Day: August 21, 2017
It was a good speech, but one given by the wrong president.
Wrong first because President Trump has done far more to divide Americans in the last seven months than to unite them. His emphasis on the importance of unity at home to the successful pursuit of the war in Afghanistan was well founded. Without a common understanding of why we are fighting and what success looks like, sustaining support for America’s longest war will be impossible. But Donald Trump and his sympathy for neo-Nazi white supremacists are not going to foster that kind of solidarity. His talk now of how bigotry has no place is insufficient. He needs to do far more to fight bigotry, by dropping for example the Administration’s vigorous efforts to prevent minorities from voting.
Wrong because the President claimed that the strategy–fight to create the political conditions for a successful negotiation with the Taliban–is new and that he will be able to pursue it. It’s not new. That is precisely what convinced President Obama to send more troops, but the conditions never proved ripe. Dick Holbrooke and his successors as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (the ones I remember are Marc Grossman, Jim Dobbins, and Laurel Miller) were among the very best available, not only in this country but also abroad. Trump has now all but dismantled the civilian apparatus they built to pursue America’s political and diplomatic goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has no means left to pursue the strategy he falsely claims he is inventing.
Wrong because Trump betrays America’s weakness when he so blatantly begs for allies to share more burdens and India to play a key role in spurring Afghanistan’s economy. Only a clear and unequivocal US commitment , not “tin cupping” as it is known in the halls of Foggy Bottom, will encourage others to come on board. Burden sharing is a consequence of leadership, not a pre-condition for it. Leaders lead.
Wrong because Trump excludes “nation-building,” without which success in Afghanistan is simply not possible. Only a capable and legitimate Afghan state will be able to establish the law and order required to eliminate safe havens for international terrorists. Trump, like all of his predecessors, tries to exclude the kind of civilian commitment to help the Afghans over a generation that will be required to establish anything resembling the rule of law. But what else would prevent a Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Islamic State resurgence? Only American special operators, in the forever war Trump denies he is pursuing.
Wrong because there is another answer to that question: neighbors matter. Trump bluntly threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan. That hasn’t worked well in the past; we’ll have to wait and see how it works this time around. He failed to mention China, Russia, and Iran, all of which play important roles inside Afghanistan and in the region. They have all also been at odds with the US in Afghanistan. Where is the strategy for rallying the neighbors to the cause?
My compliments to the generals: Mattis, McMaster and Kelly have made Trump sound decent and even patriotic. But he is far from the right guy to unify America behind a renewal of this 17-year-old war, especially if he ignores the civilian role in fixing what ails Afghanistan and bringing other major powers to support the effort. Good speech, wrong president.
Albatrit Matoshi of Pristina daily Zeri asked questions last week. I replied:
- Not even two months after the parliamentary elections in Kosovo, the central institutions can not be formed as a result of political disunity. Is Kosovo losing ground to international institutions as a result of this political stalemate?
A: There are surely costs to the political stalemate, but “hung” parliaments happen. Even in much more experienced democracies, politicians often take months to form a new government. In the meanwhile, there is a caretaker in place. I trust it is doing the ordinary and necessary business of government.
- The Coalition PAN (PDK-AAK-NISMA) has emerged the largest in the June 11 elections, but it faces lack the necessary numbers to form the Assembly and the Government. In the absence of the necessary votes, this coalition is not participating in Assembly sessions, despite the invitation of the US, Germany, France, England, Italy to attend the Assembly. Should political representatives find compromise solutions, as the country risks again to go to extraordinary elections?
A: I hope people will make every effort to come to a compromise solution rather than new elections, but that decision is up to Kosovars, not foreigners.
- Should President Hashim Thaçi give the mandate to the second party, in this case to the “Vetëvendosje” candidate for Prime Minister Albin Kurti, if Ramush Haradinaj fails within the legal deadline to form the Government?
A: I am not a lawyer, but the Kosovo Constitution says the President “appoints the candidate for Prime Minister for the establishment of the Government after proposal by the political party or coalition holding the majority in the Assembly.” It seems to me Vetëvendosje would get a mandate if it can propose a government with support of the majority in the Assembly.
- In the absence of the Assembly and the Government, Kosovo has not yet ratified the demarcation agreement with Montenegro. If Ramush Haradinaj is elected prime minister, who has mostly objected to this agreement, do you expect that this issue will be resolved?
A: You will have to ask him. I know of no reasonable basis on which to continue opposition to demarcation.
- Is the EU likely to abolish visas for Kosovo if the demarcation agreement is sent to international arbitration?
A: You’ll have to ask the EU.
- If demarcation is voted in the Assembly, how many months will be needed until the start of the visa-free travel to the EU, given the fact that there are elections in some member states?
A: Again: this is a question for the Europeans.
- The new Kosovo government, if formed by a simple parliamentary majority, will face a strong opposition and at the same time will be dependent on the votes of Serbian MPs working under the directives of the Government of Serbia. How stable will be such a government, which will not really have the votes to pass the demarcation agreement, the Association of Municipalities with Serbian Majority, etc.?
A: That doesn’t sound like a formula for stability, but we’ll have to wait and see.
- It has been announced that dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia can take place at the level of presidents. How realistic is the move of the dialogue at such stage?
A: The Presidents have established a mutually respectful rapport, which should be sustained. But certainly political instability on the Pristina side could make the dialogue difficult. On the Belgrade side, things look pretty stable for now, even if some contest the validity of the last election.
- Serbia’s President Vucic has announced an internal debate on Kosovo. Do you expect the leadership in Belgrade in the framework of the Euro-integration process to remove Kosovo from its constitution?
A: I expect Serbia in the framework of the Euro-integration process to accept the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo, including (but not only) by removing it from the constitution. Kosovo UN membership and exchange of diplomatic representatives at the ambassadorial level should follow. The question is whether this will be done at the last moment before EU accession, when the negotiating leverage will be entirely on the EU side, or earlier, when Belgrade can hope to get a better deal. I think it is better to do it sooner rather than later, but of course that is up to Serbs, not foreigners, and will depend on the outcome of the internal debate the President has proposed.
Marija Jovicevic of Montenegro daily Pobjeda also asked some questions last week. I replied:
- Serbia will be host of a NATO army exercise in October 2018. Do You think that Montenegro entering NATO is a signal for all other countries in region that Alliance has no alternative?
A: No, I think other countries have a choice to make. There is nothing inevitable about NATO, which only accepts those who are prepared to make the necessary reforms and to contribute positively to the Alliance. Serbia will want to consider all its options.
2. Do you see all of the Western Balkan region in NATO?
A: I might hope for that, but so far only Macedonia and Kosovo have committed to eventual NATO membership, once they meet the necessary requirements. Bosnia and Serbia are hesitating, for obvious reasons. NATO will be fine without them. The question is whether they would be better off with NATO and whether they are prepared to make the necessary commitments.
3. Do You think that Montenegro can be host of a NATO base in future?
A: Best to ask NATO about this possibility. I am not aware of any Alliance requirement for a base in Montenegro right now, though I suppose all of Montenegro’s bases are now in some sense “NATO.”
peacefare.net had a welcome long weekend off, visiting family in New Haven, Connecticut. Little to report from that, except that the Union League Cafe is super and New Haven looks a lot better than it did when I spent a summer there eons ago.
Nothing much happened in Washington either: just the departure (fired? quit?) from the White House of alt-right guru Steve Bannon. He is already back at what some wag on Twitter is calling Reichbart News. Good riddance, though he has every intention of continuing to make his bad ideas influential. That won’t be hard, as President Trump’s instincts lie in the white supremacist, extreme nationalist direction. How Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who rejected his Yale classmates’ advice he resign, can stomach servicing a president who sympathizes with neo-Nazis is beyond me.
Tonight we’ll be treated to an entirely different guy: the fully scripted Trump, fresh from making a decision on strategy for the war in Afghanistan in accordance with National Security Adviser McMaster’s organized, deliberate, and well-informed process. That has been as rare in this Administration as a solar eclipse, also occurring today.
Predictably the Afghanistan decision is expected to be in favor of some additional troops and a promise of withdrawal. I predicted this “option B” outcome two weeks ago so I am not surprised. I still think though that the real options are “all in” or “all out.” We’ll be back to that choice in a few months. Afghanistan can’t be fixed by military means alone, but terrorist attacks and the Trump Administration’s budget priorities make it likely we won’t be able to do much on the civilian side. So one more president will face the likelihood of repeated failure there. It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said.
Trump won’t stay in scripted mode long. He seems determined to hold a rally in Phoenix Tuesday, despite the mayor’s suggestion that he postpone it. He’ll of course vaunt the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), on which talks began last week, trying to claim that he is thereby fulfilling his promise to ditch NAFTA. He’ll likely make choice comments about building the wall and blocking illegal immigration, maybe even pardoning the Arizona sheriff who has been convicted of contempt of court for continuing a crackdown on immigrants after being ordered to stop. That will please the racists no end.
So the Phoenix event will be déjà vu all over again too.