Tag: European Union

Run your own affairs

Zana Popovska-Bozinovska of the website MKD.mk asked questions. I answered:

Q: What is your position about Platform of Albanian political parties, does it exceed The Ohrid Framework agreement?

A: Yes, as I read it, it exceeds the Ohrid Framework agreement, but there is nothing wrong with that. Ohrid is more than ten years old. Going beyond it is well within the realm of political reason. The Albanian parties may not get all they are asking for, but they are entitled to ask.

That said, I am puzzled by some things in the Platform, in particular on the use of Albanian at all levels in the government. This seems to me impractical at present, but I’ll leave that to the citizens of Macedonia to decide.

Q: Why has nobody from international community reacted, since USA and EU were guarantor and signatories of the Agreement?

A: I think the Americans and Europeans are trying to get Macedonia’s citizens and politicians to take care of their own business. The notion that anyone in Brussels or Washington should dictate where Albanian is spoken in Macedonia is ridiculous.

Q: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was some kind of mentor, alongside Kosovo President Hashim Thaci. Is this interfering in the internal matters of Macedonia, as many critics in the country used to say it?

A: There is nothing wrong with a unified platform. But I understand why some Macedonians have reacted negatively to the external role. I also think Prime Minister Rama and President Thaci have problems of their own to deal with.

But at the same time you can expect other countries to have interests that they will pursue, including by pushing for unification of their co-nationals inside a neighboring country. We see Serbia doing the same kind of thing in Kosovo. Those who don’t want it there should think twice before doing it somewhere else.

Q: Situation in the country is tense after failure of Mr.Nikola Gruevski to form new Government. Now there is some progress in negotiations between DUI and SDSM and probably they will form the new Government. But VMRO-DPMNE doesn’t accept this combination. Is there any danger for ethnic tensions, return of nationalism, or maybe unrests?

A: Yes, there are risks of nationalist revival and unrest, which could entail also ethnic tensions. But the question of who governs should be decided by who has a majority in parliament, not in the streets. VMRO-DPMNE held power for a long time and will be an excellent counterbalance in opposition to SDSM if the latter is able to form a government.

Q: Generally, what is wrong with the country, it seems that nothing functions, there are always criticisms that reforms are blocked, no implementation, no progress toward EU and NATO. What is your opinion?

A: Democracy is not an easy system to make function well. Macedonia is still in transition and lacks experience in dealing with the contestation that is a part of any democratic system. On top of that, you’ve got ethnic/language differences that make governance particularly difficult. I’d like to see reform and progress towards the EU and NATO, but I’m not surprised it is difficult.

Q: Even if four political parties agreed with forming of Special Public Prosecutor office, according Przino Agreement, now VMRO-DPMNE denies prolonging of its mandate. There are always burdens in its functioning and investigations about wire-tapping scandal. What is your comment on it, should SPP continue its work after actual mandate, even judiciary has very selective, even negative approach regarding SPP?

A: I think the Special Public Prosecutor is necessary at this juncture and I would like to see the mandate extended. But that is up to the Macedonian parliament, not me or any other international.

Q: What do you think about role of Russia in the Balkans, including Macedonia, since last public opinion indicated that Russia is on the second place as desirable strategic partner, after EU, but in front of US. Is it some wider trend or result of delayed NATO membership?

A: The delay in NATO membership is an important factor, one that I enormously regret. All Macedonia’s problems would be more manageable if the country were firmly ensconced inside the Alliance. But there are of course broader trends, including the election of an ethnic nationalist as President in the US and Moscow’s aggressive efforts to undermine America and its friends in the Balkans (as well as elsewhere).

However, Russia in my view is declining regional power with little to offer anyone in the Balkans other than a model of how not to run a country. I have no doubt but that NATO and EU membership are the better choice for Macedonia, but it is Macedonia’s citizens who have to make that choice. The US and EU did not do all they’ve done in the Balkans so that people in Washington and Brussels could make decisions for people in Skopje. Sovereignty and independence mean you run your own affairs, even if you don’t always run them well.

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Trump is losing, but still making chaos

@MaxBoot tweeted last night:

Xi forces affirmation of “One China.” Mexico won’t pay for wall. 9th Circuit stops EO. Flynn/Conway scandals. Is Trump tired of winning yet?

140 characters permitting, he might have added that

  • Trump is delaying the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
  • The administration is forgetting Secretary of State Tillerson’s pledge to prevent Chinese access to the islands it has fortified in the South China Sea.
  • The wall is now projected to cost more than twice candidate Trump’s projection.
  • The President has expressed displeasure that Kellyanne Conway has been “counseled” for violating ethnics regulations.
  • Congressional Republicans are questioning whether National Security Adviser Flynn can remain in place, and the 9th Circuit decision makes it unlikely that the Administration will win an appeal.
  • Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has suggested that criticism of judges, which the President has indulged in repeatedly, is demoralizing and disheartening to the judiciary.

From my Schadenfreude perspective, these are all positive developments. To stimie Trump, or at least try to hold him and his minions accountable, is to make the world better place.

But let’s not kid ourselves. the Trumpistas have already had a devastating impact on American prestige and influence abroad. Trump’s doubts about the NATO Alliance have shaken European confidence. He won’t even be able to visit the UK, where giant crowds would protest his appearance. His immigration ban has demoralized allies in the Arab world, especially Iraq, and boosted extremist recruiting. His bromance with Putin has encouraged the Russians to continue their interventions in Syria and eastern Ukraine. His hostility towards Iran has encouraged its worst impulses, including additional missile tests after being put “on notice.”

While I have good friends who think Barack Obama was a frighteningly weak foreign policy president, his retrenching America is looking coherent and even visionary by comparison. In a few short weeks, Trump has weakened America, not strengthened it.

The ramifications are many. I had a note this morning from the Balkans that read in part:

I have to say that Trumpizm effects the rest of the world in which provinces like Balkans can not understand who is who and what is real American politics and interest towards them!

The same thing might be said in eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Asia Pacific and even in Latin America. At the current rate, it will be true in the Arctic and Antarctica before long. All American presidential transitions are unsettling, but this one is an order of magnitude more chaos-producing than most. It has brought people to power in the White House who simply do not adhere to the well-established lines of American foreign policy, which have served pretty well since 1945. When you need to be reading an obsure Italian Fascist writer to understand the intellectual antecedents of the chief strategist to the President, you know something is wrong.

I’m not immune to radicalism. I indulged in it during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. There are things today that merit hard opposition in my estimation, including Trump’s appointment of cabinet members who oppose the missions of the agencies they are supposed to lead and his appointment of a documented and committed racist as Attorney General. But Trump’s radicalism appears to have little more than his own impulsive and erratic whims as its basis, combined with a few repugnant right-wing shibboleths about race, public education, the environment, and energy production.

The bully is already backing down on some of his worst impulses, but that does nothing to give the world an America that it can understand and rely on. Trump likes unpredictability. Friends and adversaries alike do not.

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Shortest route to Balkans peace

Filip Raunic of Croatia’s Telegram asked some questions about Bosnia and Herzgovina. I replied: 
Q: Republika Srpska celebrated its National Day, despite the fact that Constitution Court marked it as unconstitutional. The President of Republika Srpska said a few days ago that Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) should disintegrate. How do you see his actions and his role in BiH?

A: It has been clear for a long time that Dodik opposes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the core of the Dayton agreements. Respecting court decisions, even if you disagree with them, is vital to rule of law and democratic governance, not only in BiH but also here in the US.

Q: If Republika Srpska really decides to call a referendum on independence, do you see the possibility of the reaction from Federation and potentially a new military clash?

A: I don’t think you can expect those who support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes most people who live in the country as well as the international community, not to react in some fashion to a referendum on independence. But such referenda often are not fulfilled, since sovereignty requires recognition by other sovereign states. I would expect an RS that declares independence to end up in limbo, with minimal recognition, no serious foreign support, and little ability to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of its people for security and prosperity.

Q: Do you see some similarity in  the situation and behavior of the political elites in Bosnia in the 90’s and today?

A: Yes, I do. But the circumstances are different. Serbia is no longer willing to risk its own prosperity for irredentist political aims, many people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are far better off than they were at the end of the war, Europe’s and NATO’s doors are in principle open to BiH, and its population expects more transparent and accountable governance. The nationalist fervor is far less murderous, but no less dangerous.

Q: Former English diplomat Timothy Less wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs in which he suggest disintegration of Bosnia – Republika Srpska would unite with Serbia and parts of Hercegovina with Croatia. What do you think about this idea?

A: It is just as bad an idea as it was in the 1990s. It would result in the formation of a non-viable rump Islamic Republic in central Bosnia and Herzegovina heavily dependent on Islamist funding from Iran, Saudi Arabia or somewhere else. Why would Croatia or Serbia want such a neighbor on their borders?

Q: You mediated between Croats and Muslims in the 90s and brokered the first agreement of the Dayton peace talks. How do you now look on these days and Dayton agreement. Was Dayton a good framework for Bosnia, and is it still good?

A: It was good enough to end the war, but not good enough to make real peace. It now needs updating, but how and what to do is now up to the citizens of BiH, not the internationals.

Q: Do you think that BiH should enter EU as quickly as possible?

A: I think BiH should qualify to enter the EU as quickly as possible.

Q: If Brussels will hesitate with BiH membership, is there a possibility and danger that Russia and Turkey will gain more influence in Bosnia and would it mean instability for the country?

A: Yes. Russia is already interfering in BiH in ways that are destabilizing. Moscow’s aim seems to be pernicious: to create as much trouble as possible at the least cost.

I don’t see Turkey’s influence in the same light, but it certainly increases the weight of Islamist politics and makes it harder to reach mutual accommodations among Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

Q: Croatian president Kolinda Grabar Kitarović recently said that Bosnia is becoming more radicalized in terms of more rigid interpretation of the values of Islam. Do you see Islamic radicalization? Is there a possibility of it if the situation in Bosnia remains tense?

A: I might not see things quite the same way President Grabar Kitarović sees them, but there is certainly a possibility of radicalization if Bosnia and Herzegovina is unable to succeed in satisfying its population’s aspirations. Tension produces polarization and exclusion, which are ingredients that will radicalize at least a few people.

Q: What could we expect from Trump administration for Bosnia and this region?

A: I don’t know what to expect. The new administration has said precious little about the Balkans and nothing to my knowledge about Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are not high on the priority list these days in Washington. The only clear statement I’ve seen is from Secretary of Defense Mattis, who supports the formation of the Kosovo Security Force.

Q: If you would advise Mr. Trump on Bosnia, what would you tell him to do?

A: I’d say a lot has changed for the better in the Balkans since the early 1990s. The United States should commit itself wholeheartedly to finishing the process by helping all the remaining countries to qualify for EU, and if they want it, NATO membership. I’d say that is the shortest and least troublesome route to lasting peace and stability.

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Still damaging

President Trump’s Executive Order affects a minor portion of international travelers, and is a first step towards reestablishing control over America’s borders and national security.

This in essence is the administration’s defense of the President’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from the US. It completely misses the point.

First: the US already has control over its borders. Vetting of refugees is intense. Vetting of people who get visas and green cards is as well. I suppose there are ways of tightening things up, but it could have been done without presidential executive orders and worldwide publicity inimical to US interests. I know of no evidence that immigrants or refugees pose a serious national security threat.

Just as important: the executive order’s main impact is on people with no intention of traveling to the US, first and foremost the world’s rapidly growing population of 1.6 or more billion Muslims, including 3.3 million who already reside in the US. They will view the order as unjustified and prejudicial, causing at least some to be disillusioned, alienated, hostile, and even radicalized. It will help ISIS and Al Qaeda recruit and inspire retaliation. If I understand correctly, Iran and Iraq have already responded by blocking the entry of Americans.

The ban is in fact part of a long history of barring immigration: by Chinese, Jews, anarchists, Communists, Iranians, and HIV positive people. In almost all these cases, the bans have proven useless, regrettable, unconstitutional, or immoral.

The current ban is likely all of the above. Immigrants from the countries in question (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have conducted no terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11, though Somalis born in the US have been accused of plotting them. The odds of the ban blocking someone plotting such an attack are essentially zero. They might be higher if people coming from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other allied countries (not to mention Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia) were barred, but Trump won’t block them for fear of the reaction.

The administration already appears to be regretting that the ban blocked Iraqis who had supported the US military. The President’s indication that Christians will be given priority in the future is clearly unconstitutional, but of course any court decision on that question might be years in the future. Singling out Christians will, as Michael Hanna suggested this morning in a tweet, put them at heightened risk throughout the Middle East, where some Muslims will regard the favoritism as aligning Christians politically and militarily with the US. “Do no harm” is the moral imperative most of us like to see applied in international relations. Or at least do more good than harm. The administration ignores that dictum at its peril.

The courts last night blocked application of the ban to people who have already arrived at US airports. But it remains in effect for 90 days for those who have not yet reached US shores. Airlines are blocking people with passports from the countries in question from boarding, even if they have valid visas or green cards.

In other words: the demonstrations last night at airports were great, but Trump continues to cause real harm to American interests and ideals throughout the Muslim world. Our European allies recognize this and are protesting, sometimes loudly. But it is up to Americans to get Trump to reverse his foolish and counter-productive decisions.

PS: Fareed Zakaria says it well:

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More own goals

Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:

  1. He announced the building of the border wall shortly before the planned visit of Mexican President Peña Nieto. This has put the visit in doubt and makes it nigh on impossible for Peña Nieto to cooperate with the effort in any way, least of all by paying a dime for the unnecessary and expensive project. Trump continues to claim the Mexicans will pay, but he doesn’t say how and admits it may be complicated. More likely done with smoke and mirrors, not a clear and verifiable transfer of resources.
  2. Trump continues to say that the US should have “taken” Iraq’s oil, has returned to claiming that torture works, and is considering an executive order reviving the “black sites” abroad in which much of it was done. Torture of course does work in the sense that it gets most people to talk, but the information they provide is mostly useless. The draft executive order on “black sites” reportedly denies access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is required by the Geneva Conventions. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda will welcome all three of these points, as they help with extremist recruitment and put Americans serving abroad (military and civilian) at heightened risk.
  3. He has revived the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the US. This will benefit Canada but put excessive amounts of crude into an already oversupplied US market. My bet is that it won’t be built, even if the permits are forthcoming, both because of environmental opposition in Canada and because the economics just don’t work at current oil prices in the mid-$50 range.
  4. He intends to block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely as well as refugees from several other countries temporarily. Blocking carefully vetted Syrians when Europe is taking in many more will strain relations with the European Union, especially as he paired this announcement with repeat of his pledge to create a safe zone in Syria for which there are currently no clear plans. The other countries to be blocked temporarily from sending refugees (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) have produced few terrorists operating in the US, so this will be seen in those countries as arbitrary discrimination. Countries that have produced more terrorists, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, are unaffected, presumably because their governments are friendly to the US.
  5. The Administration is preparing to cut UN funding dramatically. Press reports . say the overall cut will be 40%, which would save at most $2.8 billion, or much less than 1% of the defense budget. Such a cut will reduce US influence in the world organization and its specialized agencies, which are a relatively efficient way of dealing with issues the US does not want to handle on its own. The UN currently has over 117,000 troops in 16 peacekeeping operations, for which the US pays 22% of the total costs.
  6. Trump has pledged an investigation of fraudulent voting in the US. He is citing as evidence for his claim that millions voted illegally a story he says was told him by a non-citizen [sic] who stood in line to vote with people he doubted were citizens. He has also emphasized his concern with people who are registered to vote in two states. Both Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon and his daughter Tiffany are reported to fall in this category. Trump has failed to object to laws and practices intended to suppress voting, mostly by people unlikely to vote for him.

Anyone expecting Trump to moderate once in power should by now be admitting that this is a radical administration that intends to pursue all the bad ideas it campaigned on. There will be no maturation until he is blocked, and even then he is less likely to mature than simply retreat in order to fight another day. He is governing to please his supporters, whose adulation he craves. The rest of us are consigned to opposition. The next big anti-Trump demonstrations will be April 15. I think this time I’ll plan to be in the US.

 

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36 hours


Donald Trump’s first 36 hours as president:

1. He gave a dark inauguration address repeating the dystopian tone of his campaign, despite well-established facts on the economy and crime disproving his allegations.

2. He and his spokesman lied about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, with the latter threatening to hold the press accountable for what he claimed was their false (but thoroughly verified) reporting.

3, Trump appeared at the CIA with a claque to ensure applause while he falsely claimed not to have criticized the intelligence community, seemed not to understand the distinction between it and the military, and rambled on about the size of the inauguration crowd and taking Iraqi’s oil, whatever that means. If he weren’t a teetotaler, I’d have thought him drunk.

4. Well over a million people attended peaceful rallies countrywide against him, in particular his attitude towards women. Trump’s surrogates were busy claiming the demonstrations were disorderly. No one was arrested at the big one in DC.

Can the country take another 1460* days of this?

I doubt it. Something has to give. It will either be American democracy, which depends on established rules of the game that Trump violates often. Or it will be his presidency, which is built on shaky foundations: he lost the popular vote by a substantial margin, he benefited from Russia’s cyber intervention, and he enjoyed a boost–intended or not–from an FBI director who breached his own organization’s rules to publicize an investigation (that then came to nothing).

American democracy is also looking shaky. Trump is lambasting the press and pledging to keep it in line. Fantastic quantities of money are pouring into elections at every level. Trump is defying ethics laws, regulations, contractual provisions, and expectations. He refuses to make an even modest effort to avoid conflicts of interest. At least two of his cabinet nominees are already tarred with scandal for nonpayment of taxes and failure to declare assets.

My Republican friends: this mess can only be sorted if you use your majorities in the House and Senate to channel the new administration into propriety and moderation. There is no sign of either yet. Trump is still trash talking the NATO Alliance, encouraging the breakup of the European Union, trying to befriend Putin, and threatening China with trade war and war in the South China Sea. Is that what you want? Have you done everything you can to stop him?

Propriety will be even tougher. I’m willing to predict now that this will be the most scandal-ridden administration in a century. Without more transparency on Trump’s taxes and businesses, suspicion will be rife, journalists will be digging deep, and prosecutors will be having a field day.

These 36 hours should be giving Republicans pause. But the campaign didn’t, so why should they wake up now?

*I originally gave an incorrect number here.

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