Bring Congress Back 11/15/17

Stop the Wars: Congress vs. the President – by Mel Gurtov

Who Makes War?

Mel Gurtov

As Donald Trump maintains a high-velocity assault on North Korea’s leader, its political system, and its weapons tests, members of Congress are reportedly getting increasingly agitated about his possibly authorizing a preemptive attack. As well they should; Trump is notorious for his bellicose rhetoric, fondness for flashing military power, and lack of interest in diplomacy. The unfortunate reality is that Trump has a long history of unrestrained presidential power in war making behind him.

Going to war is one of the most misunderstood constitutional issues. The constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war. But for over a century, presidents have assumed the power as commander in chief to make and conduct war —to declare a national security threat, deploy forces, and use them without reference to Congress. To be sure, Congress finally responded to presidential abuse of war powers in Southeast Asia by passing the War Powers Resolution (WPR) in 1973. The resolution imposes a 60-day deadline for a presidential action abroad to obtain Congress’s approval; otherwise, the action must stop and any US forces must be withdrawn. But that law has never been invoked to start the 60-day clock. The WPR has neither prevented a president’s use of force abroad nor forced withdrawal of forces once committed.

Presidents of both parties have not hesitated to use their war making power, deploying the military and other agents of intervention on a scale no other country can begin to match. Consider the array of US firepower at sea today in the Korean peninsula area—no less than three aircraft carrier strike groups operating together for the first time, and without a word from Congress. On the ground, the emphasis is on “advise and assist” missions, just as in Vietnam once upon a time. But what almost inevitably follows is combat. Since 9/11 presidents have authorized ground and air missions throughout the Middle East—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan—as well as in numerous African countries such as Niger and Mali. In all, according to The New York Times, Washington has deployed about “240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” as well as over 37,000 to unnamed other locations.

Restraining Presidential Power in the Middle East

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has been leading an effort to bring Congress back into the war making act. A few years ago he introduced legislation to revisit the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Islamic State militants, a step he believed would force debate on what an authorization for war should actually entail. “There is no doubt that our current offensive [in the Middle East] amounts to war,” said Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “Congress should take action both to authorize its prosecution and to set limits on that authorization so it may not be used by any future administration in a manner contrary to our intent.” Schiff’s proposed AUMF would have limited military action against ISIS to three years and prohibited the use of US ground troops. It also would have ended, in three years, the 2001 AUMF that President Barack Obama said already gave him the authority to go after ISIS without new war authorization.

While these limitations seem appropriate at first glance, it is all too easy to imagine ways around them. Limitations are not bans, such as the Boland Amendment imposed to stop US aid to the Nicaraguan contras in the Reagan era. (Even that step didn’t stop Reagan.) Congress could override the three-year limit under Schiff’s AUMF if a new administration were to appeal on national security grounds that ISIS must be stopped. Prohibiting the use of US ground troops may not prevent a president from using other forces, such as “advisers,” CIA operatives, and special forces, as happened in Vietnam and other conflicts. Nor would a new AUMF prevent arms transfers to friendly forces, drone strikes, direction of air strikes by non-US air forces, military training, and support in various forms of third countries whose armies would accomplish what Congress prohibits.

Consequently, more recent efforts in Congress to constrain President Trump, mainly by Schiff and other Democrats, are very unlikely to succeed either. For one thing, Trump, like Obama, can hide behind the original post-9/11 AUMF. That authorization amounts to a blank check similar to the Southeast Asia resolution that President Johnson frequently cited to maintain and escalate US involvement in Vietnam. Rarely can Congress take back what it gave away, and this administration is not in a giving mood. (A new AUMF “is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 31.) A revised AUMF, moreover, might actually expand the administration’s war making by authorizing US military action against a wide assortment of “terrorist” organizations.

The most likely outcome is either no change in the AUMF or a new AUMF that reaffirms presidential power. Either one is a recipe for endless war. The reason is simple: Trump can surely count for support on the great majority of Republicans, and probably some Democrats, all of whom (as in past Congresses) hesitate to question presidential prerogatives in national security.

Preventing the Next War: North Korea

The overriding obstacle for Congress is that the Trump administration, like its predecessors, holds all the cards when it comes to defining and acting on national security grounds. North Korea is the principal concern here. Trump and his top advisers have consistently painted North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as imminent threats to the US and its allies. The administration has deployed undefined “strategic assets” to the Korean peninsula area. US first-use of nuclear weapons to completely destroy North Korea cannot be excluded. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the same October 31 hearing, “The fact is that no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever forsworn the first strike capability. That has served us for 70 years.” We can only presume he was referring only to the contingency of an imminent or actual North Korean attack on US territory. But can we be sure?

We have no way of knowing what is in President Trump’s mind when it comes to the use of nuclear or any other category of weapons. Most analysts, and Trump’s own national security team, believe war with North Korea would result in enormous loss of life on and beyond the Korean peninsula. Does Trump believe that? Does he care? (Don’t judge from his script while addressing the South Korean national assembly.) Democrats aren’t waiting to find out; they have drafted legislation that would prevent Trump from unilaterally using a nuclear weapon or initiating war with North Korea. But though they claim some degree of Republican support, they know full well that Republicans are no more going to vote in favor of these initiatives than they would vote in favor of a restrictive AUMF. They, and we, are literally stuck with having to hope Trump will heed the cautionary words of the professional military, such as in the recent Pentagon report to Congress that concludes that finding and destroying the DPRK’s nuclear-weapons inventory would require a US ground invasion.

No Questions Allowed

In short, war with North Korea seems beyond the capacity, much less the willingness, of Congress to prevent. The secretaries of state and defense and the national security special assistant say the US seeks a diplomatic solution, but their words are unpersuasive. More credible—and deplorable—is presidential adviser Stephen Miller, who famously said on national television on February 12 that “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“Very substantial,” yes, but “not questioned”? Such an authoritarian view compels those of us who seek ways to prevent this administration from exercising its presumptive war powers need to look for support beyond Washington—to an aroused public and media, to US allies and friends in Asia, to Europe, and even to China.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an Asia expert and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Consistent Collaboration 11/8/17

Are We in a “Post-American Era”?  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

As Donald Trump makes his way to Beijing, we need to know that he will be dealing with a Chinese leadership that is much more self-assured about its international status than it was in Obama’s time.

The theme of the September 2017 issue of China-US Focus Digest, a publication of the China-US Exchange Foundation based in Hong Kong and the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, is “‘Post-American Era’ Arrives.” Various Chinese writers, all part of the foreign policy establishment, argue that although the US is and will remain for some time the world’s most powerful country, China’s time has come. “G-2” is a common shorthand for this new era: the US and China, whether collaborating or competing, are now co-movers of the world. The late Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, may have been the first to use the phrase years ago, and now many Chinese seem to have bought into it. I’d say, however, that such an assessment is premature, and not necessarily welcome.

Chinese analysts often prefer to categorize international events in terms of eras. The era just passed is one of American exceptionalism and the American Century, and in their view we are now in the post-American era characterized by Trump’s America First and China’s emergence as a great power. China, the analysts say, is a leader on behalf of sovereign equality, use of nonmilitary power, model of economic development, and promoter of international cooperation. They point to China’s advances in energy conservation technology and support of the Paris accord, economic achievements under globalization, and numerous strategic partnerships as evidence of its international coming of age at a time when the Trump administration has turned its back on global compacts and environmental protection.

Clearly, a good part of the motivation behind these claims is Beijing’s upset over US trumpeting (you’ll excuse the expression) of America First and periodic talk of trying to leverage Chinese policy on North Korea using trade retaliation and arms sales to Taiwan.

But surely another part, perfectly understandable, is a pervasive Chinese sense that the American experiment is failing while China’s is succeeding. While China’s leadership has kept social problems from exploding and avoided serious reforms of the one-party state, Trump’s America is deeply divided and becoming more so by the month. Legislative dysfunction, racial tensions, official corruption, assaults on media, violence, an opioid crisis, governing by tweets—you name it, we’ve got it. The Trump administration has in fact become a laughingstock of governments nearly everywhere.

But the pervasiveness of America’s ills doesn’t necessarily translate into a world looking to China for new leadership. I and several other China watchers have written many times about its serious internal problems. Some authoritarian governments may overlook them as they eagerly accept Chinese aid and investments.

But the breadth and depth of China’s economic, social, and political weaknesses cannot be masked by rhetoric—and in fact, the best Chinese analysts acknowledge them. It’s not enough to quote Xi Jinping’s latest homily on the Chinese dream or assert that China upholds democracy and the rule of law—not when Xi’s “thought” is being enshrined, like Mao’s and Deng’s, in China’s party constitution and lawyers, academicians, and human-rights advocates are under constant pressure to conform, or be jailed.

On the international stage, moreover, claims of Chinese leadership are not convincing. Yes, Xi has embraced globalization, climate change, and all manner of regional trade arrangements while Trump has scoffed at the first, denied the second (a “Chinese hoax,” let’s recall), and withdrawn from the third (the Trans-Pacific Partnership). But on many other fronts, where is China’s leadership? Has China effectively come to grips with deforestation, desertification, water conservation, and air pollution? Does it set a positive example on internal migration, immigration, human rights (for women, ethnic minorities, religious freedom, and civil liberties), or respect for international law (in the South China Sea, for instance)? Will China’s much-touted “One Belt, One Road” Eurasia development project actually benefit people rather than economies? Has China contributed anything to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, from Yemen to Syria? Even on North Korea, Chinese criticisms of Kim Jong-un’s military buildup have not extended to a serious diplomatic campaign to reduce tensions between North Korea and the US even though China’s security is very much at risk.

So call the current era G-2 if you wish. But an objective view would be that China’s rise does not yet put it aside the United States. (As Jia Qingguo, a well-known Chinese analyst, writes, “As China has two sets of national interests on many issues, it finds it impossible to pursue a coherent foreign policy.”) Perhaps more importantly, neither country deserves consideration as an international leader. China has all too infrequently avoided taking the lead on major international issues outside East Asia. Even there, China’s muscular behavior is regarded with fear as much as awe. In short, few governments around the world look to China to provide leadership.

The US position is complicated by an administration that simply doesn’t seem to care what the world, including allies, thinks of its behavior. Europeans have apparently reached the conclusion that they are on their own when it comes to environmental, commercial, and political challenges. Canada and Mexico are likely to turn to Pacific trading partners should Trump pull the US out of NAFTA. South Koreans worry about an unpredictable US president whose “fire and fury” rhetoric might lead to war with Pyongyang, while Japanese worry about US reliability in a showdown with North Korea. In both those countries, talk of having their own nuclear weapons is heard more frequently.

Other than in Tokyo and Tel Aviv, Washington’s preference for military over diplomatic approaches to problems (North Korea and Iran being the best examples) has few supporters. The US continues to be militarily overstretched, involved in numerous wars large and small at extraordinary cost to itself and to innocent civilians. America First is supposed to mean that the US will no longer play the role of maintaining world order, but in fact it continues to be global policeman—deploying “240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories,” as well as some 37,000 on secret missions, according to the New York Times.

Neither the United States nor China has shown interest in common security principles or practices, which would require consistent collaboration on the most urgent global problems: nuclear weapons, climate change, and poverty. Rather than focus on “the era,” these two great powers might better consider two fundamental issues: how to manage their differences so as to avoid confrontations, and how to cooperate in ways that truly benefit human security.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

He Didn’t Know 11/1/17

Trump’s Benghazi  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he didn’t know. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and minority leader Chuck Schumer say they didn’t know either. Nor did several other US senators say they knew that the US has nearly 1,000 troops stationed in Niger, where four Green Berets were recently killed while on a counterterrorism mission. Other US congress members said they did know, but so what? None apparently raised an eyebrow at the growing US military presence in Africa—a presence that includes combat and has not been authorized, much less debated, by congress.

Actually, all congress members should have known, not necessarily because the Pentagon says it informed everyone, which may or may not be the truth, but because news of the widespread US military deployment in Africa has been around for some time. I wrote about it in June, relying on the reporting of others on the US “arm and assist” program that finds US soldiers based in 24 African countries and perhaps double that number of “outposts” and other facilities. Niger is just one place—Somalia, Cameroon, and Mali are others—where US forces are arming, training, and accompanying local soldiers on dangerous missions.

The US military has not, of course, publicized these missions, knowing full well that they would get unwanted attention. But they are there, and the US Africa Command has become a crucial component of the “war on terror.” As Nick Tulse wrote last April, the US now operates “a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.” I suspect that many members of congress chose not to take note of these operations for political reasons: to avoid being seen as questioning the pursuit of terrorists everywhere, regardless of cost.

Permit me to quote from the conclusion of my June 2017 commentary, which is suddenly quite germane to the dispute between the wife of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four US soldiers killed, and President Trump:

If I were the parent of a service man or woman, I would be enraged that my son or daughter is being sent into missions impossible led, on paper only, by a commander-in-chief who is in fact AWOL. And if I were a citizen of Africa or the Middle East, I would be appalled by the Americans’, and their governments’, preference for guns over humanitarian assistance. Imagine what $24 billion in arms sales [to Middle East and African countries] since 2010 could have bought in public health and educational training, small business support, environmental protection, and other elements of human security.

Congress should get its act together and challenge not only the Niger mission but the legality and strategy of the many other missions in and beyond Africa that put young lives at stake. Let Republicans like Graham in particular investigate the Africa missions with the same zeal they displayed over Benghazi. What The New York Times calls “America’s Forever Wars” must end.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Everything We Thought 11/1/17

APB: What We Get Wrong About Donald Trump  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

The election of Donald Trump was a severe blow to rational thinking. We—and I include many traditional conservatives as well as liberals of all stripes—were so certain that the American people would not possibly elect so undignified, ill-informed, and prejudiced a person. When they did, we assumed Trump would be moderated, constrained, even reassembled by some of the same factors that affected previous strong-willed presidents: the professional bureaucracy, a politically attuned White House staff, pressures from Congress, the traditions of the office, the aspiration for reelection, the demands of the job. None of that has happened.

So now, in the roughly one year since Trump’s election, we wrongly persist in our optimism that any or all of the following developments signal the end of this nightmare:

· The polls, which consistently show Trump below 40 percent in popularity and below 50 percent in approval ratings.

· Trump’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior” (Jeff Flake), which will lead to widespread defections from the Republican Party.

· Trump’s failure to deliver on his legislative agenda.

· The ongoing investigations of Trump and the Russians. (Yes, Paul Manafort and two others have been indicted, but Trump’s collusion and obstruction are a long way from being proven.)

· The rift within the Republican Party between the Bannon-led alt right and the traditional conservatives.

· Trump’s tweets maligning everyone from Gold Star parents to Republican leaders.

· Trump’s daily lies.

· Appointments to cabinet and agency positions of people who are not only incompetent and unqualified, but also determined to sabotage their mission.

· The blatant corruption of the Trump family, which reaps enormous financial benefits from his presidency and sneers at accusations of conflict of interest.

· The barrage of criticism from the mainstream media.

· Trump’s threatening language when dealing with sensitive overseas situations such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

· Local elections whose results might indicate an anti-Trump trend.

· The undemonstrated “moderating” influence on Trump of White House staff, starting with John Kelly, his chief of staff.

· The departure from the administration of high-profile personnel, starting with Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.

· Trump’s failure to “drain the swamp” and instead to populate it.

· Trump’s failure to deliver on top campaign priorities such as repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the Mexico wall, and restricting immigration.

· The low esteem in which Trump is held by many foreign leaders, and his evident contempt for diplomacy.

To state the obvious, none of these weaknesses and defeats, which might ordinarily be disastrous for a president, has undermined Trump or diminished his support base. No matter what Trump says or does, or fails to do, his core supporters stay with him and his party’s representatives hold their noses while trying to save his legislative agenda. Criticism, no matter the source, only seems to embolden Trump to be Trump and feed the admiration of his supporters.

What experience should teach us is that everything we thought we knew about US politics has been consistently wrong in addressing the Trump phenomenon. He doesn’t fit the mold. We have no idea how to overcome him, no consensus on who might effectively challenge him in 2020. We rant and rave, and trust in “the process,” while Trump tweets on. We had better come up with some answers—not just more critiques but on-the-ground action, such as making sure people hurt by Trumpism vote and supporting progressive candidates at every level of government. Otherwise, rest assured Trumpism will become the new order of politics and society, and our democracy will become a thing of the past.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

Shared Negatives 9/27/17

Trump and Kim, A Dangerous Pairing – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

“We’re dealing with somebody that we’ll figure out. He may be smart, he may be strategic—and he may be totally crazy.” That was President Trump speaking of Kim Jong-un at his political rally in Alabama last week. But it could easily have been Kim speaking of Trump—and for all we know, Kim has said something like that in meetings with his top advisers. From the standpoint of US-North Korea relations, words like those, far from being analytical, reflect the kind of off-the-cuff remarks that can lead to trouble.

At first glance it may seem silly to compare Trump and Kim. But increasingly, it looks like these two leaders share negative behaviors of the sort that are more conducive to war than to peace. First and foremost, they may be smart and strategic, but there’s a good chance they’re also both “crazy,” in the nonclinical sense that both are given to bravado and threats when calmness and self-control are most needed. Neither seems capable of restraint; they’re both trying to win a pissing match. These two are more like street fighters than national leaders with a sense of responsibility toward their populations and the world.

Second, and most troubling of all, Kim and Trump have let the war of words become personal. We all know how much more dangerous an argument becomes when the disputants abandon the issues in favor of personal attacks and taunting. Kim and Trump are equally adept at disparaging one another, never backing down or apologizing, and always taking everything personally. Name calling at the international level never works, yet these two seem oblivious to that. Like children, they prefer escalating hurtful words to working things out.

A third similarity is that this pissing match is taking place without any kind of intervention. Kim is, of course, a dictator, surrounded—so far as we know—by military yes-men who don’t dare challenge him. Trump may head a democratic system, but within the White House there’s no democracy. Like Kim, he’s surrounded by military men who seem helpless to shut him up even though they know full well what use of force on the Korean peninsula will mean. From all reports, the military and other advisers roll their eyes at Trump’s language but dare not criticize him or take away his smart phone.

As other analysts have noted, the danger is that these exchanges of personal attacks and threats greatly limit options for a pause, let alone for diplomacy. Instead, they box leaders in, making them feel compelled not just to out-threaten the other side, but finally to back up their tough words with action. The latest US step, for instance—sending advanced fighter-bombers over international waters but within sight of North Korea—could lead to a firefight with North Korean jets. Likewise, the DPRK’s foreign minister has said that Trump’s harsh rhetoric amounts to a “declaration of war.”

Provocative words and actions risk a disastrous miscalculation. There is nothing strategic or rational about them, and we—Americans, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese—are all the likely victims. We wait in vain for influential voices that will push for negotiations and a reduction of tensions.

—————————-end—————————-

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

About U.S. Reliability 9/20/17

Dealing with North Korean Missiles  –  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Small powers often have leverage well above their size and capabilities. North Korea is the example par excellence today: It has a primitive economy by all the usual standards, no reliable trade or security partners, and depends on the outside world for essentials such as fuel and food. Yet by virtue of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, Pyongyang has the ability to cause consternation among the great powers.

That needn’t be the case. Sure, six nuclear weapon tests and frequent tests of intermediate- and intercontinental-range missiles, along with threats to incinerate all enemies, can be jarring. But no one knows better than the North Korean military what use of those weapons would mean for their country: annihilation. They have been living with far more powerful US and allied forces ringing their country for more than half a century. Self- and national preservation are foremost among the aims of North Korean leaders. Thus, they frequently bluster and issue messages of doom, and occasionally attack specific South Korean targets. But they are not so suicidal as to use weapons of mass destruction or fire a missile that would hit US or allied territory.

The real purpose of North Korea’s two recent missile tests over Japan is to cause a rupture in relations among the US, China, Japan, and South Korea. Rather than attack Japan, which would galvanize the US-Japan security treaty, these missiles provoke debate in Japan—about US reliability, Japan’s constitutional limitations on taking defensive or offensive action against a threat, and choices of weapons systems (including everything from missile defense to nuclear weapons). All these issues have implications for Japan’s relations with South Korea and China, both of which would strongly protest a major military buildup by Japan and undermine trilateral cooperation in dealing with North Korea.

What is particularly interesting from a human-interest point of view about the ongoing debate on how to deal with North Korea’s missiles is that only one of the major players—namely, China—has focused on a diplomatic resolution. All the others are concerned with weapons options. South Korea’s new president has made an about-face and is fully deploying the US THAAD anti-missile system, amidst talk about significantly upgrading the destructive power of its conventional bombs. Japan is apparently considering investing more in missile defense and acquiring cruise missiles. And Washington is trumpeting US weapons sales to both those countries. China, on the other hand, has proposed a “freeze-for-freeze”—North Korea’s suspension of nuclear and missile testing in return for a US-South Korea suspension of military exercises—that might jumpstart talks with North Korea.

So far, China’s proposal has found no interest in Washington. In Seoul, the government awaits a positive response from North Korea to a proposal for talks on resuming family reunions and other kinds of contact. But in Pyongyang, only Washington’s behavior counts. The North Koreans take the US seriously as a threat. Negotiating depends on “an end to the hostile policy” of the US, a position North Korea has held since Kim Jong-il’s time and has restated at least three times this summer. We have to ask why that view gets no attention from the Western media, and why US officials consistently and wrongly assert that North Korea has no interest in negotiations.

The latest UN Security Council resolution on sanctions includes a call to resume the Six Party Talks on the nuclear issue. It is long past time to craft a diplomatic initiative that is sensitive to North Korea’s security concerns and will test its interest in talking.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Conflicted Management 9/13/17

The Endangered Nuclear Deal with Iran  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said the other day that Iran had violated the spirit of the 2015 nuclear accord and that President Trump was likely not to certify Iran’s compliance with it next month. There is no legitimate reason for such a step, but if Trump—who must certify compliance every six months—takes it, he would almost certainly set in motion another nuclear crisis side by side with the one with North Korea.

Two basic facts are before us: first, that the nuclear accord is very much in the interest of all parties, the US in particular; and second, that Iran is not in violation of the agreement. Far from being “the worst deal ever negotiated”—one of those absurd Trumpian generalities—the Iran nuclear deal is a model of conflict management. While the accord doesn’t permanently denuclearize Iran, it does ensure that Iran cannot produce or test a nuclear device for at least 10 years. As a group of 29 scientists and engineers well-known for their expertise on nuclear weapons and arms control wrote in an open letter to President Obama, the agreement

limits the level of enrichment of the uranium that Iran can produce, the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile, and the number and kinds of centrifuges it can develop and operate. The agreement bans reconversion and reprocessing of reactor fuel, it requires Iran to redesign its Arak research reactor to produce far less plutonium than the original design, and specifies that spent fuel must be shipped out of the country without the plutonium being separated and before any significant quantity can be accumulated. A key result of these restrictions is that it would take Iran many months to enrich uranium for a weapon. We contrast this with the situation before the interim agreement was negotiated in Lausanne: at that time Iran had accumulated enough 20 percent enriched uranium that the required additional enrichment time for weapons use was only a few weeks.

The letter points to other innovative terms, including challenge inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, a ban on nuclear weapon research and not simply manufacture, and verification procedures that last through 2040. Thirty-six retired admirals and generals wrote in a similar vein, pointing out that the nuclear accord “is not based on trust; the deal requires verification and tough sanctions for failure to comply.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is given an exceptionally intrusive role in verifying Iran’s adherence to the agreement. It has verified adherence a number of times. Iran’s ballistic missile tests since 2015 and its support of Hezbollah have nothing to do with the nuclear accord. The administration knows full well that Iran is in compliance; Trump has twice certified to that effect. Trump’s national security team, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, supports continuation of the nuclear accord. Haley’s comment that we shouldn’t pay attention to “technicalities” is simply an attempt to evade the issue, playing to Trump’s base and perhaps pitching her personal ambition to replace Tillerson. She attended a meeting of the IAEA in late August on Iran’s compliance, and is quite familiar with the fact that IAEA inspections have turned up no violations of the accord. Nor has the US provided evidence of any Iranian military sites that should be inspected for violations.

The Trump administration is simply looking for a pretext to scrap the nuclear accord, and there may well be enough votes in the Senate to bring that about if Trump chooses to make a clean break. (He could also declare Iran’s noncompliance but continue to seek enforcement of the agreement, thus avoiding Congressional action.) In either case, Iran would be free to produce enriched uranium and heavy water for plutonium, putting it back on the road to becoming a nuclear weapon state. Once Iran stops complying, expect Israel to gear up for another attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities—this time, with full US support. Trump would then find himself facing two nuclear-weapon crises without a diplomatic strategy for preventing either one from spiraling out of control.

Rather than keep threatening and sanctioning Iran—a path already shown to be totally unproductive with North Korea—the US ought to be thinking about how to improve relations. The accord gives both countries, along with the other parties (Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany), plenty of time to find common ground and essentially make the nuclear option moot. Iran wants foreign investment, recognition of its important role in a Middle East peace process, and especially respect from the United States. Offered those things, Iran’s policies in opposition to the US in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen may be open to change. That possibility needs to be tested through engagement, which is clearly preferable to pressuring Iran in ways that ensure the ascendance of Iran’s—not to mention America’s—hawks.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

Nuclear Lobby’s Case 9/6/17

Echoes of Reagan: Another Nuclear Buildup – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Thirty years ago Americans endured an absurd expansion of the US nuclear-weapon force under President Reagan. The announced weapons modernization program was accompanied by a huge increase in the military budget, the President’s warning to the Soviet Union that he was willing to spend it into oblivion, and crazy talk from some of his advisers about the potential to fight and win a nuclear war. So here we are evidently back to the future as the Trump administration forges ahead with nuclear “modernization,” without a set strategy for the weapons but with billions of dollars to burn.

The Nuclear Lobby

Right now, the US has about 6,800 total nuclear weapons—roughly 1,400 strategic weapons deployed in ground-, air-, and sea-based missiles, and the rest stockpiled or retired. (The Russians’ arsenal is approximately the same in total.) From any rational point of view, these weapons are far more than are necessary to deter an adversary. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles alone—920 of which are fixed on 230 invulnerable submarines, each missile having destructive power equivalent to many Hiroshimas—are sufficient to destroy an entire country and bring on nuclear winter. There simply is no legitimate basis for believing that the nuclear arsenal needs to be larger, more invulnerable, or more accurate and reliable.

Yet as Americans learned long ago, for the nuclear lobby—the pro-nuclear members of Congress, the military industries that test and produce the weapons and the means of their delivery, and the various Pentagon advisory boards, laboratories, and nuclear planners—enough is never enough. These folks can always be counted on to argue that the nuclear stockpile must be periodically revitalized to ensure readiness. And all it takes is a supposed nuclear threat—today meaning North Korea—to bolster the nuclear lobby’s case for upgrading.

The arguments against further investment in nuclear weapons are just as compelling now as they were years ago. As the US invests more in them, so will the Russians and the Chinese, reviving a nuclear arms race. Continued reliance on nukes supports pro-nuclear thinking in Pakistan, India, Israel, North Korea, and elsewhere, contributing to the potential for war by accident or design. These weapons, moreover, which have no purpose other than to deter their use by others, can be inherently destabilizing—as is the case now with a new Cruise missile (price tag: $25 billion), whose accuracy and stealth raise the possibility of a disastrous miscalculation by adversaries. At the same time, such a weapon should, but won’t, eliminate the need for ground-based ICBMs. No, say the weapons proponents: the ground-air-sea nuclear triad will remain, adding billions to the military budget.

The nuclear weapons lobby is surely delighted with Trump’s decision. The lobby was downcast when it seemed that President Obama was headed toward bringing nuclear weapons numbers down to some minimum figure. But he reversed course late in his second administration and agreed to new investments in them, apparently in order to ensure Senate approval of the “New Start” agreement with Russia in 2010. Now, the weapons manufacturers that will be responsible for Trump’s program—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman—are assured of many more years of multibillion dollar activity.

Present Choices

When we think about national security in the human interest, two considerations are uppermost: the quality of life for our people and a peaceful future for the planet. As to the first, we might evaluate the cost of another nuclear-weapon modernization when matched against the urgent need to start thinking about paying for rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey. The Washington Post reports (August 28) that “Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, caused $160 billion in damage and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused around $70 billion in damage, according to inflation-adjusted figures provided by the federal government.” “Harvey” may well cost more—even more than the full cost of Trump’s nuclear modernization program, which will easily top $125 billion. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) reportedly has only $3.8 billion on hand; the rest of the rescue money must come from elsewhere in the federal budget. But, Texans and Louisianans, don’t count on Trump to divert a dime from the military to bail you out. (Come to think of it, abandoning the Mexico wall project would also be a welcome response to Houston’s calamity.)

The other consideration is global security while nuclear weapons are under the command of Donald Trump. In the May-June 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs, Philip Gordon offers three crisis scenarios—with China, Iran, and North Korea—that Trump might well mishandle and involve the US in war. Each potential crisis might lead a president known for recklessness, unpreparedness, and predilection for making threats to consider use of nuclear weapons. So the issue here is squarely about national security for us and for all.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

Cockamamie Ideas 8/23/17

Farewell, Steve Bannon  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Steve Bannon’s rise to fame and (some) power was at least as much the product of the media as of his intellect. He proffered various cockamamie ideas about the Deep State and the enemies in media, and he certainly helped shape Trump’s biases against immigrants, women, minorities, Jews, and—well, you name it. Unfortunately, Bannon’s departure is highly unlikely to alter Trump’s nastiness, his longstanding biases, or his administration’s hostility toward mainstream news, Muslims, liberals, environmentalists, educators, and everyone else who gets in its way. This wide-ranging hostility, so evident from the very outset of Trump’s campaign, is too deeply structured in the administration to suddenly disappear just because one hateful man is gone.

Yet the media cannot resist mythmaking. From the moment Bannon left, the question that keeps being asked is, Will Bannon be more or less powerful now that he’s outside the government? Bannon’s baby, Breitbart News, is treated like a giant in the news business, as though where it goes, so goes the alt-right and conservatism in general. All this is nonsense, it seems to me; Bannon is nothing more than an agitator, and agit-prop is Breitbart’s only claim to fame. Bannon and Breitbart will have all they can handle simply competing for “most outrageous” with other alt-right outlets.

Is it really necessary to buy into Bannon’s self-description as a “barbarian” or his promise to “crush the opposition”? The more attention he gets, the more empowered he becomes. Politically, the most important thing about Bannon’s removal from the scene is that, coming on the heels of so many other resignations and firings–and now Breitbart’s blistering assault on Trump’s just-announced Afghanistan policy, and a NY Times report that Trump’s relationship with Senate leader Mitch McConnell has disintegrated Donald Trump’s ability to govern has been seriously weakened. Such internecine warfare points us to the central issue: electing more progressives to Congress, recapturing the presidency, and thus putting science, empathy, tolerance, and social justice back where they belong.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

Fire & Fury 8/9/17

Trump’s Threat –  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

The problem with Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” statement on North Korea isn’t merely that it intensifies an already tense situation. Nor is it just another example of Trump’s inappropriate, childish language when faced with a complex issue.

Most worrisome is that he seems to have no grasp of how his remarks might play out in real-world international politics. Trying to one-up the North Koreans with threats may give Trump the false sense that he is besting them, since he believes—as always, from his business experience—threats work. But he has no awareness of how threats are received in Pyongyang, not to mention in Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, and other capitals. Trump’s language does nothing to move the nuclear issue toward dialogue, but does much to further envenom relations with North Korea and to support the widespread view elsewhere that the president of the US is unstable and prone to violent actions.

In the past Trump has said of North Korea that attacking it sooner rather than later is the best way to resolve the nuclear issue. Bill Clinton disproved that in 1994 by rejecting an attack on North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon and instead entering into an Agreed Framework with Pyongyang that prevented war. Does Trump still hold to that view? Numerous specialists, and Trump’s own defense department leadership, have concluded that war would be catastrophic, with immediate one million deaths and economic costs of around $1 trillion. Needless to say, Koreans north and south, Japanese, and Chinese would pay the heaviest price for such madness.

But Trump, with his well-known ignorance about nuclear weapons, seems blissfully unaware of such matters. He would rather talk about “fake news,” attack critics, lie about his accomplishments, and keep pushing a domestic agenda that has gotten nowhere. Nuclear weapons, Korean history, North Korean motivations, and the art of diplomacy are outside his area of interest, and to say he is not a fast study is to be overly polite.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to questions about Trump’s latest threat by saying “Americans should sleep well at night,” dismissing the threat as “rhetoric.” Given the drumbeat of war that the media has engaged in over North Korea’s missiles, I doubt that many informed Americans are sleeping well. I doubt that US military leaders in particular are sleeping well; they have an inexperienced, unpredictable commander-in-chief who just might issue an order to attack North Korea. And most assuredly South Koreans and Japanese are not sleeping well. Warlike rhetoric from the US president can never be dismissed.

In a word, President Trump is a loose cannon, a serious threat to national and international security.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Not Much Time (if any) 8/2/17

Reaching Paris Without Stopping in Washington – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

History may record that the planet’s climate crisis was avoided thanks to the efforts of three countries: China, Germany, and France. Or not. The preparedness of those three, and the other EU member-states, to follow through on commitments under the Paris Accord despite the US pull-out is key to planetary survival. Chancellor Angela Merkel has made no bones about it, announcing that the Europeans are determined, in the name of Western values, to meet the Paris goal of keeping planetary temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius while also welcoming immigrants and upholding the global trade system.

The Discouraging News

Every expert opinion on climate change includes a dire warning: We haven’t got much time. The latest warning comes from a group of scientists and supportive others called Mission 2020. Reporting in Nature, they believe that if greenhouse gas emissions can turn downward by 2020—emissions have actually flattened out over the last three years—we have a chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. But if the Paris goals cannot be met, we are on the way to catastrophic decline. The group reminds us that economic growth in many countries is occurring precisely where use of non-carbon renewable sources has increased dramatically.

Mission 2020 makes a number of specific, entirely doable suggestions on land-use policy, city structures, transportation, and other subjects. But for its ideas to see the light of day, the group emphasizes that we must “use science to guide decisions and set targets. Policies and actions must be based on robust evidence… Those in power must also stand up for science.” Its closing observation is well worth heeding: “There will always be those who hide their heads in the sand and ignore the global risks of climate change. But there are many more of us committed to overcoming this inertia. Let us stay optimistic and act boldly together.”

But optimism will be hard to sustain, especially for future generations. Two other studies just published in Nature Climate Change cast doubt on reaching the 1.5°C target. In fact, these studies, using very different methodologies, conclude that a rise of 2°C or even 3°C by the end of the century is more likely. And the studies were completed before US withdrawal from the Paris Accord. Bill McKibben writes: “”These studies are part of the emerging scientific understanding that we’re in even hotter water than we’d thought. We’re a long ways down the path to disastrous global warming, and the policy response—especially in the United States—has been pathetically underwhelming.”

Indeed, under Donald Trump, the US is contributing mightily to our self-destruction. Deep cuts in the EPA budget; appointments to the environment and energy cabinet posts of dogmatic amateurs; restrictions on scientists’ professional activities, climate-change research, and the climate data base; the purely politically-motivated efforts to salvage the dying coal industry; official obliviousness to Antarctica’s breakup; unabashed promotion of oil and gas industry fracking and other dangerous ventures; systematic elimination of environmental protection regulations—it’s an extraordinary list that future historians will point to as evidence of a bizarre suicidal urge in a certain segment of American society.

It will come as no surprise that a Pew Research Center poll based on opinion in five countries (France, Britain, Spain, Poland, and Germany) finds a major shift in attitudes about the US. Whereas in 2016 favorable opinion of the US in these countries averaged 61 percent to 26 percent unfavorable, now unfavorable opinion is at 52 percent and 46 percent is favorable. Pew did international polling on the US under Trump in more than 30 other countries, and found very little confidence in his leadership—“arrogant, intolerant, and dangerous” were the decisive assessments—a sharp departure from polling when Obama was president. Trump’s Paris decision, along with his Muslim ban and his intention to build a wall on the Mexico border, clearly affected these opinions of him.

Some More Encouraging News

But if crisis breeds opportunity, the failure of US leadership on climate change may be fracturing the old international order in a positive way. While American politicians may still believe the US is destined to lead or is (in Madeleine Albright’s famous phrase) the “indispensable nation,” the rest of the world is moving on. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing that others step forward to fill the leadership gap. As Merkel has said: “The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days. That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, added that since the new US administration “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership,” Canadians must “set our own clear and sovereign course.”

Trump’s transactional approach to international affairs, under which “the deal” must always advantage America first, will be shown to be bankrupt soon enough. The Europeans, the Chinese, and others—including major US cities, states, businesses, and institutions that will make their own deals on the environment, and will benefit as a result in terms of energy savings, cleaner air, employment opportunities, and technological advances. California’s governor Jerry Brown and New York City’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, lead a group called America’s Pledge that has a formidable and growing membership committed to working with the UN to reduce greenhouse emissions. The group now numbers 227 cities and counties, nine states, and more than 1600 businesses and investors.

So long as Trump is in power, however, we and the planet are going to pay a high price. US reliability will become increasingly uncertain on issues aside from climate change. After all, if the US can suddenly pull out of major international commitments such as the Paris accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and raises doubts about its participation in NATO, how credible will its word be on arms control, immigration, and humanitarian aid? Moreover, without US support, dealing with climate change will be that much more difficult. And for Americans, the evisceration of the EPA will have real consequences, starting with public health.

We were warned.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

Incapable & Compromised 7/26/17

Jared Kushner and National Security  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Jared Kushner’s latest revision of his financial picture reveals a very wealthy man, and couple, who continue to profit enormously from the Trump presidency. But beyond the numbers lies the fact that Kushner, like his father-in-law, seems incapable of telling the truth about either the full extent of his financial empire or the extent of his contacts with foreigners—Russians especially—whose interests are intertwined with his own.

Here’s the current picture for Kushner and Ivanka Trump:

1. He holds managerial and/or leadership positions in 266 real estate and related organizations, most of them in New York City and some in New Jersey.

2. He lists income of over $6 million from two assets—his real estate and media companies.

3. His wife, Ivanka Trump, lists 17 sources of income; and together, they list an additional 221 income sources, mostly real estate but also interest earned on bonds and other financial instruments, with values ranging from $1,000 to $25 million. Kushner failed to list more than 70 of those income sources previously.

4. Their list of financial liabilities is headed by credit lines from Valley National Bank (New Jersey) and Deutsche Bank, each in the range of $5-25 million.

5. The couple continues to earn tens of millions of dollars from their real estate and other businesses, including those they supposedly divested or resigned from. According to the Washington Post’s review of Kushner’s latest filing, he “resigned from 266 corporate positions, and [Ivanka] Trump stepped down from 292 positions… But they still control assets worth at least $139 million, along with another $66 million, at minimum, of assets that are tied to Trump’s stakes in her fashion brand, the Trump hotel in Washington and other real estate projects, according to the filings. And they both continue to draw large sums from outside interests: The couple has jointly made at least $19 million in income from business ventures and listed more than $80 million in real estate and other revenues since the start of 2016 . . .”

Nicholas Kristof makes the case for removing Jared Kushner from his White House job because he’s a security risk. Innocent until proven guilty, for sure; but the circumstantial evidence of a cozy, potentially compromising relationship with the Russians—notably, the secret meeting with Russians in the company of Donald, Jr., the plan to set up a backchannel communications link in the Russian embassy, and the failure to disclose several other meetings with officially connected Russians—is very strong.

In a word, Jared Kushner reeks of corrupt, unpatriotic behavior that may lead to indictments. He will probably be the first person pardoned by President Trump. But in the meantime, Kushner should be removed from office and his security clearance denied—as a matter of national security.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Conduit For Loans 7/12/17

Smoking gun?  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

With the revelation today (July 11) that Donald Trump, Jr. leaped at the opportunity to find some dirt on Hillary Clinton, we have our first clear idea of what his father is hiding concerning the Russia connection. The invitation to meet a “Russian government attorney,” which took place June 9, 2016, came from the son of a real estate magnate, Aras Agalarov, whose construction projects won a major award from Vladimir Putin—and whose invitation to Trump Sr. to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 began a close family relationship between the Trumps and the Agalarovs.

So what is shaping up is a deal that no Trump could resist: Trump gets information described by the Russian contact in a June 3, 2016 email as “very high level and sensitive” that “would incriminate Hillary” as part of the Russian “government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump also gets a leg up on the Russian real estate market, which he has been trying to break into for years, including a Moscow hotel deal in partnership with Agalarov. In return the Russians gain leverage on the Trump family and an opportunity to reduce or eliminate US sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

The revelations concerning the June 9 meeting fit neatly with what we already know about Trump-Russian collusion, including Michael Flynn’s effort to set up a back-channel communications link with Moscow and Jared Kushner’s meeting with the well-connected Russian executive of a sanctioned state bank that might be a conduit for loans to Trump via Deutsche Bank.

The June 3 email, which the New York Times acquired, is devastating from a legal as well as political standpoint. It tells us, contrary to the narrative that Don Jr. and the White House have been spinning, that Trump’s campaign had direct contact with officially connected Russians; that the top Trump campaign officials—Don Jr., Kushner, and then-campaign head Paul Manafort—took the offer of Russian help seriously, which may constitute a crime; and that the future president, who was in his Trump Tower office on the day the meeting with the Russian attorney was held one flight below, probably knew of and approved it.

Further investigation of the June 9 meeting will want to focus on details of the conversation: What, if anything, was promised? Is there a connection between that conversation and Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s and Hillary Clinton’s emails that followed within days? But one thing is already clear: the Trump campaign was ready and willing to collude with officially connected Russians in order to promote making America “great again,” and the Russians were only too happy to oblige.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

 

China – No Korea Tangle 7/5/17

APB: The US-China-North Korea Tangle – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

It’s not too early to sound alarm bells about the downward turn in US-China relations. Trump’s evident frustration with China over its presumed failure to rein in North Korea has already led to a number of steps that have rankled Beijing. These include a State Department report on human trafficking that includes sharp criticism of China’s denial of human rights; statements from the administration about China’s unfair trade practices; a major US arms sale to Taiwan; and a US frigate’s sail-by in South China Sea waters close to Chinese-claimed territory.

A phone call on July 3 from Trump to Xi Jinping comforted the Chinese leader on one point: Trump’s pledge to continue to honor the “One China” principle and prior US-China understandings regarding Taiwan. But even on that point, and no doubt with the $1.4 billion arms sale in mind, Xi reportedly said he “hopes the US will properly handle the Taiwan-related issues in accordance with the one-China principle and the three Sino-US joint communiqués.” Xi also said that while US-China relations had “achieved important results” since his meeting with Trump at Mar-a-lago, “at the same time, the two countries’ relations had been influenced by some negative factors.”

On the face of it, the Xi-Trump conversation seems like a positive exchange. But the Chinese account does not mention that Trump, according to a New York Times report today, also warned China that the US may have to take unilateral steps in dealing with North Korea, which has just tested another long-range ballistic (nuclear-weapons-capable) missile. That warning will only accomplish two things: It will tell China that the brief honeymoon in US-China cooperation is over, and will show once again that Washington has failed to learn the lesson of years past that China cannot, and will not, pressure Kim Jong-un to cease nuclear and missile tests and denuclearize.

Trump has said that Obama’s North Korea policy of “strategic patience” is dead. But Trump’s threat of military action against the North is worse. The Chinese have put forward a “freeze-for-freeze” proposal—a halt to US military exercises on the Korean peninsula in exchange for a halt to North Korean weapons tests—that makes far more sense. Only direct US-North Korea dialogue holds any prospect of reducing the risk of an unprecedented calamitous war.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Considered Wrongheaded 6/28/17

Advise, Assist, Arm: The United States at War – by Mel Gurtov

During the Cold War, the US military and the CIA were involved in a multitude of “indirect” interventions in developing countries. A few—most dramatically and tragically, Vietnam—evolved from a supporting US role to large-scale combat missions. The Pentagon typically defined these missions as “low-intensity conflicts,” though they hardly seemed as such to the innocent people caught up in them. Now, just below the radar, the US military is engaged in an ever-increasing number of “advise-and-assist” missions, supplemented by major arms deals and CIA-run drone strikes, that commit the US to long-term intervention in Africa and the Middle East. And Donald Trump, unlike Barack Obama, is happy to cede operational control—to “let the war fighters fight the war,” as Stephen Bannon told CNN.

The Growing US Footprint in Africa

The US Africa Command oversees a vast array of “outposts”—categorized in Pentagon-speak as “consisting of two forward operating sites [including the one official base in Djibouti], 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.” Secret documents in 2015 listed thirty-six outposts “scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations—from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield—that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including ‘15 enduring locations.’ The newly disclosed numbers . . . shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East,” Nick Turse writes.

These outposts support “seventeen hundred members of the Special Forces and other military personnel [who] are undertaking ninety-six missions in twenty-one countries,” according to one writer. In Somalia, for instance, Navy SEALs are pursuing an al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab, with the Somali National Army. SEALs are not simply advising and training; they are involved in combat too, as part of a force of 200-300 Special Forces soldiers. About all that is known about the air and ground assaults is that they are increasing. As the Times reports: “The decision to allow more expansive operations in Somalia is a signal of the Trump administration’s willingness to delegate decision-making power to military commanders and authorize a greater use of force against militant groups.”

The US mission in Africa relies increasingly on training of African troops. The latest report by the Security Assistance Monitor indicates training in fiscal year (FY) 2015 of nearly 34,000 troops, mainly from Burundi, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Niger. Such security assistance is about $2.5 billion in FY2017.

It is essentially substituting for other forms of US assistance that would be so much more meaningful, such as rule-of-law training, development aid, and humanitarian relief such as treatment of AIDS. Ordinarily, the US accounts for about a quarter of humanitarian aid to Africa, but that is now subject to major cuts under Trump. Aid to Africa is slated to be reduced from about $8 billion to $5.2 billion in FY2018—a plan that senior military officers as well as diplomats consider wrongheaded.

The Africa locations are also essential to US military operations in the Middle East, such as in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. In Yemen, for example, US drones support Saudi air strikes, which are being carried out with fewer restrictions than before as the White House allows the military to determine strategy. High civilian casualties are practically guaranteed to continue. Were it not for US protection, Saudi Arabian officials would be on trial for war crimes.

Outsourcing in the Middle East

President Trump dramatized the policy of outsourcing to the military by giving General James Mattis, the defense secretary, authority to determine force levels in Afghanistan. “Several thousand” more US troops may be deployed there, news reports say, as officials acknowledge the war there, fifteen years in, is being lost. (About 9800 US troops are in Afghanistan, out of a total force of around 13,000.) Drone operations have increased fourfold over the Obama years. Nothing the Trump administration has said so far deviates from Obama’s Afghanistan objective, which was to “advise and assist” to the point where government forces could at least keep the Taliban threat at manageable level. But what is different is the delegation to the Pentagon of authority over troop levels and development of a new strategy. Even as the new strategy has yet to materialize, the US commitment gets deeper—another sign that the Trump team is in over its head and that Trump’s supposed distaste for foreign adventures—on behalf of “people that hate us,” he once said of Afghanistan—is a fiction.

US policy on Qatar is another indication of an administration without a consistent message beyond meeting immediate military needs. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeks to calm relations between Qatar and the other Persian Gulf states that have blockaded and threatened it, Trump remains oblivious to diplomatic solutions. He’s still back in the Middle East, fawning over the Saudi royals and, incredibly, praising their anti-terrorism efforts while denigrating Qatar as a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.” (The US ambassador to Qatar, a career Foreign Service officer, resigned June 13, apparently as scheduled but reportedly also in protest of Trump’s meddling.) But let’s also follow the money here: at the same time Washington is selling the Saudis $110 billion in weapons, it has also announced a $12 billion arms sale to Qatar, thus assuring continued access to the major US air base there.

While the US military gets virtually everything it wants, the UN reports that about 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East are starving. It has requested $4.4 billion to “avert a catastrophe.” Famine is particularly afflicting South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria. One well-informed report from South Sudan indicates ethnic cleansing and possible genocide by the US-supported government forces, causing massive flight from the country amidst widespread hunger (Nick Turse, “Ghost Nation,” Harper’s, July 2017). The Trump administration has done nothing to address the problem.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Page 1 of 5
1 2 3 5