Tag: Syria

Peace picks February 27 – March 3

  1. Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: Negotiation Day – Negotiators’ Behavior in the End Game | Monday, February 27 | 9 – 10:30am | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | No analytical work has ever addressed the subject of How Negotiations End. We know that negotiators act differently in the endgame–when they see the end is in sight, good or bad, and they work to that end. This project addresses that situation, examining way in which the endgame ends positively or negatively, and the way in which typical behavioral patterns are encountered on the way. A path breaking study of a neglected topic. The book is now in press with Cambridge University Press, the latest study of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Program at Clingendael, Netherlands.
  2. Potential Negotiations in the Upcoming Year | Monday, February 27 | 11 am – 12:30 pm | SAIS Johns Hopkins | Register Here | We are faced today with an international situation filled with challenges for negotiation. These represent opportunities open for pursuit; others represent situations looking for an opportunity. In this situation, what are the prospects for pursuing and developing negotiations as a means of managing conflict and of furthering US policy goals.Speakers:Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and JordanPrinceton Lyman, former US Ambassador to Nigerial and South Africa

    Galia Golan, Professor at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya

    Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins SAIS

    I WIlliam Zartman, Jacob Blaustein Professor Emeritus of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, SAIS – Moderator

    Location Kenney Herter Auditorium, 1740 Massachusetts Avenue NW

  3. Crude Strategy: Rethinking the U.S. Military Commitment to Defend Persian Gulf Oil | Monday, February 27 | 11 – 12:30pm | Cato Institute | Register Here | Should the United States continue to use its military to guarantee the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf? For more than 30 years, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by a commitment to safeguard the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Yet profound changes in international oil markets, growth in domestic U.S. energy production, and dramatic shifts in the Middle Eastern balance of power suggest that it may be time to reconsider whether this commitment is still warranted. In Crude Strategy, a multidisciplinary team of political scientists, economists, and historians set out to explore the links between Persian Gulf oil and U.S. national security. Their essays explore key questions such as the potential economic cost of disruption in oil supply, whether disruptions can be blunted with nonmilitary tools, the potential for instability in Saudi Arabia, and the most effective U.S. military posture for the region. By clarifying the assumptions underlying the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, the authors conclude that the case for revising America’s grand strategy towards the region is far stronger than is commonly assumed.
  4. The Trump Administration and the Future of the Kurds | Monday February 27 | 2 – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register Here | The Kurdish issue in the Middle East is at an important juncture. The Iraqi Kurds, faced with an unsettled Iraq, are itching to declare their independence. The Syrian Kurds have managed to affiliate themselves with the United States against ISIS but face a hostile reaction from Turkey, their northern neighbor, intent on rolling back their successes. The Turkish Kurds have to contend with the effects of government attempts at suppressing their legal political representatives and the war between the Turkish state and the PKK, which are challenging the country’s stability. Our panel will discuss these and other issues pertaining to the future Kurdish political landscape.
  5. U.S. – Turkey Cooperation in Syria and the Role of the U.S. in the Middle East | Monday February 27 | 3 – 4:30pm | Turkish Heritage Organization | Register Here | The Trump administration has inherited numerous, complex challenges in the Middle East. Regional instability caused by the Syrian civil war continues to have a profound impact on one of the U.S.’s most strategic NATO allies – Turkey – and on the bilateral relationship between Washington and Ankara. As the Trump administration prepares to tackle these issues and re-shape America’s role in the region, experts will discuss the choices and challenges facing the U.S. and Turkey.
  6. The Impact of Shifting Geopolitics on MENA Energy | Tuesday February 28 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | Changes in the energy market, new entrants, and conflicting economic and national security interests at the regional and global level have altered the market power of Middle Eastern oil and gas producers. Industry developments and new policies under the Trump administration are likely to lead to the expansion of U.S. shale oil and gas production and increased exports. Russia vies daily with Saudi Arabia to be the world’s largest producer, while prices remain far below levels of a few years ago. How are Middle Eastern states coping politically and economically with the challenges of a global energy market in an historic transition?
  7. Obama’s Legacy, Trump’s Inheritance in the Middle East (Annual Kuwait Chair Lecture) | Tuesday February 28 | 6:30 – 7:45pm | Elliott School of International Affairs | Register Here | Join us as Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm examines the environment in the Middle East that President Trump inherits from his predecessor and explores the parameters for action by the new administration.
  8. Food for Humanity | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | The Middle East Institute’s Arts & Culture Program is pleased to host a conversation about the political, emotional and symbolic significance of food for displaced and diaspora communities. The panel will explore the unifying role of food, its ability to generate empathy, and its power to build community among diverse peoples through the ritual sharing of a meal. The panel will also discuss how food can serve as a source of income, a form of cultural resistance, and as a means of preserving identity and heritage for refugee communities in the face of loss.
  9. How People Become Terrorists | Wednesday March 1 | 12:15 – 1:45pm | New America | Register Here | In the years since 9/11 the scope and nature of the global neo-jihadi threat to the West has changed radically, prompting reassessments from those following the threat. In his latest book Misunderstanding Terrorism, Marc Sageman examines the current threat and articulates a new model of how people become terrorists, which has strong implications for the fight against terrorists that go against the conventional wisdom. New America welcomes Dr. Sageman for a discussion of what is driving the current generation of jihadists to become terrorists and how the U.S. should adapt to the threat. Marc Sageman is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the author of Misunderstanding Terrorism and two other critically acclaimed books: Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) and Leaderless Jihad (UPP, 2007).
  10. Women of the Caliphate: Gender Dynamics in State-Building Jihadi Organizations | Thursday March 2 | 5:30 – 7pm | American University | Register Here | A Talk with Hamoon Khelghat-Doost, from the National University of Singapore. Hamoon Khelghat-Doost looks at gender dynamics within jihadi organizations by examining their standpoint on the state-building process. His talk will explore the reasons for jihadi organizations, such as ISIS, to incorporate a relatively high number of women. Khelghat-Doost has conducted fieldwork in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and along Syrian borders in southern Turkey.
  11. Prospects for the Next Generation of Palestinian Leadership | Friday March 3 | 12 – 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | President Trump’s backpedaling on the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution shines a spotlight on the Palestinians’ looming leadership crisis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now 81, has yet to cultivate a successor, and his administration faces growing concerns about its credibility twelve years after the last national elections. How should the next generation of Palestinian leaders approach such complex issues as Israeli settlement expansion, a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, economic troubles, and engagement on the international stage?
Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Syria peace talks worthy of the name

My Syrian friends at the Center for Civil Society and Democracy sent these Principles for Successful Intra-Syrian Talks, targeted at the UN-convened talks that started today in Geneva: 

February 17, 2017

Syrians anxiously await the Intra-Syrian talks that are due to take place in Geneva in the coming weeks (Geneva IV), and fervently hope these talks reach a political solution that will stop the cycle of violence and put an end to the tragedies they have lived through on a daily basis for six years.

The cycle of violence, which increases and extends at the expense of Syrians’ lives, property and their children’s future, obligates all Syrian parties to live up to their ethical and national responsibilities to find an inclusive political solution for the Syrian situation. It also charges the regional and international parties to live up to their responsibility to be an effective force for peace and political transition in accordance with the resolutions of the United Nations and Security Council, particularly UNSC Resolution 2254. The United Nations must be accountable for achieving the peace process and guaranteeing the political transition.

Accordingly, and as a result of the recent developments on the ground politically, militarily, locally, regionally and internationally, as well as due to the complexity of the situation and the various conflicting parties, we, the members of the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, express our fears that the Intra-Syrian talks may lead to a political settlement that would lay the foundations for power sharing without taking into account the demands and needs of Syrians. This would only lead to continuing the cycle of violence. Herein, we affirm the general guiding principles that should structure and underpin the political process in order to help it succeed in establishing a democratic and pluralistic society, given that there is an absence of neutral parties to ensure respect for these principles.

  • Inclusive and comprehensive process: It must be guaranteed that the political process is inclusive and 1) addresses the fundamental humanitarian issues (e.g., stopping the violence, breaking the siege, releasing detainees, revealing the fate of forcibly disappeared people and returning forcibly displaced people to their homes), 2) as well as political issues (e.g., a meaningful democratic political transition that guarantees the participation of all parties and establishes meaningful governing institutions based on the principles of good governance and human rights).
  • Human rights: The political process must guarantee human rights. Human rights conventions must be the basis on which the political transition is built. Human rights must be included in all the stages of the political process, and must be specifically stated by all parties participating in the negotiations, as well as in the documents they issue.
  • Minority rights: The rights of all of Syria’s diverse religious and ethnic communities must be guaranteed. Guarantee of the rights of Syrian minorities must include recognizing them in the constitution, preserving their history and traditions, and guaranteeing their right to practice their civic and political rights. All Syrian communities must be included in every stage of the political process as well as in all bodies formed during the political process in order to ensure their meaningful and effective participation in the political transition process and in the future of Syria.
  • Women’s rights: Women’s rights must be guaranteed. When addressing women’s rights, it is unacceptable to limit the percentage of their participation disproportionately. Rather, the political process must include women’s rights explicitly and clearly in all of its stages in order to eliminate the injustices imposed on them, to ensure that women have full opportunity to access any given roles and to participate fully in decision making to make sure that women’s perspectives help to shape Syria’s future. This is closely tied to democracy and human rights, taking into account that women comprise more than 65% of the Syrian people.
  • Basic freedoms: Rights to free speech and expression, access to information, and form political parties without restrictions should be inevitable outcomes of any political agreement. There must be firm guarantees for separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary.
  • Combating terrorism: We believe it is essential to reach a Syrian definition of terrorism agreed to by all Syrian parties, as well as setting clear and explicit criteria to be adopted as a basis for classifying the groups that participate in the Intra-Syria talks so that the door can be shut on all parties that wish to gain geopolitical benefits on the ground. All non-Syrian armed groups of all parties must be included in this definition. We also emphasize the necessity of differentiating between individuals and groups when terrorist groups are classified, and differentiating between individuals and leaders when discussing accountability, due to the complexity of the conflict map on the ground.
  • Transitional justice: Justice is fundamental to achieving deep and sustainable peace; this must be the overarching principle for any sustainable peace process. In consideration of the vast number of violations in the Syrian situation, a transitional justice process must be the basis upon which any peace process is built, to include mechanisms to bridge the gaps between Syrians as individuals and groups, and focus particularly on the principles of accountability, reparations and institution building.
  • Role of civil society: Civil society must be guaranteed an effective role in consultation, monitoring and participation in different issues in all stages of the political process. Civil society is the sector most privy to people’s concerns, needs and demands on the ground, most able to express their demands and the most capable of working flexibly on the ground to achieve what Syrians aspire to.
  • Refugees and displaced people: All peace talks must take the case of refugees and displaced people into account. Firm commitments must be given to work on clear plans to facilitate their return home, improve their life conditions and guarantee their participation in any political process.

Finally, when international parties relentlessly push military groups forward at the expense of political groups this divests the revolution of its political content. As a result, the political process is in danger of appearing as talks between insurgents and a legitimate government seeking to prioritize security at the expense of Syrian demands for human rights, freedom, justice and democracy. We, in the Center for Civil Society and Democracy, emphasize that any negotiations must be led by a meaningful and inclusive political leadership.

Tags :

Trying to hem him in

The appointment of H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser is one more step in trying to hem in President Trump on national security policy. He remains in charge of immigration, health care, trade and many other subjects, but the Washington establishment (aka “the blob”) is trying to reassert control of some important foreign policy issues:

  • Vice President Pence has been in Europe reassuring the NATO allies of the Administration’s wholehearted commitment to the Alliance and openness to partnership with the European Union, despite the President’s often expressed skepticism of both.
  • Defense Secretary Mattis has done likewise with NATO and also visited Baghdad, in part to reassure the Iraqis that we are not, as the President has suggested we would, going to “keep” their oil (whatever that means).
  • H.R. is well-known for his book criticizing the generals for not objecting to escalation of the Vietnam War–he isn’t likely to stand by idly if Trump pursues courses of action that can’t be justified or sustained. Nor is he likely to ignore or denigrate the intelligence community.
  • Secretary of State Tillerson has been reassuring Ukraine of America’s support, including on Crimea, and calling out the Russians for failure to implement the Minsk 2 agreement.
  • Republican Senator McCain has trashed Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin, with Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans cheering him on amidst growing pressure for serious investigations of the White House’s Russian connections.

With those holes plugged, the main thrust of White House thinking about foreign and national security policy still has two major outlets: Iran and North Korea.

The nuclear deal with Iran is safe because the Europeans have made it clear they will not reimpose sanctions if Trump undermines it and the Israelis have told Trump they prefer the current restraints to none at all. But Tehran’s support for Bashar al Assad in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen, and Shiite militias in Iraq gives people in Washington heartburn. Despite the nuclear deal, Tehran has few friends in DC because it has been far so aggressive in pursuing its regional interests.

The May 19 Iranian presidential election is already raising the political temperature in Tehran. The Revolutionary Guard is doing military exercises and shooting off missiles, though it is not clear whether any of them since General Flynn’s “notice” violate UN Security Council resolution 1929:

Iran is prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons and States…

President Rouhani is feeling the heat, both from the Iranian right wing and from the Americans. Reformists have no one else to vote for, so he will likely to tilt towards the hawks in an effort to improve his prospects, which are good but by no means unassailable. He is also trying to improve relations with the Gulf Arabs, which would solidify his claim to restoring Iran’s influence and prestige in the region.

North Korea is the far easier and more worthy target. Let’s not even consider North Korea’s assassinations, human rights abuses against its own population, and oppression. Kim Jong-un is well on his way to getting missiles that can reach US bases in the Pacific and eventually the US West coast. The Chinese appear to be at their wits’ end with him. The problem is this: no one knows what, if anything, will bring the North Koreans to heel. If we were to try and fail, Pyongyang can retaliate with massive artillery barrages against Seoul. He could even use a few of his nuclear weapons.

If the establishment professionals succeed in their effort to hem Trump in with respect to Russia, Ukraine, NATO, and Iraq’s oil, he still has the opportunity to make a giant hash of things. The President is in charge. Getting Iran and North Korea right will not be easy, especially if the President decides he is better off listening to Steve Bannon than H.R. McMaster. Bad judgment is Trump’s consistent vice. He can get the United States into a lot of trouble.

Tags : , , , , , , , , ,

Peace picks February 20-27

“The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East,” a Conversation with Dr. Christopher Phillips | Tuesday, February 21 | 10-11:30 AM | GW’s Elliot School | Register Here |

Join GW’s Elliot School and Christopher Phillips, senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, for a conversation on international rivalry in the New Middle East. He was previously the deputy editor for Syria and Jordan at the Economist Intelligence Unit. While living in Syria for two years, he consulted government agencies and NGOs. He has appearances on BBC Newsnight, Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC News, Al-Jazeera, Sky News and Channel 4 News.

Re-Centering the Bazaar: Notes towards a History of Islamic Capitalism in the Islamic World | Wednesday, February 22 | 3:30-5:00 PM | Register Here|

The Elliott School of International Affairs is hosting a talk explores the possibilities of a history of capitalism in the Islamic world through the prism of one of its most visible expressions: the bazaar. As the locus of a range of different commercial practices, the bazaar offers a useful platform for thinking about economic life in the Islamic world — production, consumption, exchange, and finance. It is also the site through which the inhabitants of the Islamic world came to experience the changing tides of global commerce and politics: the wares of India and Africa, the textiles of Northern Europe, and most recently, the manufactures of China. And yet, as an object of scholarly analysis, the bazaar has largely been reduced to a set of interpersonal or patron-client relations, flattening what was in fact a vibrant site of exchange and transformation.

Rather than speak of the bazaar in the abstract, Professor Bishara will focus on a specific network of bazaars around the Indian Ocean — in Bahrain, Muscat, and Zanzibar — during the nineteenth century, so as to more accurately map out the interlinked markets for commodities (land, produce, etc.), labor, and capital, the paper instruments that linked them all together, and the circulating discourses that animated them. The discussion of bazaar capitalism in the 19th-century Indian Ocean will serve as the platform for thinking about how we might write a history of capitalism in the Islamic world more broadly.

United States in the Middle East: Assessing the Emerging Trump Doctrine | Wednesday, February 22 | 4:30-6:00 PM | George Mason University | Register Here|

The Middle East Policy Group at Schar School of Policy & Government is hosting their first session of Reflections on Middle East Policy. Peter Mandaville is a Professor of International Affairs at GMU’s Schar School of Policy & Government and served as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of State under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Justin Gest is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at GMU’s Schar School of Policy & Government.

Militias in the Fight Against ISIS: Spoilers or Stabilizers? | Thursday, February 23 | 9:00-10:00 AM | Wilson Center | Register Here |

The panel will examine militias that have played a major role in the campaign against ISIS, particularly Lebanese Hezbollah, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the PYD (Democratic Union Party), and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. Are these groups spoilers that will disrupt regional politics and lead to anarchy? Are they stabilizing forces that can help assure peace in areas marred by war? Panelists will assess their impact and discuss how U.S. policy can better engage them to promote regional order.

Global threats and American national security priorities | Thursday, February 23 | 10:00-11:00 AM | Brookings | Register Here

On February 23, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings is honored to host an event featuring General Dunford. He will be joined by Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon for a discussion on American national security priorities and Department of Defense requirements.

The United States has the best military in the world, but it must continue to innovate to stay ahead. Today, the United States faces a particularly complex and dangerous security environment. In his job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2015, General Joseph Dunford has articulated a framework for understanding the threats America and its allies must address, benchmarking the military’s planning, capability development, and assessment of risk against the challenges posed by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and violent extremism.

The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony | Thursday, February 23 | 12:00-1:00 PM | The Middle East Institute | Register Here|

The Middle East Institute is pleased to host Roby Barrett, MEI scholar and senior fellow with the Joint Special Operations University-U.S. Special Operations Command, for the release of his new book The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony. Barrett will argue that the long-standing ties between the West and the Gulf Arab states have contributed to regional stability and progress.

Barrett draws on a sophisticated understanding of Gulf Arab culture and history to explain present-day policies and rivalries. The book delves into how the Gulf States, in particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia, interpret and respond to regional dynamics such as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the West’s rapprochement with Iran. Barrett argues that a failure to understand the contemporary Gulf from the perspective of its complex historical, political, and socio-cultural context guarantees failed policies in the future.

The State of Iraq- and the Republic of Kurdistan?- After ISIS | Thursday, February 23 | 12:00-1:00 PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here

On February 23, an expert panel will examine the challenges and opportunities ahead for Iraq, Kurdistan, and the new U.S. administration. Should the Trump administration continue to invest in the Iraqi State? Are federalism, institution-building, and good governance initiatives in Iraq a lost cause? How should the new administration deal with Iraq’s powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite militias? Would an independent Kurdish state bring solutions or additional problems for Kurds and the other peoples of Iraq? Similarly, what would the Republic of Kurdistan mean for the United States? The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman will join Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack and Ranj Alaaldin, along with Hudson’s Michael Pregent and Eric Brown, to discuss the implications for Iraq and the region as well as their importance to America’s geopolitical interests. This event will be live streamed on Hudson’s homepage.

Tags : , , , , , ,

Digital bread crumbs in Aleppo

The Atlantic Council hosted a keynote presentation of their report “Breaking Aleppo” last Monday, starting with an introduction from Frederick Kempe, President & CEO of the Atlantic Council, as well as Frederic C. Hof, former US Special Adviser for Transition in Syria. The event featured speakers Maks Czuperski, Director of Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, Abdul Kafi Alhamdo, Syrian teacher and activist, Dr. Lina Murad, board member of the Syrian American Medical Society, Faysal Itani, Senior Fellow at Atlantic’s Rafik Hariri Center, Eliot Higgins, Senior Fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab, and Emma Beals, investigative journalist.

IKempe said the report exposes the deliberate and systematic destruction of Aleppo by Bashar al Assad and will prevent the record of these atrocities from fading away in history. Hof added to this description by labeling the report an authoritative chronicle of the methods the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran utilized to achieve military victory through terror. He said it is clear that Moscow and the regime falsified information to obfuscate their crimes, and were emboldened by the passivity and lack of leadership of the west.

Czuperski described some of the methodology used by Atlantic Council’s digital forensic lab to compose the report. He said that although there were a lot of people talking about the conflict on social media, it was difficult to determine credibility. Higgins explained that the lab created “digital fingerprints” of the videoed events on the ground, taking into acount all possible sources, figuring out where they were taken using metadata or digital “breadcrumbs,” and then determining distance from the event to differentiate between true and false information.

The lab debunked false claims from the Russian defense ministry and proved that more than three bombs hit an Aleppo hospital in the same week, using before and after pictures, as well as camera footage from the hospital surveillance cameras. Forensic architecture showed repeated explosions in the same area and demonstrated targeted efforts of the regime to destroy one of the last hospitals in Aleppo.

Before the discussion panel, Abdul Kafi Alhamdo spoke to the crowd using Skype from the Syrian countryside to describe his life in Aleppo before and after the siege. Alhamdo says goodbye to his wife before heading to school everyday knowing that he might not see his family again. He teaches his students about freedom, attempting to provide a semblance of normalcy through what he describes as the Holocaust of Aleppo. Despite the horrors surrounding them, he and many other Syrians remained in the city until there was no other option. Alhamdo noted the UN role in assisting Assad with the forced evacuation of the city following the horrific last week of the siege. He described the terrible circumstances of the evacuation where civilians were shoved into buses, threatened by guards, and refused food or water while children cried.

Murad spoke to the difficulty of providing emergency medical care in Syria. She said that the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) started by training physicians, but soon had to expand their recruitment base as doctors were killed, displaced, or moved on. They had to train people of all levels using outdated technology, and in some cases engineering their own equipment. SAMS knew about the impending siege in Aleppo ahead of time and tried to allocate resources to prepare. Once the siege began it was impossible to bring in supplies, and they relied on a focal point to distribute the materials through the city until they ran out.

Beals recounted the ways reporting this conflict has shifted, from initial stages where reporters could be on the ground, to learning of the siege and other developments from the Syrian countryside, to the current situation where reporters are based in neighboring countries. Getting information out of Syria is incredibly difficult. Journalists rely on established relationships with Syrians who are still in the country and put their lives at risk by sharing information.

Itani stated that his job is to translate local developments in Syria into insights that make sense in the context of Western policy. He reiterated the struggle to obtain information, and said it is even more difficult because of obfuscation. Itani expressed his fear of the post-truth age, but he praised digital forensics as an outsourcing of information to determine what actually happened. He sees the development of these techniques as credible push back against the campaign of lies.

Watch the full event here:

Tags : , ,

Revenge of the nerds

The foreign policy establishment is beginning to bite back. While President Trump was outperforming even by his own low standards in a press conference Thursday, Senator McCain, Secretary of Defense Mattis, Vice President Pence, and Secretary of State Tillerson were busy in Europe declaring their unqualified commitment to the NATO Alliance, urging the allies to meet their 2014 commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, opposing any softening with Russia on Ukraine, denouncing those who doubt Western values, and lauding the post-World War II liberal international framework. Trump likely wasn’t listening–he doesn’t even listen to the questions asked at his own news conference–but no doubt his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, heard what amounts to a cabinet and Congressional rebellion against his boss.

The courage to talk this way comes in part from Trump’s truly miserable ratings with the American public. At 40%, his job approval rating one month into the presidency is the lowest on record:

 

Mid-February Job Approval Ratings During Elected Presidents’ First Year in Office, Eisenhower Through Trump

 

Date Job approval
%
Trump 2017 Feb 13-15 40
Obama 2009 Feb 12-15 64
G.W. Bush 2001 Feb 19-21 62
Clinton 1993 Feb 12-14 51
G.H.W. Bush 1989 Feb 28-Mar 2 63
Reagan 1981 Feb 13-16 55
Carter 1977 Feb 18-21 71
Nixon 1969 Feb 20-25 60
Kennedy 1961 Feb 10-15 72
Eisenhower 1953 Feb 22-27 67
Average 61

He started lower than everyone else and has dropped more than all but Clinton:

 

Change in Presidential Mid-February Job Approval Ratings From Initial Job Approval Ratings, Eisenhower Through Trump
Sorted by change in approval rating

 

Initial approval Mid-February approval Change
% % pct. pts.
G.H.W. Bush 51 63 +12
G.W. Bush 57 62 +5
Carter 66 71 +5
Reagan 51 55 +4
Nixon 59 60 +1
Eisenhower 68 67 -1
Obama 68 64 -4
Trump 45 40 -5
Clinton 58 51 -7
Average 60 61 +1

The American public views Trump as less trustworthy and well informed than his predecessors, as well as less able to get things done and to communicate:

Americans generally respect NATO:

They also think Trump has damaged America’s image abroad:

This is unprecedented: a president with radical foreign policy intentions whose appointees are speaking out in ways that amount to rejection of those intentions. They are trying to hem in the President and prevent him from pursuing the worst of his ideas.

Trump still is the president however. He may be hemmed in by his own minions on NATO and Ukraine, but he is still free to act elsewhere. Iran and Syria are the likely arenas. He won’t renounce the Iran nuclear deal, because the Israelis don’t want him to. But he may seek heightened confrontation with them in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, or Syria. He may also try for a partnership with Russia in Syria by abandoning support for the Syrian opposition and trying to ween Moscow from what I suspect is an unbreakable tie to Assad. No successor regime will be as friendly to Russian (and Iranian) interests as Assad has been.

Trump is also rumored to be considering deployment of more US troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State (ISIS). He wouldn’t be the first American president to seek to bolster his popularity at home by waging war abroad. But Americans seem to me tired of foreign interventions. ISIS, while dreadful, is a threat to individual American citizens–even to substantial numbers of them–but it is not an existential threat that can destroy the United States. Apart from North Korea’s eventual capability to deliver nuclear weapons to California, the only threat of that sort I see on the horizon is President Trump’s attack on America’s courts, its free and independent media, its Muslim citizens, and its domestic tranquility.

 

Tags : , , , , , , , ,
Tweet