We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.


November 11, 2018

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.

by Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/8/we-once-trusted-too-much-in-inevitable-progress-we-got-world-war-i

Britain's Queen Elizabeth attends the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and senior members of the royal family attended a Festival of Remembrance on Saturday to commemorate all those who lost their lives in conflict, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

When confronting bad news these days, many tend to assume that it’s just a bump on the road and that things will work out. President Barack Obama was fond of invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yet could we be wrong in assuming that, despite some backsliding here and there, forward movement is inexorable?

On Sunday — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I marked a turning point in human history — the end of four massive European empires, the rise of Soviet communism and the entry of the United States into global-power politics. But perhaps its most significant intellectual legacy was the end of the idea of inevitable progress.

In 1914, before the war began, people had lived through a world much like ours, defined by heady economic growth, technological revolutions and increasing globalization. The result was that it was widely believed that ugly trend lines, when they appeared, were temporary, to be overwhelmed by the onward march of progress. In 1909, Norman Angell wrote a book explaining that war between the major powers was so costly as to be unimaginable. “The Great Illusion” became an international bestseller, and Angell became a cult celebrity (and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Just a few years after the book was published, a generation of Europeans was destroyed in the carnage of war.

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https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/03/world-war-i-american-isolationism-turned-intervention-1917/

Could we be similarly complacent today? There are serious statesmen who believe so. During a recent interview, French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “In a Europe that is divided by fears, nationalist assertion and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see almost methodically the rearticulation of everything that dominated the life of Europe from post-World War I to the 1929 [economic] crisis.” And, during an address earlier this year to the European Parliament, Macron said, “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past.” As historian Christopher Clark wrote in his book “The Sleepwalkers,” the statesmen of 1914 stumbled into a gruesome world war without ever realizing the magnitude or dangers of their isolated, incremental decisions — or non-decisions. Macron is not simply talking; he has organized a Paris Peace Forum of more than 60 world leaders, set to begin this Sunday, to try to combat the dangers of rising nationalism and eroding global cooperation. Continue reading

Growing Disaster of Trump’s Foreign Policy


October 15, 2018

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Growing Disaster of  Trump’s Foreign Policy

by: Philip Bowring

https://www.asiasentinel.com

The developing world is being slow to wake up to the potentially devastating consequences of a key aspect of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policies, particularly now that that John Bolton and his strident “f… the world” views have become so important.

News almost everywhere is dominated by the display of politics and hypocrisy accompanying the appointment of a member of the US Supreme Court, a supposed judicial appointment marred by tawdry performance on all sides. One needs to ask why this display should concern a world simultaneously confronting three frighteningly serious economic issues.

The first is the long-needed rise in interest rates which is necessary but unsettling after so long a period of cheap money, which has boosted asset prices more than economies. The second is Trump’s trade war. Its scope has narrowed with deals with Mexico, Canada and Korea that change the trade picture very little but provide the president with necessary political cover. But the war against China is ever more intense, with unpredictable consequences for world trade generally and Asian trade in particular.

The third however could prove as important as the other two. That is the US attempt to shut down Iran’s sales of oil. The mind boggles at how self-defeating this policy is to US global interests. The main beneficiary is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which is not only reaping billions of dollars but becoming an even more influential player in the global oil market. Meanwhile US relations are growing poisonous with Europe, which refuses to go along with Trump’s agenda and is sticking with its nuclear deal with Iran. Then there is India, whose friendship the US badly needs if it is not to cede supremacy in Asia to China. It not only needs Iranian oil but has long seen Iran as an informal ally for influence in the Indian ocean, and countering China’s influence via its huge investments in Pakistan roads and ports.

Trump’s Iran threats have added US$15-20 a barrel to the price of oil, and a further rise to US$100 a barrel is widely forecast. The strains this is placing on the trade balances of the likes of India, the Philippines and Indonesia, not to mention an already troubled Turkey and countries in Latin America, has already shown up in steep falls in currencies and stock markets throughout the developing world, and has had an outsized impact on interest rates. As of now it seems unlikely to spark a major crisis, but if oil hits US$100 plus, there is no knowing the consequences.

 

As it is, the price increase is already limiting the room for the major east Asian importers China, Japan, South Korea, to spur domestic demand to offset weakness from the trade wars.

Trump has been complaining about the oil price rise, which is also hitting consumers, but he has only himself to blame for a policy towards Iran which has only two beneficiaries apart from Russia: Israel and Saudi Arabia. The former has had nuclear weapons for decades without being sanctioned by anyone.

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Now Trump is adding to support for a state which is not only self-evidently expansionist but is now overtly racist by law as well as practice. Thanks to US protection 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under Israel’s iron fist, which also treats the 1.7 million Arabs in Israel as second-class citizens.

The other beneficiary is Saudi Arabia whose vicious war in Yemen is causing as many casualties as in Syria. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has stirred up the Gulf while his promises of modernizing the country are largely for overseas consumption. A desert empire built by warrior King Ibn Saud is unlikely to last long if the price of oil falls back to US$40 and stays there. Such are the few friends of Trump’s America. No wonder the world laughs as well as cries and treats the US claim to be defender of liberty and democracy as a sham.

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It is reminder too of how childish the US can be – hardly the sign of a superpower with staying power. It took it 20 years to get over its loss of the Vietnam war. Its view of Iran is still driven by the need for revenge nearly 40 years after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and the humiliation of the failure of its Tehran hostage mission. It is also a US view which conveniently forgets the CIA-organized coup against the elected secular nationalist Dr Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953, which enabled the Shah to impose a royal rule which became increasingly unpopular, leading to the 1979 revolution.

And it forgets US behind-the-scenes encouragement of the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein (later to become evil incarnate) which solidified the rule of the clergy under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Longer term, the biggest damage to the US from its Iran fixation will be to drive others away from using the US dollar. Dependence on that currency for trading and settlement has enabled the US to make it difficult for countries to buy Iranian oil without incurring US reprisals. US policies are already beginning to push countries to use other currencies such as the euro and yuan, but for now the mechanisms are poorly developed and oil majors also fear US reprisals in other ways.

But the more the wider world loathes US arrogance, the more it will seek alternatives to allying with a country which is untrustworthy as well as arrogant. Meanwhile those with smart ways around the sanctions will make a lot of money.

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In Asia, there one country which is benefiting from Trump’s Iran policy: Malaysia. He cannot like the thought, but luckily for retreaded Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for the time being revenues from the oil price are partly offsetting the coalition’s rash promise to voters to abolish the Goods and Services Tax and bring in the narrower-based Sales and Services tax. Revenue from this source has been cut in half. As the Asian Development Bank in its mid-year update of the Asian Development Outlook points out, Malaysia’s goal of reducing reliance on commodity prices for revenue has “received a major setback,” endangering fiscal health unless new sources of revenue can be found.

Democracy: American Leadership in Crisis


August 9, 2018

Democracy: American Leadership in Crisis: Fix IT

by Simon Tisdall@The Guardian

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Dark money, unchecked presidential power and a politicised supreme court are wrecking the world’s flagship democracy.

Nineteen months into the Trump presidency, US democracy is running into serious trouble – but it is not all, or even mostly, Donald Trump’s fault. This crisis of governance has been building for decades. It is only now, as Trump’s iconoclastic assaults on established beliefs, laws, institutions and values test the system to destruction, that the true scale of pre-existing weaknesses and faultlines is becoming apparent.

This deep crisis of confidence, bordering on national meltdown, comes as the US hurtles towards midterm elections in November – a familiar American ritual now rendered strangely unpredictable by fears of foreign manipulation and an FBI investigation that could, by some estimates, lead ultimately to Trump’s impeachment. The process of degradation affects US citizens and all those around the world who hold up the US democratic system as a paradigm worthy of emulation. Friends worry that the country’s ability to sustain its traditional global leadership role – moral and practical – is being undermined. Enemies, principally anti-democratic, authoritarian competitor regimes in Russia and China, hope this is so.

Take a case in point, with global implications: Trump has repeatedly bragged about his willingness to use nuclear weapons. As commander-in-chief, he oversees the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Last year he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, a nation of 25 million people. He has also threatened Iran. Such lunatic recklessness appals many Americans. But it transpires there is little they could do to stop Trump should he decide, on a whim, to press the “nuclear button”.

“Mounting evidence of Russian influence-peddling and meddling has added to the sense of a gathering crisis of democracy. Yet while Trump’s minimising of the issue and his attempts to shut down the Mueller probe are plainly self-interested, these problems cannot all be laid at his door. Russians have been seeking to undermine US democracy since 1945. The difference now is they’re getting better at it – as are other foreign states.”–Simon Tisdall

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Trump dumps Democracy but he is not alone; the US Congress is also at fault for being “overly beholden to corporations, wealthy donors and special interests”.

Checks do exist. There is a chain of command that cannot be bypassed. But security experts say nobody, not even the secretaries of state and defence or the chairman of the joint chiefs, has legal power to block a presidential launch order. What could be less democratic? Yet this dilemma was not created by Trump. It has existed for many years. Congress is now belatedly reviewing it.

Trump’s frequent use of “executive orders” has provided another wake-up call. Most infamous was his travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, but others – concerning his Mexican border wall, his unilateral imposition of steel tariffs, and his reversal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act – were also highly contentious. Yet, once issued, such orders are rarely overturned. After numerous legal challenges, the supreme court upheld the travel ban.

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Senator Rand Paul–A Model Senator in the Trump Era

Many were shocked to discover that a US president could issue diktats and fatwas like the worst kind of unelected despot or ayatollah. But the use of such orders, avoiding public scrutiny, is long-established. Franklin Roosevelt interned Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor by this means. Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation ending slavery was an executive order. In exercising this arbitrary power, Trump is following precedent, however undemocratic. The expanding powers of what the Vietnam-era historian Arthur Schlesinger dubbed the “imperial presidency” is a long-recognised phenomenon and one that Congress, America’s primary constitutional pillar, has signally failed to curb over the years. This may be one reason why Americans, according to polling going back decades, exhibit a consistently low opinion of Congress. But there are many others. The dominant two-party system, virulent partisanship and out-of-touch politicians are blamed for chronic failures of governance. The advantages conferred by incumbency are overwhelming; most members are repeatedly re-elected, reducing democratic choice. In terms of the presidency – the second constitutional pillar – systemic problems produce even greater anomalies. Trump was the fifth president to win office despite losing the popular vote, thanks to the archaic, unaccountably unreformed electoral college process.

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Members of Congress are widely viewed as overly beholden to corporations, wealthy donors and special interests. In other words, they are seen as corrupt. The sums involved in greasing the wheels of US democracy are indeed eye-watering. According to the campaign finance watchdog Open Secrets, an overall $6.5bn (£5bn) was spent by presidential and congressional candidates in 2016 – enough to give every teacher in the country a $2,000 pay rise.

The average cost of winning a Senate seat was $19.4m. Winning a House of Representatives seat in the midterm elections will cost an average $1.5m, at least. The need for such huge war chests effectively excludes many would-be candidates from the democratic process and places others in hock to their financial backers.

Again, worries over excessive, non-transparent or illegal campaign financing long precede Trump. Despite many reform efforts, a growing proportion of funding comes from anonymous sources. According to a recent USA Today investigation, 40% of all television ads for political candidates are financed by secret donors with private political or commercial agendas. Then there is untraceable money emanating from foreign governments or individuals, via agents and lobbyists – an issue of heightened concern in the context of the Mueller inquiry into Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Mounting evidence of Russian influence-peddling and meddling has added to the sense of a gathering crisis of democracy. Yet while Trump’s minimising of the issue and his attempts to shut down the Mueller probe are plainly self-interested, these problems cannot all be laid at his door. Russians have been seeking to undermine US democracy since 1945. The difference now is they’re getting better at it – as are other foreign states.

US intelligence chiefs agree. “Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,” the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, said last week. “Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it has become clear that they are the target of our adversaries, who seek … to sow discord and undermine our way of life.” Yet what if Trump really were to be proven guilty of conspiring with a foreign power? How would he react? This is unknown, scary territory.

Can the judicial branch and, in particular, the supreme court – the third constitutional pillar and proud symbol of the founding fathers’ doctrine of the separation of powers – save US democracy? It seems unlikely. In nominating a prominent conservative, Brett Kavanaugh, for the latest court vacancy, Trump followed recent practice in shaping the court to suit his political outlook. It has not always worked this way. As the author David Greenberg has pointed out, supreme court nominations used to be mostly apolitical. This is not the constitution envisaged when they wrote the rules in Philadelphia in 1787.

Trump’s maverick behaviour highlights these entrenched structural problems. Yet, that aside, his rogue presidency is uniquely corrosive, right now, of democracy everywhere. His encouragement of ultranationalist, racist and neo-fascist forces from Warsaw to Charlottesville, divisive demagoguery, relentless vilification of independent journalism, contempt for the western European democracies, coddling of dictators and rejection of the established, rules-based international order all reinforce perceptions that the global role of the US as shining democratic beacon is dimming rapidly. Trump did this all by himself.

So what is to be done? The most urgent task is to recognise what is happening. Decades of complacent assumptions about America’s unending, unquestioning adherence to the democratic model have left it vulnerable to subversion within and without. Radical, inclusive political reform is urgently required. There needs to be a national conversation – and a revisiting of basic democratic principles. Maybe it’s time, 231 years on, for a follow-up constitutional convention in Philadelphia?

  • Simon Tisdall is a foreign affairs commentator

Tom Friedman: On Trump, Helsinki, Russia, Republican Party and What Else


August 7, 2018

Tom Friedman: On Trump, Helsinki, Russia, Republican Party and What Else

 

The second I finished watching President Trump fawning over Vladimir Putin in Helsinki — refusing to defend the conclusions of his own intelligence services about Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections — I knew I was seeing something I’d never seen before. It took a few days to figure it out, but now it’s obvious: I was seeing a U.S. president put Russia first, not America first.

On each key question — how much Russian agents were involved in trying to tip our elections, how that issue should be further investigated, and Putin’s behavior on the world stage generally (like his government’s involvement in the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, the murder of Russian journalists and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K.) — Trump embraced Putin’s explanations and excuses over the judgments of his own spy agencies, Justice Department, European allies and bedrock American values.

I like what Arnold Schwarzenegger said to Trump afterward: “You’re the president of the United States. You shouldn’t do that. What’s the matter with you?”

What’s the matter with you? I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I know that it will be an increasing problem as we enter Phase 3 of the Trump presidency.

Phase 1 saw Trump unhinged but bound — bound by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn. In Phase 1 Trump said and did plenty of crazy stuff, but these key aides limited the damage.

Phase 2 has seen Trump unhinged and unbound. Trump has neutered Kelly, distanced himself from Mattis and sacked Tillerson, McMaster and Cohn. He replaced the last three with men so hungry for their jobs that they were ready to step over the bodies of their predecessors, who, they knew, were pushed out for standing up to Trump on policies and principles.

Watching longtime anti-Russia hawks — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton — shucking off everything they’ve said over the years and ignoring Trump’s coddling of Putin and his trashing of the F.B.I. in order to grab jobs they’d long coveted is witnessing careerism, sycophancy and cynicism on an industrial scale.

But that sets up Trump Phase 3: unhinged and unbound and unintended.

What are the unintended consequences of a U.S. president simultaneously starting trade wars with China, the European Union and Canada, putting Russia first over America first, preferring Putin and other autocrats over our traditional democratic allies, slashing corporate taxes and supercharging the national debt — without any compensating tax increases or spending cuts, thereby putting pressure on interest rates and the trade deficit — ignoring climate change and eliminating all restraints on the exploitation of fossil fuels, breaking the Iran nuclear deal and now threatening war with Iran, limiting immigration into our already tight labor markets, steadily eroding Obamacare and violating so many norms of how a president should behave toward his staff, allies and Americans not from his own party?

What are the unintended consequences of all of these at once — none of which have been the product of traditional interagency analyses or expert hearings in Congress, but simply the crude fulfillment of campaign promises that emerged from Trump’s gut?

Who knows? Maybe there will be some good consequences — maybe China and Iran will cave to Trump’s demands; maybe the economy and stock market will continue to surge; maybe the early promising signs from Trump’s impulsive outreach to North Korea will bear fruit.

What I know for sure, though, is that no U.S. president can break so many longstanding relationships, ignore so much basic science and economics and violate so many norms of presidential behavior without unintended consequences. But they will take time to play out.

For instance, as Nader Mousavizadeh, co-founder of Macro Advisory Partners, a geopolitical consulting firm based in London, put it to me: “What America’s allies in Europe learned from Trump’s recent visit is that the United States, at his direction, is acting more like predator than partner. They are concluding that Trump is not looking for a better deal with the European Union. He’s looking to destroy the European Union. And even though they understand the difference between the president and the government he leads, they know the West may never be the same again.”

So, with the G.O.P. having completely folded and with the few Trump advisers with spine neutered or fired, is there any restraint left around him?

There is one critical defense line left — that formed by F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. By coincidence, two days after Helsinki, all four spoke at the Aspen Security Forum, which I attended.

Wray, Coats and Rosenstein all rose to the occasion. They knew Helsinki was a test of their institutions and themselves, and they passed it with flying colors — always putting America first and not Trump first when it really mattered.

 

Wray was unflinching. Asked about Putin’s denials in Helsinki of involvement in our election, Wray said: “He’s got his view. He’s expressed his view. I can tell you what my view is. The intelligence community’s assessment has not changed, my view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and that it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.”

Wray also let lawmakers and other critics know that their conspiracy theories about the F.B.I. and Justice Department’s Russia investigations were not intimidating him: “I’m a low-key, understated guy, but that should not be mistaken for what my spine is made out of. I’ll leave it at that.”

Coats had already demonstrated his steel and integrity before coming to the conference. Immediately after Trump’s performance in Helsinki impugning the conclusions of the intelligence agencies, Coats put out a statement defending them. He gave the White House a heads-up that it was coming — but did not ask, “Captain, may I?”

Coats said: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Rosenstein backed up Coats 100 percent, declaring: “As Director Coats made clear, these [Russian] actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”

Unfortunately, the secretary of homeland security showed no such spine. Asked if the Russians had intervened to favor Trump, Nielsen said with a straight face: “I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

That was the sound of a senior national security official putting Trump first, not America first. Nielsen proved to be a shameful coward. I sure hope we do not have a homeland security crisis on her watch.

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Which brings me back to Schwarzenegger’s question — “What’s the matter with you?” It applies not just to the president but also all the people enabling him. Why do they so freely sacrifice their own reputations and their own integrity to defend a man with no integrity, a man who would sell each and every one of them down the river the second he decided it was in his interest? It is inexplicable to me.

At least Stormy Daniels got paid.

 

Correction: 

 

An earlier version of this column misstated the name of a former economic adviser to President Trump. He is Gary Cohn; not Cohen.

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: America First or Trump First?.

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy


July 29, 2018

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy

 

The first hint of a turbulent day in U.S. foreign policy appeared in a one-sentence statement distributed by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon. Just a week after President Trump invited the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to a second summit, in Washington, this fall, the White House announced that the meeting was being postponed.

“The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, said in a statement.

The Administration had faced scathing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the invitation, especially when details are still scant over what happened at the first summit, in Helsinki, on July 16th. The proposed Putin visit to the Oval Office would also have been on the eve of the high-stakes U.S. midterm elections, in which the Russians are reportedly meddling again. Last week, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned of “ongoing, pervasive efforts” by the Russians “to undermine our democracy.”

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Messy Trump at work

More broadly, questions have grown since Helsinki—and other recent Trump summits with North Korea, the G-7 economic allies, and the twenty-eight other NATO nations—about Trump’s unruly U.S. foreign policy. The optics in Washington are not good.

Minutes after the Bolton statement, Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chastised President Trump during a hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The President had “appeared submissive and deferential” alongside Putin, Corker said. He has deliberately “used false information to turn public opinion” against the NATO military alliance, a cornerstone of U.S. security. In meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Corker said the President had legitimized “one of the most ruthless leaders on the planet.” He had also taken to issuing “off-the-cuff” challenges to basic principles of the global order. For months, Trump has been “antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill.” The Helsinki summit is “perhaps the most troubling example of this emerging reality,” he said.

“From where we sit,” Corker, who is retiring, added, “it appears that, in a ready-fire-aim fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go.” America’s top lawmakers, he warned, “are filled with serious doubts” about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He appealed to Pompeo, saying, “Help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing,” and “I can’t say it more forcefully. We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on.”

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Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee, chimed in that—ten days after the Helsinki summit—U.S. lawmakers had heard more about what happened in the private session between Trump and Putin from Russian statements than from White House briefings. “We don’t know what the truth is, because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” the New Jersey Democrat said. In three hours of grilling, Pompeo repeatedly claimed that the President had fully briefed him. But he offered few insights and sidestepped straightforward questions about exactly what Trump and Putin discussed.

The White House appears to be scrambling to prove it has a coherent foreign policy. An hour before Pompeo testified on the Hill, the State Department issued the “Crimea Declaration.” The United States, it pronounced, will not recognize Russia’s strategic annexation of Crimea, in 2014, after its invasion of Ukraine. Citing the United Nations charter, dating back seven decades, the State Department noted, “No country can change the borders of another by force.”

That statement contradicts what Trump has repeatedly suggested since his first run for public office, in 2016. At the G-7 summit last month, in Canada, he reportedly said the majority of Crimea’s residents “would rather be with Russia.”

The Administration is also gyrating on Russian election interference in the United States. On Sunday night, the President tweeted that claims of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election are “all a big hoax”—dismissing the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and Coats’s statement last week. On Wednesday, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo insisted that Trump fully accepts intelligence reports of Russian interference in 2016. He has “a complete and proper understanding of what happened,” Pompeo said. “I know—I briefed him on it for over a year,” when he headed the C.I.A.

Now America’s top diplomat, Pompeo claimed that the Administration had taken a “staggering” array of punitive actions against Russia, including the expulsion of sixty Russian spies, closing Russian consulates, and the sale of defensive military material to Ukraine. The President is “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” today, Pompeo said. (Neither the Secretary nor the State Department speechwriters caught the erroneous reference in his opening statement to more than two hundred U.S. sanctions imposed “on Russian entities and individuals in the Trump Administration.”)

The Administration’s attempt to appear tougher on Putin may, in fact, be a response to Russian reticence. On Tuesday, the Kremlin showed tepid interest in the invitation to a second summit. “It seems to me that, for now, it would be right to wait for the dust to settle before having a businesslike discussion of all issues,” Putin’s foreign-policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, told the news agency Interfax. “But not now.”

Russia is not the only Trump foreign-policy issue facing questions. On Wednesday, Pompeo engaged in testy exchanges with several senators on issues ranging from Syria to arms-control treaties. The Administration is struggling, in particular, to prove that its bold decision to meet with the North Korean leader in Singapore last month is leading to progress. So far, there is still no formal agreement on what “denuclearization” actually means. Pressed on whether North Korea is still advancing its nuclear capabilities, Pompeo refused to answer the question—or say publicly that Pyongyang has at least frozen its weapons program. The Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey charged that that there is “no verifiable evidence” that North Korea is keeping its promise.

“I am afraid that, at this point, the United States, the Trump Administration, is being taken for a ride,” Markey said. Pompeo, who has travelled to Pyongyang three times since Easter to take the lead on diplomacy, shot back, “Fear not, senator.” But he offered little detail to counter reports of White House frustration with North Korea’s stalling tactics.

“After nearly three hours, here is my takeaway,” Menendez said at the end of the session. “This Administration is increasingly not transparent. It’s not transparent as to what takes place at these summits . . . I really don’t believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the President’s two-plus-hour conversation with President Putin. And I really don’t know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before.”

The Administration did make tentative progress on Wednesday to avert a trade war with America’s closest allies in Europe. In a surprise development, Trump and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced new negotiations on trade barriers and a pledge, for now, to defer new tariffs. “While we are working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement unless either party terminates the negotiation,” Trump said at a hastily organized appearance with Juncker.

Like the nuclear talks with North Korea and the summitry with Putin, however, the agreement with the European Commission on tariffs contains a big idea but is still short on details—with tough negotiations ahead. The Administration has yet to ink a final deal to resolve any major issue.

The Cinema Society Hosts The Screening Of "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"

Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost


July 23, 2018

Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/7/19/russia-might-have-been-lost-from-the-start

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“So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.”–Fareed Zakaria

President Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki was the most embarrassing performance by an American President I can think of. And his preposterous efforts to talk his way out of his troubles made him seem even more absurd. But what has been obscured by this disastrous and humiliating display is the other strain in Trump’s Russia narrative. As he recently tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity.” This notion is now firmly lodged in Trump’s mind and informs his view of Russia and Putin. And it is an issue worth taking seriously.

The idea that Washington “lost” Russia has been around since the mid-1990s. I know because I was one of the people who made that case. In a New York Times Magazine article in 1998, I argued that “central to any transformation of the post-Cold-War world was the transformation of Russia. As with Germany and Japan in 1945, an enduring peace required that Moscow be integrated into the Western world. Otherwise a politically and economically troubled great power . . . would remain bitter and resentful about the post-Cold-War order.”

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The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 boosted the Russian president’s international standing – mainly because he managed to pull Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu over to his court. While Putin basks in the afterglow of the summit and the successful World Cup, both Trump and Netanyahu must face the music at home.–https://www.debka.com

This never happened, I argued, because Washington was not ambitious enough in the aid it offered. Nor was it understanding enough of Russia’s security concerns — in the Balkans, for example, where the United States launched military interventions that ran roughshod over Russian sensibilities.

I continue to believe Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton missed an opportunity to attempt a fundamental reset with Russia. But it has also become clear that there were many powerful reasons U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate.

Russia in the early 1990s was in a period of unusual weakness. It had lost not just its Soviet-era sphere of influence but also its 300-year-old czarist empire. Its economy was in free fall; its society was collapsing. In this context, it watched as the United States expanded NATO, intervened against Russia’s allies in the Balkans and criticized its efforts to stop Chechnya from seceding.

From America’s vantage point, locking in the security of the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe was an urgent matter. Washington worried that war in Yugoslavia was destabilizing Europe and producing a humanitarian nightmare. And the United States could not condone Russia’s brutal wars in Chechnya, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and much of the region was destroyed. The United States and Russia were simply on opposite sides of these issues.

In addition, by the late 1990s, Russia was moving away from a democratic path. Even under President Boris Yeltsin, the bypassing of democratic institutions and rule by presidential decree became common. Democratic forces in the country were always weak. Scholar Daniel Treisman has shown that by the mid-’90s, the combined tally for all liberal democratic reformers in Russia’s Duma elections never went above 20 percent. The “extreme opposition” forces, by contrast — communist, hypernationalist — received on average about 35 percent. And once Putin came to power, the move toward illiberal democracy and then outright authoritarianism became unstoppable. Putin has never faced a serious liberal opposition.

An authoritarian Russia had even more areas of contention with the United States. It panicked over the “color revolutions,” in which countries such as Georgia and Ukraine became more democratic. It looked with consternation at the establishment of democracy in Iraq. These forces, by contrast, were being cheered on by the United States. And to Putin, President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” might have seemed designed to dislodge his regime.

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The New Russian Tsar–Vladimir Putin

Perhaps most crucially, by the mid-2000s, steadily rising oil prices had resulted in a doubling of Russia’s per capita gross domestic product, and cash was flowing into the Kremlin’s coffers. A newly enriched Russia looked at its region with a much more assertive and ambitious gaze. And Putin, sitting atop the “vertical of power” he had created, began a serious effort to restore Russian influence and undermine the West and its democratic values. What has followed — the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, the alliance with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the cyber attacks against Western countries — has all been in service of that strategy.

So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group