The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world


November 3, 2017

The cancer of Islamist extremism spreads around the world

by Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cancer-of-islamist-extremism-spreads-around-the-world/2017/11/02/30162342-c005-11

Singapore

This week’s tragic terrorist attack in New York was the kind of isolated incident by one troubled man that should not lead to generalizations. In the 16 years since 9/11, the city has proved astonishingly safe from jihadist groups and individuals. And yet, speaking about it to officials in this major global hub 10,000 miles away, the conclusions they reach are worrying. “The New York attack might be a way to remind us all that while ISIS is being defeated militarily, the ideological threat from radical Islam is spreading,” says Singaporean Home Minister K. Shanmugam. “The trend line is moving in the wrong direction.”

The military battle against Islamist extremist groups in places such as Syria and Afghanistan is a tough struggle, but it has always been one that favored the United States and its allies. After all, the combined military forces of some of the world’s most powerful governments are up against a tiny band of guerrillas. On the other hand, the ideological challenge from the Islamic State has proved far more intractable. The terrorist group and ones like it have been able to spread their ideas, recruit disaffected young men and women, and infiltrate countries across the globe. Western countries remain susceptible to the occasional lone wolf, but the new breeding grounds of radicalism are once-moderate Muslim societies in Central, South and Southeast Asia.

Image result for People rally on behalf of Jakarta's former governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

Governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama after the sentencing in his blasphemy trial in Jakarta on May 9, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Consider Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, long seen as a moderate bulwark. This year, the governor of Jakarta, the country’s capital and largest city, lost his bid for reelection after he was painted by Muslim hard-liners as unfit for office because he is Christian. Worse, he was then jailed after being convicted on a dubious and unfair blasphemy charge. Amid a rising tide of Islamist politics, Indonesia’s “moderate” president and its mainstream “moderate” Islamic organizations have failed to stand up for the country’s traditions of tolerance and multiculturalism.

Or look at Bangladesh, another country with a staunchly secular past, where nearly 150 million Muslims live. Founded as a breakaway from Pakistan on explicitly nonreligious grounds, Bangladesh’s culture and politics have become increasingly extreme over the past decade. Atheists, secularists and intellectuals have been targeted and even killed, blasphemy laws have been enforced, and a spate of terrorist attacks have left hundreds dead.

Why is this happening? There are many explanations. Poverty, economic hardship and change produce anxieties. “People are disgusted by the corruption and incompetence of politicians. They are easily seduced by the idea that Islam is the answer, even though they don’t know what that means,” a Singaporean politician explained to me. And then, the local leaders make alliances with the clerics and give platforms to the extremists, all in search of easy votes. That political pandering has helped nurture a cancer of Islamist extremism.

In Southeast Asia, almost all observers whom I have spoken with believe that there is another crucial cause — exported money and ideology from the Middle East, chiefly Saudi Arabia. A Singaporean official told me, “Travel around Asia and you will see so many new mosques and madrassas built in the last 30 years that have had funding from the Gulf. They are modern, clean, air-conditioned, well-equipped — and Wahhabi [Saudi Arabia’s puritanical version of Islam].” Recently, it was reported that Saudi Arabia plans to contribute almost $1 billion to build 560 mosques in Bangladesh. The Saudi government has denied this, but sources in Bangladesh tell me there’s some truth to the report.

Image result for Moderate Muslims in SingaporeHE Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s Eighth President, is a Muslim Malay.

 

How to turn this trend around? Singapore’s Shanmugam says that the city-state’s population (15 percent of which is Muslim) has stayed relatively moderate because state and society work very hard at integration. “We have zero tolerance for any kind of militancy, but we also try to make sure Muslims don’t feel marginalized,” he explained. Singapore routinely gets high marks in global rankings for its transparency, low levels of corruption and the rule of law. Its economy provides opportunities for most.

Asia continues to rise, but so does Islamist radicalism there. This trend can be reversed only by better governance and better politics — by leaders who are less corrupt, more competent and, crucially, more willing to stand up to the clerics and extremists. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince spoke last week of turning his kingdom to “moderate Islam.” Many have mocked this as a public-relations strategy, pointing to the continued dominance of the kingdom’s ultra-orthodox religious establishment. A better approach would be to encourage the crown prince, hold him to his words and urge him to follow up with concrete actions. This is the prize. Were Saudi Arabia to begin religious reform at home, it would be a far larger victory against radical Islam than all the advances on the battlefield so far.

 

America’ s Victim-In-Chief Donald J. Trump


November 2, 2017

America’ s Victim-In-Chief Donald J. Trump

by Conor Friedersdorf

https://www.theatlantic.com

 

 

“No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.” ~ Donald J. Trump

 

Image result for America' s Victim-In-Chief Donald J. Trump

Imagine growing up heir to a fortune in New York City, attending an Ivy League university, marrying a series of models, getting paid millions of dollars to host a reality-TV show, getting elected president … and then constantly casting yourself as a victim.

That apparent compulsion is defining Donald Trump’s presidency.

Scarcely a week goes by without Trump whining that he has been mistreated by the media, a political rival, a TV personality, or a legislator. He is John McEnroe; the presidency is his U.S. Open. We are the crowd, transfixed in spite of ourselves by unnerving tantrums, which betray the fact that he is too volatile and too weak to master himself.

His victim mentality is deepening along with Robert Mueller’s probe.

Image result for The Mueller ProbeThe Notorious Trump Trio

 

Last year, Trump chose to hire Paul Manafort, an obviously unethical abettor of foreign interests with connections to the Kremlin, to lead his presidential campaign. Later he chose to fire FBI Director James Comey, then to tell Russian dignitaries that doing so eased pressure on an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The whole episode was an almost farcical own-goal.

Yet this week, as the FBI was preparing to hand down a criminal indictment of his former campaign manager, Trump was tweeting that he is being subjected to a “witch hunt,” as if he bears no responsibility for staffing his campaign with multiple people who reached out to Russian contacts, then brazenly lied about those interactions.

Even his own son bears some responsibility for the suspicion of collusion. Still, his apologists validate his victim mentality.

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D’ Trump Rush Trash

Take Rush Limbaugh’s most recent effort to bolster the Trump-as-victim narrative, offered Monday as Manafort was indicted:

They had learned, the Democrats in the media had learned that standard dirty tricks did not work on Trump, such as the Access Hollywood video.

The things that have always worked from the media and the Democrat Party playbook to take out Republican candidates or Republican elected officials had not worked on Trump. They fired every weapon they had. They’d used as much ammo as they could muster to get rid of Trump in the traditional Democrat, drive-by-media, dirty-tricks technique. But none of it stuck. None of it worked.They could not dent Trump’s bond with his voters. And there were enough of them, of course, to elect him president.

So they decided that they had to go outside the appearance of politics-as-usual. And what better way than to purchase and construct and write an intelligence document that was sourced by people in the Russian government and MI6.

What’s most striking about that passage isn’t the attempt to discredit the dossier produced by Christopher Steele. It’s the characterization of the Access Hollywood tape as a “standard dirty trick” of media Democrats—as if anyone other than Trump himself is to blame for donning a lapel mic, getting on an NBC bus with Billy Bush, and telling him, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Image result for A typical rush limbaugh follower

If you’re a Rush Limbaugh listener, you know that the talk-radio host would’ve immediately aired and then exalted in audio of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama making those same statements, and that you’d regard his doing so as obviously fair game. Whether one thinks those comments suggest the many women accusing Trump of sexual improprieties are telling the truth (Trump predictably maintains that all 16 of them are victimizing him with lies), or that the comments are hyperbolic “locker-room talk,” the claim that it’s a “dirty trick” to play a recording of Trump talking is nonsense.

Meanwhile, another Trump apologist managed to cast Don Jr. as the victim even as he lied about a meeting that he held with a Russian promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Image result for Donald Trump Jr.

The Next Governor of New York–Donald J. Trump Jr. (?)

Do these people ever hold their allies responsible for anything?And at its most extreme, the impulse among Trumpists to portray themselves as victims inspired the deplorable act of creating a protest sign that said “Rape Melania” to create the false impression that opponents of the president were saying that.

All of this is doing damage to the country.

Hate hoaxes are always wrong. America looks weak when its president and his apologists are constantly portraying themselves as victims. Children are ill-served by their example. And the military is mistreated when the president keeps passing the buck to generals when Americans are killed abroad. For all of those reasons and more, Trump’s supporters should stop tolerating this ongoing victim mentality:

Trump voters were promised a winner who would “drain the swamp” and make America great again. What they’ve gotten instead is a serial failure who never confronts or addresses his own failings, and will therefore never remedy or overcome those failings.

“Take your life in your own hands, and what happens?” Erica Jong wrote. “A terrible thing: no one to blame.” So expect more “blame, finger-pointing, and pity parties fueled by pessimism, fear, and anger.” And wonder not that just 33 percent of Americans tell Gallup they approve of Trump’s erratic, victimhood presidency. His disordered behavior will keep on harming the country for the duration of his tenure.

Populism and Trump’s Foreign Policy


October 23, 2017

Populism and  Trump’s Foreign Policy

by Frank Lavin*

https://www.georgetownjournalofinternationalaffairs.org/online-edition/2017/10/20/things-fall-apart-populism-and-foreign-policy

Image result for Donald Trump--Populist Foreign Policy

Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy is defined by his missteps and flamboyance.

Donald Trump confounds political observers. For many, he is defined by his missteps and flamboyance. His foreign policy statements contain sufficient imprecision—if not outright contradictions—to allow observers to conclude a lack of care in dealing with the issues. Is China’s presence in the South China Sea acceptable or not? Is NATO useful or not? Should the United States use force in Syria for humanitarian or geo-political goals? This ambiguity gives rise to further questions regarding his foreign policy architecture: what are the guiding principles?

Trump does indeed have guiding principles, but they are process principles and not the substantive principles that we are used to seeing in a president. What shapes his foreign policy is that which shaped his singular triumph in public life: his campaign. Indeed, Trump abjured several of the policies that have guided Republican campaigns of the modern era: entitlement reform, trade agreements, and international leadership. A long-time supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, President Trump’s political success was drawn not from conservatism nor an intellectual architecture—though he has some conservative impulses—but from political populism. His worldview in many ways is an extension of that belief.

What is Populism?

This populism has four characteristics. First, it is grievance-based. It focuses on problems rather than solutions. This has the extraordinary advantage of giving the message potency because negative statements can motivate more effectively than positive ones, but it makes it difficult to form a governing coalition, since constituencies that have a problem with a particular policy might have even greater differences among its alternatives. Indeed, as a candidate, Trump avoided articulating a positive vision regarding even central pillars of his campaign such as health care. Notably, Trump’s main foreign policy pronouncements in the campaign were grievance-based: terrorism, trade and immigration. Equally noteworthy, they were all essentially domestic issues with a foreign genesis. The traditional foreign policy questions were largely absent from his discussions: What is America’s role in the world? What is the value of an alliance? To what extent should we promote democracy and human rights, or should the U.S. focus on national interest calculations?

Second, the populist must establish emotional connectivity with the audience. Trump tends to evaluate people largely based on how they connect with him. The rally format suits him well; he loves the audience and the audience loves him. There are no questions and answers, nor any discussion, nor does there have to be new information, but there is plenty of emotional connectivity. Importantly, this emotional connectivity has little to do with economic class, a point that can befuddle Trump’s domestic political opponents, who underestimate his working-class appeal on the basis that he personally has little in common with them or that his policies supposedly would not help them. To a populist, the first point is broadly irrelevant and the second point is highly debatable. Might many a construction worker welcome a construction boom, and many a restaurant worker welcome an expansion of the business, if it meant job security and a larger paycheck, even if it would create disproportionate returns to the construction company and restaurant owner? For many working men and women, a growth in inequality is not inherently troubling. Thomas Piketty might be right, but it might not matter to most Americans if returns to capital outpace returns to labor. In addition, when establishment elites mock Trump, from his grammar to his boorishness, a portion of non-elites see this as condescension.

Third, populism is exculpatory: Every problem the United States faces was caused by others and the target audience is blameless. So if a company wanted to relocate some activity to Mexico, it must have been to exploit wage differences. No discussion as to whether wage increases at the U.S. facility have outpaced productivity increases. No discussion as to whether union rules impede flexibility and productivity. No discussion of the fact that Mexico might be a better production platform because it has more free trade agreements. Management is to blame, with Mexico in connivance. This is frequently expressed in themes of anti-establishment or alienation, which can have a corrosive effect when anchored in grievances.

Fourth, policy choices are cost-free and without trade-offs. Cost-benefit analysis, transition costs, the challenges in administering a government agency, underperforming programs, secondary effects and unintended consequences – these are all incidental to the victory of the policy choice itself. As such, populists might as well berate NATO leadership into burden-sharing, ignoring the downside to publicly hectoring leaders of sovereign nations. They, too, might as well call for a physical wall on the U.S. border with Mexico since it will be, by self-declaration, cost free.

To be fair, others in public life exhibit some of these elements. President Obama’s healthcare plan was historically grandiose in scope, cost and complexity, yet it was ballyhooed to save money. Similarly, Obama’s eight-year effort to reduce U.S. commitments to NATO was to have no costs in terms of force projection, alliance cohesion, or deterrence. And, Obama was the only President in the modern era to have run against trade as a candidate, an approach Trump followed.

What Went Wrong?

How could the bipartisan consensus on U.S. international leadership fade so quickly, particularly at a moment when the combination of market economics and alliances of democracies had resulted in perhaps the most prosperous and most liberal moment in human history? There are four contributors to the rise of populism: societal transformation, grievance economics, international leadership, and elite limitations.

First, societal transformation – meaning both globalization and automation— has two profound socio-political effects. It produces an extraordinary degree of prosperity; and it carries with it a distribution effect. The bell curve of income distribution does not shift as much as it elongates. Few people are worse off, but many people are not better off. There is not necessarily the creation of a large number of winners and losers, but there is certainly the perception people getting left behind. Trump understands the message: The globalization club is having a party, and you are not invited. Silicon Valley is drinking champagne and your role is to pick the grapes. These trends also feed into the narrative of alienation because it decreases people’s control over their lives even as their overall prosperity increases. Globalization and automation have created economic anxiety in electorates around the world, and not just among steelworkers and coal miners. Realtors, bank tellers, school teachers, and cab drivers are all seeing competitive pressure and the prospect of job elimination. To many Americans, comparative advantage and creative destruction create a more prosperous society, but accompanying it is job insecurity. David Ricardo and Joseph Schumpeter might be right, but so what?

Second, over several decades we have seen a shift from growth economics to grievance economics. This represents a break with the recovery policies that guided the leading economies through the 1950s and 1960s (and that economic rationalists such as Macron tilt toward today). In the current view, the primary purpose of economic policy is not to foment prosperity, but to redress grievances. Indeed, regardless of absolute improvements in well-being, reducing economic inequality is deemed to be a basis for policy. The premise of growth economics is that a system is fundamentally fair, so the main challenge is how fast we can go. The premise of grievance economics is that the system is fundamentally unfair, so going faster merely exacerbates the unfairness. This cult of inequality incentivizes interest-group politics and rent-seeking, leading to slower growth. If you focus on growth policies, you get growth. If you focus on grievance policies, you get grievances.

A third cause is the shift in the U.S. international posture. We have seen a growing fatigue in the United States over the cost of international leadership. The U.S. entered the post-Cold War era with the institutions and the cohesion of the Cold War era largely intact, even though the end of the Soviet Union removed what political scientists term a “negative integrator.” Now we are deep into the post-post-Cold War era, with faded cohesion and institutions. For the first time since Harding and Coolidge we have two presidents in a row who have no international military or policy pedigree. Beyond the direct costs of international leadership in defense budgets and personnel, Americans seem more sensitive to the indirect costs of public opinion and anti-Americanism. Relationships can be expensive. Friendships can be complicated. If there is no immediate threat, and if no one likes us anyhow, then what is the point of foreign policy?

To sum up this point, imagine international Presidential leadership as a decision between whether to be a minute early or a minute late. Do you deter or do you react? Being a minute early requires leadership, because it carries with it the possibility of error and the cost of action without a consensus. “Left of Boom,” the British call it. Being a minute late and waiting until the problem has metastasized has the considerable benefit of allowing public consensus to build, and it is the less politically expensive approach. President Obama’s instinct is that foreign policy is better managed by being a minute late, such as responding after-the-fact to the Chinese build-out in the South China Sea, not confronting Russia on its intervention in U.S. elections, and perhaps in the cases of Aleppo or ISIS, Obama was more than a minute late. President Bush’s instinct was to be a minute early, foolishly so to his critics. Presidents have spent some  75 years since Pearl Harbor trying to be a minute early, with all the costs and mistakes that entailed, yet now we have two presidents in a row who believe we are better off being a minute late.

Finally, the appeal of populism has been driven by their perception of the limitations of the U.S. leadership class: insular, rigid, and sometimes simply mediocre. Additionally, over-engineered solutions and the appearance of being self-serving, if not corrupt, help the appeal of populism. Sometimes it comes from the declining marginal effectiveness of government programs as society becomes more affluent and complicated. Indeed, the Obama administration seemed to regularly play into the hands of populists, sometimes passively so, as with the refusal to challenge even the more exotic of the sanctuary city movement. Sometimes, it was by design as with the painstaking construction not to label Islamic terrorism as such. If responsible leaders appear to be playing favorites or not accurately describing a phenomenon, they abandon the issue to their opponents — a phenomenon Trump witnessed through his hesitation in characterizing the Charlottesville protests.

If populists rely too heavily on emotional connectivity, which establishment politicians have any emotional connectivity? Does there exist an aspirant for President, other than Donald Trump, who can have a friendly discussion with a Walmart cashier? How many of the possible 2020 presidential candidates have worked in the “real” economy, working for an institution that needed to turn a profit? Sam Rayburn’s wish to Lyndon Johnson, after LBJ had related how bright was his brain trust, was that he wished one of them had run for county sheriff. Can we today wish that one of the 2020 presidential candidates will have run a diner, which would have required them to hire teenagers, train high school dropouts, deal with single parents, lay-off workers from failed projects and negotiate wages, all while paying taxes and dealing with various government agencies? Maybe this is why a restaurant worker might respect an owner, or even a New York real estate developer, but not a career politician. If the elites cannot maintain that connectivity, they give an opening to populists.

Attaining political maturity contemporaneous with the Bush 43 invasion of Iraq, Obama was wary of American over-reach and committed to a foreign policy pullback. He embedded that withdrawal in a denial of American exceptionalism, a pillar of U.S foreign policy since Pearl Harbor. If you stop believing in yourself, it is difficult to ask others to believe in you. The rejection of America’s special role in the world helped set the stage for “Make America Great Again.” Was Barack Obama the ultimate Donald Trump enabler?

There other contributing factors beyond the above four. The rise of identity politics probably played into Trump’s hands, as did the digital communications revolution. News clutter rewards pugnacity and sensationalism and allows for cocoons and even tribalism. It is also worth noting that Trump is a man of unusual presentation strengths, and he can effectively project personality. Simply put, Trump was an exemplary grievance candidate in a grievance year. Trump articulated a vision; Hillary Clinton did not. We are in a communications era. For Secretary Clinton, communications is a means to an end. For Trump it is an end. She believes in her in-box; He, in his out-box. Hillary campaigned as the functionary; Donald as the visionary.

Is internationalism doomed?

America is now in the middle of a twelve and possibly sixteen year reign of two presidents who challenge the Cold War view that America is better off with a leading international presence, with being a minute early. It is too expensive, argued President Obama, and it leads us into unwinnable conflicts, draining our reputation and our purse. It is too expensive, echoes President Trump, and foreigners abuse and cheat us. Obama argues for minimalism because the United States is a problem for the world, and Trump argues for minimalism because the world is a problem for the United States.

Even as President, Trump is easy to underestimate. Appealingly so. Many critics derive amusement, even a sense of superiority, from his foibles. His factual errors and even spelling mistakes provide an opportunity for mockery, but the lazy epiphany of error-spotting is a poor substitute for a substantive rebuttal. And a significant portion of the criticism is either ad hominem or an over-reach, either of which helps Trump. Those who are serious about policy should look at the direction in which he is taking the country, rather than fixate on these errors.

To be even-handed, if President Trump’s distinctive success in the public space was his astonishing 2016 victory, in 2008 the distinctive success of Senator Obama was his astonishing election. Obama wisely chose not to run on his government record but marshaled his formidable stage skills and personal charisma to direct criticism toward Hillary Clinton and John McCain. So if Trump’s foreign policy approach stems from his success as “Ranter-in-Chief,” does Obama’s approach stem from his success as “Charmer-in-Chief?” Radically different styles, but with policy similarities.

The deterioration in U.S. foreign policy will likely continue for the near term. On any given day, the Obama/Trump approach may make sense. We should be a minute late. It makes sense to skimp, to cut defense expenditures, to reduce international good-will and connectivity, to save money all around. Relationships can be expensive and even harmful – this is the seduction of the minimalist school. But there is a countervailing argument.

The main argument against this minimalist approach will be events themselves. The minimalist approach might work in a static environment, but that stasis in itself incentivizes a destabilizer. At some point, history presents the bill. Only then will we be reminded, perhaps cruelly, that although on any given day it might be less expensive to be a minute late, as a matter of national policy we need to be a minute early. If we are not willing to pay the price to be left of boom, then we must pay the price for the boom itself. Worse than the expense and bother of having friends would be the expense and bother of not having friends.

Frank Lavin is the Chairman of Export Now. He served in the White House, National Security Council, State Department, and Commerce Department during the Reagan, Bush (41) and Bush (43) Administrations.

Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump


October 19, 2017

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump

On Friday, Donald Trump will have been in the Oval Office for nine months. In some ways, it feels like it’s been longer. (Can you remember life before Trump tweets?) And it’s become harder to step back from the daily madness and consider what Trump’s record means for the U.S. and its future. But maintaining that perspective is necessary if we’re to keep track of what matters amid the feuds, spats, meltdowns, and turmoil that are the Trump Administration.

There are two sides to the story. If we consider Trump’s Presidency a stress test for American democracy, the system has responded pretty well, hemming him in, challenging him, and frustrating some of his more illiberal designs. But there are worrying signs, too. Every day Trump remains in office, he further polarizes the country and diminishes its international standing. And, as he contemplates the looming reality of being written off as a Presidential failure, there is no knowing where his demons will lead him.

With the notable exception of the Republican Party, most of the institutions of state and civil society have responded forcefully to Trump. The federal courts knocked down his first two anti-Muslim travel bans. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel after Trump fired James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. Intelligence officials have leaked damaging information about Trump’s associates and their dealings with Russian officials. The military command, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, successfully leaned on the President to support Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Even inside the Trump White House—which Senator Bob Corker has deemed an “adult day care center”—staffers “spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president,” as the Washington Post reported on Monday. Stories like this emerge virtually every day. The U.S. media, which Trump labelled an “enemy of the people” shortly after he took office, has never been so energized. Outside Washington, meanwhile, there is a large popular resistance movement that the President single-handedly spurred into being. In addition to riling up traditional supporters of the Democratic Party, he has drawn into activism a lot of people who previously didn’t think of themselves as very political. Even in a democracy beholden to large interest groups, determined public engagement can still have a big effect—for an example, look at the Republican Party’s failure to repeal Obamacare.

That is the plus side of the ledger. If the question, on Inauguration Day, was whether American democracy would prove to be bigger than a President Trump, the answer, so far, is largely in the affirmative. However, it is no time to relax. Unless Trump resigns or is removed from office, he will have at least thirty-nine more months in power. (And a lot longer if he gets reëlected.) The key question is how much damage he will have done by the time he is gone.

Although his legislative agenda has so far proved a bust, he’s making progress (by his lights) in other ways. Last week, the White House took several steps to sabotage the Obamacare insurance exchanges. This week, Trump’s modified and open-ended travel ban will go into effect. Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, has restored a conservative majority to the Court. And his appointees at agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board are busy—largely away from the public view—rolling back regulations that addressed climate change, market competition, the new economy, and workers’ rights. Over time, these administrative changes will have a huge impact.

On the foreign-policy front, Trump’s advisers apparently persuaded him not to scrap the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and settle, instead, for publicly disavowing it and tossing the issue to Congress. Given Trump’s prior rhetoric, that was a mildly encouraging development, but his isolationism and belligerence are alive and well. Under his leadership, the U.S. has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate-change agreement, and UNESCO. NAFTA could be next. In the place of Pax Americana, we have what Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls “The Withdrawal Doctrine.”

And the national-security establishment hasn’t yet faced the ultimate test. A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, virtually admitted that Trump was trying to persuade the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, that he is mad enough to launch a nuclear strike. In the internal logic of brinkmanship, it can perhaps make sense to sow doubt in your opponent’s head about whether you are fully rational. But what if Trump really is demented enough to order a preëmptive attack on Pyongyang? Would the three generals who serve as top Administration officials—Mattis; John Kelly, the White House chief of staff; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser—be able to stop him?

It’s also terrifying to consider what Trump might do in response to an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In such a case, the country would be forced to mourn the victims while dealing with a President who in 2015 talked about forcing Muslims to carry special identity cards, raiding mosques without search warrants, and instituting mass surveillance in Muslim communities. He has also called for a return to torturing terrorism suspects.

Even if we are lucky enough to escape a deadly war or a terrorist atrocity, the cumulative impact of having Trump in the White House for another thirty-nine months, or possibly even longer, is hard to fathom. Since the first day of his Presidential campaign, he has been busy agitating against many of the norms associated with U.S. democracy. “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write,” he told an interviewer last week. A day later, he talked about pulling emergency responders out of stricken Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants have been American citizens for a century.

To be sure, many of Trump’s utterances don’t come to much in policy terms. But that doesn’t excuse them, or mitigate the psychological onslaught he is unleashing on the American polity. The United States is a huge, heterogeneous country with deep social, racial, and economic fissures. To maintain unity, it has constructed an elaborate narrative (some of it based on myth) that everyone subscribes to the same basic values, and that everyone gets accorded equal treatment and respect.

Practically every day, Trump undermines this narrative, spewing forth a never-ending torrent of divisiveness and venom. When he isn’t targeting those he views as his political enemies—NBC News, CNN, the Times—he often lashes out at members of minority groups, such as black N.F.L. players or the mayor of San Juan. The racists and hatemongers see what he is doing, and they are encouraged. People who have witnessed other democracies fray and other divided countries come apart are looking on in dismay.

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

The Economic Case for China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative


October 14, 2017

The Economic Case for China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative

by Shang-Jin Wei*
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/china-belt-and-road-economic-case-by-shang-jin-wei-2017-10

Image result for The Economic Case for China’s Belt and Road

 

In recent years, many of the world’s most influential countries have turned inward, with politicians promising protectionism, immigration restrictions, and even border walls. But, to achieve stronger economic growth and development, the world needs initiatives focused on building bridges – initiatives like China’s Belt and Road.

NEW YORK – Since 2013, China has been pursuing its “Belt and Road” initiative, which aims to develop physical infrastructure and policy linkages connecting more than 60 countries across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Critics worry that China may be so focused on expanding its geopolitical influence, in order to compete with the likes of the United States and Japan, that it may pursue projects that make little economic sense. But, if a few conditions are met, the economic case for the initiative is strong.

As a recent Asian Development Bank report confirms, many Belt and Road countries are in urgent need of large-scale infrastructure investment – precisely the type of investment that China has pledged. Some, such as Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan, lack reliable electricity supplies, which is impeding the development of their manufacturing sectors and stifling their ability to export. Others, like Indonesia, do not have enough ports for internal economic integration or international trade.

 

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The Belt and Road initiative promises to help countries overcome these constraints, by providing external funding for ports, roads, schools, hospitals, and power plants and grids. In this sense, the initiative could function much like America’s post-1945 Marshall Plan, which is universally lauded for its contribution to the reconstruction and economic recovery of war-ravaged Europe.

Of course, external funding alone is not sufficient for success. Recipient countries must also undertake key reforms that increase policy transparency and predictability, thereby reducing investment risk. Indeed, implementation of complementary reforms will be a key determinant of the economic returns on Belt and Road investments.

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President Xi Jinping’s One Belt, One  Road Initiative  aims to knit together Asia, Europe and Africa through land and maritime corridors that collectively encompass a set of countries representing about 65 percent of the world’s population and one-third of its total economic output. China plans to spend roughly $150 billion a year to advance the initiative through infrastructure projects ranging from railways and roads, to ports and pipelines, to power plants and telecommunications networks.

For China, the Belt and Road investments are economically appealing, particularly when private Chinese firms take the lead in carrying them out. In 2013, when China first proposed the Belt and Road initiative, the country was sitting on $4 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, which were earning a very low dollar return (less than 1% a year). In terms of China’s own currency, the returns were negative, given the expected appreciation of the renminbi against the US dollar at the time.

In this sense, Belt and Road investments are not particularly costly for China, particularly when their far-reaching potential benefits are taken into account. China’s trade-to-GDP ratio exceeds 40% – substantially higher than that of the US – owing partly to underdeveloped infrastructure and inadequate economic diversification among China’s trading partners. By addressing these weaknesses, China’s Belt and Road investments can lead to a substantial increase in participant countries’ and China’s own trade volumes, benefiting firms and workers substantially.

This is not to suggest that such investments are risk-free for China. The economic returns will depend on the quality of firms’ business decisions. In particular, because efficiency is not the primary consideration, Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) might purse low-return projects. That is why China’s SOE-reform process must be watched carefully. Nonetheless, while the Belt and Road initiative is clearly driven partly by strategic objectives, a cost-benefit analysis shows that the economic case is also very strong – so strong, in fact, that one might ask why China didn’t undertake it sooner.

Even the United States and other countries may reap significant economic returns. A decade after the global financial crisis erupted, recovery remains weak and tentative in much of the world. Bold, large-scale infrastructure investments can provide much-needed short-run stimulus to global aggregate demand. The US, for one, is likely to see a surge in demand for its own exports, including cars, locomotives, planes, and high-end construction equipment, and financial, accounting, educational, and legal services.

In the longer term, the new infrastructure will ease logistical bottlenecks, reducing the costs of production inputs. The result will be higher productivity and faster global growth.

If Belt and Road projects are held to high environmental and social standards, significant progress can also be made on global challenges such as climate change and inequality. The more countries choose to participate in these projects, the better the chance of achieving these standards, and the greater the global social returns will be.

In an era when some of the world’s most influential countries are turning inward, talking about erecting trade barriers and constructing border walls, the world needs initiatives focused on building bridges and roads, both literal and figurative – initiatives like the Belt and Road strategy.

 

Why Cambodia is turning its back on the West


September 10, 2017

Why Cambodia is turning its back on the West

opinion September 10, 2017 01:00

By Shaun Turton, Mech Dara
The Phnom Penh Post
Asia News Network

With China throwing its support behind premier Hun Sen, both are protecting each other’s interests

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Their Forebears were abandoned by the United States and its allies; The United States bombed the Cambodian countryside, as Nixon and Kissinger expanded the war, and in the name of democracy and human rights brought tragedy and hardship to the Cambodian people. When it suited American interests, US administrations from Kennedy to Obama (and Trump too) have not hesitated to let history repeat itself.

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His Excellency  Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia

Cambodians under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen have learned well; they are naturally cautious and circumspect; and  they are  now seeking new friends and strategic partners who respect Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in their effort to build national resilience through sustainable development. The country has enjoyed peace, stability and strong economic growth for more than 2 decades and the way forward for the Cambodian people, in my view, is promising.

The Asian Development Bank has called Cambodia an “emerging tiger economy”.  From a Miracle by the Mekong, the Kingdom is a key member of ASEAN and a proud nation ready to take its place in the community of nations. As a witness to its progress for more than 25 years, I am very bullish.–Din Merican

By Shaun Turton, Mech Dara
The Phnom Penh Post
Asia News Network

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The Cambodian National Flag with the The Independence Monument in the Background, Phnom Penh

Its president imprisoned on a charge of treason and its existence under threat, the Cambodia National Rescue Party last week renewed its calls for the international community to step in and stop what’s widely seen as an all out assault on the Kingdom’s democracy.

But with China throwing its support behind the premier Hun Sen, the West’s statements of condemnation and concern, which have flooded in from embassies, NGOs and the United Nations in recent days, will have little impact, particularly in the absence of concrete measures, analysts said.

Building on a statement of support from China’s Foreign Ministry, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Jiarui met on Thursday with National Assembly President Heng Samrin to offer private assurances amid the mounting criticism, according to Samrin’s spokesman Sorn Sarana.

Jiarui, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international liaison department and current vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), reaffirmed Beijing’s support following the late-night arrest of CNRP President Kem Sokha, Sarana said. He said the official, whose committee is described as a non-state organ that advises on state affairs, expressed the sentiment that “an obstacle for Cambodia is also an obstacle for China”.

“China is behind Cambodia to help and support,” he said, relating the discussion. “The success of Cambodia is also the success of China.”

 A representative from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to messages to verify Sarana’s characterisation of the discussion, but for analysts, China’s backing was hardly surprising given Hun Sen’s long drift into Beijing’s orbit.

 

Backed by more than $1 billion (Bt33 billion) in foreign direct investment and $265 million in overseas development aid, according to 2016 figures, Chinese support insulates the premier from external pressure, at least to a certain extent, analysts said.

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said China had previously shown its willingness to supply military equipment and plug holes left by the withdrawal of Western aid. Cambodia, meanwhile, has repeatedly backed China’s position on the contested South China Sea.

“China will pick up the pieces if the US or other donor countries resort to sanctions or other punitive actions against Cambodia,” Thayer said, adding that nonetheless, the support was not a carte blanche endorsement of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.

“The message was subtle but clear. China will support Hun Sen under these conditions, but if Hun Sen cannot protect Chinese interests they will support a CPP leader who can.”

The premier himself has shown no signs he’s willing to cede power should his ruling Cambodian People’s Power lose next year’s election, announcing on Wednesday that he planned to rule for 10 more years.

Eleven months out from the crucial national ballot, the government has pursued what’s widely seen as a relentless crackdown against the opposition, independent media and civil society, culminating this week with the arrest of Sokha, who faces up to 30 years in prison on a “treason” charge for what officials say is a US-backed plot to topple the government.

A well-connected observer familiar with thinking inside the CPP said the government’s virulent anti-Americanism reflected a belief that the US and US-backed organisations were supporting the CNRP, as well as frustration over Washington’s reluctance to forgive war-era debt. Nevertheless, the observer, who requested anonymity because of the tense political environment, said the escalation against the US was a gamble.

He described anxiety in the CPP about the US’s recent announcement of visa restrictions for Cambodians, which came in response to Cambodia’s refusal to accept deportees as part of a controversial US programme to sends home long-term non-native residents who are convicted of a felony.

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Phnom Penh in the Land of Temples, Smiling People, and Wonder

The possibility of trade restrictions also worried many in the party, he said. The scrapping the EU’s “anything but arms” preferential trade arrangement, or the US’s zero tariffs for travel wares could have “devastating” economic consequences given European and American markets are vital to Cambodia’s almost $7 billion garment export sector. With the minimum wage rise in Cambodia making other countries in the region more appealing to manufacturers, lead ASEAN analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit Miguel Chanco said such moves would be a stronger tool than aid cuts, which have long been threatened but without much impact.

However, in light of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the Myanmar military’s crackdown against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine state – and considering the political upheaval in the US and EU – discussions of such actions were “unlikely” to feature high on the agenda, he said.

Simply put, the EU and the US have bigger domestic fish to fry. The former is dealing with the complexity of Brexit, while the latter is busy dithering on Donald Trump’s controversial domestic agenda,” Chanco said.

According to a government database, China last year provided about 30 per cent of Cambodia’s $1 billion overseas development aid budget, followed by Japan, which contributed 10 per cent, and is also second only to China for foreign direct investment.

Following Sokha’s arrest, the Japanese Embassy released a cautious statement calling on the ruling and opposition parties to “make efforts to create a suitable environment to realise a free and fair” election.

Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson urged Japan not to “soft-pedal”, and to use its central role at the UN Human Rights Council to take a strong position against threats to the legitimacy of next year’s election, noting Tokyo was a major supporter of preparations for the upcoming ballot and had led the UNTAC mission that staged Cambodia’s 1993 vote.

“I would take five statements of concern, and if I got something from Japan that was somewhat terse and tight and strong, I would match those up against the others,” Robertson said, noting Japan’s preference for closed-door diplomacy.

“Japanese critical statements are sort of like unicorns; you get a critical Japanese statement, it’s like, ‘Did I just see a magical creature?’”

A small glimpse of Japan’s behind-the-scenes courting of Cambodia emerged last month, when Hun Sen posted a video of a surprise birthday party organised in Tokyo by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, complete with a personal rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a new set of golf clubs.

Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asia expert at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said Japan’s “jousting” with rival China would likely temper the strength of any public response, and the potential of punitive action.

“If Japan were to walk away from Cambodia, Tokyo would provide a vacuum which Beijing would only be too willing to fill,” Chambers said.

Noting Toyko had “little appetite for confrontation”, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles Ear Sophal said he saw little hope for anything “dramatic and coordinated” from the international community.

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A new Chinese-built bridge, on the right, spans the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, running parallel to the bridge Japan helped construct in the 1960s.–Putting Words into Deeds is what counts.

“The last time anything serious happened in terms of aid suspension [1997], 100-200 people died,” he said, referring to the violent factional fighting in which Hun Sen ousted his royalist rivals from a coalition government.

“And, indeed,” he added, “China has already made a statement endorsing Cambodia’s actions.”