US Foreign Policy: A distracted America in a dangerous world

October 19.2016

US Foreign Policy

A distracted America in a dangerous world

The next three months will be a perilous time from Mosul to the South China Sea

by Gideon Rachman

The assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul that began this week underlines the fact that the next three months will be a perilous period in international politics. Fighting is intensifying in the Middle East. Tensions are rising between Russia and the west. And relations between China and its Asian neighbours are getting edgier. All this is happening while the US is diverted by the Trump-Clinton melodrama and the transition to a new president.


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For Russia and China — two countries that are openly unhappy with the US-dominated world order — a distracted America will look like an opportunity. Both Moscow and Beijing regard Hillary Clinton with suspicion and believe that her probable arrival in the Oval Office would herald a more hawkish US foreign policy. They may be tempted to act swiftly, before she has a chance to settle into the White House.

A temporarily preoccupied America might not matter much in normal times. But big and dangerous decisions are looming. In the Middle East, the bombardment of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian government forces has led to a near-breakdown in relations between Moscow and the west. Without a common diplomatic project to hold them together, the two sides may slide into outright confrontation in Syria. Further sanctions on Russia are in the offing and the west’s military options are also being reviewed.

President Vladimir Putin may calculate that a US administration that has refused to take military action against the Assad regime since 2011 is unlikely to reverse course in President Barack Obama’s last few months in office. But if the Russians push too hard, they could miscalculate and provoke an American reaction. That is particularly the case because the Obama administration is angered by Russian cyber warfare, aimed at influencing the US presidential election. Joe Biden, the vice-president, has already signalled that America intends to retaliate in cyber space.

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Even without a worsening of the situation in Syria, fighting in the Middle East will intensify in the coming weeks. The Iraqi government, backed by the air power of a US-led coalition, has begun a major push to retake Mosul from Isis. With one eye on his legacy and another on the presidential election, Mr Obama would be delighted to notch up a significant victory against Isis in the coming weeks.

Going on the offensive in Iraq, rather than Syria, is also more attractive for America because there is less chance of an accidental clash with the Russians. A successful US-backed assault on Mosul could also counteract the impression of American weakness in the Middle East. But the comparisons between Mosul and Aleppo are also a warning. There are more than 1m civilians living in and around Mosul who could be caught up in the fighting. The battle for the city could also lead to a clash between the Turkish and Iraqi governments, both nominally American allies.

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Who is Right–One Shoe Fits all?

The Russians may also feel that the next few months offer an opportunity in eastern Europe and Ukraine, with the EU distracted by Brexit and the run-up to the French presidential election. Moscow had hoped that, by now, the EU would have eased the economic sanctions that were imposed in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Instead, the west has collectively strengthened its stance by moving more Nato troops into the Baltic states that border Russia. In response, the Russians have moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian territorial enclave that lies between Lithuania and Poland. Russia’s nuclear posturing is clearly intended to unnerve but it is dangerous for all that.

The Chinese government is more controlled and ambiguous in its belligerence than Moscow. Nevertheless, Beijing’s actions in recent months have set the nerves of its neighbours on edge. The Chinese were enraged by an international tribunal’s ruling in July that Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are largely specious. Since then the official media in Beijing has become ever more ferocious, berating and threatening otherwise friendly countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia for following America’s line on security issues. The Japanese say that they have seen a recent increase in Chinese activity in the disputed waters of the East China Sea.

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As Mr Obama prepares to pack his bags in the White House, he may look back wryly at the foreign-policy goals that he set eight years ago.

There was to be a “reset” that would lead to better relations with Russia. There would also be a new and closer working relationship with China. And there would be an end to war in the Middle East. None of those policies has come to fruition. Instead, Mr Obama will be fortunate if he can negotiate his last three months in office without presiding over a major international crisis.



Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea

October 15, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 358 | October 13, 2016


Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea

By Orrie Johan

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Considerable disagreement persists over an ideal Australian policy response to China’s actions in the South China Sea (SCS). In recent days, the Opposition Defense Minister from the Labor Party challenged current government policy by arguing that Australia should begin staging freedom of navigation exercises (FONOPs) in the fiercely contested South China Sea. This view was criticized not only by senior figures in the current government, which holds a razor-thin parliamentary majority, but also by a number of highly influential former leaders of the Labor Party. Australia does not have a direct sovereignty stake in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, as an island nation which is heavily reliant on regional and global trade, Australia’s economic and military security are reliant on the region remaining stable and open.

Australia’s approach to the SCS is also shaped by its relations to the region’s major players, each of which has differing views of how they would like Australia to engage in the South China Sea. Australia has traditionally relied on the U.S. as its primary ally to protect against external threats and the two countries share strong cultural, economic, and defense ties. But U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and the stability which it has provided is increasingly challenged by China’s rise. Australia’s economic prosperity relies heavily on China’s rapid economic growth to sustain demand for Australian exports — particularly natural resources and services.

Australia faces expectations from the U.S. to assist its efforts to uphold the current regional order. These efforts include support for arbitration cases like that of the Philippines and conducting FONOPs in disputed areas. From China, Australia faces pressure to refrain from challenging China’s approach of using unilateral or bilateral means to resolve many of these disputes. This would undoubtedly include Australia refraining from conducting U.S.-style FONOPs.

Australia’s domestic debate on how to respond to China in the South China Sea is mostly dominated by two competing schools of thought. The first is that Australia should stay in lock-step with the U.S. in challenging China’s unilateral moves in the South China Sea, while the second group recommends supporting the U.S.’s position, but moderating Australia’s responses at the same time to avoid Chinese repercussions. Proponents of each view can be found in both the left-leaning Labor party and the right-leaning Liberal party, as can be seen by the criticism of the Opposition Defense Minister’s recent comments from figures linked to both major parties. The question of whether Australia should participate in U.S. FONOP exercises or even conduct its own represents one of the major fault-lines between these two camps. An additional minority view held by the Greens party and some others proposes reducing Australia’s ties with the U.S. Public opinion in Australia meanwhile has strongly positive views of both the U.S. and of China.

Supporters of Australia’s participation in FONOPs tend to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia and the threat of Chinese unilateralism to Australia’s strategic neighborhood. They maintain that Australia relies on the U.S. not only for its security from external attack, but also to maintain the stability of the region and the international law regime that secures Australia’s economic trade. They argue that Australia should firmly support the U.S. in its dealings with China and should conduct FONOPs because doing so furthers both Australian and U.S. interests. They also argue that Australia has the capabilities to conduct FONOPs, as U.S. FONOPs have used just a single ship in the past. Australia could spare a P-3 Orion aircraft or a frigate for this purpose. Support for this view predominately comes from Australia’s defense and security communities and is also supported by senior figures in both major Australian political parties.

The mainstream opponents of FONOPs agree on the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia, but they also emphasize China’s importance to Australia and focus on potential risks from Chinese retribution to an Australian FONOP. Australia’s economy relies heavily on China and the Chinese government has punished other countries economically for taking stances which China strongly opposes. Opponents to FONOPs often also argue that Australia supports the U.S. in other ways and that it does not make sense for Australia to conduct FONOPs since no country other than the U.S. has conducted them thus far. This group supports increased flexibility within the U.S.-Australia alliance when cooperation would affect relations with China. Support for this perspective predominately comes from Australia’s diplomatic and business communities, as well as senior figures in both major Australian political parties. A minority of members of Australia’s defense community supports it as well.

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The Australian government’s actions in the South China Sea thus far fall in the “flexible alliance” camp. Prime Minister Turnbull has built stronger security ties with regional neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam, a trend which the U.S. and other regional powers support as a way of preserving the rules-based regional order and reducing China’s unilateral leverage in the region. His government has also voiced support for U.S. FONOPs in the South China Sea and has been one of the few countries that has consistently and openly supported the Philippines’ use of an arbitration tribunal to challenge China’s claims in the SCS, despite Chinese opposition to both measures. However, the Turnbull government has thus far decided not to conduct a freedom of navigation operation close to disputed islands in the South China Sea, indicating that they believe such an action risks escalating tensions with China. While Australian military forces periodically patrol the South China Sea in the name of regional stability and intelligence gathering under Operation Gateway, Australian forces thus far have not publicly traveled within the limit of territorial waters that China claims in order to replicate U.S. FONOPs. Instead the Turnbull government has stated its support for a diplomatic approach to encourage China to compromise.

Australia is not facing a binary choice between a security partner (the U.S.) and an economic partner (China); the U.S. is a major economic partner for Australia as well. Australian prime ministers over the last two decades have therefore often stated that Australia does not have to choose between the U.S. and China. Turnbull seems to be following this approach by showing the U.S. that it supports American freedom of navigation operations and by showing China that Australia will not participate in any FONOPs itself. If Turnbull remains in office, then this policy is unlikely to change unless Australia begins to feel that Australian civil and military assets risk losing their ability to travel safely through the South China Sea.

Orrie Johan is a researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He recently obtained a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia-Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington

APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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The Washington Post–Hillary Clinton for President

October 13, 2016

The Washington Post’s View

Hillary Clinton for President

The Washington Post editorial board endorses Hillary Clinton for President

By Editorial Board

IN THE gloom and ugliness of this political season, one encouraging truth is often overlooked: There is a well-qualified, well-prepared candidate on the ballot. Hillary Clinton has the potential to be an excellent president of the United States, and we endorse her without hesitation.

[The closing argument against Donald Trump]

In a moment, we will explain our confidence. But first, allow us to anticipate a likely question: No, we are not making this endorsement simply because Ms. Clinton’s chief opponent is dreadful.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is dreadful, that is true — uniquely unqualified as a presidential candidate. If we believed that Ms. Clinton were the lesser of two evils, we might well urge you to vote for her anyway — that is how strongly we feel about Mr. Trump. But we would also tell you that was our judgment.

Fortunately, it is not. We recognize that many Americans distrust and dislike Ms. Clinton. The negative feelings reflect in part the bitter partisanship of the nation’s politics today; in part the dishonest attacks she has been subjected to for decades; and in part her genuine flaws, missteps and weaknesses.

We are not blind to those. Ms. Clinton is inclined to circle the wagons and withhold information, from the closed meetings of her health-care panel in 1993 to the Whitewater affair, from the ostensibly personal emails she destroyed on her own say-so after leaving the State Department to her reluctance to disclose her pneumonia last month. Further, she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, are not the first to cash in on the speech circuit, but they have done so on an unprecedented and unseemly scale. And no one will accuse Ms. Clinton of an excess of charisma: She has neither the eloquence of President Obama nor the folksy charm of former president George W. Bush or, for that matter, her husband.

But maybe, at this moment in history, that last weakness is also a strength. If Ms. Clinton is elected, she will attempt to govern an angrily divided nation, working with legislators who in many cases are determined to thwart her, while her defeated opponent quite possibly will pretend her victory is fraudulent.

What hope is there for progress in such an environment — for a way out of the gridlock that frustrates so many Americans? The temptation is to summon a “revolution,” as her chief primary opponent imagined, or promise to blow up the system, as Mr. Trump posits. Both temptations are dead ends, as Ms. Clinton understands. If progress is possible, it will be incremental and achieved with input from members of both parties. Eloquence and charm may matter less than policy chops and persistence.

It is fair to read Ms. Clinton’s career as a series of learning experiences that have prepared her well for such an environment. As first lady, she failed when she tried to radically remake the American health-care system. Instead of retreating, she reentered the fray to help enact a more modest but important reform expanding health-care access to poor children.

Her infamous “reset” with Russia offers a similar arc. We have not hesitated to criticize the Obama administration’s foreign policy, including its lukewarm support for Ukraine in the face of a Russian invasion, but criticism of the “reset” is off-base. When Ms. Clinton launched the policy, Dmitry Medvedev, not Vladimir Putin, was president of Russia, and nobody — maybe not even Mr. Putin — knew how things would play out. It was smart to test Mr. Medvedev’s willingness to cooperate, and in fact the United States and Russia made progress under Ms. Clinton’s leadership, including in nuclear-arms control and in facilitating resupply of U.S. troops in Afghanistan across Russian territory. As Mr. Putin reasserted himself and Russia became more hostile, Ms. Clinton was clear-eyed about the need to adjust U.S. policy.

She was similarly clear-eyed after winning election to the Senate in 2000. You might have expected her to hold some grudges, especially toward Republican legislators who had lambasted her husband in the most personal terms during his then-recent impeachment and Senate trial. But colleagues in both parties found her to be businesslike, knowledgeable, intent on accomplishment, willing to work across the aisle and less focused than most on getting credit.

Professionals in the State Department offer similar testimonials about her tenure as secretary during Mr. Obama’s first term: She reached out, listened to diverse points of view and, more than many politicians who come to that job with their own small teams, was open to intelligent advice. She was respected by employees and by counterparts overseas. She set priorities, including ensuring that “women’s rights are human rights” would rise from slogan to policy.

Her 2016 presidential campaign offers one more case study of lessons learned — a model of efficiency and of large egos subordinated to a larger cause — after her far less disciplined 2008 effort.

Ms. Clinton, in other words, is dogged, resilient, purposeful and smart. Unlike Mr. Clinton or Mr. Bush when they ascended, she knows Washington; unlike Mr. Obama when he ascended, she has executive experience. She does not let her feelings get in the way of the job at hand. She is well positioned to get something done.

So what would she do? Her ambitions are less lofty than we would like when it comes, for example, to reforming unsustainable entitlement programs, and than many in her party would like, in their demand, for example, for free college tuition. But most of her agenda is commendable, and parts may actually be achievable: immigration reform; increased investment in infrastructure, research and education, paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy; sounder family-leave policies; criminal-justice reform. In an era of slowing growth and growing income inequality, these all make sense, as do her support for curbing climate change and for regulating gun ownership.

Oct. 12, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters before speaking during a rally at the Colorado fairgrounds in Pueblo. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

Ms. Clinton also understands the importance of U.S. leadership in the world, her campaign-year anti-trade epiphany notwithstanding. Inside the Obama administration, Ms. Clinton was a voice for engagement on behalf of democracy, human rights and stability. At times (the surge in Afghanistan), Mr. Obama listened. At times (Syrian intervention), he did not — and the world is far more dangerous because of that. Ms. Clinton can be faulted, perhaps, for excessive loyalty; though the hyper-investigated Benghazi affair proved to be no scandal at all, Ms. Clinton should have argued more persistently to help stabilize Libya after its dictator fell.

But her foreign-policy inclinations were sounder than her president’s. It is telling that, even as she tacked left to survive the primaries, she did not give ground to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the core value of American engagement in the world. Allies would find her more reliable than the incumbent and far more dependable than her opponent. The world would be more secure as a result.

No election is without risk. The biggest worry about a Clinton presidency, in our view, is in the sphere where she does not seem to have learned the right lessons, namely openness and accountability. Her use of a private email server as secretary was a mistake, not a high crime; but her slow, grudging explanations of it worsened the damage and insulted the voters. Her long periods of self-insulation from press questioning during the campaign do not bode well.

The Clinton Foundation has done a lot of good in the world, but Ms. Clinton was disturbingly cavalier in allowing a close aide to go on its payroll while still at State, and in failing to erect the promised impenetrable wall between the foundation and the government. She would have to do better in the White House.

Even here, however, Mr. Trump makes her look good. She has released years of tax returns. She has voluntarily identified her campaign bundlers. The Clinton Foundation actually is a charitable foundation, not a vehicle for purchasing portraits of herself. She is a paragon of transparency relative to her opponent.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, has shown himself to be bigoted, ignorant, deceitful, narcissistic, vengeful, petty, misogynistic, fiscally reckless, intellectually lazy, contemptuous of democracy and enamored of America’s enemies. As president, he would pose a grave danger to the nation and the world.

Rather than dwell on that danger here, we invite you to visit There we have assembled a timeline of Mr. Trump’s most alarming statements, accompanied by video and linked to some of the most trenchant commentary from our columnists, guest contributors, editorial writers and cartoonists over the past 16 months. This closing argument is far from exhaustive, but it is horrifying enough. If you have any doubts about Mr. Trump’s unfitness, please take a look.

Meanwhile, Ms. Clinton underlined her fitness for office in what was essentially the first major decision of her potential presidency: her choice of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as running mate. Rather than calculate how best to assuage or excite this or that part of her base, Ms. Clinton selected a person of sound judgment, with executive and legislative experience and unquestionable capacity to serve as president if necessary.

That presages what Americans might reasonably expect of a Clinton presidency: seriousness of purpose and relentless commitment, even in the face of great obstacles, to achievements in the public interest. We believe that Ms. Clinton will prove a worthy example to girls who celebrate the election of America’s first female president. We believe, too, that anyone who votes for her will be able to look back, four years from now, with pride in that decision.

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

October 13, 2016

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

by  Editors, East Asia Forum

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (2nd L) and China's President Xi Jinping (R) attend a meeting at Xijiao Hotel in Shanghai May 18, 2014.

There are many anxieties and uncertainties out there in the world about China and its future. In this year’s Pew polling, almost 90 per cent of those surveyed in Japan are anxious about growing Chinese power with only 11 per cent having a favourable view of China. In Australia, the proportion is 52 per cent and 43 per cent of those surveyed saw their country’s relationship with China as important, the same proportion as those who nominated the relationship with the United States important.

A large majority in Australia nominated the Chinese economy a positive factor, while the different system of government and troubles in the South China Sea came through as clear negatives. But despite the average Australian’s clear-eyed view of China, there is a small industry in this country promoting the argument that security concerns on many levels should dominate the positive effects of the big economic relationship and positive inter-personal interaction (79 per cent of those surveyed).

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China’s international economic presence has suddenly become big; people all around the world have to deal with the China factor because it permeates every major issue of the day, whether they know terribly much about it or not.

What China has to deal with in keeping its economy on course and delivering moderate affluence to the Chinese people in the next decade or two — the ambition that the Chinese leadership has declared for the country — is a huge challenge. No country has ever had to effect a set of reforms under such intense international spotlight in the global market or of this scale and complexity ever before in human history.

One major anxiety is that the Chinese political system is different from that of countries which are already rich. Indeed, there are no significantly sized countries in the world that have achieved advanced per capita income levels without some form of representative government, the oil states being the exceptions. Is China capable of delivering on its goals to become rich while preserving its political system, and how can other countries deal with China if it does — or for that matter if it doesn’t?

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No country has trod the path of economic advance before without presuming to use its economic power to carve a greater slice of global political power. Japan — the second time around — is perhaps the exception, with the adoption of its ‘peace constitution’ and its constrained position within the US–Japan alliance. Every move China makes in the political sphere, whether in the South China Sea or in setting up the AIIB, seems open to the interpretation that China is aiming to overthrow the established order. Exacerbating this is that China’s own regional and global ambitions remain unclear. Hence, China’s behaviour in the South China Sea and elsewhere is being used as a proxy for how China might behave when it becomes even more powerful.

These anxieties are major undercurrents in thinking about China in the established industrial powers as well as in smaller countries, especially those within its neighbourhood.

But despite the scale of all the challenges it faces and the anxieties there are about how they will be managed, the clear-eyed perception of China, more now than perhaps even a few months ago, is of a country that is still growing at more than twice the rate of the world economy and appears to be an island of economic stability in a global sea of economic troubles, as Brexit in Europe and the Trump phenomenon in North America have created anxieties in other parts of the world. China’s leadership as president of the G20 this year modestly reinforced that image of reliability and China’s claims to significant ownership in the international public good, though there is still quite a way to go.

James Laurenceson, in this week’s lead essay, reminds us that ‘economics is at the heart of military and strategic power’. Economic analysis, he suggests, is key to getting a clear-eyed understanding of Chinese strategic policy and its limits.

The simple arithmetic is that, with a population of 1.4 billion, income per person in China only has to reach one-quarter of that in the United States for it to have the world’s largest economy, allowing it to buy sophisticated weapons systems from abroad. In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms China’s real output, the measure that is relevant for paying the wages of war, the IMF estimates, will already be 12 per cent larger than that of the United States at the end of this year. China is large and dealing with this reality is not only or even largely at this point about dealing with the risks of its military power. It is more about the risks in China’s transition towards advanced economic power.

‘Economics can also help to restore some clear-headed thinking on complex matters such as the South China Sea’, Laurenceson points out. ‘The narrative proposed by strategic hawks is that since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 the Chinese government has begun aggressively pursuing expansionism. Yet since the South China Sea arbitration decision was published in July, both China and the Philippines have shown restraint in their response, albeit neither side has backed down from their original positions’.

Rigorous analysis, informed by a modicum of economic training or business savvy, makes this restraint understandable. The economics opens the possibility of these international relations being a positive, or at least mixed interest, rather than a zero-sum game.

‘With income per person still only at 14 per cent of that in the United States (25 per cent in PPP terms)’, says Laurenceson, ‘China can ill afford a dramatic recasting of its relationship with the rest of the world’.

Continuing to put its own commitments to economic and political reform on the table; moving forward on open trade and investment; committing to deeper financial reform and capital account opening (as well as concomitant political reform); undertaking to be a leading partner in a new global trade and investment agenda; and extricating itself from its overbearing projection in the South and East China Seas will all be critical elements in building momentum for the Chinese in managing to calm some of the anxieties about the impact of China’s rise on the international community.

The EAF Editorial Group is comprised Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Being clear-eyed about China’s power

What has AGE got do with being POTUS?

October 8, 2016

Strange we haven’t been talking more about age.

Hillary Clinton is 68, and that’s old for a first-term presidential candidate in this country. The one thing we can ay with absolute certainty is that we’d hear about it every day were it not for the fact that Donald Trump is 70.

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Still, Trump seems to be finding ways to get at it. Asked during the debate about his comment that Clinton doesn’t have “a presidential look,” Trump rejoined: “She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.”

I believe he’s suggesting a question about stamina. Andrew Scharlach, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in aging issues, heard “a code for ‘She’s old! She’s a woman! You know how old women are.’”

Newcomers to the current presidential campaign might have wondered why Trump would consider going in that direction at all, considering he was born first. The answer is that the Republican presidential nominee believes he is always an exception. This is the guy who, at the same debate, both complained about America’s deteriorating infrastructure and bragged that he was too smart to pay taxes.

Experts on the subject seem to believe that age is not something we need to fret about, and given the fact that we’re currently juggling everything from Trump being really mean to a Latina beauty queen to the possibility of his starting a nuclear war, I think we should follow their advice.


Hillary Clinton on her campaign plane this month. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times


“Unless we’re going to worry if they could catch something dropping off the table, I don’t think it’d be a problem,” said Steven Austad, the scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research. “In fact, it might be an advantage.”

Still, this provides an excellent opportunity to look back in history and discuss the campaign of William Henry Harrison. Please. Just for a second. We haven’t given William Henry nearly enough attention this election cycle.

When he ran in 1840, Harrison’s opponents made a big deal about the fact that he was 67. (“A living mass of ruined matter.”) Given that the life expectancy at the time was around 40, you can see how there’d be suggestions that he’d already overstayed his welcome.

Harrison, in response, issued a doctor’s report. It did not include extensive test results, given that there were not yet any tests. But the author still sounded far more reliable than the physician who concluded that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Harrison’s doctor just said, “Bodily vigor is as good as that of most men his age.”

But then Harrison delivered an inaugural address that went on for one hour and 45 minutes in a cold rain, got sick and died. If Donald Trump wins in November, the one thing we won’t have to worry about is his duplicating Harrison’s performance. No, Trump might talk endlessly, but he would do it from a comfy, heated plexiglass bubble while the peons stand shivering in front of him.

Feel free to argue that when it comes to age issues, women have it tougher. In 1964, when Margaret Chase Smith ran at 66 for the Republican nomination, a Los Angeles Times columnist decreed that 45-to-55 was the optimum range for a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, he added, that was the time when “the female of the species undergoes physical changes and emotional distress.” Ah, memories

As life expectancy is getting a lot longer and people are healthier, researchers are rethinking the whole definition of old. “Seventy is the new 50. That’s not just a cliché. It really is a reasonable statement these days,” said Austad.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a research organization with the worst name in the world, published a study that pushed the line back, too. “When your life expectancy is 15 years and less, then you get counted as old,” said Warren Sanderson, a professor at Stony Brook University who worked on the project. Using the most recent data available, Sanderson said that Trump, at 70, would have 14.6 years of life expectancy and Clinton, at 68, would have 18.3

So by that new, expansive definition, there’s only one elderly candidate in this race, and his name is Donald. It’s not clear that Trump knows how old he is — he told an interviewer that when he looks in the mirror he sees “a person who is 35 years old.”

Clinton doesn’t seem to have that problem. Back in 2008, when she was wrapping up her presidential campaign, we had a conversation in which she told me, suddenly, that her happiest days on the trail were the ones when I was covering her. This sounded stupendously flattering until she added, “It was the only time there was somebody my age on the plane.”

Against Donald Trump–The Atlantic Magazine

October 7, 2016

Against Donald Trump

For the third time since The Atlantic’s founding, the editors endorse a candidate for president. The case for Hillary Clinton.


Hillary Clinton is good for America and the World–She has what it takes to be POTUS

In October of 1860, James Russell Lowell, the founding editor of The Atlantic, warned in these pages about the perishability of the great American democratic experiment if citizens (at the time, white, male citizens) were to cease taking seriously their franchise:

In a society like ours, where every man may transmute his private thought into history and destiny by dropping it into the ballot-box, a peculiar responsibility rests upon the individual … For, though during its term of office the government be practically as independent of the popular will as that of Russia, yet every fourth year the people are called upon to pronounce upon the conduct of their affairs. Theoretically, at least, to give democracy any standing-ground for an argument with despotism or oligarchy, a majority of the men composing it should be statesmen and thinkers.

One of the animating causes of this magazine at its founding, in 1857, was the abolition of slavery, and Lowell argued that the Republican Party, and the man who was its standard-bearer in 1860, represented the only reasonable pathway out of the existential crisis then facing the country. In his endorsement of Abraham Lincoln for president, Lowell wrote, on behalf of the magazine, “It is in a moral aversion to slavery as a great wrong that the chief strength of the Republican party lies.” He went on to declare that Abraham Lincoln “had experience enough in public affairs to make him a statesman, and not enough to make him a politician.”

Perhaps because no subsequent candidate for the presidency was seen as Lincoln’s match, or perhaps because the stakes in ensuing elections were judged to be not quite so high as they were in 1860, it would be 104 years before The Atlantic would again make a presidential endorsement. In October of 1964, Edward Weeks, writing on behalf of the magazine, cited Lowell’s words before making an argument for the election of Lyndon B. Johnson. “We admire the President for the continuity with which he has maintained our foreign policy, a policy which became a worldwide responsibility at the time of the Marshall Plan,” the endorsement read. Johnson, The Atlantic believed, would bring “to the vexed problem of civil rights a power of conciliation which will prevent us from stumbling down the road taken by South Africa.”

Image result for Lyndon Johnson and Abrahim Lincoln

The Atlantic has endorsed only three presidential candidates in 159 years. Abraham Lincoln (1860) and Lyndon B. Johnson (1964) were the first two. (Alexander Gardner / Getty; ullstein bild / Getty)

But The Atlantic’s endorsement of Johnson was focused less on his positive attributes than on the flaws of his opponent, Barry Goldwater, the junior senator from Arizona. Of Goldwater, Weeks wrote, “His proposal to let field commanders have their choice of the smaller nuclear weapons would rupture a fundamental belief that has existed from Abraham Lincoln to today: the belief that in times of crisis the civilian authority must have control over the military.” And the magazine noted that Goldwater’s “preference to let states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia enforce civil rights within their own borders has attracted the allegiance of Governor George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birchers.” Goldwater’s limited capacity for prudence and reasonableness was what particularly worried The Atlantic.

We think it unfortunate that Barry Goldwater takes criticism as a personal affront; we think it poisonous when his anger betrays him into denouncing what he calls the “radical” press by bracketing the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Izvestia. There speaks not the reason of the Southwest but the voice of Joseph McCarthy. We do not impugn Senator Goldwater’s honesty. We sincerely distrust his factionalism and his capacity for judgment.

Today, our position is similar to the one in which The Atlantic’s editors found themselves in 1964. We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.

These concerns compel us, for the third time since the magazine’s founding, to endorse a candidate for president. Hillary Rodham Clinton has more than earned, through her service to the country as first lady, as a senator from New York, and as secretary of state, the right to be taken seriously as a White House contender. She has flaws (some legitimately troubling, some exaggerated by her opponents), but she is among the most prepared candidates ever to seek the presidency. We are confident that she understands the role of the United States in the world; we have no doubt that she will apply herself assiduously to the problems confronting this country; and she has demonstrated an aptitude for analysis and hard work.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.

From Our November 2016 Issue

This judgment is not limited to the editors of The Atlantic. A large number—in fact, a number unparalleled since Goldwater’s 1964 campaign—of prominent policy makers and officeholders from the candidate’s own party have publicly renounced him. Trump disqualified himself from public service long before he declared his presidential candidacy. In one of the more sordid episodes in modern American politics, Trump made himself the face of the so-called birther movement, which had as its immediate goal the demonization of the country’s first African-American president. Trump’s larger goal, it seemed, was to stoke fear among white Americans of dark-skinned foreigners. He succeeded wildly in this; the fear he has aroused has brought him one step away from the presidency.

Our endorsement of Clinton, and rejection of Trump, is not a blanket dismissal of the many Trump supporters who are motivated by legitimate anxieties about their future and their place in the American economy. But Trump has seized on these anxieties and inflamed and racialized them, without proposing realistic policies to address them.

In its founding statement, The Atlantic promised that it would be “the organ of no party or clique,” and our interest here is not to advance the prospects of the Democratic Party, nor to damage those of the Republican Party. If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.