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Saturday, January 25, 2020

FOREIGN POLICY: DEMOCRATS QUALIFICATIONS AND THE LEADERSHIP DEFICIT

The Democratic Party’s nomination campaign has now  thankfully been reduced from its original platoon sized gaggle of “not him again”, “who’s that”, and “you’ve got to be kidding” candidates,  to a still large but more manageable twelve, of which only three are polling in double digit numbers and only six  qualified for the January debate.                                                     
The first six debates have consisted mostly of a combination of the usual “values” platitudes, condemnation of Trump, and an endless argument about the political and economic viability of “Medicare for all”. The seventh just held, was not much different, best exemplified by the fact that the media’s post mortem made the issue of whether Sanders told Warren in a private meeting a few years ago that he didn’t think a woman could win the presidency.  He denies it; she says it’s true. If true, Sanders didn’t say he didn’t think a woman “should” be president. He said he didn’t think a woman “could” be president.  This absurd non- issue, attempt by the media to create a politically relevant  “issue” just shows how flaccid and superficial  the whole process had become.  What has been noticeably missing, even in the sixth debate which was supposed to feature the subject, has been any meaningful discussion of foreign policy.

The Constitution awards almost exclusive powers and responsibilities in this area to the President as “Commander in Chief” of the armed forces and chief diplomat with his attendant power to “receive diplomats” and “make treaties”.  The first is a shared power only by the requirements of a declaration of war by the Congress and the largely ignored War Powers Act of 1973 which places restrictions on the deployment of troops without Congressional consent,  and the second, with respect to treaties, which requires a 2/3 approval by the Senate.

Given the preponderance of foreign and national security powers that reside in the office of the President it would seem obvious that an understanding of the candidates positions on the many current issues in this realm as well as their respective backgrounds, level of knowledge and experience, if any, should be examined as part of their candidacy.

The debates, never known for vigorous policy examinations by the journalists who moderate them, have so far shed little light on these important issues and the candidates themselves have shown little interest in the subject.

Of the three front runners , those  polling in double digits, only Joe Biden would seem to have any credentials for foreign policy expertise.  As a Senator from  Delaware for many years, he served as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.  As President Obama’s Vice President for eight years, he held a seat on the National Security Council.  If he attended the meetings and played an active role is not known.  Now it has been asserted that he was the Obama Administration’s “point man” on relations with Ukraine, an association he may now regret.
Unfortunately he also has a reputation, summarized succinctly by former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates , as getting everything wrong about “nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

A look at Biden’s campaign web site reveals an Elizabeth Warren like blizzard of “plans” which he, like she, promises will solve all the problems Americans face.  Of the eighteen “plans” however, none addresses any of the world’s or America’s foreign policy problems.  Voters have to look elsewhere to see what Biden thinks about what’s going on beyond our borders.

Fortunately the Council on Foreign Relations contacted the candidates and asked a few specific questions about current issues. Not all the candidates responded and since then, some of them have dropped out of the race. But Biden, Warren and Sanders did provide written answers to the questions, a sample of which provide some insights into the candidates knowledge and preparedness to assume the responsibilities of the Commander in Chief and “chief diplomat”.

THE JCPOA, i.e.  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) signed by Obama and from which Trump withdrew.

Biden:

“I would re-enter the JCPOA as a starting point to work alongside our allies in Europe and other world powers i.e. China and Russia,  to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints.”

 I would take “a redoubled commitment to diplomacy to more effectively push back against Tehran’s other malign behavior in the region.”

Sanders:

“I would re-enter the agreement on day one of my presidency and then work with the P5+1 and Iran to build upon it with additional measures to further block any path to a nuclear weapon, restrain Iran’s offensive actions in the region and forge a new strategic balance in the Middle East.”

Warren:

“If Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal, the United States should return as well. If Iran is not in compliance, I will pursue strong and principled diplomacy in concert with our allies to bring both the United States and Iran back into the deal.”
“The JCPOA is only the beginning. We will need to negotiate a follow-on to the agreement that continues to constrain Iran’s nuclear program past the “sunset” of some of its original terms. “

“We also need to address serious concerns about Iran’s policies beyond its nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program and support for destabilizing regional proxies. ”
_______
Biden seems to acknowledge indirectly, that the JCPOA was flawed from the outset.  It contained a “sunset provision” in which the constraints of Iran’s development of weapons grade nuclear material would have to be renegotiated.  It relied in part on Iran’s self reporting of nuclear development sites to the UN Atomic Energy Agency and did not contain any restraints on Iran’s development of long range missile nuclear capable delivery systems.  It also made no mention of Iran’s regional interventions and support for international terrorism.  Reentering the agreement would require the lifting of the harsh economic sanctions imposed by Trump to incentivize a return to negotiations to correct these serious flaws. This would remove any pressure on Iran to agree to more comprehensive terms which they have already said they would never do.
Sander’s and Warren’s  responses are  pure naivete’. They join Biden in thinking that the removal of sanctions as a first step would lead to broader based renegotiations. Russia, is a member of the P5+1 nations and is a partner with Iran in the intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad , and would not be a useful negotiation partner. Reentry on “day one” would simply be a concession to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and would provide huge oil related financial assets to support Iran’s regional ambitions.

Warren’s idea of pressure is “strong and principled diplomacy with our allies”, whatever that is, and she also seems to have forgotten about the other participants in the agreement Russia and China, who are certainly not “our allies”.


NORTH  KOREA:   Question: “Would you sign an agreement with North Korea that entailed partial sanctions relief in exchange for some dismantling of its nuclear weapons program but not full denuclearization?”

Biden:

“As president, I will empower our negotiators and jumpstart a sustained, coordinated campaign with our allies and others – including China – to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea.”

Sanders:

“I would offer partial relief of economic sanctions in return for partial progress on denucleariztion:” “I will work to negotiate a step-by-step process to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program, build a new peace and security regime on the peninsula and work towards the eventual elimination of all North Korean nuclear weapons.”

Warren:

“Our goal should be the full elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. But while we work toward that goal, we must reduce the threat now. “

“We need serious, realistic negotiations to address this threat. As a first step, and in coordination with our partners and allies, I would be prepared to consider partial, limited sanctions relief in return for a strong, verifiable agreement that keeps North Korea from expanding its arsenal or proliferating to other countries. An interim agreement would open the door to negotiations to reduce North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, control conventional weapons, and stop the regime’s crimes against humanity. That’s not only an imperative for our national security, it is the only credible path toward denuclearization.”
_________
Biden’s brief response is a statement without substance and a complete dodge of the question, reflecting a lack of any diplomatic strategy or acknowledgment of North Korea’s goals or negotiating tactics.

Sanders and Warren offer a return to the past by offering “partial sanctions relief” for “partial denuclearization”. Warren’s response is typical of the simplistic and fatuous approach she has to most complex issues. Discussions, negotiations, bargaining and inconsistent behavior by the Kim dynasty with regard to nuclear weapons development has been on-going since December,1985 when N. Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung agreed to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1970), which basically states that non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) will agree to not pursue development of nuclear military capability.

Since then four U.S. Presdents, Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2 and Obama, in cooperation with our allies i.e. S.Korea and Japan, as well as China and Russia/, have been carrying out “serious, realistic negotiations” with the three Kims who have ruled North Korea. These negotiations have included sanctions relief, aid, renewed sanctions in response to blatant violations of the NPT and the negotiated agreements.  All along it has been all three of the Kim’s position that no meaningful progress would be made unless all sanctions were repealed first. Essentially, it has been a fundamental goal of all of the N. Korean leadership to acquire nuclear weapons, live with the resulting sanctions  and become a permanent nuclear weapons state. Warren offers nothing new.
Kim Jong-Un’s motivations are to acquire the international importance that goes with such nuclear power status and to make his regime immune from any possible attempts at regime change. Concessions on nuclear development could also create push back on the part of hawks in the N. Korean military and even in competitors for power in Kim’s own family. Also development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems validates the myth of U.S. aggression which justifies the hardships imposed on the N. Korean people.

Sanders is engaging in simple campaign blather to say he will “ will work towards the eventual elimination of all” N. Korea’s nuclear weapons. As long as China is willing to keep N. Korea’s economy afloat the U.S. should focus on deterrence while making it clear that proliferation on his part is unacceptable and result in even more punitive economic isolation and sanctions. Partial economic sanctions relief could be used as an incentive for de-escalation of tensions and strict adherence in this regard, but there is no reason to think that such a policy will result in complete denuclearization.

RUSSIAN INTERVENTION IN UKRAINE

Biden:

“On the military side, I would provide more U.S. security assistance including weapons  to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. I would also expand the successful training mission for the Ukrainian Armed Forces that was initiated by the Obama-Biden administration.”

“Economically, I would work to increase Western direct investment and support for Ukraine’s energy independence from Russia, particularly if the Nordstream II pipeline is built in the coming year, because this project would severely jeopardize Ukraine’s access to Russian gas.”
“Finally, I would support a much stronger diplomatic role for the United States, alongside France and Germany, in the negotiations with Russia. For diplomacy to work, however, we need stronger leverage over Moscow, and that means working more closely with our European partners and allies to ensure that Russia pays a heavier price for its ongoing war in Ukraine.”

Sanders:

“My administration will make clear to Russia that additional aggression will force the United States to increase pressure, including expanding beyond current sanctions. For now, our main priority should be to work closely with our European allies to help the new Ukrainian government make good on its promises to reform the economy, improve standards of living, and substantially reduce corruption. “

Warren:

“Ukraine faces immense challenges that will require patient, long-term diplomacy and support from the West. We should start by shoring up relations with our EU partners in order to maintain the strongest possible diplomatic front, and by keeping pressure on the Kremlin to encourage changes in behavior. “

__________
Biden at least seems to understand the issues.  The Russian intervention into Ukraine is a complex issue which for several years has been the subject of French, German and Ukraine diplomatic efforts with Russia.  Essentially, Russia has intervened and supported an armed separatist movement in the eastern provinces of Ukraine which is populated by a large number of ethnic Russians. Diplomatic solutions are complicated by the fact that polls show that a majority of the population in the disputed territories want to rejoin the post- Soviet Union Russian Federation. The governments of France and Germany have specific foreign policy/security interests in not allowing Russia to extend its control past its Western borders.
France is leading the diplomatic efforts.  An aggressive involvement by a Biden Administration in the negotiations could complicate the problem and would have to be carefully analyzed prior to its inclusion.

Sanders seems to be saying ‘don’t worry”about the current Russian intervention and conflict, let’s rebuild the Ukrainian economy and tell the Russians, “no ‘further aggression’ or we’ll put big pressure on you’.

Warren response is similar, just more platitudes.  “Long term diplomacy”?  “Shoring up our relationships with our EU partners”. With respect to this problem our relationship with the EU is sound. Russia is the problem. This is a follow on to Putin’s successful annexation of the Crimea.
There is a state of armed conflict currently in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Ukraine’s sovereignty needs to be defended with military assistance by the U.S., France and Germany.  Economic sanctions are already in place against Russia and these need to be strengthened especially in light of the potential completion of the Nordstream II pipeline which will bypass the current pipeline to Ukraine and supply natural gas to the EU through a distribution center in Germany.  As Biden points out and Sanders and Warren seem unaware, this  would allow Russia to cut off Ukraine’s supply of natural gas to force it to make territorial concessions.

WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. TROOPS FROM AFGHANISTAN

Biden:

“I would bring American combat troops in Afghanistan home during my first term. Any residual U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be focused only on counter terrorism operations. We need to be clear-eyed about our limited enduring security interests in the region: We cannot allow the remnants of Al Qa’ida in Afghanistan and Pakistan to reconstitute, and we must destroy the Islamic State presence in the region. Americans are rightly weary of our longest war; I am, too. But we must end the war responsibly, in a manner that ensures we both guard against threats to our Homeland and never have to go back.”

Sanders:

“I would withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as expeditiously as possible.
“It’s time to end our intervention there and bring our troops home, in a planned and coordinated way combined with a serious diplomatic and political strategy which helps deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid. Withdrawing troops does not mean withdrawing all involvement, and my administration would stay politically engaged in these countries and do whatever we can to help them develop their economy and strengthen a government that is responsible to its people. “

Warren:

It's long past time to bring our troops home, and I would begin to do so immediately. “Redirecting just a small fraction of what we currently spend on military operations toward economic development, education, and infrastructure projects would be a better, more sustainable investment in Afghanistan's future than our current state of endless war. We should enlist our international partners to encourage a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban that is sustainable and that protects U.S. interests. And we should redouble efforts to support the Afghan government and civil society as they work to promote the rule of law, combat corruption and the narcotics trade, and ensure the basic rights of all Afghans.”
_________________

Biden appears to miss the point that the underlying problem is the Taliban forces that have ruled Afghanistan off and on since the Soviet Union withdrew its forces in 1989.  Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the fundamentalist Taliban have broken down in their early stages.  The war against the Taliban is not winnable. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and fought a losing nine year effort to destroy the Taliban’s antecedent Islamic militias ,the Mujahideen.  The Taliban are more centrally organized and reflect the same problems of asymmetric warfare in a rugged and mountainous country.

Sanders’ response is purposely vague:  “Expeditiously as possible”?  “Serious diplomatic and political strategy” ?  “Stay politically engaged” ?  Bernie needs to offer some definitions of these generalities.  He also totally ignores the basic issues: the civil war with the Taliban insurgency which wants to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan, and the issue of the possible re-emergence of Al Qaeda, the international terrorist organization which launched it’s 9/11 attacks on the U.S. from Afghanistan and precipitated the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Staying “politically engaged” conforms with Warren’s “plan” which is essentially to abandon military assistance and training and rely on others, “are international partners” to solve the problem of the insurgency.
Unless the Taliban finds some kind of motivation to agree to a political settlement which would necessarily grant them significant political power, the conflict will continue and “economic development, education, and infrastructure projects” won’t be possible in a hostile, unstable environment.

 Biden’s plan to stay until Al Oaeda and the Islamic State elements are eliminated requires the cooperation of both the Taliban and the Afghan government and might still take years.  But if successful, it would make possible the claim, even if not entirely true, that the “mission was accomplished” and withdrawal was then fully justified. But the conundrum for the U.S. now, and in the future, is continuing military support for the Afghan government to avoid a complete Taliban victory, or abandon a hopeless enterprise and accept the consequences of endless internal conflict with the ultimate prospect of the establishment of another fundamentalist Islamic state in the region.  Either way, Sanders plan to “strengthen the government” or Warren’s plan to “redouble efforts” to create a viable non-corrupt civil society in what is essentially a failed state without the unlikely cooperation of a murderous theocratic military and political entity is just non-specific 2020 election blather.

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS:  THE TWO STATE SOLUTION

Biden:

“I believe a two-state solution is the only path to long-term security for Israel, while sustaining its identity as a Jewish and democratic state.”
“I will restore credible engagement with both sides to the conflict. America must sustain its ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. Palestinian leaders should end the incitement and glorification of violence, and they must begin to level with their people about the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israeli leaders should stop the expansion of West Bank settlements and talk of annexation that would make two states impossible to achieve. They must recognize the legitimacy of Palestinians' aspirations for statehood. Both sides should work to provide more relief to the people of Gaza while working to weaken, and ultimately replace, Hamas. And Arab states should take more steps toward normalization with Israel and increase their financial and diplomatic support for building Palestinian institutions.”



Sanders:

“Two states based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Ultimately, it’s up to the Palestinians and Israelis themselves to make the choices necessary for a final agreement, but the United States has a major role to play in brokering that agreement. My administration would also be willing to bring real pressure to bear on both sides, including conditioning military aid, to create consequences for moves that undermine the chances for peace. “

Warren:

As president, I would take immediate steps to reestablish America’s role as a credible mediator by welcoming the Palestinian General Delegation back to Washington and reopening an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I would also make clear that in a two-state agreement both parties should have the option to locate their capitals in Jerusalem, as all previous serious plans have acknowledged. We should immediately resume aid to the Palestinians and financial support to UNRWA, and focus real financial and political resources on fixing the man-made humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip. I will oppose incitement to violence and support for terrorism by Palestinian extremists like Hamas. And I will make clear my unequivocal opposition to Israeli settlement activity and to any moves in the direction of annexation of the West Bank.
___________

Biden’s response includes a lot of “shoulds”, and “musts” which may make sense, but he doesn’t seem to  recognize the complexities of the seventy-two year old conflict whose roots go back to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.  Bernie thinks his simple solution, which has defied negotiations and included wars in 1948, 1956, 1963 and 1967, as well as conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon, would be successful. Hamas, which controls Gaza is a militant, Islamic terrorist organization with armed components, which has denied Israel’s right to exist in its founding documents. It is supported by Iran and shows no interest in a diplomatic solution or in allowing it’s “replacement” as Biden suggests.
The issues of the status of Jerusalem, the “right of return” of Palestinians to Israel proper, and existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank don’t seem to have been focused on by Biden.  Jerusalem, where Warren wants to put a U.S. mission to the Palestinians is currently the capitol of Israel as declared by the government of Israel and by President Trump.  The current political administration in Israel believes that a Palestinian state on it’s borders would inevitably be weaponized and only control over the disputed West Bank can maximize its security. Until a new administration comes about, and advocates  a politically risky position towards a Palestinian state, the status quo is likely to be maintained.

Also, without a change of governments in Israel, Bernie has already squandered his credibility for the U.S. to have “a major role to play in brokering” an agreement by calling Israeli Prime Minister a “racist” and now threatening to block U.S. military aid which has been vital to Israel’s survival through all these years.  Even with such a change, Warren’s stated “plan” is heavily slanted towards accommodating the demands of the Palestinians.  But she doesn’t acknowledge the problem of the lack of a single Palestinian government with which to negotiate. She states opposition to Hamas inspired violence but has no leverage to use to make them agree to a secure Israeli state. Jerusalem, as a capital for two independent and hostile states is fraught with political and practical problems and it’s status, as well as West Bank settlements and possible annexation cannot be dictated by any U.S. President.   Bernie is correct on this; saying any final settlement must be negotiated by a unified Palestinian authority and the government of Israel whose national security is its primary concern and responsibility.

It should be noted that President Trump has just announced that both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his major challenger in the March 2nd general election, General Benny Gantz of the more moderate Blue and White political party,  are both coming to Washington D.C. to discuss the second phase of Trump’s “Peace Plan” for Israel and the Palestinians.  The plan will be released prior to the visits and leaks from “informed sources” indicate that it will be strongly pro-Israel including U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the entire city of Jerusalem and the 100 plus Israeli settlements in the West Bank along with a  highly limited “right of return” for Palestinians wishing to reenter Israeli proper.

The Palestinian Authority which speaks for the West Bank portion of the Palestinian territories not including Gaza, has already said they will reject the new proposal as they did the first part which included substantial economic development in Gaza.  The Trump proposal will probably be enthusiastically supported by the Netanyahu government. But he first must overcome an indictment for alleged corruption in office by a vote for immunity in the Knesset. Then he must put together a conservative coalition government even if his Lukud party wins a plurality in the election.  His challanger, General Benny Gantz  might take a different view of the proposal which essentially would make a Palestinian state in the West Bank an impossibility.

Nonetheless, a new Netanyahu government would almost certainly affirm its claim for sovereignty based on U.S. affirmation even if the peace plan is rejected by the Palestinians.
The Democrat candidates will certainly reject and condemn the proposal but even if Trump is defeated, a new conservative  Netanyahu government will proceed under its terms and make it difficult for a new Democrat administration in the U.S. to reject an official U.S. position after the fact.

Conclusions:

Biden seems to know far more history and details of the foreign policy issues queried by the Council on Foreign Relations.  Sander’s shows little interest, apparently more focused on getting his “socialist revolution” started and transforming the economy and culture of the nation.  Warren is just minimally informed and her constantly mentioned  preference for multi-national “diplomacy” seems to indicate an aloofness and lack of leadership with difficult problems. Foreign policy doesn’t play a role in her election strategy.  Promising trillions of dollars in government handouts has more private citizen appeal than instability in far away places. When forced to address those problems ,she ignores the fact that  Iran, North Korea ,Hamas and Russia and China  are not responsible negotiating participants.  They all have adversarial intent and perceived national interests that run counter to U.S. goals.  Warren and Sanders use “diplomacy” as an escape for a reluctance to the proposal of specific strategies. Thus for them, “diplomacy” becomes a strategy itself, but it isn’t.  Diplomacy is a negotiating process which seeks to identify mutual interests between parties in the pursuit of strategic goals and compromise on other interests or implementation.  Both, or all parties, must have goals and real strategies in mind in order to avoid prolonged and useless conversations with the attendant frustrations and political theater which can deepen the divide.

Ir should go without saying that the roles of Commander in Chief and “chief diplomat” are extremely important components of presidential power. Trump has little experience in this are, but the does now have a three year record in trade relationships and national security. Voters should take the time to examine his record and the qualifications and current positions of his would be replacements which unfortunately, with the possible but uncertain, exception of Biden, seem to indicate a lack of knowledge, a naive dependency on  ununified groups of "diplomatic partners" and a withdrawal from vital U.S. leadership. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

IMPEACHMENT: FLAWS AND FOLLY

The stability of the Executive branch of the United States has served as a hallmark of a functioning democracy since the creation of our constitutional republic 230 years ago.  The wisdom of the framers of our Constitution has not only stood the test of time, it has proved its value in comparisons with the democratic parliamentary systems in Europe and the flawed and less democratic presidential systems in other parts of the world.

 Parliamentary changes of   “government”, i.e. the executive branch,  by the mechanism of   “no confidence” votes or failed coalition governments in legislative bodies have created numerous periods of political instability, multiple divisive national elections and non-functioning governments in advanced democracies such as England, France, Israel and Italy, just to name a few.  Prime Ministers in these nations have fallen to the failure to pass core policy initiatives and to “scandals” both political and personal.  The high bar of the U.S. presidential fixed term and removal of a sitting President only through the purposely difficult impeachment process in the House of Representatives and conviction for the constitutionally mandated standard of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” by a 2/3 majority in the Senate,  has spared the American people the instability and political chaos so common abroad.

The 45 Presidents of the U.S. have included both strong and weak, effective and ineffective, and popular and unpopular individuals, but only two have been impeached i.e. charged, by the House of Representatives, and neither was removed from office by the Senate. President Nixon resigned office before he would certainly been impeached and removed for the “high crime” of accessory to felony burglary and to obstruction of justice in the subsequent investigation.

The current charges and impeachment investigation being conducted by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has, to date, provided more heat than light and so far has proved insufficient to meet the Constitutional requirement of “treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors”. 

The Democratic effort is flawed on several levels. 

First, context and credibility:

Democratic politicians and liberal activists went into a state of shock on election night, November 2nd, 2016,, when the blustery, iconoclastic, real estate developer billionaire with no political experience defeated the pre-ordained Democratic, life long political insider and chromosome entitled Hillary Clinton.  That psychological trauma, more commonly described as
“Trump derangement” still infects a large segment of the extreme Left today and has guided their actions since that fateful night three years ago.

Overturning the election results before Trump was inaugurated in January, 2017 was the immediate emotional knee jerk response.

First came an attempt to demand a recount in enough states with close results with the hope of changing the Electoral College count.  This effort failed to meet the legal requirements regarding vote totals and was denied in federal court.

But desperation can be the mother of invention and the next ploy was to convince enough Electors in the various states which Trump won to defy state laws which require them to vote for the candidate who won that states majority.  One elector in Texas was convinced and abandoned law and principle, but the attempt on the national scale failed.

Since then, Democrats, have claimed correctly that impeachment of a President by the House is not a legal/criminal process but a political exercise. However, while ignoring the Constitutional requirements for removal of the President by the Sen, they have fallen back on impeachment as a remedy for their frustration and emotional pain.  Some demanded impeachment of Trump for alleged acts and things he said prior to winning the election  and even before he took the oath of office. 

Faced with the obvious futility of these demands, Democrats found new hope when it became apparent that the Russians had attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 election using social media and hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computers as well as Clinton’s e-mails and making their findings public through WikiLeaks.

A Special Prosecutor was named by the Department of Justice and the two and one half year saga of the Mueller investigation into possible “collusion” between Trump, his campaign organization and the Russians stimulated a frenzy of hopes and predictions by the Left that Trump was sure to be politically destroyed.  When the Mueller report was finally released it crashed, not with the sound of an explosion of scandal and malfeasance but with the soft thud of a waste of time and public money, accompanied by the wails of despair and denial by the Democrats.  Mueller found no collusion between Trump, his campaign and the Russians, found that the Russian interference had no effect on the outcome of the election,  and took no position on possible illegal attempts by Trump to obstruct justice in the inquiry.

It is in this context of on going failed attempts to overturn the 2016 presidential election that the current Democratic  “impeachment inquiry” and partisan investigations are taking place.

The ideological/partisan personal hate that is the basis for the continuous effort to overturn the 2016 election can perhaps best be displayed by the re-emergence of former Nixon Administration White House Counsel, John Dean who is exciting the Left wing media with his “expertise” on presidential impeachment.  The 81 yr. old Dean who himself spent four months in prison for obstruction of justice in the Watergate cover up, has since tried to make a living writing books demonizing the Republican Party and its former officials.  He has written that former President George W. Bush should have been impeached, and forgetting his “expertise” on the Constitutional requirements for impeachment and removal of a President from office, he said this about the Trump impeachment “inquiry”.

- "I think this president probably should have been impeached the day he walked in," Dean said on CNN. "He's incompetent. He has a terrible attitude. He doesn't understand government. He is in there trying to build his own brand, and he's taking advantage of the office from day one.”

Fortunately, the low standards for Trump derangement syndrome haven’t replaced the high standards of Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution.

Second:

The Democrats are divided on what the most politically advantageous charges against President Trump should be emphasized.  Politicians and pundits on the Left have argued since the “investigations”  barely started that Trump is guilty of:   abuse of power, bribery, illegal campaign donation solicitation, obstruction of justice, and illegal emoluments.  Some simply say “all of the above”.

While the impeachment process is indeed a political exercise and federal officials don’t have to break a law to be impeached (charged by the House), that is just the first stage but the standards for removal from office in the second stage of  “treason, bribery or “other high crimes” and misdemeanors”, are all statutory based crimes as their plain language describes. In fairness, it should be noted that there exists a body of thought that this language can mean more than just crimes, and bills of impeachment by the House for lesser federal officials than the President have included non-criminal charges. Even so, this wider interpretation of the Constitutional language which was applied by the House Judiciary Committee with regards to the Nixon impeachment effort, reflects the need for very serious misconduct by the President.
“The Framers intended that the impeachment language they employed should reflect the “grave misconduct that so injures or abuses our Constitutional institutions and form of government as to justify impeachment.” (Staff Report of Committee on the Judiciary: “Grounds for Presidential Impeachment”: Nixon: 1974)

These standards makes it clear that removal from office, especially of a President, is not allowed because, you don’t like him or your candidate didn’t win, or even if he engages in “troubling” or “inappropriate” but legal behavior. 

Abuse of power:

It is clear from the testimony of diplomatic and national security staff, that Trump tried to pressure the President of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma and some claims that the Ukraine, under their previous president, was involved somehow in the Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Trump also wanted the publicly announced investigations to include the possible roles of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden . The pressure was in the form of a delay on Ukrainian President Zelensky’s desire for a “heads of state” meeting with Trump and on the funding of $400 million in military aid.
Internal investigations into a Ukrainian corporation based on possible corruption, which had been previously investigated by the Ukrainian government, would be perfectly legal and proper on the part of the Ukrainian President, with or without Trump’s request or pressure.   Investigations into the Bidens relation to Burisma on whose Board of Directors Joe Biden’s son Hunter had held a seat paying him $60,000 a year since 2014, though  legal, would be  politically sensitive and generally considered “improper” if initiated by the U.S. President’s request  given Joe Biden's potential candidacy in the 2020 U.S. federal election .

 The problem for the Democrats becomes the question: Did Trump's communications with the govt. of Ukraine personally in a phone call on July 24th, 2019, and through his subordinates, primarily his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani,  constitute an "abuse of power" because they referenced the Bidens,  as well as the two month delay in the funding of the military aid, and did such an effort constitute a "high crime or misdemeanor"?  Testimony by Lt. Colonel Alexander Vidman, Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council (NSC), who Democrats hoped would provide damaging information against President Trump, said that there had been a National Security Council opinion that Trump’s delay of the funding of the military aid was “legal” and based “on a purely legal point of view.”

Thus the weakness in the argument is obvious.  The legal temporary hold on the military aid was released on Sept. 11, 2019 and he "Heads of State" meeting desired by Zelensky, was held on Sept. 24th at the UN.  No "quid pro quo", “something for something” ever came about because Zelensky never made a public announcement of any investigations into the 2016  U.S. elections or into Burisma and the Bidens. Trump's pressure, which never met the Constitutional requirement of “high crimes or other misdemeanors” anyway, and which he characterized as “a favor” in the phone call, failed.

In addition, and specifically to the point, Ukrainian President Zelensky “has said repeatedly that he never felt extorted in his July 25 phone call with Trump.  Zelensky told journalists on Sept. 25, “nobody pushed me.” During extensive discussions with some 300 journalists in Kiev, Zelensky said on Oct. 10: “There was no pressure or blackmail from the US.”  (New York Post: 11-4-19).

Bribery:

With the weaknesses of the “abuse of power” claim becoming more apparent, House Democrats are talking up a switch to “bribery” which sounds more “criminal” and is less subjective in definition.  But such a charge in reference to the Ukrainian affair requires a redefinition of significant proportions to push the square shape of the charge into the round hole of reality.

The constitutional standard of bribery for impeachment implies an agreement between a President and another person in which, by acceptance of a  personal monetary gift to the President,  he uses his powers to provide a policy or services that personally benefits the other individual, a “quid pro quo” in reverse of the Ukrainian situation.  Zelensky didn't make an initial offer of anything to induce Trump to offer military aid, which simply continued a long term policy of military support by the Obama Administration. Trump didn't agree to a request for military aid by Zelensky in return for something of monetary or any other kind of value. The military aid in question was legislation passed by the Congress as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.  Zelensky didn’t try and “bribe”Trump with anything and on the flip side of the coin, Trump didn't try and "bribe" Zelensky. The aid was a congressional appropriation which preceded the Trump-Zelensky phone call and was going to go out at some time and it did. Trump did try to pressure Zelensky, which most people agree was "improper" given the “possible” domestic election connection to a “possible” Joe Biden candidacy.

Essentially, the big picture in which the impeachment process resides, explains the true nature of the exercise.  It is just the latest attempt in a three year effort to overturn the 2016 election. All the previous attempts failed.  This one will also fail also since it doesn’t have the support of a large majority of the American public, or even based on one recent poll, any majority.

No impeachment effort in the House of Representatives should ever be undertaken without highly serious, provable offenses to support it; a bipartisan consensus to commence the procedure (not a single Republican member of the House voted to proceed with the “impeachment inquiry”); broad based public support for the effort and a high probability that the Senate will find the charges sufficient to take the drastic step of removing the President. 

This exclusively  Democrat led process, fails to meet any of these important standards and the Democratic leadership knows this.  So the only possible explanation for their motivation is to attempt to further discredit the President in an effort to win the 2020 presidential election.
The Democratic majority has simply usurped the responsibilities and legislative functions of the House to carry out a partisan election “dirty trick”.

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.