THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY:
WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
Harry C. Blaney III
The Trump press conference on Thursday was one of the most surreal experience I have ever had in Washington for 45 plus years. But it was emblematic of the whole Trump world. It was filled with lies and exaggerations. It was aimed at attacking his critics and trying to undermined especially the press and news outlets and not least also the intelligence community. But its strategic aim was to deflect attention from his most recent serious debacle namely the relationship of him and his people to Russian intelligence and officials and the failure of himself to run an effective logical and constrictive White House let alone the government that remains in disarray.
The embarrassments of his key NSC head Mike Flynn who made a surreptitious contact that likely was illegal with the Russian Ambassador showed an out of control dysfunctional staff. And we still do not know if Trump knew of or order that meeting, as Trump at the press conference avoided a direct answer. One key question is whether US sanctions on Russia were discussed. At the likely urging of Bannon Flynn was picked but Trump should have known Flynn was a total flake. It seems Trump had no intention of running a true professional NSC. This was proved by appointing Bannon to an official NSC seat and initially taking his intelligence chief and Military Chief of Staff off of the NSC Principles Group all indicating his aim was to conduct a secretive truly only personally directed “disruptive” foreign and security policy.
An example of how chaotic is Trump’s White house his next pick for head of the NSC was retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward who declined the offer. It was reported that he was not promised the ability to pick his own staff as he saw the need for staff that actually know what they were doing given what was at stake. It was said theat there were three persons on a new list and they seem all to have problems. One John Bolton is an extreme war hawk and disliked for his rough personality, in the end the head of the NSC turned out to be Lt. General H.R. McMaster, an active duty officer without any high policy coordinating experience. Trump has almost entirely picked active or former military flag officers in un-presidented numbers for national security and diplomatic positions that normally are largely filled by high ranking civilian officials and experts. At the recent Munich strategy conference Senator John McCann decimated the Trump security and foreign affairs record of Trump in front of the European defense community but later praised the selection of McMaster and the revised NSC team.
Trump a made no attempt at the conference to discuss in a serious way key challenges like climate change, what to do about North Korea, the issues of Iran, nuclear weapons, poverty, not least his failure to maintain American respect or how exactly to deal with Russia and Putin and a host of domestic issues including immigration and refugees.
He avoided serious questions from the press. Probably he has no clue on how to seriously deal with the issues that are on his desk. He has not advance a rational or even creditable national strategy or program. This was proven by choosing many individuals who’s main aim is to destroy the agencies that they head or to put forth policies that are clearly destructive of our nation’s moral, economic, and security fabric and interests. It almost seems that he wanted to choose people who were even less experienced but as destructive as he was.
My main view is again that Trump’s aim was to attack the media and their coverage and thus deflect from the chaos that he himself has caused. Phrases like “dishonest media” and ‘fake news” were designed to fend off criticism or public understanding of accurate facts and objective news analysis of his incompetence which has taken on a crescendo recently given the massive dysfunction and stench emanating from Trump and his people. Trump’s attacks oddly are to attack others for the same characteristics and flaws he has himself!
During the conference Trump tired to depict himself as popular with our citizens and quoted one Republican orientated poll of 56% support when in reality it is closer to 40% in recent polls. He said he inherited “a mess” at home and abroad but the reality is that he inherited fewer large wars, normal global challenges and a growing economy. His acts are undermining of American respect. He has made enemies of our friends and brought joy to our opponents. He and Bannon support far right parties in Europe whose main aims are to destroy both the EU and the unity of the Atlantic community. He argues the moral equivalence of Russia and America. He even took credit for pre-Trump growth of our economy.
Russia may turn out as his most vulnerable arena and challenge. Trump denied that his people had contact with Russians during the campaign and transition while the intelligence agencies has clear evidence that in fact there was contact with Russians during the campaign by his associates which some of these associates deny. Reports in the news seem to indicate that the professionals in the intelligence community do not fully trust him and his staff with the most sensitive data, while still providing him with the main intelligence and assessments to make key decisions. Frighteningly, Trump seems bent on destroying the objectivity and competence of the intelligence community which, if carried out in a political “house cleaning.” could endanger the security of our nation.
The simple fact is the White House under Trump is a disaster zone without rational leadership and the people that Trump has surround are, and there is no other way to put it, a bunch of the most ignorant, bigoted, and incompetent people every to have inhabited the White House in its history. I simply cite Stephen Bannon a White nationalist supremacist and formally key founder and manager of the fascist Alt-Right news outlet Beritbart and follower, like Trump, of Ayn Rand’s version of brutal extreme right ideas and avaricious destructive capitalism. But look at the likes Kellyanne Conway who also lies and violates civil service rules, disgraced Mike Flynn who we have already described, a press assistant that also lies, and a host of others without any government experience and with far right ideology that drives bad decisions and reinforces prejudices.
Trump’s excuse for his actions is that there was a “mess” before he arrived, and he alone with unlimited powers can fix it. But he has deliberately made our nation and whole globe a real “mess” with his twisted madness and made us all more insecure.
There is in short, dysfunction but more than that it is, in my view, in key part deliberate misleading and manipulation of our citizens and the media (which they have too often acted as accomplices), accompanied by a destructive world view. He acts so as to run, in time, an authoritarian state based on one man and his family’s interests. A kind of conspiracy to up-end our best values, decency within our diverse society, to rip out the effort of government to help our most disadvantage citizens, and to create a world of even more conflict and chaos. This all to justify such rule. Already, he has undermined the institutions that have held this nation together protected our citizens and surely take from us all a nation truly great and doing good.
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By Harry C. Blaney III
Photo Credit via Independent
The latest pronouncement of Prime Minister Theresa May at the Tory Party Conference in October provided an especially harsh and rigid statement of future relations with the EU that amounts to a declaration of self-destruction for an open, influential, and prosperous United Kingdom. It was a red-meat speech for her Tory Euroskeptic xenophobic co-conspirators which likely leads to a weakened Britain and into a very dark space that makes Britain and Europe less secure. It brings delight to Putin, undermines greatly the “Special Relationship” with America, and not least emboldens the worst elements in our societies to rise into power.
I have been watching the process of European integration since 1964 and served at the US missions to both the EU and NATO, as well as living for a while in Britain studying European-US relations. But I could not imagine any sane leader after 40 years of building close cooperation and many gains from unity, would bring about such a break in the linchpin of Europe unity and security. I was in Britain for the last phase of the Brexit debate and vote and saw the sad aftermath which had much of the quality I am seeing today with Trump.
Reading Prime Minister Theresa May’s October Tory Conference speech, I was horrified at the false promises made, the emphases on “controlling” immigration, and thinking she can get a good deal that is NOT on offer and that giving the slogan “Global Britain” she can wash away the ugly reality of a small, divided, and weakened and yes, more isolated Britain. Prime Minister May talks as if she was living again in the 19th Century, focusing on sovereignty and making our own laws, etc.
Americans will always see Britain as our friend an ally but the first call in a crisis will likely not be to London but to Berlin and Paris. Also to say there is no turning back is to say that the old British tradition of realism and pragmatism to redress an unimaginable error is like heading towards the cliff knowing the results. To not permit a vote on the issue when new valid information on costs and dangers emerges is the height of irresponsibility.
Already we see in Britain increases in brutal attacks on those that look different. After the lies and exaggerations that were told by Nigel Farage and his partner in the vitriolic Leave Campaign Boris Johnson, that Britain would, in effect be great again (familiar words here in the corrosive presidential campaign), outside the EU. They said all would prosper and those pesky job robbing foreigners would be taken care of and not bother us any more. The big lie of course was to say that Britain would get almost all it wanted from the despised EU even as EU leaders said it would never happen.
Today sadly the EU and more importantly the concept of a peaceful, united, prosperous, and secure Europe seems at risk. The EU unity problem was exacerbated by the “Great Recession” and the failure of the EU to come to the true assistance of the endangered vulnerable states. Many countries including Britain decided to embark on disastrous austerity policies that left far too many people behind, desperate, and feeling hopeless. For this the blame rests unequivocally on the Conservative Party.
Further, the evil stench of Trump is mirrored sadly in today’s UKIP and Right of the Tory Party with its hyper nationalism and bigotry, as well as the French Le Pen National Party and in Germany in the Alternative for Germany with their neo-Nazi bent. Brexit and May’s harsh speech can only embolden these fanatics.
And now after the Brexit vote. I never have been so concerned not only for Europe, but also for the implications of a deteriorating, divided, selfish and myopic continent for global governance. No wonder that Vladimir Putin is licking his chops over a weakened and divided West.
We are living in a high risk world that calls for greater unity and cooperation, not less. A Continent fighting itself can’t help the rest of the world fight global warming, terrorism, poverty and inequality, and not least deal with the dangers of nuclear weapons nor defend itself against the real dangers of authoritarian aggression near and far.
BELOW ARE SOME EXCERPTS FROM PRIME MINISTER’S SPEECH WHICH ILLUSTRATE THE CONSEQUENCES OF BOTH PANDERING TO THE EXTREME RIGHT AND DISREGARDING THE LONG-TERM NATIONAL INTEREST:
Crediting Brexit as a Conservative Victory
“But come on. The referendum result was clear. It was legitimate. It was the biggest vote for change this country has ever known. Brexit means Brexit – and we’re going to make a success of it.”
“Now of course, we wouldn’t have had a referendum at all had it not been for the Conservative Party – and had it not been for David Cameron. And I want to take a moment to pay tribute to David……”
Valuing Total Sovereignty over the Benefits of Cooperation
“But what we are now talking about is very different. Whether people like it or not, the country voted to leave the EU. And that means we are going to leave the EU. We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts. And that means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.”
Brexit Will Happen
“Having voted to leave, I know that the public will soon expect to see, on the horizon, the point at which Britain does formally leave the European Union. So let me be absolutely clear. There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article Fifty. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article Fifty no later than the end of March next year…..”
Flagrant Denial of Dismal Economic Forecasts
“And it has also meant that we have given some certainty to businesses and investors. Consumer confidence has remained steady. Foreign investment in Britain has continued. Employment is at a record high, and wages are on the up. There is still some uncertainty, but the sky has not fallen in, as some predicted it would: our economy remains strong.”
“I know some people ask about the “trade-off” between controlling immigration and trading with Europe. But that is the wrong way of looking at things. We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully-independent, sovereign country. We will do what independent, sovereign countries do. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws. “
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By Harry C. Blaney III
This debate was in some ways a shame for the commentator who permitted again over talking of the VP candidates especially Pence, and she largely did not question lies and false assertions. The greatest fault of the media has been lack of focus before and after these debates on the substance and meaning of the policies that have a real impact on people’s lives and security. The post debate commentary was strictly the “horse race” rather than on what the policies and statements will mean for the future of our nation. It was a sad example of the lack of honest oversight by the media.
The good part of this debate is that they did cover international issues. The bad part is they left out climate change, global inequality, and other issues. The really bad was the absence of truth and lack of deep analysis of cost, risks and benefits of proposed policies.
The quotes however provide some insight on how each party and the candidates themselves view the role of America in the world, how exactly they see that world, and finally how they would act if they got in power. The VP debate, while not the main event, still indicates the direction each party would take if they won in November.
It seems clear that like the first debate between Clinton and Trump their divide on realistic assessment, means of solving or not solving problems and challenges is as wide as ever. It also reveals from this perspective how little the Republican candidates know or really understand how to act in the complex, often dangerous and fast moving world we live in.
On the specific foreign affairs and national security issues some short takes:
Governor Pence: “We need to modernize our nuclear forces and we need an effective American diplomacy that will marshal the resources of nations in the Asian-Pacific rim to put pressure on North Korea, to abandon the nuclear ambitions. It has to remain the policy of the United States of America, the demilitarization of the Korean peninsula… We will go back to the days of peace through strength.”
Senator Kaine: “On the foreign relations committee we just did an extensive sanctions package against North Korea and interestingly enough, the UN did virtually the same package. Often China will use their veto on the security council for that. They are starting to get worried about North Korea as well. So, they supported the sanctions’ passage, even when many of the sanctions are against Chinese financial institutions. So, we are working together with China and we need to. It is competitive and also challenging and we have to be able to cooperate against North Korea. Hillary understands that. She went famously to China and stood up at a human rights meeting and said, against North Korea. “Women’s rights are human rights.” She worked on many important diplomatic deals with China and that is what it will take.”
Clearly once again on the topic of nuclear weapons and associated issues like North Korea and the placement of such weapons in our strategic plans, Gov. Pence seems deeply in the dark. This despite having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had a hard time defending past irresponsible quotes on this issue from Trump. The key issue here is which set of candidates will act in the most careful and responsible way and this debate did not change the view that we have in the GOP team — very dangerous people with little understanding of key security issues.
Pence: “Donald Trump has made a plan to end illegal immigration once and for all in this country. We have been talking it to death for 20 years. Hillary Clinton wants to continue the policy of open borders, amnesty, catch and release, sanctuary cities, all of the things driving wages down in this country, senator, and also too often, with criminal aliens in the country, it is bringing heartbreak.
It begins with border security. After we secure the border, not only build a wall, but beneath the ground and in the air, we do internal enforcement. The focus has to be on criminal aliens. We just had a conversation about law enforcement, a conversation about the violence that is the setting our cities. The reality is, there is heartbreaking tragedy that has struck American families because people who came into this country illegally are now involved in criminal and reprise and activity, and we do not have the resources or the will to deport them systematically.
Donald Trump said we are going to move those people out. People have overstayed their visas. We are going to enforce the law of this country and strengthen immigration and customs enforcement with more resources and personnel to be able to do that, and then Donald Trump has made it clear. Once we have done all of those things, then we are going to reform the immigration system that we have in this country.”
Kaine: “Donald Trump believes in deportation nation. You have got to pick your choice. Hillary and I want a bipartisan reform that will keep families together, second, that will help focus enforcement efforts on those were violent, third, that will do more border control, and third, write a path to citizenship for those who play by the rules and take criminal background checks. That is our proposal.”
While Pence had a hard time defending the indefeasible lies and policies of Trump he stood clearly on the side of building the “Wall” which would be as an act of total madness and hurt our relations with every Latin American government let alone many of our citizens and undocumented residents. Senator Kaine gave the right answers about how impossible the Trump stance was and how self-defeating.
On Immigration and Refugees:
Pence: “It really does begin with us reforming our immigration system and putting the interest, particularly in the safety and security of the American people, first. Donald Trump wants extreme vetting for people coming in. Donald Trump and I are committed to suspending the Syrian refugee program and programs in immigration around the world that have been compromised by terrorism. Hillary Clinton wants to increase it.
If you’re going to be critical of me, that is fair game. After two Syrian refugees were involved in the attack in Paris that is called “Paris’ 9/11,” you bet I suspended that program. I stand by that decision. If I am vice president, we’re going to put the safety of the American people first.
The director of the FBI said we cannot know for certain who these people coming are.”
Kaine: “As opposed to violating the constitution by blocking people from coming in based on their nationality, we have different views on refugee issues and immigration. Hillary and I want to do enforcement based on “Our people dangerous?” These guys say “All Mexicans are bad.” With regard to refugees, we want to keep people out of they are dangerous. Donald Trump said “Keep them out if they are Muslim.” An appellate court with three public and judges struck down a pence plan and said it was this majority. It was discriminatory.”
Pence stuck to the Republican platform that opposes admitting refugees from Syria. By echoing Trump’s call for ‘extreme vetting,’ the Governor of Indiana demonstrated a shared ignorance in the robust vetting process already in place. Refugees are screened over a period of two years before they’re admitted into the United States. Kaine used the topic as an opportunity to highlight this week’s court ruling against Pence’s proposal to block refugees settling in his home state of Indiana. Overall, this topic is a choice between base fear, a lack of understanding of current refugee vetting, and xenophobia or accepting our share of the burden in assisting the world’s most helpless victims.
Iran, Iraq, and ISIS
Pence: “Other goal was always that we would only lift the sanctions if Iran terminally renounced their nuclear ambitions. They have not done so. And when the deal’s period runs out, there is no limitation on weapons. $1.7 billion was used in a ransom payment.
Iraq has been overrun by ISIS. They failed to negotiate. Hillary Clinton has failed to renegotiate the status of forces agreement.
The primary threat today is ISIS. Because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains that the American soldier has won, ISIS was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert and it has overrun vast areas.”
Kaine: “Let me come back to talk about — he does not want to acknowledge that we stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program. He does not want to acknowledge that Taylor was part of the team that got Osama bin Laden… She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.
I would like to correct — President Bush said we would leave Iraq at the end of 2011. Iraq did not want our troops to stay. They would not give us the [directive] of our troops. If a nation where our troops are serving does not want us to stay, we are not going to stay —
Here is her plan to defeat ISIL. They have to take out their leaders on the battlefield. She will lead the team that will get the head of ISIS. We have got to disrupt the financing networks.
Third, disrupt their ability to recruit on the internet, in their state havens. Fourth, we also have to work with allies to share intelligence. That is the Hillary Clinton plan.”
On these issues Pence was either badly informed or downright lied, following the tradition of his leader. Sen. Kaine corrected these mistruths. But a campaign based on security issues and especially the Iran one on nuclear issues provided such prevarications beyond acceptable. Most well-read people know that it was President Bush who decided to take our troops out when he could not get immunity for our troops.
Russia and Putin
Pence: “Hillary Clinton’s top priority when she became secretary of state was the Russian reset. After the Russian reset, the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea. The small and bullying the leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth, just withdraws from talk about a cease-fire while that Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense in Syria while he marshaled the forces and begins — look, we have got to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership that begins by rebuilding our military… The provocations by Russia need to be met by American strength. If Russia continues to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the US needs to be prepared to strike military targets of the Assad regime, to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis taking place in Aleppo.”
“There is a broad range of other things we ought to do as well. We should deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland, which had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on. We have to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they are dealing with a strong American president.”
“What we are dealing with is — there is an old proverb that says the Russian bear never dies, but hibernates. This foreign policy from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awakened a Russian aggression that first appeared a few years ago with their move into Georgia and Crimea and into the wider Middle East. All we do now is pull out our arms and say, “We are not having talks anymore.” We need to marshal the resources of our allies in the region and end the immediate — we need to act and act now to get people out of harm’s way.”
“Strength. We are going to rebuild our military. This whole Putin thing, look, America is stronger than Russia. Our economy is 16 times larger than the Russian economy. Our political system is superior to the corrupt capital system in Russia it every way.”
“When Donald Trump and I observed in Syria and Iran and Ukraine that the bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this administration is stating facts. That is not an endorsement of Putin.”
Kaine: “Consistent with the UN Security Council resolution passed would be a good idea. Hillary Clinton has the way to stand up to Russia. Donald Trump again and again has praised Vladimir Putin.”
“It is clear she has business dealings with Russia and is very connected to Putin. The trump campaign management team had to be fired a month or so ago because of those shadowy connections.”
“Governor Pence made the odd claim, he said, and arguably, Vladimir Putin is a better leader than president Obama. Vladimir Putin has run his economy into the ground and he persecutes LGBT folks. If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you got to go back to a fifth grade civics class. That offends me.”
“Vladimir Putin is a dictator. He is not a leader.”
“Anyone who thinks otherwise does not know Russian history and they doesn’t know Vladimir Putin. Hillary Clinton knows exactly who this guy is. John McCain, I look at that guy and I see KGB. So, how do you deal with him? We do have to deal with Russia in many different ways. There are areas where we can cooperate.”
Here Kaine held clearly the edge and noted the many weakness of Trump’s and Pence’s understanding and indeed especially of Trump’s admiration for Putin. He weakly defended that position at the same time Putin’s forces were bombing and killing hundreds of innocent civilian including woman and children and hospitals in Syria. This was also not addressed or noted by our clueless moderator. Pence had no decent ground on this issue. Kaine seemed to repeat the argument that are going on within the administration but sadly few on any side have any easy answers.
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By Harry C. Blaney III and John Gall
There were “crimes” committed during and after the shambles of a debate. This was a debate where the realities of the global security landscape were given the same lies and distortions as in the domestic side with Trump’s crude remarks, evident lies, and even stupidities. But in the international and security side, words do matter and our allies and our adversaries are listening and look on in wonder.
Yet the one similarity between the domestic and security side was the avoidance of facts and understanding of the implications of proposed policies. Those were kind words for what were in reality ignorant sound-bites, lies, and distortion. Trump demonstrated no comprehension of the dangers and catastrophic consequences of not just his statements as a candidate now, but of his likely action should he become president. His statements about nuclear weapons, his Middle East policies including his earlier anti-Muslim rants, stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace, and not least building a wall on our Mexican border and rolling back our advances in climate change, Cuban relations, and the Iran nuclear deal are just examples of a mind gone wacky.
After the debate the press followed Trump and gave him a billion dollars worth of advertising to push his views and with more lies with no fact check but not showing Clinton’s people in a equal level. It was a big misjudgment and sadly not surprising. The media crowd following Trump was after not substance but rather wanted a piece of a celebrity and TV eyeballs of a person who just moments ago said more lies and displayed much ignorance of the basic facts of our global world and its many challenges.
Yes, there could have been a more detailed and deep set of questions and answers from both Trump and Clinton, but the difference between her and Trump was as they say “legion.” That Trump was out of his depth, which was clear to all, including many Republicans in their reactions and the fact that after the debate many traditional Republican newspapers endorsed Clinton rather than Trump.
We have focused in this post below on some specific areas dealing with national security and foreign affairs with candidate quotes and commentary.
DEFEAT OF ISIS:
Clinton- ” I have put forth a plan to defeat ISIS. It does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere. But we also have to intensify our air strikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim of being a Caliphate.” … ” But it’s like his plan to defeat ISIS. He says it’s a secret plan, but the only secret is that he has no plan.”
Trump – “But they wouldn’t have even been formed if they left some troops behind, like 10,000 or maybe something more than that. And then you wouldn’t have had them. Or, as I’ve been saying for a long time, and I think you’ll agree, because I said it to you once, had we taken the oil — and we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form either, because the oil was their primary source of income. And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil — a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.” .. ” But I will tell you that Hillary will tell you to go to her website and read all about how to defeat ISIS, which she could have defeated by never having it, you know, get going in the first place. Right now, it’s getting tougher and tougher to defeat them, because they’re in more and more places, more and more states, more and more nations.”
Commentary: Trump repeats some of his past scripted statements but no plan. Clinton does talk about use of “air strikes” and other support which is largely the Obama administration’s consensus of what they can do to defeat ISIS without putting more on the ground combat forces which would only put them in deadly danger in areas and landscape we know little about and where our strategy seems to be garnering gradual results.
ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS (AND A BIT ON OUR ALLIES AND GLOBAL WARMING):
Clinton- ” … of what we heard Donald say has been about nuclear weapons. He has said repeatedly that he didn’t care if other nations got nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia. It has been the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, to do everything we could to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He even said, well, you know, if there were nuclear war in East Asia, well, you know, that’s fine… And, in fact, his cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number-one threat we face in the world. And it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned.”
Trump- ” The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons, not global warming, like you think and your — your president thinks. Nuclear is the single greatest threat. Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune.” … ” But Russia has been expanding their — they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. We are not — we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike. And [Iran is] going to end up getting nuclear. I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day. Believe me, he’s not a happy camper.”
COMMENTARY: It is clear that an unbalanced and “cavalier” man should not have the nuclear codes and cause the destruction of the globe’s civilizations. The question of a nuclear first strike, an issue I have been following for decades, is one of great importance and sensitivity, none of which is shown by Trump. At the moment our policy, supported by the military, is to leave open the first use issue, but our policy must be not to do so in any conflict case that is likely short of immediate certain knowledge of nuclear weapons being used against us.
Clinton – “But increasingly, we are seeing cyber attacks coming from states, organs of states. The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really… tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee…And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private-sector information or our public-sector information.”
Trump – ” As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?… So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. …. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”
COMMENTARY: Although both candidates agree on the growing danger posed by cyberwarfare, neither side presented any tangible policy suggestions to address the challenge. Clinton used the question to cite the DNC cyber attack and once again Trump took the bait to shield any hint of Russian involvement, despite US intelligence sources stating with certainty that the attack came from Russia. It’s surprising that Trump didn’t use the topic of cyberwarfare to take more potshots on Clinton’s email scandal, but that could be credited to the Republican candidate’s lack of preparation and at this point in the debate he was on full tilt.
ON NATO AND OUR ALLIES:
Trump – ” Number one, the 28 countries of NATO, many of them aren’t paying their fair share. And, number two, I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because… they do not focus on terror. And about four months ago, I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that NATO is opening up a major terror division. And I think that’s great…. And that was — believe me — I’m sure I’m not going to get credit for it — but that was largely because of what I was saying and my criticism of NATO.”
Clinton- ” You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.”
Clinton – ” Well, let me — let me start by saying, words matter. Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.”
Trump – ” And it’s a big problem. And as far as Japan is concerned, I want to help all of our allies, but we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policemen of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world…”
COMMENTARY: One of the most divisive and harmful statements Trump has made was his questioning our NATO alliance, especially when it is under threat from Russia on many fronts and our Europe allies need encouragement rather than blind and short-sighted nasty criticism. Putin must be delighted and Trump seems even to encourage Russian aggression. A dangerous mix. The same must be said of our other allies especially in Asia given what was not debated, the threat of North Korea and how to deal with it diplomatically.
Trump – ” But you look at the Middle East, you started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going… One of the great giveaways of all time, of all time, including $400 million in cash. Nobody’s ever seen that before. That turned out to be wrong. It was actually $1.7 billion in cash, obviously, I guess for the hostages. It certainly looks that way… The deal with Iran will lead to nuclear problems. All they have to do is sit back 10 years, and they don’t have to do much.”
Clinton- ” With respect to Iran, when I became secretary of state, Iran was weeks away from having enough nuclear material to form a bomb. They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle under the Bush administration. They had built covert facilities. They had stocked them with centrifuges that were whirling away. And we did drive them to the negotiating table. And my successor, John Kerry, and President Obama got a deal that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot. That’s diplomacy. And we had sanctioned them. I voted for every sanction against Iran when I was in the Senate, but it wasn’t enough. The other day, I saw Donald saying that there were some Iranian sailors on a ship in the waters off of Iran, and they were taunting American sailors who were on a nearby ship. He said, you know, if they taunted our sailors, I’d blow them out of the water and start another war. That’s not good judgment. And Donald never tells you what he would do. Would he have started a war? Would he have bombed Iran? If he’s going to criticize a deal that has been very successful in giving us access to Iranian facilities that we never had before, then he should tell us what his alternative would be. “
COMMENTARY: One can’t go beyond Clinton’s critique of the consequences of Trump’s approach to Iran. Except that it underplayed Trump’s true dangers to our national security interests and how to deal with major crisis situations.
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By: Harry C. Blaney III
Via the New York Times
The debate over Immigration policy is in reality but a subset of larger issues of what America should be at home and its role in the larger world. It is defining what our country should be in the future and how the world should be shaped to create a safer, more secure, and fairer globe for all humanity.
This subject is not new either for this country nor on a global scale. In reality it goes back to early man and the search for a better life. Having recently visited Britain and the European continent, the problem of migration also has become a major social and political issue. It has, as here in America, begotten the rise of far right, bigoted politics, and neo-Nazi parties that undermine democracy and the social fabric. This trend has become a threat to the unity, sense of common burden, and value sharing throughout most of Europe.
But here in America the immigration topic has also threatened the same values, and in this case the very purpose of the American experiment of a fair, democratic, and open and welcoming society. Many Americans have forgotten our own origins and the struggles of our ancestors to find a better life and build a vibrant and inclusive community. No one today perhaps except for our native population, did not immigrate here, often under conditions of risk and privation.
Today we have as a society witnessed in the form of Donald Trump, the presidential candidate of a major political party and on the cusp of being the leader of the free world. A man with a finger on the atomic button, the antithetical of American ideals and values in his many statements about immigrants, Mexicans, both native born and new to America, as well as African-Americans, the handicapped. and woman of all sorts, who demonstrates the kind of prejudice and racism which has already greatly weakened our nation at home and abroad. He is feared by our friends and welcomed with glee by our adversaries.
All of this has been reinforced by the farce of his visit to Mexico to see its president and in his abhorrent speech in Phoenix on what he would do to our undocumented immigrants. I will not outline here the draconian actions that he has advocated that call in essence to deport some 10 million immigrants and deprive them of any kind of humane treatment or decency. (These can be found in our 2016 Campaign quotes under the “Immigration” section, with the complete speech transcript on our document page).
Here we need to see the deeper implications of these actions and the reverberations of them for our nation and for our stability. And yes they impact not least global security.
These Trump actions and policies already have threatened a globe that acts with humanity and protects our most vulnerable migrating and refugee families. While we are often focusing on our own internal American challenges, such brutal actions proposed by Trump, has much broader implications. We should highlight and better understand the need to add another and often lost dimension in our debates of what his policies might engender around the world and how it would impact on our own values and security.
The first impact would be to alienate us from our vital friend on our Southern border and to do the same to many Latin American citizens from other countries fleeing mortal dangers. It would also encourage similar polices by others, all illegal under existing refugee treaties. This brute behavior by other nations applies especially to our European allies and friends who are facing the coming to power of neo-Nazi and far right parties who are using this issue to create far different harsh societies that we have not seen since Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union. American influence is not just because of our military might, but it is largely due to respect of our democratic institutions, our value for the rule of law, and for our firm adherence to our treaty obligations. All of these are threatened by Trumps statements already and even more should he gain power.
The image of an America led by bigots and those that advocate torture and racism is one of the greatest risks we face in a still dangerous world in which respect, and wide acceptance by others of our impartial desire for a more peaceful and just world remains our greatest strength. Other nations depend on our promises contained in our alliances and collaborations, and are our strongest hand in a world of too much conflict and distrust. We lose that and everyone is imperiled.
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By Blaze Joel, National Security Intern
On July 1, David Brooks wrote of a “Coming Political Realignment” that had been exacerbated by Donald Trump. Brooks argued that Trump is shattering the usual party demarcator in America – a small government versus a big government – and replacing it with a “right-left populist coalition” that battles against a centrist coalition over the issue of an open or closed government. Trump’s “only hope is to cast his opponents as the right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture, and global intervention. He would stand as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture, and an America First foreign policy.” Trump has exemplified this new American populism, tacking hard to the right on issues like immigration while moving left of Hillary Clinton on free trade.
In a previous post, we posed the question of how both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can be called populists when they seemingly represent completely divergent ends of the ideological spectrum (despite striking a similar tone on trade). This post will seek to answer: Why 2016? What is it about this year that has allowed the messages of populists, but especially of Donald Trump, to resonate with the American people? We will analyze a number of issues in this post, from the direction of the country to jobs, the economy, and trade to immigration, terrorism, and “law and order,” providing data and its historical context.
Direction of the Country and Institutional Faith
As noted in our last post, most Americans are not satisfied with the direction of our nation, despite Obama’s over-50 percent approval ratings. In fact, the number of Americans satisfied with the way things are going dropped from 29 percent in June to just 17 percent in July. But, as also noted in our previous post, this dissatisfaction is nothing new. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight revealed that 52 percent of Trump supporters (as opposed to 14 percent of anti-Trump Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats) are “very” angry about the way things are going in the country today.
Coupled with this anger at the direction of the nation is a mistrust of “elite” institutions such as the government, banks, media, and big business. Among the three branches of government, the Presidency and the Supreme Court share the highest approval ratings, as 36 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in each. However, 23 percent of Americans surveyed this June have “very little” or no confidence in the Supreme Court (a 10 point rise since 2003) and 36 percent have “very little” or no confidence in the Presidency (one of the lowest numbers since 2008). Furthermore, the 36 percent confidence in the Presidency is lower than after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (55 percent) and after the UN discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2005 (44 percent). The “very little” result has more than doubled since June of 2003.
Congress is the most maligned branch of government, as 55 percent of Americans have “very little” or no confidence in the institution as compared to just nine percent that have a “great deal” or “quite a lot.” This is quite a precipitous drop-off, as 30 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of faith in the Legislative Branch as recently as 2004 and 45 percent of Americans had “some” confidence in it as recently as 2009. As is often humorously pointed out, Americans favor Darth Vader, Jar-Jar Binks, root canals, cockroaches, and used car salesmen to Congress. The reasons for the rampant disapproval of Congress are many – partisan gridlock, seemingly pointless politicking, gerrymandering, and constant fundraising and campaigning. Perhaps the most glaring reasons are its relative inactivity in recent years, culminating in the 113th Congress from 2013-2014 that passed just 72 bills, and the prevalence of governing from crisis-to-crisis and kicking the can down the road. These attitudes have facilitated the rise of candidates who want to “shake-up” or metaphorically “burn down” the system in order to try to fix it.
Partisanship and a Divided America
The increased partisanship doesn’t just reside in Congress. The American public is becoming more divided as well. This expanding rift became evident in 2005, when the average Republican began to drift further to the ideological right while the Democrats stayed put. Beginning in 2012, both parties started migrating further toward their respective poles. Pew research from this spring found that 49 percent of all Republicans (62 percent of highly-engaged Republicans) and 55 percent of Democrats (70 percent of highly-engaged Democrats) were “afraid” of the opposing party. Similarly, 52 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party as “closed-minded.” A whopping 70 percent of Democrats have the same view of the GOP. Around a third of both parties also consider the other to be “unintelligent,” while over 40 percent of both parties think the other is “dishonest.” Today, 91 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably (58 percent would classify their views as “very unfavorable”) while 86 (and 55, respectively) percent of Democrats hold the same view of the Republican Party. Moreover, a majority of Americans in both political parties say that the main reason they support their respective party because the other option’s policies are “bad for the country,” rather than out of a belief in their own party’s positions.
The campaign season in 2016 has been marked by intense protests, animosity towards a number of candidates, and outright violence at political rallies. Part of this is attributable to the flaws and mistrust in the political system noted above, but part is also a result of an increasingly divided American public. If the other side is a fundamental threat to America, then how and why should we even work with them? This atmosphere is ripe for people who want to exacerbate partisan divides and paint the nation as in need of fixing.
Jobs, The Economy, and Trade
Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville told the President in 1992 that he should focus on “the economy, stupid.” Since then, that cliché has become an instrumental part of American politics and a major predictive factor for elections. The United States (and global) economy has been rebounding since the “Great Recession” of 2008-2010. The unemployment rate is back under five percent and 25 of the last 27 quarters have witnessed an increased GDP (though it is lower than hoped and the recovery is slow). Wage growth has stagnated (as it has since the 1970s), but it is doing better when pegged against inflation. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Americans feel the economy is “rigged” according to a recent poll.
Why is this the case? Inequality is on the rise – the top 1 percent of Americans owned 36 percent of the wealth in 2013 – and the middle class is shrinking due to a number of interrelated factors. On the campaign trail, Trump and Sanders have both pointed extensively to free trade deals like NAFTA, which they argue have cost America millions of manufacturing jobs, thus fulfilling Ross Perot’s famous statement from 1992 that the trade deal would create “a giant sucking sound going South.” This year, according to a Brookings/PRRI poll, 52 percent of Americans think free trade agreements are “mostly harmful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.” Among Trump supporters, the number jumps to 60 percent.
Is free trade (specifically NAFTA) that bad? The results on the trade deal nearly 23 years after its enactment are mixed. There are approximately 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs in America today than there were when NAFTA was signed in 1994. The Economic Policy Institute calculated that more than 500,000 of these losses were due to the trade agreement. However, overall U.S. employment is up 22 percent since 1994. Not all of these lost jobs have gone to NAFTA nations – EPI data shows that approximately 3.2 million jobs (over 75 percent of which were in manufacturing) have been lost due to outsourcing to China since 2001. Additionally, this shift away from manufacturing has been present – though more pronounced recently – since the 1960s. Improvements in technology, the U.S. regulation system, and corporate outsourcing to cheaper labor markets have also all played a role in the loss of “blue collar” jobs over the last 20 years. While the effects of free trade are mixed, there is no doubting that certain locations and segments of the U.S. have been disproportionately benefitted by recent economic trends. The transition to an economy primarily based on services has benefitted those with more education and those who live in urban or suburban areas – the opposite profile of the “average” Trump supporter. NBC News found that Trump won over 75 percent of counties in which there was a low white labor participation rate or a strong decrease in average annual pay.
Immigration, Terrorism, and “Law and Order”
The final plank in Trump’s populist appeal is his promise to keep Americans safe and “restore law and order.” Other than his proposed wall along the Mexican-American border, a “Muslim” immigration ban, and utilizing waterboarding in interrogations, Trump has been nebulous about the specific policies he will enact to do so. Regardless, this rhetoric has found a home in an America where more people now are at least somewhat worried that they or their family will be a victim of terrorism. Sixty-five percent of Trump supporters share this belief. Over 40 percent of independents surveyed by Brookings and PRRI support barring Syrian refugees from the United States, building a border wall, and banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are 66 percent, 64 percent, and 64 percent, respectively. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters support the actions against Syrian refugees and foreign-born Muslims, while over 80 percent of Trump supporters want to build the wall.
Despite Trump’s claims that illegal immigration is rampant, Pew found that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has stabilized in recent years at approximately 11.3 million – down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Over 40 percent of Trump supporters believe that undocumented immigrants should be “identified and deported” – 12 percent more than the average Republican and 30 percent more than the average Democrat. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters believe that immigration needs to decrease in America, according to FiveThirtyEight. Anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats both polled in the 20s.
In the wake of the Paris attacks last November, Pew released data that showed that more Americans disapprove of the government’s job handling terror for the first time since 9/11. More Americans also view Islam as more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Among Republicans, 68 percent hold this belief. Additionally, 49 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of self-identified “conservative Republicans” believe that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny in federal efforts to prevent terrorism, compared to just 32 percent of all Americans.
That same Pew poll found that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that defense/national security, immigration, terrorism, and ISIS/War in Iraq and Syria are the most important issue facing our nation today. In fact, 42 percent of Republicans surveyed (as opposed to just 24 percent of Democrats) viewed these issues as most important. ISIS polls as the biggest threat to America for both Republicans and Democrats – appearing on 93 percent of Republican responses and 79 percent of Democratic responses. However, Democrats rank climate change as the second biggest threat (73 percent) while Republicans vote for Iran’s nuclear program (79 percent).
“Populist” politics have been a fixture in America since its founding, but seem to have reached a fever pitch in 2016 due to a range of factors – including the economy, seeming global chaos, and disaffection with the nation’s political and financial elites. Donald Trump has exacerbated these tensions with his unique brand of populism that finds a home in places with more “distressful white experiences,” as NBC News characterizes it. Almost 70 percent of Trump supporters and Republicans believe that the “American way of life has gotten worse since 1950,” as opposed to the nearly 70 percent of Democrats who say that it has improved. In an increasingly divided America that at times seems at odds with itself and whose government often seems to fail when called upon to enact change, Americans are looking for someone who will advocate for them this election – the perfect environment for a populist who claims he will come in and “fix the system” that some feel has let them down.