The Madness of American Caesar Donald Trump

December 5, 2017

The Madness of American Caesar Donald Trump

by Elizabeth Drew

The risk of a US military confrontation with North Korea, coupled with President Donald Trump’s increasingly peculiar behavior, has put official Washington on edge. To put it bluntly: the worry is that a mentally deranged president might lead the US into a nuclear war.

WASHINGTON, DC – Much of America’s capital has entered a state of near-panic. In recent days, President Donald Trump has been acting more bizarrely than ever, and the question raised in the mind of politicians and civilians alike, though rarely spoken aloud, has been: What can be done with this man? Can the United States really afford to wait for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to wrap up his investigation (on the assumption that he’ll find the president guilty of something)? That could still take quite a while.

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That’s Fine for RNC, but don’t mess up the world

The question of timing has become increasingly urgent, given the heightened danger that the US will deliberately or accidentally end up in a war with North Korea. That risk, coupled with Trump’s increasingly peculiar behavior, has made Washington more tense than I’ve ever known it to be, and that includes the dark days of Watergate. To put it bluntly: the worry is that a mentally deranged president might lead the US into a nuclear war.

In just the past week, evidence of Trump’s instability has piled up. During an Oval Office ceremony to honor Native-American heroes of World War II, he offended them by issuing a racist comment. He picked an unprecedented and unnecessary fight with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, supposedly America’s closest ally, by retweeting a British neo-fascist group’s anti-Muslim posts. In an effort to win a Democratic senator’s vote for his pending tax-cut bill, he traveled to her state and told lies about her record (though the tax bill was so tilted to the richest 1% of Americans that no Democratic senator voted for it). And he continued to bait North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who seems equally unstable.

At the same time, both the Washington Post and The New York Times ran articles containing disturbing stories about the president’s private behavior. Trump, it was reported, told people close to him that he considers the infamous “Access Hollywood”recording of him joking, off-camera, about grabbing women’s genitals to be a fraud, even though he admitted its authenticity and apologized after the Post released it in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

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The most widely accepted view is that he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, which is far more serious than simply being a narcissist.–Elizabeth Drew

Trump has also been revisiting his mendacious claim about Barack Obama having not been born in the US – the bogus allegation that launched his political career, which, under pressure from advisers, he’d renounced prior to the election. He said in a tweet that he had turned down Time magazine’s suggestion that it would name him “Person of the Year,” because it wasn’t definite. (Trump sets great store by such appearances on Time’s cover). But a Time official said that no such thing had occurred.

The fact that Trump appears to have some mental disorder, or disorders, has created a dilemma for psychiatrists, politicians, and journalists alike. The American Psychiatric Association has a rule that its members may not offer diagnoses of people they have not examined. But, given what some psychiatrists see as a national emergency, many have broken the rule and spoken or written publicly about their professional assessments of Trump’s mental state.

The most widely accepted view is that he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, which is far more serious than simply being a narcissist. According to the Mayo Clinic, such a disorder “is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Moreover, “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

This definition is all too reflective of traits that Trump regularly exhibits. Another view held by a number of medical professionals, based on how Trump spoke in interviews in the late 1980s and how he speaks now – with a far more limited vocabulary and much less fluency – is that the president is suffering from the onset of dementia. According to the highly respected medical reference UpToDate, a subscription-financed service used by professionals, the symptoms of dementia include agitation, aggression, delusions, hallucinations, apathy, and disinhibition.

Numerous Republican members of Congress are deeply worried about Trump’s capacity to handle the presidency – an incredibly demanding job. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, rumored to be replaced soon, is said to have called Trump a “moron.”

Trump’s heightened erratic behavior in recent days has been attributed to his growing anxiety about Mueller’s investigation into his and his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the Kremlin’s effort to tilt the 2016 election in his direction – an investigation that could end in a charge of conspiracy. (Trump appears to be the only significant figure in Washington who won’t accept that Russia interfered.) And that increasingly bizarre behavior came even before the news broke, on December 1, that Trump’s first national security adviser and close campaign aide, retired General Michael Flynn, had agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation.

What made this highly significant was that Flynn is far and away the highest former official whom Mueller has “flipped.” Indeed, the generous plea deal makes it clear that Flynn is prepared to name figures higher than he was in the campaign and the White House.

That’s not very many people. It has already been speculated, with reason, that Flynn will point a finger at Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. But Trump’s several earlier efforts to steer prosecutors away from Flynn were strong signals that Flynn knows something that Trump desperately hopes that prosecutors won’t find out. We may learn what that is fairly soon.

Meanwhile, Americans and the world nervously await Trump’s reaction to this latest very bad turn of events for him

The Guardian view on Donald Trump: bullies never respect sycophants

December 4, 2017

Stop the state visit. Britain should not allow the US President’s racism to be dressed up in pageantry
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In Asia, only Duterte of the Philippines can give Trump the Obama Treatment he deserves. Theresa May is too polite and decent. This Guardian opinion reflects of the elegance and sophistication of British journalism. 


All relationships have boundaries. Those between nations can be particularly fraught, freighted with ties forged in history and culture. In diplomacy the manners, customs and morals of others need to be acknowledged and respected. But humanity begins with acts, not just with thoughts. The question is how to deal with a man like Donald Trump, a taunting braggart with a weakness for flattery? The stakes are high: when nations fall out, people get hurt. By using social media as a flame-thrower, Mr Trump uses words as weapons. He does not care who gets burned.

In retweeting anti-Muslim video clips promoted by a leader of a far-right fringe group in Britain and then rounding on the prime minister for reproaching him, Mr Trump proves again that he panders to bigots and is no friend of this country. This is an important – and dangerous – moment for Britain as it launches itself into the choppy waters of Brexit. The vain hope of politicians who pushed for this nation’s exit from the European Union was that we could hitch ourselves to the United States.

True, the US is Britain’s most important partner on the global stage. As nations we have a sense of shared values and a long history together. Both have worked to uphold the international rules-based system. After the end of the cold war it was a partnership, along with others, that guaranteed a short period of relative peace. What was not taken sufficiently into account was that this was not only a physical equilibrium but also a moral one.

Mr Trump has few morals. He is a thuggish narcissist who is no respecter of Britain’s national security and well being. After the London Bridge attack in June, he went after the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, for urging, quite reasonably, calm. He attacked Scotland Yard, in September, for not being “proactive” after a terrorist bomb failed to detonate in London. Then, as now, Theresa May rebuked the US president. It was the right thing to do. The prime minister should go further and withdraw the invitation for a state visit. Bullies never respect sycophants. Britain should not allow Mr Trump’s racism to be dressed up in pageantry. Mr Trump’s strategy is to stoke a climate of paranoia, both at home and abroad. He seeks advantage in the politics of division and hate. He operates by instinct rather than sober analysis.

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Maggie–Reagan partnership was based on mutual respect and admiration. Trump tried to bully May but got strong rebuke from the  Prime Minister with the backing of the proud British people and the media.

The truth is that Mr Trump has no respect for the basic rights that are the foundation of democracy. Nor does he care for the decency necessary to sustain citizenship. Democracy cannot survive without letting reasonable debate bring the truth to light. Instead Mr Trump appears to have nothing but contempt for our intelligence. For the US president the show is all about one man. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, looks set to be replaced by a cheerleader for Trumpism. Mr Tillerson’s error was to realise what everyone suspects: his boss was, in his own reported words, a “moron”.

As a former British Prime Minister wisely noted, “nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”. Britain must have a relationship with the United States, just as we have relationships with unsavoury regimes which are tempered by the understanding that we do not share their scruples. Our own foolishness means that we are no longer useful as a bridge to Europe.

The longer Mr Trump is in office, the more America’s folkways will become unfamiliar to Britain. Like all relationships, Britain and America’s will experience rocky times. We are living through one of them. With Mr Trump in the White House the US has become flighty when it comes to “special” relationships, heaping praise on America’s adversaries and downgrading ties with allies. To be credible our bond needs to be grounded in self-respect. Speaking the truth may be difficult, but that is what friends are for.

Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course

December 3, 2017

Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course

by Benedict Lopez*

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The Little Mermaid to Copenhagen– The mermaid statue was created in bronze by Edvard Eriksen, and was unveiled in August of 1913.

Eriksen was commissioned in January 1909 by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Breweries to create the statue. Carl was fascinated by a ballet at the Copenhagen Royal Theatre based on the fairy tale about the mermaid, and asked the star of the ballet, Ellen Price de Plane, to model for the statue.  Price declined modeling in the nude for the sculpture, and Eriksen enlisted his wife Eline Eriksen (who modeled for several other of his works) to model for the mermaid statue.   A popular story has it that Price modeled for the face and Eline Eriksen for the body, but in actual fact Eline Eriksen was the model for the entire sculpture.  This is easily seen when comparing the statue’s face with photos of Eline Eriksen, and the faces of Eriksen’s other statues.

This mermaid statue is one of the top tourist attractions in Copenhagen, and has become an icon and a symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark. While the story by Hans Christian Andersen was more than enough to make this mermaid statue known around the world, the Disney movies have only added to the fame and the appeal of this statue.

There are copies of the statue – with some differences – in a number of locations around the world, which in some cases are authorized by Eriksen’s heirs, and in other cases have been allowed to remain without specific authorization from the heirs.

The mermaid statue on display in Copenhagen is the actual original, but other copies and sizes were made as well – which is a good thing, as the original has been vandalized several times, and then lovingly restored using the copies.   Several sizes are available for purchase at the official website for this most famous of all mermaid statues.

While the statue is often seen as being smaller than expected, it is actually larger than it appears, about 25% larger than lifesize.  The spectacular location and the grand features of ocean, harbor and shoreline around the statue contribute to make it look small in comparison.  The original statue here is the only true copy of the statue in this size – according to sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s will, only smaller copies may be produced, with Copenhagen Harbor having the only full-size statue.

Benedict Lopez is drawn to the simplicity, integrity and passion for the environment on display in Denmark.

Although I have visited Denmark several times since 2010, I always look forward to my next visit.

I feel comfortable being in the home of Carlsberg, not for the beer alone (although I enjoy a pint or two occasionally) but also for the core values of this country of 5.5m people – values I cherish as a human being.

Like in Sweden, discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation in Denmark.

On each visit, I observed as many things as possible as to what makes Danes the happiest people in the world. I personally believe it is the sense of security given to the citizenry by the state.

Sharply in contrast to citizens in many other countries around the world, Danes need not worry about the basic necessities in life like healthcare, education and social security as Denmark is a welfare state. This is made possible because of high taxes, accountability in public expenditure, little wastage, checks and balances in the system and virtually non-existent corruption.

Having travelled the length and breadth of the land of Hans Christian Andersen, I have observed many facets of Danish life. The virtues of the Danes may be summarised as follows: integrity, simplicity and passion for the environment.


Government ministers, civil servants and all public sector officials are held accountable for their actions. And when inefficiency, negligence and breach of fiduciary responsibility is highlighted, the minister or official concerned resigns immediately or is reprimanded. Transparency ensures that public expenditure is effectively scrutinised with any leaks in the system immediately plugged.

There is a high level of integrity among ordinary people too, and they seldom hoodwink or defraud others. Seldom does one read about any form of dishonesty, abuse of power or financial transgression.

Simplicity is a virtue the Danes are noted for. About a third of Copenhagen residents cycle to work and the rest take the train or drive to work. Most of those who drive have ordinary cars. In my six years traveling all over Denmark, I never once saw posh makes like Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari.

In sharp contrast to their Malaysian counterparts, chairmen, CEOs and managing directors of companies in Denmark usually drive to work on their own – without a personal driver. There are no special parking spaces reserved for them at their place of work. All staff park their cars in the same place. Meeting rooms are simple with ordinary tables and chairs; no expensive executive chairs even for the top brass in the company.

Just like in Sweden, simple dressing is the order of the day for the office and meetings, and most men wear a jacket without a tie. Their dress code contrasts conspicuously with many in the upper echelon in Malaysia, who have a passion for branded products and wait for the opportunity to display their opulence.


The offices of top management staff in companies are simple, quite unlike what you find in Malaysia. No posh office furniture. I have noticed this in many companies in Denmark over the years and this is something we Malaysians can emulate. In Denmark, people look down on you if you flaunt your wealth conspicuously.

I always take the flight to Billund, the home of Lego, via one of the European cities, and the one-hour drive to Julesminde is just awesome. I admire the beauty of the Danish countryside while passing through country towns along the way.

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Each time after arriving in Juelsminde, a small town of less than 5,000 people, I immediately check into the guesthouse. Without wasting any time, I go for a jog on the beach in front of the guesthouse for an hour. The clean fresh air, unpolluted environment and early morning sunrise keeps me rejuvenated as I jog in the mornings and evenings.

I subsequently laze about outdoors reading a book with, of course, a glass of good wine beside me in the evenings, before I go for a satisfying Danish dinner with colleagues.

Danes are passionate about their environment and are moving at an accelerated speed towards zero dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. Much of Denmark’s renewable energy requirements will be met through wind, and wind farms are conspicuous on land and sea all over the country.

All through my travels in Denmark and my dealings with the Danes, I have observed one of their traits, and that is if you are honest and sincere with them, they respect you. I too was always candid in my dealings with them, constantly being the “unsubtle diplomat”.




After all, honesty is the mark of self-respect in any human being, and only those without this trait try and boost their self-esteem in other, less edifying, ways.

Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries – not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

A South China Sea Code of Conduct: Is Real Progress Possible?

November 24, 2017

A South China Sea Code of Conduct: Is Real Progress Possible?

Image result for code of conduct for south china seaThe COC was never meant to solve the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.


At the recently concluded 31st ASEAN Summit Meetings in Manila, the leaders of ASEAN and China formally announced the start of negotiations on the fine print of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. The agreement comes just three months after the foreign ministers from both sides endorsed the framework on the COC earlier in August.

Recent progress made on the COC is seen by many as a milestone development, in light of the aggressive brinkmanship in the lead-up to the arbitral tribunal ruling in July 2016. Tension certainly appears to have calmed down significantly since, and discussions for the COC have been actively on-going since the meeting of the 19th ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on Implementation of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea in February. Compared with the history of strenuous negotiations, the relatively fast pace of recent developments does appear encouraging.

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Land reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. AP File Photo

However, with the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) yet to be fully implemented more than a decade after its adoption, one can’t help but wonder how much real progress is achievable with the upcoming negotiations. How different would the COC be from the DOC? Is this another tactic by China to buy time? How united would ASEAN be in negotiating its position vis-à-vis China?

The concept for a COC first emerged in the 1990s, but disagreements over whether it should be a legally binding document appeared soon after. In particular, China was strongly against any form of legally binding agreement, which would restrict its activities in the South China Sea. ASEAN and China agreed on the non-binding DOC in 2002 as a compromise and interim agreement with the goal to work “towards the eventual attainment of [the COC].”  Little substantial progress has been made since then.

COC Unlikely to Be Significantly Different From the DOC

So, just how significant is the agreement in Manila? Despite the undeniable diplomatic advancement, the hard truth is that the possibility for any real progress toward an effective and comprehensive agreement remains elusive. ASEAN claimant countries together with the United States hoping for a legally binding final COC are almost certain to face disappointment. China has on various occasions stated its preference for a voluntary, non-binding, or at least non legally binding COC. There also seem to be changing sentiments on this point within some ASEAN countries, notably the Philippines. In an interview in May this year, newly appointed Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano expressed wariness toward a legally binding COC, saying that he prefers the COC to first be a non-legally binding “gentleman’s agreement” among claimant countries. He stressed that the COC should be binding, just not legally binding.

At this point it appears that COC will likely be heavily based on the provisions already in the current DOC. This means an exclusion of any provisions for enforcement mechanisms in cases of violation. While the exclusion is understandable due to practical considerations including financial concerns, as with the lack of enforcement clauses in most ASEAN agreements, the effectiveness of the final COC would be highly compromised.

China’s Strategic Calculations

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Manila, the Philippines, August 6, 2017. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press). China is calling the shots on the South China Sea. It is never going to stop its island-building and militarization activities, despite agreeing to negotiate on the COC.

China’s agreement to restart negotiations for the COC should be viewed with a pinch of salt. The timing of Beijing’s decision to re-engage is in fact very telling. The July 2016 arbitration ruling and Beijing’s refusal to abide by it had eroded China’s image as a good neighbor to its smaller ASEAN counterparts — an image that Beijing worked so hard to instill since the policy of good neighborliness was introduced by then-President Jiang Zemin in the 1990s. It also called into question China’s self-proclaimed commitment to the rules-based international order, and the pronounced benign intentions behind Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Apparent progress on the COC made this year can thus be viewed as Beijing’s attempt to calm discontent and suspicion in the region. Since the arbitration ruling, Beijing has been active in trying to rebuild its image in the region. Not long after the July 2016 ruling, Beijing announced the end of a fishing blockade around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, granting access to Filipino fisherman. By going back to the negotiating table, Beijing is extending an olive branch to its ASEAN neighbors.

Beijing’s extension of goodwill, however, is seen by many observers as a delaying tactic. It is of no doubt that China is never going to stop its island-building and militarization activities, despite agreeing to negotiate on the COC. The veil of cooperation and mutual trust created by re-starting COC negotiations will in fact buy China time to complete its ambitions in the South China without constant harsh criticism from ASEAN.

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Acceding to ASEAN’s long time request for COC negotiations will also help keep at bay any unwanted U.S. interference in the region. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made it clear in an interview in August that any substantive negotiations on the COC can only occur in the absence of outside disturbances, clearly alluding to moves by the United States. Despite President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate the conflict in Vietnam, it is unlikely that any ASEAN country would want to undermine the goodwill offered by Beijing by bringing Washington into the COC negotiations.

ASEAN’s Pivot to China

Progress made in the COC must be seen as part of Beijing’s charm offensive since the July 2016 ruling. Beijing’s extension of olive branches toward individual ASEAN countries has been more than successful. Since coming into power, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has opted to shelve the arbitration ruling, which almost entirely found in his country’s favor, in exchange for stronger economic cooperation with China. The decision was immediately rewarded with huge tangible benefit in terms of trade deals amounting to $13.5 billion during Duterte’s visit to China in October 2016.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak shakes hands with China’s Premier Li Keqiang: China is buying up strategic assets in Malaysia.

Duterte’s visit triggered a domino effect across Southeast Asia. Malaysia has also shown signs of leaning closer to China, as both sides agreed on the flagship East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project aimed at linking Port Klang to Kuantan Port. In his recent visit to Vietnam, Xi offered his Vietnamese counterpart 12 cooperation pacts across wide ranging areas, in addition to the $1.94 billion worth of deals signed before Xi’s trip. At the same meeting, both countries reached a consensus on peacefully handling their maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

China’s economic might is a fact every country in Southeast has to come to terms with. There are huge economic benefits to be reaped from the Belt and Road and ASEAN countries cannot risk being left out. Beijing knows this well and is a master of pitting ASEAN countries against one another.  Singapore was the only ASEAN state to openly call for China to respect the tribunal ruling, and this was faced with strong backlash from China. Some analysts have argued that China’s decision to invest in Malaysia’s ECRL project is a strategic consideration, as the railway linking the east to west coast of peninsula Malaysia will slash 30 hours of travel time for cargo shipping through the Port of Singapore. The ECRL, together with Chinese investments in a deep-sea port in Malaysia are cause for concerns for Singapore, a country highly dependent on sea-borne trade for its economic prosperity. Other “stick” measures from China include the detention of Singapore’s Terrex vehicles in Hong Kong and the non-invitation of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the inaugural Belt and Road Summit.

What Can a Limited COC Achieve?

Although Singapore continues to maintain its position on respect for international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, it has nonetheless been less vocal on the issue in recent months. With growing economic dependency on China among ASEAN countries, it is not difficult to image a situation similar to the 2012 ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia repeating itself in upcoming negotiations for the COC.

China is in a position to use its economic prowess to pressure for provisions beneficial to Beijing, as well as divide ASEAN on key issues such as whether the COC should be legally binding. Ultimately, it is likely that the final COC would be based off a lowest common denominator, meaning it is unlikely to make any real progress in halting Chinese advancements in the South China Sea.

That being said, the COC was never meant to solve the sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. Although it also seems unlikely that it will help freeze Chinese island building in wake of any settlement, a COC is still useful as a confidence-building mechanism to help improve trust and mutual understanding to help facilitate cooperation.

In addition, it might also work as a crisis-management and prevention mechanism in the region. According to Ian Storey, senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, the COC is likely to include new provisions for the prevention and management of incidents at sea. If true, the COC could join the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in making the South China Sea safer for all seafarers.

Lee YingHui is Senior Analyst with the Maritime Security Program at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.


Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018

November 21, 2017

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018

by Astrid Norén-Nilsson, Lund University

The looming dissolution of the CNRP follows the September arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the flight from the country of leading CNRP parliament members and a clampdown on the press.

Promising the de facto return to one-party rule, the recent political crackdown is indisputably the most serious assault on Cambodian democracy since the 1993 reintroduction of multi-party elections.

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The CPP has delivered Peace, Stability and Development for Cambodians since 1998.

The sheer nerve of the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in invalidating nearly 3 million votes came as a surprise. Until now, the move was considered so unlikely that each successive CPP step to weaken the opposition has been interpreted as an attempt to gain a bargaining chip rather than an overture to foreclose electoral competition outright.

But it is now hard to believe anything but that the CPP is delivering its final blow to the opposition according to a long-term strategy that spans its entire mandate.

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Cambodia–The Kingdom of Wonder

Following the post-election protests of 2013–14, which were violently broken up, the CPP neutralised the CNRP through a one year ‘culture of dialogue’ that reined in CNRP’s tough rhetoric. After that, consensual politics were replaced by attacks on a weakened opposition. While recent local elections offered a period of relative calm — presumably because the CPP aimed to test its electoral strength — the CPP is now putting in motion the machinery of legal measures that they have carefully introduced through legislative changes over the past few months.

Political change of some sort in Cambodia has an aura of inevitability since the 2013 elections. This is an aura that the CNRP has fought hard to project, and which the CPP has now unravelled. The CPP is gambling on the presumption that the 44 per cent of voters whose votes were invalidated will not take political action. This is important given that the CNRP has a strong support base among the almost two-thirds of the population who are below the age of 30. Lacking memories of the Khmer Rouge regime, which the precursor to the CPP toppled, Cambodian youth are both less grateful to the CPP and less fearful than their elders. The CPP is putting this emerging fearlessness to the test, and the outcome is unpredictable. The lack of a strong domestic reaction to the undemocratic measures put in place so far opens up a new range of until now unimaginable political possibilities for the emboldened CPP.


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For the last two decades Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Asia with an average annual real GDP growth rate in excess of 7.0  per cent.


With eight months to go until national elections, the previously unthinkable scenario that the CPP will be the only main party to contest the 2018 elections now looms. The crackdown does leave a window open for a resolution allowing the weakened opposition to contest the 2018 elections, perhaps under a different name and with a partly different leadership. The CPP could court elements of the CNRP leadership to head a salvaged party, similar to how Ung Huot replaced Ranariddh as first Cambodian Prime Minister in 1997. If deemed unthreatening, a defanged opposition could be allowed to contest the elections to give an outlet for oppositional energies and a boost to the CPP’s electoral legitimacy.

Its imminent outlawing marks the logical endpoint of the CNRP’s position to obey the rule-of-law designed by the CPP. To continue to exist, the CNRP would have to renege on its twin constraints: bending to the legal framework defined by the CPP and avoiding the possibility of violent confrontation at all costs.

To have a real shot at regime change through elections rather than merely nominal inclusion in some form on electoral rolls, the CNRP would have to find its way back to connect with the electorate in the streets. Capitalising on the party’s dissolution to create popular momentum may be a hard but not impossible feat. The opposition managed to quietly build support in a repressive climate ahead of the 2013 election, and then in that year’s electoral campaign galvanised oppositional energies through mass gatherings. Last year, two and a half years after mass demonstrations came to an end, an estimated 2 million people turned up for the funeral procession of the assassinated government critic Kem Ley.

The CNRP has so far placed its hopes in growing international pressure. But this hope may be in vain, with Hun Sen trying to kill two birds with one stone: the CNRP are accused of conspiring with Western governments and media outlets, which makes Western criticism of the 2018 election wholly irrelevant. From the Cambodian government’s perspective, the transition to a stance backed by China to turn away from the West may now be complete. Whether severe economic and diplomatic consequences could reverse the CPP’s course of action will now be put to the test.

The logic of the situation will compel the CPP to maintain its strong-arm tactics up until the election despite increasing popular alienation. There is no authoritarian nostalgia in Cambodia like that in the Philippines or Thailand. This makes the ongoing crackdown more out of tune with public sentiment and potentially more volatile.

Astrid Norén-Nilsson is an Associate Senior Lecturer at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University and author of Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy.


DJ Trump may repeat a tragic history

November 7, 2017

DJ Trump may repeat a tragic history

by Dr. Fareed

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s comprehensive documentary series on the Vietnam War is filled with the stories and voices of ordinary soldiers on all sides of the conflict. But the most tragic aspect of the tale, for me, was hearing President Lyndon B. Johnson on tape, before full U.S. engagement, admitting that the war could not be won. Johnson’s dilemma is one that presidents dread facing — and one that President Trump is bringing upon himself with North Korea and Iran.

In May 1964, when the United States had fewer than 20,000 troops in Vietnam, serving as advisers and trainers, Johnson said to his national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, “I just stayed awake last night thinking about this thing. . . . It just worries the hell out of me. I don’t see what we can ever hope to get out of there with once we’re committed. . . . I don’t think that we can fight them 10,000 miles away from home and ever get anywhere in that area. I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think we can get out.”

“I look at this sergeant of mine this morning,” Johnson continued. “He’s got six little old kids . . . What in the hell am I ordering him out there for? What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? . . . What is it worth to this country?”

Johnson was asking all the right questions. He understood that Vietnam was not actually vital and that it could easily become a quagmire. And yet, he could never bring himself to the logical conclusion — withdrawal. Like so many presidents before and after him, he could not see how he could admit failure. No president could do that. In another conversation, with his mentor from the Senate, Richard Russell, Johnson speculated that “they’d impeach a president, though, that’d run out [of Vietnam], wouldn’t they?”

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The Exceptional American President Donald J. Trump: Dare anyone question the nation’s special brand of amazingness, for America is not just great, it is singularly the greatest. If you do not believe it’s so, then you must be an enemy of the state. And so, as the self-anointed greatest sovereign nation of all, it must necessarily follow that we Americans should feel superior. But ask an American what exactly accounts for our nation’s exceptionalism, what makes us so much better than Sweden and Norway and Holland and Mauritius and New Zealand and Japan, and they can scarcely tell you.–

And so, because the President of the United States could not think of a way to admit that the United States needed to reverse course, Johnson increased troop levels in Vietnam from fewer than 20,000 to more than 500,000, tearing apart Indochina, American society and his presidency. The example is dramatic, but it is generally true that in foreign policy, when the United States is confronted with a choice between backing down and doubling down, it follows the latter course.

In two crucial arenas, North Korea and Iran, Trump has dramatically raised the risks for the United States, and for no good reason. Determined to seem tougher than his predecessor, he has set out maximalist positions on both countries. He wants a totally denuclearized North Korea and an Iran that stops making ballistic missiles and stops supporting proxy forces in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen. There is a vanishingly small possibility that North Korea and Iran will simply capitulate because Washington demands it. And if they don’t, what will Trump do? Will he back down or double down? And where will this escalation end?

Trump seems to view international negotiations as he does business deals. He has to win. But there is one big difference. In the international arena, the other person also has to worry about domestic politics. He or she cannot appear to lose either.

As a leading businessperson recently said to me, “Trump is playing a two-person negotiation, thinking it’s just him and the other guy, two principals, making a deal, as in business. But actually there are people outside the room — the two nations’ publics — that place huge constraints on the negotiators. It’s not a two-person game at all.”

For any international negotiation to succeed, there has to be some element of “win-win.” Otherwise, the other side simply will not be able to sell the deal back home. But Trump seems to believe above all that he must win and the other side must lose.

A senior Mexican official told me that there would have been a way to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, even find a way to fund the border wall, “but Trump needed to allow us to also declare some kind of victory, give us some concessions. Instead he started out by humiliating us and made it impossible for [President Enrique] Peña Nieto to make a deal. After all, no Mexican government can be seen to simply surrender to Washington.”

Trump’s way of negotiating might have worked in his past life, although there, too, many argue it was not the way to build a great reputation. But he’s not doing real-estate deals anymore. The arena is different, the conditions are far more complex, and the stakes are higher — astronomically higher.