Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Foreign Policy

President-elect Trump pick of Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, as his National Security Advisor panicked those who had grown comfortable with the Susan Rice school of foreign policy.  Whereas Ms. Rice is a career bureaucrat, Flynn 33 years in the US Army.  Uniforms tend to make bureaucrats and diplomats nervous especially given Flynn's statement that the US was less safe in 2014 than it was prior to 9/11.

Now it appear James "Mad Dog" Mattis, a retired Marine Corps 4-star, will be the next Secretary of Defense.  Should Mattis be appointed, Mr. Trump's cabinet will be one of the most hawkish in many years.  This may be by design as a way of "draining the swamp" of career bureaucrats but it also might signal a different approach to foreign policy that will be much more decisive than the Obama doctrine.

On the surface it seems that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin are getting along famously.  Yet Russia has deployed its nuclear capable Iskander missiles Kalinigrad, Russia placing the missiles within range of targets in Poland and NATO.  The missile deployment is in retaliation for NATO troop deployments (including 4,000 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division).  The move has been met with hostility by Moscow, however it remains to be seen if Mr. Putin will have the same reaction once Mr. Trump takes office.

Mr. Putin has said he is ready for a re-set of US-Russian relations.  Under the Obama Administration, relations deteriorated even though Mr. Obama and his advisors were decidedly un-hawkish.  The question is, will Mr. Putin continues to reach out to the US with a very hawkish Trump Administration?  If the answer is "yes", then the recasting of US-Russia relations will have major impacts on other US alliances.

We may be seeing a clue already.  Mr. Trump has used his favorite policy weapon, Twitter, to get under Prime Minister May's skin.  He has publicly called on her to appoint Nigel Farage,  his friend and major campaign supporter, to be appointed as UK ambassador to the US.  Ms. May is highly irritated as these types of things are not done publicly, furthermore having a US president dictate to a UK prime minister just isn't done.

However, May is under increasing pressure to make Brexit happen and she has yet to take action making her vulnerable.  The current UK ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, is seen by many in the UK as a European Union lackey and career politician, so Mr. Trump may yet get his way.  Should he, it will risk chilling relations with the US greatest ally at a time when the world is drastically reshaping (in no small way thanks to Mr. Trump himself).

We are going into unchartered waters with a new US President who has never held office and will treat foreign policy matters more like business deals.  The US and Russia could conceivably forge an alliance going forward to deal with terrorism in the Middle East, leaving out Europe and UK for the first time since World War II.  Unlike Europe, Russia can offer oil to the fossil-fuel dependent US to help counter-act any effects their Middle East interventions might have on oil prices.

Far-fetched?  Perhaps no more so than some New York business tycoon with bad hair becoming President of the United States.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump's foreign policy, at least so far

President-elect Trump, a New York business tycoon, has expressed some interesting preferences when it comes to foreign policy.  Playing up his image as a successful businessman, Mr. Trump has expressed his frustration that NATO members are not paying their fair share.  He has gone on even further to say that the US may withhold military support unless NATO partners start paying.

From a purely business perspective, this hardline stance is appealing.  Hey, you don't pay then why should I give you support?  In effect, Mr. Trump's foreign policy seems to going in the isolationist direction.  If he maintains this stance as he enters the White House, it also means Mr. Trump is going to radically reshape international affairs beyond just the US role. 

The most obvious consequence, and the one Mr. Trump seems to going for, is the US will no longer play traffic cop to the various conflicts going on in the world.  Mr. Trump's stance seems like it be the US is willing to help, so long as you are willing to pay.  Quid pro quo.

Such a foreign policy stance would be radically different from anything the US has done since the isolationism of the 1930s.  Much like then, Trump seems to feel in order for "America to  be great again", it needs to distance itself from foreign intervention.  Russia and Syria apparently are taking Mr. Trump at his word as relations with the US suddenly warmed after the election.

At the same time, Mr. Trump's isolation predilection has NATO extremely worried.  In effect, should Mr. Trump start withdrawing US forces from NATO, while simultaneously increasing relations with Russia, Europe will be very vulnerable to future Russia expansion.  Let's be honest, NATO was always about holding off a Soviet forces long enough for the US to muster stateside forces.  Remove US forces, or at least US willingness to engage, and NATO becomes a paper tiger.

Mr. Trump's business perspective, and apparent lack of historical acumen, could radically reshape alliances that have existed since the Second World.  The US has always looked to Europe as an ally in dealing with world affairs but Mr Trump only seems interested should it prove financially rewarding to the US.

One of the reasons Germany does not spend more on defense is because that last thing Europe, the US and Soviet Union wanted to see is a military strong Germany.  The Prussians, followed by the Weimar Republic, followed by the Third Reich was enough proof to the Allied Powers that allowing Germany to have an unrestricted military just wasn't in anyone's best interest.  Mr. Trump's policy could negate this and allow for a hard-line German leader to spend without restriction on building up the German military.  Given the already seething anti-immigration feelings by right-wing Germans, this could become a very explosive combination.

Even before Mr. Trump assumes office his victory is reshaping European politics.  Marine Le Pen, a French conservative nationalist, went from being a long-shot to the likely next French president.  British Prime Minister Theresa May is now facing more pressure to make Brexit happen sooner than later.  Angela Merkel's ability to win another term may have just been completely abolished.  

The US tends to be European-centric in its foreign policy but let's not forget that Mr. Trump's idea of foreign policy would also apply to Japan.  A fully militarized Japan was unthinkable to the US and Asia after World War II but and increasingly right-wing government in Japan, with an increased threat from China, could see a fully militarized Japan reappear.  Such a possibility would further worsen relations between Japan and North Korea.  Russia, unlike the United States, still very much remembers what happens when you underestimate Japan.  

By pulling US military support out of Japan, it will force the Japanese to spend more on defense.  A militarily stronger Japan will be alarming to the Pacific Rim (including Russia) and will see increased military spending across the region.  The Philippines have no love for Japan either and with the specter of US withdrawal from the region, it will force Manilla even closer to Beijing.  Yeah, none of that looks good.

Trump's policy thus far also ignores Africa which is the source of all of out strategic minerals that we depend on for the jobs Mr. Trump intends to create.  A reluctant US means China and Russia will become the new colonial powers in Africa.  Once in, the US will never be able to negotiate the Chinese and Russians back out.

Mr. Trump has demonstrated no appreciation for history nor for long-term foreign policy decisions.  His  choice to shepherd this neo-isolationism approach looks to be Newt Gingrich.  Mr. Gingrich is a neo-conservative who believes the US has been "too soft on Iran and North Korea", "the United Nations is corrupt", and "Palestinians are an invented people." At first it may appear his stance is opposite of Mr. Trump's but Gingrich can very easily re-align his opinions as to a rationale for the US to pull out of various alliances.  Combine that with Mr. Gingrich's tendency to lecture those he feels are intellectually inferior to himself and we don't have the most auspicious beginnings to the Trump foreign policy team.

I've been critical of much of the US foreign policy, especially under Mr. Obama, but to become isolated from long-term allies is the wrong answer.  Mr. Trump's policies don't address the situation created by US policies in the Middle East.  Mr. Trump's policies do nothing to engage and develop African nations.  Change is constant but Mr. Trump wants to turn our focus on ourselves to the detriment of others.  Four years of that may be four years too long.  The world will be a very different place and the US may not have much of a say in it anymore.  To some that may sound like a good thing but you may want to ask Poland about how they feel about Sep 1, 1939.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Last Night

Trump wins!  The Republicans and Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for that headline.

The Republicans have had eight years to get ready for this and they blew it.  Their A-team of Rubio, Cruz, Perry, Santorum, and Bush were unable to stop a TV personality, a huckster, from taking the Republican nomination away from them but also the White House.  You were all so dumb, you couldn't bring yourselves to pull the nominee to the side and help smooth the edges off of him.  Despite your absolute travesty of abandoning your nominee, you managed a technical victory.  I hope you know what to do now that someone from the Republican party is in the White House.  You also better start grooming some better candidates for many of your party would have turned away had the Democrats been smart enough to nominate any one other than HRC.

The Democrats had eight years to get ready for this and they blew it.  Eight years ago, the Democrats correctly read that Americans were tired of being at war.  America was tired of the Bush-Cheney hawkish worldview and wanted something different.  Eight years ago, a no-name Senator from Illinois who had zero foreign policy experience was able to snatch the the Democratic nomination from that de facto heir, Hillary Clinton.  Eight years ago, then Senator Obama's slogan of "Hope and Change" resonated on both sides and helped him cinch both the Democratic nomination but also the White House.

So what the hell did the Democrats think trotting out Hillary eight year later, with eight more years of baggage, was going to do?  Especially with a populace that has become extremely disenfranchised with Mr. Obama?

More so than when she was running against President Obama, the sins of Hillary's (and Bill's) past came back to haunt her.  No, not the stuff that has Democrats in full denial about such as Bill's female victims.  No, not Hillary's mishandling of classified materials nor her incompetence during Benghazi.  No, what happened was the working class remembered two very important details from the Clinton years.

First, workers remembered that the Clintons were responsible from NAFTA which sent jobs overseas and turned Detroit into a real life version of the fictional Detroit from "Robocop".  The media completely missed when Trump picked up on this and promised to bring jobs back.  The media turned his comments into anti-immigration but by so doing, completely missed how this one speech resounded with the entire state of Michigan and the rest of working class Americans.

The other point that people remembered about the Clinton administration is more obscure but is why more blacks were secretly turning to Trump than the Democrat strategists could accept.  Former President Clinton pushed through legislation for getting tough on crime and mandatory sentencing.  Both of these actions by the Clinton administration has resulted in the huge increase in prison population with a disproportionate part of that population being black.

While publicly despising Trump and supporting the Democratic nominee, black people in private had no use for Hillary.  And here is the part Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her ilk need to be really held accountable for…by dismissing the blacks angst surrounding Clinton, you all but guaranteed a Trump victory.

Had the Democrats allowed Bernie Sanders to take the nomination, I am certain we would be having a different conversation today.  But instead, everyone in the Democratic party believed that voting in the first female President would overcome her own weaknesses as an unlikable, bland and boring candidate.

One other point before I move on to what I see facing the future President Trump (I still can't used to typing those two words).  Over the weekend, many of the Democratic faithful were still in full delusion mode and happily celebrated when FBI Director Comey announced that there were no findings in the 650K emails to warrant furthering investigation.  You morons, that was absolutely the final nail in Hillary's coffin.  She had been tracking since she got the nomination as being extremely unlikable, now she was also above the law? Fuhgeddabout!

Now on to Mr. Trump who I hope is ready for what he claims he wants.  The future President Trump is coming into office after the foreign policy fiasco of Obama/Clinton/Kerry that has created a far more belligerent Russia, a far more aggressive China, an increasingly difficult to defeat terrorist group known as ISIS, and a Europe that is on the verge of war.  All of the bombast and showmanship that got him elected isn't going to be what turns this around.  He needs to assemble a top notch foreign policy and national security team of something other than the cronies who followed him around during the campaign.

The Trump supporters are all clamoring for the wall to be built.  Of course they don't want to understand the immense cost of building and maintaining such a structure.  Disappointing to me is that many of my military buddies are in favor of this static defense, seeming to forget that throughout history walls are made to be breeched, blown-up, climbed over or dug under.  If the wall is built, we will have to commit huge amounts of manpower and resources just to keep it in place.

The first 120 days of the Trump administration will be unlike anything we've seen before in the history of the United States.  Worse, every country in the world is watching now with bemused horror as the US political machine has been exposed as a fraud, full of corruption and self-serving individuals.  What country is ever going to listen to the US demanding that it adopts the American form of democracy?

One parting note, especially to my liberal Democrat friends (but take heed my conservative Republican friends).  Many of you are posting on Facebook and other social media how ashamed you are of America right now or expressing your disgust at the sexist, racist, intolerant, ignorant masses that elected Mr. Trump.  I've got news for you, those people have always been there but you delude yourself into thinking everyone thinks like you do.  My challenge to you is, what are you going to do about it?  See if we keep running off to our idealistic little corners and to cry or celebrate, we are missing that fact that there are a whole bunch of people that don't agree with us but who are still Americans.

I didn't vote for Trump or Hillary.  I'm not a Trump fan but if we allow the results from last night to continue to divide us, far worse things are going to happen than any of us can imagine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Brand Loyalty

Tonight, the Cleveland Indians may win the World Series.  I'm not from Cleveland but it is always good to see any Ohio team making it to championship playoffs.  To me, it's a no-brainer to root for the Indians in the Series but to some Reds fans this is anathema since Cleveland is in the American League.  Therefore, goes their logic, we as Reds fans can only root for the National League.

I have never understood fans that are loyal to the "league" or "division".  According to their logic then, should Pittsburgh go to the Super Bowl, we as Cincinnati fans should root for our sworn enemy?  Nope, not gonna happen!

The same mentality though permeates politics and especially the Presidential election.  People are going to the polls next week, holding those nose and voting for the "party" because that's what you fall back on when you won't even look at the either candidate.  A week after the Indians may become the 2016 World Series champions we will have a new President.  The same mentality that causes Reds fans to root against the other Ohio team will be at work next week.

The bias transcends the unwashed masses (you know, those of us that don't work for the media) and I am convinced is influencing pollsters and journalists alike on both sides of the political spectrum.  Amidst all of the calls for not letting the other guy win, I came across a interesting analysis.  In 1980, then President Jimmy Carter was ahead in the polls over the "very dangerous" outlier Ronald Reagan.  The pundits at the time just could not see a way for someone as radical as Reagan ousting a sitting President.  But the polls failed to pick up on the resentment many Americans had for Carter.  Reagan would go on to win by a landslide.

The 1980 Presidential election was the same year I turned 18.  I can't remember one thing from either the Carter or Reagan campaigns but I can tell you why I voted for Reagan; it was in protest against Carter's handling of the Iranian hostage crisis.  Thinking about that some 36 years later, I wonder if we aren't seeing that same thing again especially now that the FBI has re-opened the investigation on Hillary.  Is there a seething resentment for her the the polls aren't showing?

No, I won't be glued to the TV next Tuesday.  More likely I'll be reading a book just to avoid all of the media hype and whining from people when their candidate, whether it be Trump or Hillary, starts losing.  I'm sure people will still text or call (do people still call each other?) to ask my opinion or commiserate about the elections.  I may need to stock up on some good bourbon.