DJT’s Muddled Foreign Policy


April 23, 2017

DJT’s Muddled Foreign Policy: Holding the Free World hostage to Trump’s Oversized Ego

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

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DJT: Exploding from the starting blocks only to realise that as President he is in a long distance race to make America Great Again

PRESIDENT Donald J. Trump exploded from the blocks after his inauguration on January 20, but soon found out he was not in a sprint but in a long-distance race.

 

His rapid fire of orders to fulfill promises he made for his first 100 days were not as easy to shoot as he thought. Most notable, of course, were the executive orders on entry into the United States, immigrants and refugees. The way these orders were shot down was one of the most heartening evidences that the liberal system in America was alive and well – not just the laws, but the people willing to fight for others – and that the Trump avalanche could not crush it.

Trump has promised to come roaring back, but not yet. Meanwhile he has moved to the H-1B visa, signing just this week the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in Wisconsin (where his stunning victory was part of the Rust Belt sweep that propelled him to the White House).

This order could curb the hiring of foreign technical workers and will get government agencies to buy more domestically produced products – all part of his promise to protect American jobs and wages. So there still is this anti-foreign binge, if not quite fulfilled on the alleged security front at least on the economic front, misplaced though it may be to most rational people.

For friends and foes alike, their main concern with the Trump Presidency is his threat to attack the open global trading system, which he claims has been unfair to the United States. His performance on this within these 100 days is mixed and uncertain.

The big overhang was a possible trade war between the United States and China. Though not quite averted, it does not look as if China is going to be slapped with a tariff of 45% or declared a currency manipulator in Trump’s first 100 days, or perhaps even the next.

This was a lightning campaign promise, over which wiser counsel has prevailed. The former was hyperbole of the highest order, and the latter plainly not true. This does not mean, however, that there is no prospect of trade conflict with China or that the Trump Administration has embraced free trade. It is just that some strategy or policy is forming.

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China’s first lady Peng Liyuan with senior Trump adviser Jared Kushner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate

Trump’s summit meeting with Xi Jinping was just a first touch. There may even be trade-offs in the offing: Trump’s much vaunted “art of the deal”, normally called linkage politics.

This mixed and uncertain future is evident in a number of instances. The US Trade Representative office, in its report to Congress in March (while still without its head confirmed), left the part on China unfilled and referred the reader to a previous report under the Obama administration in 2016 which was just a factual rendition of China’s track record that year against its World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

The other parts of the March report – the first on trade policy under the Trump administration – were clear but not trenchant on “America First” and on an emphasis on bilateral rather than multilateral trade arrangements. There were ominous references, however, to the United States not being bound by WTO rulings.

At the G-20 finance ministers meeting in Hamburg, US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there should be no reference in the joint communique to “avoid all forms of protectionism”, which had been an allusion after all G-20 meetings. It would be interesting to see what line Trump would take at the G-20 summit in July, also to be held in Hamburg.

And there is now this notorious list of 16 countries – Malaysia included – with whom the United States has a chronic trade deficit problem, as if the Sword of Damocles hangs over their heads.

Yet Vice-President Mike Spence was this week in Indonesia to reassure Asia on US commitment to its friends and allies in the region. Damage to trade-dependent economies cannot be good commitment, which even a Trump administration must realise.

Just to mix it up even more, the vice-president announced that Trump would be attending the APEC and ASEAN summits in November, something countries in the region were hopeful for but absolutely not sure about.

To boot, this message was conveyed after Mike Spence visited the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, when he further stated the Trump administration would work with Asean on security and freedom of trade in the South China Sea. While there is uncertainty, there are also surprises, not always unpleasant.

The Mike Spence Asia trip was primarily intended to reassure South Korea and Japan, and to warn North Korea which was making everyone excitable with its nuclear weapon adventurism. There is, however, a correlation between economic capacity and defence capability of its allies, which the Trump Administration perhaps is beginning to realise. Enfeebling with trade sanctions is not the best way to boost their confidence or capability in defence.

The assurance, it would seem, would come from the Trump Administration’s willingness to shoot its way out of the troubles it may face, such as those threatened by North Korea.

This is quite dubious foreign policy strategy, as there are a limited number of bush fires that can be fought, especially as some can become overwhelming conflagrations.

The language Mike Spence has been using, like his boss through Twitter rather than based on any strategic doctrine, has been: “Choice today the same as ages past. Security through strength or an uncertain future of weakness and faltering… (America) will always seek peace but under president Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready.”

No doubt the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles that hit a Syrian airbase in response to the Assad regime’s callous chemical attack on innocents, is the pointed reference, but surely not the armada that did not appear around North Korea.

Deterrence needs to be credible, absolutely, but easier in some situations, like Syria, and complicated in North Korea where the China factor has to be weighed more carefully than the faraway Russian Syrian interest.

The point is there is a greater complexity in international relations than a one-size-fits-all approach. There is merit in the Trump argument that there has been, in US foreign policy, a perfectionist strategic paralysis. But there is also proof that threat of an all-out action is not sustainable in all situations.

What is observable in the past almost 100 days of the Trump administration is a retreat from quite a number of the US president’s outlandish assertions and policy threats – like blanking out Nato – which have come out more as movement sideways, compensated by direct action which even has some American public intellectuals cooing.

There is still uncertainty. There will be more surprises. But will the Trump new normal be more normal than new?

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

Read more at http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/comment/2017/04/22/trumps-100-days-and-still-going-wrong/#Zq3eGeO5UEqd53Bp.99

Trump’s militaristic Foreign Policy


April 22, 2017

Trump’s Militaristic Foreign Policy

by Carl Bilt

http://www.project-syndicate.org

Carl Bildt was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2006 to October 2014 and Prime Minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s EU accession. A renowned international diplomat, he served as EU Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN Special Envoy to the Balkans, and Co-Chairman of the Dayton Peace Conference. He is Chair of the Global Commission on Internet Governance and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

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After a series of foreign-policy U-turns, there is now talk of a “new” Donald Trump who is far more inclined to use military power than the Trump we saw during the 2016 US presidential campaign. That earlier Trump seemed to regard any use of US military force in Syria as pointless and dangerous, and called for the United States to ensconce itself behind new walls.

Now, suddenly, the Trump administration has launched a missile attack on one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air bases, hinted at taking military action against North Korea, and dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State redoubt in Eastern Afghanistan. All of this was accompanied by tweets from the president himself, declaring that the US will pursue its own solutions to key issues if other countries do not offer to help.

The international community – including China – seemed to understand why the US would strike the Syrian air base from which a hideous chemical-weapons attack was launched. But the Trump administration is still following an “America first” agenda. Having awoken to global realities, the administration is now adjusting its policies, sometimes so abruptly that one might reasonably worry that diplomacy is taking a backseat to bombs and tweets.

That concern is reinforced by the dramatic cuts to the US State Department budget, and to US funding for the United Nations, that Trump has proposed. At the same time, many key positions in the US diplomatic apparatus remain unfilled. Even America’s friends recognize that this is a dangerous trajectory. Bombs can only destroy. To build lasting peace requires compromise and coalition building – in a word, diplomacy.

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Is Henry Kissinger doing deals with Donald Trump now that Hillary Clinton out  of the picture? The Butcher of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is a much sought after Foreign Policy advisor. Trump is a danger to America and the rest of the world. –Din Merican

Another issue that demands diplomacy is North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic weapons needed to deliver them. So far, Trump has tried to pressure China to find a solution, by threatening to take dramatic unilateral action if the Chinese fail to rein in their client. But whether the Trump administration actually has any specific strategy with respect to North Korea, or the means to realize it, remains unclear.

Beyond North Korea, the UN recently warned that the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which rarely makes headlines, is “rapidly pushing the country toward social, economic, and institutional collapse.” The humanitarian situation is already dire for 60% of Yemen’s 30 million inhabitants: an estimated seven million people could be close to famine; and almost 500,000 children are at risk of severe malnutrition.

The war between Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Saudi-backed government and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rebel Houthi coalition has been raging for years, with no military breakthrough in sight. Former US President Barack Obama’s administration made repeated but futile efforts to broker a ceasefire; but it also reluctantly supported Saudi Arabia’s air campaign by supplying bombs. Trump appears set to provide such support far more eagerly.

One simplistic explanation for the Yemen conflict is that it was engineered by Iran. According to this view, US and Saudi intervention is meant to stymie the Islamic Republic’s geopolitical ambitions. And now that Trump has tacitly accepted the Iran nuclear deal, some of his advisers believe that it is necessary to apply pressure on Iran from elsewhere. As a result, US raids and sorties in Yemen have become more frequent in recent months.

But, in reality, Iran’s support for the Houthis is often exaggerated. And Iran, for its part, probably welcomes a scenario in which the US and Saudi Arabia are bogged down in the Yemen quagmire.

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After al-Qaeda in Yemen?

 Another possible justification for US engagement in Yemen is that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has found a foothold there. But AQAP thrives in an environment of destruction and despair, so there is little that can be done about the group so long as Yemen is being ripped apart by war.

Even as the UN issues stark warnings about an impending catastrophe in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition is preparing an offensive to capture the coastline around the port of Hodeida – a move that the International Crisis Group has warned would aggravate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Rather than stepping up the fight, the US should be pursuing further diplomacy and humanitarian-aid efforts. Indeed, the latter go hand in hand with the former. And, after all, it was Hadi and the Saudis who rejected the UN’s last attempt to broker a ceasefire.

To resolve the conflict, the rebels and the government need to re-engage immediately with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, who has furnished a roadmap for talks. In addition, the UN Security Council should do its part to support a political solution, by adopting a long-overdue resolution demanding that both sides agree to an immediate ceasefire, grant access to humanitarian aid, and return to the negotiating table.

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A Yemeni Shite Rebel

Diplomacy will require that all parties compromise. No one – except, perhaps, Iran – has anything to gain from further escalation. If Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe leads to a total collapse, millions of desperate people might flee the country, enabling AQAP and other extremist organizations to profit from disorder and despair.

America’s re-engagement with the world should be welcomed, but not if the Trump administration continues to view conflicts solely through a military lens. Yes, fighting is sometimes necessary; but diplomacy always is. Nowhere is this more obvious than in places like Yemen. The complete collapse of yet another country is the last thing the world – including Trump – needs.

Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions–Oh Lord, this guy is pure blabber


April 16, 2017

Mr. Trump’s 10-Second Convictions–Oh Lord, this guy is pure blabber

 

Trump and Asia: Transactional ‘America First’ Approach to Foreign Policy


April 5, 2017

Trump and Asia: Transactional ‘America First’ Approach to Foreign Policy. 

by Mieczysław P Boduszyński and Tom Le

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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Ayn Rand and DJT’s America First Foreign Policy–Objectivism/Reasoned Self-Interest

Former US President Barack Obama sought to move the United States away from what he saw as costly, distracting and unwinnable entanglements in the Middle East. Instead, he pivoted his foreign policy efforts towards Asia where he believed that US military, political and economic engagement could reap much greater rewards for the country.

Obama championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as part of his signature ‘pivot to Asia’. Obama’s pivot served as a security reassurance for US allies in the region and fortified linkages among those allies, encouraging, for instance, reconciliation between Japan and South Korea. Most importantly, the pivot signaled to Asian allies that they would never be just an afterthought or a region only important when it was useful for US grand strategy. The future lay in Asia and the United States would be a part of that future.

Today, many of the pivot’s achievements are at risk under President Donald Trump’s brand of isolationism and a transactional ‘America First’ approach to foreign policy. The TPP is dead and alliances may be next. Trump has repeatedly stated that the United States is ‘losing’ and has suggested plans to re-evaluate Washington’s security guarantees in Asia. Despite more recent backpedaling, Trump’s apparent affection for Russia and his early willingness to barter Taiwan’s sovereignty for a good trade deal with China has signaled to longstanding US allies that the security reassurances of the Obama era are a thing of the past.

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While the ‘liberal internationalist’ tenor of Obama’s pivot may have passed, a Trumpian worldview can and should still build on Obama’s momentum in Asia. If Trump can enhance, repair and deepen alliances without committing to a US-led regional order in the mould of the Obama administration, he could stay true to his worldview by creating new opportunities for US businesses while encouraging Asian allies to play a more active role in their security. The pivot need not be reversed and there are steps Trump should take to ensure it remains.

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In lieu of the TPP, Trump could work to build new bilateral free trade agreements in East Asia, modelled on the existing US–South Korea and US–Australia Free Trade Agreements.  The region’s support for the TPP, and its potential replacement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), suggests that Asian countries are willing to negotiate new trade deals. But the Trump administration must be ready to make some concessions.

Trump can also capitalise on the positive personal relationships he has with Asian leaders .Obama had a very poor relationship with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who flung insults, threatened to kick out US troops and sought closer relations with China. While Obama was highly critical of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign, Trump’s focus on US business interests presents an opportunity to repair the US–Philippines alliance. Duterte expressed a very positive view of Trump after a brief phone call. The Philippines have longstanding historical ties to the United States and it is a crucial alliance to preserve.

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Trump’s budding relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could also serve as his basis for diplomatic success. Although the Obama–Abe relationship improved over time, it was always marred by Obama’s criticisms of Abe’s revisionist tendencies. Yet thanks in part to Obama’s pivot, Japan passed new security laws increasing its ability to defend US forces during times of war directly related to Japan’s security.

Once South Korea chooses a new president, Trump could continue to support the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system and build upon the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Japan and South Korea. Both are critical to counter the North Korean nuclear threat. But such actions are likely to draw the ire of China as the United States makes it clear that it is fully committed to its allies and the region.

Along with maintaining existing alliances, Trump could work towards forging new relations in East and Southeast Asia. Vietnam has been receptive to a US role in the region as it tries to prevent further Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea. The US–Vietnam relationship is exceptionally pragmatic and there are ample opportunities to build on an already solid foundation. Besides a free trade deal, moving forward with military linkages such as the base-sharing agreement that was announced, and cooperating in areas such as higher education and scholarships should be on Trump’s agenda.

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The pivot to Asia was by no means a resounding success. Unfinished business in Obama’s pivot gives Trump the chance to craft his unique brand of foreign policy in East Asia — a willingness to work and trade with almost anyone. This way, the United States can maintain its pre-eminence in East Asia without pursuing a comprehensive security community. Unlike highly politically charged issues such as Russia and immigration, policy in Asia need not be divisive in domestic US politics.

By leading with direction without directing, the United States can influence its East Asian allies to take more responsibility for maintaining regional stability. As the country has long advocated a rules-based order in East Asia regarding freedom of navigation and trade, the Trump administration must be present to help write those rules.

Mieczysław P Boduszyński and Tom Le are Assistant Professors of Politics at Pomona College, California.

Looking Back on Vietnam before the 1968 Tet Offensive


March 17, 2017

Looking Back on Vietnam before the 1968 Tet Offensive: America’s Defeat or Nixon’s Peace with Honor

 

Hopefully, this will remind President Donald Trump and his associates in The White House to deal with Asia with care.  We in Asia will not allow ourselves to be your pawns again. It is easy but expensive to make war.

Learn not only from Vietnam but also from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria. America, you are not invincible. So give diplomacy a chance and allocate more money to Foggy Bottom (The State Department) and control the military-industrial complex and The Pentagon. –Din Merican.

 

Tom Friedman’s Message to Donald Trump


March 16, 2017

Tom Friedman’s Message to Donald Trump

OPINION–New York Times

by Thomas L. Friedman

Every president has an early foreign policy test, and Donald Trump is no exception. Trump’s test is actually already in progress, and it bears some resemblance to the one faced by a young President Kennedy. Indeed, Trump’s crisis has best been described as a “slow-motion Cuban missile crisis” — only the crisis-driver is not Fidel Castro, but North Korea’s bizarre despot, Kim Jong-un.

If this crisis is not keeping you up at night, you’re not paying attention.Let’s see, we have an untested, macho, Twitter-happy U.S. president facing off against the leader of a dynastic North Korean political cult who’s building a long-range nuclear missile that could hit Los Angeles and who — allegedly — just had his half brother, Kim Jong-nam, knocked off by two women who wiped his face with a lethal nerve agent while he was transiting a Malaysian airport….

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