millions will not be deprived of coverage that meets minimal standards and provides reasonable benefits. The taxes required to sustain the system, which are collected from the very wealthy, will remain in place, at least for now, as will the Medicaid expansion.

The bad news is that President Trump and the Congressional Republicans will now heap opprobrium on Obamacare and hinder its effectiveness, in order to prove that it still needs to be repealed and replaced rather than fixed and expanded. It’s failing, they say, so let’s discourage companies from offering the health insurance it made available to many millions of people. And let’s kick as many people off Medicaid, the state-based system that provides health care to poor, as possible. The worse it gets, the better.

Trump has made a lifetime “success” of failure. Look at what we know of his tax returns, which admittedly isn’t much. But it is enough to know that he used losses over many years to offset his income to pay far less tax than would otherwise be required. A lot less in percentage terms than people making a small fraction of his income.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is a technique that can be used in foreign policy as well. Islamic extremism is our greatest threat, Trump says, so let’s go after it with the full force of the US military, neglecting any efforts to make extremism a less attractive proposition and intensifying military attacks, with predictable consequences for collateral damage. The result is predictable after 16 years of already aggressive military efforts: there will be more radical Islamic extremists in more countries four years from now than there are today, just as there are more than four years ago. Failure will become its own reward, justifying yet another ratcheting up of the military effort.

But you don’t have to wait. You can see this happening today with Yemen, where Trump is contemplating more support for a war that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already demonstrated to be fruitless. Up the ante, as in Vietnam.

So what will stop this pattern of building on failure? Only a solid and definitive “no” from the American people. The resistance to repealing Obamacare was a good rehearsal, but far more is needed. Trump is still telling more lies than anyone can keep track of with a scorecard, which the Washington Post is helpfully maintaining. He is also sending more troops to Iraq and Syria, without revealing their numbers. Without a stronger civilian effort to shore up decent civilian governance they are destined to become part of Trump’s consistent record of building his personal success on other people’s failures. Unless we all stop that from happening this time around.

Tags : , , ,

Peace picks March 26-31

  1. Islam in France | Monday, March 27 | 10:30-12:00pm | The Brookings Institution | Register Here | After a series of terror attacks in 2015 and 2016, security issues are among the primary concerns of French voters heading into this spring’s presidential elections. As the European country with the largest Muslim minority, the issue of Islam in France and how to tackle terrorism is particularly fraught, and it is interwoven into broader debates about immigration, nationality, identity, secularism, and social cohesion. Furthermore, with right-wing politicians across Europe eager to galvanize their electorates, they have intensified concerns, incited Islamophobia, and exploited public misunderstandings of the teachings and practices of Islam. To provide a broader portrait of Islam in France and dispel misapprehensions surrounding the fraught dynamics of mosque and state, the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne has recently released a data-driven report on Muslims living in France. On March 27, Brookings will host a panel discussion with Project Director Hakim El Karoui and Senior Counselor Dominique Moïsi of the Institut Montaigne to unpack the conventional wisdom and polemics about Muslims in France. The panelists will consider whether better policies can be implemented that address the root causes of radicalization in French society, such as socioeconomic marginalization and inequality, while increasing safety and security. Shadi Hamid of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings will also provide remarks, and Philippe Le Corre of CUSE will moderate the conversation.
  2. The Russian Military in Ukraine and Syria: Lessons for the United States | Tuesday March 28 | 4:00pm | The Atlantic Council | Register Here | The recent escalation of military activities in Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine and military power projection in Syria demonstrate massive improvements in Moscow’s military capabilities. Russia is using hybrid warfare and conventional military operations to achieve its geopolitical goals: apply massive pressure against the democratically elected government of Ukraine, keep Kyiv from European integration, and punish Ukraine for its Western and Euro-Atlantic choices. It also has created a credible threat against the Baltic states – NATO members. In Syria, Russia-led military operations successfully buttressed the Assad regime, assured Russian military presence in strategic coastal towns of Tartus and Latakiya, and established an air base in Khmeimim. The Russian military has learned to coordinate operations with several Middle Eastern allies: the Syrian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the Hezbollah terrorist organization. Apart from Moscow’s geopolitical objectives, these operations are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of Russian-made weapons to potential foreign buyers, to test new Russian military capabilities, and to display new capacities to potential adversaries. Russia is now the main adversary of NATO in Europe and the second great power in the Levant – after the United States and its allies. The Atlantic Council will bring together a panel of experts to discuss Russia’s military power and the lessons learned from Russia’s military performance in Syria and Ukraine. The panelists are Evelyn Farkas, Senior Fellow at Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Alexander Golts, Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, and Brigadier General (Ret.) Peter Zwack, Senior Russia-Eurasia Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies.
  3. The Baltic States in the Trump Administration: A Conversation with Foreign Minister of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania | Tuesday, March 28 | 6:30-8:30pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | In 1991, one year after the Baltic States regained their independence, Hudson Institute hosted the prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania at its Conference on the Baltics—the first ever such event outside the Baltic region. The United States has since developed a special relationship with each country, marked by their accession to NATO and the EU in 2004. Together, these countries constitute the easternmost members of both the EU and NATO. Now, after years of calm, the security and political situation in Europe is again at a crossroads. The Russian intervention in Ukraine and the political crises of the EU pose increasing challenges to Europe. A quarter century after the Conference on the Baltic States, Hudson Institute is honored to host the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to discuss the view from Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius—and the opportunities and challenges confronting each.
  4. The Inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum Event with Secretary Madeleine Albright | Wednesday, March 29 | 2:00-3:00pm | The Wilson Center | Register Here | Join us for the inaugural Haleh Esfandiari Forum event. The Haleh Esfandiari Forum at the Wilson Center is a series of public events focused on women’s empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. This joint initiative by the Middle East Program (MEP) and the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (GWLI) honors Haleh Esfandiari’s commitment to promoting women’s empowerment and her leadership of MEP from its inception in 1998 through 2015.
  5. Egypt and the United States Under the Trump Administration | Thursday, March 30 | 2:00-3:30pm | Project on Middle East Democracy | Register Here | President Donald Trump has signaled a desire to build even closer ties to the Egyptian government, a policy shift that poses significant potential risks for the United States due to Egypt’s deteriorating human rights conditions. Ahead of President Sisi’s upcoming visit to Washington, join us to take stock of the situation on the ground in Egypt and examine potential changes to the U.S.-Egypt relationship. The panelists include Michele Dunne, Director and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program at Carnegie; Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Moataz El Fegiery, Protection Coordinator of Middle East and North Africa at Front Line Defenders, and Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2014-2017.
  6. The Yemen Conflict in Perspective: Geopolitical and Humanitarian Challenges | Friday, March 31 | 9:00-2:00pm | The Middle East Institute | Register Here | Yemen is gripped by clashes between Houthi rebels and pro-government forces, interference by regional actors, and a failure to complete the political transition following the 2011 uprisings against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This instability has created an opening for the militants of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a devastating humanitarian impact. How can international engagement take into account the domestic and geopolitical forces at work, secure a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and combat the extremist threat? What are the challenges faced by humanitarian aid organizations that operate in Yemen, and how can the international community confront the coming challenge of reconstruction and repair of the damaged country? Speakers include Amb. (ret.) Wendy Chamberlin, President of the Middle East Institute; Ismail Ould Chaikh Ahmed, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen; Mohammed Abulahoum, Justice & Building Party of Yemen; E. Ahmed Awad Binmubarak, Ambassador of Yemen to the United States; The Honorable Anne Patterson, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs; Nadwa al-Dawsari, Nonresident Senior Fellow at POMED; Albert Jaeger, Mission Chief for Yemen, IMF; and Nabil Shaiban, Senior Operations Officer at the World Bank.
  7. Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal: Report Launch and Panel Discussion | Friday, March 31 | 10:00-11:30am | Center for Strategic & International Studies | Register Here | Although the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program is working, the United States has largely been unable or unwilling to deter Iran’s incremental extension of regional power and threshold testing in the Middle East. A new report by the International Security Program at CSIS, “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” seeks to better understand and analyze Iran’s strategy, motivations, and military and paramilitary development; explores a set of policy pathways for the United States to counter challenges from Iran; and provides a recommended Iran deterrence strategy for the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to consider. Join us for the report launch of “Deterring Iran After the Nuclear Deal,” featuring a panel discussion on Iran’s regional activities post-JCPOA, implications for the Middle East, and policy options for the Trump administration and U.S. Congress to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior and capability development. Panelists include Gen Charles Q. Brown Jr., USAF, Deputy Commander for US Central Command; Dr. Colin Kahl, Associate Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University; Mr. Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Dr. Jon Alterman, Senior Vice President and Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director of the Middle East Program at CSIS.
Tags : , , , , , , , , ,

Despite challenges, Iraq is on its way back

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the United States Institute of Peace on Monday to discuss the future of security and government in Iraq as well as the prospects of US-Iraqi relations during the Trump administration.

Al-Abadi praised the work of the Iraqi Security Forces in not only liberating Iraq from ISIS but also winning back the trust of the people. He highlighted the security forces’ accomplishments, including the return of over one million people to their homes, the military partnership with the Kurdish peshmerga, and the imminent recapture of Mosul. However, al-Abadi stressed that military force alone would not defeat threats like ISIS and a more comprehensive approach, incorporating a successful hearts and minds campaign, would be necessary.

Al-Abadi also addressed future challenges to security in the aftermath of Mosul and ISIS. He said religious minorities, who have suffered severely at the hands of ISIS, are part of Iraqi society and have the same rights as all Iraqis. But there is uncertainty over whether they will return to Iraq due to increasing delays in reconstruction efforts. He also said that the government intends on investigating and punishing ISIS crimes. Militia fighters would also be subject to the law and their demobilization and reintegration into society monitored. Elements of the Popular Mobilization Forces would not be involved in politics while continuing to carry arms, which is at odds with the political process.

Turning to government challenges, al-Abadi discussed the balance between federal and regional authority and how best to reform and improve the Iraqi political situation. He stressed the importance of keeping politicians accountable and placing citizens’ trust in strong political institutions. Calling it a new day for democracy, al-Abadi said that while change is difficult, it is essential for people to believe in the government’s ability to reconstruct liberated territories, eliminate the ISIS threat, and make politics inclusive and representative of all Iraqis.

However, developing good governance is not easy and Iraq must proceed with caution. Al-Abadi cited the need to maintain peace and not antagonize or polarize people early on, especially in plans to govern newly liberated territories such as Mosul. He was hopeful that the provincial elections, scheduled for late 2017, will return new politicians who want to move the country forward towards democracy, building bridges for cooperation rather than walls of provincial and sectarian division.

Coming directly from the White House and a conversation with President Trump, al-Abadi was satisfied with the level of support from the new administration and the prospects for a better relationship with the United States. Trump wants to be more engaged and face terrorism head-on, a move al-Abadi welcomes in the continued fight against ISIS.

As for regional and international partners, al-Abadi saw positive elements as well as areas for improvement in the fighting terrorism. The region could work more vigorously against ISIS and its recruiting efforts, an oversight that enabled the group to build its capacities in the first place. The international community has pledged support to stabilizing Mosul, and the recent visit of the Saudi foreign minister to Baghdad was welcome. Iraq is eager to deliver the aid and assistance desperately needed to rebuild the country and to stop regional conflicts.

Tags : , , ,

Trump: friend or foe?

Here are the speaking notes I used this morning for a talk at the Italian Institute of International Affairs (IAI):

  1. First the caveats: I supported and voted for Hillary Clinton. I’d have been glad to see her serve Barack Obama’s third term.
  2. Most Americans agreed with me by a margin of almost 3 million votes, but their voice is heard only state-by-state through the Electoral College, which favors smaller states and enables someone to win without a plurality of popular votes.
  3. The result is Donald Trump, who had never run for office but was well-known both as a television personality and as a proponent of the false claim that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore ineligible to be president.
  4. That was not the last of his fallacious claims, which now include the numbers of people at his inauguration, denials that his campaign was in touch with the Russians, and allegations that his predecessor tapped his phones.
  5. Trump has now put together an Administration best described not as conservative or even Republican but rather as radical.
  6. It has two main ideological apillars: ethnic nationalism and anti-government activism.
  7. With three important exceptions—at Homeland Security, Defense, and Veterans’ affairs—all of Trump’s cabinet appointees are explicitly dedicated to the proposition that the departments they lead should not exist, or should be vastly reduced in size and regulatory relevance.
  8. Diplomacy and international development are among the disfavored government functions. The outline of Trump’s first budget proposal supports this view: State and AID take a whopping cut of about 30%.
  9. This will be mostly welcome among the Tea Party Republicans in both houses of Congress, but the Administration is not entirely congruent with them, since it also wants to preserve the social and health safety nets for older Americans (Social Security and Medicare) and to conduct a major infrastructure program that will require at least some government funding.
  10. There are also some in Congress who will resist the cuts to the State Department and USAID, likely with some measure of success.
  11. The ethnic nationalist pillar is most highly relevant to domestic policy, as the U.S. is a multi-ethnic country with significant Black, Hispanic, Indian, and non-Christian minorities.
  12. Trump has said in public he does not understand the phrase “all men are created equal.” He pointed out to a reporter several years ago that the phrase is obviously not true. Some are brighter than others, some prettier.
  13. This failure to understand one of the basic tenets of liberal democracy—equality before the law, not in personal attributes—is fundamental to this Administration.
  14. It is not merely ethnonationalist, but specifically white supremacist, which will color (pun intended) its view of the world.
  15. The Administration intends to limit immigration of non-Christians and non-whites, support ethnic nationalists in Europe and elsewhere, and back off commitments to democracy worldwide.
  16. The white nationalism is also, in my view, fundamental to Trump’s attitude towards Russia. He sees in Vladimir Putin an ethno-nationalist soulmate.
  17. Fortunately, many Republicans in Congress have been uncomfortable with Trump’s admiration for Putin. The investigation of the Trump campaign’s many connections to the Russians has likely at least postponed if not destroyed any sell out of Ukraine or Syria.
  18. It’s hard to picture how a president would cozy up to the guy who ordered the massive hacking of Yahoo.
  19. What are the implications for Europe and for foreign policy more generally? Is Trump friend, foe or something in between?
  20. Trump’s ethno-nationalist cohort thinks of itself as “European,” by which it means white.
  21. I don’t think most of my European friends would agree, but many of you will recognize the ethno-nationalists as the brethren of the Brexit leave campaign, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and Silvio Berlusconi, who in many ways was a precursor to the Trump phenomenon: businessman turned populist, rightwing but big spender, misogynist and racist.
  22. Supporters of those leaders will regard Trump as friend. Liberal democrats who believe in equality before the law will regard him as foe.
  23. There are other reasons for Europe to view Trump with suspicion.
  24. His insistence on bilateralism is incompatible with the EU and his doubts about the NATO Alliance should raise eyebrows, even though his Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor have boxed him into a more traditional approach on that subject.
  25. Trump’s attitude toward Russia—Putin does no wrong worth mentioning—suggests that Trump’s commitment to democracy will be negligible.
  26. His worldview is incompatible with the widening of democratic practice as well as the international institutions and norms the United States has worked hard to build up in the 70 odd years since World War II.
  27. He clearly would like fewer international restrictions and more freedom to do as America pleases, no matter what others may think.
  28. This will include military action, which is the only instrument of foreign policy Trump has committed to beefing up.
  29. He has loosened the restrictions on military action in Somalia and Yemen and tried to accelerate the taking of Raqqa from the Islamic State, without any plans for how Yemen and Raqqa will be governed if the military action is successful.
  30. Even sanctions have not appeared as an important tool in this administration, and soft power is never mentioned. Never mind the moral stature of the U.S.
  31. There is however growing evidence that hard cash is influential with Trump: his softening towards China has gone in parallel with Chinese investments in his son-in-law’s business deals.
  32. That signal won’t be lost on the Russians, the Saudis, the UAE, Qatar and maybe even some Europeans.
  33. So here is what I think: this is a white supremacist administration prepared to strengthen the American military and homeland security, but weaken the rest of its bureaucracy and get rid of as many multilateral international commitments as possible while seeking financial benefits for its friends and family.
  34. As Lenin asked, what is to be done?
  35. Within the U.S., you will have heard about the popular resistance to Trump, the institutional barriers to his unilateral exercise of presidential power, and his retreats from some of his worst ideas: moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, preventing the Chinese from accessing their military installations in the South China Sea, withdrawing from NAFTA, and befriending Putin and Kim Jong-il.
  36. He’ll back down on his immigration ban for Muslim countries as well, because the courts have seen it for what it is: an unconstitutional discrimination based on religion.
  37. There is every sign that when push comes to shove, Trump often backs down.
  38. I therefore hope that the international community will also develop the courage to push back on key issues.
  39. The Dutch election, while was less unequivocal than I would like, was nevertheless a good first signal of European resistance to racist populism.
  40. The critical next step is to defeat Marine Le Pen at the end of April, or at worst in May.
  41. That done, the Germans seem to be on track to choose between two eminently acceptable candidates of the center left and center right.
  42. I still hope Europe will not allow the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to suffer the same fate as TPP. It is, after all, a bilateral deal between the EU and U.S. If you stand up for it, Washington will need to rethink.
  43. I hope Europe will maintain its sanctions on Russia and insist on implementation of the Minsk 2 agreement in Ukraine.
  44. I hope Europe and Asia will stand up for the Paris climate change agreement, monitoring any moves by the Administration to vitiate its implementation.
  45. I even hope Europe will take on the mantle of defense of liberal democratic and economic ideals, giving the Americans some time to sort out our obviously parlous domestic political situation. Chancellor Merkel last week did a good job of this.
  46. Trump is a foe to those of us who have enjoyed the enormous benefits of the post-World War II order.
  47. It is time for us to stand up to be counted.




Tags :