My Empire is More Fun 5/17/17

Watergate II? A Scenario for Trump’s Resignation – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” said Donald Trump to James Comey on February 14, a day after General Flynn was fired as national security special assistant. With those words, which Comey is said to have dutifully recorded in a memo, Trump may have put himself on the path to political oblivion. For the first time we have proof that the president directly interfered in a federal investigation, a criminal offense. To his credit, Comey did not “let it go.”

Every day brings bad news for Trump’s presidency. Every day is a reminder that this man is mentally, temperamentally, and politically unfit for the highest office. Every day also brings new risks to national security, which is in the hands of a commander in chief who is impulsive, uninformed, impervious to expert advice, and given to sudden movements that could mean war. Donald Trump must go, but how?

Up until now I thought our and the nation’s best hope was that somehow, some way, the Republican leadership in Congress would feel compelled by Trump’s outrageous behavior to start the ball rolling toward impeachment. Trump’s bald-faced interference on Flynn’s behalf leads me to a different denouement: his resignation, forced by the same Republicans who would otherwise never be persuaded to start impeachment proceedings.

What is the decisive factor now? Trump’s clear obstruction of justice may be the tipping point for Republican leaders who see no way that a conservative social and economic agenda can be achieved with Trump in office. Trump’s criminal interference shortens the timeline, and feeds their well-reported impatience with him. The Republicans knew all along that Trump was a wild card; but they had no idea how extraordinarily difficult his conduct would make their job. Now they surely must see that their preferred road ahead is going to be eternally blocked by Russiagate investigations. Immigration, taxes, health care, infrastructure jobs, environmental protection laws, abortion, border security—dramatic legislative changes the Republican leadership had planned in all these areas simply cannot move forward with Trump at the helm.

In short, I believe the Republicans are going to decide that they cannot keep sitting on their hands, making up excuses for Trump while watching their moment for remaking America slip by.

The other side of the coin for Republican leaders is a Pence presidency: Would it make their life easier? From their perspective, I believe they would think so. To be sure, Pence would lose a fair number of Trump working-class supporters as well as the Breitbart-Bannon wing of the conservative elite. But Pence would be much more ideologically in tune with Ryan and McConnell, and far more devoted to pushing their legislative agenda. The Republicans would still have the edge in Congress, and under Pence would have a better chance than under Trump to keep that edge in 2018. Maybe they would have to bend a little when dealing with the Democrats, but bending might now look much better than breaking.

So at the risk of engaging in wishful thinking, I am going to predict a Republican turnabout on Trump. Its leaders are going to push Trump to resign “for the good of the country and the party.” And Trump will decide that resignation—“I never liked the job anyway, and running my empire in more fun”—is a better way out than suffering the prolonged indignity of the impeachment process. To which the Republicans will say, amen.

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

Everything to Gain 5/3/17

Syria’s Guilt  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

On April 4 chemical weapons were used in an attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun in which about 80 people were killed and several hundred wounded. The city is in Idlib Province, home to anti-government fighters and refugees who have fled since the fall of Homs and Aleppo to Bashar al-Assad’s forces. I support the view, challenged by only a few observers, that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the sarin attack. Syria has a history of use of chemical weapons against its own people, motives for using chemical weapons against opposition forces and civilians, and a variety of weapons and chemicals for weapons production that were never destroyed under a 2013 international agreement.

The Trump administration’s missile strike in Syria was said to be in retaliation for the April 4 attack. Russia and Syria challenged that action as a violation of international law, the UN Charter, and the actual facts on the ground. My main concern is with those facts, which point directly at the Syrian regime’s responsibility. As I show below, that conclusion is not only the Trump administration’s; British, French, and Turkish experts who investigated the attack all agree with it, and the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and Human Rights Watch likewise leave no doubt as to Syria’s guilt. My opinion is also reinforced by a private group of 30 people who belong to an informal roundtable of long-term CW experts from Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, Germany, Great Britain, the US, and Japan. To be clear, however, I do not support the Trump administration’s retaliatory strike.

The April 4 Attack

British scientists were among the first to identify use of sarin in Syria on April 4. Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the OPCW (which is the implementing body for the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention), told a meeting at the group’s headquarters in The Hague in April that the preliminary assessment of OPCW experts investigating the alleged chemical attack was “that this was a credible allegation.” He said investigators collected samples that were sent for analysis. French intelligence backed up the British and OPCW findings. A French foreign ministry statement reported in late April that “the Syrian armed forces and security services perpetrated a chemical attack using sarin against civilians,” based on samples collected from the scene of the attack and compared with samples from a previous Syrian regime chemical attack on Saraqeb in April 2013. The chemical compounds matched those in Syrian stockpiles, says the French report, which also identifies the Syrian aircraft that carried out the attack.

Victims of the attack were taken to Turkish hospitals, where biological samples were obtained and sent to the OPCW for analysis. Turkey’s health ministry reported after autopsies were conducted that sarin was the cause of death. Officials from the World Health Organization also participated in the autopsies.

As for the Russian and Syrian argument concerning the April 2017 attack, Syria alleges that it hit an opposition chemical-weapon warehouse five hours after sarin casualties were video-recorded in the town and disseminated internationally. But Syria’s story has a big hole in it. Journalists with The Guardian visited the site of the attack and found the warehouse, which was “nothing but an abandoned space covered in dust and half-destroyed silos reeking of leftover grain and animal manure.” Syria distributed a video recording of a small ceremony by the Syrian Army chief honoring the pilot who attacked the alleged warehouse—an admission of how the attack took place. Human Rights Watch has just confirmed that conclusion: “Photos and videos of weapon remnants that struck Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 appear to be consistent with the characteristics of a Soviet-made air-dropped chemical bomb specifically designed to deliver sarin.”

The Past Is Prologue

The April attack is only the latest chemical attack by the Syrian regime since 2013, when it used sarin against the opposition-held town of Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. That attack, which caused roughly 1,400 deaths, was characterized by the UN Human Rights Council in a 2014 report as involving “ significant quantities of sarin . . . used in a well-planned indiscriminate attack targeting civilian-inhabited areas . . . ” Faced with a possible US attack on Syria, Russia and the US reached agreement on the complete destruction of Syria’s CW arsenal under international inspection, and Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). But complete destruction never occurred, and the OPCW considered that Syria’s declaration on joining the CWC was incomplete. Chemical weapons specialists from the OPCW who were invited to visit Syria’s principal facility in Damascus found that the inspection was “a ruse.”

An examination of last year’s international effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons, based on interviews with many of the inspectors and U.S. and European officials who were involved, shows the extent to which the Syrian regime controlled where inspectors went, what they saw and, in turn, what they accomplished. That happened in large part because of the ground rules under which the inspectors were allowed into the country, according to the inspectors and officials. The West was unable, for example, to prevent Mr. Assad from continuing to operate weapons-research facilities, including the one in Damascus visited by inspectors, making it easier for the regime to develop a new type of chemical munition using chlorine. And the regime never had to account for the types of short-range rockets that United Nations investigators believe were used in an Aug. 21, 2013, horrific Ghouta sarin gas attack, these officials say.

As the OPCW later confirmed, the Assad regime did everything possible to frustrate its work. Only facilities declared by the Syrian government were open to inspection. The US and other governments had to be content with the 1300 metric tons of chemicals that were destroyed, since to challenge Syria on other facilities might have prevented access to all 23 declared sites. Gregory Koblentz points to the chain of command in Syria’s decision making on chemical weapons use. “Syria, despite being a member of the CWC, maintains a well-organized capacity to conduct multiple types of chemical attacks in support of the regime’s tactical and strategic objectives.” Assad is at the top of the chain of command, one of only a few people Koblentz (and the French declaration noted above) identifies as having decision authority over chemical weapons.

Syria’s Motives

The Assad regime has a history of blaming opposition forces for chemical-weapon attacks. Syria’s, and Russia’s, position is that Syria no longer has chemical weapons, and certainly not sarin. Any chemical weapons not destroyed in 2013 under international inspection must have been hidden in opposition-held territory. The attack, if it occurred at all, was committed by anti-government forces who had hidden the chemicals in a warehouse. Syria says its aircraft struck that site to destroy the chemicals. Syria would never conduct such an attack, Bashar al-Assad says. Why would he do such a terrible thing? As for the pictures of the dead women and children, they were faked.

But most such charges have been refuted by on-the-spot international inspectors. For example, regarding a chemical weapon attack on Aleppo in August 2016:

Based on the evidence presented by the National Authority of the Syrian Arab Republic, the medical records that were reviewed, the results of the sample analyses, and the prevailing narrative of all of the interviews, the FFM [Fact Finding Mission] cannot confidently determine whether or not a specific chemical was used as a weapon in the investigated incident. From the results of the analyses of the samples, the FFM is of the opinion that none of the chemicals identified [by the Syrian regime] are likely to be the cause of death of the casualties in the reported incident.

Finally, there’s the question of motive: Why would Assad order a chemical attack when the war is going well for him and rebel forces are being squeezed into smaller and smaller territory? A Beirut-based journalist, Annia Ciezadlo, provides a very good answer:

The chemical attack came at a time when Assad’s military is overstretched. Chemical weapons are a cheap, effective force multiplier — a way to inflict terror despite limitations of manpower and supply. Their use instills fear in civilians and rebels alike. By discouraging them from joining the last pockets of resistance, this tactic saves Assad something more precious than money: time. The sooner he finishes cleaning up, the more money he saves, and the sooner he can start raking in the billions that international donors and investors have already pledged to “reconstruct” his shattered country. . . . Assad has already used chemical weapons to kill his own people, and he has paid a negligible price. Why would he risk it again? Because his experience shows him that he’ll probably face only minimal consequences. In fact, a look at history — particularly Syrian history — shows that he has everything to gain.

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

Fails to Connect Dots 4/26/17

No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Three opinion pieces on US policy toward North Korea have appeared in the New York Times in the past week. They deserve critical comment. The writers are all very capable people who share a deep concern about Korea’s security and the possibility of a major blowup that would cause enormous human and material losses throughout the Asia Pacific. As a longtime student of Korean affairs, however, I find that these commentaries—which reflect analysis in the US mainstream media generally—are narrowly focused and alarmist. They would make it seem that, like climate change, we are doomed because “the situation” has entrapped us.

The first of the three articles is by Nicholas Kristof. He correctly points out that China cannot be relied on to pressure North Korea, nor can attacking North Korea end the nuclear problem. We’re running out of time, he writes, and the danger increases that Trump will stumble into war. So what’s left to try? He offers a “lousy option”: increase the pressure on NK with China’s cooperation “while pushing for a deal in which North Korea would verifiably freeze its nuclear and missile programs without actually giving up its nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief.”

This is a lousy option, though perhaps not for the reason Kristof thinks. Though North Korea certainly wants to keep its nuclear and missile programs, it is very unlikely to agree to freeze them under pressure from US and Chinese sanctions. It’s a case of sticks before carrots—a non-starter. The North Koreans for some strange reason don’t respond well to blackmail. Why not dispatch a high-level US emissary to Pyongyang to negotiate a freeze while sanctions are being scaled back, accompanied by other inducements (such as the promise of US diplomatic recognition and a pledge, as both sides made in 2000, of “no hostile intent”)?

The second article, by Max Fisher, agrees with Kristof that there are no good options for dealing with North Korea, for instance severe sanctions and threats of a missile attack. He’s right there. Fisher warns that the particular problem is the North’s survival instincts, which require it to maintain repression and “a permanent state of near-war.” North Korea’s behavior pattern is to keep provoking tensions, raising the risks of war and threatening preemptive attack. No concessions, Fisher suggests, seem likely to move North Korea from its risk-accepting strategy, which puts the onus on the US and its allies who have so much more to lose. He then offers four conditions that he believes constitute North Korea’s “minimally acceptable” terms: the right to keep its nuclear and missile programs; no regime change; end of sanctions; and “withdrawal or reduction” of the US alliance with South Korea. But Fisher believes these conditions are very unlikely to be met, and thus, like Kristof, wonders if we aren’t headed to “disaster.”

The New York Times editorial board joins with these writers in worrying about Trump’s impulsiveness and the possibility of a disastrous preemptive strike on North Korea. The board holds out hope that China and the US might somehow be able to rein in the North; but its best suggestion is that Trump “ratchet up sanctions and find a way to engage the North in negotiations.”

These three writings share a number of misconceptions. First, the sources they consult—those mentioned and those we may reasonably presume have informed the articles—are weighted in favor of evaluating military capabilities, not diplomacy. Thus, the key analytical question is not what inducements may persuade North Korea to freeze or reduce its nuclear and missile programs, and put them under international inspection, but rather what kind of punishment will hurt North Korea enough for it to surrender its nukes and missiles. Focusing on military capabilities, moreover, ignores intent: It makes quite a difference whether North Korea’s military buildup is for attack or deterrence. And if, as a number of former US officials have said, deterrence of a US attack is responsible for the buildup, that suggests a menu of incentives to provide North Korea with strategic reassurance.

Second, the writers never examine any of the history of US-DPRK diplomacy. So it’s easy to dismiss negotiations as an option, as though it is hopeless to try. There’s more than a little hint here of Cold War-era “you can’t trust the communists.” Yet many in the Korea-watching community have long argued that diplomatic engagement with the North has been productive at times. The 1994 Agreed Framework during the Bill Clinton administration halted North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons for a decade, and the 2005 accord under the Six Party Talks produced an “action-for-action” agreement on political and economic issues that still has value for all sides. And let’s not forget that North Korea is not the only party that has failed to comply with agreements or undermine them with belligerent behavior.

US administrations have consistently posed obstacles to compliance, such as refusal to restart talks until the North has given up its nuclear weapons, refusal to talk to Pyongyang without preconditions, and annually carrying out large-scale military exercises jointly with South Korea.

Third, in the case of Fisher’s article, his list of presumed North Korean conditions for an agreement come from his imagination, not from examination of the record. Ending the US-South Korea alliance is no doubt a North Korean hope; but that’s not among its central demands. Even ending sanctions isn’t a condition per se. What North Korea wants is the legitimacy that comes from diplomatic recognition and assurances of regime survival, along with a peace treaty that ends the Korean War and paves the way for economic aid from the US, South Korea, Japan, and others. What North Korea would accept as conditions for those concessions can only be determined by talking with it—a subject neither Fisher nor any others entertain.

It is hardly surprising, then, that a stalwart of liberal reporting such as the New York Times provides deeply pessimistic accounts of prospects on the Korean peninsula. Instead of offering a perspective that takes engagement-minded diplomacy as its starting point, the Times articles look at worst-case futures. To be sure, the word “negotiations” does appear in these commentaries, but without serious interest in them. We are thus left to throw up our hands and surrender to the inevitable: Trump’s threats, which the Times authors find dangerous but unable to get beyond. Strange that the Times laments the evisceration of the State Department and sidelining of its top leadership, yet fails to connect the dots to North Korea policy.

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

Love Chocolate Cake 4/19/17

The Shape-Shifter  – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

People in the media are having difficulty in figuring out where Donald Trump’s administration stands on foreign policy issues. He’s a shape-shifter, and in just the last week he has completely changed his stance on Russia, China, NATO, and Syria—all without blinking, without apology, and without explanation. Frankly, I doubt that he pays attention to these changing views; to him they simply show his “flexibility.”

In the real world of international politics, such shifts can’t be dismissed as unremarkable. We’re talking, after all, about serious adversaries—Russia, China, and North Korea—each of which, if not dealt with carefully and with full understanding of the issues in contention, could take steps that lead to war, even nuclear war. The fundamental problem is that the conduct of foreign policy under Donald Trump is amateurish and dangerous, creating the possibility of a catastrophic miscalculation.

Consider: the administration must deal with a Russian leader who has ambitions to restore his country’s status as a great power; with a Chinese leader who wants his country to be co-equal with the United States in world affairs; and with a North Korean leader who wants his country to be acknowledged as a nuclear-weapon state and accorded legitimacy and security assurances. The lesson? They all need to be treated with respect and great delicacy, mindful that each has substantial military capability within easy reach of important US allies, not to mention the US itself.

A Cardinal Rule

So how has the Trump administration dealt with these adversaries? He has adopted all the standard actions typical of US-style crisis management: reprisals, sanctions, warnings, force deployments, threats. These actions violate a cardinal rule of diplomacy: Threats will most likely produce a reaction exactly opposite of the one desired. Threats incite nationalist fervor, invite counter-threats, and obstruct dialogue. Nevertheless, Trump has chosen to violate that rule, with the following results:

With Russia the US has issued what amounts to an ultimatum: distance itself from Syria, or at least do not condone Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The Russians, of course, reject an ultimatum and reject the accusation that Syria used chemical weapons. They threaten to retaliate if the US attacks Syria again.

With China the US demands a change in the terms of trade and Chinese pressure on North Korea to reduce or eliminate its nuclear weapons. Otherwise, says Trump, the US will act on its own against the North. China promises nothing other than a joint review of the trade picture. Xi Jinping didn’t even bring a trade expert with him to the meeting with Trump. As for pressuring Pyongyang, one semi-official Chinese newspaper has mentioned the idea of cutting off North Korea’s fuel supply from China, something China has done before for a short period. On the other (and more convincing) hand, China’s trade with North Korea is up 37 percent this quarter compared with a year ago. Trump sweetens the pot by withdrawing his longstanding charge that China is a currency manipulator, hoping China will salvage the uncompromising US posture. In his usual childlike way, Trump thinks that Xi’s love of the chocolate cake served at one of their dinners means Xi goes along with Trump’s gunboat diplomacy.

With North Korea Trump deploys an aircraft carrier strike force off the Korean coast, presumably to warn Pyongyang that some further provocative step might meet with a forceful US response. Dropping a “mother-of-all-bombs” in Afghanistan is widely believed to send the North Koreans a further warning of US capabilities. But North Korea threatens nuclear war if attacked, says it can easily destroy US bases in South Korea, warns that it is not another Iraq, Libya, or Syria, and carries out yet another missile test (which fails) and huge parade of its missile inventory. A sixth nuclear-weapon test may yet come.
Trump claims that his missile strike on a Syrian military airport was a great success, that his meeting with Xi went beautifully, and that North Korea and Russia are in great trouble. The reality, of course, is quite different: Trump’s actions have raised the stakes with all three countries without having resolved major issues such as Russia’s meddling in the US elections, defeating ISIS in Syria, reducing tensions with China over the South China Sea or THAAD, or ending the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile buildup by North Korea.

Alternatives

If the US objective with Russia, China, and North Korea were to avoid war by accident or design and instead create a path to potential conflict resolution, here are some thoughts about what Trump might have done and can still do.

With Russia, why not accept Putin’s proposal (supported by Bashar al-Assad) for an international investigation of the chemical warfare claim? If Washington is so convinced of Syria’s responsibility—and if Trump believes Russia might well have known about the attack in advance—the US should welcome an investigation with confidence in the outcome. As for the immediate future, the Trump administration should establish Putin’s strategic interest in protecting Assad and seek ways to substitute for it. Trump might, for example, promise no further missile strikes in exchange for Russia’s assurance that Assad will never again employ chemical warfare and will destroy the chemical stocks he has hidden under international inspection. In exchange for ruling out regime change in Syria and removing some sanctions on Russia, Russia would assure the US that it will respect safe zones for anti-Assad forces and people.

With China, Trump has already dropped his incorrect accusation that China is a currency manipulator. Now he must also drop his linkage of trade relations with Chinese pressure on North Korea. Last week Trump tweeted: “I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” But now he may have come to the realization that, as with health care, “it’s complicated.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said: “After listening [to Xi Jinping] for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. … But it’s not what you would think.” No, it isn’t.

Hopefully, Trump will stop trying to bait Xi on trade, reevaluate North Korea policy (see below), and focus on larger issues in US-China relations. Trump now says, once again in direct contrast with previous scorching criticisms of China, that he and Xi “get along really well, I really like being with him.” If so, the administration might take up China’s plea not to rely on sanctions and to resume negotiations, which its foreign minister suggested China would support in any format. The US could jump-start the process by withdrawing the fleet near Korea to a nonthreatening distance. (Doing so would remove another source of China’s upset: the US naval force en route to Korea conducted joint drills with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force in the East China Sea, in the area of islands disputed by China and Japan.) Trump might challenge Beijing to obtain Kim Jong-un’s agreement to forego new nuclear and missile tests in return for a stop to full deployment of the THAAD antimissile system and suspension of future US-South Korea military exercises. In short, test China’s goodwill and North Korean intentions.

With North Korea, it should be obvious to US policymakers that showing “resolve” in the Sea of Japan only makes Kim Jong-un more determined to show his resolve. South Koreans, including both of the two top presidential candidates, are more worried about a US-initiated war with North Korea, without their being consulted, than about a North Korean attack. (“The safety of South Korea is as important as that of the United States,” the leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, said.) Vice President Mike Pence, in South Korea, said “the era of strategic patience is over” and “all options are on the table.” But his bravado, fortunately, did not represent a departure from what the two previous administrations have said, which still rejects a diplomatic initiative with North Korea.

The US and North Korea need to get back to the negotiating table with two objectives in mind: first, remove the sources of current tension, as noted above; second, restore the “action-for-action” principle in the 2005 Six Party Talks agreement and reconsider security assurances and economic assistance to North Korea in exchange for verifiable international inspection of its nuclear weapons and weapons-related facilities.

Conclusion

Successful conflict management calls for establishing a peaceful way of doing business. That other way includes inducements, which may stimulate talks and reciprocal concessions; use of all three levels of diplomacy—official, nonofficial, and people-to-people; and actions on the ground that, by reducing tensions, reverse the momentum for conflict. These actions may pave the way for a process of reengagement and trust-building. At the very least, “getting to yes” with an adversary takes the use of force off the table. Force is always available, but is best when rarely used. Let’s hope the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and Pence speak for Trump when they say the US wants to deal “peacefully” with North Korea. But they need a serious plan, not just words for public consumption.

 

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

Failed Distractions 4/5/17

The Great Distracter – by Mel Gurtov

Three of Donald Trump’s latest ploys to distract attention from Russiagate have failed.

Mel Gurtov

First was Rep. Devin Nunes’ late night visit to the White House under escort by two staff members to view classified information. The visit increasingly looks like a prearranged attempt to divert his committee’s investigation into Russiagate. One of the escorts had been appointed by Michael Flynn, the former national security assistant; efforts by Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, to remove him were reportedly thwarted by Trump himself. As Sean Spicer might say, this episode doesn’t pass the smell test: It sounds like a “weapon of mass distraction,” as someone on CNN said. Trump is grasping for straws—anything that will lead the media and investigators away from the Russia matter, all the more so now that Jared Kushner’s meeting with the representative of a sanctioned Russian bank has become known.

The second ploy is a signature example of Trump’s untrustworthiness: His turnabout on immunity for government officials who might be prosecuted for criminal behavior. As he has shown time and again, what he once said about a matter is irrelevant to what he now says. Recall that in late September 2016, Trump said in reference to Hillary Clinton and senior staff seeking immunity over her use of a private email server: “The reason they get immunity is because they did something wrong. If they didn’t do anything wrong, they don’t think in terms of immunity. Five people. Folks, I’m telling you: Nobody’s seen anything like this in our country’s history.” Flynn followed up the same month on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime.” A number of other Trump senior staff weighed in at that time, trying to score points off the idea that a President Hillary Clinton would be under FBI investigation for years, presenting an intolerable situation.

Now that Trump is under assault, he wants Flynn to testify under immunity, to challenge the Democrats’ “witch hunt.” Same old diversion strategy, and it too smells bad. Trump must be supremely confident that Flynn has nothing to offer the intelligence committees. Recall that Trump waited two weeks before firing Flynn, a clear sign of his hope that Flynn could weather the storm. Flynn, meantime, has lots to gain from a grant of immunity, notably, his discussion of sanctions with Russia’s ambassador while still a private citizen. Like Nunes, Flynn is a proven Trump loyalist—a former campaign booster who will do whatever is demanded of him to frustrate a probe of collusion with the Russians. Wisely, the Senate Intelligence Committee turned Flynn down, at least for now.

Trump’s third ploy is to keep massaging the “wiretap” accusation, each time trying to redirect the media and Congressional investigators. Trump began by directly accusing President Obama of having wiretapped him at Trump Tower. That accusation got nowhere, so he diverted to the accusation that he and his team had been “surveilled” by Obama’s people. Now that that charge has been shown to be nothing more than ordinary and perfectly legal National Security Agency eavesdropping on phone calls initiated from abroad, Trump is asking for investigation of any kind of surveillance by anyone at any time. It’s a fishing expedition that he (probably in league with Stephen Bannon) surely knows can go nowhere.

From the president on down, this is an administration on the defensive, populated by people who are their own worst enemies. The Watergate model looks more relevant by the day.

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

Care Not a Whit 3/22/17

Trumpcare: An International Embarrassment – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Paul Ryan justifies the current Trumpcare bill as promoting freedom—the right not to have to buy health insurance and thus be “free” to be unhealthy. It’s a revolting position to take, not to mention inhumane and short-sighted, reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s infamous advice to the starving French masses: “let them eat cake.” A large, unhealthy population—52 million by 2026, including millions of children—guarantees a less educated, skilled, and healthy workforce, more desperation and crime, and more impoverished families and communities needing all kinds of social-welfare help.

Of particular urgency is that Trumpcare will tear apart the largely successful health care net for children—Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Affordable Care Act. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 94 percent of children have access to health care because of these three programs. The threat now, as two writers (one a physician) in Pennsylvania put it, is that “changes such as federal funding caps or a block grant may pit kids against the disabled, seniors or even their parents. We cannot afford to go backward and the state doesn’t have the resources to fill the gap.”

The Congressional Budget Office report predicts that if, as Trumpcare proposes, federal funding for Planned Parenthood ends for one year, thousands of additional births to parents on Medicaid will result. That will put a huge new strain on Medicaid’s budget, which already is under attack by conservatives. The planned cut will also mean loss of women’s access to critical prenatal and preventive health services that Planned Parenthood provides.

The International Dimension

Less often considered is that Trumpcare tramples on international law. Enacting Trumpcare will put the United States in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Consider Article 25 of the Universal Declaration, which all UN members must accept:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Under Trumpcare, the US would also be in violation of several articles of the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child. True, the US has not ratified the CRC; in fact it is the only country in the world that has not ratified it (thanks to Republicans in the Senate who traditionally reject any notion that US law or practice should be subordinate to what the rest of the world accepts). But the US is a signatory to the CRC, thanks to Bill Clinton in 1995, and thus a globally responsible president would at least heed the convention’s most basic requirements, which are surely in the national interest.

Here are the CRC articles relevant to children’s health:

Article 3: States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 6

States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 24

States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.

States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;

(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care.

There is a campaign for US ratification of the CRC.

Of course the president and his minions care not a whit about international law, any more than they show concern about human rights. Our children, and all children, deserve better.

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

No Time to Wait 3/15/17

While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Donald Trump’s presidency has gotten so much attention that the latest threats to climate stability have received only passing notice. To be sure, Trump’s belief that climate change is a Chinese “hoax,” and his appointment of climate change deniers to head major agencies, have been widely publicized. Even so, the news of actual events—hurricanes, floods, drought, sharp temperature changes, and other distortions in weather patterns in the US and around the world—typically are being crowded out by Trump’s tantrums, fake news, and conflicts of interest.

For the strong of heart, here are some important developments affecting climate change over the past several months that you may have missed:

· Mexico City’s water table is sinking at an alarming rate, while climate change is causing flooding and drought that may cause mass emigration. Just the latest case of environmental refugees—and potential sources of new conflicts.

· The last estimate of sea-level rise before Obama left office, by the NOAA, sees a worst case of an 8-foot rise by the end of the century. The low estimate is still a1-foot rise. Parts of the US will be hit particularly hard. “An analysis of 90 U.S. cities suggested that such an increase in damaging floods could occur by 2030 in most locations under an intermediate-high sea-level rise scenario and by 2080 under a low scenario. In general, the report suggests it would take just shy of 14 inches of sea-level rise for this to happen in any given location.” A collapse of the West Antarctica is also quite possible, the report said.

· Worldwide, the nuclear industry is losing ground thanks to lower costs for wind and solar energy as well as natural gas, and the Fukushima tragedy in 2011. “Globally, wind power grew by 17%, solar by 33%, nuclear by 1.3%.” The World Nuclear Industry: Status Report 2016; It is no longer economical to invest in a nuclear power plant! As a result, the overall picture is one of cost overruns, abandoned projects, a very little new construction. About the only countries where the nuclear industry continues to thrive are France and South Korea. China’s nuclear industry, which has a high priority in the country’s energy future, has been hit by significant safety failures. Eight of China’s 36 currently operating reactors experienced these shutdowns, all caused by human error. The basic problem, openly discussed by Chinese specialists, is that there aren’t enough well-trained, well-rewarded safety inspectors. China thus is spending many times more money on renewable energy than on new nuclear power plants.

· Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is in serious danger. In 2016 it experienced its largest-ever die-off of coral.

· Deforestation in the Amazon basin, the world’s largest carbon sink, is once again on the rise. Farmers in Bolivia and Brazil are again clearing land in huge swaths for planting soy under contract to Cargill and Bunge. Those giant agribusinesses were among signers of the New York Declaration of Forests, which promises an end to deforestation in order to grow crops such as soy and palm oil. The common estimate is that one-tenth of global carbon emissions stem from clearing of land and accompanying fires in the Amazon region.

· Disintegration of the West Antarctica ice sheet is taking place right now. The elongating crack is unstoppable, and while it reportedly will not mean rising seas for decades, it is just another sign of warming oceans and future peril. By the end of the century, melting of this ice sheet, combined with ice melting elsewhere, will cause an estimated sea rise of five to six feet. That’s an extraordinary increase compared with predictions just a few years ago.

Every climate-change model I’ve seen suggests that we are way behind the curve for combating global warming and its potentially life-altering changes for human populations and habitat. Plans for a nation-wide solution, such as a carbon tax, seem like whistling in the dark given the sorry state of Washington politics. For instance, some Republican elder statesmen, including former secretaries of state George Shultz and James Baker, III, have come forward with a plan to counter climate change. Though they don’t embrace the obvious—that climate change is due mainly to human factors—they do think “the risks” are too great to be ignored. Hence, they recommend a carbon tax starting at $40 a ton at the well head or mine, the proceeds to be returned to consumers in dividend checks. Of course the producers are expected to pass on their tax to consumers.

Good luck. With Scott Pruitt at the helm, the Environmental Protection Agency is about to become the Environmental Destruction Agency. Trump has already given the order for significant cuts in the EPA’s budget. The oil and gas industry has Pruitt in its hip pocket, as just-released emails from Pruitt’s time in Oklahoma make crystal clear. As Forbes reminds us, “In six years he filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the EPA over expansion of the Clean Water Act and regulations on coal-fired power plants.” When Pruitt addressed EPA employees for the first time, he made clear that its business is business. Forbes, which ordinarily is a pro-business publication, firmly stated that Pruitt will be violating EPA’s statutory mission: “Compromise with industry is not included. The mission of the EPA is actually quite simple: ‘to protect human health and the environment—air, water and land’.”

In the US, our best hope lies at the state and city levels, especially now that cities provide the overwhelming portion of greenhouse gas emissions, and those in proximity to coasts have the greatest urgency to act. Here and there—in San Diego and other California cities, for instance, and in Des Moines and Adelaide, Australia—major reductions in those emissions are taking place or are planned. This article states that “over 10,000 initiatives are underway in cities worldwide,” which is admirable. But can these ideas possibly halt the upward curve toward planetary overheating?

James Hansen, the indefatigable former NASA official (he retired in 2013) who first brought the threat of climate change to our attention, believes that a carbon tax and a new kind of nuclear technology represent the last chance to thwart devastating climate change. The Paris Agreement’s call for limiting warming to 2 degrees C. is inadequate, he says. Without drastic political action, Hansen foresees the planet returning to conditions 120,000 years ago, when warming produced sea levels 20 to 30 feet higher than they are now. But Washington, DC is full of climate deniers, so what’s the answer? “It’s really crucial what happens in the near term. But it will take a strong leader who is willing to take on special interests. Whether that can be done without a new party that’s founded on just that principle, I’m not sure. So we’ll have to see.”

Not very encouraging—and we don’t have time to wait and see.

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

Duped by the Russians 3/8/17

Switching Sides: America and Russia in US Public Opinion -by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Once upon a time in the US you could fairly predict what Americans believe about Russia. Their beliefs would parallel their views of the USSR during the Cold War, with Democrats being relatively more optimistic and uncritical of Russia than their Republican counterparts. As one example, take the spring 2015 poll by Pew Research. It shows that the liberal-conservative divide on Russia held firm, with Republicans far more hawkish than Democrats on the Russia threat, arms to Ukraine, support of NATO, and sanctions on Russia.

But switch to the present and all bets are off. The two camps have changed places. Thanks to Trump’s embrace of Putin, grassroots Republicans have about the same regard for Russia as the Russians themselves. Republicans join with Trump in doubting Russian hacking and the Russian threat to the US; on the other hand, they hope for friendly relations with Russia. Now it’s the Democrats who want to go after Russia with sanctions and a stronger NATO—one reason Vladimir Putin was evidently so anxious that a hawkish Hillary Clinton not win the election and continue Barack Obama’s confrontational policies.

If, as one writer suggests, Trump is the “Manchurian candidate” who has been duped by the Russians into serving as their unknowing agent in Washington, the Republican rank-and-file don’t seem to know or care. They have become America’s “whatevers”: whatever Donald says or does is fine with them. Assessing the relevance of the 1962 movie, Neal Gabler writes that “an admittedly paranoid movie may actually be insufficiently paranoid when it comes to our new reality. It isn’t just the possibility that we had a Manchurian candidate for the presidency. It is the possibility that we now have a Manchurian president, a Manchurian Congress and a Manchurian government.”

As in the movie, it’s up to the liberals to save the country—not from the communists but from the Bannons, Millers, and other conspiratorialists under Trump who, like Putin, want to make the world safe for white Christians, for big business (and oligarchs), and of course for Russia’s ambitions.

Liberals will have a tough time undermining a soft line on Russia. Barring some new revelation by the various investigating committees and the FBI of collusion between Trump’s surrogates and Russian officials last year, the administration will be free to pursue a pro-Russia policy.

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

“In Disarray” 2/22/17

Mel Gurtov

Trump, Europe, and Chaos – by Mel Gurtov

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis went to the Munich Security Conference with reassurances about the US commitment to NATO. However, their visit was anything but reassuring. They said nothing about the European Union nor Brexit, seemed to condition US support of NATO on the Europeans paying more of the bills, and took no questions after their boilerplate speeches. Europeans at the event were quoted as feeling anything but reassured. In fact, some thought the US commitment to Europe was lessened by the Americans’ speeches, which had nothing to offer about Russia, Ukraine, or European unity in general.

The most meaningful comments from the US side were made by Sen. John McCain. He spoke forcefully in defense of Western values, said the administration was “in disarray,” suggested (without mentioning Trump or Stephen Bannon) that certain people were “flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent,” and defended a free and probing press against Trump’s outrageous attacks on “an enemy of the people.” Europeans were left in no doubt who could be counted on their side and whose support was in grave doubt.

Out of the blue came another thunderbolt: a report that two Trump cronies—his personal attorney, the subject of the ongoing FBI investigation of Trump associates’ activities in Russia during the presidential campaign, and a Russian-American businessman who worked on real estate deals with Trump, including one in Moscow—and an obviously ambitious Ukrainian man had engaged in “private” diplomacy designed to “solve” the war there. All three have shady pasts. The three presented their plan to Gen. Michael Flynn, but denied it made it to Trump’s desk. In essence, the plan would put the Ukrainian in the presidential chair and, presumably, lead to a new deal with Russia that would end the war.

“Disarray”? McCain’s characterization is much too charitable. With Trump too busy attacking his critics and Stephen Bannon evidently in charge, the administration is incapable of developing a coherent foreign policy supportive of traditional allies. It is much better at pushing the Trump brand than at promoting the national interest. Trump, Bannon, et al. have abandoned the State Department and the intelligence services in order to pursue their reckless objectives without interference.

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

How Low is the Question? 2/15/17

Mel Gurtov

The Honeymoon Is Over – by Mel Gurtov

President Trump is often depicted as “unconventional” and his actions “unprecedented.” But his novelty exposes him and his administration to closer scrutiny than any previous presidency. Turns out the emperor has no clothes; his “unconventional” behavior is often criminal, corrupt, duplicitous, unreliable, and incompetent. Across the spectrum of professions—from art museums and lawyers to actors, federal and local government employees, athletes, and NGOs—the outpouring of criticism is unprecedented. So is the number of negative votes cast by Democrats against every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees. Trump has been denied a honeymoon.

People in his administration are following the Trump pattern. His national security special assistant, General Michael Flynn, lied about his pre-inauguration contact with the Russian ambassador, somehow forgetting to mention that the conversation (recorded by US intelligence, it turns out) included discussion of US sanctions. Sean Spicer is the source of constant jokes as he desperately tries to represent the administration’s position—and consistently misrepresents it. (Spicer and Reince Priebus are rumored to be on Trump’s chopping block. Flynn just got chopped.) Kellyanne Conway violated the law by promoting Ivanka Trump’s jewelry on national TV. Betsy De Vos pretends to be an education secretary. Stephen Miller, a top aide to Trump, arrogantly claims that the president’s national security actions “will not be questioned,” and continues to trot out false claims about immigrants’ voting and links to terrorism.

As for Trump, every day he shamelessly violates the Constitution’s so-called emolument clause by profiting from the visits of foreign dignitaries to his hotels and golf resorts. He clearly will not reveal his tax returns or put a wall between him and his assets unless under court order. Every day he displays an inability to focus on the important and instead attacks those who criticize him. And every day he reveals an embarrassing lack of experience in foreign affairs, such as welcoming Japan’s leader as “Prime Minister Shinzo” instead of Abe, changing his mind (at least for now) on “One China” and Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, insulting the leaders of Mexico and Australia, and sloppily handling classified material and national security conversations (such as happened over dinner with Abe when informed of a North Korean missile test).

Stephen Bannon is a different species entirely. He hides in the wings, avoiding conversation about his attraction to fascism, his understanding of “America First,” and his cozy relationship with far-right white supremacists from the Vatican to France and Britain. Unlike some of his colleagues, he knows what he’s about, and thrives on not having to answer to anyone but Trump. When Bannon calls the media “the opposition party” and advises them to “shut up,” portrays Muslims as enemies of the state, and suggests that the 1930s were “exciting,” we had better wake up to the threat to democracy he poses.

Fortunately, this administration’s dysfunction is costing it in cohesiveness and efficacy. Leaks are more numerous than usual, so much so that an “insider threat” program is reportedly under consideration to catch the leakers. The New York Times reports that Flynn’s National Security Council is in turmoil as foreign policy professionals try to keep up with (and understand) Trump’s tweets. As the fiasco surrounding the executive order on a Muslim ban showed, officials who should be consulted on important decisions are being bypassed. The halls of the State Department and other agencies are largely empty as many experienced people have either resigned or been pushed out.

Trump’s honeymoon never happened because he gave us no reason to be patient and “see how he does.” A majority of Americans are on to him: the February 13 Gallup Poll shows that he has set another record for unpopularity: a 40 percent approval rating and 55 percent disapproval. How low can he go? Watch and see, but also act.

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

Fake News & Lies 2/1/17

Mel Gurtov

Fake News? Fake President! – by Mel Gurtov

The Donald Trump “way” is to shout foul any time he is criticized, for as we have discovered, this man is innately incapable of acknowledging error, much less apologizing. The media are an easy target because Trump, like all presidents before him, knows that the power imbalance in his favor makes it very costly for the media to fight back when the president punches. Whereas Trump has no problem crossing the line in saying that the media “are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” the media—at least the mainstream media—respects the line. Can you imagine the Washington Post calling Trump the most dishonest person on the planet—even though he certainly is? (OK, he’s merely one of the most.)

Except that now many in the media are fighting back, actually calling a lie a lie. And it’s obvious from Trump’s and his team’s responses that they have been hurt. Note not only Trump’s silly, childlike charge of “fake news,” the now-familiar “you’re failing” (shades of Meryl Streep), and the lie about an apology. Also note the time of his tweets—five o’clock in the morning, for goodness sake. The Times and the Post are keeping him up at night! Even after his alter ego, Steve Bannon, said the media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.”

“The failing @nytimes has been wrong about me from the very beginning. Said I would lose the primaries, then the general election. FAKE NEWS!” (5:04 AM – 28 Jan 2017)

“The coverage about me in the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost has been so false and angry that the times actually apologized to its dwindling subscribers and readers. They got me wrong right from the beginning and still have not changed course, and never will. DISHONEST.” (5:16AM, 28 Jan 2017)

We should encourage a sharp response to a disrespectful president and dictatorial administration. In fact, I’d like to see the media issue a collective message to Trump that upholds freedom of the press, recites the intrinsic importance of speaking truth to power in a democracy, and in the strongest possible language vows to resist any attempt to muzzle the media or any government agency.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Extraordinary and Dangerous 2/1/17

Mel Gurtov

Bannon’s Coup  by Mel Gurtov

Stephen K. Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has been elevated to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, the top tier of national-security policymakers.* It is the first time a political affairs official has been made a regular participant in the NSC’s work. The appointment is the most important piece in an extraordinary and dangerous bureaucratic reorganization that Bannon himself may have engineered.

Anyone who thinks bureaucracy doesn’t count should think twice after witnessing what amounts to a coup. Bannon may attend any session of the NSC and the Principals Committee while the intelligence community, represented by the Director of National Intelligence (Mike Pompeo) and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may not.** Officially, Bannon is now on par with Michael Flynn, the special assistant for national security; but in terms of real access to the president, Bannon’s only peer is Jared Kushner. “It is a startling elevation of a political adviser,” the New York Times says.

Thus, the most important foreign and national security decisions, meaning those made during a crisis, are going to be most influenced by a far-right rabble-rouser and Trump’s son-in-law, neither of whom has anything remotely resembling international experience. (I don’t count Bannon’s time in the Navy, any more than I count Kushner’s donations to Israel.) And in Bannon’s case, that influence is likely to bend the president toward aggressive, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later actions with little or no consultation with experts. What else should we expect from the man who guided Trump’s campaign and essentially wrote his inaugural address on the theme of “America First”?

In practical terms, what might Bannon’s coup mean?

First, it means that the policy-relevant government agencies can expect to be bypassed on important decisions. Thus, for example, Trump’s executive order banning Muslim immigration reportedly was issued without reference to the Office of Legal Counsel in the Exec. Off. of the President, the Dept. of State, or the Dept. of Homeland Security. Nor, evidently, were local-level officials at airports alerted. The Washington Post reported on January 30 that a dissent letter on Trump’s immigration order was being circulated in the State Department. With mass resignations—or were they firings?—of the State Department’s entire management team, Rex Tillerson will be taking over a badly weakened agency largely devoid of experienced leaders and perhaps facing a morale crisis.

Second, despite administration denials, the professional military and intelligence viewpoints at NSC meetings will only be at the table “where issues pertaining to the responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” Is that qualification intended to promote efficiency, as Trump’s people say, or to lay the basis for exclusion from the most important decisions?

Third, it means that Trump’s financial interests will remain secret and under his control, so that the inevitable conflicts with payments by foreign governments to Trump will go unpunished.

Fourth, it means that Bannon et al. will continue to work with and encourage right-wing leaders in Europe and elsewhere who are as determined as he to carry out a white nationalist agenda that is anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-globalist.

Fifth, it means that Israel will get everything it wants, without a word of concern from Washington. What a sad joke that Trump expects his son-in-law to craft an Israeli-Palestinian settlement while Netanyahu authorizes more settlements in occupied territory, and applauds Trump’s intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Sixth, it means that Trump’s version of a “reset” of policy toward Russia will avoid the key issues that led to the demise of Obama’s reset in the first place: NATO’s eastward movement, and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. Those matters call for careful diplomacy. Trump is likely to start dismantling sanctions and increasing US investments in Russia without a resolution of geopolitical issues.

Seventh, US policy toward China will be opposite of policy toward Russia. China will be the hard edge of policy: naval buildup, deeper involvement in the South China Sea dispute, support of a Japanese military buildup in contravention of long-established policy, and erosion of the One China policy.

Eighth, nuclear rearmament will again come into vogue—a reversal of the downward trend of recent decades in numbers of weapons and means of delivery.

Ninth, traditional friends of the US will find that friendship doesn’t carry much weight anymore. Mexico’s president and Britain’s prime minister have now discovered that. Alliances therefore will not have the credibility they once had with an unpredictable partner such as the Trump administration.

Eliot Cohen, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department and now at Johns Hopkins University, has this warning about the NSC reorganization for his conservative colleagues:

Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week [on immigration and the Mexico wall], in favor of his White House advisers [Bannon, et al.], tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

Cohen concludes that Trump will fail because the people he attacks will not go away, will persevere, and will ultimately say “enough.” We must hold everyone, especially officeholders, to account, he writes. I have to hope his confidence is warranted.

———-
*The NSC Principals Committee (PC) is the “Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.” The PC can be convened and chaired by either the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor. Its regular attendees will now include the following: Secretary of State; Secretary of the Treasury; Secretary of Defense; Attorney General; Secretary of Homeland Security; Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff; Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist; National Security Advisor; Homeland Security Advisor. The Counsel to the President, Deputy Counsel for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the OMB are also permitted to attend all meetings.

**The Director of National Intelligence is not on either the NSC or the PC. The DNI and JCS Chairman are to attend “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” making their presence optional The Secretary of Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy will be regular attendees “when international economic issues” are on the agenda. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology, who under the Obama administration was to be present when “science and technology related issues” were on the agenda, will no longer attend.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Clamors Are Mistaken 1/25/17

Trump’s America—and Ours   – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Abraham Lincoln once said: “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address offered us exactly the opposite vision, one of a selfish, insulated America responsible only to itself, committed only to fixing the supposed “carnage” here but unconcerned about global poverty, Earth’s deteriorating environment and ecosystem, and human rights here and everywhere. He made all the usual, and unfulfillable, promises about jobs, terrorism, and corruption—and avoided all the problems he has always avoided, such as health care for all, equal opportunity for all, his own record of irresponsible behavior, and “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”

President Trump doesn’t understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Charles de Gaulle did: “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” Trump’s “American First” doctrine was falsely presented as the former when it clearly is the latter. Putting America first may sound like a noble patriotic idea, but in reality it reflects a careless, ultimately dangerous world view. Walling America off from Mexico, keeping out Muslims fleeing war and oppression, denigrating China, and undermining our European allies have nothing to do with love of country. These promised policies exemplify narrow nationalism of the sort that will reduce respect for the United States and undermine national security.

“There are seasons in every country,” Alexander Hamilton said, “when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.” This is such a time, and Donald Trump is such a man.

 

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Fake News Now 1/18/17

Mel Gurtov

Donald Trump’s Fake News Conference – by Mel Gurtov

The media waited with bated breath for Donald Trump’s first news conference in 167 days. But I’m sure many journalists knew what was coming: a show, orchestrated by The Apprentice executive director so as to reveal precisely nothing but used instead to revile his critics. Vladimir Putin couldn’t have done better.

Trump was true to form, and character: He spent very little time answering (actually avoiding) questions, he brought along a small crowd of flatterers to applaud his lines, he had three people (his communications spokesman, his vice president-elect, and his tax lawyer) stand in to defend him, and he bragged about how many jobs he will create and how he had turned down a $2 billion business opportunity with Dubai.

Probably sometime early in his youth, Trump learned that the best defense is to attack. He denounced two media outlets (BuzzFeed and CNN) for daring to publish a report about a questionable Russian dossier on him—the work of an ex-British spy—that other media had decided not to publish. Trump refused to allow the CNN representative to ask a question, angrily saying “you are fake news.” But that remains to be determined, for in fact the intelligence people who briefed him and Obama think the dossier might contain reliable information. Trump is compromised enough by his kissy-kissy relationship with Putin—and if there’s a shred of truth in the dossier, Trump will be in jeopardy.

Trump attacked on other fronts as well. He once again insisted Mexico will pay for a wall—“not a fence”—in one way or another. He allowed that the Russians probably were responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee; but once more he veered away from acknowledging the intelligence finding that Putin himself had ordered the hacking and that Putin’s aim was to help his campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton’s. And his statement that he had “nothing to do with Russia” is patently false. As the Washington Post points out, Trump’s Russian connections go back 30 years, mainly related to his pursuit of real estate opportunities. Still to be determined is whether or not Trump’s associates met with Russian counterparts during and after the campaign, as the dossier alleges.

Trump also tried to preempt further discussion of his financial conflicts of interest by putting the Trump Organization in the hands of his two sons. As various ethics specialists in and out of government have pointed out, that decision is no solution. As one of them said, Trump will be in violation of the Constitution on the day he takes office. He actually had the audacity to say that he has every right to run both his organization and the presidency—implying that we should be grateful for his choice not to do so, as though we don’t already know that he has every intention to remain in charge of his empire. He again refused to release his tax returns, saying that only the press wants him to do so. Trump’s attitude is clear: I’m the president and I’ll do what I want; try to stop me.

In short, what did we learn from the press conference?

First, that Trump will be the same blustering, haughty president that he was on the campaign trail.

Second, that access to him will be extremely limited and produce very little news.

Third, that any news he dislikes will be labeled fake, and the messenger will pay a price.

Fourth, that Trump will completely disregard ethical guidelines at home just as he disregards them abroad.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Unfit to Command 1/11/17

Mel Gurtov

– by Mel Gurtov

During the presidential campaign a significant number of former senior foreign policy and national security officials from both parties spoke in no uncertain terms about Donald Trump’s qualifications to be commander in chief. Let’s recall, for example, an open letter signed by more than 50 people who served in Republican administrations from Nixon to G.W. Bush. Here is part of what they wrote last August:

“From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being. Most fundamentally, Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary. In addition, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends. Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign affairs and “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”

The letter went on to say that Trump “lacks the temperament to be President,” citing (among many other attributes) his impetuousness, lack of discipline, and inability to “separate truth from falsehood.” It was a devastating attack.

Trump survived. But his critics weren’t wrong then, and they’re not wrong now. His arrogance is unbounded, his ego fills a room. As he said, “I’m somebody that really gets it.” He says “nobody really knows” about climate change; it’s a Chinese hoax. Intelligence briefings aren’t necessary because “I get it when I need it. I’m, like, a smart person.” Despite not using a computer, he knows “a lot about hacking.” “I also know things that other people don’t know” about Russia’s hacking—a claim he promised to explain but, of course, never did.

After months of disputing and criticizing the intel community, and then praising Julian Assange for agreeing with him that Russia did not hack, Trump backed away a day later, as usual trying to turn stupidity into wisdom and a lie into a truth. Said Trump: “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement with Julian Assange—wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media likes to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Surely it is mere coincidence that Trump tweeted that message the day before he was to be briefed by senior intelligence officials who would (once again) decisively identify the Russian government as the source of the hacking. It was also the day (January 5) that former CIA director James Woolsey quit as a senior adviser to Trump’s transition team. No doubt Woolsey found he could no longer tolerate Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the intelligence community.

Prior to his meeting with intelligence agency leaders on January 6, I fully expected that Trump would weasel-word his way around acknowledging Russia’s direct role. He didn’t disappoint, saying he had a “constructive” meeting, has “tremendous respect” for the intelligence people, and understood that “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people were trying” (my emphasis) to hack US systems. Rather than acknowledge the intelligence community’s correctness in identifying what Putin’s Russia had very specifically done and aimed to do, Trump dodged: “there was absolutely no effect on the election . . .”—which of course was not what the intelligence community had investigated, was not within the scope of its work,[1] and certainly was not what Trump or anyone around him could possibly know.

But of course Donald Trump is incapable of changing his mind in response to better information than he possesses. He’s never wrong, and must never apologize. (Read carefully the comments of Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway intended to suggest that Trump now believes the intelligence. They’re loaded with qualifications.) And that has profound implications for his conduct of national security. He has a set image of friends and enemies that is not subject to new intelligence or changed behavior on their part. What that means is that no matter what the Chinese, the Iranians, the Mexicans, or the North Koreans might do, Trump will remain Trump. And once those folks figure this out, if they haven’t already, they will lose all respect for the American C-I-C, decide that negotiating with him is worthless and his actions unpredictable, and take action accordingly.

As for the Russians, Trump may insist, as he tweeted Jan. 7, that “Russia will respect us far more” once he’s president. But in fact he’s been compromised by both Putin’s and his own actions. Trump’s noble aim to reset relations with Russia will inevitably raise the question of the price he will pay, and assuredly Putin’s cooperation will not come cheaply.

Francis Wilkinson has an excellent analysis in the Bloomberg News on the systematic manner in which Trump is attacking US institutions. His motive has far less to do with policy differences than with personal power: He can’t abide institutions that are independent of his absolute authority. Trump’s assault on the media goes back many months: the media lies about him, it must be brought into line, the truth lies elsewhere (like Breitbart and, yes, The Enquirer), demean the media. The pattern is obvious now in the case of the intelligence community: first, you denigrate its work; second, you raise the prospect of its downsizing or restructuring; third, you assail its motives and arouse the troops (as when he called the hearings on Russian hacking a “political witch hunt”). Wilkinson maintains that Congress is next in line; and the Pentagon, Treasury, and the Supreme Court may well come after if Trump feels crossed.

Donald Trump, soon to be commander-in-chief, has become a threat not only to democracy but also to national security.

[1] The report says: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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