ASEAN Chair and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte to meet Donald Trump

May 1, 2017

Today's WorldView

by Ishaan Tharoor

ASEAN Chair and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte to meet Donald Trump in Washington DC

Over the weekend, the White House announced that President Trump had invited President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for a visit to Washington, following what was deemed a “very friendly conversation” over the phone between Trump and his counterpart in Manila.

Despite the close ties between the United States and the Philippines, the move surprised Trump’s critics and allies. In his 10 months in power, Duterte has become one of Asia’s most controversial leaders. He has presided over a vicious drug war that has seen thousands killed by extrajudicial hit squads — encouraged, say critics, by Duterte’s explicit orders. Last week, a Filipino lawyer filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court, accusing Duterte and 11 other Filipino officials of mass murder and crimes against humanity. (Duterte has shrugged off the filing and said it will not deter his campaign.)

The complaint takes into account the killings of 9,400 people stretching back to 1988, when Duterte became the Mayor of the southern city of Davao and began making his reputation as a tough guy willing to do anything to crack down on crime. “The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extrajudicial executions or mass murder,” read the complaint. An estimated 8,000 people have been killed since Duterte became President last summer (2016).

None of this seemed to faze the White House. In the readout of the phone call, the only mention of Duterte’s astonishing record of violence seemed to be a positive one. It said that the two leaders “discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs, a scourge that affects many countries around the world.”

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did his best to evade the thrust of the question when asked on ABC’s “This Week” if human rights were no longer a concern for the Trump Administration.

“Absolutely not,” responded Priebus. “It doesn’t mean that human rights don’t matter, but what it does mean is that the issues facing us, developing out of North Korea, are so serious that we need cooperation at some level with as many partners in the area as we can get.”

Mourners carry the coffin of a person shot dead by unidentified gunmen north of Manila on April 8. (Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency)

Mourners carry the coffin of a person shot dead by unidentified gunmen north of Manila on April 8. (Francis R. Malasig/European Pressphoto Agency)

The importance of securing strong Filipino support in dealing with North Korea is highly debatable. But administration officials indicated that the overture to Duterte may be part of a broader and much-needed mending of fences.

“The White House statement could be seen as implicit support, but perhaps is better understood as offering common ground for engaging with Duterte,” said Natalie Sambhi, a Research Fellow at the Perth USAsia Center in Australia, to The Post.

U.S.-Filipino relations took a turn for the worse last year, Duterte’s first in office and the final one for Barack Obama.

“The relationship between the United States and the Philippines soured under President Barack Obama, who criticized Duterte’s bloody war on drugs,” reported my colleagues. “Not one to take criticism lightly, Duterte snapped at Obama on a few occasions, telling him to ‘go to hell’ and, at one point, using the Tagalog phrase for ‘son of a bitch’ or ‘son of a whore’ when addressing the then-U. S. president. In September, Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte, whom he called a ‘colorful guy.‘ ”

(Obama is hardly the sole target of Duterte’s notoriously salty language: He used similar words for Pope Francis, too, and has sparked global headlines with rape jokes, admiring references to Adolf Hitler, boasts about mass killing and an insistence at one point that he would eat the livers of suspected terrorists. Even Trump was on the receiving end: “Donald Trump is a bigot, I am not,” Duterte told the Associated Press last year.)

The tensions saw Duterte publicly drift toward China. In a speech in Beijing last year, he told his Chinese audience that “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” He has inked billions of dollars of deals with China, Japan and other countries in the region. As my colleague Emily Rauhala wrote earlier this year, Duterte is playing an opportunistic game, wooing all whom he can as part of a new “independent” foreign policy. But, as Rauhala noted, his efforts fly in the face of public opinion and the country’s political establishment, which largely backs the United States and is wary of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

Duterte is shown the way by Chinese President Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing in 2016. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Duterte is shown the way by Chinese President Xi Jinping before a signing ceremony in Beijing in 2016. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

The other lens through which to view Trump’s invitation to Duterte is that of the American President’s apparent penchant for strongmen. While the European Union called for an investigation into the referendum last month that conferred vast new powers upon Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump was the first Western leader to congratulate Erdogan on his victory. He also hosted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, a coup-plotting former army man whose regime carried out a ruthless crackdown on Islamists and dissidents. No matter the geopolitical scenario, Trump seems to have a genuine affinity for men of action who brook little dissent.

“If Duterte were not immune as Head of State, he would be barred from admission into the United States,” noted John Sifton, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, in an emailed statement. “Existing U.S. laws and policy prohibit visas and entry to persons against whom credible allegations of gross human rights abuses have been made.”

Sifton goes on: “The invitation is an abomination, just as Trump’s invitation to Sissi was an abomination, and although his personality traits would seem to make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself. By effectively endorsing Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’ Trump has made himself morally complicit in future killings.”

One Hundred Days of Trumpitude

April 28, 2017

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

—“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel García Márque


The arguably the most conceited and insecure POTUS since 1776–He think the world is his toy. He must learn to act responsibly since the United States is not an island onto itself. Military power should never be its first option and any President worth his paycheck cannot ignore Geo-economic imperatives of a globalised world. –Din Merican

One Hundred Days of Trumpitude


Many months later, as he faced the impeachment committee, President Donald Trump was to remember that distant afternoon when Jeff Sessions took him to discover ICE. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and, in order to indicate them, it was necessary to point. President Trump pointed at the customs agents.

“Yes,” Senator Sessions said. “These are the representatives of ICE.”

“Wow. Such great Americans. Terrific,” Trump said, grabbing an agent’s hand and yanking it toward him in a manner so powerful that anyone watching should sincerely doubt that he had ever taken Viagra. “Keeping bad hombres out. Mexico will pay for it. Believe me!” he continued, casually removing and tossing aside the mittens he had worn because of a misunderstanding of what ICE was. The Secret Service agent tailing him picked up the gloves and put them back on the hands of the American Girl doll from which they came.

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Senator Jeff Sessions and The President–Two Peas in the American Pod


President Donald Trump—then just Donald Trump, a man whose foolishness surpassed the limits of exaggeration—thought it would be possible to use his deepest insecurities to make America great again. Senator Sanders, who was an honest man, warned him: “It won’t work for that.” But Trump did not believe in the honesty of anyone whom he had not strong-armed into signing a non-disclosure agreement, so he traded his hair hat for a red hat and proceeded to defend his penis during a national televised debate.


When this world was long gone, much—or little, depending—would be found from the men and women who served former President Donald Trump. Among other things, they found a calcified skeleton with a copper locket containing a woman’s fingernail around its neck. It also wore a name tag that read “Steve.” A historian may wonder which Steve, for two Steves darkened Trump’s quarters in those days. But, of course, the answer is both, for this tale is full of same-named evil men. You have not heard of them, for they did nothing of significance, and died alone, covered in cobwebs, somehow.


It was evening and Trump sat alone in the West Wing, watching basic cable. He was lonely. He missed his maid, Melania, and her butler, Barron. He missed his eldest sons, Lumberjack Vampire and Albino Patrick Bateman. He missed Tiffany’s wedding. Most of all he missed his wife, Ivanka.

He was watching a rerun of “Fox & Friends.” “And friends!” Trump thought, as he always did, and smiled. He leaned closer to the TV so that he could take a selfie with the faces onscreen, but stopped himself when he heard one of the hosts say something upsetting. He began to type.

“Just found out Obama hypnotized frogs to cast votes illegally!! Very bad move. Without frogs, I would have won popular vote easily!” he tweeted. The next morning, Kellyanne Conway awoke in her isolation chamber, and called all the morning shows, as she always did, disguising her voice. “O.K., yes, President Trump did say that Obama is hypnotizing frogs, but I think the real issue here, O.K., is why no one is talking about whether Hillary Clinton colluded with the frogs, and which frogs, and, frankly, how many frogs.”

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The White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer, the American Chemical Ali

At the same time, Sean Spicer appeared on television, chewing gum furiously and saying, “At least Hitler didn’t have the audacity to eat flies with his tongue.”

It was evening, and Trump sat alone in the West Wing, watching Spicer on basic cable.Time was not passing. It was moving in a circle.


Finally, one Tuesday in December, all at once Trump released the whole weight of his torment. The children would remember for the rest of their lives the august solemnity with which their father, devastated by the wrath of his imagination, stated, “Someone said he found proof that my wires were tapped. He said they hid the proof in the corner of the Oval Office!”

As he hunted around, unaware that his bathrobe was on backward, he came to understand that he would never leave that office, and, hundreds of miles away, it was foreseen that Mar-a-Lago would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment that President Donald Trump realized that there were no corners in an Oval Office, and that everything he had ever tweeted was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forevermore, because racists condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

“We’re going to do so much winning,” he said at last, the bold claim of a man who never managed to win so much as his father’s love.

Fareed Zakaria -GPS

April 24, 2017

Fareed Zakaria –GPS

Trump’s bluster and bravado on North Korea will only make the U.S. look weak.

Every American administration takes a while to settle into a basic approach to the world. President Trump’s team has had a rockier start than most, with many important positions in every key agency still unfilled. More worrying, the administration’s basic foreign policy is coming into view, and it is not a reassuring sight — bellicose rhetoric, hollow threats, contradictory voices and little coordination with allies. The approach is being tested on the most difficult foreign policy problem of all: North Korea.

There is a pattern to Trump’s approach so far. It begins with bravado, the repeated use of rhetoric that is not backed up by much. The president constantly insists that if China doesn’t help deal with North Korea, the United States will. Really? How? A military strike is close to impossible. South Korea would vehemently oppose any such move, as it would face the brunt of North Korea’s retaliation; Seoul is only about 35 miles from the border. Japan would also oppose a strike, and, of course, any military action would enrage China. Plus, a bombing campaign would be ineffective because North Korea’s nuclear sites are scattered, buried deep and, in some cases, underwater.

Trump has not been alone in his bravado. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the United States’ historical policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea had ended, and that the United States has a new policy. The danger of this kind of rhetoric is that it is becoming readily apparent that Washington does not in fact have a new policy. And if it does, Washington’s key allies, especially the South Koreans, are terrified by it. With the administration’s bluster, its mistake with the USS Carl Vinson and Trump’s repetition of Beijing’s line that Korea was once a part of China, South Korea has become deeply uneasy.

Tough talk is supplemented by aggressive military reflexes. Whether that means using bigger bombs in the Middle East or sending ships — eventually — into East Asian waters, these tactics can be useful if there is a strategy behind them. So far, however, they look more like tactics in search of a strategy, the flexing of military might in the hope that this will impress the adversary. But all the shock and awe in Iraq did not help when there was a faulty plan to secure the peace. More bombs in Syria will not answer the question of how to defeat the Islamic State without abetting President Bashar al-Assad. Threatening North Korea without the ability to carry out that threat only makes Washington look weak.

The United States has had roughly the same strategy toward North Korea for decades. It is a policy of sanctions, threats, intimidation, pressure and isolation. And it has not worked. Even the brief effort at cooperation during the Clinton years was halfhearted, with Washington failing to fulfill some of its promises to North Korea. In any event, the rapprochement was quickly reversed by the George W. Bush administration. The results have been clear. North Korea has continued to build its nuclear program and engage in provocative tests. As isolation and sanctions have increased in recent years, Pyongyang has only become more confrontational.

In a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, John Delury wonders whether it is time to try another approach. “If the United States really hopes to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula, it should stop looking for ways to stifle North Korea’s economy and undermine Kim Jong Un’s regime and start finding ways to make Pyongyang feel more secure. This might sound counterintuitive, given North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and human rights record. But consider this: North Korea will start focusing on its prosperity instead of its self-preservation only once it no longer has to worry about its own destruction. And North Korea will consider surrendering its nuclear deterrent only once it feels secure and prosperous and is economically integrated into Northeast Asia.”

We tend to view North Korea as an utterly weird country run by a loony dictator with bad hair. And there’s evidence to support this characterization. But it is also a regime that wants to survive. I recall many similar arguments made about Iran before the nuclear deal, that it was a fanatical country run by mad mullahs. We were told they could never be negotiated with, would never accept a deal, would never disconnect their centrifuges and would violate any agreement within weeks. So far, all these predictions have proved wrong. It might be worth trying a new policy with North Korea. It might not work. But the old one certainly hasn’t.

Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”

April 17, 2017

Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”

by Joseph S. Nye

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I frequently travel overseas, and invariably my foreign friends ask, with varying degrees of bewilderment: What in the world is going on in your country? Here is what I say.

First, do not misinterpret the 2016 election. Contrary to some commentary, the American political system has not been swept away by a wave of populism. True, we have a long history of rebelling against elites. Donald Trump tapped into a tradition associated with leaders like Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan in the nineteenth century and Huey Long and George Wallace in the twentieth century.

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The Enigma that is Donald J. Trump–Keeping the World Guessing–Unpredictability

And yet Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million. He won the election by appealing to populist resentment in three Rust Belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – that had previously voted Democratic. If a hundred thousand votes had been cast differently in those states, Trump would have lost the Electoral College and the Presidency.

That said, Trump’s victory points to a real problem of growing social and regional inequality in the United States. J.D. Vance’s recent best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy compellingly describes the vast difference between California and Appalachia.

Research by the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton shows that the demographic trends among lower-income whites without a college degree are worse than those for African-Americans, who historically anchored the lower extremes of inequality. In 1999, mortality rates among whites with no college were around 30% lower than those of African-Americans; by 2015, they were 30% higher.

Moreover, manufacturing employment, once a prime source of high-paying jobs for working-class whites, has fallen sharply over the last generation, to just 12% of the workforce. These previously Democratic voters were attracted by Trump’s promises to shake things up and bring back manufacturing jobs. Ironically, Trump’s efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation would make their lives worse.

The second thing I tell my foreign friends is not to underestimate Trump’s communications skills. Many are offended by his tweet storms and outrageous disregard for facts. But Trump is a veteran of reality television, where he learned that the key to success is to monopolize viewers’ attention, and that the way to do that is with extreme statements, not careful regard for the truth.

Twitter helps him to set the agenda and distract his critics. What offends commentators in the media and academia does not bother his supporters. But as he turns from his permanent self-centered campaigning to trying to govern, Twitter becomes a two-edged sword that deters needed allies.

Third, I tell my friends not to expect normal behavior. Normally, a president who loses the popular vote moves to the political center to attract additional support. This is what George W. Bush did successfully in 2001. Trump, by contrasts, proclaims that he won the popular vote and, acting as though he really did, appeals to his base voters.

While Trump has made solid centrist appointments to the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, his picks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services are from the extremes of the Republican Party. His White House staff is divided between pragmatists and ideologues, and he caters to both.

Fourth, no one should underestimate US institutions. Sometimes my friends talk as though the sky is falling and ask if Trump is as dangerous a narcissist as Mussolini. I tell them not to panic. The US, for all its problems, is not Italy in 1922. Our national political elites are often polarized; but so were America’s founders.

In designing the US Constitution, the founders’ goal was not to ensure harmonious government, but to constrain political power with a system of checks and balances that made it difficult to exercise. The joke goes that the founders created a political system that made it impossible for King George to rule over us – or for anyone to ever do so. Inefficiency was placed in the service of liberty.

It is still early in the Trump Presidency, and we cannot be sure what might happen after, say, a major terrorist attack. So far, however, the courts, the Congress, and the states have checked and balanced the administration, as Madison intended. And the permanent civil servants in the executive departments add ballast.

Finally, my friends ask what all of this means for American foreign policy and the liberal international order led by the US since 1945. Frankly, I don’t know, but I worry less about the rise of China than the rise of Trump.

While American leaders, including Obama, have complained about free riders, the US has long taken the lead in providing key global public goods: security, a stable international reserve currency, relatively open markets, and stewardship of the Earth’s commons. Despite the US-led international order’s problems, the world has prospered and poverty has been reduced under it. But one cannot be sure it will continue. The US will need to cooperate with China, Europe, Japan, and others to manage transnational problems.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was the first major party candidate in 70 years to call the American alliance system into question. Since taking office in January, statements by Trump and his appointees suggest that it is likely to persist. American hard and soft power, after all, stems largely from the fact that the US has 60 allies (while China has only a few).

But the stability of the multilateral institutions that help manage the world economy and global commons is more uncertain. Trump’s Budget Director speaks of a hard-power budget, with funds cut from the State Department and the United Nations system. Other officials advocate replacing multilateral trade deals with “fair and balanced” bilateral arrangements. And Trump is repudiating Obama’s efforts to address climate change. I tell my friends I wish I could reassure them on these issues. But I cannot.


Book Review: The Dictator’s Dilemma

April 10, 2017

Book Review: The Dictator’s Dilemma

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The Chinese Communist Party’s Strategy for Survival. By Bruce J. Dickson. Oxford University Press, hardback, 352pp

BOOK REVIEWby John Berthelsen @www.asiasentinel,com

In 1993, there were about 8,700 “mass group incidents” in China over a wide variety of grievances ranging from corruption to forced evictions to human rights abuses to ethnic protests to environmental disaster to unpaid wages as well as nationalist protests against foreign countries engineered by the government. In 2015, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, that number had grown to somewhere over 200,000, although nobody knows for sure, a source of deep discomfort to the government.

So why hasn’t China collapsed? Since the crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989, the government has been characterized as riddled with corruption and run by officials who have spirited as much as US$1 trillion to U$3 trillion out of the country in illegal capital flight over the past decade – including relatives of at least five current or former Politburo members who have incorporated Caribbean companies. Nearly 22,000 offshore clients were found in 2014 to have addresses on the mainland or Hong Kong.

But the country hasn’t collapsed and won’t according to an intriguing new book, “The Dictator’s Dilemma,” published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, by Bruce J. Dickson, Chairman of the Political Science Department and Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University.

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Dickson designed and implemented two nationwide public opinion surveys in urban China, one in 2010 and the other in 2014.  As he points out, they were done two years before and two years after the change in leadership that brought Xi Jinping to power and they serve as what he calls “before and after” snapshots of the way the public views the leadership’s performance.

The public, he writes, is fully aware of the repressive, corrupt and dysfunctional aspects of the regime, at the same time tying themselves nonetheless to the administration. They take to Weibo and other social media in the millions to complain about daily frustrations with the government.  As the statistics show from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the public is also willing to take to the streets by the thousands to protest.

But the Communist Party, Dickson writes, is able to play a cumbersome game that seeks to balance its priorities – witness Xi’s reform campaign, which so far has put as many as 100,000 officials in the dock on corruption charges, including more than 120 high-ranking officials and five national leaders – although as Financial Times correspondent Jamal Anderlini pointed out in January, bribery still ranks as a standard method of doing business in China and if anything the price has begun to rise again, Xi or no Xi.

Xi’s parallel campaign has put lawyers, social workers, labor activists and environmentalists in jail as well, in what Anderlini points out is a reversion to authoritarianism and a reversal of decades of slow progress towards liberalization.

Nonetheless, the regime, Dickson says, “consults with a wide range of specialists, stakeholders and the general public in a selective but yet extensive manner,” tolerating and even encouraging a growing civil society even as it restricts interests that seek to liberalize.

As a result, while China’s population may prefer change and opening up, they prefer change within the existing system.  Even while it is restrictive, it is regarded as increasingly democratic by the majority of its people even though it isn’t accountable to an electorate.  Confucianism plays a major role in “revolutionary” society, just as it has for hundreds of generations.

The party, he writes, generates popular support by creating a sense of patriotic pride for the country’s growing economic and other accomplishments.  Even within the system, change is palpable. That is clear to anyone who has been to China over the past several decades. Go to Beijing or Shanghai and you will see cities that are as modern as any in the world, transport systems that are stunning.

The classic dilemma for countries like China is whether rising educational standards, growing incomes, a wealth of material goods that the Communist Party uses to build public support eventually will generate a desire for multiparty democracy.

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Unfortunately the answer appears to be no, and it appears to be no in other countries as well. Singapore is now the richest society in Asia, for instances, and few more authoritarian places exist anywhere. Nonetheless, the 2015 election gave the ruling People’s Action Party 83 of the possible 89 seats. Despite its outward trappings of Westminster parliamentarianism. Singapore is hardly any more democratic than China is.

Dickson has written a rather disheartening book, but one that looks at all the drawbacks to the system and ultimately concludes that the Communist Party isn’t going any place soon, and it isn’t just because of the relentless risen gross domestic product that has resulted in moving the biggest number by far of people out of poverty in history.  Despite the harsh methods that keep the party in power, it has managed to sustain a nationalist narrative that China, even in the era of Xi and the harsh governing methods he uses to keep his people in power, is the country of the future without pluralist democracy.

“The challenges to forecasting China’s future are the countervailing trends of development and decay, adaptability and atrophy, reform and regression,” Dickson concludes. “As observers, we need to be able to keep more than one idea in our heads at the same time, especially when those ideas are contradictory rather than complementary.”

The annual National People’s Conference (2017)concluded a 12-day session mainly to pat itself on the back, whatever shortcomings there are in the country and there are plenty. Its economy may be starting to flag, total debt is 17 percent of gross national product, it faces insurrection in Xinjiang and plenty of people have been jail for reasons that wouldn’t be countenanced in more liberal countries.

But in a series of lightning votes, 98 percent of the delegates rubber-stamped Premier Li Keqiang’s annual state of the nation report. A vast majority of the country’s 1.35 billion people would probably agree. Dickson, in this thoughtful book, seems to have caught the zeitgeist about right. It is a book that belongs on any China scholar’s shelf.

Brainwashed: Where the “Manchurian Candidate” came from

April 3, 2017


Where the “Manchurian Candidate” came from.