Hamilton, not the musical

A friend draws to my attention this, from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Number 1:

An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

The relevance of this passage to current events is, I hope, all too clear. We are watching the emergence on the American political scene of a demagogue paying more than obsequious court to some of the people. I still hope the rest will prevent him  from assuming the tyrannical powers.

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Contrasting reactions

The statements of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about the Orlando murders contrast dramatically. Trump calls the perpetrator a “radical Islamic terrorist” and claims credit for predicting something like this attack would happen. Clinton does not. She defines the murders as an act of terror and hate but does not use the I word. She also questions whether a “weapon of war” should be available to criminals and terrorists.

I imagine the Islam and gun control issues will dominate the political debate over this mass murder. Republicans will say we can’t defeat the enemy if we are unwilling to define him clearly. Democrats will say “assault” weapons should not be sold legally. How should you and I react?

Personally I have no problem with naming Islamic extremism as the enemy. But I have some sympathy with politicians who don’t want to do that. They are listening to advice from the Islamic community, whose cooperation is vital to countering the extremists. Many Muslims don’t want to credit the terrorists with a connection to Islam, fearing that will taint the entire community. Trump is exhibit number 1 in that regard.

I also have no problem with banning “assault” weapons, which to a non-aficionado like me means rapid-fire weapons with large magazines. I have some sympathy with politicians who want to defend the right to bear arms, which in rural areas are useful. But you can hunt, kill an animal predator or defend your family with something a lot more modest than the AR15 the Orlando shooter used. A line has to be drawn somewhere. We don’t allow people to drive around town in a tank.

But neither of these issues will be resolved in the aftermath of this shooting. The tug of war will continue. As Trump correctly says, there will be more.

We need to learn to react in ways that minimize future risk.

The objective of terror is to sow fear. Trump helps the Islamic radicals to do that. Take this sentence from his statement:

Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States.

Is this true? Is it judicious? Including Orlando, ten “homegrown extremist” attacks had killed 95 people since 9/11. No more than a couple of dozen people planned and executed these attacks. I suppose Trump might also be counting the dozens more implicated in plots that were foiled. Hundreds?

In the same time period, eighteen far right wing attacks killed 48 people, more until Orlando than radical Islamic terrorists. I haven’t noticed any agitation against this slaughter on the right, which of course thinks Muslims should control their own, against this slaughter. Trump has carefully avoided offending his white supremacist supporters and throws them the occasional bone of ambiguous prejudice to chew on.

Trump also emphasizes the terrorism risks arising from immigration, including  the second generation. The killer was born in the US. His family appear to have been legal Afghan immigrants to the US. Are we going to hear a proposal not only to block Muslims from entering the US, not only to deport undocumented immigrants, but also one to expel those already here, including those who are natural born citizens?

Sure, Hillary Clinton’s reaction is far cooler and less passionate than Trump’s. But if I want the US to be safe, that is the far better reaction when terrorists are trying to scare the country into doing counterproductive things.

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Peace picks June 13 – June 17

  1. Authoritarian Resilience and Revision after the Arab Uprisings. Monday, June 13. 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Register to attend. Five years after the 2011 uprisings, authoritarianism remains a deeply embedded feature of the Arab state system. Countries in the region are caught between the competing impulses of fragmentation and two equally unsustainable authoritarian visions—that of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or classic autocratic regimes. Robert Worth and Joseph Sassoon will discuss these dynamics, sharing from their recent books. Carnegie’s Frederic Wehrey will moderate. Following the discussion, copies of the book will be available for sale with signing by the authors. Joseph Sassoon is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and is the author of Anatomy of Authoritarianism in the Arab Republics. Robert Worth writes for the New York Times Magazine and is the author of A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil from Tahrir Square to ISIS. Frederic Wehrey is a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  2. Cascading Conflicts: U.S. Policy on Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds. Tuesday, June 14. 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM. Bipartisan Policy Center. Register to attend.  In the fight against ISIS, U.S. policymakers have been increasingly confounded by the fact that two crucial allies, Turkey and the Kurds, are locked in a violent conflict on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border. While Washington’s plans for defeating ISIS rely on airbases in Turkey and Kurdish troops in Syria, the Turkish government continues to insist that Washington’s Syrian Kurdish partners are no different from the Kurdish terrorists against which it is fighting at home. In the absence of a more effective U.S. plan for addressing the situation, Turkey’s domestic conflict now threatens to not only undermine the war against ISIS but also destabilize Turkey, damage U.S.-Turkish relations, and prolong the Syrian conflict. Join the Bipartisan Policy Center for an expert panel discussion that will address the evolving relationship among Turkey, Syria and the Kurds, with a focus on the implications for U.S.-Turkish relations and U.S. policy in Syria. As an already complicated situation risks causing a major crisis between Washington and its allies, understanding the dynamics has become more important than ever. Panelists: Eric Edelman, Co-Chair, BPC’s Turkey Initiative, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. Aliza Marcus, Author, Blood and Belief. Ceng Sagnic, Junior Researcher, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Amberin Zaman, Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Institute. Moderated by:Ishaan Tharoor, Reporter, The Washington Post.                                                                                       
  3. Youth, Peace and Security: New Global Perspectives. Tuesday, June 14. 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM. U.S. Institute of Peace. Register to attend. Today’s generation of youth, at 1.8 billion, is the largest the world has ever known. Many of these youth are living in countries plagued by violent conflict and extremism, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. The goal of SCR 2250 is to recognize youth as partners for peace rather than solely viewing young people as perpetrators of violence—a shift in mindset that responds to the call to action of 11,000 young peacebuilders in the Amman Youth Declaration. The resolution, sponsored by the Government of Jordan, is a direct follow-up to the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security held in August 2015, as well as the Security Council’s Open Debate on the Role of Youth in Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Peace held in April 2015. Join USIP and the Interagency Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding for a discussion on SCR 2250 with the U.N. Secretary-General’s Envoy for Youth H.E. Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan, young leaders from countries affected by violent extremism and armed conflict, and other experts. Speakers Include: Manal Omar, Associate Vice President, Center for Middle East and Africa , U.S. Institute of Peace; H.E. Dina Kawar, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations; H.E. Ahmad Alhendawi, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; Saji Prelis, Co-chair of the Inter-agency Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding, Search for Common Ground; Soukaina Hamia, Youth Peacebuilder, Deputy Director of Sidi Moumen Cultural Center of Casablanca, Morocco; Saba Ismail, Youth Peacebuilder, Executive Director of Aware Girls, Representative of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOYP); Victoria Ibiwoye, Youth Peacebuilder, Founder of One African Child of Lagos, Nigeria; and Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.
  4. The Economic Decline of Egypt after the 2011 Uprising. Wednesday, June 15. 1:00 PM. The Atlantic Council. Register to attend. Five years after the 2011 revolution, Egypt’s economy is floundering and remains far from recovery. Successive Egyptian governments since 2011 have struggled to develop a vision for a new economic model for Egypt, while simultaneously implementing populist policies to appease the immediate demand of the public. This lecture is also the launch of the Rafik Hariri Center’s Mohsin Khan and Elissa Miller’s new report, “The Economic Decline of Egypt after the 2011 Uprising,” and a discussion on the trajectory of Egypt’s economy since 2011 and what the current Egyptian government should do to arrest the economy’s downward slide. A discussion with: Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi, Former Prime Minister, Arab Republic of Egypt; Executive Director, International Monetary Fund; Caroline Freund, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics; Mohsin Khan, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council; and Mirette F. Mabrouk, Deputy Director & Director of Research and Programs, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council. Introduction by: The Hon. Frederic C. Hof, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council.
  5. Desert Storm after 25 years: Confronting the exposures of modern warfare. Wednesday, June 16. 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM. SEIU Building. Register to attend. By most metrics, the 1991 Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, was a huge and rapid success for the United States and its allies. The mission of defeating Iraq’s army, which invaded Kuwait the year prior, was done swiftly and decisively. However, the war’s impact on soldiers who fought in it was lasting. Over 650,000 American men and women served in the conflict, and many came home with symptoms including insomnia, respiratory disorders, memory issues and others attributed to a variety of exposures – “Gulf War Illness.” On June 16, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings and Georgetown University Medical Center will co-host a discussion on Desert Storm, its veterans, and how they are faring today. Representative Mike Coffman (R-Col.), the only member of Congress to serve in both Gulf wars, will deliver an opening address before joining Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings, for a moderated discussion. Joel Kupersmith, former head of the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs, will convene a follow-on panel with Carolyn Clancy, deputy under secretary for health for organizational excellence at the Department of Veterans Affairs; Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans; and James Baraniuk, professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. Following discussion, the panelists will take audience questions.
  6.  Can the US Work with Iran: Challenges and Opportunities. Thursday, June 16. 9:00 AM. The Atlantic Council. Register to attend. Nearly a year after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany signed a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and nearly six months after the agreement was implemented, the nuclear aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) appear to working smoothly. But other challenges potentially imperil the agreement.  There are questions about whether the JCPOA can serve as a template for additional regional and international cooperation or whether domestic politics in the US and Iran and Iran’s continuing difficulties re-entering the global financial system will put those opportunities out of reach for the foreseeable future. To discuss these vital issues, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative and the Iran Project invite you to a half-day symposium.

9:00 a.m. – The progress and problems of sanctions relief
Featuring: Christopher Backemeyer, principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the Department of State, Teresa Archer Pratas, deputy head of the sanctions divisions at the European External Action Service, andGeorge Kleinfeld, a sanctions expert at the law firm Clifford Chance, and moderated by Elizabeth Rosenberg, director of the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

10:15 a.m. – The JCPOA’s effects on US-Iran relations
Featuring: Suzanne DiMaggio, director of the US-Iran Initiative at New America, Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow in the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy and Energy Security and Climate Initiative, and Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and analyst, and moderated by William Luers, director of the Iran Project.

11:30 a.m. – The impact of the JCPOA on Iran’s role in regional conflicts
Featuring: Ellen Laipson, a senior fellow and president emeritus of the Stimson Center and former deputy chair of the National Intelligence Council, J. Matthew McInnis, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior analyst in the US Department of Defense and Intelligence Community, and Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution and a former senior director for the Near East and South Asia on the National Security Council. Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative, will moderate.

12:30 p.m.– Keynote by Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on the legacy of the JCPOA. Stephen Heintz , president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, will introduce and moderate.

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Your Saturday puzzle

How many lies does Trump tell in this 11-minute tirade about the Trump University case?

An answer can be found at RedState: The Media are Letting Trump Get Away with Telling These {number} Lies about Trump University. I love it when the right wing finds a way of criticizing the media for failing to pursue the Republican candidate with sufficient fervor. But the piece really is worth a read, because it suggests that Trump is using his racist comments about the judge in the case to obfuscate and avoid even more serious questions about criminal offenses.

And who knew that he has been ordered to pay $800k in legal fees to the named plaintiff he disdains as a disaster “for them” in this video? More like a disaster for him!

If that wasn’t entertaining enough for you, try Rabbi Michael Lerner’s eight minutes yesterday at Muhammad Ali’s memorial service:

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Declining, but not disappearing

Yesterday’s discussion of Russia: A Test for Transatlantic Unity at the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Academy made for a grim morning. The European and American Russia scholars were pleased that the West has maintained a coherent and unified response on Donbas, including greater support for front line allies, unity on sanctions and support for Kiev. But they worry that sanctions will fray or even collapse in 2017 and that Ukraine is not making the reform progress it urgently requires.

Nor do they see any sign that Russia is prepared to deliver anything serious in Ukraine. Russian officials view the US as malevolently and incompetently denying Russia its rightful role in the world by limiting its natural sphere of influence. They believe the West is decadent and unwilling or unable to exert itself on behalf of Ukraine, while denying that Russia is directly involved there. Putin in particular is banking on the West weakening.

The only positive sign anyone reported was a palpable desire by Moscow officials to “engage” with Americans, which is difficult as they refuse even to discuss the war in Donbas. If Moscow wants progress, the Americans think it needs to deliver something on the Minsk II agreement.

On Syria, Moscow has gained some of what it sought. It is now engaged with the US in daily deconfliction of military operations as well as higher level political discussions. But we continue to disagree on Bashar al Assad and on who is a terrorist.

More generally, Russia is a declining power in key dimensions: its economy is in a tailspin, its population is imploding, its energy resources are no longer as irreplaceable as once they were. Most of Ukraine is lost, mainly because the West has proven more unified than Putin anticipated. His effort to reassert Russia’s great power status has largely failed except for Syria, where the reformed and refinanced Russian military has proven to have serious but limited capabilities. The Russian regime is self-deceiving, unable to correct its mistakes or face its own responsibility. It instead blames its problems on the rest of the world.

Even if the Ukraine sanctions were lifted, the Russian economy would not recover quickly. Nor would prospects for political change, which depend on an upper middle class that is shrinking because of emigration and economic difficulties. The regime has successfully repressed the political opposition and left it without significant representation.

Putin has become decreasingly pragmatic and increasingly ideological towards the West since 2012. He can still be pragmatic (e.g. with China) but less and less so with the West. He is openly preparing for more war as he challenges the West in Ukraine and the Middle East. His ruling circle is shrinking, becoming less predictable and disengaging from the West. He is unrealistic. The beat of the war drums coming from Moscow’s tightly controlled propaganda machine is loud.  The risks are high.

The West is also subject to risk. EU unity on the sanctions may not last. Ukraine could fail to deliver on its part of Minsk II. Conditionality has worked with Ukraine on economic issues, far less so on political ones like electoral and administrative reform. The US election also raises questions, as even Hillary Clinton may not give priority to Ukraine and could try to reach out to Putin. Donald Trump is unpredictable, but he has said he is looking for a deal. That could mean divvying up Europe again, as we did at Yalta.

Washington in particular hasn’t made up its mind on the threat from Russia. Some believe Russia is a declining power that wants to deal with the US and poses relatively little threat. Neither its propaganda machine nor its military has proven very successful. In Ukraine and Syria, there is an imbalance of interests: they are far more important to Russia than to the West. Others think Russia is a serious and growing threat, evidenced by its burgeoning military strength. Still others think there is a need to reassess relations with Russia and in particular to anticipate an end to sanctions, striking as good a deal as the West can get before they collapse.

These uncertainties could become all too apparent this summer, as Moscow will want to react to the July NATO Summit. There is a real possibility of an August surprise in Ukraine or Syria, or perhaps in the form of a Turkey/Russia conflict, which would put NATO on the spot. Russia may be declining, but it is not going away.

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The trouble still brewing

Yesterday’s discussion at SAIS of Learning to Live with Cheaper Oil : Policy Adjustment in MENA and CCA Oil-Exporting Countries raised serious issues. Oil prices are now expected to remain “lower longer,” as IMF deputy managing director Min Zhu put it. While contributing to global growth, the price decline is posing serious economic and governance challenges to the rentier states of the region and their relatively poor dependent cousins.

The 2014 oil price decline resulted from three main factors: increased production of tight oil and gas, slackening demand (especially due to economic slowdown in China and Russia) and increased efficiency. While prices have risen sharply from their lows early this year, the IMF expects them to remain well below their previous peak, with only gradual increases over the next five years or so to around $75 per barrel.

Some efficiency gains have already been erased, as oil prices have risen from their lows at the sharpest rate ever, even if they are still far off their peak. The shale revolution is not going away, even if many less productive wells have been shut. But larger ones are still producing. Much of the shut-in capacity will return as prices rise again.

This puts the oil producers in a difficult and long-lasting bind. The immediate impact was on their foreign exchange rate reserves, which are down dramatically. Growth is slowing.  Budgets are being cut. The oil producers cannot continue to subsidize food and energy prices as well as avoid taxing their populations.

Sharply cutting their budgets however will not be a sufficient policy response, especially as it will have growth-reducing effects like limiting bank credit. The oil producers will need to undertake structural reforms to generate private sector growth that has heretofore been lacking. This is basically a good thing. Low oil prices will force producers to do what they’ve known for a long time they should have been doing, including cutting government jobs, reorienting it towards revenue collection rather than distribution and privatizing bloated state-owned enterprises.

But it is still difficult to picture how the oil producers will generate sufficient jobs to meet the needs of their bulging youth populations. If they somehow manage it, the social contract that has enabled the often non-democratic regimes to claim legitimacy will need revision, with citizens receiving less and asked to provide much more. Governing institutions will be under enormous strain as they try t o learn to collect taxes even as they reduce public services. Legitimacy will be in question. This is a recipe for trouble.

The fiscal squeeze will affect not only the oil producers themselves but also the states of the region to which they provide support, either in the form of aid or remittances. The eventual political consequences could be dramatic not only for the Gulf but also for Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and others. We have not seen the end of consequences “longer lower” will generate.

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