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Thursday, April 25, 2019

TRUMP, ISRAEL, AND THE DOMESTIC POLITICS OF FOREIGN POLICY


While the attention of the nation is being focused by the media on the early stages of the crowded Democratic presidential primary campaign, important events in the international arena are happening.  These events could give the many Democratic candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, or at least informed awareness, of international relations. But for the most part the candidates are still caught up in a competition of slogans, Left wing “grand” promises, and condemnation of President Trump, all of which  avoid hard questions and detailed answers.

One important event that impacts U.S. interests and has an domestic political consequences as well, was the recent parliamentary election in Israel.  The regional implications of the election are enormous.  The complex Israeli/Palestinian conflict which has been a source of international tension and war since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 remains unsettled and in apparent stalemate despite changes over the years in the political leadership of both Israel and the Palestinians and their supporters. 

The  history of the conflict shows a spectrum of political and military support by American presidential administrations but  the political significance of the recent election in Israel and the 2016 election of Donald Trump has potentially redefined the relationship between the two nations.

The Israeli election was won by a prospective coalition of conservative, nationalist and religious  political parties.  The largest of these was the Likud Party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu who has been the incumbent Prime Minister for three previous, though not consecutive terms of office.
It was a very close election, a virtually unavoidable condition based on the structure of the Israeli government and political process.  

Israel has a parliamentary system which means that voters don’t  vote directly for the head of government.  They vote for lists of candidates submitted by political parties which will determine the make-up of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.  Membership is determined by proportional representation based on each party’s percentage of the voter’s preferences in the total vote. The head of the largest party based on the new make-up of the legislature is usually chosen by the President of Israel, a mostly symbolic office, to “form a government”.  That means  picking  cabinet secretaries  from among a coalition parties to create an executive branch.  The problem in Israel is that the political spectrum is fractured into a great number of political parties, sometimes as many as 40.  Parties much achieve at least 3.25% of the total vote to gain seats in the Knesset which has only 120 members. Achieving an absolute majority by any single party has been impossible for the entire history of the nation.  In a close contest, several coalition partners may be necessary  and often results in a “strange bedfellows”, and sometimes contentious executive branch, as cabinet seats are doled out to minor parties with their own political agendas.

This was the result in the recent election.  The Likud Party won only 30% of the vote and 36 seats in the Knesset,  narrowly  beating their major rival, the new Blue and White Party which won 29.2%. and 35 seats.  This requires Netanyahu to create a majority of 61 seats from among the conservative portion of the remaining 49 seats won by smaller parties.  This he appears to have done by prior agreement, creating a ten seat majority in the Knesset with several conservative and religious parties.  

The U.S. political connection with this recent event represents both a long term relationship of support and a new environment with potentially serious problems.

President Trump has been “Israeli friendly” since taking office in January, 2017.  This has been a notable contrast with the tensions between the two nations during the Obama Administration. Still,  Trump’s orientation has reflected the generally tolerant to supportive alignment of the U.S. since the post WWII international discussions relating to the creation of the state of Israel. 

 On November 29th, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the recommendations of it’s Special Committee on Palestine (SCOP) which devised a partition of the former League of Nations British Mandate of Palestine.   The partition divided the territory between a new Jewish Provisional Government of Israel and a proposed Arab state.
On May 14, 1948 the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed itself a new independent state and President Truman personally recognized the new government as the legal governing authority of the new state of Israel.  The next day a coalition of regional arab states attacked Israel and the First Arab-Israeli War began. Although the Truman administration provided little material support, Israel successfully repelled the Arab forces and UN sponsored cease fire agreements were negotiated.

However, Israel’s relationship with the U.S. has not always overcome all policy disagreements, as in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Second Arab-Israeli War.  The conflict began when Israeli, French and British troops attempted to take control of the Suez Canal after Egyptian President Gamal  Abdel Nasser nationalized it. President Eisenhower facing threats by the Soviet Union to intervene, ordered the French, British and Israel forces to withdraw or face economic sanctions, which they did. 

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in cooperation with the British, sought to avoid a military arms race in the region and withheld arms sales to Israel after the Suez conflict.  But Soviet arms transfers to Egypt and Syria upset the balance and President Johnson changed U.S. policy in support of Israel with significant armor and aircraft sales.  

Arab nationalism led by Egypt’s Nasser, and a series of terrorist attacks on Israel from Jordan connected to the issue of the partition of  Palestine, complicated the Cold War issues and resulted in the 1967 “Six Day War” between Israel, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. This was the Third Arab/Israeli War and resulted in a complete Israeli victory including a large expansion of territory in the Egyptian controlled Sinai Peninsula; the mountainous Syrian border with Israel called the Golan heights, and the West Bank territories and Eastern portion of the  city of Jerusalem controlled by Jordan.

After, the Six Day War, the U.S. under President Nixon tried once again to achieve a more permanent settlement of hostilities by supporting UN Resolution 242 that required Israel and its Arab neighbors to conclude peace treaties in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.  These attempts failed as the parties could not come to an agreement. 

In 1970, after the death of Egypt’s Nasser,  Anwar el-Sadat  became the President.  Hoping to regain control of the territory lost to Israel in 1967 and persuade Israel that the never ending conflict with Egypt was not in Israel’s national interests,  he made a new compact with Syria and plotted a surprise attack on the formerly Egyptian territory of the Sinai.  It began on October 6, 1973 while Syrian forces attempted to retake the Golan Heights.  Thus began The Fourth Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Yom Kippur War because October 6, was the similarly  named Jewish holy day.  
The surprise was successful and the combined Arab forces armed with up to date Soviet weapons, made early advances.  The Nixon Administration provided massive amounts of military equipment to Israel and the Israeli armed forces managed a successful counter attack. Th conflict soon turned into another military disaster for the Arab forces including the successful encirclement of Egypt’s Third Army just East of the Suez Canal.   However, the war, and Israel’s military domination set the stage for a series of peace negotiations between the Egypt and Israel.

In 1974, the first of two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements providing for the return of portions of the Sinai to Egypt were signed.    In 1978 Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met in the U.S. at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, in what was to be an historic event.  After tough negotiations, a framework for a future peace agreement was reached and in March, 1979 a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed.  

In general terms, the policy of all U.S. administrations after the creation of the Jewish state, has been to create stability in the region, seek balance in terms of military capabilities, and encourage a permanent peace through negotiations.  An underlying approach was to minimize regional influence by the Soviet Union and to assist Israel at times when they faced the possibility of military defeat at the hands of the Arab states.  The Camp David Accords and the following Israeli/Egyptian peace treaty changed the character of the conflict by removing Egypt, the largest and most powerful Arab state, from future region- wide Arab/Israeli wars. 

Despite the significance of the Israeli/Egypt peace treaty and a subsequent peace treaty with Jordan, the peace has not come to the area.  The creation of an Arab (Palestinian) state as provided by the UN partition proposal and which was rejected immediately by the Arab states, has never been accomplished.  Armed conflict, limited and wide, between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization created in 1964  and led by Yassir Arafat from 1969 until his death in 2004, wars with Hamas, the terrorist and political organization in control of the Gaza Strip, the “Arab Spring” revolts which failed in Egypt and is still ongoing in Syria, cross border terrorist attacks from Gaza and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, all have produced constant conflict since the end of the 1973 war.

From the beginning, in 1948, all U.S. presidents have also supported the original concept of UN Resolution 181 which called for the partition of the Palestinian Mandate into a Jewish and an Arab state as the only effective way to end the now 71 year old conflict.  Now commonly just called the “Two State Solution”, it remains as complicated as always.  

While the Cold War has ended, new entities have entered the environment.  Iran, has declared itself a permanent and implacable foe of the state of Israel, even calling for it’s annihilation.  Iranian and Russian forces have entered the civil war in Syria and along with Iran’s proxy terrorist organization Hezbollah located in Lebanon and now also fighting in Syria.  Hamas, in Gaza also refuses Israel’s “right to exist” and is in a permanent state of hostilities with Israel which has occasioned several major conflicts with the Israeli Defense Forces.  The Palestinian Authority, which was created by the Oslo Accords in 1993, is in administrative control of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, thus creating a divided Palestinian government.  

 U.S. relations with Israel have always been considered in the larger Middle East regional context with most regional consideration going to the primary players, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.  However, Iran’s growing influence and development of a nuclear research program with possible military applications created a new source of instability and ramifications to the long term  Arab/Israeli conundrum.

Iran has been the target of economic sanctions since 1979 when Iranian militants occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the diplomatic staff hostage.  The hostage crisis ended on January 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President of the United States.

However, in  the ensuing years the U.S., the EU and the UN Security Council added additional, and broader economic sanctions against Iran in connection with their support of international terrorism and their nuclear development program.  On July 14, 2015, after months of negotiations, the “ P5+1" nations (UNSC permanent members plus Germany) signed an agreement with Iran called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which began a process of reducing the sanctions on Iran contingent on Iran adopting limits on its nuclear fuel processing production and nuclear weapons technology.  The plan came into effect on October 18th of that year.

The plan had been a special project of President Obama who had been seen during his first term  by the Israeli government as a committed friend and ally. “Obama put an end to the linking of loan guarantees to Israel’s spending on settlement construction and increased defense assistance to Israel to the unprecedented level of $38 billion over 10 years, making permanent hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Israel’s anti-missile programs. He authorized assistance to Iron Dome, the short-range anti-missile system that has proven critical in Israel’s three wars since 2009 with Hamas on its border with the Gaza Strip. ," (TJP 7/28/18).

However, Obama as a candidate for President had expressed a level of disdain for Likud, the Israel’s largest conservative party whose leader at the time was Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama, like the last several American Presidents had hoped to be the arbiter of the evasive solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Netanyahu and Likud represented a hard line, security oriented approach which seemed to Obama as inflexible and an obstacle to productive negotiations.  The problem became more real by the fact that shortly after Obama was inaugurated in 2009, Likud led a conservative coalition to victory in the Israeli Knesset elections of the same year and Netanyahu once again became Prime Minister.  

In 2011, in a speech outlining his approach to Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations Obama included the controversial requirement that Israel withdraw to it’s pre-1967 borders as stipulated in UN Resolution 242 but which had been rejected for years by the establishment of numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He later ordered his UN Ambassador not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli policy of creating the settlements; a departure from all previous U.S. president’s policies of defending Israel when each of many anti-Israel UN Resolutions were submitted for votes in the Security Council.

The Iran nuclear deal, JCPA, approved in 2015 was the breaking point between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu’s government.  Netanyahu was adamantly opposed to the deal and came to the U.S. to appeal to Republicans in the Congress to kill the deal.  He complained that; “. . .A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,”.  He made the point  to Obama and the rest of the P5+1, that the JCPA was a temporary diplomatic achievement but to Israel it was a threat to their very existence.

The U.S. presidential election of 2016 has fundamentally changed the U.S./Israeli relationship and Netanyahu’s victory in 2019 cements that relationship at least until the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The French Ambassador to the U.S. who is also the former Ambassador to Israel, recently said that Trump was more popular in Israel than Netanyahu.  If that is so, it can be partially explained by the tenuous Netanyahu/Obama relationship which featured open disdain on both sides.  Trump has supported Israel both diplomatically and materially. 

On December 6, 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced his plans to move the U.S. embassy there. Although Israel’s important government offices were located there, they are in the western half of the city. The Palestinian position was that East Jerusalem was to be the capital of the future Palestinian state.  Also , though Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama had all said they would move the embassy, all had deferred to what was the pro forma U.S. and EU position of keeping all territorial issues in the conflict on the table to help stimulate negotiations between the parties. Thus Trump’s recognition of the entire city which had been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 War, as Israel’s capital, was a major blow to the Palestinian view of a “two state solution”.

On May 8, 2018, fulfilling a campaign promise, Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (PCPOA), the “Iran Nuclear Deal”.  Calling the agreement deeply flawed and dangerous, he reimposed U.S. economic sanctions and handed Prime Minister Netanyahu a major diplomatic and political gift.  The effect was to destroy Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement and reimpose significant economic pressure on the government of Iran.

Trump wasn’t finished in his rebuilding of the U.S. relationship with Netanyahu.  On May 25, 2019, he surprised his own State Department and U.S. allies in Europe by announcing that the U.S. government now recognized Israel’s claims to the Golan Heights region on the border with Syria.  This territorial, under Israeli occupation since 1967 had also been viewed by the EU leadership and Syria as a negotiable component of a broader Arab/Palestinian/ Israeli peace plan.
Of course Trump was simply rejecting diplomatic maneuvering and recognizing the reality that no Israeli government was going to relinquish control of the strategically important defensive region which had gained greater importance since the Iranian entry into the Syrian civil war.

It is believed by some political observers in Israel that Trump’s pro-Israeli acts and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty in Golan helped Netanyahu build his conservative coalition to win the parliamentary elections in April, 2019.

During the campaign and encouraged by Trump’s support,  Netanyahu stunned the international community by saying if elected Prime Minister he would assume sovereignty over the @131 (in 2017) Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This promise,  if accomplished, in combination with Trump’s recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel  would effectively end the seventy-one year old prospect of a “two state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Of course, Netanyahu may delay, modify, or even reject such a plan in the face of what will be certain international pressure.  And, Netanyahu will not always be the Prime Minister and head of a governing conservative coalition. Future Prime Ministers could have a very different approach.  Still, there are an estimated 413,400 Israelis living in the 131 modern villages (settlements) and “outposts” in the West Bank.  An additional 209,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem, presenting an enormous obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state in these areas.

Prior to Netanyahu’s “sovereignty” announcement, a Trump “peace plan” had been in negotiation for about two years, led by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.  After Netanyahu’s announcement, Kushner announced that the plan which was to be revealed in April, would now be delayed until sometime in June, apparently signaling that adjustments would have to be made to accommodate what appears to be an intractable blockade into any proposed “two state solution”.

Now,  in the beginning of the Democratic presidential primary campaign with an ever growing crowd of candidates competing for headlines by attacking Trump, all his policies, and everyone connected to him, including the Prime Minister of Israel, the Israeli/American relationship is at risk of becoming a domestic political football.  

Former House Representative Robert (Beto) O’Rourke who the media declared a viable Democratic candidate after losing his campaign for the Senate from Texas in the 2018 mid-term elections provides an unfortunate example.  In a highly contradictory campaign speech in April,  he declared that :

 “The US-Israeli relationship is among the most important "on the planet" .That relationship, if it is to be successful, must transcend partisanship in the United States, and it must be able to transcend a prime minister (Netanyahu) who is racist, as he warns about Arabs coming to the polls, who wants to defy any prospect for peace as he threatens to annex the West Bank, and who has sided with a far-right, racist party in order to maintain his hold on power," 

O'Rourke continued, saying he did not believe Netanyahu "represents the true will of the Israeli people" or the "best interests" of the relationship between the US and Israel. “Beto” went on to endorse a two-state solution to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Thus “Beto”, believes that the all important U.S. relationship with Israel must “transcend partisanship in the United States.”? The partisan divide in support of the state of Israel is obvious and is being led by members of  Beto’s Democratic Party.  The “first” two Muslim female members of the House of Representatives were elected in the 2018 mid-term elections.  Somali born Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has made attacks on Jewish organizations and Israel the most prominent part of her new status as a member of Congress.  In May she claimed the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) was “funding Republican support for Israel”causing a major controversy . In spite of the fact that AIPAC offers no financial support for political parties, she went on to say she was “simply criticizing Israel.” She went on to “clarify” that she was opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and “the occupation” (of the West Bank).

 “Palestinian-American”, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) a highly partisan, vociferously crude,  anti- Trump newcomer,  supports Omar and since being elected says she rejects a “two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and now supports a “one state solution” and canceling U.S. aid to Israel.  A “one state solution” is essentially the incorporation of millions of Palestinian Arabs into the state of Israel and the elimination of the Jewish state. 

 Both Tlaib and Omar support the Left wing Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement popular among U.S. college students and faculties.  One of the goals of the international BDS movement is the “right of return” for all Palestinians and their descendants who lived in the territory of what is now the state of Israel prior to its UN recognized independence in 1948, a similar tactic to a “one state solution”. “Transcending partisanship” in the U.S. doesn’t seem to be a possibility.

“Beto” also believes that the U.S. relationship must “transcend a Prime Minister (Netanyahu) who is racist”.  Transcend (ignore?) the head of government of “one of the most important relationships on the planet”?  Does O’Rourke really believe that should he actually become the President, dismissing that head of government of Israel by calling him a “racist” will lead to an improved or even viable “relationship”?
Unsurprisingly, self described “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders, hater of all things conservative, foreign and domestic, agrees: “ Israel is currently run by a “right-wing, racist government”, Bernie says, thus establishing his own “relationship” with the vitally important state of Israel.
“ Beto” shows his lack of understanding of the highly complex nature and history of the challenges facing the Israeli state when he simplifies the conflict to a simple choice of a “two state solution”’ That goal has been negotiated since the original Partition Plan of the UN’s Special Committee on Palestine and was rejected by the Arab states resulting in the First Arab/Israeli war.  Bernie knows better but just doesn’t care.

Similar “solutions” have been rejected by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leader Yassir Arafat and currently by Hamas, the political leadership in Gaza, which still calls for the eradication of Israel.

“Beto” concluded his simplistic and uninformed comments with the assertion that he does “not believe that  Netanyahu "represents the true will of the Israeli people . ..”  This is a very difficult claim to justify given that Netanyahu has just been elected in a democratic process for his fourth term as Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is a realist who for his whole political career has been faced with the problem of armed aggression by larger, regional states in three general wars, numerous limited wars against the PLO and Hamas, three violent general uprisings (Intifadas) by the Palestinians, decades of cross border terrorism, and rocket attacks and threats by Hamas and now Iran, to destroy his nation.  He, and all other heads of the Israeli government have had to defend a tiny country, of only 8,355 square miles, only 9.3 miles wide at its most narrow point between the West Bank, the proposed site of a Palestinian State, and the Mediterranean Sea.  Netanyahu sees such a state as an inherently hostile threat to Israel’s existence. His positions are not about race but about security. 

As the history of the conflict shows, there are no easy answers.  The domestic partisan hatred of Trump has extended  to his foreign policies and the foreign beneficiaries of those policies.  
Israel is America’s only ally in the volatile and important Middle East region.  It is also the only democratic nation in the region, and possessed of one of the most efficient militaries and intelligence services in the world.  

Former four star general and Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration, Alexander Haig once said that: “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”

If any of the prospective Democratic U.S. Presidents want to have a productive relationship with the dominant player in the conflict, they must avoid the presumption of telling Israelis that they know what is best for them for the protection of their very existence as a nation.  

Putting pressure on Israel to “negotiate” is pointless without a first fundamental change.  There can be no negotiation for peace as long as the Palestinians are governed by two separate and opposing governments in the West Bank and in Gaza and while one such government, Hamas, refuses the “right of Israel to exist”.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

THE PARTY'S HAVING A PARTY!



It’s begun.  The Democratic Party is having a party.  It’s a theme party called the Democratic Presidential Primary Campaign and self invitees are all coming as “candidates for POTUS”.  It’s also a progressive party (in both common usages of the word), with the formal festivities starting in June, 2019 with a  fun debate between the party goers.  Then those who choose to keep on dancing will move to eleven similar events over a monthly schedule.  Prizes in the form of “who won” and who is still “viable”will be awarded by pollsters and the media eager to influence the outcomes.  Participation trophies, although probably the motive of some, won’t be handed out.

Currently, the number of celebrants appears to be somewhere around 40-45, an unrealistic and unmanageable group but a number that is sure to sink as the reality of the cost of participation takes hold.  

Why such an unprecedented large number of contestants?  Several reasons new to presidential politics are in play.

First, and most important is the remarkable upset 2016 victory by the current  incumbent of the other party.   The guiding belief among the crowd trying to push their way into White House is that “if an obnoxious, erratic, billionaire real estate developer with no political background or experience can be elected President, then anyone can.”

Second is the belief, the product of a two year drumbeat of mainstream and social media angst, hate and derision, that this President is a political disaster who anyone can defeat.  

Third is the effect of social media on the money problem. In 2016, Bernie Sanders had relative success raising large sums of money in the form of small donations from large numbers of individuals using social media as the point of contact.  This has fostered the belief that a viable campaign can be financed without the traditional support of large donors or self funding by rich candidates.  Of course Bernie was out resourced and defeated by Hillary who employed no such restraints on fund raising, but no matter, the dream lives on. 

Taking a short look at the “interested” candidates shows a common thread among the long list of physically and regionally diverse individuals.  With few exceptions, the possible candidates are, or have been pushed, far to the Left. But there is considerable variation in the traditional characteristics and qualifications of the pre-Trump candidacy.

Because the Democratic (and Republican) primaries are state based, unlike national primaries in some countries, the appeal of candidates can vary greatly based on local cultural and ideological characteristics and thus not closely reflect national preferences.  This is important because the larger, most populace states send larger numbers of delegates to the nominating conventions. 

In the Democrats case, most of the larger population states are the bastions of the most Left wing elements of the Party: California (San Francisco, LA); New York (NYC); Illinois (Chicago).
Texas and Florida may be more moderate as a whole but this is still just the Democrats in action and “Beto mania” in Texas is a bad sign in the search for moderation.  Thus a far Left candidate out of touch with the more moderate national population might create a problem for the Democrats in the general election.  George McGovern and Michael Dukakis come to mind.

How will Democrat primary voters sort out this proliferation of almost like minded liberals?
First, things have changed since 2016.  The Democrats have divided themselves into competing identity groups, so for now, the traditional (pre-Trump) evaluations of candidates mostly based on qualifications like political experience and previous success, have taken a back seat to things like, age, sex, race, and level of hostility towards Trump and Republicans.

One less narrow characteristic is still acknowledged by experienced pundits however and thus seems to have survived in the background.  This is “likeability”.  Maybe this will be the great separator in the final determination. It’s impossible to know much about the personalities of so many candidates but a look at one of the “front runners” may be informative.

Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who a couple of long term Democrats watching one of her recent speeches in Iowa had eye rolling fits declaring her “boring”.  In an attempt to look chummy and like one of the regular guys, the Harvard law professor  posted a video on Instagram from her kitchen where she popped open a brewski and drank it out of the bottle. That was it; no political message attached.   Sorry Warren advisers, this cringe worthy episode looked like an obvious re-run of Hillary’s 2008 election visit to a tavern in Crown Point, Indiana where she tossed down a shot of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and a beer chaser with the guys, duly recorded in a video.  At least neither Hillary nor Warren were wearing camo but it’s probably not a good plan to use Hillary as a campaign role model.

Likeability aside, here’s a simple classification of the possible candidates as a starter.  Unlike Trump, all of the possible Democratic candidates are politicians or former politicians although there are important differences in experience. At the outset, the primary battle seems to be shaping up as a battle between the radical left and the establishment left; the young Left and the old Left; the diversity Left and accepting of white males Left.  There is some overlap and some contradictions among the candidates however.

The Radical Left:

Bernie Sanders, Democratic Socialist, Independent, Senator from the rural commune of Vermont, who did unexpectedly well against the Clinton/DNC team in 2016. Bernie’s anti-capitalist, “revolutionary” rhetoric and goals attract a mix of young radicals and some so called “millennials”. But at age 77 now, and 80 if assuming office in January 2021, Bernie runs into trouble with the “old white guys” barrier which has become a popular meme among the “new Left” since 2016. Never mind that according to the “experts” on “political correctness”, college sophomores nation wide, this hostility is “ageist”, “racist”, and “sexist”. But Bernie will still excite some college radicals and get the liberal geezer vote.

The Identity Politics Left:

This was tried with mixed success, working for Obama who ran in 2008 as “the first Black President to be” and garnering 95 percent of the black vote.  To be fair, that vote was not enough to win and he attracted majorities from Hispanics , 67%, and Asians  67% well as 43% of the white vote to give him the win.  But the fact that he was an historically important candidate by virtue of his race can not be denied as contributing to his appeal. 

Hillary ran her “I am woman” “break the glass ceiling” campaigns in both 2008 and 2016 and came up short in both. Also,  in 2008 Obama was the only minority candidate and Hillary was the only female.  This was also true for her in 2016.  The situation for 2020 is more daunting for such candidates because there are several of each which will split the vote of these blocs.  Still, the motivation for this appeal appears enticing to many because of the clamor by the Left for “new leadership” which in many cases translates into the anti-“old white men” narrative.

Cory Booker:   The black Senator from New Jersey and former Mayor of Newark, NJ.  Booker is a fast talker with a tendency to shouting and theatrics  who has made, and will continue to make race a national campaign issue if he runs as expected.  This may win him approval with minority voters but could complicate the campaigns of the other minority candidates and hurt him with the non-minority majority of voters who are experiencing “race issue fatigue”.

Eric Holder: The former Attorney General in Obama’s first administration is known as “the first Black AG”.  He’s intelligent, articulate and knowledgeable about the political process in Washington D.C.  He is also highly partisan and was oriented towards the racial implications of social justice issues as Attorney General.  Ironically, he is the quintessential Washington “establishment” insider, going back and forth between a high profile law firm and government most of his career.  Also, in January, 2021 he will be an “old black man” of 70. 

Kamala Harris: The current junior Senator from California.  Harris’s political background is limited to her stint as District Attorney for San Francisco and then Attorney General of California.  Thus she’s a high profile minority in California but not so much nationally.  She is also currently light on the credentials side of the political ledger for the common but outdated “Leader of the free world” label. The “what about Trump” response doesn’t work for her or anyone else unless the Democrats are willing to accept the Trump anomaly as the new standard for POTUS.   She has tried to boost her status and name identification mostly by media coverage of the nomination hearings for former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, taking an overly hostile and confrontational approach which led the media to some how conflate rudeness as a positive attitude along with her being a black female and thus a “potential” presidential candidate. 

Julian Castro:   The former mayor of San Antonio, TX whose youth , 44, and third generation immigrant status check two of the boxes for the “new blood and diversity” movement in the Democratic Party.  Castro is the “ Hispanic candidate”. He portrays his brief political career as an example of how the nation’s largest minority group can achieve status and success.  His issues as Mayor and then as Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development were immigration, early education, and then housing assistance, and disaster relief.  He set himself on a political fast track starting with college politics at Stanford University.  He became the youngest member of the San Antonio City Council and then the youngest mayor.  He followed in Obama’s footsteps to gain attention as a Democratic “rising star” by delivering the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention before joining the Obama Administration.  He was mentioned, and then passed over, as Hillary’s Vice Presidential running mate.  With his thin resume’ and narrow focus on his Hispanic minority appeal which nevertheless would be important in “red” Texas, and “battleground” Florida, he looks more like a Vice Presidential candidate than a top of the ticket player, and that may well be part of his well planned political assent.  

Tulsi Gabbard:  Gabbard is a mixed race female whose background doesn’t offer support specific to a politically important minority group.  Born in American Samoa, her father is also mixed race, Samoan/Causcasion.  He mother is Caucasian but is a practicing Hindu. Gabbard is herself a practicing Hindu.  Her credentials for the presidency are had to find.  Her political experience includes the Honolulu city council and two years in the Hawaii House of Representatives and six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the district combining Honolulu and surrounding small towns.  She is apparently trying to use her veteran status from two Middle East tours in the Hawaii National Guard as resume’ filler.  But, and it’s a really big “but”, the ever vigilant far Left is already shouting heresy about Gabbard’s past positions while a legislator in Hawaii. Like her father, a Catholic active in his church and a state senator, she espoused anti-gay positions and legislation.  She has since claimed that she has “evolved” and apologized to the unforgiving activists on these issues.  “But”, again, she has praised Russia’s Putin for bombing Islamist insurgents in Syria and criticized Obama for not doing the same.  She has endorsed torture in extreme situations affecting U.S. national security and visited Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.  She is also connected to an extremist, anti-Islamic Hindu religious/political group in India.   
It took Charles Darwin’s evolution process about 3 million years to produce a walking, talking, modern, radical leftist Democrat (mistakes do happen; look at the duck billed platypus ).  But the amount of “evolving” Gabbard will have to claim to the forces of the Left and a hostile media to get past these politically incorrect heresies will resemble the Darwin process.

Women: The 2018 elections had a large number of female candidates and resulted in a record number of female members for the U.S. House of Representatives, virtually all Democrats.
This has pushed a narrative among the “Progressive” wing of the party that a woman should be on the Democratic ticket, preferably at the top but at least in line for the top as the Vice Presidential candidate.

No conditional requirement for such things as competence, experience, or leadership has been attached to the demand, as this is either assumed for all potential female candidates or is deemed less important than the symbolic achievement i.e. the “glass ceiling”. 

The result is that there are at least five female candidates so far.  Two, Harris and Gabbard are looking for support as possessors of all three “time for a . . .” characteristics, i.e. “young”, “woman”, “person of color”.   The third, Elizabeth Warren, morphed into an “old white woman” after her DNA fiasco took away her tomahawk, but many on the Left will probably forgive her being white, (“hey, she tried!”) if she looks like a front runner.

The remaining women who are prominently mentioned are New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobochar.  They both currently suffer from significant name identification problems and associated political records which don’t stand out from the crowd.
To raise money and generate enthusiasm, both will have to have high level performances in the numerous “debates”, which will be difficult given the initial high number of participants and the soft ball questions typically asked by the self-important moderators.
However, lacking controversy in their quasi-anonymity, they would both probably be safe choices for vice president by a male nominee seeking to “balance the ticket”.

That leaves most of the announced and speculative candidates who don’t fit into an obvious sub-category and who with a few exceptions can be only be described as “long shots”.  These are all sitting or former politicians and number about fifteen with perhaps more waiting in the wings.   The few prominent exceptions are the “old white men” Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.  
 Bernie, a 2016 candidate who generated unexpected enthusiasm will probably be forgiven by his core supporters for not being able to pick his parents or sex and living too long.  Joe Biden, former Vice President in the Obama administration will likely benefit from an “admiration by association” effect with Obama.  Biden’s support, though currently leading others in early polls, can be partially, or even largely, attributed to that fact that Democrats know who he is. 
 His support however, seems to lack the emotional intensity of the “progressive” identity groups which include younger activists and voters.  Joe is “a good old boy”, a double edged attribute in the current political environment.
Michael Bloomberg, is a “former”; a former mayor of New York City; a former Republican; a former Independent, and formerly young.  Now he is a current billionaire, and “old white man” and a Democrat.
He’s intelligent, sophisticated, money wise and politically astute.  But he seems like a political anachronism and thus politically irrelevant in the new quest for political change. Nevertheless, he has the personal resources to stay in the race while the field narrows.

The other exception to the mostly anonymous group is Robert Francis (Beto) O’Rourke.  He’s not old (46), but he is a man.  He’s a little short on old fashioned presidential qualifications with just two terms representing the El Paso, TX area in the House of Representatives but he became a media made celebrity by losing (narrowly) to Ted Cruz in the 2018 race for Senator.  He thus achieved “rising star” status after months of pre-election liberal media assertions that he was turning conservative Texas “blue”.  

In terms of policy O’Rourke tried to walk the tight rope of not sounding to liberal to Texans while not offending his supporters by sounding too conservative.  He did most of this by limiting his policy preferences to generalistic platitudes about “more opportunity”, “better health”, “better education” etc.  He affirmed his loyalty to the Second Amendment on gun rights, a necessity in Texas,  but gambled with a call for universal background checks and a ban on “assault rifles” and large capacity magazines.   He may have over reached as far as the national progressive movement’s Republican haters and “resistance” movement are concerned with this quote from his senatorial campaign web site: 

“ He has made it a priority to work across the aisle to secure bipartisan support for his legislation, because Beto knows our country is at its best when we can put party aside to work together, build consensus and find common ground.”

So essentially, he probably has fallen into the possible Vice Presidential candidate category if a female becomes the Democratic candidate for President.  

The Rest of the Herd:   Have you ever heard of John Delaney, Eric Swawell,
 Richard Ojeda?   How about Steve Bulluck, Pete Buttigieg, Roy Cooper? These are announced candidates for President; there are others.  These are all elected officials at the state, local and national level who have grand ambitions and believe that “Anyone can be President of the U.S. if . . .”  But presidential politics has become a billion dollar popularity contest which includes a level of viciousness and character assassination carried out without accountability on social media, ideologically steeped web sites and opinion pages. If you haven’t already been “vetted” i.e. examined from birth for social insensitivities, and are now forced to  build name identification starting from scratch, you have an enormous challenge.  

In the initial stages of the campaign, the candidates will run against Trump not each other.  They will engage in similar panel show discourse with generalities, platitudes and rally slogans about “income inequality”, the threat to the environment, middle class tax cuts, jobs, “the wall”, “immigration reform” etc.  Even in the early debates, they will be reluctant to offend the other candidates supporters by strong criticism of each other.  But eventually, with so many candidates, the realization that in order to achieve some separation in the polls will become apparent and they will have to engage in separation from their competitor’s policy goals.  They all can’t be for and against the same things. Then is will get nastier and more interesting. The money will follow the polls and the media’s “who won the debate” pronouncements and the herd will be thinned quickly.
In the mean time Trump will go crazy trying to Tweet insults about this many candidates but he’s up to the challenge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

KHASHOGGI: TRUMP IS RIGHT



On October 2, 2018 Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen living in the United States since June, 2017, went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul,Turkey to obtain  Saudi marriage documents.  He never left the Consulate.  It was later determined that a team of Saudi executioners attacked and killed Khashoggi and disposed of his body, which has yet to be found.

The incident has since become an international cause célèbre  especially among a few Western European states, Turkey, and even more so in the United States. Why this is so is interesting considering that while state sponsored murder is condemnable in any context, it is also unfortunately,  historically and contemporarily commonplace, even on a much greater scale.  

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted and prosecuted  leaders of Serbia, and African  nations for genocides involving thousands of civilians.  The Russian government, led by Vladimir Putin has been accused of assassinating and trying to assassinate Russian citizens living in both Russia and England. Civilian Al Qassam Brigades suicide bombers sponsored by the governing  Hamas  party in Gaza have killed not only themselves at the instruction of their government but hundreds of Israeli citizens and are ignored or even praised by some as simply “resistors”.  

What makes the Khashoggi case different is again context.  Although  Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen, killed in a Saudi government facility, by Saudi operatives, his death is being described as particularly heinous, first, because he was a political dissident highly critical of the autocratic, and in many ways, medieval, government of the Saudi kingdom.  Also, Khashoggi’s murder appears to have been given special significance in the U.S. because he was a temporary legal resident and an opinion contributor to the Washington Post.

But the Khashoggi affair has quickly been politicized. Trump has adopted a realistic position towards the Saudi kingdom choosing not to jeopardize America’s influence and vital interests with Saudi Arabia  based on the important role it plays in Middle East politics and yes, in the world’s energy markets.   Democrats see it as yet another opportunity to attack and discredit President Trump, and some Republican politicians like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)  haven’t been able to resist the urge to adopt  a morally superior attitude usually favored by liberals by declaring that the Saudi head of government, Mohammed  bin Salman is “insane”, and that he “won’t deal with him” in any capacity.  That politically motivated proclamation while being irresponsible, is also a safe threat to make since Senator Graham is not in a position to deal with Saudi Arabia in any way save his own vote in the Senate.

This position fits neatly with the other dire exaggerations coming from the Left which howl about Trump abandoning “American values” and “giving a green light to the world’s dictators to commit murder.”   Trump of course declared the Khashoggi murder to be  “ . . .an unacceptable and horrible crime.” But that is not enough for his critics, many of whom on the Left oppose the autocratic Saudi government on ideological grounds and wish to diminish the President in any way possible.

Trump has not made his basic  common sense position not to disown or reject the decades old U.S. relationship with the Kingdom any easier by engaging in his usual Trumpian exaggerations and lack of focus on those issues.  Seeming to once again contradict his own intelligence assets with respect to the Saudi Crown Prince’s connection to the murder, making questionable claims about the size and importance of pending Saudi defense spending with U.S. contractors, and diminishing the role of the government of Turkey in their investigation and conclusions of the crime which occurred in their territory, has unnecessarily provided more fuel for his critics.

However, the real issue is not Trump’s leadership incompetence; it is a matter of prioritizing critical foreign security and economic issues against the symbolic exercise of confirming a universally known American rejection of political murder on moral grounds.

The Saudi/U.S. diplomatic relationship is, and has been, important on at least three vital issues for decades. The first is the seventy year old Arab conflict with Israel, America’s staunchest ally in the region, which has resulted in four multi-state wars in the Middle East and several separate conflicts between Israel and Palestinian guerilla forces.

Saudi Arabia, as a conservative Islamic, Arab state has for most of that long period been a political supporter of the Arab-Palestinian forces.  Now however, the Kingdom, under the rule of the young Crown Prince has taken a more pragmatic approach, distancing itself  from the violent tactics and political demands of the terrorist groups the Islamic State and Hamas in Gaza, whose  stated goal which they share with the Iranian government, is to destroy the state of Israel.  Saudi Arabia has considerable influence with the other Arab “Gulf  states” and has even proposed an “Arab peace plan”, which while it has failed to get serious consideration, could still perform as a realistic basis for negotiating a peaceful, two state solution to this seemingly permanent and  destabilizing impasse. This is important since it implies an acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.

The second vital issue is the regional aspirations of Iran which threaten to divide the Middle East into two permanently hostile blocs, with the prospect of armed conflict.  Iran, an Islamic theocracy, ruled by a religious cleric who holds the title  Supreme Leader, is the leader of the Shi’ite sect of Islam which views the larger Sunni branch as religious apostates.  Combined with the nationalistic based efforts to expand its influence/ control in the region, Iran has established a Shi’ite proxy in Lebanon  with its military and financial support of Hezbollah, the “party of God”, which is a government within a government in Lebanon.  Iran is also intervening in the civil war in Syria.  It provides troops, weapons and money to the Shi’ite associated Alawite minority government of  Bashar Assad, and with the similar intervention of Russia, has secured the reign, and continued dependence, of Assad.   A similar effort by Iran is being made in Shi’ite majority Iraq which is battling the Sunni Taliban insurgency. 

The civil war in Yemen, a small nation on Saudi Arabia’s southern border in the Arabian peninsula, has also become a major issue with anti-Saudi politicians and opinion writers.  The conflict pits Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against a Shi’ite Houthi insurgency vs. the Saudi supported Yemeni government.  The war is a humanitarian disaster, as much of the economic infrastructure of the country has been destroyed resulting in famine conditions for the populace.  While critics of the chaos blame the Saudi coalition and U.S air refueling support (which has been terminated), they largely ignore the role of Iran in the conflict which supplies the Houthi forces in yet another Iranian attempt to create an anti-Saudi surrogate in the region.

The major obstacles in Iran’s path to regional dominance are the military and secular leaning government of Egypt and the conservative Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia.  Iran is a major supporter of international terrorism, anti- West and anti-Israel policies and a potential nuclear weapons state.  It is clearly in the interests of the United States its allies to work with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia to block Iran’s goals.

Thirdly, although the political Left is perpetually in denial about the necessity of accepting it, is the significance of Saudi Arabia’s position as the second highest  holder of oil reserves in the world.  Saudi Arabia exports 13% of the world’s oil supplies.  Because the Saudi’s also have the infrastructure to immediately raise or lower their production  they have a more enhanced role in the world’s supply of oil and thus its world market price.  While critics reject the importance of Saudi oil to the U.S. based on increased domestic production which in terms of volume makes it look like the U.S. is energy independent with respect to oil, this is inaccurate.
First, oil comes in different grades.  Shale oil which has produced the higher levels of supply in the U.S. is a “light” oil which the major U.S. refineries, built years ago, are not designed to process into the types of petroleum products most used by the U.S.  Thus most of this shale surplus is being exported. Meanwhile the U.S. still imports oil including 1.1 million barrels a day in September of 2018.

But even if the U.S. were to become totally oil independent, that would not protect U.S. consumers from an international price shock.  The price of oil is based on the world market. A sudden shortage in production would dramatically raise the market price including U.S. assets since U.S. production is part of that market. The damage to the economies of important oil importers like Japan, South Korea and some European nations  would be profound and have a serious impact on the U.S. economy. 

Saudi Arabia is currently keeping production up, and prices down,  to make up for the decrease in  the world supply  resulting from the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s exports which are part of the strategy to bring Iran back to the negotiating table regarding their nuclear ambitions, missile delivery systems development, and  and regional aggression. Putting this cooperation at risk by imposing sanctions on Saudi officials including their head of government makes no sense.

What is clear is that American values are intact and national leaders across the globe know where the U.S. stands with regard to civil rights and human rights.  What should be clear to Trump’s critics is that foreign dictators, friendly or not, don’t look to the U.S. for a “green light” to commit acts that violate these rights, nor are they deterred by by the protestations of U.S. leaders, politicians and media or even the threat of economic sanctions.

This should be obvious to all based on the murderous acts of Russia’s Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Still political engagement with these governments and others like China and Cuba present a sometimes discomforting but necessary alternative to a non-productive and futile attempt to project U.S. “values” onto authoritarian regimes for domestic crimes .  This does not mean that such crimes should not be publicly condemned or that similar crimes of greater scale should not be firmly addressed.  For these, there are international responses available which the U.S. could lead.  Economic sanctions can be imposed through the UN Security Council, and individual heads of government can be indicted as mentioned above, by the International Criminal Court.  

With regard to the Khashoggi affair, the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have written a letter to President Trump triggering the Global  Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act of 2016, which requires the President to respond in 120 days as to whether “gross violations of human rights” have been committed by individuals in any nation and whether the President, at his discretion, will impose travel and/or financial sanctions on any individuals in that nation.

President Trump has already imposed such sanctions on seventeen Saudi’s in connection with the Khashoggi murder.  There is little prospect, and rightly so, that he will seek to impose such punishments on the head of government of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or other members of the royal family.  The stakes are just too great.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

HUMAN RIGHTS AND REALITY: THE NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY CONUNDRUM

On July 2, 2018, Canadian Foreign Secretary  Chrystia Freeland proved once again that conducting foreign policy by Twitter is fraught with danger from over simplification, impulsive and/or careless, or simply not well thought out  pronouncements.  While not in the same league as U.S. President Trump’s daily deluge of Twitter carelessness, her short declaration set off a diplomatic storm with the government of Saudi Arabia.  The subject was the arrest and imprisonment  by Saudi authorities of one of several female activists who were detained for criticizing the government. Freeland’s “Tweet” was as follows:

“Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”


This seemingly innocuous protest would typically be  the subject of a brief statement of rejection or be simply ignored by most of the world’s authoritarian governments.  However in the case of Saudi Arabia, the broader context is somewhat different.


Saudi Arabia is a monarchy.  It describes itself as “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.  Like all authoritarian, i.e. non-democratic governments, it relies on suppression of basic civil and human rights to maintain itself in power.  In the Kingdom, it has always been so.  Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist Sunni Islamic state is currently under pressure on its borders from Iranian  sponsored Shi’ite forces attempting to overthrow the government of Yemen, as well as Shi’ite militancy in neighboring Bahrain. 


As the birthplace of Islam and the home of the two holiest sites of that religion,  Saudi Arabia has declared that its constitution is the Koran and the Sunnah, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.


In spite of the social and legal constraints imposed by this strict adherence to conservative Islam, Crown  Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the thirty-three year old de facto head of government, has embarked on a massive modernization program.  This  includes a long range plan to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from dependence on it’s vast oil reserves, a moderation of social restrictions on Western style entertainment, a recent end to the decades old ban on driving privileges for females and a reduction in the powers of the religious police.  These reforms have not come without resistance from Islamic conservatives and Salman is sensitive to criticism which might seem to be pushing him to far, to fast. 


Thus the Saudi government’s response to Freedland’s Tweet was severe.  The Global News’ reports that:

“Since the Middle Eastern kingdom launched the dispute on Sunday evening over tweets sent the week prior, Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador, expelled Canada’s ambassador, frozen new business and trade, ordered Saudi students studying in Canada to go somewhere else, ordered Saudi citizens seeking medical care in Canada to go somewhere else, blacklisted Canadian wheat and barley, and ordered the asset managers of their central bank and pension funds to dump Canadian assets “no matter the cost.”

It’s hard to know how seriously the Canadian government takes these events.  So far neither Foreign Secretary  Freeland nor Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seem too publicly  concerned.


Trudeau summed up his position briefly:  “Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights ... at home and abroad, wherever we see the need.”

“Canadians expect that, and indeed people around the world expect that leadership from Canada,” he said.

Despite this slightly grandiose claim, the Canadian government has a particular interest in the case of the Badawi’s. Samar Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi a Saudi blogger who was imprisoned and sentenced to 1000 lashes for religious apostasy and criticism of the Saudi regime.  His wife and three children sought amnesty in Canada and are now Canadian citizens.


In a sign that the Saudi reaction is more troubling than is publically admitted, Foreign Minister Freedland is reported to have sought the assistance of officials in Germany and Sweden, both of which have experienced similar confrontations with Saudi Arabia over criticism of alleged civil and human rights violations.


The importance of this episode is that it is a reminder in the age of national interest based “Trumplomacy”, which is the subject of harsh partisan criticism, of the tension between reality based foreign policy and idealistic based policies.  It is an obvious fact that the world would be a better place if all nations observed liberal democratic standards of human and civil rights.  Not only would this be a victory for common moral codes, but such codes when embodied in legal systems would produce democratic political systems.  Such systems are much less likely to engage in armed conflict with each other, would produce healthier economic conditions which would benefit their citizens and facilitate more efficient international trade and reduce the world’s immigration problems.


But the reality barrier is significant.  Freedom House’s “Democracy Project” uses a measurable list of categories to evaluate each of the world’s nation  states. These include: free and fair elections; rights of minorities; freedom of the press; and the rule of law.  Similar standards are included in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (1966) which together are labeled the International Bill of Rights.


In 2018, Freedom House found that 25% of countries holding 37% of the world’s population, were “Not Free”.  Another 30% of countries with 24% of the world’s population were only

“Partly Free” thus leaving only 45% of the world’s countries with only 39% of the world’s population categorized as “Free”.

While the majority of the offenders in the first two categories are in the developing world, a few, i.e. Russia, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia have such high levels of international importance in terms of geopolitics, nuclear weapons, and international economic influence that they require a difficult assessment of the proper response to human/civil rights violations in those countries. 


This problem is complicated by two other realities.  First, at what point does violation of rights within a nation, require a violation by other nations of the offending nation’s sovereignty, a concept also enshrined in international law ?


A  second reality is the question of what kind of external policies toward offending nations if any, would be likely to be effective in bringing about changes in the internal policies of the offending nations?


Admonitions, condemnations, public protests by government officials, non-governmental organizations and various public groups, all have a poor record of success in these types of issues as in the case of Raif Badawi whose ten year prison sentence and corporal punishment became an international  “cause celebre ” which was summarily rejected by the Saudi government. Although Badawi’s lashing was suspended after fifty strokes, he remains in prison.


Although President Trump has been criticized for not supporting the Canadian position on both Samar and Raif Badawi (Britain has also declined), he has taken the opposite tack with regards to a similar event in Turkey.  In 2016, American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson who had lived in Turkey for twenty-three years, was imprisoned in a wide spread reaction to a coup attempt against Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. Brunson was accused of espionage and terrorist related charges and is currently being tried in a Turkish court. 


The Trump administration has denied those charges and demanded that Brunson be released. The Erdogan government has refused and President Trump has resorted to economic sanctions in the form of tariffs on the importation of Turkish steel and aluminum.  Turkey has responded with tariffs on U.S. cars, electronics and several consumer goods.


While Trump’s strong reaction to Brunson’s predicament should provide him with some cover over the Left’s criticism of his diffidence in the case of the Badawis, the differences in the two cases are obvious.  First, Trump is Trump, and he gets no relief from the criticism by the Left no matter what the facts are.  Second, Brunson is an American citizen and entitled to the protection of the American government; the Badawis are Saudis in trouble with their own government.  Third, U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia are currently more important than U.S. relations with Turkey or Canadian relations with Saudi Arabia.


This last, may seem harsh to human rights advocates but this fact has the potential to impact many more lives in the U.S. and in the Middle East than the plight of two Saudis whose situation has little hope of redress no matter what the level of outcry from foreign actors. Nonetheless, U.S. relations with Turkey are important in their own right and imposing economic sanctions on Turkey was an over reaction which makes the Brunson situation a face saving situation for Turkey. This complicates Turkey’s role in NATO and U.S. opposition to its support for Iran in the face of Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposition of sanctions against that nation.

However, Saudi Arabia stands with the U.S. and Israel against the terrorist support and regional and nuclear ambitions of Iran.  An of course there is the issue of the international oil market which is heavily influenced by Saudi production and influence in the OPEC cartel, plus the sales of military equipment by the U.S. to the Kingdom.

Also, because Turkey’s economy is currently in a state of high inflation due to mismanagement by the government and Erdogan personally, Trump’s economic sanctions have unusual weight.  While the charges against Brunson seem preposterous, once again, the position of the Erdogan government is based on maintaining resistance against an attack on its national sovereignty. The result so far is a deteriorating impasse.


Dealing with authoritarian governments has been part of international diplomacy throughout history and as the  Freedom House report indicates, it remains a harsh reality today and for the foreseeable future.  Despite the moral impetus for strong advocacy of human rights/civil rights there is little reason to believe that authoritarian governments and their leaders would be willing to risk their regimes by voluntarily liberalizing the repressive laws and political culture which supports them.


That doesn’t mean that some progress on individual cases need not be pursued.  However, quiet diplomacy involving quid pro quos have more chance of success than public condemnation or simple “demands” that appear to be interference in the internal affairs of target nations. Trump recently had such success with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un when he successfully negotiated the release of several American citizens who were being held captive in N. Korea.


 Basically, a substantive change in the political culture of a nation towards improvements in civil and human rights requires broad support from the people in those states as it did in the Eastern European republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  However, some cultures which are divided by heavy tribal, ethnic and religious influence are not ready for Western style liberal democratic systems, a fact which the Bush administration found in its failed “nation building” strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such conditions provide opportunities for authoritarian governments to prevail or simply replace similar governments after social uprisings, as was the case in Egypt.  Indeed, all the  “Arab Spring” movements, with the possible exception of Tunisia, fell victim to such conditions.


In the Badawi and Bruson cases Trump made the mistake of major over reaction which created another set of problems; Freeland made the mistake of not understanding her adversary and using an inadequate and one way public communication tool for a complicated problem.  Both her and Prime Minister Trudeau’s public comments appear to be directed more towards civil and human rights advocates than to Saudi government officials. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

THE SUPREME COURT AND ELECTIONS

If you don’t live on the East or West coasts you probably haven’t felt the earth shaking as the tectonic plates of liberal hysteria break apart.  The voices of panic from the Left would have us preparing for the “end of days”.  The imminent catastrophe ?   The impending seating of fifty-three year old Washington D.C. Circuit Ct. Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Ct.

That’s it.  But Kavanaugh isn’t some radical outlier; he’s the very prototype of the elite legal establishment; a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, a legal functionary in the George W. Bush administration and a long term veteran of the D.C, Circuit Ct., perhaps the most consequential Circuit Ct. in the nation.  Those who know him personally sing his praises as a legal scholar, dedicated family man, educator, and volunteer in his community.  

Still, what can only be described as unhinged behavior by the far Left fills the media and internet.  An open letter by “students, educators and graduates” of Kavanaugh’s own Yale Law School predicts  Armageddon.  Ignoring the fact that as Dean of Harvard Law School, currently  sitting, liberal Supreme Ct. Justice Elena Kagan hired Judge Kavanaugh to teach at Harvard Law, apparently without fear of the end of everything Americans and Harvard Law students hold dear. The Yale group of hand wringers proclaim; “Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination presents an emergency for democratic life, for our safety and freedom, for the future of our country.” Yes, an “emergency.” It even declares that “people will die if he is confirmed.” 

The end of democracy? Death by confirmation?  They apparently felt no need to describe why these catastrophes will take place or how one Justice, or even a quasi bloc of five could bring them about.   But of course the Yale students are not alone in their condition of brain dissolving ideological hatred and panic.

Here is former governor of Virginia and potential 2020 Democratic candidate for President Terry McAuliffe:
“The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh will threaten the lives of millions of Americans for decades to come and will morph our Supreme Court into a political arm of the right-wing Republican Party." 

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) didn’t bother waiting for the Kavanuagh nomination before reacting to “any” Trump nomination for the Supreme Ct.
In June shortly after Justice Kennedy announced his impending retirement, Harris dusted off her crystal ball, gazed through the Left hemisphere and predicted “. . . the destruction of the  constitution”.

Left wing political commentator Paul Waldman:

“Overturning Roe v. Wade will be just the beginning. They're likely to outlaw affirmative action, validate every means of suppressing votes and rigging the electoral system Republicans can devise, and perhaps return us to the days when having a pre-existing condition meant you couldn't get health insurance. More than that, they may well launch an attack on the entire structure of government regulation. Environmental laws, labor laws, civil rights laws—any and all could be the target of sweeping court decisions restricting the ability of the government to do anything to stop the powerful from preying on the rest of us.”

And so it goes; from the pages of the so called “mainstream press” aka the Washington Post and the New York Times, to the far Left journals, (The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Nation) to the equally radical internet sites (Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, Vox) who share each other’s simple minded disaster scenarios which require one to believe that by creating an informal bloc of five jurists who share a judicial philosophy that emphasizes legal interpretation vs. judicial legislation based on the constitutional framework of separation of powers, will bring down the 229 year old American success story.

No doubt there are many on the Left who are energized by their role playing as social justice warriors and pseudo revolutionaries, that have repeated these radical fantasies so often in other contexts that they have come to believe them.  But at the risk of being too kind to the Democratic political leadership, it is all but certain that they are fully aware of the absurdity of their claims.

Supreme Court justices may have conservative or liberal philosophies but these orientations are more part of a spectrum of general beliefs rather than a set of specific instructions that one must follow.  The Court doesn’t rule on political or social philosophies; it rules on specific cases whose individual legal complexities vary and which can produce inconsistent results if viewed from a political philosophy point of view.  Chief Justice John Roberts is well known for being part of the “conservative bloc” despite his deciding vote upholding the penalty for not securing health insurance which was critical to making ObamaCare workable. Thus the personal demonization of Judge Kavanaugh portrays an astounding level of ‘anything goes” political dishonesty and demagoguery. 

In short, with little hope of denying Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, their tactic is to throw red meat to their radical base and foment hysteria among the less informed, Left leaning moderates and Independents in the hope of bringing about 2018 election victories. The ultimate goal of course is to take control of one or both of the houses of Congress. The defamation of Judge Kavanugh’s character, intellect and legal expertise is then simply collateral damage in the fight for political power.

The question then is “Will it work?”  Odds makers would probably say no.  How many false disaster scenarios can one party shout before credibility becomes comedy.  Two years into Trump’s administration the Left’s predicted “authoritarian state” and “destruction of the Constitution” hasn’t happened.  Trump’s “irrational finger on the nuclear button” hasn’t started a nuclear war with “North Korea”. . “China” . . .“Russia”, as predicted.   The Supreme Court drama has already had one screening with the seating of Justice Neal Gorsuch in the “conservative bloc”.  In a recent series of 5-4 decisions the “moderate, centrist” Justice Anthony Kennedy who Judge Kavanaugh will replace, sided with the conservatives and the Constitution still stands, the press is still “free” and no one has died.

The verbal violence of the Left has been characterized by some pundits and Democrats as a newly energized Progressive movement.  The upset winner of the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional district by political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who defeated ten term House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, has been described by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez as “the future of our party”. Republicans can’t wait, and should use her as the ‘current’ face of the Democratic Party in the 2018 campaign.  Here’s why.

While Ocasio-Cortez is young, (28) attractive, intelligent and energetic, she ran as the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants in the heavily minority and poor NY 14th district as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA is not a political party; it is a self described “movement”.
Obviously her appeal in a district which is 50% Hispanic; 14% black and only 32% white and 16% of the population make less than $50,000 dollars a year in high tax, high cost New York City, will not be matched across the nation.  That appeal includes the socialist program of the DSA whose goals can be found on their web site.
1. “Undermine the power of the capitalist sector” through nationalization of major industries and use      of “democratic management all businesses by workers and members of the communities where the are located.
2.  “dismantle the “privilege” of “whiteness”,       “males”, and heterosexuality.
3.  oppose “free trade agreements”
4.  “abolish the U.S. Senate” and install “direct democracy” through referenda and the use of proportional representation in the House of Representatives
5.  "free"  health care, day care, education K through college, “shelter”, “transportation”, and a “universal basic income”.
6.  “create a reduced work week and expand vacation time.”

The practical absurdity of the economic, social, and political, structural destruction proposed, combined with the rest of the “rainbows and unicorns” socialist babble of the DSA manifesto, is good for a laugh, but at a minimum, Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate should ask their Democratic opponents how they feel about  Chairman Perez’s plan for the “future” of their party which calls for the abolition  of the office for which they are campaigning.

Meanwhile, Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court, the sun will still rise in the East each morning and the Democrats will have to pass legislation in the Congress instead of relying on the Supreme Court to do it for them.