John “Walrus”Bolton is already a lame duck and he knows it too

March 28, 2018

John “Walrus”Bolton is already a lame duck and he knows it too

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The baffling decision by President Trump to select John Bolton as his next national security adviser is shaking the Washington foreign policy establishment on both sides of the aisle. Democrats are reacting furiously and Republicans are trying to remain calm, but there’s one person who already knows that he’s in trouble: John Bolton.

The choice of Bolton makes no sense for Trump, on several levels. First, Trump ran as an anti-war candidate and just picked the most pro-war national security adviser he could find. Second, Trump ran against the Washington swamp, yet picked a classic Republican foreign policy Washington insider, as Bolton has essentially spent his entire career in D.C. And third, Trump prides himself on being a success, yet he’s picked someone who has been at the heart of the greatest foreign policy failures of the past two decades.

John Bolton must know this, and he must be worried. The John Bolton we all thought we knew disappeared in front of our eyes when he was interviewed on FOX Thursday night after the announcement of his selection. Out was the bombast and in was the staffer-speak. Bolton waxed eloquent about process and about providing a variety of viewpoints to the President. This was a different John Bolton.

Expert in the classic D.C. maneuvering in order to get the job, Bolton must know that videotape is hard to completely erase. And he knows better than anyone else what he’s said and done both on video and in print — while it’s likely that Trump does not.

One of the more curious issues to think about regarding this choice is how Bolton, while being a neoconservative, didn’t become a never-Trumper during the 2016 presidential campaign like most of his cohort. Perhaps that’s because he was toying with becoming president himself, or because he was fundraising for his super PAC (now known to have been one of the first to hire Cambridge Analytica). How these items play out within the context of the Mueller investigation is anyone’s guess.

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Which brings us to the heart of the matter. In a mere couple of months, President Trump will have to decide about what to do with North Korea and Iran. He’s already committed to meeting with North Korea’s leader, yet Bolton just weeks ago called for American bombing of that country. And Bolton was behind the termination of the last nuclear deal we had with North Korea — the Agreed Framework — in 2002. That decision directly led to our rudderless policy on North Korea for the past 15 plus years.

It’s hard to imagine the North Koreans agreeing to a deal, as Trump would want, with Bolton sitting across the table.

And on Iran, if Trump were to pull out of the Iran deal at Bolton’s behest — as many in Washington now thinks he will — then he’ll be unleashing Iran’s nuclear program from the constraints it’s currently under. This would be an ironic outcome, as it took the latter years of the Bush administration (when Bolton was gone) and much of the Obama administration to restrain that program through tough, punishing sanctions. These were a reversal from the Bolton years, when there was minimal financial pressure on Iran due to American unilateralism.

Yet the biggest dissonance that the Trump-Bolton partnership may bring is on the question of war versus peace, as symbolized by Iraq. I was a career foreign affairs officer at the State Department when Bolton was the undersecretary for arms control and international security. I remember how Bolton helped lead us straight into that disaster — one that Trump rightly pointed out during the Republican primaries was a complete mistake.

Yet unlike Trump, after all the thousands dead, trillions spent, the unleashing of Iran across the Middle East and the destabilization of the Arab world, Bolton has never said such words, and still defends it as the right thing.

So John Bolton must know all this, and he must know that President Trump probably doesn’t know all the details yet. And he must be hoping that Trump won’t learn them any time soon, because if the past 14 months is prologue, Bolton must already know that time in this administration is not on his side.

Joel Rubin is a former deputy assistant secretary of state and was a foreign affairs officer at the State Department from 2002 – 2005.


Trump’s Choice –John Bolton as National Security Adviser

March 23, 2018

Trump Taps John Bolton for NSA Post

President had discussed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster’s departure for ‘some time,’ White House says

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President Trump’s Choice as National Security Adviser–The Neo-Con (Amb) John Bolton

President Donald Trump said he named former Ambassador John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser, succeeding Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.

“I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor,” Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday. “I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.”

Mr. Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, has openly discussed his interest in taking the national-security post in the Trump administration. He will be Mr. Trump’s third National Security Adviser in 14 months.

Mr. Bolton, who won’t need Senate confirmation to take the job, has been a controversial figure in Washington and has pressed the White House to take tougher positions on Iran and North Korea in editorials, television commentary and other conversations.

In a Fox News interview Thursday evening, even Mr. Bolton seemed taken aback by the news of his appointment. “I really didn’t expect the announcement this afternoon,” he said. “I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” he added, noting that he was “in limbo” until he takes over next month.

Mr. Trump last week conveyed his decision to replace Gen. McMaster to John Kelly, his Chief of Staff, according to administration officials. The President had sought a more graceful exit for his National Security Adviser than the one he afforded his Secretary of State, whom he fired over Twitter last week.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump began discussing potential successors for Gen. McMaster, according to former Trump administration officials. Mr. Trump met with Mr. Bolton last week and again on Thursday.

In a statement, Mr. Trump thanked Gen. McMaster for his service. “He helped develop our America First National Security Strategy, revitalize our alliances in the Middle East, smash ISIS, bring North Korea to the table, and strengthen our nation’s prosperity,” the President said. “This work and those achievements will ensure that America builds on its economic and military advantages.”

Gen. McMaster said in a Thursday statement that he was “requesting retirement from the U.S. Army effective this summer after which I will leave public service. Throughout my career it has been my greatest privilege to serve alongside extraordinary service members and dedicated civilians.” He said he was “thankful” to the President and proud to have served on the National Security Council.

A White House official said the President and Gen. McMaster had discussed the national security adviser’s departure for “some time” and that the timeline had been “expedited as they both felt it was important to have the new team in place, instead of constant speculation.”

The announcement, coming so soon after the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior officials, left the West Wing in a downbeat mood Thursday evening, with aides offering gallows humor about the number of White House departures and jobs that needed to be filled.

The 69-year-old Mr. Bolton has urged the administration to strike first against North Korea and to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in columns published by The Wall Street Journal.

“North Korea test-launched on Friday its first ballistic missile potentially capable of hitting America’s East Coast. It thereby proved the failure of 25 years of U.S. nonproliferation policy,” he wrote in an August 2017 column. “It is past time for Washington to bury this ineffective ‘carrots and sticks’ approach.”

Last month, he penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First,” in which he argued in favor of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, calling the threat “imminent.”

Mr. Bolton has dubbed the Iran agreement the “diplomatic Waterloo Mr. Obama negotiated.” Mr. Trump faces a deadline in May to extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under the accord. The president threatened in January to pull out of the deal if Europe and Congress can’t find a way to address his concerns by then.

Democrats and some Republicans have previously suggested that if Mr. Bolton were nominated for roles at the State Department, they would oppose him, citing his foreign-policy views. Mr. Trump has considered Mr. Bolton for roles including Secretary of State.

“The problem with John Bolton is he disagrees with President Trump’s foreign policy,“ Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) said last year on ABC. ”John Bolton still believes the Iraq war was a good idea. He still believes that regime change is a good idea. He still believes that nation-building is a good idea.”

On Thursday, Republican lawmakers praised the appointment of Mr. Bolton to the national-security post. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) called him an “excellent choice.”

Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank founded by former President Richard Nixon, said he believed that Messrs. Trump and Bolton have “jelled” through conversations over the past year and predicted Mr. Bolton could be a forceful presence in the West Wing.

“Trump likes someone who will tell him straight how it is,” Mr. Kazianis said. “I don’t think Trump would have brought him in as national security adviser if he didn’t think it would work out. It could be a very strong marriage, where Bolton serves out the whole tenure of the administration.”

Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster had little chemistry with the president and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Bloomberg News

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which advocates sanctions against Iran and North Korea, said Mr. Bolton’s appointment would likely be the final nail in the coffin for the Iran deal. Mr. Dubowitz expressed hope that the rise of a more hawkish national security team would actually make it less likely that the U.S. would start a war.

“Bolton is a believer in the robust use of all instruments of American power,” he said. “But perhaps the perception that Trump, Bolton and (Secretary of State nominee Mike) Pompeo are willing to use these instruments will make it less likely they have to be used. (Ayatollah) Khamenei, Kim Jong Un, (Vladimir) Putin and others become more—not less—aggressive when they perceive American weakness.”

The appointment also drew criticism from Democrats, some former diplomats and others, who said the addition of Mr. Bolton would heighten the risk of a future military conflict. “President Trump is assembling a war cabinet full of ‘yes men’ who will fan his worst impulses,” said Sen. Edward Markey, (D, Mass.).

A Senior Fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a frequent commentator on Fox News, Mr. Bolton has cultivated a reputation as a brash conservative with an aggressive style.

He has pushed for limiting U.S. involvement in multilateral institutions and treaties, including the International Criminal Court, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Kyoto Protocol.

Recent Commentary from John Bolton

Mr. Bolton left his U.N. post after he failed to gain enough support in Congress to be confirmed in 2006. President Bush had originally used a recess appointment to put him in the role after his nomination had been blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

In addition to his U.N. post, Mr. Bolton also served in the Bush administration as Undersecretary of State for arms control and international security from 2001 to 2005.

Gen. McMaster has been working with strained alliances both inside and outside the White House and has faced persistent speculation that he would be pushed out as soon as the White House settled on someone to take his place.

Gen. McMaster has little chemistry with the President and often frustrated Mr. Trump with lengthy policy dissertations in the Oval Office, according to people familiar with the conversations. Gen. McMaster would typically lay out multiple options for the President, explaining each one at length, and Mr. Trump would grow impatient, preferring more to-the-point discussions, the people said.

Gen. McMaster had told associates last week that he believed he was safe and that the President urged him to remain in the job until after the midterm elections in November. On Tuesday, he was one of a handful of U.S. officials in an Oval Office meeting between the president and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Another reason Mr. Trump has sought to speed the hiring of a new national security adviser is that he wants to have a team in place ahead of possible talks with North Korea later this spring. This past weekend, Gen. McMaster traveled to San Francisco for a trilateral meeting with South Korea and Japan to discuss plans for the summit.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Corrections & Amplifications
John Bolton is 69 years old. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated his age as 68 years old. (March 22, 2018)

Malaysia: Is Emergency Rule Possible in 2018 in lieu of Elections?

February 5, 2018

Malaysia: Is Emergency Rule Possible in 2018 ?

by S

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The NOC Post May 13, 1969

There comes an hour when protest no longer suffices; after philosophy there must be action; the strong hand finishes what the idea has sketched.”
― Victor Hugo, ‘Les Misérables’

COMMENT | You have to give credit to the old maverick, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Pakatan Harapan designate for the top job if the coalition comes into power. Not only is he comfortable slaying sacred Malay cows, he has no problems baiting the Najib regime as he does when he extols the virtues of street protest if the Prime Minister dares to declare an emergency in lieu of elections.

Would Najib declare an emergency? This is doubtful. The regime may be in a precarious position, but the UMNO regime still has the tools to successfully ensure electoral success and with the opposition in disarray, the longer it takes to hold an election, the better the chances for the Umno establishment to narcotise a weary electorate.

If the opposition was a cohesive force, then time would not be on Najib’s side but as it is, the longer he holds off, the more the opposition embroils itself in stupid “friendly fire” fiascos that only serves the Umno hegemon and makes the fence-sitting voters more convinced that they should vote for stability.

“The National Security Council Act also allows security forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless arrests.”

But let us say for whatever reason, Najib does decide to use the emergency option. He really does not need the consent of the Agong to play that card. The National Security Council (NSC) law gives him the power to declare certain areas as security risk (and people should understand that “security” in this instance is widely defined) and he could stall an election for years, if need be.

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If memory serves, the Inspector-General of Police and the Chief of Defence Forces have a seat at the council. This way, in theory at least, he could bypass the consent of the Agong is within the confines of the law, and he has the heads of the various security apparatus at his side. Scary stuff.

I have written about this law numerous times and people should really familiarise themselves with what it could have in store for Malaysians.

Or you could read the Cliffs Notes version with the scary highlights, courtesy of Amnesty International – “One provision, Section 18, allows the Prime Minister to arbitrarily designate any area in the country a ‘security area’, if he deems it a potential source of ‘harm’. ‘There is good reason to fear that the Act will be yet another tool in the hands of the government to crack down on peaceful protests under the guise of national security,’ said Josef Benedict.

“The special status given to ‘security areas’ could worsen Malaysia’s track record of custodial deaths and police brutality. Under Section 35, magistrates and coroners will no longer have to carry out inquests into deaths resulting from operations mounted by security forces within these areas.

“The National Security Council Act also allows security forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless arrests.”

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Rosmah Mansor–Chief of Najib’s Defence Forces–Greed and Worship of Power will destroy her in the end.

Of course, there are claims made that the Harapan leadership has plans if the Najib regime uses racial-religious tensions to suspend elections, and it is the duty of Malaysians to support (Harapan) politicians. And by support, I guess it means that normally timid Malaysians will have to go on the streets. Well, let us see how this plays out.

Breeding apathy

The DAP is demonised as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, so by encouraging its supporters to go on the streets, the leadership, not to mention the entire Chinese community, would be labelled by the government as subversive and part of the reason for the security crackdown. This, of course, would necessitate the entire (probably) DAP leadership being carted away in Black Marias.

PAS, if it is not firmly in bed with UMNO, will probably say that street protest is not the “proper” way to engage with UMNO and probably make some sort of deal with the Umno hegemon in the name of Malay/Muslim solidarity.

Amanah, of course, will attempt to make a stand. But since clearly it is the weakest of the opposition coalition in terms of influence and voter base, it will have to rely on the other component parties to make a stand. Who knows if Bersatu, which is in reality a cutout of some kind, can stir up support from an oppositional voting base which has within it a deep distrust of the old maverick. And not forgetting PKR, which of late has demonstrated it could not organise so much as an orgy in a brothel.

And let us not forget Sabah and Sarawak. Who knows how things will play out there since the populations of both states have a deep mistrust of peninsular politics and would probably sit this one out.

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So, this leaves a spontaneous outpouring of support fueled by social media against the ruling UMNO hegemon mainly in the urban areas. Urban areas are in many ways easier to control, and it does contribute to the narrative that people in these areas are purposely stirring up trouble for the country, and want to usurp the position of a particular race and religion.

Young people could possibly go out into the streets and wage a protest against the UMNO establishment, but does anyone really see this happening in Malaysia? If young people were truly engaged with the system and let’s face facts, if young people were brought up in a culture where protest and political involvement were encouraged, then maybe this could happen.

However, for the moment the hegemon provides a comfortable environment for the breeding of apathy. And let us not forget that many young people are not voting, and if they are not voting, which is the easiest thing in the world to do, what makes anyone think that they would brave the state security apparatus and demand that the Najib regime hold elections just so they could exercise their right not to vote?

Besides, nobody wants another May 13, certainly not the non-Malays. This would be the narrative of course. No matter what the hegemon engineers, it will be about race and religion.

Then, of course, there is the other side of the coin. Calling for an emergency or engineering a situation in which areas are declared security risks, is a move that demands cojones. It is a move in which the state security apparatus has to essentially wage a war against their own. Tyranny is a bloody business. Can the regime expect that the state security apparatus, and by this, I mean the foot soldiers, would actually turn their guns against their own?

During my military career and after, I have had the unfortunate life experience of meeting those men who do the bloody work for tyrants. Men and women who have been in deaths squad and other paramilitary outfits used to suppress dissent. Men who have turned on their own for the benefice provided by tyrants.

I do not see this in Malaysia. Not the banal evil of other kleptocratic countries. Let us not go there. If the Najib regime does call some kind of emergency using the tools available to him, I wonder if Malaysians – and by this I mean everyone from protesters, the security apparatus and politicians – would be able to turn on each other.

As someone who has been to nearly every one of these protests of diminishing returns, I know a few old timers – patriots even – who would have no problem being cannon fodder for the “cause.” After all, we started this problem, so we may as well contribute in finishing it or it finishes us.

But large-scale protests as we have seen in other countries, I am sceptical, not when the opposition is in disarray and young people are marginalised from the mainstream oppositional process. I am more inclined to find it useful to look at other Muslim-majority countries rather than countries closer to home.

Because of our political system, Malaysia is due a reckoning. I do not think that the opposition at this time would be the harbinger of the shape of things to come, but I do know that when it does come, everyone will be touched.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.


First the harassment, now they are missing

January 29, 2018

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Freedom of opinion can only exist when the government thinks itself secure–Bertrand Russell

First the harassment, now they are missing

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COMMENT | The commonality between the disappearance of pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat is that both had a history of harassment by state (federal?) religious authorities. Is this connective tissue important? I would argue that it is.

The people have been told not to draw conclusions. This is difficult when the state security apparatus charged with investigating these crimes are also part of the systemic harassment working in concert with religious authorities to ensure that either a certain kind of Islam is practised or that non-Muslims do not engage in activities which are deemed detrimental to Muslim Malaysians.

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The Home Affairs Minister

This, of course, is a broader pattern of harassment, where anyone can make a “report” against certain non-Muslim personalities or groups, claiming “proselytisation” and the state security apparatus (again working with religious authorities) would descend upon those accused and attempt to gather “evidence” of crimes against the Muslim/Malay community. The fact that till this day no evidence has been adduced for the numerous police reports various groups have made, says something about the validity of these claims.

This is a country where rehabilitation camps exist to help facilitate the educational process of Malaysian chopping to leave their faith for whatever reasons or as a safe house to coerce people who have been indoctrinated into the faith. Consider the case of M Revathi who was detained in the Ulu Yam rehabilitation camp – “Her detention was twice extended to six months, during which time she says religious officials tried to make her pray as a Muslim and wear a headscarf.”

This, of course, does not take into consideration the numerous “secret” facilities for Muslims who want to leave the faith or are charged with “deviant” teachings and are held and “re-educated”. Furthermore, because press freedom in this country is what it is, any serious investigative pieces on the correlation between the state and enforcement agencies, when it comes to Islam in this country, is deemed “sensitive”.


This is a country where the court had to strike down the cross-border arrest of the late Islamic scholar and public intellectual Kassim Ahmad (photo) by the federal religious authorities – “Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad today won his legal challenge against Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) as the Court of Appeal found the religious body’s actions, including a cross-border arrest and a detention exceeding 24 hours, to be illegal.”

We live in a country were deaths in custody are routine. To assume that such incidents have nothing to do with how the state security apparatus operates is naive. With this in mind, it is also naive to assume that the state security apparatus, religious authorities and the various provocateurs in the establishment operate individually and not with some greater purpose in mind.

Is it really a stretch to believe that interested parties wishing to avoid legal scrutiny would act in a covert manner to detain persons suspected of transgressions against the state in terms of their religious beliefs or activities? Is there not enough circumstantial evidence to establish the fact that when it comes to the state-sponsored religion, religious authorities acting in concert with the state security apparatus have crossed legal boundaries and acted mala fide (in bad faith)?

Sloppy ransom demand

Let us take the Koh case, for instance. Are we to believe that a suspect who has been questioned before and cleared of any wrongdoing suddenly become the only suspect in the case of the missing pastor?

Are we to believe that the so-called ransom, which when distributed amongst the various accomplices would amount to less than four thousand ringgit, was the goal of this kidnapping? Are we to assume that a person who carries out a sloppy ransom demand is behind a sophisticated paramilitary-style kidnapping?

There are two possibilities. Either the state security apparatus was sloppy in its initial investigations (which is a possibility) or that the alleged Uber driver is innocent (as he has claimed) and there is a conspiracy at play in this case. All of this did not happen in a vacuum. All of this happened in an environment where the pastor had been accused by elements of the state, including the state security apparatus, of activities deemed transgressive towards Islam in this country.

In the same way, Amri was harassed by the Perlis state religious authorities for promoting teachings deviant to the state-sanctioned religion, in this case, Shiaism. Who made this claim? Well, the ever-popular Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the sometime darling of the opposition (but not mine, read here) made this claim and was apparently present during the raid on the home of the missing activist.


Coincidentally (again?), Suhakam was told in 2001 by the Shia Action Community that – “six Shia Muslims were arrested under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) between Oct 20 and Jan 5, and that three were still detained.”

Now, this was back in the bad old days of the ISA but the point here is that people detained, in a covert manner, for activities deemed harmful to the state is not unheard in Malaysia.

We are asked to believe that the disappearance of these people is nothing more than routine kidnappings for pecuniary gain or, like those cases of deaths in custody, sudden deaths. That it suddenly inexplicably happens. Now, of course, if the state security was credible, this would not be so hard to believe.

Actually, a credible state security apparatus would never make such claims. However, since state religious bodies have no authority to detain people, the state security apparatus is dragged into the religious conflicts, schisms and the political opportunism of publicly-funded religious authorities. This makes them participants in this state of play.

People often ask me what I would like to see the opposition do in their first 100 days in office. One of the important issues I want the opposition to address is these unexplained abductions.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.


Trump’s Foreign Policy Priorities in 2018 and beyond

January 29, 2018

Trump’s Foreign Policy Priorities in 2018 and beyond

by Sheila A Smith, CFR

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“The central role given to US economic priorities is striking, with an emphasis on renegotiating trade agreements and on reducing the country’s trade deficit.”–Sheila A Smith

On 18 December 2017, Trump’s National Security Strategy offered the first glimpse of his translation of ‘America First’ rhetoric into policy priorities. The central role given to US economic priorities is striking, with an emphasis on renegotiating trade agreements and on reducing the country’s trade deficit. But the actual practice of Trump’s approach to Asia — while differing in rhetoric from the previous administration — suggests the possibility of continuity rather than change.


In his first year in office, Trump was largely reactive rather than proactive with respect to world affairs. Washington’s response to Pyongyang’s growing missile threat is to bolster allied defences and extended deterrence while it builds a coalition of international pressure on the regime to return to the negotiating table. UN economic sanctions (via the United Nations itself as well as via a growing appetite for secondary sanctions) are the primary mechanism of coercion. Kim Jong-un seems determined to be able to strike the continental United States, so the North Korea problem remains at the top of the Trump administration’s priority list.

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The Harry S. Truman Department of State Building, near The George Washington University’s Lloyd Hartman Eliot School of International Affairs, Washington D.C.

The administration is woefully understaffed for the challenges that face the United States. The President’s tweets confound efforts to communicate policy, and the White House’s protracted effort to undermine the Secretary of State ensures that US diplomacy is weak. The administration has been slow to make appointments to high-level foreign policy posts, with the notable exception of the Department of Defense. The lack of expertise on the complex array of foreign policy challenges confronting Washington has left the administration painfully ill-prepared for diplomacy.

2018 will bring some of these difficulties into sharper relief. While the National Security Strategy was the first step towards steadying the administration’s foreign policy, filling out the government ranks of foreign and security policy professionals would go a long way.

Politics will likely obstruct focused diplomacy. The Republican Party is no longer a predictable, internationalist advocate for US foreign policy. The splintering of the Republican Party and leadership challenges for the Democratic Party make midterm elections in 2018 difficult to predict. One thing is sure: these elections will stir querulous political currents once more and keep Trump focused on his popularity at home.

Three foreign policy issues will confront the Trump administration in its second year. First, Washington’s trade policy will create dissonance between the United States and virtually all of its partners (particularly in Asia). While some US pushback on Chinese trade practices is welcome, a tit-for-tat trade war is not. The National Security Strategy takes a harder tack on US China policy — particularly on Beijing’s economic practices — which sets the stage for confrontation.

This alongside the ongoing difficulties in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations suggests that 2018 will bring trade to the forefront of US foreign policy. Many US allies are already girding themselves for a far stronger push by Washington to reopen existing agreements and to insist on new bilateral trade agreements on terms more favourable to the United States. As Trump’s trip to Asia in November revealed, the President wants to play hardball on trade — even with allies.

The second problem is North Korea — a problem that is likely to worsen in 2018. Sooner or later, some sort of showdown between the United States and North Korea is inevitable. Pyongyang continues its missile development, and the probability that one or both sides will use some sort of military force continues to be relatively high. With little evidence that Kim Jong-un is interested in abandoning his nuclear ambitions, regional fears over potential conflict on the Korean Peninsula will remain. Maintaining international support for sanctions on North Korea will require constant diplomatic effort.

A third challenge for the Trump administration is its relationship with Russia. The Mueller investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin has expanded to cover several of Trump’s campaign advisors, while congressional committee investigations will continue into 2018. The United States will need to put in place new measures to protect its elections from manipulation from Moscow by the midterm elections. Contrary to early expectations that the President would pursue friendlier relations with Russia, the National Security Strategy now clearly identifies Moscow as hostile to US security interests — a point that drew ire from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Within the United States, the daily news cycle surrounding the administration’s difficulties is overwhelming. Lost in the drama is a serious debate over policy choices that will have long-term consequences not only for priorities at home, but also for Washington’s landscape abroad. Trump has withdrawn the United States from defining multilateral initiatives on trade and climate change. He has threatened partners into reassessing their economic ties with the United States. While advocating for a bulkier military presence abroad, he has yet to embrace the most important foreign policy tool of all: diplomacy.

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69th Secretary of State–Rex Tillerson

While much of the Trump administration’s first year difficulties can be attributed to the President’s inexperience, 2018 will bring far higher expectations of his leadership and ability to demonstrate that his vision for the United States brings results. The honeymoon phase of his presidency is now over. All eyes will be on Trump as he navigates a complex world increasingly challenging to US interests.

Sheila A Smith is Senior Fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

The Top Politics Commentaries of 2017

January 2, 2018

The Top Politics Commentaries of 2017

With all that has happened in the past year, one could be forgiven for thinking that it has been more than 12 months since January 1, 2017. To help make sense of it all – from Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency to China’s increasingly vocal bid for global leadership – we have compiled a list of some of our top politics commentaries from 2017.

Looking back, 2017 may well be remembered as a year of great historical consequence. Yes, 2016 was the year when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. But 2017 was when the rest of the story began to unfold, and discrete events started to ramify in ways that will affect global politics for years or even decades to come. To help capture all that has happened over the past 12 months, we have selected some of Project Syndicate’s most-read columns on politics in 2017.

Not surprisingly, many of the year’s commentaries focused on the all-too-real reality show playing out in the US. At home and abroad, Trump continued throughout the year to violate political and social norms and undermine democratic institutions, confirming Balzac’s observation that one who needs to prove one’s power to oneself must abuse it to succeed.

Still, our list also makes clear that Trump and those sustaining his presidency are just one part of a much larger story, of which 2017 was but one chapter. The US is no longer the hard center of the international order. The world is quickly changing, and people everywhere are renegotiating traditional sources of identity, systems of governance, economic arrangements, and conceptions of well-being. Those debates will continue for years to come, and we at Project Syndicate look forward to contributing to them with the same caliber of informed analysis that you will find in the compilation below.

China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy

Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research described how China is using its massive Belt and Road Initiative of foreign infrastructure investment to ensnare strategically important countries across Eurasia in “debt traps” that will leave them increasingly vulnerable to Chinese influence.

The Middle East’s Next War

Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned that news of US-led coalition forces reclaiming the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State this summer did not mean that peace was finally coming to the Middle East. On the contrary, he argued, the region is barreling toward a violent hegemonic power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Brexit in Reverse

Hungarian-American financier/philanthropist George Soros, reflecting on the decline of real (inflation-adjusted) income in the United Kingdom throughout the year, reminded Britons that they could still turn back from the Brexit cliff edge.

Inconvenient Truths About Migration

Robert Skidelsky of Warwick University examined the growing opposition to migration across advanced economies, which he views as a reflection of deeper political and psychological dynamics, rather than economic anxieties, as is commonly believed.

The Three Trumps

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University predicted early in the year that Trump’s three separate identities – Russian lackey, plutocrat, and populist demagogue – would eventually converge. The result, he suggested, would be a president who placates his supporters with tweets to distract from his administration’s regressive economic policies and reported ties to Russia.

The White House Crack-Up

Elizabeth Drew, a veteran chronicler of US politics, described the prevailing mood in the White House throughout the year as a mix of chaos, pettiness, and paranoia, owing to the constant flow of news reports documenting the Trump administration’s dysfunction – which seems to trickle down from the very top.

Donald Trump’s Historic Mistake

Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation, echoing the view of every other government in the world, decried Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, portraying it as a tragic and unprecedented abdication of global leadership.

The Kindleberger Trap

Joseph Nye of Harvard University introduced a new – and already indispensable – concept to the Sinological lexicon. Whereas China could fall into the “Thucydides trap” if it appears too strong and provokes a challenge from the US, Nye’s “Kindleberger trap” describes a China that invites a different set of problems by acting too weak.

Why India Should Scrap Parliamentary Democracy

Shashi Tharoor of the Indian National Congress party, lamenting that overly frequent state-assembly elections have come to be seen as referenda on the national government, called on India to do away with the parliamentary system it inherited from the British, and adopt a presidential system instead.

Spain’s Crisis Is Europes Opportunity

Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens saw the Catalonian secession bid in October as a wake-up call for the European Union to grant more autonomy to regional and local governments, lest the unhappy choice between more EU-level bureaucracy or more “competing nationalisms” consume the bloc from within.

World Order 2.0

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that in a globalized world, the centuries-old Westphalian model of sovereignty is no longer sufficient. The international order should still protect the rights of states, but also hold states responsible for the economic, political, environmental, and humanitarian obligations they bear as members of the international community.

Nationalists and Globalists

Anne-Marie Slaughter, who heads the New America think tank, offered a corrective to the simplistic dichotomies of populists and elites, or nationalists and internationalists, and proposed a new kind of humanistic politics that recognizes people’s yearning for rootedness and genuine connection in a diverse, globalized world.