Category Archives: Foreign Policy

2092 days

The Trumpster promised that if President Obama would release his birth certificate he would release his tax returns.  So, as of April 27, 2011 Trumpster was on record … Not that keeping his word is of much importance.  It’s been 2092 days since the promise was made and subsequently ignored.

It’s not just the returns. Build a wall?  Well, maybe a bit of fencing. Mexico will pay for it? No, that would be the American taxpayers. Now, the Trumpster announces health insurance for everyone,  Everyone!  Well not unless the old ideas like health savings accounts, portability, high risk pool can do the job. That these haven’t worked in the past is conveniently omitted.

It appears the only words which tend to hold are the Kremlin talking points. NATO is obsolete. (Unless you happen to be in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland…) The European market is failing. (Unless you happen to be in Germany, France, Spain…)

At least some questions might be addressed by releasing the tax returns, but until such time as they appear in public the obvious conclusion is that there are “foreign entanglements” enveloping the president-elect.

2092 and counting.

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The Taiwan Call: There’s a message in here somewhere

trump tie scotch tape It’s amateur hour in Washington, D.C.  Not just for the Trumpster’s transition team but for the Beltway Media too?  45 years of foreign policy precedent just got reversed, and the punditocracy doesn’t seem to understand that the Orange Foolious isn’t thinking in terms of national issues. Personal ones perhaps, but national – not so much.

The Reagan administration understood; the GHW Bush administration understood; the GW Bush Administration understood – but his Republican version hasn’t grasp the finer points of international diplomacy, perhaps not even some of the more blatant ones to date.

There is really NO reason for having three different answers to the same question (Why did you take the call?) in today’s world.

Personal issues, perhaps:

“Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development. Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development.” [Guardian]

And, we note the carefully phrased disclaimer from Trumpster Aides:

“A representative for Trump Hotels said there had been no authorized visits to Taiwan on behalf of its brand for development purposes, nor are there any active conversations.”  [WSJ]

Humm, no “authorized visits” and no “active conversations.”  This is interesting verbiage because from the same WSJ article we find:

“Reached Saturday by The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Chen, who is also known as Charlyne Chen, said she’s not a Trump employee, but has worked as a promoter and salesperson of real estate properties in Las Vegas and has a letter stating that she is a “sales ambassador” for Mr. Trump’s company.

She said the meeting with Taoyuan’s mayor to discuss the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project was arranged by former Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu, whom Ms. Chen said is a friend who had hoped to bring the Trump brand to Taoyuan, where she had previously served as magistrate. She said the meeting took place in September, “way before” Mr. Trump’s election, and talks about any project are at a “very, very early stage and there has been zero details.”  [WSJ]

Thus we are now in the realm of – What’s an “authorized visit?” And, what’s an “active conversation?”   It seems there is another lady in the mix:

Anne-Marie Donoghue, who identifies herself on her Facebook page as a Trump Hotels Asia sales director, posted a photo from a visit to Taiwan this fall, saying that she was in Taipei and enjoying the trip. “Work trip but it has been so fun!!!” [WSJ]

It’s not “official” but there’s a “sales ambassador” involved?  It’s not “active” but there have been two individuals involved in “work” on behalf of the Trumpster’s brand in Taiwan?  One of which was having “so much fun!!!”

Deniability is a lovely thing but it doesn’t work when back door dealings are posted on social media and published in the business press.

First it was Argentina, now it’s Taiwan… the message is that the Orange Foolious is still “selling his brand,” and quite possibly selling out American interests.

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Meanwhile: What We Aren’t Talking About

World Map I have this miserable feeling that what is purported to be a debate including foreign policy on October 19th in Las Vegas, NV will devolve into a session about emails/Benghazi… both manufactured outrages which are GOP specialties.

Meanwhile in our very real world there are some important issues which are not being addressed, not being explained for the American public.  Here are a few —

Greece.  If we thought this issue of a European Union country in dire financial straits as over – think again.  There is currently more happy talk about the restoration of the Greek economy, but yet more bail out money is in the offing.  Another $3.1 billion loan has been authorized to the government.

“Greece’s debt stands at about 180 percent of Gross Domestic Product and the International Monetary Fund has been arguing that the primary surplus targets set by Athens’ creditors to secure the massive rescue loans will prove too tough to respect. It remains unclear whether the IMF will take part in future loans without some form of debt reduction, something the 19-nation eurogroup is reluctant to discuss, given the many billions already spent on keeping the country afloat.” [USNWR]

In other words the economic/foreign policy questions related to the Greek economic crisis and its implications hasn’t been resolved, it’s merely been postponed.  I’d like to hear candidates discuss how the US should address problems created in the Greek/Eurozone economy by the aggregation of debt and the reluctance of bond holders to reduce their interest rates or renegotiate the rates. I don’t think we’re going to hear it.

China. There will probably be some references to China in terms of US trade, and the balance of trade between the US and China – but let’s guess that there will be radio silence on the freedom movement in Hong Kong.  The democracy movement is still alive in that area, the vestiges of the Umbrella Revolution survive, but the delicate balance of interests has implications for US policy in the region.  Will the fate of the Umbrella Revolution be referenced in foreign policy debates? Probably not.

South China Sea.  Here’s a situation fraught with consequences for the region, and for US interests.  China seeks to expand its influence in the area, the position of the Philippine government remains unclear.  China has made inferences to US ‘intervention’  in the area, and has told New Zealand to ‘butt out.’ [NZHerald]  Meanwhile, Indonesia has made a show of force in the South China Sea, and Japan is joining US patrols.  Singapore has expressed concern over the safety of fishermen and coast guard patrols, even though it is not a claimant in any territorial disputes.  Explication? Again, likely not.

Democratic Republic of Congo.  The election disputes turned deadly in late September.  President Kabila’s term is supposed to end in December, but elections have been put on hold, precipitating the violence.  The Vatican has weighed in, calling for a peaceful resolution of the election issues.  The US State Department issued a revised travel warning for the country five days ago.

“The potential for civil unrest remains high in Kinshasa and other major cities. In addition armed groups, bandits, and some elements of the Congolese armed forces continue to engage in murder, kidnapping, and robbery in a number of areas of eastern DRC. Very poor transportation infrastructure throughout the country and poor security conditions make it difficult for the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services anywhere outside of Kinshasa.” [USSoS]

Is the US prepared to react to continued civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo?  At what point does the US express its position, and make it clear we’d support UN initiatives to secure a peaceful transition of power?  We aren’t likely to find out during campaign season.

Turkey.  The coup attempt in Turkey created problems for US – Turkey relations.  [Fortune]  The relationship was complicated in the first place, and isn’t likely to get simplified any time soon. [WaPo]   Subtopics include our relationship with the Kurds, our relationship with the Erdogan government, our relationship with NATO.  And then there are Pentagon discussions about arming the YPG.  The situation is further complicated by talks between Russia and the Erdogan government over a pipeline.  

Russia and Eastern Europe.  Two days ago the Polish government expressed its disapproval of Russian missiles being deployed in Kaliningrad, in an area bordering Poland and Lithuania. [Reuters]  The Estonians weren’t pleased by the moving of the Iskander-M missiles either. [Guardian] The situation became more ‘touchy’ with Estonian charges of Russian incursions into Estonian air space. [EuOnline]  These aren’t issues to be minimized especially in light of Russian activities in Ukraine.

Putin is now claiming that Russian was “forced” to defend Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, “Putin had denied sending troops into Crimea, before annexing it in 2014, and issued similar denials regarding Donbas. However, he has issued statements seemingly admitting to armed Russian presence in both regions since.”   Said Putin, stating the obvious.  The situation is rendered more tenuous as Germany is downplaying the idea of Four Way Summit on Ukraine. [Reuters]  There are talks scheduled for this Thursday and Friday, but evidently not much hope for any progress toward ending Russian incursions or the ‘separatist’ movement in eastern Ukraine.  The fighting continues.  

Without a better and fuller discussion of foreign policy issues in the political arena, Americans may have to live up to the old saw, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

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The Russians Are Playing, The Russians Are Playing

The Russians Are Coming 1966

While playing connect the dots is a favored past-time among the punditry, it takes time to piece together the actions and intent of the Russians in terms of American politics.   We can, however, list some items which should be of continuing interest to the American voting public:

Item: Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, has been doing some heavy lifting in the background information department.  He reminds us that the Russians aren’t playing from a position of strength; they aren’t the power they once were, and shouldn’t be perceived as the Cold Warriors of Old. This doesn’t mean we can dismiss their “asymmetrical” activities in American elections, but we should be clear about their capacity to do major harm.  They are engaged in trolling operations; and in “news” operations.  And, yes, as Marshall outlines it, there is a Putin-Trump connection.  What does make all this interesting is that both Putin and Trump are operating from positions of weakness, rather than strength; Putin in a declining economic power and Trump in a declining political position.

Item: The Manafort Issue is no less intriguing. CNN reports that the Trump Campaign chair received funds from the former Ukrainian regime, now under investigation for corruption. According to the NYT:

“And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.”

Manafort’s response has been varied.  He’s denied that any such transactions took place (Vanity Fair) and tried to shake off the allegations by saying that some donations to the Clinton Foundations were equally shady. (Politifact)  However, Mr. Manafort’s allegations of corruption were not substantiated with any actual evidence. [Politifact] This leaves us with an uncomfortable bit of circumlocution from Mr. Manafort — “I didn’t do it, but if I did what the Clinton’s did was worse.” This is not a very strong argument.

Item:  The matter of the DNC hack.  That the hack came from Russian sponsored sources is no longer a matter of debate – it did.  We should get used to titles like Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear in relation to the hack job. The first round of released information was enough to thoroughly embarrass the DNC, but the second round may be the most deleterious.  The hacking was more widespread than previously thought, and the DCCC information was both leaked and used – according to Minority Leader Pelosi:

“The California lawmaker was responding to the latest hacking incident, into the House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which on Friday night published members’ personal cell phone numbers and some private email addresses.”

Democratic lawmakers received obscene calls and texts. Pelosi advised members to change their phone numbers, and they were also advised on another concern, “One major concern are the emails sent to the members or the staff could include website links with malware or phishing attempts to steal identities or financial information. Congressional security officials have warned members and staff not to click on websites they are not familiar with.” [CNN]  Now, we’re getting into some truly nasty territory. It could be argued that the Trump Campaign has outsourced the Dirty Tricks Department to the Russians?

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Filed under corruption, Foreign Policy, Republicans

Trump: Even Truthiness Doesn’t Matter

Al ZarqawiThe man in the photo above is the founder of ISIS (Daesh).  And then there’s this from the latest round of Trump0matic Rhetoric:

“In the wide-ranging phone interview (with CNBC), Trump insisted that President Barack Obama “absolutely” founded ISIS. He also discussed economic issues, including regulation and infrastructure spending.

Asked about them, he doubled down and said “[Obama] was the founder of ISIS absolutely, the way he removed our troops. … I call them co-founders,” he added, referring to his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.”

I know full well that correcting Trumpisms is like shoveling sand up hill, but at least we don’t have to reside in the land of utter stupidity and ignorance.  Let’s focus on “the way he removed our troops.” Obama removed our forces based on the SOFA agreed to by George W. Bush.

December 14, 2008:

“It is true that Bush signed an agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement, on Dec. 14, 2008, that said: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s secretary of state, wrote in her 2011 book, “No Higher Honor,” that Bush did not want to set a deadline “in order to allow conditions on the ground to dictate our decisions.” She wrote that she met with Maliki in August 2008 and secured what she thought was an agreement for a residual force of 40,000 U.S. troops. But she said Maliki soon “reneged” and insisted on “the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011.” She said Bush “swallowed hard” and agreed to what she called “suitable language” to do just that.” [FactCheck.org]  (emphasis added)

The remainder of the argument depends on a subjective opinion as to how “hard the Obama Administration tried to renegotiate the SOFA.”  Critics of the withdrawal of combat forces charge that the Administration “didn’t try hard enough.”  However, the insistence of the Maliki government that any agreement would have to be put to the Iraqi Parliament didn’t help matters.  This also leaves open the argument that perhaps the Bush Administration didn’t press the Maliki government hard enough either.

Critics of the US policy in regard to Iraq, and the deployment of troops to that country, are caught arguing “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” when there are altogether too many variables in a complex situation to make blanket charges of any kind.

And, while Trump says he will continue to say Obama and Clinton are the “co-founders of ISIS” (I prefer Daesh) the timeline rebuts this presumption.  A brief trip down memory land —

2004: Abu Musab Al Zarqawi establishes Al Qaeda in Iraq.

2006: Zarqawi, killed in a US air strike, is replaced by Abu Ayyub Amasri at the head of AQI. October 15, 2006: Al Masri announces the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq; Sunni tribes begin a campaign to kill AQI members, and AQI is rebranded the Islamic State in Iraq.

In reality, the formation of Daesh goes back a bit further, as is explained here:

“ISIS/IS has its origins in an obscure militant group, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ), that was stood up in 2000 by a Jordanian one-time criminal-turned-Islamist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (AMZ).1 His intent was to fight the Jordanian government, but he failed to gain traction.2 Zarqawi then traveled to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the mujahidin (resistance) in the jihad against the Soviets. Having arrived after their departure, he soon returned to his homeland to fight the well-entrenched Jordanian monarchy. His efforts came to naught, and he eventually returned to Afghanistan, where he ran an Islamic militant training camp near Herat.” [MEPC.org]

And now the plot thickens and becomes more nuanced:

“Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi moved into Iraq. There he developed extensive ties with Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), a Kurdish Islamist group. In March 2003, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. A brilliant conventional campaign led to the erroneous belief on the part of the George W. Bush administration that Iraq would stabilize and progress towards democracy. By summer 2003, the disgruntled Sunni minority — toppled from power with the downfall of Saddam Hussein — launched a deadly insurgency. It consisted of five distinct groups, four composed largely of Iraqis from the former regime, nationalists, tribal elements and various Islamist fighters. The fifth group was AMZ’s JTJ, consisting of a smattering of Iraqis and many foreign fighters.”  [MEPC.org]

Not that any of this matters to Donald J. Trump.  However, what we do know is that the Trump pronouncements on foreign policy are as vapid and ill informed as his sloganeering on any other topic.  ISIS (Daesh) morphed from a fifth element in the Iraqi insurgency into a major and deadly part of the conflict in the region, but they certainly didn’t find their origin in the Obama Administration.

Those wishing to get a longer, more historical look at the issues surrounding the current conflict in the Middle East may want to start with David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World.  Also recommended is Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. These are three notable books which will give a person something to do besides listen to Trump’s simplistic sloganeering and sloppy irrationality.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Iraq, Politics

DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Ukraine Map

Yes, Mr. Trump, the Russians are in Ukraine. They’re occupying Crimea, and supporting “rebel” groups in eastern Ukraine. [HuffPo]  More distressing still is baffling inarticulateness which came after Mr. Trump was reminded that the Russians were already in Ukraine:

“Asked about the scrubbing of pro-Ukrainian language from the Republican platform, Trump offered up a word salad in which he seemed unaware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian politics for years.

“[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said. (1)

Stephanopoulos pushed back, reminding Trump that Putin’s “already there, isn’t he?” Trump quickly changed the topic to Obama bashing.

“Okay — well, he’s there in a certain way. (2) But I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.” (3)  [ThinkProg]

(1) The Russians are obviously already in Ukraine, and are currently building up forces along the border (again).

“Kremlin is supposedly to deploy three more brigades near the Ukrainian border. The Russian Federation is actively regrouping its two armies near the border with Ukraine and new divisions are being formed, according to the representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

“The 1st Tank Army, which is stationed in Moscow region, is being built up, as well as the 20th Army with Headquarters in Voronezh. Three new divisions are being created. The plans of the Russian leadership are changing,” told the representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine Vadym Skibitskiy.” (emphasis in original) [Ukraine Today, July 26, 2016]

Skibitskiy further commented that the three brigades formerly deployed along the border with Ukraine have now turned into three divisions.

(2)He’s there in a certain way?”  Well, yes, if “certain way” means occupying Crimea, supporting eastern pro-Russian rebels against the Ukrainian government and moving in like the proverbial brother-in-law who takes over the couch and then the living room. Liquidating status and changing place names.

July 28, 2016: “Russia liquidates the federal district status of the annexed Crimea.”

July 30, 2016: “U.S. tech giant Google has reinstated existing Soviet-era place names on online maps of Russia-annexed Crimea after it angered Moscow by changing them to correspond with names that Ukraine hopes to adopt in future under its “decommunization” law.”

(3)He’s  going away.” Certainly not if the Russians are building up units like the 1st Tank Army and the Russian army units based in Voronezh.  Putin is not going away any time soon, but he would like the Sanctions imposed in March and April 2014, April 2014, and the third round of sanctions imposed from April 2014 to the present to go away. Putin would really like it if the EU sanctions extended on December 12, 2015 to July 31, 2016 went away.

A door prize to anyone who can figure out what this means, which might be perilously close to “I can see Russia from my house:”

And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this.”

Ah yes, THIS from the man who suggested he would seriously consider not supporting Article 5 of the NATO agreement – one for all and all for one.  Yes, that self-same article 5 that was invoked by NATO after we were attacked on September 11, 2001.  The Lithuanians certainly don’t find Mr. Trump’s bombast comforting –  a large segment of the Lithuanian population remember all too vividly what the Russians did to them when they asserted their independence in 1991. [WaPo]

Mr. Trump obviously isn’t listening to people like Erika Verberyte, Lithuanian diplomat and foreign policy expert: “Almost every family in Lithuania had someone killed or deported by KGB. I was 19 and a student at Vilnius University during the events of Jan.13, 1991, when we rallied to stand up to Soviet tanks.” [WaPo]

The question is will Mr. Trump stand up to the Russian Tanks?

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