Fareed Zakaria on Mike Pompeo

March 19, 2018

On Mike Pompeo–The New Man in The State Department has to handle Iran and North Korea

By Dr.Fareed Zakaria
Mike Pompeo has a crisis to handle — even before the North Korea summit

Image result for Mike PompeoFareed Zakaria: Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”


If confirmed as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo will arrive at a State Department that has been battered by proposed budget cuts, hollowed out by resignations and vacancies, and neutered by President Trump’s impulsive and personal decision-making style. But Pompeo’s most immediate challenge will not be rebuilding the department and restoring morale; it will be dealing with an acute foreign policy crisis that is largely of the President’s own making — the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Pompeo will have to tackle a genuine foreign policy challenge soon. Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. This could be a promising development, defusing the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across Asia. Yet before Trump even sits down with Kim at the negotiating table to discuss a nuclear deal, the administration will have to decide how to handle the preexisting deal with Tehran.

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Trump has already announced that the United States will no longer abide by the Iran nuclear pact unless European leaders agree to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” (And from the outset, he has been cheered in his hard-line posturing by Pompeo.) European nations seem unwilling to endorse more than cosmetic changes, and Iran has flatly refused to renegotiate. That means by May 12 the United States is set to pull out of the agreement, which could lead Iran to do the same and restart its nuclear program. This would happen at the very same time as the summit with North Korea — when the United States will surely be trying to convince North Korea of the benefits of signing a similar agreement.

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To understand the virtues of the Iran deal, recall that a quarter-century ago, the United States was negotiating a nuclear accord with Pyongyang. At that point, North Korea had a nuclear program but no nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration was trying to get the regime to freeze its program, agree to some rollbacks and allow intrusive inspections. But the accord that was ultimately reached was far more limited than hoped for. The inspections process was weak, and the North Koreans cheated.

The Iranians in 2015 also did not have nuclear weapons (and insisted they had no intention of ever making them). Still, the nuclear deal required them to scale back significant aspects of their program, dismantling 13,000 centrifuges, giving up 98 percent of their enriched uranium and effectively shutting down their plutonium reactor at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and inspectors in Iran at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle — from mines to labs to enrichment facilities. The IAEA attests that Tehran has abided by its end of the deal. Even Pompeo himself has conceded as much.

The Iran accord is not perfect, but it has stabilized a dangerous and spiraling situation in the Middle East. Were the deal to unravel, an already simmering region would get much hotter. (The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, recently affirmed that his kingdom would go nuclear if Iran did.) And, again, this would all be happening just as the Trump administration would be trying to convince the North Koreans to agree to limits, freezes, rollbacks and inspections of its own nuclear program. Why would Kim sign a deal while he watches the United States renege on the last one it signed?

The tragedy here is that this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. There was already enough instability in the world that the administration did not need to create more. Pompeo should recognize that his job as secretary of state will be to solve problems, not produce them, and he should preserve the Iran accord and spend his time on North Korea. But that would still leave a considerable challenge regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. There, too, the administration’s position — and his — has been maximalist, vowing to accept nothing less than the total denuclearization of North Korea. But that’s a negotiating position that can and should be adjusted over time, depending on North Korean behavior.

Pompeo should take a page from his boss’s book. Trump has reversed course on issue after issue, often with little explanation. He declared that NATO was obsolete only to say later that it was not. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and then decided against it. He insisted that talking to North Korea would be a waste of time and then eagerly announced that he would. And who knows, maybe Trump understands the public’s inattention and mood better than most of us. In any case, whatever Pompeo said about the Iran deal months ago is now ancient history. He should simply declare that right now, under the circumstances, the deal is worth preserving.

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There are significant costs to America’s credibility and reputation if Washington keeps reversing its positions on core foreign policy issues. Yet there are greater costs to stubbornly persisting with the wrong policy. So, Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


Trump’s Trade War in Perspective

March 13, 2018

Trump’s Trade War in Perspective

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram


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Sydney and Kuala Lumpur – US President Donald Trump’s recent announcement of steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports seems to have shocked US allies, even though these were among his 2016 election promises. The European Union (EU), Australia and Canada reacted sharply, in contrast to the more restrained response from China, the main target of earlier actions.

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During his 2015-2016 election campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed that the US is being unfairly treated. He reiterated this recently, accusing the EU of being “particularly tough on the United States”, adding “They make it almost impossible for the United States to do business with them. And yet they send their cars and everything else …”.

This trade war has been raging for some time, especially since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC). The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been quite helpless in preventing the resurgence of protectionism, or stopping developed countries from effectively sending the WTO’s Doha Development Round (DDR) into a coma.

Slowing output, trade: chicken and egg?

The WTO’s World Trade Statistical Review 2017 showed that world merchandise trade growth slowed down from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 1.3 per cent in 2016, the slowest since the GFC. World merchandise trade grew about 1.5 times faster than output after the Second World War, accelerating to more than twice in the 1990s. After the GFC, this ratio dropped to around one, and then to 0.6 in 2016, for the first time since 2001.

Explaining the trade growth slowdown by blaming prolonged slower global economic growth ignores the output-trade growth dialectic. It does not explain why trade expansion has been faster – or slower – than output growth at different times. After all, trade liberalization was associated with general economic liberalization and globalization despite slower world output growth during the 1990s.

The relationship between the output growth decline and the trade growth slowdown since the GFC raises similar doubts. Rising protectionism may explain trade growth falling below tepid output expansion. Yet, increasing protectionism is not only a response to slower growth, but may also contribute to it.

According to research by law firm Gowling WLG, the world’s top 60 economies adopted more than 7,000 protectionist trade measures between 2009 and 2016. It also found the US and EU mainly responsible for harmful trade policies! Since the GFC, the EU has adopted some 5,657 trade-restrictive measures, while the US has introduced 1,297 measures ‘harmful’ to international trade.

According to research by law firm Gowling WLG, the world’s top 60 economies adopted more than 7,000 protectionist trade measures between 2009 and 2016. It also found the US and EU mainly responsible for harmful trade policies! Since the GFC, the EU has adopted some 5,657 trade-restrictive measures, while the US has introduced 1,297 measures ‘harmful’ to international trade.

According to the WTO, G20 economies had implemented 1583 restrictive trade measures by October 2016 compared to around 300 eight years before, i.e., about 1300 more. Between mid-October 2015 and mid-May 2016, G20 economies applied 145 new trade-restrictive measures – averaging almost 21 monthly, up from 17 between mid-May and mid-October 2015. The latest WTO report observed that G20 economies have implemented less traditional and more opaque measures, making it more difficult to monitor and report.

All this despite G20 leaders repeatedly reiterating the mantra from their first Summit in Washington DC in 2008 declaring: “We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward … Further, we shall strive to reach agreement … that leads to a successful conclusion to the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda with an ambitious and balanced outcome. ….. We also agree that our countries have the largest stake in the global trading system and therefore each must make the positive contributions necessary to achieve such an outcome”. As is well-known, subsequent actions did not match these words.

An earlier WTO report with wider geographic coverage found 2,557 new trade restrictions by October 2015, up 17% from the previous year. Countries have increasingly resorted to discretionary, non-transparent, non-tariff barriers (NTBs), instead of more traditional, transparent trade barriers such as tariffs. These NTBs include subsidies, domestic content requirements, health and safety requirements, state-owned enterprises and public procurement. They involve much discretion, and greatly affect developing country exports.

Trump’s difference

So, what is so special about Trump’s announcement? With characteristic bluster, he announced transparent tariff measures – rather than non-transparent NTBs. Equally significantly, they were to be imposed on all others – US ‘friends’ and ‘foes’ alike, without discrimination. The Trump difference lies in his ‘America First’ brazenness. Belatedly realizing the likely political impact of treating all other parties equally, Trump later announced possible exemptions for ‘national security’ reasons.

Frustrated by the slow progress of protracted multilateral negotiations, many countries have turned to bilateral and plurilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), especially after the Obama administration and European Trade Commissioners put the DDR on hold. As Jagdish Bhagwati has long argued, such non-multilateral FTA ‘termites’ not only undermine multilateral solutions, but may – ironically – slow global trade growth.

The plurilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its replacement, the Comprehensive and Progressive TPP, for the 11 other TPP countries after the January 2017 US withdrawal, have mainly been about non-trade issues. These include extending intellectual property protection and non-judicial investor-state dispute settlement, besides limiting state-owned enterprises and public procurement. Such measures involve other types of protectionism sacrificing the national interest, particularly of developing countries, while benefiting influential transnational corporations.

If the developed world really wants to avoid all-out trade war, they must return to and advance multilateralism for sustainable, comprehensive solutions. Fairly concluding the Doha Round, while keeping its development promise, as pledged by G20 leaders, will be prerequisites in this endeavour.


Trapped by History

February 25, 2018

Trapped by History

by Bunn Bagara@www.thestar.com.my

WHEN BBC’s Stephen Sackur interviewed American cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker on Hardtalk three nights ago, the discussion might have appeared dry and dull.

That perception would be a mistake. The interview covered not only Pinker’s new book celebrating Enlightenment values and human progress, but also current issues around the world.

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Prof Pinker’s previous books, like his assertions on science and social advancement, have been controversial for different reasons. So is his latest book Enlightenment Now.

However, his observations on the current state of society are less disputed. The policy contradictions of the Trump administration, for example, are seen to result from the irrational basis of populism among the populace.

 Pinker also said despite the US being portrayed as a leading Western democracy – with Enlightenment ideas such as political and individual liberty, human rights, scientific reason and secularism enshrined in its Constitution – it is a “laggard” compared to countries in Europe.
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The US is “an ambivalent Enlightenment country” because it is a deeply divided nation. That is all too obvious now, with the Trump administration going one way and the Establishment including the mainstream media going another. So the world’s leading economy is also “a peculiar example of a Western democracy.”

US foreign policy reveals even more contradictions, such as toppling unfriendly dictators in some countries and propping up friendly ones in others, while claiming anti-dictatorship as justification. Or is that only rational policy making in the perceived national interest – plus rationalisation?

Much of this policy behaviour however has been consistent, being common to Democratic and Republican administrations through the years. Rationally, only so much can be blamed on “Trumpism”.

The dualism and the ambivalence have been more pronounced in some past administrations. George W. Bush gained notoriety by, among other things, declaring that other countries were either “with us or against us.”

That was never the most persuasive way to recruit allies for the US invasion of Iraq. Nor was it the most enlightened or rational.

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Trump’s Man at the United Nations–Ambassador Nikki Haley

Such irrationality returned with US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s defiance against other countries’ refusal to back the US decision to shift its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Her threatening tone confirmed the irrationality – along with the futility and unenlightened quality of the decision.

Meanwhile, US domestic politics continues to conform to Pinker’s “laggard” assessment. The country continues to devour itself as the Establishment persists in hounding the elected presidency for any and every reason, or sometimes even none at all.

Trump watchers, fans and critics alike may want to note that – regardless of their political views – a benchmark date was December 18, 2017. This was when the administration rolled out its first, much-awaited National Security Strategy, delivered by Trump himself.

The attacks on the document within the US started immediately. Some found it to be interventionist abroad and thus it was duly criticised for being untypically Trump.

Doubts were expressed about its actual realisation because of this contradiction. There were also questions about how much of Trumpism it actually contained.

Still others mourned the return of “great power military conflict” in the way it portrayed the US as being under siege by foreign rivals. Some said Trump himself had ignored its key elements, and others said the document itself should be ignored (Foreign Policy journal).

A New York Times commentary called it “a farce.” Several (Foreign Affairs journal and others) called it “delusional”. Few saw it as anything else, such as characteristically blunt, revealing, unoriginal in basic outlook – and thereby a familiar hand-me-down from past presidencies.

Much of that could have been foreseen in a careful analysis of US policy abroad in the preceding months.

In October, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that he wanted his country to join the EU while maintaining close ties with fellow-Slavic Russia. In short, he wanted Serbia to be a non-aligned country in Europe.

As a Western country, seeking to join the EU and wanting to keep close relations with Russia would each be a task in itself. Hoping to do both at the same time appears to require something extraordinary.

But perhaps these are extraordinary times – after Britain’s Brexit referendum and doubts about other EU countries remaining, Brussels should be keen for more countries to join.

At the same time, the US Establishment at least should be happy to see a Russia-proximate country in the EU, for the strategic and intelligence input that the West may gain from it. Or that was what Vucic might have thought.

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Within days, US State Department official Hoyt Brian Yee (pic above) piled pressure on Serbia, insisting that it had to choose between Russia and the West. The “with us or against us” mentality rides again.

Contrary to Vucic’s hopes, the US Establishment sees a Russia-proximate Serbia becoming an EU member as a loss and a prospective drain in strategic and intelligence terms instead.

At issue also is the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in the Serbian city of Nis. It is equipped for search and rescue operations but may also house military and intelligence-gathering equipment.

Serbia swiftly slammed Yee’s pressure. For its part the EU, being less ideological than the US Establishment, said Serbia had to normalise relations with Kosovo before being considered for EU membership.

EU members Bulgaria, Greece and Romania have pledged support for Serbia’s membership bid. But a tug-of-war between the US and Russia has already begun over Serbia.

In late October, Russia gave Serbia six MiG-29 fighter jets as part of an arms package. Still to come are 30 tanks and as many armoured vehicles.

The following month Serbia held a four-day military exercise with US forces near Belgrade. Serbia, Russia’s only friend in the former Eastern Europe, is already a member of Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme.

Russia would be horrified if Serbia ever joined Nato. In December Moscow laid plans to supply Serbia with military helicopters, missile systems and more MiG-29s.

Russia is not known to have pressured Serbia to choose one side or the other – only to give the Nis base enhanced status. Last Wednesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the Western attitude of pressuring other countries to choose sides.

The essential dualism of either-or, us-or-them has been associated with the Manichaean tendency that shapes and colours much of Western culture and political discourse. It may not come as naturally to Russia’s Eurasian outlook.

The Indian scholar Kashish Parpiani recently noted this Western characteristic in US perceptions of India and China. One is a democracy and automatically deemed worthy of Western support, while the other is communist and must therefore be regarded as a rival.

He traced this dualism to 1959 in the speech of then-Senator John F Kennedy. With the latest US National Security Strategy, it has evidently survived the years and the changes of administration.

Far from being just a philosophical oddity only of academic interest, a divisive dualism is dangerous for any country in Europe or Asia – or anywhere else. No country likes to be forced to choose sides.

Regardless of the eventual fate of the Trump-Xi relationship, the US Establishment has decided that China, like Russia, is to be designated an opponent. The National Security Strategy has set the stage for intercontinental conflict.

If Trump’s alleged isolationism is bad, such aggressive interventionism – familiar as it is – is much worse. Having both at once is another contradiction.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Read more at https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/behind-the-headlines/2018/02/25/trapped-by-history-from-the-colonial-era-to-the-cold-war-period-to-the-present-some-old-outdated-att/#6XxiP9mM2ipwdMoZ.99


Foreign Policy: Donald Trump and the Decline of US Soft Power

February 7, 2018

Donald Trump and the Decline of US Soft Power

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by Dr. Joseph S. Nye


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John F Kennedy School of Government’s Dr. Joseph S. Nye

How a government behaves at home, in international institutions, and in foreign policy can affect others by the influence of its example. In all of these areas, Trump has reversed attractive American policies.

CAMBRIDGE – The evidence is clear. Donald Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power. Only 30% of people recently polled by Gallup in 134 countries held a favorable view of the United States under Trump’s leadership, a drop of almost 20 points since Barack Obama’s presidency. The Pew Research Center found that China, with 30% approval ratings, had reached near-parity with the US. And a British index, The Soft Power 30, showed America slipping from first place in 2016 to third place last year.

Trump’s defenders reply that soft power does not matter. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, proclaimed a “hard power budget” as he slashed funds for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development by 30%. For promoters of “America First,” what the rest of the world thinks ranks second. Are they right?

Soft power rests on attraction rather than coercion or payment. It co-opts people rather than coerces them. At the personal level, wise parents know that their power will be greater and will last longer if they model sound ethical values for their children, rather than relying only on spankings, allowances, or taking away the car keys.

Similarly, political leaders have long understood the power that comes from being able to set the agenda and determine the framework of a debate. If I can get you to want to do what I want, then I do not have to force you to do what you do not want. If the US represents values that others want to follow, it can economize on sticks and carrots. Added to hard power, attraction can be a force multiplier.

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A country’s soft power comes primarily from three sources: its culture (when it is attractive to others), its political values such as democracy and human rights (when it lives up to them), and its policies (when they are seen as legitimate because they are framed with some humility and awareness of others’ interests.) How a government behaves at home (for example, protecting a free press), in international institutions (consulting others and multilateralism), and in foreign policy (promoting development and human rights) can affect others by the influence of its example. In all of these areas, Trump has reversed attractive American policies.

Fortunately, America is more than either Trump or the government. Unlike hard-power assets (such as armed forces), many soft-power resources are separate from the government and are only partly responsive to its purposes. In a liberal society, government cannot control the culture. Indeed, the absence of official cultural policies can itself be a source of attraction. Hollywood movies like “The Post,” which showcase independent women and press freedom, can attract others. So, too, can the charitable work of US foundations or the benefits of freedom of inquiry at American universities.

It is true that firms, universities, foundations, churches, and other non-governmental groups develop soft power of their own which may reinforce or be at odds with official foreign policy goals. And all of these private sources of soft power are likely to become increasingly important in the global information age. That is all the more reason for governments to make sure that their own actions and policies create and reinforce rather than undercut and squander their soft power.

Domestic or foreign policies that appear hypocritical, arrogant, indifferent to others’ views, or based on a narrow conception of national interests can undermine soft power. For example, the steep decline in the attractiveness of the US in opinion polls conducted after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 were a reaction to the Bush administration and its policies, rather than to the US generally.

The Iraq War was not the first government policy that made the US unpopular. In the 1970s, many people around the world objected to the US war in Vietnam, and America’s global standing reflected the unpopularity of that policy. When the policy changed and the memories of the war receded, the US recovered much of its lost soft power. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the US managed to recover much of its soft power in most regions of the world (though less so in the Middle East).

Skeptics might still argue that the rise and fall of American soft power does not matter much, because countries cooperate out of self-interest. But this argument misses a crucial point: cooperation is a matter of degree, and the degree is affected by attraction or repulsion. Moreover, the effects of a country’s soft power extend to non-state actors – for example, by aiding or impeding recruitment by terrorist organizations. In an information age, success depends not only on whose army wins, but also on whose story wins.

Image result for Decline of American Soft Power under Trump“One of the greatest sources of America’s soft power is the openness of its democratic processes. Even when mistaken policies reduce its attractiveness, America’s ability to criticize and correct its mistakes makes it attractive to others at a deeper level.”–Joseph S. Nye


One of the greatest sources of America’s soft power is the openness of its democratic processes. Even when mistaken policies reduce its attractiveness, America’s ability to criticize and correct its mistakes makes it attractive to others at a deeper level. When protesters overseas were marching against the Vietnam War, they often sang “We Shall Overcome,” the anthem of the US civil rights movement.

America, too, will almost certainly overcome. Given past experience, there is every to hope that the US will recover its soft power after Trump.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Is the American Century Over?

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has drawn three red lines that are bound to be crossed

February 5, 2018

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has drawn three red lines that are bound to be crossed

by Dr, Fareed Zakaria


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NEW YORK — President Trump’s State of the Union speech mostly ignored the world outside of America. He made a few tough statements on things like the Iran deal and Guantanamo and described (accurately) the evil nature of the North Korean regime, but he said very little about his foreign policy. This masks a more dangerous reality. The Trump administration has in fact, either accidentally or by design, laid out aggressive markers in three different parts of the world — three red lines — without any serious strategy as to what happens when they are crossed.

The first is with North Korea. Trump and his top officials have asserted that the era of “strategic patience” with North Korea is over. They have ruled out any prospect of accepting North Korea as a nuclear state and believe traditional deterrence will not work. The president has specifically promised that North Korea would never be able to develop a nuclear weapon that could reach the United States. Meanwhile, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says Pyongyang is “a handful of months” away from having this capability.

Image result for State Department Victor ChaDr.Victor Cha is a Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Washington DC and served as Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.
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So what happens when that red line is crossed? What would be the American response? Victor Cha, a seasoned expert who was expected to be the nominee for ambassador to South Korea, explained to the administration that there really is no limited military option, not even a small strike that would “bloody” the nose of the North Korean regime. For this frank analysis, he was promptly dropped from consideration for the ambassadorship.

Cha simply raised the fundamental problem with the Trump administration’s approach. It has outlined maximalist goals without any sense of how to achieve them. In response to North Korea’s new capabilities, would Trump really rain down “fire and fury” and “totally destroy North Korea”?

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Trump has done something similar with Iran. He has announced that he will withdraw from the nuclear deal if Congress and the European allies don’t fix it. The Europeans have made clear they don’t think the pact needs fixing and believe it is working well. In about three months, we will reach D-Day, when Trump has promised to unilaterally withdraw if he can’t get a tougher deal.

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Were Trump to unilaterally abrogate the accord, the Iranians have several options. They could pull out themselves and ramp up their nuclear program, which would mean the Trump administration would have to deal with another North Korea, this time in the Middle East. Or Iran could simply sideline the United States, keep adhering to the deal, and do business with the rest of the world. Most likely, Tehran would make the United States pay a price by using its considerable influence to destabilize Iraq, which is entering a tumultuous election season.

The third arena where the White House has talked and acted tough without any follow-on strategy is Pakistan. The administration has publicly branded that country a terrorist haven and suspended military aid on those grounds. This is an entirely understandable impulse, because the Pakistani military has in fact been supporting terrorists and militants who operate in Afghanistan, even against American troops, and then withdraw to their sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan. As then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen noted in 2011, one of these terrorist groups “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.”

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Demonstrators shout slogans in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan Dec. 12, 2017.

But being right is not the same thing as being smart. Most experts predicted that Pakistan would respond to the American action in two ways: First, by pursuing closer relations with China, which can easily replace the aid. Second, the Pakistani military would ratchet up the violence in Afghanistan, demonstrating that it has the capacity to destabilize the pro-American government in Kabul, throw the country into chaos and tie down the U.S. forces that are now in their 17th year of war. And that’s what has happened. China immediately voiced support for Pakistan after the American announcement. And in the last two weeks, Afghanistan has suffered a spate of horrific terror attacks.

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Thomas Schelling, the Nobel-prize winning scholar of strategy, once remarked that two things are very expensive in international affairs: threats when they fail, and promises when they succeed. So, he implied, be very careful about making either one. President Trump seemed to understand this when his predecessor made a threat toward Syria in 2013, and Trump tweeted, “Red line statement was a disaster for President Obama.” Well, he’s just drawn three red lines of his own, and each of them is likely to be crossed.

Fareed Zakaria is a columnist for The Washington Post and host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy

December 22, 2017

Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy

by Dennis Ignatius


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COMMENT | The United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned recently, in what can only be described as the height of arrogance, that the US “will be taking names” during an upcoming vote in the UN General Assembly on the status of Jerusalem. In a letter to dozens of member states, including our own I suppose, she put them on notice that “the President and the US take this vote personally.”

She also warned that she had been instructed to send the names of all countries that vote against the US directly to President Trump, presumably for further action.

In other words, there will be consequences –  retaliation or punishment – if countries do not support the US on this issue.

Trump himself has complained that other countries “take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars [from us], and then they vote against us.” Clearly, Trump intends to link foreign assistance with how countries vote on issues important to the US.

The US aid budget currently amounts to more than US$48 billion annually – US$31 billion in economic assistance and US$17 billion in military assistance. US aid, however, is mostly tied to US agricultural products and US military equipment and training. The five largest recipients of US aid are Israel (US$3.1 billion), Egypt (US$1.5 billion), Afghanistan (US$1.1 billion), Jordan (US$1 billion) and Pakistan (US$933 million). Malaysia receives about US$10 million annually, mostly in military assistance.

The US warning comes after a vote earlier this week on a resolution in the UN Security Council which overwhelmingly condemned Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Fourteen out of the 15 members of the Council voted for the resolution. Although the US vetoed the resolution, the message from the international community was clear enough.

Stung by the vote in the council, Ambassador Haley is now trying to forestall a similar rebuke in the UN General Assembly where the Permanent Five do not enjoy veto powers. The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim states to discuss the US decision on Jerusalem.

If precedent is anything to go by, the US will very likely suffer a crushing defeat on this issue when the Assembly votes.

Self-appointed class monitor

Whichever way you look at it, Ambassador Haley’s letter is nothing less than big-power bullying. After insisting in the UN Security Council that the US will not be bullied into deciding where to locate its embassy in Israel, she is now proceeding to bully the rest of the world into acquiescing in the US decision.

While big powers often indulge in high-powered lobbying to gain support on critical issues, they rarely resort to such threatening and demeaning language, behaving like some self-appointed class monitor taking names of unruly students to report to the headmaster for punishment.

Even in far more critical situations before – on the eve of the first Iraq War, for example – when the US was desperately trying to obtain international consensus, the US never resorted to threats. I recall a meeting in early 1990 between our then Foreign Minister Abu Hassan Omar and US Secretary of State James Baker in Los Angeles, when the US laid out its case for the invasion of Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait.

Malaysia was on the Security Council that year and Baker appealed for our support. There was never any hint of threats or retaliation, just a sincere plea for support, as it should be between friendly nations. Malaysia eventually voted in favour of the US-led intervention.

Trump and his team now appear to be bringing the proverbial big stick to the table of international diplomacy, hoping to bully and cajole their way in international affairs. If Trump thinks this is the way to enhance US power and prestige, he is going to be disappointed. Threats might work in limited circumstances but it is no substitute for diplomacy and consensus building.

As the continuing standoff with North Korea aptly demonstrates, the US needs international support and consensus to help resolve important security issues.

Besides, as the world returns once again to a more multipolar global architecture, thanks to the rise of China, bullying might just prove to be counterproductive.

As for Jerusalem, whether the US likes it or not, its status is going to have to be decided at some future time as part of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Moving the US embassy might make for popular politics at home but that does not make it the right thing to do for other nations.

I hope the General Assembly will send a resounding message to President Trump that the world will not be bullied this way, and that Malaysia’s name will be on that list that Ambassador Haley sends to the White House. I, for one, will consider it a badge of honour.