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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

SYRIA: THE TRUMP STRATEGY REQUIRES RESTRAINT

Trump’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat air base in response to Syrian President Assad’s use of poison gas on the civilian population of a town in rebel controlled territory has been the subject of the usual over analysis by the press as they rush to quote any “expert”, politician, or spokesman for various political groups.  Overall however, the response has been positive and remarkably bi-partisan for a Trump initiative.  Still, a few outliers have found an audience.  

California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu speculated that Trump chose to attack Assad’s airbase in order to deflect attention from the Russian “connection” investigations underway in the Congress and FBI.  

The idea that the current press and Democratic feeding frenzy surrounding the possibility of Trump campaign officials colluding with the Russians to affect the 2016 election could in any way be over shadowed by a single missile attack seems simply like another attempt to discredit the Trump administration.

Hawaii Democratic Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard  said she had doubts that Assad was even the one responsible for the nerve gas attack, citing the “possibility” that ISIS or al- Qaeda was responsible. She quickly deleted her Tweet making this claim in the apparent realization of it’s complete absurdity.  But not to be deterred by a lack of understanding of the Syrian conflict or international security dynamics, she went on to say: 
“It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”

This seems more than a bit incredible given the fact that outside observers have laid the blame on the Syrian air force and the fact that the terrorist organizations do not have the delivery systems to launch such an attack.  
The fact that this isolated attack hardly constitutes a “regime change war” or that it could in any way lead Russia and the United States to consider a “nuclear war” simply identifies Gabbard as someone who should not be attempting to influence American foreign policy.

The Russian government, an ally and military partner of Assad, claimed the attack was a violation of the “sovereignty” of the Syrian state and Russian President Putin has adopted the “Gabbard analysis” that rebel forces gassed their own in order to discredit the Assad regime.  That the U.S. attack was a violation of Syrian sovereignty is an absurd charge given the fact that a whole array of foreign fighters are currently engaged in military operations within the borders of Syria.

Turkish forces and Kurds, Iranian troops and their Lebanese clients Hezbollah, an international force operating under the flag of the Islamic State, U.S. advisors and forward air controllers, and of course the Russians themselves, flying combat missions on behalf of Assad, make Syrian sovereignty a mythical concept.  Syria is essentially a failed state quickly approaching the anarchical condition of Libya which would likely be the result if Assad is deposed without a strong agreement among the many rebel forces regarding a replacement government and a joint mission to defeat the Islamic State in their midst.

The actual reasons and justifications for Trump’s rapid response to the Syrian gas attack are mostly like a combination of the following:

Trump could actually have been personally angered by the use of poison gas and the deaths of civilians including small children. Democrats won’t give him credit for such humanity but that most probably was a part of the equation.  

A response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad was particularly politically significant given the lack of a response by Obama under similar circumstances in 2013.  Obama’s famous “red line” threat to Assad which he abandoned when Assad ignored it and attacked civilians with rockets containing nerve gas, no doubt played a part in Trump’s decision in order to underline the difference between Obama’s passivity in the face of unacceptable violence and his own determination to respond.

Depending on who participated in the strike decision, it probably included the thought that even though the strike was narrowly configured, it would send a significant message of a new forthrightness in the face of hostilities to Iran, Russia, North Korea and China, whose President XI was visiting Trump at his Florida resort when the attack occurred.  Obama’s policies of “patient diplomacy” and “leading from behind” have emboldened Iran to interfere in Middle East conflicts, Russia to expand into Ukrainian territory and intervene in Syria, North Korea to expedite its nuclear programs and long range missile technology, and China to expand aggressively into the South China Sea. 
 It is too late for Trump to roll back these policies but a new assertiveness on the part of the U.S. to redefine its roll in international security may at least give pause to the leaders of these aggressive acts and give confidence to the nations directly affected by them.

Underlying all the possible motives of course is the expectation that America’s immediate response will deter Assad from such use of internationally banned chemicals in the future, although that would be a limited benefit as it is unlikely to deter Assad from pursuing the war with the use of conventional weapons as long as he has the military support of Russia and Iran.

Meanwhile, in the diplomatic arena, the American response was generally well received by a number of foreign governments in Europe and the Middle East.  In the domestic political context of course the usual complaints and concerns were voiced by a few members of Congress of both parties.  These politicians wanted to be part of the decision to attack Assad, citing Constitutional requirements for “declarations of war”, or the more common modern use of resolutions approving the use of armed force.  

The problems with application of such formal procedures to a quick response such as was carried out are obvious.  A contentious debate in the Congress hardly allows for a surprise attack.  Anything less escalates any attack by engaging air defense systems which would then require a larger force to suppress or overwhelm those defenses. 

But Trump did not “declare war” on Syria, nor was his strike a prelude to a state of war.  It was a  single discreet act with narrow purposes.  Precedent exists in Reagan’s bombing attack on Muammar Gaddafi’s compound in Libya in 1986 in retaliation for Libyan agents bombing of a night club frequented by American servicemen in Germany.  In 1998, President Clinton     attempted to retaliate against Osama bin Laden for his alleged role in the East Africa U.S. embassy bombings by launching Tomahawk cruise missiles against two targets--several 
bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan.  

This does not make the case that large scale deployments of U.S. troops or sustained air operations against foreign troops or military sites should not require consultation and approval in some form by the Congress.  Resolutions approving the use of armed force have been the most common vehicle for this purpose. The missile strike on a single Syrian air base did not fit this circumstance; however a policy or threat of subsequent strikes in response to similar attacks by the Assad government would.

Critic’s on the Left and far Right decry the absence of a Trump Syrian “strategy” ignoring the fact that this is an international problem now six years old, and in the face of contradictory interests and the inherent complexity of two overlapping conflicts involving numerous ethnic, sectarian and foreign powers, the lack of an international consensus regarding goals and tactics has made a U.S. national strategy impossible.  Some things are clear however and should guide the Trump administration’s role moving forward.

One basic reality is that the U.S. has no vital interest in the future of Syria that would justify a major intervention of U.S. military resources or the long term commitment that such an intervention would require.  The Syrian civil war is a humanitarian crisis brought on by the long term simmering sectarian hostilities under a brutal minority regime.  The crisis was ignited by the unorganized and leaderless uprising stimulated by the so called “Arab Spring movements beginning in 2011.  

Humanitarian crises are best left to the international community to address through the United Nations or the most affected regional states.  The embedded conflict with the Islamic State, which claims the Syrian city of Raqqa as its capital however, is also an international issue with which the U.S. does have vital security interests and which is largely dependent on U.S. participation to bring to a conclusion. 

 Although this conflict involves some of the same participants as the civil war against the Syrian government, it can and should be, resolved 
first for two reasons.  
It is essentially a military conflict, not a political one, and as such it can be won with the proper commitment of forces. Negotiations involving compromise with the terrorist Islamic State are neither possible nor desirable.  
Secondly, the removal of the Islamic State from Syria will reduce the complexity and contradictory nature of the alignment of forces in the Syrian civil war.  

Thus, the Trump “Syrian strategy” should be to continue its support for the coalition engaged against the Islamic State to eradicate its presence in Syria as quickly as possible and then step back.
The scenarios for the settlement of the civil war are beyond the responsibility or capability of the U.S. given the presence of Iranian and Russian forces.  Regime change as a U.S. policy is thus not a viable “strategy’ barring the cooperation of these governments.

It is highly unlikely that the Assad government can be defeated as long as it has the support of the Russian and Iranian militaries. Cease fire agreements have been tried and failed but may be negotiated again. However, unless Russia and Iran change their policies of intervention, the struggle will either reach stalemate or end with the exhaustion of the rebel forces.  

Proposals involving “partition” of Syria are not possible with the continued presence of the Islamic State. If the IS is defeated, such proposals still are in the realm of fantasy. It is unlikely that either the Assad regime or the Sunni rebel forces would agree to a partial victory. In any case there are at least four defined sectarian groups in Syria which would have to be provided autonomous territory.  

The major group, non-Kurdish Sunnis, are divided themselves by regional and tribal identities and are highly competitive. One of those groups is an al-Qaeda affiliate and most are Islamist in political orientation. Arbitrary boundaries separating these regions would have to be enforced by an international “police force”.  
The UN is ill equipped to provide this service.  UN Peacekeepers are not enforcers, they are lightly armed observers, and would be inadequate either in numbers or ability to provide this function.  Regional players and  European nations have shown little motivation to commit ground troops to Middle Eastern conflicts, thus leaving the task primarily up to the U.S.  

An equitable division of territory with respect to natural and economic resources i.e. water,  sea ports, fossil fuels etc., would be impossible and without a central government to conduct national policies. Chaos and conflict would be the short term result. 

There is no long term resolution to the conflict on the horizon. Cessation of hostilities in the interest of the civilian population is a theoretical but temporary possibility but any long term solution will almost certainly require the end of the Assad regime.  

The ensuing power vacuum and the lack of a common vision for the future political character of a “new Syria” among the numerous tribal and sectarian groups will require a “nation building” process of daunting proportions.  The U.S. experience in such efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq make a similar role in Syria a military, political and economic non-starter. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

HOLLYWOOD IN WASHINGTON: "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY"

At the latest gathering of notables and celebrities, this time there was no mistake, no surprise winner.  The losers, Democrats hungry for more fodder for their hate based “resistance” campaign knew within the first ten minutes of the President’s hour long speech that the “Oscar” for the best performance by a sitting President” was going the other way.  House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi sat dumbfounded and confused like someone who was woken unexpectedly from a deep sleep and didn’t know where they were. Liberal Democratic heroine, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who is perpetually up for “Best Supporting Actress in a Science Fiction-Political Comedy” seemed to also be locked into a Pelosiesque state of confusion, asking her neighbor something like, “Should I applaud what he just said or not?”  And of course there was the far Left ex-comedian Al Franken (D-MI) slumped in his seat apparently with eyes closed, hoping not to wake up to reality at all.  

The award for “Best Costumes for a Ridiculous Political Protest”obviously went to the members of the House Democratic Women's Working Group who came in white smocks looking like attendees at a convention of sous-chefs who had wandered into the wrong building.

Trump spoke articulately and calmly for an hour, outlining the progress he had made in upholding his campaign promises to the voters who chose to reject four more years of Obama-like “leading from behind” and social divisiveness.  These voters decided to take a chance on a political outsider unencumbered by the political baggage which more traditional new President’s bring with them.

Like all President’s who make such speeches to the joint houses of Congress and the wider domestic and international audiences, Trump’s message was in some ways a typical “rosy scenario”, but it was more focused on the future than the present, with specific goals, some of which are decidedly bound by political partisan preference.  The “wall” on the southern border, repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”), reductions in U.S. foreign aid, and an increase in the defense budget, found hearty support on the Right side of the chamber but stunned silence on the Left. President Trump knows that like all presidential game plans, the reality of the legislative process will provide many obstacles to the implementation of his goals but he provided an important outline for what as President, he will support.  

But the character of the speech was the most important element politically.  Gone were the angry attacks on the “establishment”, the media, and Trump’s many political enemies. Without mentioning the “resistance” movement, Trump called for “an end to petty fights” and for both parties to come together to solve the nation’s problems.  Media pundits on the major television networks from both sides of the political divide seemed relieved at the un-Twitter-like tone of the speech and the several examples of bi-partisan outreach that it contained.  Even the ‘sous chefs” felt compelled to stand and meekly applaud Trump’s assertion that with the cooperation of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, he would implement a program to incentivize and facilitate access to women’s entrepreneurship. He also went on to support “paid maternity leave and affordable child care” for working mothers. 

Thus the speech was potentially pivotal.  The constant personal attacks on the President by the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party, won’t diminish but should lose credibility with independent voters who supported Trump but were wary of his aggressive bluster and overstatements, both before and after the election.  

Should he abandon the “new Trump” and return to the “campaign Trump” this progress will be lost.  But if he maintains the policy orientation and positive demeanor demonstrated in his speech, the hate, discord and “resistance” wing of the Democratic party and their clones in the Left wing media will be left “preaching to the choir” and continue their march towards irrelevance.  

Now however the goals outlined by Trump must start to become reality. The Republican controlled Congress must come together and while they can’t do everything on the agenda at once they should prioritize the most “doable”.  That short list should include tax reform. The Freedom Caucus which is the conservative heir to the Tea Party Caucus will hold to their position of spending cuts to go along with any tax reductions but Trump has given them a list of possible targets including major reductions in the size of the federal bureaucracy, cuts to foreign aid, cuts or repeal of grants to the National Endowment of the Arts, and National Public Radio, and Planned Parenthood. 

While tax cuts to corporations always stimulates a class warfare scenario from liberals i.e . “tax cuts for the rich”, besides being a false narrative since corporate tax reductions stimulate corporate profits which benefit the share holders which include university endowments, union pension funds and millions of individual investors.  When accompanied by “middle class tax cuts”, tax code simplification, and regulations to encourage U.S. based industries from moving jobs abroad, the program can achieve wide support.

Also on the list should be the much talked about infrastructure program.  The Democrats made this a campaign issue in 2016 and it would be politically difficult to walk back from it now even though it has become a Republican agenda item.  Republicans should tout the job benefits and positive tax revenue aspects that would result from such a program to offset the enormous multi-year cost.

Other campaign promises which were renewed in Trump’s speech will need to be addressed but the repeal and replacement of the ACA needs careful study and must be done correctly to avoid a health care and political disaster. There are reports that the House is nearing completion on a repeal/replace bill but details have not been revealed. 

House conservatives are vowing obstruction based on reports of the use of tax credits to lower the effect of high premiums. They promise a fight over this part of the policy describing it as “ObamaCare Lite” and they want separate bills on repeal and replace.  It’s imperative that the Republican caucus overcome these major divisions and put out one (or two) bill(s) simultaneously with the support of large majorities to avoid a political disaster.  The two thousand page ACA cannot be replaced with an overly simple bill that does not respond to all the complexities of the original.  This will take time and it would be time well spent.

Of course, Trump’s agenda and legislative progress is now being over shadowed by the “scandal” de jour.  Democrats, desperate to find anything to discredit the administration in the name of “resistance” are hoping to connect the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s e-mails to the Trump campaign and to Trump himself. 

A separate but connected issue relates to current Attorney General Jeff Session’s testimony as a cabinet nominee in response to questions by Democratic Senators Al Franken and Patrick Leahy.  He appeared to state under oath,  that he had not had any conversations with Russian government officials but later offered that he had met twice with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.  Democrats, not surprisingly, are calling for perjury charges to be filed against Sessions.  

But there are mitigating issues which would have to be explored prior to such a drastic action.  Sessions claims that in the context of the specific questions his answer was truthful since the context was related to Trump campaign officials or surrogates, which he was neither, although he admitted to having been “called a surrogate a few times”.  Then there is the fact that before his confirmation as Attorney General he was a sitting Senator serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as such it was normal for him to come in contact with numerous foreign ambassadors, which wasn’t the subject of the specific questions posed at the confirmation hearing.  

This will all be fodder for the Democrat’s campaign to discredit the Trump administration  whether or not collusion between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives with respect to the hacking interference in presidential election is proven or not.

 But with respect to this broader “scandal”,  so far there has been little scandalous behavior discovered aside from that of the Russians themselves.  
While investigations are on-going, the “facts” available so far are limited to the position of U.S. intelligence agencies that technicians, a part of , or working for the Russian government were responsible for hacking the servers of the DNC and Hillary. 

The Democrats want an investigation by an independent “Special Prosecutor” which would really be a special investigator within, or appointed by, the Justice Department since the Special Prosecutor statute has expired and it is more likely that the Justice Department under the leadership of someone other than Attorney General Sessions who has recused himself, will pursue the investigation as will various committees of Congress. Without Russian cooperation, which is not likely, such investigations will be very difficult.

The essential questions that need to be answered have both political and legal implications.
What was the Russian’s motive?
Democrats insist it was to tilt the election in Trump’s favor but this charge faces certain obstacles in spite of the opinion of U.S. intelligence officials that this was the motive.  First, few people anywhere expected Hillary to lose the election. Polls throughout the campaign showed her with a 3-5 percent advantage and the concept of the “blue wall” of upper mid-western states that were historically Democratic was portrayed as insurance of an Electoral College victory.  
The Russians must have certainly been influenced by these beliefs. The puzzling tactic of trying to change the outcome by exposing thousands of pages of bureaucratic discourse by the DNC doesn’t seem to fit with this alleged motive. 

Hillary’s e-mails might have been a more enticing target but they had been the subject of a long term investigation by the FBI which found insufficient classified materiel to justify an indictment for mishandling such materials. If U.S. intelligence agencies have specific information outlining Russia’s desire for a Trump victory they haven’t released it.  Nor is there any evidence that the release of the DNC’s and Hillary’s e-mails actually affected the outcome of the election.  It seems more likely that the Russians were seeking intelligence data on the expected Clinton Administration.

Did the various communications between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russians relate in any way to the Russian government’s hacking of the DNC’s and Hillary’s servers? Several individuals who were at one time somehow, directly or indirectly involved in the Trump campaign had contact with Russian citizens and/or government officials, in some way before or during the campaign. As yet it is all very tenuous in terms of collaboration with Russian intelligence officials on the subject of hacking.

Theoretically of course, this could all end badly for Trump, but the more likely outcome will be that the investigatory process, which will generate months of political controversy, will cause the most harm, no matter if the outcome is inconclusive.

Now another issue full of political drama has been revealed by Trump himself.  He has “tweeted” that the Obama administration tapped his phones during the presidential campaign.
This should be easy to verify or discredit since tapping domestic phone lines requires a warrant and probable cause, thus specific records would be available.  Without such confirmation, this claim by the President will undo much of the good will he established with his speech before Congress.  

Thus, while President Trump is being true to his voters by pursuing his campaign promises, the first six weeks has been like a Shakespearean era drama; victorious battles (cabinet confirmations); assassinations (political), both successful and attempted ( Flynn, Puzder and DeVos, Sessions); palace intrigue (Obama hold overs and press leaks); “pitchforks and torches” in the streets (women’s march, college campuses); the “court jester and the powerful but demonized monarch combined, (the “old” Trump, the “new” Trump, the “unpredictable” Trump, and the radical Leftist media). 

The prospects of a four year drama of this nature are exhausting to think about but the likelihood
of relief seems improbable in the context of the impending 2018 mid-term Congressional elections. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"RESISTANCE" AND THE ATTACK ON THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS


The politically inspired social chaos that has taken over the first several weeks of the new presidential administration is a disorganized protest movement spread by the national media and its status driven and undisciplined internet journal and social media junior partners.  Self characterized as “resistance”, the movement has been legitimized by the minority political party in the Congress whose presidential and congressional candidates were rejected by voters in a free and fair election. Claims to the contrary, “Comey’s letter”; and “Russian interference”, lack any credible evidence to support any electoral dynamic other than the usual comparison of the two candidates which led to personal choices made by millions of individual voters.

But the cumulative effect of these choices, Republican Party control of the presidency and the Congress, is now being rejected by self styled “activists” and “resisters” who simply don’t agree with the outcomes and the rejection of the liberal policies of the last eight years. The Democrats as a national party and in the Congress are leaderless thus ceding the character of any message to a grab bag of grievance groups who themselves have no leadership abilities or motivations, just shouts about what they are “against”, and useless platitudes about what they are ‘for’.

The assumption of moral and intellectual superiority which was a part of the failed campaign of the liberal party in the elections, is now coupled with petulance and hate, energizing the protest movement across the nation but compromising any broad based political strategy for  the Democratic caucus in the Congress.

Taken as a whole, the avowed tactics are to reject every nomination, executive order, and public policy legislative initiative out of hand, no matter what its purpose, content or value, all in an irrational and emotional display intended to falsely empower the losers.

Few in either party would deny that President Trump is an outspoken, brash and often disagreeable new kind of president. He has a steep learning curve with respect to the complexities of the legislative process and the realities and culture of international relations.  He has a “nationalist” versus an “internationalist” orientation which is a departure from the preceding administrations and a significant departure from the Obama presidency. He questions the compatibility and national security implications of many of the components of multi-culturalism in relation to the national well being and confronts the blind acceptance of political correctness which allows no such questions.

His recent executive orders imposing immigration suspensions on seven terrorist prone nations may well be impractical and ineffective with regard to the incidence of domestic terrorism but their future will be appropriately decided as a matter of law by federal judges and not in the streets by uninformed protesters.

Thus the common thread for the disparate protests, marches, speeches and editorials seems not to be political “resistance” but the personal vilification of President Trump himself. There is no restraint, no level of exaggeration or common decency that hasn’t been crossed.

“Dictator”, “fascist”, “abomination”, “crazy”, is the new “political discourse” encouraged by the Left.  Show biz celebrity Madonna’s widely circulated confession that she wanted to “blow up the White House” was just the precursor for truly “deranged” hate.  Quasi-obscure stand-up comedienne Sarah Silverman called for a military coup against President Trump, recently echoed by a former political appointee to the Obama Defense Department, Rosa Brooks who claimed the President is “crazy” and one possibility is a military coup to remove him from office.
There is no shortage of political “experts” in show business.  Former sit down comedian John Stewart, apparently missing his platform for spewing viciousness thinly disguised as humor, made a guest appearance on ABC’s Late Night to label President Trump’s first few days in the White House as “purposeful vindictive chaos” and to mock his ties and hair.

In truth, despite bad “stage management”, what Trump has been doing so far has been fulfilling the campaign promises that got him elected. It’s all there on his campaign web sites and in his campaign speeches.  Enhancing border security and restrictions on illegal immigration and threats from Islamic extremism; reduction of the regulatory burden imposed on businesses; rebuilding the military; repairing the flawed Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and nominating a constitutional constructionist to the Supreme Court.

While widely disparaged by the Left during the campaign these promises were not the subject of hysteria as they are now since the Democratic Left didn’t take Trump or his platform seriously.  He was treated more as a side show than a serious opponent to the entitled and “inevitable” “first woman president”. But when their false reality was blown up on November 9th, the hysteria became overwhelming and the political theater of “resistance” began.

 Reality check: Despite his flaws, Trump is the President.  Would these ideologically imprisoned “resisters” put  the national government on hold for four years while they wait for a second chance to take control?  There is no logical thinking underlying this opposition. The nation is witnessing an enormous, immature temper fit.

The Democrats, aided by the aforementioned liberal establishments in the media, academia, and entertainment world, offered their political philosophy, policy preferences, and vision for the nation’s future to the voters and they were rejected under the constitutional system the Congress and the states have accepted since the beginnings of the Republic. Now they and the protesters seem to trying to redo the campaign.

Do the Democrats and their radical supporters in the press and the streets really believe that  the winners will now acquiesce in the face of protests and obstructionism and allow the losers to govern by proxy?  What the nation is witnessing is an assault on the democratic process.  Protest and obstructionism are of course constitutionally protected rights, but devoid of responsibility they are destructive and when carried to the extreme, the result is fringe anarchy from which America loses its standing in the world as a model of representative democracy.

This model is based on a fundamental concept, the “loyal opposition” which has withstood political divisions for centuries both before and after the American Civil War which was its greatest test. It is characterized by the “peaceful transfer of power” and an underlying system of core values including the “rule of law” and acceptance of political outcomes.  The next generation of voters, who are children are being used as tools in protests and the next generation of leaders currently in colleges and universities, are being indoctrinated in the anti-democratic politics of rejection.

Democrats in the Congress can’t claim that their Republican colleagues didn’t win the popular vote. Each Republican member of the House won the majority vote in his district and each Republican Senator won the majority vote in his state. Donald Trump won the popular vote in thirty of the fifty states and became President under our constitutional system, in spite of the fact that Hillary was elected “president of California”, giving her the national, and irrelevant, popular vote.

Still, Democrats in Congress have labeled Trump as “illegitimate” and attempted to obstruct all of President Trump’s cabinet nominees, an effort which has mostly failed for lack of Republican defectors. Now they have vowed to reject Trump’s nominee to fill the seat left empty on the Supreme Court by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch currently sitting on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is extraordinarily qualified with degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford. His colleagues and students at the University of Colorado School of Law attest to his stable demeanor and welcoming personality.  Yet the Senate Democrats, petulant over the Republican controlled Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Obama’s third Supreme Court nominee because he was in the last year of his presidency, vow to deny Judge Gorsuch the seat.  Some want to keep the seat empty until the 2020 presidential election, hoping that a Democrat will replace Trump. Others are demanding that Trump nominate a “mainstream” judge which in this case is simply code for another Justice committed to the liberal litmus tests of unfettered abortion rights, pro-organized labor statutes, radical environmental regulations against private businesses, and open borders.

Neither of President Obama’s two appointments, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor fit the description of “mainstream” and both are reliably liberal votes. Neither was filibustered by Republican Senators during their confirmation processes and both won confirmation with Republican votes.

Adding to the hypocrisy of the Senate Democrats rejection attempt of Judge Gorsuch is the fact that he was unanimously approved (by voice vote) by Senate Democrats in 2006 for his seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Included in those Senators expressing their approval were then Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden and and current Minority Leader, Charles Schumer.

So now, unless Democrats in the Congress can put aside their anger at having lost the presidential election and control of both the House and Senate, and revisit the historical and stabilizing role of “ loyal opposition”, the political future for the American people looks bleak.
This concept does not require political acquiescence but it does require acceptance of legitimate political outcomes for the legislative and appointive process based on majority rule.

The political culture of the nation as a whole is also destined to be a culture of protest and anger with the prospect of escalating violence as extremist elements are emboldened and penetrate these demonstrations. The need for politically responsible leadership from high visibility Democrats who are now preaching hate and “resistance” to redefine political opposition as having a component of civility and respect for the political process is vital.  Anything less portends the transition of the American democracy to the instability and tribal-like conflict so common in the Third World. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

THE WOMANS MARCH ON WASHINGTON: GET MAD; HAVE FUN; GO HOME



The New York Times declared it a “ringing success”, a not surprising conclusion from their politically liberal viewpoint.  And after all, a street event by a couple of hundred thousand angry women who didn’t break any windows or torch any cars is a success of sorts. But if it was a political rally or protest, what was it a success at?  

Successful political protests have a political objective which brings about political change.  The civil rights protests of the 1960's targeted unconstitutional racial segregation and resulted in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent Civil Rights Act of 1965 dealing with voting rights.  The anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960's over time succeeded in turning public opinion against continuation of the war, led to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to not seek reelection in 1968, and eventually led President Nixon to begin the “Vietnamization” of the conflict and the eventual withdrawal of American forces.

But what was the political goal of the Women’s March on Washington?  In actual fact, it was a fragmented event as smaller groups and individuals with specific grievances showed up to take advantage of the numbers participating and the media coverage. In fact the organizers internet site explained that the March was about “women's rights, immigration reform, and health care reform; to counter Islamophobia, rape culture, and LGBTQ abuse; and to address racial inequities (e.g., Black Lives Matter), workers' issues, and environmental issues.”

That’s a lot to “raise awareness” about without saying anything specific and just about covers all the left wing grievance groups and issues. But over inclusiveness has its problems as a kind of competition among groups to influence the identity of the protest takes place. Black Lives Matter advocate and feminist Ijeoma Oluo complained that the March was “too white” and that is the reason no protesters were arrested.  And then in an example of the alternate universe of liberal unreality, a trans-gender “woman” complained that the March was not inclusive of trans-gender "women" citing the use of the pink “pussy hats” as a symbol of feminism while “she”, and other trans-gender “women” didn’t have one; uh, not the hat that is.  

Black Lives Matter was actually there in small numbers, as were a few rainbow signs for the alphabet soup label which describes the non-heterosexual movement, and a few climate change advocates held forth. But it was clear from the majority of the signs and the pink hat uniform of the day that this was a protest by aggravated females about a general feeling of alienation, grief and anger over the outcome of the presidential election and of course Trump’s highly publicized crotch grabbing confession which inspired the comical sight of women in their 70's holding laughably obvious signs declaring “My body is not up for grabs”. 
 
The high level of emotional investment in the prospect of “the first woman president” which was cultivated and enhanced over an 18 month period creating an air of certainty with respect to that outcome, was blown up over a few late night hours on November 9th.  It was like suddenly waking up from a fanciful dream only to discover that nothing has changed and you are still in bed with a bad cold and an overdrawn bank account. 

This was a liberal feminist nightmare which overwhelmed the “five stages of grief” so that the afflicted quickly jumped over the first stage of “denial” and went directly to the fourth stage, “depression”.  There was no “bargaining” and no final “acceptance”.  Finally, a group therapy idea in the form of a March on Washington blossomed and the group reverted to the second stage of “anger” where it remains.

Of course, one of the protest organizers seeking broader legitimacy said that the “march” wasn’t an anti-Trump exercise but this apparently was before the celebrity Madonna took to the microphone and in an expletive laced rant said that she had thought about “blowing up the White House”.  And of course, if an estimated 470,000 females are angry they need a target, which the signs and speeches confirmed.  A sign that claims “Trump is a Fascist” or demands that non-Trump voters “Resist Hate and Fear” leaves little doubt about the emotional underpinning of the exercise. Essentially, the whole event had the feel of a giant pep rally.  

So what happens now?  Is this the birth of a “movement” which will take back control of the Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, as some opinion gurus have declared?

Probably not.  Once the marchers went home the organizational aspect disappeared and the participants became the same liberal diaspora that existed during the failed election. It was fun for a day or two and protests are always fun.  The anonymity afforded by the mob; the rare opportunity to engage in hateful speech and make “demands”is emotionally empowering.  On college campuses where students have few daily responsibilities, protests are an intramural sport. Who can think up the most provocative slogans and chants? Who can conjure up another politically correct grievance and defy authority?

A mass protest serves lots of psychological needs but the intensity is gone when the participants resume their individual lives.  In this case the potential “movement” already existed in the form of the organizations that make up the liberal political spectrum and which were the sponsors of the March. This version of the movement, the pro-choice NARAL and Planned Parenthood; the far Left MoveOn.org; the feminist political candidate promoter, Emily’s List; the extreme environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club and others, obviously failed in November.  

There is nothing new; same membership, same angry voices, no outreach to penetrate the progressive bubble and attract politically moderate or independent voters that are needed for growth and political efficacy to join up.  The March participants were just a small percentage of Hillary’s voters primarily energized by the presidential “glass ceiling” myth and by the thought of being symbolically empowered by its shattering.  Will that potential energy even last for two years to effect the mid-term congressional election or for four years especially if there is no female presidential candidate?  

A few sound thinkers in the Democratic fold do not think so.  They have looked at the 2016 election and discovered that voters, including many of their previous supporters, are divided more by socio-economic class than by social issues and identity politics, which these voters perceive as being the realm of the “morally and intellectually superior” elite. The plight of trans-genders and spotted owls is far down their lists of political priorities. They are tolerant of legal immigration but want the borders secured. But primarily they want policies that address economic relief and security. Abortion rights and global warming don’t fit the bill.
    
If the Democratic Party wants a new Progressive movement it will have to be more inclusive and less intolerant and condescending of the “outsiders” and less centered around the daily vilification of their choice for President.  Given the near hysterical hate being promoted by the mainstream liberal media, this seems highly improbable.

Of course much depends on the governance of the Trump Administration and the Republican controlled Congress which is the other side of the coin of future Democratic Party success.  It is far to early to render confident judgments about the political acceptance of Republican policies. However, it will not be sufficient for Democrats rebuilding efforts to rely on President Trump’s personality traits as a basis for change. 

 Admittedly Trump has an aggressive, sometimes graceless and undignified tendency to overstate, and impetuously criticize, exaggerate both the good and the bad, and uncareingly open the door for criticism.   But so far his policies have been executive initiatives which have been consistent with his campaign promises which won him the election.

Putting a freeze on federal bureaucratic hiring conforms to the general belief that government is bloated and inefficient. Reactivating the 3.5 billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline from Canadian oil fields is a jobs producer and as David L. Goldwyn, President Obama’s head of the State Department’s Energy Bureau has recently said: “Keystone has never been a significant issue from an environmental point of view in substance, only in symbol,”. 

Commencing the process for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, if done correctly, will address the unhappiness with the rapidly rising premium costs and the false claims of President Obama himself with regard to health provider choice.  While these initiatives will of course stimulate howls of liberal anguish, they have been well vetted by the successful Republican election campaign.

The more difficult work will come for his proposals which require legislative approval.  The Congress is divided and Democrats are seemingly committed to a  program of blind “resistance”.  Even the Republican majorities in both houses are divided in terms of parochial interests and Trump’s trade agreement modifications, funding for his border wall with Mexico and repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) will not be as easy as simply signing an executive order.  
If Trump’s domestic policies fail to approximate his campaign promises and his foreign policies have serious unintended negative consequences over the next two to four years, he will be a one term president as would any new president of either party.  But unfocused marches and protests simply expressing anger and accusations are likely to go the way of the much ballyhooed but failed Left wing Occupy Movement which was exposed both for its excesses and its pointless confrontations.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

TRUMPLOMACY: A WORK IN PROGRESS


Somehow the word “diplomacy” doesn’t seem to fit with soon to be President Trump’s persona.
The word has a generic meaning which includes the synonyms “ sensitivity”, “discretion”, “subtlety”, and “finesse”.  Oh well.   But in government, it simply describes the official interactions between representatives of various nations so in that case, maybe there’s more room for a variety of approaches.  
Still, the styles described by the generic descriptions have infused the international diplomatic process for decades if not for centuries.  Understatement in pursuit of the non-committal or “subtle”, has created a kind of long term “diplomatic speak” that looks sure to be subjected to  some “shock and awe” among the diplomatic traditionalists who now are thrust into the arena with the Twitter prone and unabashed President Trump.

Diplomats who are engaged in negotiations that don’t appear to be going anywhere describe themselves as “cautiously optimistic”.  In today’s epidemic of terrorist violence, representatives of sympathetic governments, simply “condemn” the terrorist acts, an over used and essentially meaningless phrase of disapproval.  For the most heinous of terrorist acts these same governments my take the bold step of “condemning the acts in the harshest possible terms.”  But what are the “harshest possible terms” and shouldn’t the terrorists hear them?


On a recent and “historic” trip to the battleship Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii,  Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his "sincere and everlasting condolences" for his country’s attack which brought the U.S. into World War II, destroyed the U.S. battleship fleet and took the lives of 2,403 Americans.  “Condolences”?  Of course the Japanese are “diplomatic” to a fault and there exists in Japan a nationalist element which doesn’t condone apologies, even for 75 year old acts of war.


There are occasional exceptions to this formality.  Secretary of State John Kerry departed from abstraction and sensitivity in his defense of the Obama Administration’s failure to veto the recent UN Security Council Resolution which declared Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank occupied territories as a “violation of international law”.  


Emboldened by the fact that both he and his boss would soon be searching the “help wanted” ads of the Washington Post, Kerry, an advocate of the “two state solution” took a parting shot at Israel’s government. 


In an unprecedented personal attack on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Kerry he called the current government the "most right-wing" in Israel's history and claimed its agenda is "driven by the most extreme elements."  He continued with “If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic. It cannot be both.”

Kerry’s over simplification of the highly complex Israeli/Palestinian conflict and his departure from anything near traditional diplomatic support for America’s lone democratic ally in the volatile Middle East was not lost on the also diplomatically challenged President-elect.  Trump immediately entered the fray with an un-nuanced Tweet: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

 
He followed with another Tweet directed at the house of diplomacy itself: The UN is "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!"

These short and disdainful comments, while containing elements of truth, indicate a distinctly different approach to the formality and caution, and indeed the special jargon that characterizes traditional diplomatic exchange.


There is a downside to Trump’s abrupt, “tell it like it is” approach, and his over use of Twitter gives the appearance of simplistic, knee-jerk reactions to events without the usual and prudent discussion with competent advisers.  The formerly conservative political pundit David Brooks, in this case correctly outlines the potential problem.  Speaking of the role of all Presidents in diplomacy he says:


“He’s the top piece of a big system, and his ability to create change depends on his ability to leverage and mobilize the system. His statements are carefully parsed around the world because presidential shifts in verbal emphasis are not personal shifts; they are national shifts that signal changes in a superpower’s actual behavior.”


Thus when made aware of North Korea’s recent claim to be ready to test an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, Trump tweeted:

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!”

The long term complexity and history of U.S. unsuccessful efforts to deter North Korea’s nuclear ambitions make Trump’s assertion either naive, or to some, threatening. In either case it deserves not more nuance, but more details. 


If Trump has a new, more bold, or simply more efficacious approach, it needs clarification, especially for the states most concerned with the problem, South Korea, China, and Japan.  Such clarification would be better served if it was delivered by foreign policy officials and by more than a 140 character Twitterspeak. 

Still, in some circumstances, Trump’s instinct to cut through the obfuscation of normal diplomatic niceties can clarify his positions or simply stimulate a “reality check” in policies  overly cluttered by political theater. 


A recent example is the “incident” regarding a phone call he received from Tsai Ing-wen the President of Taiwan (Republic of China) it was a five minute call in which mutual congratulations were offered for the successful 2016 elections by both parties.


Although since 1979, the U.S. has had a “One China Policy” which essentially recognizes that there is only “one China”.  This a legal concession demonstrated by the lack of formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Taiwan.  But the political reality is that Taiwan self identifies as The Republic of China and has since 1949 maintained and independent status with its own democratically elected government. 


U.S.-Taiwan relations are governed by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 which incorporates references to trade and security totally separate from relations with China.  

The Chinese government (PRC) demands a ritualistic level of diplomatic sanitation when it comes to references or communications with Taiwan which the world’s professional diplomats are careful to observe.  Thus Trump’s direct communication with Taiwan’s president, a first for a U.S. president or president-elect since 1979,  caused gasps of consternation among Obama’s loyalists and Trump haters. Liberal pundits proclaimed that serious consequences would follow. One even suggested that a new level of hostilities between Trump’s administration and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) signified by the phone call could lead to “nuclear war”.


The original Chinese government,[ response was this:

“We have noticed relevant reports and lodged solemn representation with the relevant side in the United States.", said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

This might actually mean something in Chinese, but whatever it might mean in English, it doesn’t sound too threatening. 


In point of fact Trump has made introductory phone calls to a number of foreign leaders including Philippine President Duterte, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, and British Prime Minister Teresa May , which the distressed Democratic gurus of diplomatic procedure found to underlay dark motives, signals of unintended shifts in policy or dangerous outcomes, in spite of the fact that nothing serious was discussed in any of the brief conversations.


Thus the “bad news” of Trump’s unconventional, Twitter and phone diplomacy is still hypothetical.  He will no doubt be a bit of a “bull in the carefully arranged and allegedly fragile diplomatic “china shop”.  But the “good news”, which is also primarily based so far on the absence of major faux pas, is also that the clarity and efficiency of getting to the heart of policy positions might actually seem to be a refreshing change to foreign leaders who have sometimes struggled to actually know what positions the current American president and diplomats are taking.  


Time will tell and because Trump’s foreign relations learning curve is steep, he will probably make mistakes which will need “clarifying” but hopefully there will be no more phony “red lines”, contradictory and inconsistent positions towards our allies, or flaccid diminution of threats to American interests or security.