The Way Between War and Diplomacy–The CIA Way


December 18, 2017

The Way Between War and Diplomacy–The CIA Way

by Sajad Abedi

https://en.mehrnews.com/news/130304/The-third-way-between-war-and-diplomacy

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TEHRAN, Dec. 16 (MNA) – The American Presidents all asked the CIA when they arrived at the White House, “What should they do with it?” Often they underestimated the CIA’s analysis. These analyses described a complex world and they said the process of events was ambiguous.

Evaluation, hypothesis, probability. The White House never praised such literature. The White House often preferred analysis that were within the framework of its political intentions. On the other hand, the White House has been increasingly inclined to publicly disclose some of the information collected by the services, due to the persistent desire to attract people to their big decisions.

Instead, the presidents were heavily pushed by the secret power that the CIA possessed. The covert activities, as a “third way” between war and diplomacy, heavily attracted them. All of them have implemented programs in secret to stealthily influence the process. All of them were trying to keep their apps in use. Despite the scandals, the political and diplomatic problems caused by secret activities, none of them questioned the necessity and effectiveness of this instrument in foreign policy.

These covert measures began to expand slightly in the 1950s, at a time when the CIA’s invincible myth was formed. CIA officers, who found such actions as a source of prominence and privilege, did everything to cultivate them. This myth derives from a special cultural sign: Americans as a nation have a very positive image. America considers itself to be a nation that succeeds; it is a winner who challenges ahead of them through his will and technology. The CIA is responsible for this sweeping spirit in Washington.

Image result for The CIA@LangleyThe Agency can do it

The slogan of the CIA has long been: “The agency can do it.” Therefore, the opponents of power would not be taken into consideration because the United States needed shadow warriors to protect the country from the Soviet threat, without anyone having much to know about it. This era of trust ended in the process of deconstruction and after disclosure of the “internal” spy activities of the CIA. So the great age of complexity began, which brought fantasies and other conspiracy theories. The CIA takes ugly signs into a dangerous, rogue and out-of-control organization. But Robert Gates states: “The CIA is nothing more than a presidential organization. Every time this organization has faced trouble, it was due to the mission that the president ordered. »

In any case, this is the image of America in a world that has suffered the most pain and suffering from this country. The fact that the United States has an agency like the CIA is necessarily a two-tail razor.

The press and the Congress, in spite of the fundamental belief in the effectiveness of the CIA, served as two powerful guardian dogs to oversee the agency in the service of the President. The dynamics of American democracy, as well as the strong attachment to the constitution and individual freedoms, have made the CIA the “most transparent” intelligence service in the world. The contradiction is that the Americans know more about the secret activities (activities that are definitely the most secret and sensitive activities) to the total CIA performance. Perhaps even more are than the overall performance of other institutions, including the State Department or the Ministry of Health.

September 11 attacks occur and shake the sense of security and invincibility that the United States has plunged into. Since then, US soil is no longer a haven, and the attack has the same effect as Pearl Harbor’s attack. The outcomes of the Iraq war are being added to the most fundamental reorganization in the US intelligence community since about sixty years ago. Information services acquire new authority, many other services are formed, and some of the old networks are weakened or even destroyed, the need to focus more on the powers of information services is felt.

These changes are so far as the United States is creating a CIA over the previous organization. The new goal is to give Americans a unique look at the services. The new organization will focus it’s analyze on the analysis. That’s why we can bet that in the future less than the CIA’s inability to anticipate important events. On the other hand, because of the new reformation of the new head of the American intelligence apparatus, and the CIA has become the agency responsible for all the secret activities, it can be assumed that the CIA will (slightly) head over the next few years will be kept.

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https://bossroyal.com/kryptos-the-uncracked-sculpture/

The tension between interventionism and the previous doctrine of isolationism has led Americans to redefine the intelligence system as the “last line of defense”. In some respects, this device is the beginning and end of its power; and since the CIA has seen its strength in its mission of being as close as possible to the American enemies, that’s why today it still maintains this precious position.

The CIA actually has an almost inescapable position in the imagination as well as the American political system. The organization gives all its actors the confidence that someone, something, America is intertwined with international affairs, and its influence on the four corners of the world shines.

 

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences


December 14, 2015

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences

The US administration seems to believe that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are so concerned with the perceived Iranian threat that they will put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel. The problem is that the new Saudi crown prince’s highest priority – to consolidate his power – may lead him to reject a peacemaking role.

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NEW YORK – It is 50 years since the Six-Day War – the June 1967 conflict that, as much as any other event, continues to define the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. After the fighting was over, Israel controlled all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, in addition to the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Back then, the world saw this military outcome as temporary. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the backdrop to what was to become a diplomatic solution to the problem of the stateless Palestinians, was adopted some five months after the war ended. But, as is often the case, what began as temporary has lasted.

This is the context in which President Donald Trump recently declared that the United States recognized Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. Trump stated that the US was not taking a position on the final status of Jerusalem, including “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty” there. He made clear that the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. And he chose not to begin actually moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, even though he could have simply relabeled what is now the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The attempt to change US policy while arguing that little had changed did not persuade many. Most Israelis were pleased with the new US stance, and most in the Arab world and beyond were incensed.

Just why Trump chose this moment to make this gesture is a matter of conjecture. The president suggested it was simply recognition of reality and that his predecessors’ policy failure to do so had failed to yield any diplomatic benefits. This is true, although the reason diplomacy failed over the decades had nothing to do with US policy toward Jerusalem, and everything to do with divisions among Israelis and Palestinians and the gaps between the two sides.

Others have attributed the US announcement to American domestic politics, a conclusion supported by the unilateral US statement’s failure to demand anything of Israel (for example, to restrain settlement construction) or offer anything to the Palestinians (say, supporting their claim to Jerusalem). Although the decision has led to some violence, it looks more like an opportunity lost than a crisis created.

What made this statement not just controversial but potentially counterproductive is that the Trump administration has spent a good part of its first year putting together a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This announcement could well weaken that plan’s already limited prospects.

What the Trump administration seems to have in mind is to give outsiders, and Saudi Arabia in particular, a central role in peacemaking. Informing this approach is the view that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are more concerned with the perceived threat from Iran than with anything to do with Israel. As a result, it is assumed that they are prepared to put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel, a country that largely shares their view of Iran.

Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would create a political context in the Arab world that would allow them to do just this. The hope in the Trump administration is that the Saudis will use their financial resources to persuade the Palestinians to agree to make peace with Israel on terms Israel will accept.

Image result for Trump and KushnerPresident Donald J. Trump and his Mid-East Expert-Advsor Jared Kushner

 

The problem is that the only plan to which this Israeli government is likely to agree will offer the Palestinians far less than they have historically demanded. If so, the Palestinian leaders themselves may well determine it is safer to say no than to sign on to a plan sure to disappoint many of their own people and leave them vulnerable to Hamas and other radical groups.

The Saudis, too, may be reluctant to be associated with a plan that many will deem a sellout. The top priority for the new Saudi leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to consolidate power, which the prince is doing by associating himself with an effort to attack corruption in the Kingdom and by pursuing a nationalist, anti-Iranian foreign policy.

But neither tactic is going entirely according to plan. The anti-corruption effort, while so far popular, risks being tarnished by selective prosecution of offenders (which suggests that it is more about power than reform) and reports about the crown prince’s own lifestyle. And the anti-Iran efforts have become inseparable from what has become an unpopular war in Yemen and diplomatic embarrassments in Lebanon and Qatar. Meanwhile, ambitious plans to reform the country are proving easier to design than to implement, and are sure to alienate more conservative elements.

The problem for Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who leads US policy in this area, is that the Saudis are likely to prove much less of a diplomatic partner than the White House had counted on. If the new crown prince is worried about his domestic political standing, he will be reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with an American president seen as too close to an Israel that is unwilling to satisfy even minimal Palestinian requirements for statehood.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on JerusalemRichard N. Haas

All of which brings us back to Jerusalem. Trump argued that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process and the work towards a lasting agreement.” More and more it appears that Trump’s move will have just the opposite effect.

Alabama–How Doug Jones Beats Roy Moore


December 14, 2017

Alabama–How Doug Jones Beats Roy Moore

Doug Jones beats Republican Cowboy Roy Moore, thanks to Black Alabamians, Barack Obama, Civil Rights Icon. John Lewis  and Charles Barkley

The Republican Party sold itself cheaply for the sake of an Alabama Senate seat—and it didn’t even get the win. On Tuesday night, Doug Jones, the Democrat, declared victory over Roy Moore, who is facing multiple allegations of predatory behavior toward teen-agers, by a margin of one and a half per cent. It was close, but, as President Trump, who had endorsed Moore and encouraged the Republican National Committee to rush funds to the campaign in the final stretch—which, to its shame, it did—said in a tweet, “a win is a win.” (Moore also had the full support of the Alabama Republican Party.) In particular, black Alabamians appear to have turned out in force for Jones.

His campaign had appealed for their support as a community. Charles Barkley, the retired basketball player and native Alabamian, campaigned for Jones, and President Barack Obama recorded a robocall. (Trump did one for Moore, in addition to tweeting for him.) Turnout was markedly higher in counties with large black populations.

These voters were the ones who defended the state’s respectability. Jones said, in his victory speech, that “this entire race has been about dignity and respect . . . This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which Zip Code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.” But he wasn’t only talking about teen-age girls. Moore had made his bigotry explicit, and the Republican Party had tolerated it. Jones placed the full Moore in front of voters, and he won.

Image result for Obama and Barkley support Doug JonesCharles Barkley with Doug Jones

There had been a certain amount of amazement that any Democrat, even Jones, a respected former U.S. Attorney who had successfully prosecuted some of the murderers in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case, had a chance, given how Republican Alabama is. But it is Moore who should never have gotten this close. There is no alibi in this story for the members of the Republican establishment who, after Moore defeated their preferred candidate, Luther Strange, sighed and supported him, only to back away when the Washington Post broke the story of Moore’s alleged molestation of a fourteen-year-old girl when he was a lawyer in his thirties, and his pursuit of others only slightly older. That was followed by more, similar accounts; Charles Bethea reported, for The New Yorker, about how Moore had been a notorious presence at a mall in Gadsden. (Moore has denied the allegations.)

Image result for roy moore on horseback ridingRoy Moore riding into political oblivion taking the RNC with him

But to have supported Moore before the stories of the teen-agers emerged, as the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, did, including with funds from PACs beholden to him, was to support Moore after he had confirmed that he did not believe that Muslims should be allowed to serve in Congress. That alone ought to have been disqualifying. How would Republican senators have looked their Muslim constituents in the eye (and there are Muslim Americans in every state)? How would they have looked at themselves in the mirror? The support from McConnell and others also came after Moore had talked about instituting criminal penalties for homosexuality. It came after Moore said that America had been great during the era of slavery when, he argued, family ties really mattered. It came after a rally at which he referred to Native Americans and Asian-Americans serving in the military as “reds and yellows.” It came after he mooted theories about birtherism and all manner of conspiracies, human and divine. (This included suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment for, among other things, America’s acceptance of reproductive rights and “sodomy.”)

In the last week of the campaign, CNN ran a story about a 2011 interview in which Moore said that many of the nation’s problems could be solved by getting rid of every amendment to the Constitution after the Tenth, which would include everything from emancipation and full citizenship for black Americans to the right of women to vote. For Republican leaders to act blindsided that such a man might have other character flaws is a dubious position.

Richard Shelby, Alabama’s other senator, and (since the end of the Dixiecrat era) a Republican, caused a stir by saying, on the Sunday before the election, that he could not vote for Moore because Alabama “deserves better.” Instead, he used his absentee ballot to write in “a distinguished Republican name,” which he declined to specify. Jones and others trumpeted Shelby’s position, and it may have made a difference; 1.7 per cent of the votes were write-ins, a proportion greater than Jones’s margin of victory and higher than what Alabama usually sees. Perhaps it also helped to keep some Republican voters home. And yet Shelby, when it comes down to it, was still encouraging a vote for someone other than Jones, the only person who could beat Moore; and he waited until two days before the election to do it. (He did get his say in before a final rally at which Moore’s wife, Kayla, decided to defend her husband against charges of religious bigotry by saying, “One of our attorneys is a Jew.”) Simply driving people away from electoral politics is not, in the long term, a healthy answer to the problem of candidates like Moore in a functioning democracy.

Image result for Screw you racist Steve Bannon

The Unkempt Racist Steve Bannon

The Republican Party had an opening, early on, to mount a real write-in campaign; it didn’t take it. There is little for anyone in the Party to take credit for now. Steve Bannon, the President’s former strategist and adviser, associated himself with the Moore campaign, and Tuesday was a significant loss for him, though it would be a mistake to underestimate what his prominence in the campaign also gained him, in terms of his efforts to position himself at the nexus of a political network. But, although Bannon was more visible, he was not alone, either in his proximity to Moore or in his raw opportunism. Or in his capacity for rationalization: on Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Moore lost because Jones beat him. He did so with the help of the national Democratic Party, and its associated resources, but also by presenting himself as a person who believed in certain principles and in the state of Alabama. He also, notably, won without backing away from his support for reproductive rights. He will have to run again in three years—since this was a special election for a seat left open by the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Trump’s Attorney General, Jones doesn’t get a full term. That will be a tough race, but, if nothing else, Jones will again have a better shot than any Democrat has had in a while. One of the criticisms that Barack Obama, among others, levied against Hillary Clinton’s campaign is that it did not work hard enough to persuade voters who weren’t already inclined to vote for her to change their minds. A Democratic win in red Alabama, as peculiar as this race was, may encourage more ambitious outreach in the midterms. It should.

The corruption of the Republican Party is not, or is not simply, one of tolerating candidates with personal flaws. (The Democrats have a measure of that, too.) It has been ideological. Doug Jones, with his hard-fought campaign, saved the Republicans from having to sit next to a gaudy incarnation of the present-day G.O.P. in the Senate chamber. But the ugliness is still there, and the Republicans can choose either to confront it or to debase themselves further. They might start in the coming days, as Moore, whose speech on Tuesday night, after the results came in, was a dark and Psalm-punctuated whine, said that he wouldn’t concede because he expected a recount. (The margin, though, was too large to trigger an automatic one.) For the moment, congressional Republicans appear busy trying to rush the tax bill through before Jones shows up and cuts their majority in the Senate to a single vote. McConnell indicated on Tuesday that he had a backup plan for that: stall on seating Jones until the new year. He did manage, after all, to kill Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice by delaying it until Trump became President. But some reckonings can’t be put off forever.

  • Amy Davidson Sorkin is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between.

 

Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America


December 13, 2017

Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America

By Nouriel Roubini
http://www.project-syndicate.org

In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. Sooner or later, Trump’s core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.

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NEW YORK – Donald Trump won the US presidency with the backing of working-class and socially conservative white voters on a populist platform of economic nationalism. Trump rejected the Republican Party’s traditional pro-business, pro-trade agenda, and, like Bernie Sanders on the left, appealed to Americans who have been harmed by disruptive technologies and “globalist” policies promoting free trade and migration.

But while Trump ran as a populist, he has governed as a plutocrat, most recently by endorsing the discredited supply-side theory of taxation that most Republicans still cling to. Trump also ran as someone who would “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC, and on Wall Street. Yet he has stacked his administration with billionaires (not just millionaires) and Goldman Sachs alumni, while letting the swamp of business lobbyists rise higher than ever.

Trump and the Republicans’ plan to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) would have left 24 million Americans – mostly poor or middle class, many of whom voted for him – without health care. His deregulatory policies are blatantly biased against workers and unions. And the Republican tax-reform plan that he has endorsed would overwhelmingly favor multinational corporations and the top 1% of households, many of which stand to benefit especially from the repeal of the estate tax.

Trump has also abandoned his base in the area of trade, where he has offered rhetoric but not concrete action. Yes, he scrapped the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but Hillary Clinton would have done the same. He has mused about abandoning the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), but that may be just a negotiating tactic. He has threatened to impose a 50% tariff on goods from China, Mexico, and other US trade partners, but no such measures have materialized. And proposals for a border adjustment tax have been all but forgotten.

Trump’s bullying tweets against US firms that move production offshore or undertake tax inversions have been no more than cheap talk, and business leaders know it. Manufacturers who fooled Trump into thinking they would keep production in the US have continued to transfer operations quietly to Mexico, China, and elsewhere. Moreover, international provisions in the pending tax legislation will give US multinationals an even greater incentive to invest, hire, and produce abroad, while using transfer pricing and other schemes to salt away profits in low-tax jurisdictions.

Likewise, despite Trump’s aggressive rhetoric on immigration, his policies have been relatively moderate, perhaps because many of the businesspeople who supported his campaign actually favor a milder approach. The “Muslim ban” doesn’t affect the supply of labor in the US. Although deportations have accelerated under Trump, it’s worth remembering that millions of undocumented immigrants were deported under Barack Obama, too. The border wall that Trump was going to force Mexico to pay for remains an unfunded dream. And even the administration’s plan to favor skilled over unskilled workers will not necessarily reduce the number of legal migrants in the country.

 

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https://www.salon.com/2016/12/26/what-populist-revolution-so-far-donald-trump-is-supercharging-the-failed-republican-policies-of-the-past/

All told, Trump has governed like a plutocrat in populist clothes – that is, a pluto-populist. But why has his base let him get away with pursuing policies that mostly hurt them? According to one view, he is betting that social conservatives and white blue-collar supporters in rural areas will vote on the basis of nationalist and religious sentiment and antipathy toward secular coastal elites, rather than for their own financial interests.

But how long can anyone be expected to support “God and guns” at the expense of “bread and butter”? The pluto-populists who presided over the Roman Empire knew that keeping the populist mob at bay required substance as well as diversion: panem et circenses – “bread and circuses.” Raging tweets are meaningless to people who can scarcely afford a dignified living, let alone tickets to the modern-day Colosseum to watch football.

The tax legislation that Republicans have rushed through Congress could prove especially dangerous, given that millions of middle-class and low-income households will not only get little out of it, but will actually pay more when income-tax cuts are phased out over time. Moreover, the Republican plan would repeal the Obamacare individual mandate. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this will cause 13 million people to lose health insurance, and insurance premiums to rise by 10%, over the next decade. Not surprisingly, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that a mere 29% of Americans support the Republican plan.

Nevertheless, Trump and the Republicans seem willing to risk it. After all, by pushing the middle-class tax hikes to a later date, they have designed their plan to get them through the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 general election. Between now and the midterms, they can brag about cutting taxes on most households. And they can expect to see the economic-stimulus effects of tax cuts peak in 2019, just before the next presidential election – and long before the bill comes due.

Moreover, the final legislation will likely lower the federal deduction for mortgage interest and eliminate deductibility for state and local taxes. This will hit households in Democratic-leaning states such as New York, New Jersey, and California much harder than households in Republican-leaning states.

Another part of the Republican strategy (known as “starve the beast”) will be to use the higher deficits from tax cuts to argue for cuts in so-called entitlement spending, such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and Social Security. Again, this is a risky proposition, given that elderly, middle-class, and low-income Americans rely heavily on these programs. Yes, the working and non-working poor who receive welfare payments or food stamps include minorities who tend to vote for Democrats. But millions of the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who voted for Trump also rely on these and similar programs.

With the global economy expanding, Trump is probably hoping that tax cuts and deregulation will spur enough growth and create enough jobs that he will have something to brag about. A potential growth rate of 2% won’t necessarily do much to help his blue-collar base, but at least it could push the stock market up to its highest point ever. And, of course, Trump will still claim that the US economy can grow at a rate of 4%, even though all mainstream economists, including Republicans, agree that the potential growth rate will remain around 2%, regardless of his policies.

Whatever happens, Trump will continue to tweet maniacally, promote fake-news stories, and boast about the “biggest and best” economy ever. In doing so, he may even create a circus worthy of a Roman emperor. But if gassy rhetoric alone does not suffice, he may decide to go on the offensive, particularly in the international sphere. That could mean truly withdrawing from NAFTA, taking trade action against China and other trading partners, or doubling down on harsh immigration policies.

And if these measures do not satisfy his base, Trump will still have one last option, long used by Roman emperors and other assorted dictators during times of domestic difficulty. Namely, he can try to “wag the dog,” by fabricating an external threat or embarking on foreign military adventures to distract his supporters from what he and congressional Republicans have been doing.

For example, following the “madman” approach to foreign policy, Trump could start a war with North Korea or Iran. Or he could post further inflammatory tweets about the evils of Islam, thereby driving disturbed and marginalized individuals into the arms of the Islamic State (ISIS) or other extremist groups. That would increase the likelihood of ISIS-inspired attacks – for example, “lone wolves” blowing themselves up or driving trucks through crowded pedestrian areas – within the US. With dozens, if not hundreds, slain, Trump could then wrap himself in the flag and say, “I told you so.” And if things got bad enough, Trump and his generals could declare a state of emergency, suspend civil liberties, and transform America into a true pluto-populist authoritarian state.

You know it’s time to worry when the conservative Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Bob Corker, warns openly that Trump could start World War III. And if you’re not convinced, consider the recent history of Russia or Turkey; or the history of the Roman Empire under Caligula or Nero. Pluto-populists have been turning democracies into autocracies with the same playbook for thousands of years. There’s no reason to think they would stop now. The reign of Emperor Trump could be just around the corner.

*Nouriel Roubini, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and CEO of Roubini Macro Associates, was Senior Economist for International Affairs in the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton Administration. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, the US Federal Reserve, and the World Bank.

 

 

Trump’s Jerusalem decision– An Undeniably Reckless Move


December 11, 2017

Trump’s Jerusalem decision– An Undeniably Reckless Move

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Leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the nation’s largest pro-Israel organization, welcomed Pres. Donald Trump’s formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his announcement that the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.With more than 3.8 million members, CUFI is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States and one of the leading Christian grassroots movements in the world. CUFI spans all fifty states and reaches millions with its message. Each year CUFI holds hundreds of pro-Israel events in cities around the country. And each July, thousands of pro-Israel Christians gather in Washington, D.C. to participate in the CUFI Washington Summit and make their voices heard in support of Israel and the Jewish people.

 

Image result for trump's jerusalem policy
Donald Trump announced recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, igniting new levels of violence throughout the Middle East
 

The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is an undeniably reckless move that has the potential to ignite new levels of violence throughout the region. It’s also an obvious gift to Trump’s right-wing Zionist fans and a reminder that blind support for Israel is now central to far-right American identity.

This much should be clear to anyone who follows political dynamics both in the Middle East and here at home. Unfortunately, the predictable hand-wringing from liberals in response to the Jerusalem decision runs the risk of reinforcing some of the most damaging and self-serving myths about what is happening on the ground in Palestine/Israel.

The first of these myths concerns the supposed “status quo” in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine/Israel. Immediately after the announcement of Trump’s decision, we heard a chorus of voices lamenting that the change in U.S. policy would upset the delicate status quo in Jerusalem.

As critics of U.S. policy in the region have been saying literally for decades, however, the status quo itself is deeply unjust. Israel has been solidifying its colonization of Jerusalem through blatant land grabs and a wide range of administrative measures designed to push out Palestinians, all backed by broad, bipartisan support from Washington.

The reality in Jerusalem is the same as the reality throughout Palestine/Israel: an apartheid reality defined by the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and the denial of equal rights to Palestinians. Far from changing that reality, Trump’s decision simply brings it more into the open.

The second myth concerns the so-called “peace process.” While many have responded to Trump’s decision by issuing dire warnings that the decision will kill any hope of a negotiated, “two-state solution,” the reality is that this “solution” has been dead for decades.

The search for “peace” has served as a cover under which Israel has been able to solidify its colonial control over the territory, rendering impossible the dream of Palestinian national sovereignty.

In that sense, once again we can view Trump’s decision as simply making visible what policy elites in Washington and elsewhere have long been afraid to say: that the most important “process” on the ground is a colonization process, and that the U.S. has chosen to side with the colonizer.

As Mouin Rabbani, a respected Middle East analyst recently noted, “American recognition of Israel sovereignty in Jerusalem would send an unmistakable signal that Washington rejects not only the two-state settlement paradigm but also the Palestinian right to national self-determination in favour of permanent Israeli domination and Palestinian dispossession.”

In light of this, we would do well to recognize that while the Trump decision is potentially disastrous in its potential to provoke wider outbreaks of regional violence, it is also useful in the sense that it lays bare the core elements of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

How should progressives respond to the space that has been opened up by this decision? A good place to start is by interrogating the role of the Democratic Party establishment in propping up the “status quo” and “peace process” myths and, by extension, the Israeli colonial project. It’s worth remembering here that as The Hill noted, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been quite open about his role in pushing Trump to give Israel what it wants on Jerusalem.

Schumer may still believe that support for Israel is a winning strategy, but his base is increasingly moving in a different direction. As information about Israeli colonization has become more widely available and shared, especially among young people, more and more progressive voters have decided that being on the side of justice means refusing to go along with what Israel is doing. The recent letter signed by ten Democratic senators calling on Israel to stop the planned demolition of two Palestinian and Bedouin towns is an indication of how the political ground is shifting.

What this signals is that the current political moment offers to Democrats an opportunity to build a policy that is reality-based and justice-based rather than one that is based on denial and mythology.

In order to do this, it won’t be enough simply to pine for a return to the days before Trump’s decision. That makes no more sense than responding to the outrages of the Trump administration by longing for the days of supposedly “sensible” conservatives like Mitt Romney or George W. Bush. To participate in the rehabilitation of pre-Trump Republicans is to acquiesce to the rightward shift of the entire political spectrum. To prop up the myth of the “peace process” and the “two-state solution” in Palestine/Israel is to acquiesce to the normalization of ethnic cleansing and the mass violation of Palestinian rights.

There is a better path forward for progressives: insisting on justice as the compass guiding our political struggles. Palestinians are not going to get justice from Donald Trump — but they weren’t going to get it from Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton either. The entire U.S. political class needs to be pushed from below on this and many other issues, and it is our job to keep applying the pressure.

John Collins, Ph.D., is a professor of global studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. He is author of “Global Palestine,” and co-author of “Social and Cultural Foundations of Global Studies.” 

Trump’s Reagan-like Relative Moralism


November 10, 2017

Trump’s Reagan-like Relative Moralism

https://www.economist.com

Fortunately, he has yet to notice

IF DENIZENS of political Washington recall the commotion, way back on February 24th, when President Donald Trump’s press team excluded CNN, the New York Times and others from a White House briefing, most probably shrug at the memory. Editors lodged formal complaints at the time, not least because the snub came hours after Mr Trump told cheering conservative activists that the “fake news media” are “the enemy of the people”. But there have been many commotions since, and worse snubs.

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Yet there are places where that kerfuffle in a White House corridor left a mark. Take Cambodia, the South-East Asian country whose autocratic government charged two ex-reporters in November with “espionage”, citing their previous work for Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news outlet funded by the American government. There is a direct connection between the detention of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who face up to 15 years in prison, and that moment of early Trumpian bombast. Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, pounced on the humbling of reporters by the White House, declaring with approval on February 27th that Mr Trump, like him, sees the press causing “anarchy”. The gloating did not stop there. Denouncing a CNN report on sex trafficking in Cambodia in August, Mr Hun Sen grumbled that “President Trump is right: US media is very tricky.” Cambodian officials expelled the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based outfit that promotes free and fair elections with funding from the American and other Western governments, and ordered radio stations to stop carrying broadcasts by RFA and the Voice of America.

Escalating the fight, the government accused the main opposition party of being involved in an American-backed plot to overthrow Mr Hun Sen, offering as evidence images of opposition activists meeting diplomats and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Livid at being rebuked by the American embassy in Cambodia, Mr Hun Sen took his complaints to the top. Using a summit of Asian leaders in Manila on November 13th to praise Mr Trump face-to-face, Mr Hun Sen called him “a great person” wisely uninterested in human rights. “I don’t know if you are like me, or I am like you,” he swooned. He had just one gripe. Mr Trump should “admonish” diplomats at the American embassy who were working against his “great principle” of non-interference in the politics of foreign lands.

A summit photograph of Mr Hun Sen with Mr Trump, thumbs-up, beaming, was hailed by Cambodia’s former foreign minister as proof that it is better to “meet with the boss” than talk to “slaves”. It was a remarkable moment, and a misjudgment. Mr Hun Sen, along with other despots and autocrats, saw a soulmate in an American President who campaigned by attacking the free press and the judiciary, who threatened to lock up his opponent once elected, who kept secret his tax returns, who suggested that the presidential election might be rigged, and who scorned the idea that his country is a democratic model, growling: “The world sees how bad the United States is.” That led the Cambodian leader to a gamble which, from outside the country, seems highly confusing: to try to recruit America’s president as an ally in a purge built around an anti-American conspiracy theory. It failed. On November 16th the White House issued a statement expressing “grave concern” after Cambodia’s highest court dissolved the main opposition party, declaring that next year’s elections, on current course, “will not be legitimate, free or fair” and warning of “concrete steps” in response.

Cambodia’s story is instructive. Mr Trump has flouted norms upheld—at least in theory—by all modern holders of his office. He has scorned the very idea of American exceptionalism, telling Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh in May: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live.” A forthcoming national-security strategy is set to mark a step back from global leadership, towards a narrower, more zero-sum view of American interests. Nonetheless, some foreign rulers who felt emboldened to repress domestic enemies with impunity have been startled to find that no Trump doctrine reliably protects them.

The Trump White House is far too chaotic, riven by infighting and buffeted by the impulses of the president, to have clear doctrines about democracy promotion, or many other weighty questions of geopolitics, says a senior administration official. A position may earn signs of support from Mr Trump, but “you can take that to the bank for as long as you are talking to him”, says the official—before a presidential tweet says the opposite minutes later. Mr Hun Sen’s blunder, the official says, was to project his own absolutism onto America. “He seems to think that now we have this rich old guy in charge of the United States, [Mr Trump] can snap his fingers and everything will change.” American government is messier than that. With a small country like Cambodia, policy remains broadly set by career foreign service officers (among them the American ambassador), by staff in the National Security Council and by members of Congress sincerely aggrieved by Mr Hun Sen’s assaults on democracy and news outlets. That group includes Mr McCain and his Republican colleagues Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Congressman Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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President Donald Trump and Hungary’s Strong Man Viktor Orban

A second telling case may be found in Hungary, a European ally and NATO member state whose increasingly autocratic government greeted Mr Trump’s election with glee, only to overreach in its turn. Relations between President Barack Obama and the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orban were icy, chilled by the passage of laws curbing the independence of the press, the civil service and the courts. They were made worse by official attempts to rehabilitate anti-Semitic Hungarian leaders from the second world war, and by Mr Orban’s admiration for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. At one point in 2014, the State Department banned six Hungarian officials from entering America on suspicion of corruption—a dramatic step against a NATO ally. One of them tried to sue America’s top diplomat in Budapest for defamation.

Mr Orban is proud of being the first European leader to endorse Mr Trump, says the Hungarian Ambassador to Washington, Laszlo Szabo. It is “very obvious” that the two leaders share similar views on defending their countries from illegal immigrants, a term which the ambassador uses to cover the vast majority of those who reached Europe during the refugee crisis of 2015. They also agree on the public’s yearning for strong, sovereign governments that stand up for their national interests with what Mr Szabo calls a “healthy self-consciousness”. In April the Hungarian Parliament amended a higher-education law in a way that threatened to close down the Central European University (CEU), a graduate institute founded by the Hungarian-American billionaire, George Soros, a bogeyman to conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. In June Hungary passed a law restricting foreign funding for civil-society groups, again singling out Mr Soros, and triggering legal action by the European Commission in Brussels, which believes the measure may breach EU fundamental rights. If Mr Orban expected to be thanked by the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress for this assault on Mr Soros, he was disappointed.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, told Mr Orban that the law against CEU threatens academic freedoms. Hungary forgot that Congress has no desire to encourage despotic attacks on the many American universities with branches overseas. The Trump-era State Department called the law on civil-society groups “another step away” from Hungarian commitments to the values of the EU and of NATO. In October the American chargé d’affaires, or acting ambassador to Hungary, David Kostelancik, delivered a blistering speech on press freedoms, decrying the growing dominance of “pro-government figures” over the media, who quash articles critical of the government. Treading a delicate path, Mr Kostelancik conceded that “My president is not shy about criticising the media when he believes reporters get it wrong or show bias,” but noted that “in the finest traditions of our free press”, the targets of Mr Trump’s wrath often point out that “not every criticism of the government is ‘fake news’.” Most pointedly, Mr Kostelancik deplored the “dangerous” decision of media outlets linked to the Hungarian government to publish the names of individual journalists deemed “threats” to the country.

A former Republican congressman who now works as a lobbyist for the Hungarian government, Connie Mack, supported a handful of members of the House of Representatives as they complained about the chargé d’affaires to Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. Still, Mr Trump has neither sided with Mr Orban nor yet welcomed him to the Oval Office. Frustrated amid the chandeliered splendour of the Hungarian embassy in Washington, Mr Szabo calls his State Department critics “old Obama administration technocrats” who do not speak for Mr Trump. Hungary’s problems do not reach the president, he says. “Decisions about Hungary are not happening at the levels we would like.”

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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi– A Fantastic Guy doing “a fantastic job” says President Donald Trump

A third and final case study involves Egypt, a large, important and problematic ally whose strongman leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (with Trump at The White House), has not found the new administration as easy to handle as he seemed to expect. Few modern presidents have pressed Egypt hard on human rights, placing greater emphasis on the stability of the most populous Arab country, and on co-operation with the Egyptian military, intelligence and counter-terrorist services. Relations have been sweetened with tens of billions of dollars in American aid since 1948, much of it to buy weapons.

Early expectations for Trump administration policy were not high. Mr Trump praised Mr al-Sisi as a “fantastic guy” doing a “fantastic job” under trying circumstances, even as the State Department was preparing a formal memorandum to Congress accusing Egyptian authorities of arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances and reported extrajudicial killings. But in an unprecedented move the State Department froze nearly $100m in military and economic aid to Egypt, citing human-rights concerns, a move that a senior figure in the Obama administration applauds and calls “a significant piece of pain to impose”. Senators of both parties applied pressure to the State Department, freezing some aid for Egypt on their own initiative.

Mr Trump also secured the release of Aya Hijazi, an American dual national jailed on charges for which the authorities offered no serious evidence, after founding a charity to help street children. Her story caught Mr Trump’s attention—this is crazy, he told aides—and he proudly invited her to the White House after her release. The president, who is often highly interested in whether he, personally, will be given credit for an action, has said nothing in public about the other 60,000 political prisoners thought to languish in Egyptian cells.

A White House official says Mr Trump’s Egypt policy is proof that the President does work to promote human rights, despite his unconventional rhetoric. The approach of President George W. Bush was “to very publicly endorse this idea of pushing democracy and freedom. You saw the Obama administration very publicly embarrass leaders and say you must address these human rights issues,” says the official. But thanks to behind-the-scenes pressure, based on strong personal relations, Mr Trump “gets the results”. This aide casts the President as a Reagan-like realist, treating radical Islam as something akin to the communism of the age and working with imperfect allies, when necessary, to advance major reforms, notably in Saudi Arabia. “Look at the speeches that Bush and Obama gave, and nothing changed.”

Hardline nationalists in the President’s inner circle, notably his senior adviser, Stephen Miller, and colleagues in the Domestic Policy Council, enjoy unusual clout during debates about refugees or UN reform, leaving them locked in what one former official calls “open warfare” with NSC staff. Despite this, democracy promotion schemes continue on autopilot in many countries, shielded by multi-year budgets.

How America projects its values has real-world effects, says Steve Pomper, who worked on human rights in the Obama-era NSC and is now at the International Crisis Group. “It’s a choice: giving people reason to hope if they are languishing in prison, or giving their jailers hope that they can act with impunity.” Mr Trump’s instincts are causing “grievous damage,” concludes a senior administration official. But foreign autocrats are also learning that America’s president does not rule alone. “The president may scorn checks and balances,” says the official, “but we still have them.”

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Relative moralism”