What is Up in Trump’s Washington


February 15, 2017

What is Up in Trump’s Washington after 2 weeks of the 45th Presidency

by Thomas L. Friedman

Image result for Mike Flynn

The Parting of the Ways–“Mr. Patriotism” and his National Security Adviser, Lt- Gen (rtd) Michael Flynn

Thank God for the resignation in shame by Mike Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Adviser. And not just because he misled the vice president and engaged in deeply malignant behavior with Russia, but, more important, because maybe it will finally get the United States government, Congress and the news media to demand a proper answer to what is still the biggest national security question staring us in the face today: What is going on between Donald Trump and the Russians?

Sorry, Kellyanne Conway, I am not ready to just “move on.”

Every action, tweet and declaration by Trump throughout this campaign, his transition and his early presidency screams that he is compromised when it comes to the Russians.

Image result for Does Russia own Trump

Who owns this Make America Great Again Guy?

I don’t know whether Russian oligarchs own him financially or whether Russian spies own him personally because of alleged indiscreet behavior during his trips to Moscow. But Trump’s willingness to attack allies like Australia, bluster at rivals like China, threaten enemies like Iran and North Korea and bully neighbors like Mexico — while consistently blowing kisses to Russian President Vladimir Putin — cannot be explained away by his mere desire to improve relations with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State. And the Flynn ouster gives our government another, desperately needed opportunity to demand the answers to these questions, starting with seeing the President’s tax returns.

We need to know whom Trump owes and who might own him, and we need to know it now. Save for a few patriotic Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the entire Republican Party is complicit in a shameful act of looking away at Trump’s inexplicable behavior toward Russia.

If Republicans want to know how they should be behaving on this issue, they should ask themselves what they would be saying and doing right now if a President Hillary Clinton had behaved toward Russia the way Trump has, and had her national security adviser been found hinting to the Russian ambassador to hold tight because a softer United States policy toward Russia was on its way.

Image result for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

House Speaker Paul Ryan and  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–Both should consider impeaching Trump when there is inscrutable evidence to do so, instead of looking away from this traversty. Loyalty has its limits.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, what are you thinking by looking away from this travesty? You both know that if the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. had concluded that the Russians had intervened to help Hillary Clinton get elected you would have closed the government and demanded a new election. Now it’s all O.K.? So you can get some tax cuts? Gens. Jim Mattis and John Kelly, our new secretaries of defense and homeland security, you are great patriots who both put your lives on the line in uniform to defend American values from precisely the kind of attack Putin perpetrated. Are you O.K. with what’s going on?

We need to rerun the tape. Ladies and gentlemen, we were attacked on December  7, 1941, we were attacked on September 11, 2001, and we were attacked on November 8, 2016. That most recent attack didn’t involve a horrible loss of lives, but it was devastating in its own way. Our entire intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked our election by deliberately breaking into Democratic National Committee computers and then drip-by-drip funneling embarrassing emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And what have we done about it? Other than a wrist slap against Moscow, we’ve moved on.

Image result for Beautiful Washington DC

Turmoil beneath  the beautiful and calm Washington DC

I am not arguing that Trump is not the legitimate President; he won for many reasons. But I am arguing that he is not behaving like one. Trump presents himself as “Mr. Patriotism,” wrapped in the American flag. And yet he has used his Twitter account to attack BMW for building an auto plant in Mexico, Boeing for over charging for a government airplane, the cast of “Hamilton” for appealing to the vice president to reaffirm American pluralism, American newspapers for undercounting the size of his inauguration crowd and the actress Meryl Streep for calling him out for bullying a handicapped reporter. And yet “Mr. Patriotism” has barely uttered a word of criticism on Twitter or off about a Russian President who has intervened in our democratic process.

That’s not O.K. The Russians did not just hack into some emails or break into some banks in America. They attacked the very things that make America what it is — that makes it so special: “its rule of law and its democratic form of choosing and changing leaders,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who was a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.

I am not looking to go to war with Russia over this. Back in the 1990s, this column was among the loudest voices warning against NATO expansion — that it would one day come back to haunt us, which it has, by making Russia feel threatened. I don’t care about Putin. His regime will fail because he is forever looking for dignity in all the wrong places, by drilling for oil and gas instead of unleashing the creativity of his people. But I am not willing to settle for evicting a few Russian agents and then moving on. We need to get to the truth, look it squarely in the eye and then act proportionately.

Trump and his senior aides have spent their first weeks in power doing nothing more than telling us how afraid we should be of Muslim immigrants who have not been properly vetted by our intelligence and immigration authorities. Well, Putin was vetted by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., and they concluded that he attacked our country’s most important institution — and Trump has acted as if he could not care less.

If the rest of us do the same, we’ll get the country we deserve, and it will not be great.


 

Foreign Policy: Najib courts China


November 12, 2016

Foreign Policy: Najib courts China and Abandons traditional ties with the United States and its allies

by James Chin

Image result for Najib in China

Najib Razak on Ego Boosting Jet setting Trip to China

Malaysia’s scandal-plagued Prime Minister is finding old friends in Beijing after wearing out his welcome in the West. James Chin looks at whether this is a path more ASEAN countries are likely to follow. 

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, last week took his third official visit to the People’s Republic of China. These sort of official trips do not normally attract much attention, but this one is generating prominent coverage in highly influential newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Financial Times.

The reasons are obvious – Najib’s arrival comes immediately after the controversial visit of Rodrigo Duterte, the new Filipino president. Duterte made a series of pronouncements in Beijing that caught the Americans off-guard, including his comments about a “separation” from the United States. Many were surprised by Duterte’s statements given that before touching down in Beijing, he was criticising China for its aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. In fact, the Philippines took China to the International Court of Arbitration over the issue.

Malaysia and the Philippines have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea and both countries are unhappy with China’s de facto policy of building islands for military use in the disputed waters and using Chinese coast guard vessels to harass fishermen from their countries. It’s well-known that Chinese coast guard vessels regularly sail within 50 miles of Bintulu, the gas-rich town in Malaysian Borneo. Malaysia has sent several diplomatic notes to Beijing on the matter.

Image result for Najib in China

Selling Malaysian Assets to cash rich China for political survival while the Malaysian Ringgit takes a beating against the Greenback (Rm4.5 to 1 Usd)

Despite this, Najib has just signed multi-billion dollar deals in Beijing, including the purchase of Chinese-made military equipment for the first time in Malaysian history. Chinese state-owned enterprises will also buy into key Malaysian assets and provide funding for new infrastructure projects such as a new railway line.

Even more surprising was his interview with Xinhua, Beijing’s official mouthpiece, in which he said he was seeking closer military ties. In an editorial in The China Daily, Najib was quoted as saying former colonial powers should not lecture nations they once exploited as colonies, a clear reference to the West.

So, the question is, are we seeing a tilt in Malaysian foreign policy to China from the previous pro-Western position? The short answer is “Yes”, as long as Najib is in power.

Malaysian insiders will tell you that this was the only position Najib could have taken in light of recent events. To understand Najib’s move, one must look towards domestic politics.

Image result for 1MDB

Malaysia’s Watchdogs

For the past four years, Najib has been mired in a massive corruption scandal called 1MDB. The story is complicated, but suffice to say that there is credible evidence that huge amounts of money, in the region of US$10 to 15 billion, was scammed off 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund, and part of the amount, in the region of US$1 to 2 billion, allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal bank account. Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative filed court action to recover more than US$1 billion in assets tied to 1MBD. The Department named Najib’s stepson and indirectly named Najib as “Malaysian Public Official No 1” in the proceedings. Several other countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and Luxembourg are also pursuing money laundering charges related to 1MDB. The consequence of all these legal actions is that Najib is longer welcome in Western capitals and some are calling on the US administration to ‘distance’ itself from Najib. Prior to the scandal, Najib could boast that he was the only Asian leader invited to golf with Obama in Hawaii, the President’s home state.

Related to the political fallout is investment from the West. The ringgit has fallen more than any other currency in the region against the US dollar in the past three years. It is obvious that a major part of the reason for this is a lack of confidence in the Najib administration. To restore confidence in the economy and kick-start foreign direct investment, Najib can only turn to one country: China.

Image result for 1MDB

China has the money to invest heavily in Malaysia, but more importantly, it does not care about Najib’s alleged corruption allegations or governance issues. For the Chinese, the bigger picture is the ongoing rivalry with the US for influence in the ASEAN region. The Chinese see the US as trying to block their influence by pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and pushing ASEAN to collectively confront China over the South China Sea. China has consistently refused to deal with ASEAN on the South China Sea issue, insisting that the solution lies in bilateral negotiations between the claimant countries. China also scored a victory-of-sorts when many ASEAN countries signed up for the China-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank despite the US openly lobbying against it.

China’s investments, including buying 1MDB assets, will allow the controversial company to partly square its accounts and the shortfall from the missing money.

Image result for 1MDB

The added bonus for Najib is that he can show the domestic Malaysian audience that the “next” Superpower, China, will give him a red carpet treatment even if the West has side-lined him over the corruption allegations. Najib and the Chinese are also going to great pains to remind the international audience that it was Najib’s father, Tun Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, who opened-up diplomatic relations with China. Thus, according to Beijing, Razak’s son Najib, easily qualifies as China’s “old friend”. In turn, Najib has described China as a “true friend and strategic partner”.

With such “old friends” who needs the meddling West with its “lectures” on good governance, human rights and corruption?

The long-term winner in the current saga will be Beijing. As the south-east Asian region becomes more and more dependent on China for its development funds, tourism and trade, more and more ASEAN countries will start to tilt towards Beijing. This is especially true if Donald Trump becomes President on Tuesday.

Professor James Chin is Director of Asia Institute, University of Tasmania. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute in Malaysia.

This article is published in collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy discussion and analysis.

http://www.newmandala.org/najibs-china-legacy/

 

“I will vote against him (Trump) on Tuesday”–Fareed Zakaria gps.


November 6, 2016

“I will vote against him (Trump) on Tuesday”–Fareed Zakaria gps.

by Fareed Zakaria

Image result for fareed zakaria gps

Over the course of this campaign, I have heard from many people who have cheered my opposition to Donald Trump. But others have objected, arguing that I was being biased, that Hillary Clinton has many flaws as well. So let me try to explain, one last time, why Donald Trump is worth special attention.

I am not a highly partisan person. I have views that are left of center, but others that are conservative. I came to this country when Ronald Reagan was president and admired him. I think well of many Republican politicians, including the last two GOP presidential nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom are honorable men who would have been good presidents.

Donald Trump is different — not just because he is obnoxious, tacky and vulgar, or because his business dealings show him to be a scam artist. He is different because of what he believes.

The simplest way to understand Trump’s core beliefs is to look at his words and actions, not just today but well before. Politicians pander to voters, and Trump’s views on Social Security and Medicare (which he promises not to touch) and taxes (which he promises to cut) seem pretty insincere, reflections of what he thinks his supporters want to hear. But he does have deeper beliefs, values and instincts.

The first area that stands out is race. Trump has consistently expressed himself — in word and deed — in ways that can only be described as racist. In his earliest years as a developer, he was sued by the Justice Department for allegedly denying housing to qualified black people. In the case of the Central Park Five, Trump jumped into the public arena, taking out full-page ads assailing the accused black teenagers and demanding that “when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” Most strikingly, he refused to back down when DNA evidence had clearly exonerated the five men, and New York City was forced to pay $41 million in damages for wrongfully imprisoning them for up to 13 years.

Image result for trump for president

Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. in December. But since then, his commitment to a “total and complete shutdown” has wavered repeatedly. Here’s how. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Trump seems to believe in ethnic stereotypes deeply. He boasts of his own bloodline and compares it to breeding racehorses. In a 1991 book, one of his associates described him as horrified to see African Americans in his accounting department at two of his hotels, quoting Trump as saying, “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Trump acknowledged the veracity of these comments in a later Playboy interview, before walking it back in a 1999 NBC interview, calling it “nonsense.”

Trump has also always been a protectionist. In the 1980s, he was sure that the Japanese were about to take over the world and that the only solution was tariffs and trade wars. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that the future he predicted never happened. Undeterred, he has now focused his wrath on China, just as that economy has begun to slow down, and Mexico, a country so small that its effect on the U.S. economy is minimal. The common thread is that Trump is quick to tell Americans facing economic hardship that they should blame their problems on foreigners.

Image result for Trump and women

 Trump–The Macho Man

If there is one view that Trump has expressed consistently, openly and with relish, it is that women exist fundamentally as objects for men’s pleasure. He has said and done dozens of things over 30 years that confirm this demeaning view of women — in interviews with Howard Stern, during his ownership of the Miss Universe pageant, when describing working women, and when debating female candidates such as Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton. Trump once said in New York magazine about women, “You have to treat ’em like s—.”

Finally, Trump has expressed impatience and contempt for many of the foundations of liberal democracy. He has repeatedly promised to change laws to make it easier to punish journalists who offend him. He has threatened people who contributed to his Republican opponents, implying that he would have the government look into their business affairs. He has proposed a number of policies that are illiberal, unconstitutional or even war crimes, such as banning all Muslims from entering the United States, and waterboarding suspected terrorists and killing their families. He has compared his ideas to the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, implying that he approved of that measure. And he has threatened to jail his opponent if elected.

Image result for Trump --The not Normal President

Mike Pence–The Rock and Reason behind Donald J. Trump

These, then, are the core views of Donald Trump, expressed over decades, and confirmed by many of his actions: racism, sexism, protectionism, xenophobia and authoritarianism. His views on taxes and regulations are irrelevant. Your view of Hillary Clinton is irrelevant. Donald Trump is not a normal candidate. He is a danger to American democracy. And that is why I will vote against him on Tuesday.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-donald-trump-could-never-be-a-normal-candidate/2016/11/03/68483dd4-a203-11e6-a44d-cc2898cfab06_story.html

New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right


July 11, 2016

New Potus Brief: Getting US-China Relations Right

Kaiser Kuo

As a seminal Chinese American voice in the U.S.-China dialogue for 20 years in China, what three observations would you offer regarding China’s emerging global role and influence?  

1)  Beijing isn’t interested in pushing its developmental model. China has been far more of a rule-taker than it has been a rule-maker, and has conformed to the extant international order to a far greater extent than it has actually reshaped it. China has its own exceptionalism, sure, but it’s quite the opposite of its American counterpart. Where American exceptionalism tends to see the values and institutions of the U.S. as universal and appropriate, ultimately, for all of humanity, China tends to view its own values and institutions as unique and only really applicable to China. The two forms of exceptionalism may be equally arrogant. But there is no “Beijing Consensus” that the PRC is keen to push out into the world.

2) Of late some analyses of China insist on couching Beijing’s intentions in terms of revival of the imperial “tribute system,” or assume that a latent Chinese belief in China as the natural center of human civilization will somehow shape Chinese foreign policy as China’s relative power rises. These are unhelpful and misleading, and ignore the tremendous extent to which China has accepted a place among Westphalian nation-states, has internalized that thinking, and has played according to those rules. That said, in China’s own backyard Beijing will likely continue to push for primacy, and will bristle at interference. It’s important to remember that the international order to which I’ve suggested China has largely acquiesced was created in a time of Chinese weakness. This doesn’t mean we can expect aggressive Chinese revanchism, but Beijing will continue to be very prickly about the sovereignty of borders it claims.

3) 2008 saw the end of the age of taoguang yanghui – Deng’s maxim, translated often as “keep a low profile and bide your time.” From the perspective of American national interest, from the perspective of anyone who wants to see expansion of civil society and the public sphere in China, or from the perspective of many of China’s Southeast Asian neighbors, China is not off to an encouraging start. Beijing’s initial confidence and buoyancy in this new period has waned appreciably since. Much of Beijing’s behavior is better understood, I believe, as defensive – stemming not so much from newfound confidence as from a lack of it, and from a sense of crisis. I see much of China’s “New Truculence,” as I’ve taken to calling it, as essentially reactive. Beijing believes that liberal interventionism of the sort it believes brought about the color revolutions and the Arab Spring is very much on the march, and that the unstated goal of American policy is regime change in China. That is certainly not the dominant view, even among relatively hawkish people in Washington. And Beijing greatly exaggerates the extent to which there’s coordination among disparate American institutions. The White House is not coordinating press coverage, human rights advocacy groups and other NGOs, big Internet companies, and so on. But it’s easy to see, from Beijing’s windows, how there might appear to be coordination.

What worries and encourages you most about the future of bilateral relations?

What worries me most is the apparent global rise in nativism, which we’ve seen in several countries of Europe, including most recently in the U.K. with the Brexit vote; in the U.S. with the rise of Donald Trump; and in many parts of Asia, to include China. The deleterious effect this is already having on bilateral relations is huge. Beijing has shown a distressing willingness to dance with that devil nationalism, and to deploy the “rally-round-the-flag” effect and fan the embers of national indignation whenever it suits. In the U.S. too – and not just among Trump supporters, but even among more traditionally liberal segments of the American polity – there’s a new confidence in the universality of American values that is no longer tempered, as it once was among liberals, by cultural relativism. Instead of recognizing our own values and institutions as highly contingent, the product of very specific historical experiences not shared by many countries outside the developed West, we’ve embraced a rigidly teleological view of history. Unfortunately the forces of nativism and absolutist thinking are amplified by digital media. We no longer read from the same corpus, no longer agree on basic facts, and this has rapidly eroded common ground and created dangerous fragmentation and tribalism.

What encourages me most about the future of bilateral relations is physical integration: Well over 300,000 Chinese students are now studying the U.S., and hundreds of thousands of Americans are studying, working, and living in China. In my own observations, the scales tend to fall from the eyes of Chinese living in the U.S., and that they come to a more realistic picture of both – less idealization and less unwarranted demonization. The same, I think, can be said for Americans of my acquaintance living in China. I’m especially encouraged by the new generation of China-watchers I’ve met living in Beijing: Younger people who have come of age during the post-Cold War era, with terrific language skills, a solid grasp of history, and a strong sense of empathy.

How are Chinese nationalism and global digital culture shaping the aspirations of China’s youth and middle class?  

Chinese Internet users – now half the population of the country – are not easily classified. In my years involved in the Chinese Internet I’ve seen three basic types emerge in popular commentary about them: They’re either apolitical pleasure-seekers whose time online is mainly spent with shallow entertainments or shopping; or they’re latent democrats who thirst for freedom and long to break free of the chains of online censorship; or they’re strident, angry nationalists – the fenqing –  who will overwhelm online comments sections with their patriotic ardor or will organize DDoS [Distributed Denial of Service] attacks against websites that offend the honor of the motherland. We need to understand that the “average” Chinese Internet user, if such a thing exists, is a mix of all three: An individual may spend lots of time playing online games, or watching cat videos on Youku, but she may chafe when a video she wants to see gets taken down and casually jump the Great Firewall to watch it on YouTube – only to encounter, say, a group of Taiwan-independence types in the comments section, and may spend the next few hours sparring indignantly with them. To assume, as the more techno-utopian types did early on, that the Internet would prove to be a force for liberalization –  whether at an individual level or for the polity overall – was sadly quite mistaken. In my experience many Chinese, even those of a fundamentally liberal disposition, get very defensive on encountering online criticism of China, even if that criticism is limited to the leadership, or the Communist Party.

The Chinese Internet is becoming increasingly separate from the Internet dominated by American companies and believed (correctly or not) to be “the” Internet. Part of this is because of the Great Firewall and other policies. Much more of it is because of linguistic and ethnic proximity, as one researcher named Harsh Taneja has shown in papers he’s written. And as indigenous Chinese Internet companies offer more and more compelling services within China, catering to the specific preferences, habits and tastes of Chinese users, the separateness only looks to be more and more total. So-called “global digital culture” will I fear become less relevant to China. China’s digital culture will need to be understood increasingly on its own terms.

Explain the strengths and weaknesses of Beijing and Washington in communicating their country’s identity and intentions.

A veteran China-watcher – John Holden, former President of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations – once told me that the U.S. fails to understand China because of China’s opacity, and the very closed nature of its leadership. Conversely, China has a great deal of difficulty understanding the U.S. for the opposite reason: Because of the very openness and pluralism of the United States. Beijing has trouble deciding which voice carries weight: Is it the White House? The State Department? Congress? The Pentagon? I think there’s a lot of truth to what he said.

Beijing seems to see coordination among state- and non-state actors like NGOs, Internet companies, and the American media where in fact there may be none at all. They see the Pivot, support for Japan on the Diaoyu/Senkaku conflict, support for Manilla on the Scarborough Shoals, the Indian nuclear deal, the push for global Internet freedom, pressure by NGOs on human rights, and the New York Times editorial line as somehow coordinated – all part of a grand plan to contain China’s rise. Americans might smile at this and dismiss it as paranoia, but better security dilemma sensibility wouldn’t hurt: Washington needs a better sense of how its actions, and even the actions of totally independent institutions, are perceived in China, and how that perception impacts Beijing’s behavior. The U.S. might endeavor to communicate better just how separate and uncoordinated these things actually are – that they come spontaneously from shared values in an open, pluralistic society, and not out of deliberate strategy. My sense is that the more international (read: U.S.) pressure China feels itself to be under, the more repressive its internal policies tend to be, and the more belligerent its posture in foreign policy. There’s good reason to convince Beijing that it isn’t in America’s sights – that we don’t want to “pull an Arab Spring.” That said, the real onus is on Beijing, to come to clearer understanding of American intentions. Problem is, the pessimistic and paranoid view that sees it all as American machinations, has its political uses within China.

Why is it crucial for the next U.S. President to get U.S.-China relations right?

The simple answer is that these are two frightfully well-armed nuclear powers, and the cost of actual conflagration is absolutely staggering, just unthinkable. Likely trouble spots are few right now – really, only the South and East China Seas – but in the next four or eight years that number may well grow. The possibility of a severe economic dislocation in China raises the specter of political instability, which might have disastrous consequences that would be felt globally. The next U.S. president will need to make U.S.–China relations a real priority and “get it right” so that we have some hope of tackling, together, the very biggest issues facing this planet, not least of which is anthropogenic global warming. Without the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters working together, I truly fear the worst.

Muhammad Ali’s Strange,Failed Diplomatic Career


June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali’s Strange, Failed Diplomatic Career

The exact qualities that made the champ great also made him a terrible Cold War envoy for America.

160605_ezra_muhammadali_getty.jpg

In the wake of his death on Friday, Muhammad Ali has been remembered as the greatest heavyweight champion of all time, a controversial black nationalist, an early opponent of the Vietnam War, a devout Muslim and a humanitarian who spent countless hours helping people around the world.

But as a political figure, he was even more than that. Ali was almost uniquely complex and unpredictable, and he played roles we would find astonishing now. One of his least remembered was one of the most unlikely: diplomat.

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter decided to use Ali’s considerable political capital to push America’s agenda on the world stage—specifically, to recruit countries to join the the United States’ boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow. The job must have seemed perfect for the man: a globally important sports figure, a rare American icon with political traction in the Third World, pushing one of the most important and electric collisions of athletics and politics.

It failed utterly. Ali, one of the most famous and beloved figures in the world, was almost ludicrously ineffective at the job he’d been handed. But the reasons he failed—and the details of just what happened—were perfectly Ali. His unpredictability and openness, fatal flaws in an envoy entrusted with the sharp end of a diplomatic mission, were exactly the qualities that made him so attractive to people and what made him the powerful cultural icon he was.

By the late 1970s,Muhammad Ali was back as a public figure. He appeared to have regained everything he lost during the previous decade, when his refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War almost ended his career. He retired after taking back the title in 1978 from upstart Leon Spinks, who had upset him earlier in the year.

Politically, Ali had seemingly relinquished his role as a firebrand oppositional figure in America; Republican President Gerald Ford had invited Ali to the White House a few years earlier to honor the champ after he regained the title from George Foreman in Zaire.So it was not a complete surprise when Carter, a culturally conservative Democrat, turned to Ali to take on a larger political role pushing the U.S. Olympic boycott. Carter had long valued Ali as a potential asset on the world stage. Ali agreed.

With characteristic bravado, he felt that his potency as a celebrity would translate into successful diplomacy—that he could be, as he would refer to himself, “the black Henry Kissinger.” At a time when it seemed as though the U.S. was losing the Cold War and public confidence in the government was low, perhaps Carter could even ride the coattails of Ali’s popularity to increase his own support.

And they weren’t talking about mere lightweight goodwill missions: Carter and his advisers had considered Ali as an envoy to Iran during the hostage crisis, the rare prominent American Muslim who might be respected enough to deal with the radicals. That one didn’t happen; they eventually determined that the Ayatollah Khomeini wouldn’t be willing to negotiate with any American, no matter how famous.

But the President saw another opportunity to deploy Ali. The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics had become a global flash point: In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter had pulled the American team from the Moscow games, and over 60 countries, many of them U.S. allies, had agreed to skip them as well.

At a moment when the U.S. and the USSR were vying for influence across the globe, the more countries the U.S. could recruit, the more powerful a statement it would be. Ali was drafted for the job. He would be flown on a State Department plane to Tanzania and then travel to Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal. His job was to echo Carter’s line that participation in the games was tantamount to an approval of the Soviet Union’s abhorrent occupation of Afghanistan.

Ali had made his share of gaffes where Africa was concerned: He had joked about cannibalism in promoting a fight, and his uncritical dealings with dictators like President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire had raised eyebrows in the West. But millions of Africans admired Ali, a feeling that went back to his first trip to the continent in 1964, after he had beaten Sonny Liston for the title. Both Ali and Carter were confident that Ali was a revered figure in Africa whose word would resonate with the people of Africa.

Nearly from the moment Ali arrived in Tanzania, however, it became clear that the trip was not going to be a success.

By 1980, the champ was in bad shape, already suffering from untreated Parkinson’s, in a dysfunctional marriage, barely able to box, his weight up to 255 pounds and cash-strapped. Though a global celebrity, Ali was near a personal breaking point when Carter had summoned him. And he was no doubt the wrong man to send to carry America’s political water if the message was opposed by significant portions of the black or Islamic world.

From the start of the visit, Ali encountered opposition. The Soviet Union had backed a number of popular revolutions on the continent, and while none of the countries on the itinerary were Soviet allies, there was significant skepticism of U.S. motives and commitment to African interests. Four years earlier, the U.S. had refused to support a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Montreal by 29 African nations that had objected to New Zealand’s inclusion despite that country’s refusal to avoid international competition with apartheid South Africa. If the U.S. wouldn’t back an African Olympic boycott, then why should African countries back an American Olympic boycott? When Ali was asked this question, he had no answer.

In one nation after another, Ali was presented with persuasive arguments for ignoring the U.S. boycott—and found himself sympathetic to them. In Tanzania, in response to reporters’ inquiries, he admitted, “Maybe I’m being used to do something that ain’t right. You’re making me look at things different. If I find out I’m wrong, I’m going back to America and cancel the whole trip.” In Kenya, he said Carter sent him “around the world to take the whupping over American policies.” In Nigeria, he was told that the country would participate in the Moscow games.

A State Department official actually tried to shut down one news conference, which turned out to be the rare such event at which the person being covered learned far more about the issue at hand than those gathered to hear from him. Ali said: “I’m not a traitor to black people. If you can show me something I don’t know, I want to be helped. You all have given me some questions which are good and are making me look at this thing different.”

Ali flew home and went to the White House, where he told Carter what the President undoubtedly knew: that things had not gone well. Time magazine would call the endeavor “the most bizarre diplomatic mission in U.S. history.” It was that kind of year for Ali; the beating he took in Africa would mirror the one he took in the ring against Larry Holmes months later, a catastrophic loss that accelerated his declining health. It is impossible to know whether Ali’s visit to Africa had any effect at all, although it is worth noting that Kenya and Liberia did wind up supporting the U.S. boycott.

Part of the reason for Ali’s immense public stature is his openness to interpretation. His statements and achievements can be taken in myriad ways to support opposing worldviews. That sense of malleability extended to the man himself: If Ali could be contradictory, it was in part because he remained open to opposing ideas, and that made him precisely the wrong choice to deliver a clear American message on the Olympic boycott. Even as someone who had renounced the most strident of his black nationalist views, Ali still had a strong anti-colonial leaning toward black self-determination. Carter’s position that African nations should follow the U.S. lead was one that Ali simply could not bring himself to deliver from the heart.

Carter was not alone. He made the same mistake that so many of Ali’s biographers and admirers have made over the years. Ali has gone from a slippery fighter early in his career to an elusive subject late in life; for decades it has been hard to lay a glove on him. Despite the plethora of attempts, nobody has nailed down a single definitive perspective on Ali, probably because there isn’t one. Carter failed to realize that what made Ali attractive as a political symbol, and still does—his willingness to bend and be bent—would undermine him as a political operative. The blunder would cost Carter valuable Cold War leverage at a key moment in his presidency.

Surprisingly, however, the failed Olympic campaign wasn’t the last diplomatic mission Ali undertook. In August 1990, shortly after invading Kuwait, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein took thousands of foreigners hostage, including 15 American civilians, some of whom had worked at the General Motors plant in Baghdad. Hussein used the hostages as human shields, housing them in locations where he thought Americans might drop bombs.

In November, President George H.W. Bush sent Ali to Iraq to secure the Americans’ release and bring them home.The New York Times blasted the idea, calling it “surely the strangest hostage-release campaign of recent days” and reminding readers that Ali suffered from a “frequent inability to speak clearly.” It was true: By then, Ali had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, needed medication to control his symptoms and tired easily. Joe Wilson, then the leading U.S. diplomat in Iraq, said, “People traveling to Iraq are making a serious mistake.” Officials feared that the negotiators themselves would be kidnapped.

After a week in Baghdad, though, Ali inexplicably emerged with the 15 Americans, after all other attempts failed. Hussein reportedly told people that he would not let Ali leave empty-handed. Just weeks later, U.S. bombing of Iraq began. It turned out, in the end, that Jimmy Carter wasn’t necessarily wrong in his assessment of Ali’s value on the world stage. He just might have picked the wrong mission. The line between overestimating and underestimating Muhammad Ali has always been a thin one.

*Michael Ezra is a professor of American multicultural studies at Sonoma State University and author of Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon (Temple University Press, 2009).

Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly


May 13, 2016

Third Rate Diplomacy: Korean Foreign Ministry acts spinelessly

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Seoul. (Yonhap)

We can’t but wonder whether it is proper to use taxes to pay the wages of our diplomats who appear incompetent at best and engrossed in self-interest at worst, concerning their response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima.

The way the Ministry reacted to this rather anticipated affair is not just disappointing but, worse, makes the Korean people feel a sense of shame. The diplomats should have more clearly stated the country’s stance, asking for the public’s understanding, if necessary, or using the Obama plan to call attention to Japan’s wartime atrocities and warn against Japan’s efforts to feign as the victim of World War II. (Remembering that FDR declared the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as, “A day that will live in infamy,” it would make him turn over in his grave to see the Japanese pleas of victimhood today.).

Our diplomats should look no further than Beijing ― warning Japan not to use the Obama visit as a ruse to whitewash its colonial rule of barbarism, while refraining from directly raising any issues about the visit itself in its apparent consent for the need of a nuclear-free world Obama’s visit symbolizes.

In contrast, the Korean Ministry, in its official response, tried to emphasize that Washington had consulted with Seoul in the process of the Obama decision. The government was most concerned about a public that would feel easily slighted by the United States and the political opposition, now in control of the National Assembly, which would use it against the government. The Ministry would claim its action is restrained by a more important need to keep the U.S. and Japan on the same page as it is for the ongoing efforts to denuclearize North Korea.

This usual litany of excuses would mean the Foreign Ministry has their priorities in the wrong order, revealing they are still stuck in an inferiority complex that was overcome by the rest of the nation before the new millennium.

Just in case they don’t know, their top priority should be to act boldly in the nation’s interest and for the pride of the people on the basis of popular consent. Its behavior, however, exhibits nothing of the above. In other words, the ministry ended up insulting the people’s intelligence and let go of a chance to build national consensus and keep pressing Washington or Beijing. Rhetorically, the statement deserves scrutiny only for it is used as a bad example.

Through an anonymous official, a method that gives the impression of the lack of transparency and confidence, the Ministry said without identifying who was making the statement, “President Obama’s decision was made on the basis of his conviction in pursuing global peace and stability through a nuclear-free world.”

It sounded as if Seoul was a bystander in the Obama decision contrary to the Ministry’s insistence that it was consulted but didn’t share his vision, when Korea could be the biggest beneficiary from a North Korea that is separated from its nukes.

The Ministry went a step further by saying that the U.S. position about the use of its nuclear weapons against Imperial Japan has not changed. This obviously means Obama’s intention not to apologize for the bombings. Then, the ministry lost its coherence completely, saying, “The U.S. clarifies that the public acknowledgement of historic facts is indispensable to understanding the past.” Whose acknowledgment and understanding does this mean?

Not least, it ended by a highly questionable claim without corroborating evidence by saying that the Obama visit would also aim at bringing consolation to Korean victims of the Hiroshima blast. It is not until Obama mouths such a consolation that it should be seen as the Ministry’s wishful thinking.

Obama’s Hiroshima visit can be meaningful in that it is an effort to remove one of the biggest existential threats to humankind. However, it is worrisome for Korea and China, the victim countries that can’t forget Japan’s brutal colonial rule and its consistent efforts to shun its culpability for the war. It’s deplorable for the ministry to fail to register this national feeling openly and passionately. Who does this Ministry work for? We wonder.

foolsdie5@ktimes.com