Yes, of course there are important differences between what President Trump has decided to do–remove the “deferred action” status accorded by President Obama to 800,000 people, most of whom have never lived anyplace but the US–and Myanmar’s efforts to expel Rohingya who have lived there for generations. Trump isn’t burning the Dreamers’ houses to the ground or forcibly expelling them from the US (at least not yet). But they will become subject to deportation–even though they may have lived their entire conscious lives in the US–and the basic motive is similar: to rid the country of people who don’t fit an ethnic definition of citizenship.
The Rohingya are mostly Muslims (some are Hindu) in a majority-Buddhist country, one that rejects their claim to citizenship despite generations of living in Myanmar. The Dreamers are mostly Latinos (78% Mexican) brought as children to the US illegally by their parents. Apart from the President (as candidate) challenging a judge’s bona fides because his parents were Mexican, there isn’t much Trump and Attorney General Sessions can do about the millions of Latino citizens already in the US, so they are targeting whom they can. Anyone who thinks this is not ethnically motivated hasn’t spent any time listening to Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, both of whom have openly advocated discriminatory immigration policies.
President Trump ducked announcing the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and left it to Jeff Sessions, who refused to take questions. No new DACA applications will be accepted and the program will end March 5, 2018. There is of course the possibility Congress will pass corrective legislation, but the main reason President Obama instituted DACA by executive order was its failure to do so. With the legislative agenda bursting, it is not clear that immigration policy can get to the top of the priority list.
Deportation of Dreamers will be relatively easy. In exchange for deferred action, they registered with the US government, which therefore knows where they live and how to get in touch with them. For the Dreamers, many of whom don’t even speak Spanish (or another language native to their parents’ place of origin), deportation would be a wrenching experience: deprived of the country they grew up in, placed in a cultural and linguistic context with which they are unfamiliar, and separated permanently from their lifetime and career ambitions. Cruel is not too strong a word.
Of course all this will be challenged in court. There the Dreamers are a lot better off than the Rohingya, who haven’t got that option. But the odds of winning in court in the absence of a legislative fix are not good. Courts have a way of not wanting to validate illegal acts, even indirectly. We can hope they will see deportation as going to far, but that doesn’t seem likely. I hope I’m wrong about that.
President Trump has assured the Dreamers repeatedly that they have nothing to fear. But of course he has promised his core supporters that he would get rid of both DACA and large numbers of Latinos. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind which commitment he is keeping.
As of January 19, there were 1920 pardon and 11335 commutation petitions pending at the Justice Department. President Trump skipped over those in favor of pardoning a former sheriff who had defied a court order to stop racial profiling of Latinos. Sheriff Arpaio is 85 and still had an opportunity to appeal. He was in no danger of going to jail. What the President did was not a humanitarian gesture. He was sending, as he has repeatedly during his lifetime, a clear and unequivocal signal that he respects no law and adheres to the notion that whites are superior and deserve special treatment.
I trust the signal will not be lost on America’s rapidly growing Hispanic population, 29% of which voted for Trump despite his many anti-Latino statements: claiming Mexicans coming to the US were criminals and rapists, suggesting a judge born in Indiana could not be fair because his grandparents were Mexican, and promising to make Mexico pay for his border wall. The Republicans have long thought they needed to do something to recoup some socially conservative Latinos. Hard to see how that will happen now.
The White House also apparently fired Sebastian Gorka, the falsely credentialed “terrorism expert” on the White House staff. Gorka was more TV court jester than serious policy wonk, but Chief of Staff Kelly and others in the administration had had their fill of him. That is good. Among other things, he had a history of Hungarian ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic activism. I suppose Jewish right-wingers, taken aback by Trump’s solicitude for neo-Nazis in the wake of their murder of a counter-protester in Charlottesville, pressured for Gorka’s removal.
Both these decisions were announced on a Friday evening as a massive hurricane bore down on the Texas Gulf Coast, with likely devastating consequences. No doubt someone thought the news of Arpaio’s pardoning, and maybe also Gorka’s firing, could be inundated along with Houston. Asked about what he had to say to people in the path of the hurricane, Trump was flippant: “good luck to everybody” he chimed.
Bearing down on Trump is an investigation of Russian meddling in the US election and hot ruble financing of Trump and Kushner real estate. The Congressional committees are not letting up and Special Counsel Mueller is issuing subpoenas, for which he needs to get grand jury approval. The Mueller team isn’t leaking at all (in contrast to a White House that can’t keep anything secret), so it is hard to know precisely what they are pursuing. But they have hired a lot of financial crime experts. So I am inclined to treat Mr. Trump to his own words: “good luck.” He is going to need it, though of course the Arpaio pardon signals clearly he will pardon himself and his family members if need be.
So are we. The North Koreans again launched missiles this morning, apparently in protest of an impending US-led military exercise. Pyongyang aimed its relatively short-range missiles in a non-threatening direction, but still. Trump’s bluster about stopping their missile development is proving just that: bluster. How will he react to North Korean defiance? Yes, we’ll need good luck, and wise heads, too.
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.
Donald Trump continues to score goals against his own and America’s interests. Just a few examples from the last couple of days:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Future of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship | Tuesday, March 29th | 10:30-11:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The strengthening of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship comes at a critical time when North Korea’s unabated nuclear ambitions pose a growing threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Moreover, transnational challenges will require a concerted approach from all three allies. On March 29, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings will host The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, for a discussion on the United States vision for the future of the U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral relationship and the next steps for improving and expanding cooperation. Katharine H.S. Moon, the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, will offer welcoming remarks and Brookings President Strobe Talbott will provide introductions. Deputy Secretary Blinken will take questions from the audience following his remarks, which will be moderated by Richard Bush, director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.
- The Nuclear Summit and Beyond: Progress or Regress? | Tuesday, March 29th| 11:00-12:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In a landmark speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama laid out a bold agenda to move toward a nuclear-free world. Over the next seven years, his Administration reached a treaty with Russia to reduce strategic arm stockpiles, convened international summits to secure nuclear materials against transfer or theft, and concluded an historic nuclear agreement with Iran. But some developments were less encouraging: arms control with Russia stalled; China, Pakistan, and North Korea significantly increased the size of their arsenals; and the rise of ISIS accentuated the threat of WMD terrorism. Against this evolving backdrop, the United States is refurbishing its nuclear weapons— what critics characterize as a destabilizing move toward smaller, more precise weapons that would be tempting to use in a crisis. On the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit and the Prague speech’s anniversary, join us for a National Conversation with top experts in arms control, taking stock of the Administration’s progress toward its lofty arms control goals. Speakers include Jane Harman, Wilson Center Director, Ambassador Robert L. Gallucci, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, Franklin C. Miller, former National Security Council Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, Frank A. Rose, State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, and Robert S. Litwak, Directory of International Security Studies.
- Democracy in Crisis in Turkey | Tuesday, March 29th | 2:00-3:30 | Bipartisan Policy Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has been increasingly successful in muzzling the country’s once outspoken press. The dramatic decline in press freedom in Turkey has included government-imposed bans on reporting on controversial topics, witch hunts against journalists amid accusations of “terrorism,” and prosecuting journalists for stories perceived to be insulting to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This assault on media freedom has escalated dangerously in the past several months, with the Turkish government demonstrating a willingness to seize control over entire news outlets—on March 4, a Turkish court ordered the seizure of one of Turkey’s most widely circulated opposition newspapers, Zaman. A new Bipartisan Policy Center report, Mechanisms of Control: How Turkey is Criminalizing Dissent and Muzzling the Press, discusses the issue.
- Conference on Syrian Refugee Crisis with a Keynote Address by H.E. Mrs. Emine Erdogan | Wednesday, March 30th | 9:45-3:00 | SETA Foundation | Lists of panels and speakers may be found here.
- A Conversation with Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani | Thursday, March 31st | 9:30-10:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center invites you to a conversation with Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani about the challenges and opportunities facing Afghanistan. Rula Ghani’s commitment to activism, women’s rights, and social justice cannot be overstated. As a woman, a Lebanese Christian, and First Lady, she has taken a central role in elevating national discourses on violence against women, the rule of law, and the power of religion. A scholar and educator in her own right, she breaks many conventions in Afghanistan as the first presidential spouse in decades to be so publicly outspoken. Time Magazine, citing Ghani’s commitment to improve Afghan women’s living standards, named her among the top one hundred most influential people in the world in 2015. Drawing on her years of activism, Rula Ghani will discuss Afghanistan’s efforts to overcome the challenges the people of Afghanistan face and the new government’s efforts to usher in a new era of prosperity for Afghanistan.
- Challenges to the future of the EU: A Central European Perspective | Thursday, March 31st | 10:00-11:00 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Today, the European Union faces critical risks to its stability. The possibility of a Brexit. The ongoing Ukraine/Russia conflict. The strain of mass migration. ISIL and other terrorism threats. The lingering financial crisis in Greece and beyond. These issues pose distinct challenges for the EU, its 28 member countries, and their 500 million citizens. How will these developing problems affect Europe? On March 31, Governance Studies at Brookings will host Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to discuss the current status of the EU as seen through the lens of a Central European nation, close U.S. NATO ally and current Chair of the Visegrad Group. Prime Minister Sobotka will offer insight into how the EU will address these issues, and where its future lies. After the session, Prime Minister Sobotka will take audience questions.
- U.S.-Mexico Economic Cooperation for a Competitive Region: A Conversation with Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo | Friday, April 1st | 9:15-10:15 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute invites you to join Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo for a discussion on U.S.-Mexico trade and economic cooperation; North American competitiveness; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- The emerging law of 21st century war | Friday, April 1st | 10:00-12:00 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As the threats posed by violent extremism rise worldwide, governments are struggling to respond in ways that are both effective and in conformity with international and domestic laws. Halting terrorist financing, online recruitment and radicalization, and cyberwarfare are just some of the areas that demand a careful balancing of multiple interests including the protection of freedom of speech, religion, privacy and the Internet. Tools employed in more recent warfare such as the use of drones, private security contractors, and controversial detention tactics add further complexity to the delicate tension between protecting security and human rights. The transnational nature of terrorism requires better international cooperation and coordination across multiple disciplines, as well as greater coherence amongst legal regimes. We are also honored to feature Ard van der Steur, the Netherlands minister for justice and security and current chair of the European Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, who will provide a national and European perspective on these issues. Ingrid van Engelshoven, deputy mayor of The Hague will provide brief opening remarks. Following the keynote presentation, Koh, Minister van der Steur, and Michele Coninsx, the president of Eurojust, will join a panel discussion moderated by Abi Williams, president of The Hague Institute for Global Justice. After the program, the speakers will take questions from the audience. This event will be live webcast. Join the conversation on Twitter at #BreyerLecture.