Friday, October 27, 2023


 The invasion and brutal terrorist attack by Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza, is now just three weeks old and already the heinous brutality of the terrorist group has been replaced on international media including in the U.S., by the plight of the inhabitants of Gaza who are caught in the middle of the ongoing Israeli air assaults in preparation for a full cross border ground attack by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).  This was all but inevitable as the media in the Western world follows controversy, exaggeration and speculation especially as regards victimization which is a long term socio-political theme in the equally long term Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

President Biden, to his credit, made the case that the inhuman depravity of the Hamas invaders cannot be accepted or rationalized and he made it clear that the U.S. will support Israel as it exercises its right of self defense including a combined forces, air and ground, military response.

The Gaza population is indeed suffering as the debate and air assault approach new levels .The debate is led internationally by protests and local media in Islamist nations across the Middle East and Islamic immigrants in Western nations; all dutifully reported  by national media in the U. S.  Domestically, the usual Left wing groups and individuals have proclaimed their opposition to Israel ranging from outright condemnation and "solidarity" with Hamas terrorists,  to calls for a "cease fire" and "diplomacy" to stop any Israeli invasion of Gaza.  College students, always anxious to support the alleged victims in any dispute and engage in  role playing as Ghandi like pacifists or brave "freedom fighters" from the safety and comfort of their college campuses, display their profound naiveté and ignorance of the complexities and realities of this horrendous crime by Hamas.  Of course the national media gives them the attention they seek.  And of course, they are joined by the voices of the usual grievous groups and religious spokesmen who demand a cessation of hostilities, a diplomatic vs. a military response and the usual platitudes about "embracing the humanity of all people" to achieve lasting peace without violence.

One can only wonder how these groups and individuals can be so divorced from reality.  How is it possible to "embrace the humanity" of a terrorist group that engages in the slaughter of infants, young children and the aged as part of a campaign of atrocities carried out against civilians who were not policy makers and was based simply on their ethnicity, religion and/or nationality.  Diplomacy means negotiations. It involves " give and take" with the goal being eventual compromise.

 Negotiations to do what?  The founding document of Hamas calls for the elimination of the state of Israel. Should Israel negotiate its own existence?  A "cease fire"? As long as Hamas exists it will constitute a terrorist threat to Israel.  What would a cease fire accomplish? The roughly two million civilians in Gaza cannot be evacuated. Surrounding Arab/Islamic states won't take even a portion of them. A cease fire simply allows Hamas to rearm and reenforce its fortifications which will lead to a longer, bloodier war. Hamas is not a legitimate government; Gaza is not a nation state; Hamas and its junior partner fellow terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, have demonstrated no concern for the safety or welfare of the residents of Gaza, instead using them as a tool to stimulate hate for Israel in other Islamic nations. 

 The current claims that anti-Israeli protests "world wide" could stimulate a wider regional conflict need closer examination.  With respect to these protests in Islamic Middle Eastern and African nations, public opinion was never in play and thus entirely predictable.  Islamic nation's populations have been deeply antagonistic to Israel since Israel's founding in 1948.  Israel  has fought four wars of survival  against neighboring Arab states in  1948,1956,1967,1973, as well as a 1980 conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a terrorist group which had taken refuge in Lebanon, and "intifadas"  i.e. general violent uprisings by Palestinian populations and continuous domestic terrorist attacks.

The potential "wider war" has a low probability of involving direct aggression by Iran whose Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, throughout the long history of Iran's hostility to Israel has sought to protect the Iranian nation even in the face of Israeli sabotage attempts on Iran's nuclear project.  Iran prefers to use and support client terrorist groups as it's agents; Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Houthis in Yemen.  The "wider war" essentially means the possibility of a Hezbollah attack on Israel's northern border with Lebanon and a possible uprising by civilians and small terrorist groups in the West Bank.  A Hezbollah ground attack from Lebanon would lead to a large response by Israel into southern Lebanon and serious destruction of Lebanese infrastructure by IDF air power.  It would  more likely be predominately a massive missile attack but with the same Israeli response.  It would probably prolong the war in Gaza as Israel shifted military assets to that front but Hezbollah and Hamas combined lack the numbers, armor, artillery, and air power to defeat the IDF.  Hezbollah is currently shooting some missiles into northern Israel as a diversionary tactic with respect to the impending ground invasion of Gaza and Israel is responding with air attacks. 

The previous Arab/Israeli "wide wars" have involved Egypt, Syria and Jordan.  Now Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel and receives @1.4 billion dollars annually  in aid from the U.S. and  has refused entry of Palestinians as migrants trying to leave Gaza.  Jordan also has a peace treaty with Israel and has been a more moderate political player in Middle East politics.  Jordan's King Abdullah and his wife have both condemned Israel's air campaign in Gaza but Jordan is home to a large number of Palestinians who the King must placate to avoid domestic chaos.  The King's father fought a war in 1971 with a large Palestinian terrorist group  who tried to take control of Jordan. Syria has been tied down with its own civil war since 2014 and is in no position to threaten Israel.  

Israel will eventually invade Gaza.  There is no possibility of a negotiated settlement.  A commitment not to invade and destroy Hamas would be the equivalent of a surrender in the face of an act of war by Hamas on October 7th and perpetuate the hostilities and civilian casualties on both sides.

 In spite of the usual "peace" voices i.e. the UN, the Pope, the New York Times, and various activist groups in the U.S. and Western Europe who choose to ignore the vicious intransigence of Hamas and its' supporters and their quest to destroy the state of Israel, the Israeli "war cabinet" and IDF will not be deterred. This issue of the hostages held by Hamas complicates the situation.  But the hostage's fate is entirely in the hands of Hamas which will do what they feel is best in support of their interests. Basic "humanity" is not on the table when dealing with Hamas. They might believe that a general release before the Israeli ground invasion would somehow put them in a better position internationally, but they have already threatened to kill the hostages and are now claiming that the Israeli bombing campaign has killed fifty hostages. But  time is running out for successful negotiations primarily involving the government of Qatar. Tragically, these innocent people might eventually be one more group of victims of the utter depravity of this terrorist group. The people of Israel are mostly united in the goal of eliminating this constant threat which defied the basic norms of humanity in their attack on Israel's civilian population. There is no other realistic choice.

Friday, April 7, 2023


 While the Russia/Ukraine war dominates the news there are significant events occurring in other regions and in today's highly integrated world, these events have links to the Ukrainian conflict and to the related and larger power evolutions between Russia, China, and the United States.

For decades the U.S has had a positive relationship with two important though quite different nations in the volatile Middle East. Israel has survived four major conflicts with Arab states and a continuous conflict with Palestinian militias and terrorist groups, all with U.S. assistance. Israel is the only western style  democracy in the region. Its' highly efficient military, superior intelligence apparatus and thriving free market economy, serve as an important counter weight in an often unstable and conflictual neighborhood.  

Since the end of World War II and the rapid exploitation of the enormous crude oil reserves in the area of the Arabian peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a key player in the politics of the region.  First granted diplomatic recognition by the U.S. in 1940, American oil companies stepped in to develop Saudi Arabia's oil when the Kingdom lacked the technical expertise and investment capital to do it internally.  Since then a mutually beneficial diplomatic, security and economic relationship has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.  Saudi Arabia has been supportive during the Cold War years (1947-1991), and the post Iran revolution (1979) establishment of the anti-West Iranian  Islamic Republic. 

In spite of the long history of cooperation, the Kingdom has maintained a level of independence and occasional opposition to U.S. regional policies especially with relation to  U.S. support for Israel.  During the Arab/Israeli "Yom Kippur war" in 1973, U.S. support for Israel resulted in a Saudi led oil embargo on the U.S. which quadrupled oil prices and led President Jimmy Carter to declare that access to international oil markets was a "vital" U.S. security interest and the embargo was tantamount to economic warfare.  This episode, although occurring fifty years ago, is demonstrative of the cautious "fence sitting" need that the Saudi leadership has followed through the years do to its' position in a volatile region of Islamic fundamentalism, and ambitious authoritarian leaders. 

Saudia Arabia is home and "protector" of the two most important of Islam's holiest sites, Mecca, the birthplace of Islam's founder the Prophet Mohammed and the location of the Ka'ba', a small structure purported .to be a mosque built by Abraham, a foundational figure in the history of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The city of Medina, is Mohammed's  burial place.  

As such, although the Kingdom practices and enforces a fundamentalist approach to Islam, called Wahhabism and adherence to Koranic Shariah theocratic law, Saudi Arabia's friendly relationship with the U.S. and European states has created tensions with other fundamentalist Islamic groups in both of Islam's major sects, the Shi'a and Sunni theocracies. Iran, a Shi'a dominated nation, has been particularly hostile to the Saudi government and has been a regional rival since Iran's Islamic revolution. 

U.S. administrations have tried to keep Saudi Arabia and its' huge oil production and reserves out of the Soviet/Russian sphere of influence and protect it as a counter balance to Iran's regional ambitions.  Thus Saudi Arabia has been a major customer of  American made military equipment for many years.

Consequently, the U.S./Saudi relationship has been one of supporting mutual interests while realistically acknowledging and accepting as necessary, differences in culture and perceptions of regional threats and the proper responses to those threats. The diplomatic reality and context of U.S. relations with the Kingdom is that Saudi Arabia is not a constitutional democratic republic.  It is a hereditary, theocratic, autocratic monarchy. 

The U.S. Saudi relationship has suffered since the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign when then Democrat candidate Joe Biden promising to build "the most progressive administration since FDR" engaged in unrehearsed "shoot from the lip" one liners, first promising to "shut down the major American oil and gas companies" as part of his new environmental crusader image with the obvious implied threats to the international fossil fuel industry as whole which represents the majority of the Saudi national income.  Shortly after his election to President,  Biden decided to play the role of leading international critic of the Saudi regime. One issue was the Saudi Arabia's involvement in the civil war in Yemen which borders the Kingdom on the south.  The Saudi Air Force had been flying missions against the Houthi insurgents, a Shi'a client group of Iran trying to overthrow the Yemeni government. The war was devastating to the Yemeni civilian population but instead of assuming a diplomatic role of trying to sponsor negotiations to end the conflict Biden decided to take sides. The fact that the U.S. was supplying the weapons the Saudi Air Force was deploying became an issue for the American political Left which of course ignored the role of the insurgency in the war, or Saudi Arabia's security interests in the conflict on their border. President Biden declared:  "I would like to make it very clear, we are not going to in fact, sell more weapons to them (Saudi Arabia). "I will end the sale of materiel where they are going in and murdering children" 

Biden then decided to return to an incident in which a Saudi journalist who was a critic of the Saudi government was murdered in 2018,  The journalist, Jamal Kashoggi was a Saudi citizen, and political opinion contributor to regional journals and to the Washington Post. Kashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  Because he had been a critic of the Saudi government it was generally assumed that Saudi officials were behind the murder. It was later reported in the U.S. that CIA officials had confirmed that theory.  For some reason, newly elected President Biden decided to make the incident a political cause celebre' and implied that the de facto head of the Saudi government, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmin had given the order for the assassination.  

The long history of Saudi/American cooperation then took a further plunge when Biden made series of politically arbitrary public statements that seemed not to be the product of any consultation with experienced State Department officials.  

"We are going to in fact make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are."

"There is very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia."  He then imposed sanctions on high ranking Saudi intelligence officials.

Mohammed bin Salman, at 37 years of age and the Crown Prince and son of the aging King  with essentially absolute powers, will be an important player in the critical Middle East region and in the world for future decades because of Saudi Arabia's dominant role in the OPEC-Plus 13 member oil cartel which produces 37% of the world's oil. President Bidens's extraordinary insults had demonstrated a kind of morally superior attitude and when speaking of the government of Saudi Arabia they were clearly directed at it's leader. Biden, if indeed he knew what he was doing, was speaking to his domestic progressive political core but has struck a serious blow to an eighty-three year cooperative relationship with an important ally. 

Biden quickly was forced to confront reality as oil prices soared with the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Facing political opposition at the price of gasoline at the pump in the U.S. he naively  elected to make several phone calls to bin Salman to ask him to use his influence in OPEC to increase oil production in order to lower prices.  Understandably as the "pariah" and "murderer of children" and "lack of socially redeeming values " the Crown Prince and head of the Saudi government, refused to take the calls.  Biden then made an embarrassing trip "hat in hand" trip to Saudi Arabia in July, 2022 to personally ask for an increase in oil production and was summarily rebuffed.

The damaged relationship with Saudi Arabia has since had wider implications.  Saudi Arabia has not joined in the U.S. led economic sanctions program against Russia nor has it publicly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.  In March of this year, China brokered a return of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and its' long time foe Iran, giving China another step forward in its' influence in the region, as the U.S. role diminishes.

In April of this year Saudi Arabia led several key members of the OPEC Plus cartel in a surprise announcement to cut oil production in May, 2023, by 1.2 million barrels per day.  The Kingdom and Russia (the Plus in the cartel) will each cut production by half a million barrels per day to raise prices. In addition Saudi Arabia announced an agreement to supply refineries in China with 690 thousand barrels of oil per day.  

But the diplomacy challenged Biden wasn't through reducing the influence of the U.S. in the Middle East.   The new conservative government in Israel, the major ally of the U.S. in the region since its' creation as a state in 1948, announced significant changes in the Israeli judicial system which would give the conservative controlled parliament the Knesset, powers to appoint members of the Supreme Court and even to overrule Court decisions.  Such changes of course would if applied for the U.S. would upset the vital Constitutional "separation of powers" fundamental to U.S. democracy so they were a shocking proposal even in a democratic ally. The proposals did predictably stimulate significant public protests in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has since delayed the planned changes but the issue remains a highly controversial possibility.  

President Biden, who claims to have known Netanyahu for decades, attempted to lecture him publicly about the "threat to democracy" he was imposing.  That of course is true as an independent judiciary is vital to the democratic process to avoid concentration of powers.  But the issue is an internal one and will be settled politically within the Israeli system. In parliamentary systems, Prime Ministers and their cabinets are much more vulnerable to dismissal than in the U.S. presidential system.  They need not be impeached and removed they simply need to lose support of a majority in the parliament and be subject to a vote of lack of "confidence" which would require a resignation or a new election.  That procedure has given Israel five elections in the last four years.  Biden's intervention and public judgements along with his terse statement that Netanyahu would not be invited to the White House in the "near term", did not help Netanyahu and he responded as would be expected by pointing out that Israel is a sovereign nation and governed by its' citizens and not outside nations.  A member of Netanyahu's cabinet made it even clearer when he stated that "Israel was not another star on the American flag."  Still, Biden seems personally offended by how Netanyahu and his far Right coalition government is running their nation.  Part of it might be the members of the government's outright hostility to the Palestinians in the Israeli controlled West Bank and the apparent complete loss of any possible negotiation for a Palestinian State in that territory.  That was President Obama's stated position when Biden was his Vice President and Netanyahu was also then the Prime Minister of Israel.  But with Biden's loss of influence with Saudi Arabia, a similar move by Israel away from the U.S. would be seriously damaging to U.S. interests.  Iran has not diminished its' hatred for the "Great Satan" U.S  and is still pursuing nuclear weapons.  Hamas, the terrorist local government of Gaza has not given up its' goal of "wiping Israel off the map", Hezbollah, the Iranian supported Shi'a terrorist militia which controls Lebanon and is intervening in support of Syria' dictator Assad in that country's civil war, and the remnants of the Islamic State terrorist group all remain major threats to the region.  The U.S needs Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as clearer heads in Washington. Unfortunately, if the current trends in play for the 2024 presidential election hold true and a replay of the 2020 election is in store, clearer heads will be in short supply no matter the outcome. 





Sunday, March 5, 2023


This February, 2023 the international media and some independent political groups took notice of the First anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, indeed some groups labeled rallies in support of Ukraine as "celebrations".  What would be cause for "celebration" could only be the fact that Ukraine's armed forces had successfully blocked the previously anticipated  quick victory and occupation of Ukraine's major cities by  numerically superior Russian forces. 

Much credit is deserved by the vigor and leadership of Ukraine's army but the rapid and significant dispatch of military aid to Ukraine by the U.S. and European allies was the essential component of the successful resistance up to date.

Now after one year of heavy fighting and what appears to be close to a prolonged stalemate in geographical control, voices in the U.S., still the primary donor of military equipment, are questioning the projection of the need for more billions of dollars in a "policy without a strategy" and a fundamental "lack of a threat to vital American interests" to justify it. 

While these criticisms as yet are coming from a relatively small group of conservative media figures and members of the more conservative wing of Republican Party in Congress, they will surely grow in the face of a prolonged continuation of hostilities and the prospect of continued significant costly military aid to Ukrainian forces. While some of the criticism is surely stimulated automatically by partisan political opposition, Biden opens the door with the grandiosity of his justification for the America's role in the conflict, describing it in terms of America's moral duty and responsibility for a kind of permanent post-cold war Pax Americana based on America's special "values" and enforced by world wide military superiority. This sounds more like proselytizing than policy and is the concept which underlaid the prolonged and unsuccessful wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with their failed democracy building efforts. Applying it now in relation to the Ukraine war deemphasizes the more basic political/security threats to the region which justify intervention. 

The criticisms, as described above while worthy of debate, ignore or reject the broader and more long-lasting consequences of an abandonment and collapse of Ukraine's independence and Russia's, under Putin's leadership, ability to upset the Post Cold War international security framework, especially as it relates to the entirety of Europe. America's vital security interests are tied to those of Europe, specifically by joint membership in NATO and indirectly by its' economic interdependence with the 27 members of the European Union, 21 of whom are also NATO members.

Critics of continued efforts to defeat Putin's expansionist and revanchist policies should first contemplate what the results would have been, and now would be, if the U.S. and its' European allies stood aside a year ago when the Russian invasion began.  What would be the threat level and political future of other of the former Soviet Republics, similarly at a significant military disadvantage with Russia?  The tiny Baltic nations of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, former Soviet Republics like Ukraine and with borders on both Russia and Byelorussia, an authoritarian client state of Russia, would be indefensible without a full credible commitment by NATO, to which they belong but which would suffer from a lack of credibility if even non-NATO member Ukraine were allowed to fall to Russian aggression.  The threat and political instability would include larger Eastern European states like Poland, a NATO member, and Finland, long a Cold War neutral with a Russian border but now an EU member and NATO applicant along with Sweden who now see the new Russian expansionism as a genuine threat.

A new Cold War emphasized by the memories of the Soviet intrusion and suppression of the reformist movement in Czechoslovakia in 1948 and the similar intervention into Hungary's effort to democratize in 1956 would be the probable result.

The impact on other potential aggressors by a failure of U.S./European reaction to blatant aggression is difficult to predict with certainty, but China has clearly stated its' intention to force democratic/capitalist Taiwan into its' control and Iran, currently pursuing nuclear weapons state status, has pursued regional power aspirations in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen and remains a fundamentally hostile adversary to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. 

Of course, the U.S. is not operating as a solitary actor, although it is by far the largest contributor of both military and humanitarian aid.  Nonetheless, from a political point of view, it is important that there is near total support among European nations for the transfer of weapons to Ukraine.  The principal nations with the largest militaries and economies, UK, France, and Germany are all NATO members and contributors. This is an extraordinary level of unanimity in support of a major military intervention even without introduction of combat units and reliance on U.S. leadership is clearly a priority.

Nonetheless, from the security/strategy side, realistic expectations should be recognized. There is no realistic expectation that Ukraine can "win" this war in the conventional meaning of the term. Putin cannot accept defeat in military terms as that would erode his political support and end his status as leader of Russia.  The disparity in size of population and related military forces are simply too much in Putin's favor to provide a clear-cut military victory for Ukraine. The population of Russia is over 144 million and the current ground forces available to Putin number around 360,000 with another 300,000 in reserves; this, compared to Ukraine's population of 44.5 million and @ 242,000 active duty and reserve ground forces.  Putin also can, and has, utilized the military draft to replace and enhance his ground troops as needed.  Even though the Russian military so far in the conflict has demonstrated a lack of professionalism and effective leadership as well as poor tactical decision making, the sheer weight of numbers and Putin's willingness to callously sacrifice large numbers of undertrained troops, will deny a classic "defeat" and expulsion from all of Ukraine's territory.

The situation now is essentially predictable stalemate. Tactical victories and retreats swing back and forth.  Unable to secure large portions of Ukraine's territory, Putin seems to be planning a large-scale offensive sometime this Spring.  In the meantime, he has turned to what might be described as a "war of attrition" which focuses on destruction of domestic targets and infrastructure in hopes of demoralizing the populace and Ukraine's' government to the point of their seeking a negotiated settlement in Russia's favor.  Since there is yet no sign of that happening and if Ukraine successfully resists any major Spring offensive, the prospect of at least another year of conflict seems probable.  The question then remains as to how much pain either side is willing to accept before the willingness to negotiate a ceasefire and end the war seems like the only course left. Ukrainian President Zelensky remains defiant and is willing to fight on as long as he continues to receive the necessary military aid from the U.S and European nations.  

Thus, the final outcome whenever it comes, looks like an eventual series of difficult negotiations sponsored by a neutral party such as India.  Compromises will have to be made by both parties.  Zelensky's demand that Russia return control of all occupied territory is unrealistic and is intended to bolster his citizen's resolve to keep fighting.  He may as well be looking ahead and establishing a negotiating position from which he can make concessions to the inevitable without giving up anything beforehand.  It is almost a certainty the Putin will not return control of Crimea to Ukraine, a territory home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which was taken with little resistance from Ukraine in 2014.  The future of territories in southeast Ukraine currently under control or contested by Russian backed militias and falsely declared a self-governing territory by Putin are probably also likely to be candidates for permanent loss to Ukraine. Putin will have to be given enough to "declare victory" and withdraw to preserve his political status. Zelensky will have to be assured that the geographical and political integrity of most of Ukraine is guaranteed for the future.  Putin is also likely to demand that international economic sanctions imposed on Russia be eliminated.  Sanctioning countries led by the U.S. will have to require that sanctions be lifted in stages as Russia complies with all the negotiated terms of the peace agreement.

All of this scenario could fall apart with significant Russian military victories or significant reductions in aid to Ukraine's armed forces. Also, it is impossible to know what is in Putin's head; how many risks he is willing to take with escalation of the conflict, or with unexpected Russian domestic opposition to the war by influential civilians or alienated senior military officers.  He is the great unknown quantity in any resolution of the war.


Saturday, February 18, 2023


 The new balance of power in the U.S. Congress brought about by the 2022 mid-term elections giving the Republican Party a small majority, changes the previous framework for the numerous challenges facing the nation in the next two years of the Biden administration .   

Inflation and related supply chain shortages, the lingering and possible resurgence of the Covid pandemic, the debate and implementation of environmental policies, the continued need worldwide for fossil fuels while alternatives continue their projected decades long development and replacement strategies, the profound economic disruptions and international security concerns over the Russia/Ukraine war, Middle East conflict related to Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, NATO expansion, the progression of a Cold War like relationship with China and it's expansionist policies in the  South China Sea and towards Taiwan are just some of the serious international challenges that impact the domestic welfare of the U.S.  

All of these issues will demand Presidential and Congressional scrutiny, and funding for some purposes.  With the nation and the Congress divided, the next two years will demand focus, hard work, cooperation, and leadership by both the President and congressional leaders of both parties.

Unfortunately, the difference between "politics" and "policy" influences the agendas and adds intensity to the existing partisan and ideological chasms that block progress on the vital issues.  While all "policies" are inherently political, not all "politics" reflect the acceptance of current political reality with respect to the creation of policy.  Thus, these issues, which are driven and exploited by media, many of which are identified as "social" or battles in the "culture war", have become distractions and conflicts on a personal level that punish political cooperation by legislators on the important policy requirements that can't be ignored.

A reality check is important on the political agenda and the more important issues currently in dispute. 

Perhaps the most divisive issue on a national level is access to abortion.  While settled law for fifty years under the protection of the 1973 Supreme Court's "Roe vs. Wade" decision.  The current Supreme Court's 6-3 majority overturned Roe and found that no Constitutional protection for the right to an abortion existed and that the issue should be decided by law on a state level. That is the new reality with respect to the issue.

 However, one non-state level remedy remains.  Since the Supreme Court found no constitutional protection, nor prohibition, of abortion, a federal protection for abortion could be passed as law by the Congress and signed by the President.  A federal prohibition of abortion could also be passed by Congress and the President.  However, once again political reality overcomes potential policy as the Republican controlled House of Representatives will never pass such protective legislation and a Democrat controlled Senate and White House will never pass prohibition. 

No amount of marches, protests, opinion pieces, or political grandstanding by politicians or activist groups on either side will change this. Thus the battle will be fought out in all fifty state legislatures and courts. Some states have already moved on this issue. The total result so far is a mix of standards, limitations and for some, all or no restrictions at all.  Ironically, what is essentially an irreconcilable conflict between religion and ideology on a personal level, has achieved a type of compromise on a national level as different state's,  when considered together, offer the whole range of abortion legislation. Until the political make up of the Congress and Presidency reflects a more unified position enabling federal law to decide the issue, the U.S. Congress and the President should move on and not let this single issue further obstruct the need for bipartisan federal policy cooperation on other major issues. 

Gun control:

Mass shootings across the country have heightened an existing sense of despair and insecurity making the issues of gun control a prominent political/policy debate.  This is not a new development as the debate rages after each deadly event, especially in the more heinous cases of school shootings, and then seems to retreat into the political background as the familiar pros and cons of possible responses are repeated.  

The reality of the situation is daunting but often ignored in the debates which have a prominent place on social media and various commentary venues.  First, gun "control" to some means significant reduction of numbers. However, most estimates of the number of guns in private hands exceed the entire three hundred and thirty-five million persons in the entire nation. Then there is the problem of not knowing who all these possessors of firearms are. Then of course there is the issue of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which Supreme Court majorities, past, and especially present, have interpreted, not without controversy, to deny most restrictions on ownership or transport i.e. "carry", of guns of most types. 

The best answer is to change the debate from what other smaller population nations with significantly different gun cultures have done with respect to confiscation, "buy backs", severe restrictions on ownership and severe restrictions on acquisition, and do what is possible through compromise no matter how imperfect in the views of either side. Criminal gun use comes in many forms and a "one size fits all" response is inappropriate. Federal law currently prohibits hand gun sales to anyone under twenty-one years of age. Since mass shootings at schools have been exclusively committed by young men who were students, former students or troubled  young individuals living in or near the school's community, and these shooters have seemed to favor the use of semi-automatic, large magazine "assault style" rifles, it would be a common sense policy to impose the same age restriction on the purchase of those types of weapons as hand guns.  There should be no expectation however, that such a restriction would have a significant impact on the number of other incidents in which these types of weapons are used. 

Banning the manufacture or sale of these types of rifles is a political challenge but not necessarily a political impossibility, as such a ban was passed before and lasted ten years before dying from a "sunset" provision.  The effects of the ban are a subject of partisan dispute.  But again, the reality facing current advocates is that there are an estimated eight hundred thousand to over a million such weapons already in private hands which would provide a legal secondary market or an illegal "black market" as the value of the weapons rose.

 Other tools such as "red flag" laws which seek to intervene in the possibility of a shooting by an unstable individual have proven to be inconsistently applied or effective.  A national standard for use by local law enforcement and judicial agencies should be both politically possible although since such procedures are preventive in nature their success is hard to verify. 

Most gun crime is carried out with handguns because they are less expensive and easier to transport unseen than rifles.  Most gun owners are not criminals making broad based gun restrictions politically difficult. Most violent crimes, but certainly not all, are carried out by individuals who have criminal records.  While possession of a gun by a former felon is illegal in most state jurisdictions, the penalties for violation are often "soft" or involve bond vs. incarceration. This apparently was the case in the recent mass shooting at Michigan State University. Sine there is a strong correlation between gun crimes and perpetrators of previous crimes with use of guns, heavy penalties involving incarceration for gun possession by former felons would have a positive impact on future gun crimes although anti-incarceration and "racial justice" activists would surely raise political opposition. There is no easy solution given the massive availability of guns throughout society. The problem will have to be addressed eventually by efforts of cultural change starting with America's youth, while finding compromise on policies on the edges of the problem. Simply making guns more expensive is not likely to deter mass shooters who in almost all cases are mentally challenged, suicidal, or expect to be apprehended and face life in prison. Making new gun sales more expensive at the gun store level will not make the criminal possession of weapons less likely since the vast numbers of guns already in private hands creates a permanent market. The principle of "Don't sacrifice the possible in pursuit of the perfect." applies.

Environmental policy:

The problem of global warming has largely become a debate between "deniers" and "end of world" extremists. Science based organizations see the problem as genuine in terms of human activity being a major contributor to global warming through fossil fuel emissions which will require technological changes over time, prominently including alternative energy sources.  The Paris climate accords of 2015 set a prescribed level for each of the signatories to make progress which combined had a goal of reducing global warming by 2 degrees Celsius "in this century".  The mechanisms for achieving progress are voluntary. Biden administration policies with regard to the process have largely involved limiting oil and gas exploration on federal lands, withdrawing approval for new pipelines and providing financial incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles and insulation remodeling for buildings.

These policies have gotten far out ahead of the level of alternative energy available to replace the needs of fossil fuels which are used in the manufacture of numerous non-energy related products but most notably have contributed to rapid inflation in the costs of gasoline and utility bills.  The Biden administration reacting to the political effects of these issues has backtracked some with regard to the leasing of fossil fuel exploration sites and even attempting to urge the government of Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer in the OPEC oil cartel, to increase oil production.

Unfortunately, Biden in an early campaign exercise at "virtue signaling" had promised to wipe out the oil industry and had labeled Saudi Arabia an international "pariah state" while personally implicating that nation's de facto head of government Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the assassination of a dissident Saudi opinion writer.  Needless to say Biden's subsequent "hat in hand" request was summarily dismissed.  Gasoline prices have currently rebounded from earlier declines to levels above $4.00 per gallon. Natural gas prices which are necessary for large regions of the nation for domestic heating and electricity production are still high.

Reality check:

The fact that the Paris climate agreement is couched in terms of improvements in global temperature increases "in this century" should make it obvious that the effort is both long term and "global" in nature.  Just by way of example of the immensity of the problem consider just the two largest population states, China and India. The combined populations of the two nations is over 2.8 billion or @ 35% of the total world's population now near 8 billion.

By the latest available statistics, China's "energy mix" is 60% coal based, 20% oil and 8% natural gas.     India's total energy needs, despite it's commitment to accept the goals of the Paris Agreement, are 44% coal, 25% oil, and 6% natural gas. India's electricity production alone, is 70% generated by coal.

Global figures for the year 2019 for electricity production were 63% fossil fuels, nuclear 10.4% and just 26.3% based on "renewables" with Europe and the U.S. contributing the most in the latter. Clearly, such efforts as banning natural gas stoves in California over minor leaks of methane gas or handwringing by adolescent  Green activists over tens of millions of cattle "burping" methane  is a pointless waste of time and attention to the broader and much more complex world wide issue.  A specific but multi-faceted, science based, organized strategy with international participation including a common sense long term transition plan from most fossil fuel energy sources and including the newest nuclear technology is imperative.

Meanwhile the attention of the "media" and the political demagoguery infused issues of transgender "rights", "social justice" versus academic instruction in public schools, police "reform", affirmative action and permissive crime control, dominate the political agendas of the federal and states legislative bodies. In the Congress time is being taken up investigating Hunter Biden's laptop, and trying to impeach the Secretary of Homeland Security for his failure even to acknowledge the illegal immigration crisis at the southern border.  Such and effort, no matter how much deserved,  is pure politics since a finding for removal in the Senate by the Democrat majority is an impossibility.    Similarly the effort to convince Biden to negotiate reductions in federal spending for cooperation in raising the federal debt limit is fraught with political grandstanding. Both of those goals deserve serious attention. Raising the national debt limit to avoid default on the government debt for money already appropriated is basic and unavoidable to maintain the value of the U.S. dollar and its use as the world's reserve currency. Over seven trillion dollars in U.S. government debt is held by foreign nations. Reducing future federal spending in the face of an annual deficit of close to 1.5 trillion dollars and the accumulated national debt of 31.563 trillion dollars or 120.37 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not only reasonable but critical.  The prospects for the first are good because a U.S. monetary default is unthinkable.  The prospects for the latter are low since "spending" was the basic 2022 election strategy of the Biden administration and is likely to be the similar strategy for Biden's 2024 campaign. 

Thus in a world of divided government, extreme ideological polarization, "politics over policy" would seem to be the inevitable and unfortunate future. Only the threat by the electorate of a major personnel change in the legislatures at the state and federal level will have a chance at turning attention to policy and away from political posturing and divisiveness but with the media's preference for conflict and extremism for "news", the prospects are not good.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

                                             GUN CONTROL:  AGAIN 

Polls show that 70% of Americans believe the nation is "on the wrong track".  This is a major under statement enabled by the simple wording of the "yes or no" choice of the question.  The more specific issues that we face daily in the news media generate feelings of frustration, gloom and anger that "wrong track" doesn't come near to describing. 

Although the media spot light has been taken off the issue of mass shootings by the issues of inflation/recession and the effect on the November mid-term congressional elections, the especially horrific school shootings, have brought "gun control" to a new level of prominence. It's been there before and as before, progress has become the victim of political posturing and intransigence, producing few results.

In a recent opinion piece one writer attempted to identify the problem with the simple statement that "There are too many guns" (in the U.S.).  He repeated this statement after each paragraph for emphasis and dramatic effect, in which he described the numbers and availability of weapons and the details of another mass shooting. His conclusion was that he didn't know the answer to his definition of the problem but he remained convinced that "too many guns" was the problem.

But his dilemma describes the problem of the search for solutions. Given the complexity of the national context of gun ownership, simple solutions are not feasible. Thoughts like those of the referenced commentator have stimulated "solutions" like "ban all guns in the U.S., they've done it in Australia and England".  

But impossible proposals like this clutter the political debate and stimulate accusations of extremism and division. 

The reality is that the populations of Australia and England are @26 million and @69 million respectively, a fraction of the U.S. population of 315 million. The number of guns in private hands in the U.S., estimated at @400 million, exceeds the total U.S. population. Also, neither Australia nor England has the equivalent of the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment protecting private gun ownership and neither has a historically based culture of exploration, expansion and habitation of vast areas of wilderness over  a time starting with near universal gun ownership, a trend which moved west with the geographical expansion and growing gun technology. Thus the number of private gun owners in the U.S., estimated at 81.4 million, each with an average of five weapons, is equivalent to 85.6 percent of the total populations of Australia and England combined. Most of these individuals are the hunters and sport shooters who are the heirs of the historical gun culture, others keep a gun at home for personal protection.  Unfortunately, the dark side of gun ownership is inhabited by criminals, and currently, gang members, who compete to control the benefits of crime in "urban territories". They are joined by a small number of  psychologically impaired young men and boys seeking vengeance for their own low self esteem and perceived social rejection by engaging in school shootings.

There are things that can be done on both the state and federal level to mitigate the problem of what seems to be out of control gun violence. Some of these were discussed in bipartisan settings in the Congress and have recently resulted in legislation, a starting point for further gun "management", if not "control" The point is that progress depends on concentrating on the "doable" and avoiding useless debates on the extremes. Banning the sale of so called "assault rifles" has been done in the past where the federal ban had a ten year life before a "sunset' provision in the law killed it. The ban had weaknesses in terms of the legal definition of the weapons included. This often made small variations in design enough to make similar weapons not subject to the ban. This is a fixable weakness. The gun itself however, is only part of the problem. Other weapons can be fitted with large capacity magazines, which also should be separately banned, as has been done in some states. 

This was a common sense law that was passed during the Clinton Administration although it was limited in scope because it faced opposition among the more conservative gun rights groups. What should remain in the debate, is raising the age for individuals to legally purchase any guns. The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the sale of "hand guns" to anyone under the age of 21.  Rifles and shot guns referred to as "long guns", may be purchased by anyone over the age of 18. The emphasis now is on "assault type" weapons but for consistency and clarity  there is no reason why it shouldn't be all types of "long guns". The facts speak for themselves. Most of the mass school shootings were carried out by young men, under the age of 21. Currently, individuals under 21 cannot purchase alcoholic beverages or cigarettes, so the logic of allowing sales of semi-automatic rifles with large capacity magazines to 18 year olds fails the common sense test.  

Enhanced "red flag laws" were also included in the recent legislation. This is as controversial as age requirements, because it involves subjective initiation involving reporting by individuals, of possible threats of gun use by other individuals. This procedure could certainly be abused by individuals with personal motives  but  judges then determine the level of threat and can issue warrants to confiscate weapons in possession of the accused while more detailed investigations are pursued  Records indicate that few confiscations have been carried out based on red flag warnings and in the recent mass shooting in Highland Park, Il, both the background check and current red flag procedures failed completely. 

Securing schools is completely doable and should not be controversial given the horrendous outcomes in recent years.

Still, there are those opposed to the idea who need to be convinced that common sense measures can be employed that would reduce the risk of entry by heavily armed individuals. Limited and monitored entry points, along with exit only safety points, as well as monitored security cameras of all approaches to buildings, are simply a matter of money and are commonly used in the nation's court houses, public buildings and private residences.

The suggestion to arm teachers is in the non-doable category and should not be included in policy debates. This is not a popular plan with teachers and putting loaded firearms in classrooms would require them to be safely secured, which would make them not readily accessible in an emergency. Keeping them accessible to teachers would make them accessible to students and would create an inappropriate and dangerous situation. Also, requiring teachers to undergo the firearms training necessary would meet with personal and legal opposition.

Universal background checks is probably doable since it's already in place for purchases at licensed  gun dealers, but it will be difficult to enforce at short term gun shows and individual internet sales. Nonetheless, it seems to have public and political support.

It has often been pointed out that some cities that have strict gun laws also have high levels of gun violence.  This is the direct result of a lack of, or soft, enforcement of illegal possession laws.  Reasons offered are insufficient manpower, or "social justice" implications offered by liberal prosecutors, some of whom are now coming under fire for putting multiple offenders back on the street after arrest. Enforcement of gun laws which have survived court challenges, fall into both the "doable" and common sense categories, especially illegal possession laws.                                           

The single claim that "there are too many guns" is simplistic and incorrect.  The truth is that there are too many guns in the wrong hands.  Statistics show that most crime is committed by previous offenders and most gun violence is carried out with hand guns. Some states have laws in place that make gun possession by a convicted felon a crime in itself. It is just a matter of connecting the dots and making law enforcement commensurate with the levels of genuine public concern and political posturing. If gun control voices are to be taken seriously then fund police departments and prosecutor's staffs, take guns off the streets and ignore the inevitable shouting about "mass incarceration" and that possession enforcement disproportionately and "unfairly" impacts minorities when in reality it simply disproportionately impacts criminality which is in everyone's interests.

Confiscation, registration, government buy backs and imposing civil liability on gun manufacturers for the criminal use of their products are all either unconstitutional, politically impossible, impractical or obviously ineffective in reducing gun crime.

Until some future Supreme Court decision affirms a fundamental state's interest in regulating the sale, and or, the possession of firearms beyond what exists currently, the political goals should be to do what is politically doable in the short run and then pursue the more difficult long run cultural changes that underly the massive criminal use of firearms.

No level of gun control in the U.S. will completely eliminate gun violence. Like all crimes it represents a failure of advanced cultures to overcome a basic flaw in human nature as well as being a sacrifice made in the maintenance of a democratic system to protect the rights of the law abiding . Nevertheless, progress can be made where there is the will. Political compromise is necessary while whitling away at extremes like "ban all", "arm all" and "slippery slope" opposition to all types of regulation. Personal and collective security is not a "red or blue" issue. Shooters don't check political party registrations before opening fire. 





Thursday, May 19, 2022

                             ABORTION:  PROTESTS, CHOICES, AND COMPROMISE                                

The decades old abortion controversy is irreconcilable. It is, and has been, a battle between an ideology, feminism, and religion, conservative Christianity, thus leaving no room for compromise between the "true believers" on both sides. Statistics show the importance of the symbolic status to the debate. Reliable sources report that between  2015 and 2019 an average of 890 thousand abortions were performed annually in the U.S.  That computes to only  @ 1.2% of the 74.6 million females according to census data, between the ages of 15-49; a large absolute number but a low participation rate considering the millions of advocates on both sides who are concerned about others than themselves obtaining abortions. 

The issue seemed to be settled by the 1973 Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision which found the right to abortion to have implied Constitutional protection. This decision was upheld in the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision.  Now however, changes in the ideological composition of the Court and in the political makeup of various states legislatures, have brought forth several challenges to the Roe decision.  The Court has heard a case from Mississippi which restricts abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and directly challenges the constitutional protections of Roe. 

In a despicable violation of the Court's deliberation confidentiality, a draft opinion of the case was released to internet opinion journal "Politico".  The draft opinion, which may not be the final opinion due in June, has stimulated a chaotic protest movement and media blitz  by supporters of Roe.  In what seems to be an unfortunate replay of the protest culture of the past two years, chants have become personal vilification and threats, and graffiti has morphed into violence as churches are targeted, a building housing a pro-life advocacy group was fire bombed and the homes and families of Supreme Court Justices have been the targets of intimidation.

In every dispute resolved by the judiciary there are winners and losers. In most cases the losers accept the judgement of the court. The current response to the draft opinion suggests that even before the final judgement is rendered, this is not the case. But there are wider issues that must be considered.  There are several basic pillars to the foundation of the U.S. democratic system. This collective response of pro-choice lobbying groups which is being exploited by Democrats for political advantage in the face of their popularity challenged policies and economic conditions, has negative implications for one of the most important, the existence of an independent judiciary.  

The founders of our republic prioritized the need to avoid concentrations of power in any executive branch of government which left unrestricted, could lead to autocracy. The concept of ""separation of powers", of which an independent judiciary was a component, resulted.  To create balance in the judiciary, federal courts have been created with a graduated appeals process, to afford thorough review but with ultimate final decisions, if so ordered, by the Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the possibility of public disapproval of the Court's decisions, the independence of the courts must be maintained as intimidation and  political pressure if allowed, could destroy the integrity, effectiveness and credibility of the system. 

The independence of the judiciary must be combined with a second foundational principal, the acceptance of the "rule of law".  The Supreme Court is not, and has never been, a quasi-representative  legislative body. The Court's nine members are charged with interpreting the Constitution and its applicability to the laws created by the only representative governmental bodies, the U.S. Congress and the legislatures of the various states. The Court simply cannot base its decisions on the vagaries of public opinion which may not comport with constitutional standards. The alternative to a commitment to the rule of law is anarchy. 

This history of the nation is replete with important cases, often characterized by moral, religious, or ideological issues. These include the advocacy and availability of birth control methods, pornography as "free speech", legal gambling, and gay marriage and numerous civil rights related decisions. The imposition and reversal of prohibitions on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages even required two amendments to the Constitution. In all these cases despite protests prior to their passage, the results have largely been accepted. The current level of extremist advocacy over the constitutional protection of abortion could set a dangerous precedent.  

Despite the arguments in the draft opinion, a substantial case for the constitutional protection of abortion has been made based on the "right to privacy" found in the Constitution's First, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and as well in the "liberty" provisions of the Forthteenth Amendment. Privacy rights have been subsequently applied in numerous cases before the Court in which these provisions were reasoned as "implied" rights for those not expressly stated in the Constitution. The released draft opinion does not expressly deny the theory or use of "implied privacy rights". It simply seems to find that the right to abortion is not one of them.  Future courts may disagree and rule differently but if the draft opinion accurately reflects the final opinion the decision will be the law and must be respected.  

The Supreme Ct. is not moving towards outlawing abortion. In denying constitutional protection it is leaving the process up to the individual states in the context of our federal system. Several states have already passed laws protecting abortion rights. Protestors are free to move their energies to those state's legislatures that pass laws restricting abortion, a venue where public opinion is properly a factor in the legislative process.  

It is also possible for the U.S. Congress, with the approval of the President, to legislate federal protections for abortion which would be superior to state laws restricting it.  A bill has already been presented to do just that but fell short of approval in the Senate. A Democrat victory in the 2022 congressional elections giving them control of the Senate and continued control of the House, although looking unlikely, would present such an opportunity.  This would be the proper strategy as it would accomplish the same goal as a Supreme Ct. ruling and would preserve the foundational concept of "separation of powers" that an independent judiciary is a vital part.

Still, Democrats are trying to politicize the impending court decision as one of a very few "straws to grasp" in the face of a dramatic failure in the November, 2022 congressional elections.  Desperate opinion journalist have claimed that over turning Roe will lead to similar efforts and decisions by the courts to overturn gay marriage or transgender protections. One such journalist at the Left wing internet journal VOX proclaimed that the Supreme Court's coming decision was illegitimate because the Court itself was illegitimate. Carrying this illogical assertion one step further, she said the Court was illegitimate because five of the sitting Justices were appointed by Presidents who won office without a majority of the popular vote. She was referring to George W. Bush who nominated Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito to the Court after his Electoral College victory in 2000, and then to Donald Trump who won in 2016 and subsequently nominated three Supreme Ct. justices. This is just a recurring attack by Democrats on the Electoral College system. Found in Article 1 Clause 2 of the Constitution, the Electoral College has performed satisfactorily for the entire history of the Republic. Only three times in that history has the Electoral College outcome been different than the popular vote.  Democrats don't like it because it takes away the advantage of large Democrat majorities in California and in the coastal states and has resulted in Republican Presidents in the two elections just mentioned. The Constitution contains its own method for revision but Democrats don't have the votes for that either.  But the claim that the Presidents so elected are illegitimate is absurd and irrelevant to the decisions of the Supreme Court. One other over excitable abortion activist went so far as to claim that even if the Constitution allowed states to restrict abortion rights the Constitution itself was illegitimate because it was written by "old white men" who had no allegiance to equality. 

Even if one believes the upcoming decision based on rejection of the applicability of a right to privacy is wrong, the level of hysteria and ridiculous "end of equality" and "end of democracy"  hyperbole that is being deployed ignores the truth which is abortion, while made more difficult for some will still be available. An estimated 21 states will ban abortion or pass restrictions on its use.  But of those 21, 9 will share a border with a state where it available, leaving only12 states, mostly in the South, where it is banned and geographically difficult for poor women to gain access.  

Of course, alternatives to unwanted pregnancies are available.  Birth control pills and accessories are a less severe and safer choice and are available everywhere. Perhaps pro-choice advocates should now become anti-unwanted pregnancy advocates and promote these alternatives.  In addition "morning after" abortion pills offer an earlier and thus less traumatic solution.

Constant organized protests in states where the legislatures and governorships are safely dominated by one party or the other are pointless and divisive. Such protests, in front of the Supreme Ct. are also pointless and  ineffectual and an affront to the "rule of law" and an "independent judiciary", as well as attracting counter protests that create dangerous situations and over tax law enforcement assets.

Protests in general, now organized on any and every subject,  have morphed from being  primarily about  policies to being about the protestors as an expression of personal theater, a form of entertainment, self promotion and "virtue signaling". If protestors were serious they would direct their energies to the ballot box which has the ultimate power over public policies; but of course that requires patience, organization and hard work. In the current environment of economic inflation, supply chain shortages, environmental extremes, open borders and rising crime, the nation should be spared the continuing public display of divisiveness, potential violence, and social instability that seems to be coming.  



Thursday, March 10, 2022


The Russian invasion of Ukraine is still in its early stages as Russian President Putin escalates the violence and expands his territorial control.  While the Ukrainian military has put up unexpected levels of resistance, the medium and long term outcomes in the face of superior Russian numbers and equipment realistically predict a Russian military victory but a prolonged insurgency.  But the story of the war doesn’t end there. Once organized military resistance is subdued, Putin, unless he has limited objectives, will be faced with the problem of occupying and controlling the nation. Ukraine is larger in size than both France and Germany. It’s population of approximately 42 million people has shown a defiance that will likely remain.  Putin’s invasion force of 150,000-165,000 is not nearly large enough to carry out the requirements for widespread occupation and control. Even if he decides on a strategy of occupying just the larger population centers he would need a much larger force.  This would be a long term commitment with enormous economic and political costs that he may not have fully contemplated. It may even be beyond his economic reach, especially if the current program of economic sanctions and isolation are continued after the armed conflict subsides.

However, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have lasting impacts on the post WWII and post Cold War European security order neither of which properly addressed the possibility of an attack on the  liberal democratic system that seemed to have permanently replaced the centuries old European  conflicts between or involving, nationalist authoritarian regimes. The trends toward international cooperation, diminution of military readiness, and economic and political integration now must be rethought to include the reality of renewed resistance to these models.  

On a more specific level the political/military process which led to the Ukraine invasion should have set off early alarms in 2014 when Putin invaded and occupied the Crimea which was part of Ukraine This act of aggression was a specific violation of the 1994 Budapest Agreement signed by Russia, Great Britain and the United States which was in response to the 1991 dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. which transformed Ukraine and other former Soviet republics into independent, sovereign states. The Budapest Memorandum committed the parties “to “respect  independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against the country. In return the Ukrainian government in Kyiv agreed too give up its large inventory of nuclear weapons which were part of the former Soviet Union’s arsenal.

While the international response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea included significant economic sanctions which remain in place today as part of the new sanctions policies in response to the February, 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine proper, it had no effect on the Russian occupation which in effect annexed the Crimea into Russia.

But the implications for the future of a new international security order stimulated by Russia go beyond Europe.  The world has few “super powers” but many authoritarian regimes who routinely reject international laws and norms.  Putin has now elevated the issue of the use of nuclear weapons from the unthinkable to the conceivable; from deterrence to tactical, with the implied acceptance of associated risks of escalation and their strategic use.  

To be sure, his statements had the ring of bluster to deter any  possibility of NATO intervention in the conflict. But his language regarding the possibility of a NATO imposed “no fly zone” over Ukraine, which would put Ukrainian pilots flying NATO aircraft in direct combat with Russian aircraft. Putin warned of “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world.” Along with his increased readiness status of his nuclear forces, his words were an unambiguous nuclear threat which he correctly assumed to be an effective end of discussion of even indirect NATO involvement. 

One could easily argue, as Biden and Secretary General of NATO, Jens Staltenberg have, that the risk of “escalation” is too great for direct or indirect military action against Russian troops, a position given even more substance in light of Putin’s nuclear remarks.  But it raises an important question about NATO’s credibility.  What would  Biden’s and Staltenberg’s position be if a similar situation arose in which Putin threatened the territory of a NATO member?  

Biden has stated that “Every square inch of a NATO member’s territory would be defended.” Certainly major European states such as Germany or France would be, but Putin’s goals seem to be to rebuild the former U.S.S.R, not by formal absorption of the now independent republics but by creating demilitarized client states on Russia’s borders by force.  Three such states are Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.  These are tiny nations and they are also NATO members.  Would an invasion of any one or all of them plus an implied threat of a nuclear response if NATO sent troops or aircraft to defend them, make such a response impossible?  Citizens of NATO countries would ask; “Do we want to start a global nuclear war over these “insignificant and unimportant countries”?  It would be taking a risk on principle vs. national interests; a gamble that Putin was bluffing and  would also not take the risk of destroying his own country in a nuclear conflict. But it would be a risk nonetheless if Putin believed that the U.S. led NATO would back down but they didn’t.

Now the possibility of other nuclear armed, authoritarian governments, wishing to carry out aggressive acts with conventional weapons and then use a similar threat, specific or implied, to deter outside intervention, could be the “new normal”. 

China of course comes to mind first, given its huge military, greatly enhanced development of high tech modern weapons systems like aircraft carriers, hypersonic missiles and digital warfare capabilities. China is of course a nuclear weapons state and has a long term geographical claim to the island nation of Taiwan, lying just 100 miles off its southern coast. China as well is engaged in a process of claiming, and building, islands in the South China sea in violation of international law and the territorial claims of other Asian states. 

Recent penetrations of Taiwan’s airspace by Chinese military aircraft are a intimidation strategy and warning sign to convey the message that Taiwan’s drift towards independent status or close political/economic or defense integration with other nation’s will bring a serious Chinese response. Speculation is that China will indeed at some point in time initiate an actual take over of the island. Taiwan has no formal defense commitments from other nations but President Biden has expressed a commitment to “assist” in its defense if threatened. This would seem to invite a Putin like response from Chinese leadership.  

But nuclear weapons provide non-super powers with the similar leverage that Putin used in his territorial aggression. North Korea has a large military and has developed a small nuclear capability.  It seems unlikely that its dictator Kim Jong-un has genuine interests in invading the Republic of South Korea but he uses the threats implied by multiple tests of ballistic missiles and specific threats of nuclear attacks on U.S. territory to intimidate and make demands of his neighbor on the peninsula and its security partner the U.S.  Regional aggression with conventional forces by Kim or a successor is not entirely out of the question. What would be the response if such an event were to occur and Kim renewed his nuclear threats to the U.S.?  South Korean officials must be asking themselves that question.  U.S., South Korean and Japanese efforts to negotiate a nuclear free Korean peninsula with North Korea have failed for decades.

Thus the issue of nuclear proliferation also comes in to play in the context of a different level than the possibility of terrorist acquisition.  The Biden administration is now “close” to reestablishing the Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) first signed in 2015 by Barack Obama and France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany and the EU and Iran.  The intent was to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.  Such an effort and the ensuing Agreement would not have been necessary if Iran was not actually on a path to acquire nuclear weapons which it claimed but which Israeli intelligence has produced abundant evidence in support of.  

Parties outside the Obama administration found the Agreement, which did not have the status of a treaty which would have required approval of a non-existent 2/3 majority in the U.S. Senate for ratification, to be fundamentally flawed and the Iranians untrustworthy.  President Trump withdrew from the Agreement and imposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran to persuade them to renegotiate a stronger agreement. The Iranian government under the autocratic rule of the Grand Ayatollah reacted by increasing the enrichment of uranium toward weapons grade levels.   

If Iran achieves nuclear weapons status in spite of the proposed restrictions in the revised agreement, the already politically unstable and conflict ridden Middle East becomes several orders of magnitude more dangerous.  Iran has pursued regional dominance for several decades by supporting terrorism and intervention in conflicts across a swath of the Middle East, especially using its Shia Muslim identity as leverage to influence other nations with similar religious affiliations. This is true in Iraq where it supports that nation’s Shi’ite majority population and government. Iran has also engaged in military intervention in the civil war in Syria in support of the Alawite (an off shoot of Shi’ism) minority government of Bashar al-Assad. It has done this with its insertion of its client Hezbollah, a Shi-ite militia based in Lebanon. 

Iran also supports and supplies weapons to the Shi’ite Houthi insurgency in Yemen which has launched drone and rocket attacks on Saudi oil facilities and airports. Saudi Arabia  and a coalition of Gulf States supports the government of Yemen. 

But the focus of Iran’s hostilities has been directed at the state of Israel since Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979 and the accession to leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Since then Iran’s political and theocratic leadership has seen Israel as an anti-Muslim, westernized client state of the U.S. which should be “wiped from the map”.  Israel is a nuclear weapons state engaged in a decades long conflict with the PLO and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza of the Palestinian territories.  Iran supports both of these Palestinian groups. Israel has had political support and military aid from U.S. presidents and Congress since becoming an independent state in 1948 but no specific mutual defense arrangement.

Iran’s proxy aggression in the region could become first party military aggression over time and if backed up by possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems a fraught game of a nuclear threats similar to Russia’s in it’s current invasion of Ukraine could become a reality. What this creates is a high level of uncertainty in the willingness of the U.S. and its collective security partners to actually live up to their stated commitments.  A new era of political instability and violence could be the result. Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and the U.S. and its Western security partners must reaffirm their commitments against aggression of all sorts.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

TRUMP: 2022 AND 2024


It may be too early to start the media consuming speculation about the 2024 presidential election.  Just thinking about it can be exhausting in the context of the current crises.  Inflation, Covid, Ukraine, open borders, climate change, are enough to dominate the feeling of unease underlying polls indicating that “America is on the wrong tack”. However, it is not too early to contemplate the outcomes of the 2022 elections and these contests will have a significant impact on the 2024 process.

The current political predictions, bolstered by historical trends,  all indicate that the control of the House of Representatives will flip to the Republican Party in 2022. Democrats, under the reign of Speaker Nancy Pelosi now control the House by a mere ten seats, a 222 to 212 majority with one seat vacant.  Thus Republicans just need to gain six seats to win to gain a 218 to 217 majority in the 435 seat body. Since all House members are up for reelection, that outcome seems to be an unrealistically low estimate of what can actually occur. In the Senate elections, Republicans need only flip one seat and hold on to their other twenty that are being contended to gain control.  

The dismal outlook for the Democrats is based on several polls over the last few months. President Biden's job approval stands at 40.1% with 54.1 % disapproval.  Sixty-five percent of poll responders say that the country is on the “wrong track”. The Gallup Poll found that while the Democrats still had a  party registration advantage over Republicans of 28% to 24%, Independents far out numbered both party’s self identification at 46%.  Independents however tend to “lean” towards one party or the other and when combined with the Republicans and Democrats as a group, the results were Republicans 47%, Democrats 42%.

 However, despite the political advantage that the Republicans currently hold, the November elections are almost nine months away and the political environment is likely to change.  The  Omicron Covid-19 variant which now dominates new cases reported, is rapidly declining and is likely to become much less of a threat by next November. Barring another variant, this decline will have a positive effect on employment, supply chain issues, inflation and a general lessening of stress on the voting public. Federal Reserve monetary policy is predicted to result in periodic interest rate increases which will also reduce demand in key sectors of the economy and have a beneficial impact on inflation. A diplomatic settlement of the Russian threat of invasion to Ukraine could also have a positive effect on Biden’s approval ratings with a positive “coat tail” benefit to Democratic congressional candidates. 

The message is clear; Republicans cannot assume that favorable results in November while likely,  are  inevitable. The election could be further complicated for Republicans by the continuing attempts by former President Trump to influence the Republican primaries through endorsements,  including against some Republican incumbents, as well as his “off the rails” personal vilification of prominent members of the Republican House and Senate caucuses. These public positions and rants include his support for the Republican National Committee’s recent vote to “censure”Republican Representatives Cheney (R-WY) and Kinzinger (R-IL) for their participation on the House committee investigating the January 6, 2022 riot and invasion of the U.S. Capitol.  

While there is little doubt that the Democrat controlled committee has cast a very wide and politically motivated  net, finding out the truth of the motivating and participating individuals who may have been involved in such an egregious act is important in itself. The RNC censure describes the riot and insurrection as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate discourse.”; an absurd characterization of the well documented violence and destruction carried out by an out of control mob.  Numerous former Republican  former government officials and several current Republican Senators have “condemned” this act by the RNC which  has Trump’s personal anger at the two Representatives, both of whom voted to impeach him the second time, for his role in the insurrection, all over it.  The issue is now dividing the party at the congressional level and risks dividing it at the primary voter level this year. 

Trump’s adolescent name calling of those who have rejected his demands for complete sycophancy has reached absurd levels and make him look foolish to some and unstable to others. Trump continues to attack current and former senior Republican officials who were his  supporters during his administration.  He has labeled  Senate Minority Leader, and possible 2023 Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as “Old broken Down Crow” and a “Loser” and called on Senate Republicans to depose him. McConnell’s “crime”?; assigning partial responsibility to Trump for the Jan.6, riot. Trump has called Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a key swing vote in the 50-50 partisan Senate, a “Wacko” for supporting a review and modernization of the vague 1887 Electoral Count Act. He has turned on his own former Vice President Mike Pence who was presiding at the time, for saying he had no constitutional authority under the Act, to overturn the 2020 Electoral College vote during the certification process being held at the time of the riot as Trump demanded. 

One of the most important qualities of the U.S. constitutional system since it came  in to effect in 1789, has been the peaceful transition of power characterized by the two term limit on the office of the President and the respect for our democratic election process.  Trump has disgraced this tradition and process with his unfounded claims of the election being “stolen”, his refusal to attend the inauguration of his successor and his incentivizing of the January 6 insurrection of the capitol. 

As he continues to try and make himself the face of the Republican Party, influence the outcomes of the November, 2022 Republican congressional primary elections while dangling the prospect of another presidential run in 2024, he forces the Party and its candidates to carry the weight of this personal and political baggage. While some candidates seem happy to openly support him and seek his endorsements, his continued intervention is a dangerous game at best.  Many voters in his 2016 victory obviously did support his “American First” philosophy and the policies that followed from it. Border security, lower federal taxes, protection of U.S. energy independence, negotiations to improve international trade relations, low inflation an unemployment and resistence to the movement of the Democrat party towards the radical Left.  However many of these same supporters made it clear that they disapproved of Trump’s volatile, ego centered, personality and unstable administration. In his  single four year term Trump had four different Chiefs of Staff and three different Secretaries of Defense; two of the key posts in any administration. These character and personality flaws have even gotten worse since his loss in 2020.  The outcome, and the shifting of attitudes away from Trump in both the electorate and Republican political establishment since then are worth noting.

In his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, Trump identified a profound populist feeling of anger and alienation from the Washington establishment which he characterized as “the swamp”. He combined policies of border security and immigration reform, trade improvement, low taxes and reduced government regulatory power under a banner of unabashed patriotism and national identification.His pugnacious personality was overlooked by some and celebrated as a “fighting spirit” by others.  

Hillary Clinton, a former “First Lady”, Senator from a liberal state, and Secretary of State under a liberal President, was the very personification of an entitled member of the Washington elite. 

Trump broke down the Democrat’s fragile “Blue Wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania  and won the Electoral College vote 304 to 227. But Trump lost the national popular vote by 2,865,000 votes.

After four years of hyper partisan conflict and savage pe rsonal attacks on Trump, by Democrats at all levels, including the majority of the national media, Trump responded with obsessive Tweets targeting anyone who criticized him. Political exhaustion in the electorate had set in and “Trump fatigue” became a factor in 2020.

Voting participation was up dramatically from 2016 and Trump lost the national popular vote to Joe Biden by 6,552,000 votes and the Electoral College vote 306 to 232.  But more telling, Trump lost his populist appeal in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and Biden flipped Arizona and Georgia as well. Perhaps the most significant trend shown in 2020 was that Trump’s support in all three categories measured of younger voters (18-49)  lost ground from 2016.  Also, among the large group of self identified “Independent” voters, Trump’s support declined from 47% to 41%. 

Polls now indicate that “Trump fatigue” has held over from the 2020 election. A January, 2022 poll of  self described GOP primary voters agreed with the opinion that “a new Republican candidate was needed to defeat Biden in the next election” (Nov.2024).  Sixty-seven percent of this same cohort agreed with the statement that “Joe Biden is legally the President”; thus refuting the only issue that Trump is currently identifying himself with and one that will play a role in the 2022 congressional election for those who have won Trump’s endorsement and those who haven’t.

But the problem for the Trump endorsed candidates is serious.  Another recent poll found that only 16% of Republican voters would “definitely” vote for a Trump endorsed candidate.” They might anyway, but the value of Trump’s endorsements and his credibility have all but disappeared. In an incredible attempt to finish it off he recently said that if he were reelected President he would pardon the insurrectionists who might be convicted in federal courts.  This political version of putting on a suicide vest in a lightning storm may do the job.

Thus, the big picture currently for both the 2022 elections and looking ahead to the 2024 presidential elections supports the view that Trump’s time as come and gone. Republican voters cite Trump’s personality as a “major issue”.  That’s a serious understatement and one that is certain not to change as his rants, lies, exaggerations  and charges continue to grow. The 2024 Republican presidential primary contest will certainly be as crowded on as it was in 2016.  In an admittedly early, hypothetical nine candidate contest of likely Republican candidates, Trump won only 36 percent against a field that for the most part lacked national voter identification or existing groups of “core supporters” like Trump. Put another way, these GOP primary voters preferred 64% of the other listed candidates or hadn’t made up their minds. 

There are many unknowns with respect to the future 2024 Democratic presidential candidate which will effect voter’s choice including Biden’s age and health; Vice President Harris’s unpopularity and any number of external factors that might stimulate one or more Democrat challengers.  But there are few unknowns about Trump.  He is what he is and what you see is what you will get.  Republican candidates in the upcoming 2022 elections should begin, or continue, the process of, divorcing themselves from Trump’s hold on the Party. They need not attack him as he will them but they should follow the change in attitudes which started in November, 2020 and have continued over the last year, and make him irrelevant to their campaigns, as the recently elected GOP Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin did. It is not necessary to be a Trump supporter to be a conservative and having Trump on the ticket in 2024 would dramatically change the focus away from the issues that the polls show are alienating voters from the Democrat’s far Left agenda and make Trump and his single issue “Big Lie” about the “stolen” 2020 election, plus his role in the January 6th insurrection and his inflammatory and irresponsible personality the main issues. A losing proposition.