Category Archives: Trump

24Snobbery and Vox Populi



There is no end to the admiration for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Not only did they conceive and implement the most representative government the world had known, drawing on their knowledge of The Greek and Roman Classics. But when they anticipated a particularly galling problem – or, as in the case of the competition of the larger and smaller of the original 13 British colonies which were to form the new Republic.

 

They also understood that the U.S. Constitution which established America’s fundamental law, and guaranteed certain basic rights to its citizens, would in the end be at the mercy of impulse and fads. When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed it on September 17, 1787, presided over by George Washington, they faced an issue in the fear of smaller members they would be dominated by the numbers and wealth of the larger states such as Virginia. In 1790, Vermont, for example, had only 85,539 free whites and slaves compared to its neighbor, Massachusetts with its 378,787. [Yes, violations of Vermont’s anti-slavery law, a part of its 1777 constitution when it broke away from New York, were not unusual].

In the Federalist No. 10, James Madison argued against “an interested and overbearing majority” and the “mischiefs of faction” in an electoral system. Madison defined a faction as “a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

Madison and others hope and planned what was then called republican government [i.e., federalism, as opposed to direct democracy], with a distribution of voter rights and powers, would countervail against factions. Although the United States Constitution refers to “Electors” and “electors”, neither the phrase “Electoral College, or as until the early 19th century when the name “Electoral College” came into general usage for the electors selected to cast votes for president and vice president. The phrase was first written into federal law in 1845 and appears in the Constitution as “college of electors.

In a sense, what the Founders feared has come to pass in the creation by the system itself of a privileged c political lass, the so-called Establishments of both parties. They have come to dominate the federal government through their expertise in its intricate operations and skill in maneuvering in its constantly growing bureaucracy,. But in a largely unanticipated reaction, a general popular reaction took place in 2016 with the election of Donald K. Trump. Trump’s election, was unforeseen by even the most astute political observers – particularly those in the mainstream media who still are smarting from their failure.

Trump’s decisions since his election have further confounded these media observers along with the leaders of both the major parties. His unpredictability – from their standpoint – has led not only to inability to anticipate them but to a originality to the Trump Administration that has not been equaled for decades.

In that sense, even though he received a smaller popular vote than the Establishment’s candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, he has very much become the successful candidate of the vox populi, the voice of the people, or indeed, from the original Latin phrase, vox populi, vox dei – the voice of the people as the voice of God..Trump may indeed be the voice of “the forgotten man” in the American society to which he so often refers. One thing is clear: the continued struggle between Trump and his base against the Inside the Beltway Establishment aided and abetted by its Hollywood apparatus will continue to dominate the American political scene for some time. The ultimate victor is not now predictable but there is little doubt which side the Founders would have chosen.

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18Reality and foreign policy


 

 

Donald K. Trump and his base went into office – unexpectedly for most observers – with a promise to cut back on American commitments abroad and to avoid new ones. That was the essence of ”America First”, an echo of an isolationist group and slogan in the pre-World War II debate over U.S. involvement in European arguments.

 

But what they have found to their chagrin is that it is not possible. Overwhelming relative power of the U.S. not only in relation to smaller countries but to other major world leaders makes it ipso facto a determining factor – even when it exercises the option not to take part in the decision-making.

 

The extent of U.S. power in relative terms cannot be overstated. The American GDP of almost 19 billion – the sum total of all its economic activity — in 2016 was $8 billion more than its nearest rival, China. That GDP is a combination of high average individual incomes, a large population, capital investment, moderate unemployment, high consumer spending, a relatively young population, and technological innovation. None of these are challenged by most of its competitors, again save China, and then only n a couple of categories.

The United States shares 24.9 percent of global wealth, while the smallest economy, Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation, contributes only 0.00005 percent. Fist ranked China shares 18.3 percent. In nominal data, in 2017 five economies would have GDPs above $1 trillion, 62 above $100 billion and 177 above $1 billion. The top five economies account for approximately 53.82 % of the total of world production, where as the top ten account for approx. 67.19 %.

The U.S. overseas involvements continue with few changes in American policy by the Trump Administration.

Washington’s involvement in the Middle East continues to be one of its most important foreign entanglements. The U.S. alliance with Israel depends not only on the important lobby of pro-Zionist Americans including the influential Jewish community, but important commercial and technological ties based on their commercial relationship.

When Trump initially tried to downgrade if not reject American participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], he encountered counter pressure. The threat of NATO intervention blocked further Moscow action against Ukraine, and supported UN and U.S sanctions against Russian as a lever against further aggression against its Western neighbors which its leader Vladimir Putin had threatened.

Trump’s short-lived love affair with China’s Xi Jinping has been torpedoed by China’s aggressive moves in the Sea of Japan and the South China Sea. Beijing’s base-building athwart one of the major commercial naval routes of the world is inimitable to America’s longtime advocacy of freedom of the seas for itself and all navigators.

The China relationship also is critical to fending off the threat of North Korea to use its intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons against Guam or other U.S. territory. China not only accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, but Pyongyang’s IBM and nuclear weapons owe much to the earlier transfers of Chinese technology.

A Trump hands-off policy in the civil war which has developed in Venezuela is not likely to be sustainable. The attempt to set up a so-called :”socialist” dictatorship backed by the Castro Regime in Cuba is an effort to seek anti-American allies among the left throughout the Hemisphere. Washington’s relations with Latin America are too intimate in terms of trade, immigration and defense capabilities to be left to the machinations of the bankrupt regime in Havana whose only strategy continues to be anti-American.

Trump, as his predecessors – since the end of World War II – finds increasingly that the U.S. must have a policy toward any of the major developments in world politics.

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16China’s strategy clear


 

In a world of regional conflicts, new fighting in the high Himalayas in Bhutan sheds further significance on Beijing’s world strategy.

Bhutan, an incredibly beautiful retreat in the heart of the highest mountains in the world with only a million inhabitants, was a “protectorate” of British India. It, and a half dozen other frontier states – including Nepal with 30 million – drifted either into incorporation, semi-independence or independence [Nepal’s 30 million] in the new Subcontinent divided basically between predominantly Moslem Pakistan [later Pakistan and Bangladesh] and India [with its Islamic minority almost as large as Pakistan’s population].

In late June Beijing accused India of sending border guards from Sikkim, one of the Himalayan kingdoms that eventually became part of India, on to the Doklam plateau in Bhutan. [Bhutan maintains no formal relations with China.] Historically Bhutan  was linked geographically to Tibet rather than India below the Himalayas.]  China accused the Indians of trying to obstruct road construction. New Delhi did admit it had approached the Chinese crew warning them against disturbing the current status.

Indian and Chinese forces have clashed in various parts of the 3,000-mile frontier – much of it either disputed or indefinitely marked – since 1962. Then as a result of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s pushing the Indian demarcation of the British Indian border – apparently with the assurance from his chief foreign policy advisers, V.K. Krishna Menon, a Communist sympathizer, that Moscow would intervene with their Chinese Communist ally to prevent violence. Instead, the Indian military – heirs to the great British Indian Imperial tradition – suffered a devastating blow which brought the Chinese into the lowlands on the south side of the Himalayas but then with a rapid unilateral withdrawal.

Since then, there have been clashes between them– especially after their occupation of Tibet and the flight of the Dalai Lama, its religious-civil leader, to India in 1950, where he leads a government in exile among Tibetan refugees. Despite Pakistan’s one-time alliance and heavy dependence on U.S. arms, Islamabad has drifted into an alliance with Beijing

As American influence and aid has diminished, Beijing’s role in Pakistan – which already had nuclear weapons – has grown. China has been given permission to establish a naval base at Gwadar, on the Iranian border at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. An official announcement came just a few days after U.S. Navy SEALs conducted a secret raid to kill Osama Ben Ladin in Pakistani when relations between Washington and Islamabad took a nosedive.

Beijing plans for Pakistan to play a major role in China’s “Belt and Road”, a $1.4-trillion global trade plan, a rebuilding of the historic Silk Road from China’s west to the Persian Gulf and Europe. If the Chinese are successful, it could shift the global economy and challenge the U.S.-led order. Islamabad is banking on receiving more than $50 billion in Chinese loans and grants including a pipeline to bring Mideast oil and gas to China’s western province of Sinkiang.

Pakistan leadership – always fraught with division and corruption — has just lost its prime minister after a court’s ruling on his massive corruption. Some Islamabad politicians see China as its new “equalizer” with the U.S. and Indian relationship – after the decades of New Delhi’s alliance with Moscow — increasingly stronger. Prime Minister nahrenda Modi, during a two-day visit to Washington in June, called on Islamabad to end its support of terrorism, supporters of the Kashmir state disputed between the two neighbors.

American aid to Pakistan, once the third-largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, is expected to total less than $1 billion in 2016, down from a recent peak of more than $3.5 billion in 2011.

The Trump Administration is again face to face with a decision: should it continue military and economic aid to nuclear armed Pakistan in order to win whatever support there is for the West among its elite or throw in the towel to what has become a Chinese ally in Beijing’s strategy to reach around India to extend its political influence based on its rank as the world’s No. 2 economy?”

 

 

Sws-08-04

One president at a time


Former Pres. Barack Hussein Obama refuses to leave the stage.

He is defying the tradition of former presidents who too a senior statesman role with philanthropic, scholarly and other non-political activities. True, he has a different problem with a decimated Democratic Party bereft of leadership.But stationing himself in Washington, with a $8.1 million house, despite the fact he has no roots in the District, was generally seen as an expression of his continued search for political leadership.

He also has violated the tradition of former presidents of taking only a ceremonial role in visits overseas. When Pres. Donald K. Trump was making his first visit to Europe, for a controversial NATO summit, Obama turned up simultaneously to court German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s true, of course, again, that Obama was recalling his pre-presidency May 2017 Brandenburg Gate speech before a wildly enthusiastic 70,000 Europeans. He got a premature Nobel Prize for Peace for that performance. But his activities made Trumps’ simultaneous diplomatic efforts more difficult. The sitting president, of course, had taken up the cudgels for NATO members to pay up and Washington is facing difficult trade issues with Merkel, who is playing domestic politics as she approaches an election with lagging support.

Obama “…push [es] back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms” and to “fight against those who divide us”. These charges are widely interpreted as being aimed at Trump.
There has been, of course, a tradition that former American officials do not criticize Washington policy from overseas venues. Longer lifespans have proliferated the number of former chief executives increasing the importance of the issue with so many ex-presidents around.

In early June, speaking to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Obama called on people, in the face of uncertainty, to stand by some of the very post-World War II economic and political institutions. These are postwar positions Trump has repeatedly called into question.

“In periods like this, people looking for control and certainty — it’s inevitable,” Obama told the Canadians. “But it is important to remember that the world has gone through similar moments. … Our history also shows there is a better way.”
He said people should overcome fear and not listen to those who “call for isolation or nationalism” and those who “suggest rolling back the rights of others.”

The fact is that although Obama is touted as “the first black president”, he neither comes from the Urban Ghetto nor the rising black professional class but a multicultural environment in Hawaii with time out as a student in Indonesia. On June 30 in Jakarta, Obama, greeted by a crowd of thousands of leaders, students and business people, where he opened the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora, struck out against Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement on climate change. “In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change, an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership, can still give our children a fighting chance.”

At a time when the Trump Administration is facing difficulties in its own Republican Party and with the President’s unpredictable – he says it is a strategic tactic – approach to issues, Obama is becoming a center of anti-Trump activism.With his own fanatical following within the left, Obama may continue to pursue his own set of domestic and foreign policies in public debate with Trump. But it is neither appropriate nor helpful to defy the traditional American withdrawal of former executives after they have had their “innings”.
It’s time for Obama to make a dignified exit to the traditional role of elder statesman.
Sws-07-01-17

The Syrian crisis deepens


With growing civilian casualties and some nine million refugees, Syria’s civil war has taken a turn for worse.

Direct participation of both the U.S. and Israel now appears to have become inevitable. That adds a new dimension to what too often has been seen as a parallel to the Spanish Civil War [1936-39]. That war, with Mussolini and Hitler aiding the Nationalist/Fascist revolt with weapons and advisers while the Allied powers remained neutral, has often been seen as the prelude to World War II.

In a recent defense engagement the U.S. brought down one of Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad’s fighters, its first direct intervention in the war where it has maintained a defensive shield protecting U.S. interests. But it has carefully avoided conflict with either Russia or Iran, allies both on the ground supporters of the al Basher regime. Israel, a contiguous neighbor, has tried to remain neutral. But it recently returned artillery fire across its northern Golan Heights border when bombardments inside Syria from ISIS strayed albeit with no casualties. But both ISIS and Hizbollah, Moslem terrorists operating as part of the rebellion against the al Assad regime, but are also Jerusalem’s opponents.

With this threat of direct U.S. and Israeli intervention, Syria now becomes a critical test for Pres. Donald Trump’s foreign policy. A threat to intervene directly if al Assad or the Soviet and Iranian forces allied with him use chemical weapons, in effect against unarmed populations, would be a major test of Trump’s overall policy of nonintervention. That includes, of course,Washington’s close alliance with Israel. Trump had made such nonintervention basic to his new foreign policy following “America First” goals.

Chemical warfare in Syria would put into question three very different but important aspects of U.S. policy:

1] Chemical warfare in the increasingly chaotic conflict would lead to a massive increase in noncombatant victims. The Syrian fighting, much of it for control of strategic urban areas, has taken heavy casualties among women and children as well as the combatants. The fighting often involves unrestrictive bombing by Soviet aircraft supporting the regime. These civilian casualties have become an increasing concern for American public opinion as well as official government policy.

2] although Trump has recently endorsed the strategy of keeping his policy options secret in oder to use ambiguity as a strategic tactic, the fact is the rest of the world sees opposition to the spread of chemical weapons as a basic American policy in Syria. It is assumed that their use would bring direct U.S. intervention as was threatened but ultimately rejected by a more reluctant Obama Administration.

3] Chemical warfare was initiated in World War I with an arms development race among the warring parties. By the end of the war, scientists working for both sides had tested some 3,000 different chemicals for use as possible weapons. Some 50 of these poisons were actually tried out on the battlefield including a widespread use of chlorine for which there were continuing postwar casualties for U.S. military., But the horror and fear of the weapons’ use – even though responsible for less than 1% of WWI’s fatalities and about 7% of its casualties – led to repeated and relative success in banning them in various international treaties and wars leading up to WWII. Nor were they used in WWII.Were chemical weapons to become pervasive in Syria now it would be not only be a serious new development in the war there, but would break the general taboo that has held them in check since 1915 as a weapon of even in all-out war.

sws-06-28-17

Untangling U.S. foreign policy


American geopoliticians in the 100 years the U.S. was coming of age as the superpower had the “luxury” of facing a relatively monolithic enemy. From the early 30s, it was fascism dominated by Mussolini and then Hitler until his downfall at the conclusion of World War II. Stalin and his worldwide Communist apparatus moved into that role in the immediate postwar period.

It was only with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 that Washington planners faced what had been the more normal historical array of a number of powerful national and imperial entities vying for power. Turning their hand to this complex has confronted American policymakers – however the disproportionate size and power of their country – with new and perplexing conflicting interests.

Nowhere is that problem more apparent than with Washington’s relations with the Russians. The muddled argument now taking place in the public arena is only the most obvious expression of this.

Vladimir Putin’s success at accumulating near-dictatorial powers, his potential to employ the former Soviet Union’s reservoir of weapons of mass destruction including hydrogen bombs, give him heft that has to be considered beyond the crippled power and condition of his country.

Especially is that true because he has sought to wield it against his neighbors and former Soviet appendages Georgia and Ukraine, threatening Poland and the Baltic states.The U.S. and its European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not ignore what was again a threat to peace by an aggressive neighbor, seeking as Putin has, the reconstruction of the foreign Russian Empire/Soviet Union.

If Putin does not aim at the superpower status of the former Soviet Union – although not nominally a Communist, he said “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” – he had the power to disrupt the peace and stability of the post-Soviet world.

Washington does not find it easy to deal with Putin’s Russia which in some parts of the world over which the U.S. still has the obligations of the principal, and at times, only, peacekeeper. It must oppose and lead an alliance against Moscow in Putin’s efforts to move back to the Communist/Imperial western borders. But in the critical Syrian civil war – with its growing foreign participation – Washington seeks to oust the Basher Al Assad government which Moscow supports although both find a common enemy in the ISIS Moslem terrorists who are the chief opponent of the Basher regime.

This leads to tactical contradictions such as U.S. bombing of Russian forces supporting the Damascus government, Washington’s chief enemy in the region and perhaps now the world.

In Western Europe, Washington’s half-century of backing the economic and political integration of the continent as a solution to its centuries of internecine warfare – which twice within the century have drawn in the U.S. – is collapsing. The withdrawal of Britain and its attempt now to boost its commercial and political relations with the U.S. and the English-speaking former Dominions, resurrects the old dilemma – what to do about a Germany that overwhelms its traditional enemy France, flirts with the Russians, and is dismayed by its own power.

In Asia, the U.S. has the prospect of an increasingly powerful and aggressive China which threatens to dominate both Japan and manipulates the two Koreans, menacing the most important sea lane in the world through Southeast Asia. A short-term U.S.commercial policy toward China that has been a net transfer of resources through below-cost pricing is now reaching its climax, but having destroyed much of the American manufacturing base on which the new digital revolution must build a completely new concept of production.

Washington is faced with the prospect of increasing its expensive buildup in East Asia or encouraging Japan and South Korea to adopt nuclear weapons in their defense.

The Trump Administration – a rogue if powerful political force built on the resentment of a large part of the population outside the three elitist urban centers – may be blessed with a certain naïve vitality. But it has only a short time for it and its successors to create a new U.S. approach to world diplomacy.

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