Trump Threatens N. Korea with “Fire and Fury”

Posted August 9, 2017 on 8:16 am | In the category North Korea, Press, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States, They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” ,President Trump

Several years ago (December 2010) this blog had a piece on the challenge of dealing with North Korea; today’s comments by Trump are evidence that little has changed.

Understanding North Korea’s behavior should not be that tough in the context of America’s historical interventions in countries around the world, frequently predicated on a hypocritical desire for regime change in countries identified as “undemocratic”. When Iran democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh Prime Minister of Iran in 1951 we engineered his overthrow in 1953, installed the Shah and returned oil production to British Petroleum. In Chile we engineered the overthrow of democratically elected President Allende on 9/11 1973; he subsequently committed suicide. During Reagan’s presidency the US sold weapons to Iran so money could be passed on to the Nicaraguan contras to facilitate the overthrow of the Sandinista government. George W. Bush’s administration identified an “Axis of Evil” consisting of N. Korea, Iraq and Iran. It invaded Iraq, killed its leader, left the country in ruins and helped create ISIS. The US led NATO against Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi with an invasion of Libya, killed Gadaffi and left the country in ruins as another base for ISIS. The list of countries the US has messed around in includes Syria, earlier ventures in support of Saddam in Iraq against the Kurds and Iran, and of course Vietnam and Cambodia, Indonesia, Grenada, Lebanon, etc. The leaders of North Korea are not stupid or irrational. They have seen what we do and know that if the US is interested in regime change, a beefed up military is a good idea. And what better beefed up military than one with nuclear arms? We are – as a country – complicit in creating our own international problems.

Trump talks the talk but has never walked the walk and we can only hope he doesn’t start now with North Korea. The lack of realistic military options, the dismal history of diplomacy and the failure of both the United States and North Korea to honor previous agreements are not reasons for hope.

Bilateral, direct negotiations between the U.S. And N. Korea have been elusive, largely because U.S neocons argue that direct negotiations would be viewed as “rewarding” N. Korea for its bad behavior. This is not a nuanced understanding of adult human behavior. While there have been the occasional suggestions of possible direct negotiations (most recently by Secretary of State Tillerson) they have always been contingent on North Korea giving something up before the US can sit with them, like a poker player demanding that everyone show him their cards before he decides to bet. This has not and will not work.

The current gambit is to suggest that China solve the problem by joining in strong international sanctions and refusing economic activity with N. Korea. Successful sanctions would likely lead to a flood of Korean refugees into China which is not acceptable to China; in addition, the slim possibility of a unified Korea would produce a different kind of threat to China. Basically, China has its own interests and they are different from ours and Trump can’t tweet himself out of that reality.

For decades Americans have been presented a picture of the N. Korean leadership as semi-deranged but they behave in their own interest not ours and are not all that different from American leadership. President Trump’s childish playground rants are not all that different from Kim Jong-un’s and just about as helpful. The N. Koreans are committed to maintaining their regime; if we act militarily to dislodge them thousands of South Koreans will die along with some number of American military stationed in S. Korea.

Whatever window of opportunity existed for a diplomatic agreement to limit N. Korean nuclear development seems likely closed. So in a nuclear world we have Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump screaming threats at each other. This is likely not to end well for anyone, including and especially our Asian allies, unless wiser and cooler heads are able to influence the future while recognizing the limits of American power and the consequences of its misuse.

It might mean a future based on fear of mutual destruction as in the good old US-Soviet Cold War days of containment and threat of mutual destruction.

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Come on Yanks, give him the boot before it’s too late

Posted June 4, 2017 on 3:11 pm | In the category TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Okay guys, you’ve made a mistake and proven that democracy doesn’t always work. But now the proof is in the pudding and the profiteer of that foreseeable mistake, who did not even come close to winning the popular vote, has become a global farce. Isn’t there something you can do to return the USA to its designated position as the leading world power and a moral force, instead of the fantasies of a rogue farce, before the damage becomes very difficult to undo?
The US government of the moment may have already proclaimed itself to be an outsider, a non-member of the committee to act responsibly on the future of the planet. All countries, save three – Syria, Nicaragua, who thought the Paris accord didn’t go far enough, and the USA – belong to this world assembly. Russia just signed on. But don’t you have some sort of fail-safe system in place in your constitution to get the US back on the rails of common-sense, following an obviously awful political decision, before it’s too late? Please keep all us outsiders in the picture on this topic, before you sail into the obscurity reserved by history for once- revered empires, that have opted out of unified attempts to deal with a planet’s potentially lethal problems. At the same you are allowing the vacuum of power, caused by your government’s blinkers, to be filled by China, of all nations. Who would have thunk it possible even two years ago.

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Trump and Erdogan: A Conspiracy of Bullies?

Posted May 15, 2017 on 2:04 pm | In the category Erdogan, Human Rights, TRUMP, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

Later this week President Donald Trump will meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in what could be an opportunity to examine policy differences in the two countries. But given Trump’s need for positive feedback means there is some likelihood for it to turn into a celebration of phony mutual respect.

Erdogan will no doubt question Trump about the U.S. decision to provide arms support to America’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Erdogan has clearly vocalized his displeasure, given Turkey’s long standing view that all Kurds are terrorists, based on a series of deadly bombings in Turkey by a radical Kurdish group within Turkey. This is a complicated issue but one in which each country’s view of its national interest inevitably lead to differences, which in this instance is complicated by Turkey’s important role in NATO.

An issue that resonates in the U.S. is Erdogan’s predilection for throwing anyone who disagrees with him into jail. This has included a large part of Turkey’s nominally free press, teachers, academics, judges, military officers, totaling an estimated 50,000 individuals. In addition over 120,000 public servants have been summarily fired. The fact that Trump’s DNA seems to harbor a deep authoritarian streak makes it likely that this will go unmentioned in their meeting- in fact Trump must be envious of Erdogan’s unrestrained power to imprison the press rather than merely crying “fake news” with every negative news report. In any case Erdogan’s disastrous human rights record in recent years offers an opportunity for Trump to take the high road – an unfamiliar route for him and one he is likely to avoid.

Erdogan also brings with him an historic hatred of a fellow Turk, Fehtullah Gulen, who is in self exile in Pennsylvania and who is, according to Erdogan, responsible for virtually everything that goes wrong in Turkey. Erdogan’s anger boiled over last summer after an attempted coup in Turkey for which Erdogan blamed Gulen. The Obama administration resisted Turkey’s calls for extradition of Gulen but the issue is likely to come up in this week’s meeting and Trump could choose to change that policy.

It is important to know that Trump’s erstwhile, very temporary, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, served as a paid advisor to the Turkish government last fall while advising Trump. Flynn met with Turkish officials and former CIA Director James Woolsey in September to discuss Gulen’s possible extradition. According to Woolsey in a Wall Street Journal piece, the Turkish Ministers in attendance (incl Erdogan’s son-in-law) suggested a clandestine operation that would amount to kidnapping Gulen and taking him back to Turkey. Woolsey reported that he reminded Flynn and the Turks that this was illegal and then had his staff inform Vice President Biden of the meeting. It is impossible to know what Trump knows about this incident but it is easy to remember that Flynn was a major advisor to his campaign, was considered as a running mate and that Trump left him in the position of National Security Advisor for over two weeks after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed him of Flynn’s work with the Russians.

It seems likely that Trump will be told by staff to be careful dealing with Erdogan but Trump and Erdogan are in too many ways birds of a feather. Each desires authoritarian power, loathes the free press, questions the role of the courts and has a tenuous connection to the truth. If their meeting follows the pattern of past Trump meetings with foreign leaders, he will have made a tremendous new friend, they will share very great plans for the future and back in Pennsylvania, Fehtullah Gulen will be looking for a high powered immigration lawyer. Stay tuned.

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Don’t blame Trump – He’s just doing what he said he would, and he’s doing it with the class you expected

Posted February 1, 2017 on 10:11 pm | In the category Election, TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now let’s wait a second.  All  of the decisions of Donald Trump in the last two weeks that are now being met with anger and derision by hundreds of thousands of marchers in the USA, many of whom didn’t feel like voting,  were long public  and cannot be a surprise.  These proposals  were thumped home in raucous fashion by the new President all across the country for months before the election.  There is certainly good reason to  be outraged by them, and  that is at least also partly because of the brutality and the amateurishness in which they have now been delivered.  The apparently spontaneous and unorganized travel restrictions placed on Moslems of seven countries that  the president doesn’t like, and the way it was announced and commented upon by a neanderthalean Press Secretary may be beyond any pale.  And the treatment of the President of neighbour Mexico also takes some kind of cake for arrogant boorishness and non-neighbourliness.  But the actual contents were  made clear long ago.

So didn’t anybody vote  for that programme?  Well, yes,  it turns out somewhere around 60 million Americans did vote for that, even if you don’t know any of them.  That’s a lot of Yanks who are not protesting.  That’s democracy for you and as the greatest troubadour of our times, Leonard Cohen, now safely buried on the peaceful north side of the border, wrote and sang not so long ago – “Democracy is coming  to theUSA”.  So get used to it and now get your act together and make sure it can”t happen again in four years time.

 

 

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Competing in the Information War

Posted December 17, 2016 on 10:58 am | In the category International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
― Edward R. Murrow

In March of 2014 this blog published a lengthy post about Russia’s growing and America’s shrinking public diplomacy efforts, specifically international broadcasting. So here we are now with a population beginning a flirtation with Russia and its president – a man with an easy solution to his troublesome media – jail them, kill them, or both. Some of this new American infatuation with Russia and Putin is certainly due to the full force gale of Trump and his Breitbart accomplices, but there is considerable evidence that Russia Today TV has made successful inroads throughout the West. It has done this with a well supported, worldwide broadcasting effort with enough real news to gain a degree of credibility while slipping in the news that is not real when it suits them.

On a recent trip to Italy we had access to three government supported English language TV stations: BBC occasionally, Russia Today regularly throughout the day and an English language station operated by China. CNN International – a private organization of mixed quality – was also available. On a trip to Germany a few years ago we had access to CNN which was having a Wolf Blitzer extravaganza about the balloon boy and Al Jazeera English which was by far the better of the two.

International broadcasting, as a part of public diplomacy is cheap, has in the past been effective, and can reach millions of people – as the Russian program does. But in the great competition for American taxpayers’ money, U.S. armament companies win, with the help of job hungry Congresspeople. So we are spending over $500 billion on defense, including billions on costly and frequently failed weapons systems and can barely squeeze out $750M for international broadcasting. To put it in a different perspective, Russia, with a broken economy, currently spends in excess of $1.4B on international broadcasting, the U.S.spends ca. $750M. China spends an estimated $7B.

Looking to the future, the Congress recently provided a clue by passing the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that includes an amendment that would “permanently establish the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency that oversees all U.S.-funded non-military international broadcasting, while removing the nine-member bipartisan Board that currently heads the agency.” The philosophy behind the historic role of the Board has been that it serve as a firewall between broadcasters charged with providing honest, fact-based reporting and the ideological whims of politicians. It served the interests of the country through the years of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, and Barack Obama.

Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and the Voice of America made major contributions to ending the Cold War by providing honest journalism to countries behind the iron Curtain, but any lesson from this seems lost. The likely emasculation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors indicates that it will likely not survive the presidency of Donald Trump who may instead finally get his very own TV and Radio Networks to do with as he wishes. Under the new law the CEO who will take over the responsibilities formerly belonging to the bipartisan Board will be appointed by the President. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon for CEO?

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The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/07/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drugs-killings.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.

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America or is it North America the Beautiful?

Posted February 17, 2016 on 3:21 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Well, let’s see now. First there were several Republican candidates in the United States of America’s primary drama, led by the indomitable Donald Trump, who suggested that it would be a bright idea to build a Berlin-type wall along the US border. It seemed likely at the time that they had meant the border to Mexico, and perhaps forgotten or did not know that there was also a border in the north with Canada. When it was pointed out that that wall would present mighty challenges in the Rocky Mountains, British Columbia  and  Yukon, not to mention Newfoundland, ST. Pierre and Miquelon, some reconsidered after looking at a map. But some candidates stuck to their guns.

As more information about these candidates dribbles out, Canadians became more and more interested in the proposal for a wall, not because it would keep terrorists from travelling south, but rather because it might hinder  unwanted aliens from travelling north. As it turned out, one of the leading lights, Ted Cruz, was actually born and bred in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with a Cuban father and an Amurcan mother, and was a Canadian citizen when he announced  his candidacy for President of the United States. . Hmm. Now, the third in the trio of favourites, Marco Rubio, has begun showing an ad for his candidacy on tv in his new series “Morning in America” that makes you wonder just what he means when he uses the word “America”. Does he mean the United States or does he mean all of North America, perhaps excluding Mexico? Who knows?

What most who see this ad will know  is that the scene he opens with is not in the United States. It shows a tugboat sailing out of a very dynamic-looking harbour, obviously recognizable as Vancouver harbour to lots of folks, but for anyone who isn’t familiar with the  scene, there is a Canadian flag flying on the tug just to make it clear. Doesn’t Rubio or his advisors know that on the other side of that northern wall there is an independent country with a different flag than his, which does not call itself America, and that what his ad shows is “Morning in Canada” as the most spectacular and busy harbour city on the west coast of North America  comes to life? Anyhow Ted Cruz is probably thanking the unpredictable primary gods for this intervention in the Canadian irritation in the Republican primary. But Canadians are just wondering what the hell is going on.

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A Tale of Two Countries

Posted November 27, 2015 on 3:23 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that his election pledge to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2015 will have to be altered with a new deadline of March 1, 2016 in order to provide sufficient security checks and to deal with transportation and housing issues.  10,000 refugees will arrive by January 1, 25,000 by March 1 and 35,000 by the end of 2016.  The refugees will be restricted to families, single women and children.  All the premiers of all the provinces and the two northern territories have agreed to this and there has been virtually no opposition.  On the contrary.  Housing will be located on military bases and other available sites, and no one will be settled in tents.

The United States has pledged to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016. However, according to CNN, the governors of 31 US states have announced that Syrian refugees will not  be welcome in their states, including President Obama’s home state of Illinois, and  Canadian  border states Michigan, New Hampshire  and Maine.  Dylan was right.  The times they are really achanging.

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Security bordering on oppressive

Posted May 29, 2015 on 2:58 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Congratulations to the Boston Globe for publishing an article with the above title that underlines a festering problem which has only begun festering more in the 6 years of the Obama regime. It is yet another disappointment for those who thought Obama would bring in a fresh breeze after the Bush years, which is when the border problem began festering. But Bush did have a desperate security problem on his hands after 9/11 and clamping down on border crossing was a reasonable, if apparently, temporary, step. Instead as The Globe put it:
“Since the 9/11 jihadist attacks, the 5,525-mile-long border between Canada and the United States has been transformed from the world’s friendliest to a high security zone marked by fortified crossing points, thermal “body detectors,’’ swiveling surveillance cameras, and the occasional low-skimming Blackhawk helicopter or spy drone.”
Anyone who got stuck in the four-hour long waits at the US/ Canada crossing at the so-called Peace Arch on the Victoria Day long weekend was surely asking why and how this could happen in a century in which no such border checks interrupt the flow of economic, regular and tourist traffic in all of western and central Europe. You can drive from the UK to the Ukrainian border without encountering a single checkpoint but if you drive from Vancouver to Seattle you could well be stopped after 40 minutes for four hours by a checkpoint which costs many millions of dollars in economic terms and more than that in lost friendliness, while serving no real purpose. What is now called the mexicanization of the Canadian border will be a legacy of the Obama years. Let’s hope someone now comes in to put an end to the increasingly hostile border, before it’s too late, and grounds the drone planes which continue to spot no terrorists but many moose crossing a border in the wilderness.

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Drums Along the Potomac

Posted March 31, 2015 on 1:34 pm | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“The Armed Forces Are the Instrument of Foreign Policy, Not Its Master”,   Hans Morgenthau

Some see war as a failure of diplomacy; others see it as a substitute. Twelve years after the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq those who prefer war to diplomacy are back and priming the pump for what could be the next exercise in American folly in the Middle East. This time it is Iran that looms as the target.

President Obama has chosen diplomacy joined with sanctions to reduce Iran’s likelihood of attaining a nuclear capability. And while success in this effort is by no means guaranteed, neither is the likely success of a military intervention despite claims by some that we should cease our diplomatic efforts and move apace to war.

In recent weeks our two major newspapers -the Washington Post and the New York Times– have published clear calls to bomb Iran on its op ed pages. In the once great Washington Post Joshua Muravchik, a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Politics, argued that “war [[against Iran] is probably our best option” and was explicitly critical of any diplomatic efforts. This is a reprise of his November, 2006 op ed in the L.A. Times which opens with: “We must bomb Iran” and predicts Iran’s creating conflicts all over the world, including Southeast Asia. He then urged then President Bush to attack at once, despite the “unpopularity” of his Iraq war.

Similarly, last week in the New York Times, John Bolton, analyst at he American Enterprise Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, provided an op ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. This is consistent with Bolton’s predilection to send other people’s sons and daughters to fight unnecessary wars in places like Iraq, and to view diplomacy as a sign of weakness.

Add to this mix the views of politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and what seems to be the entire Republican membership of the House of Representatives and we have the seeds of an effort to move the country toward acceptance of yet another irrational attempt to change that part of the world in which we have been notoriously ineffective-even destructive-in the past. It is all too reminiscent of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which has provided much of the impetus for an energized battle between Shia and Sunni forces throughout the Middle east.

The press was instrumental in building support for the invasion of Iraq and that alone should be enough to warn us of the danger of accepting press reports and untested analyses without careful vetting. The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies participated in driving the argument to invade Iraq adds to the need to be careful whom we trust. The quality of the press is of fundamental importance and unfortunately there are reasons to be skeptical.

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