Family Adoration 1/24/18

Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

In recent months Donald Trump has shown no hesitation to comment critically on political developments in Iran, Pakistan, Venezuela, and North Korea. He supported protests in Iran against “the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.” He deplored the many years of US military aid to Pakistan, for which “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. . . . No more!” His criticisms of the Maduro government in Venezuela were accompanied by the threat to use the “military option,” reminiscent of what Trump had once said when talking about Mexico. And of course his personal insults directed at North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are now legendary.

Such interference is now taken for granted, for in Trump’s world, relying on diplomacy and abiding by the principle of noninterference in others’ affairs have no currency in Washington. Of course trying to destabilize other countries, even to the point of seeking regime change, has been part and parcel of US foreign policy for a long time. The difference now may be the constancy of Trump’s interference, and the undiplomatic language he uses.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Trump reserves his harshest tweets for governments he dislikes. When it comes to friends like Israel, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, the operating principle is “hands-off.” They are allowed to use every trick in the book to buy influence in Washington: gaining special access to decision makers, investing in the US economy and offering investment opportunities in their own country, hiring former US officials to lobby, inviting American opinion leaders to lavish conferences, putting on opulent displays of affection when top US officials visit. These folks know Americans will bite at a chance for profit and attention, and pay back with access and influence. Russia’s successful hookups with Trump’s campaign and administration officials in order to end US sanctions are only the latest and most glaring examples of a longstanding problem of influence-buying. They haven’t succeeded so far, but the effort has literally cost them peanuts.

Saudi Arabia has played the influence game just as aggressively as the Russians, and for much longer. Saudi money has effectively lobbied in Washington for many years, often relying on former members of Congress. The Saudis also seek to influence US politics by funding NGOs (e.g., the Clinton Foundation), think tanks, law firms, social media, and even political action committees. Saudi investors, including members of the royal family, may have as much as a half-trillion dollars invested in US real estate, the stock market, and US treasury bills. At the time of Trump’s visit in May the Saudi leadership committed to another $40 billion in infrastructure investments, though whether or not that will actually happen is another matter.

The payoff for the Saudis is arms acquisitions that have usually put Saudi Arabia first on the US arms export list. The $110 billion arms deal announced while Trump was in Saudi Arabia came on top of billions more weapons sold during the Obama years—and consistent US political support since before World War II of the royal family’s authoritarian rule. The Saudis have also bought continued US support of the Saudi air war in Yemen—a humanitarian disaster that probably amounts to war crimes. For the US, cultivating Saudi Arabia yields not only low oil prices and a reliable arms customers but also an easing of Arab pressure on Israel and leadership in Sunni confrontation of Shiite Iran and Iran’s partner, Hezbollah.

Now comes Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman’s coup, or purge if you like, to solidify his power and eliminate rivals to the throne. We cannot take seriously the proclaimed reasons for Salman’s purge—in order to modernize the country and fight corruption. To Saudi leaders, modernization means dictating the content and timing of social and economic change, a method almost sure to fail. Women may now drive, the cultural scene may look more permissive, and education may open up a bit. But such changes fall well short of removing the ruling family’s control of the courts and the press. Likewise fighting corruption: It clearly doesn’t apply to King Salman and family, who run a blatantly corrupt system that controls many key businesses, nor to the crown prince, who thinks nothing of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on yachts and chateaux while ordering the detention of 320 wealthy citizens. Conflicts of interest are rampant, and ignored. No wonder the Trump family adores these people.

Trump’s Man in Riyadh

Donald Trump was all in on Salman’s coup, tweeting his support: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing. Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!” (Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has Trump and Jared Kushner boasting, “We’ve put our man on top!”) Was it merely coincidental that Jared Kushner had just visited Saudi Arabia (from October 25-28), and reportedly met with Trump’s buddy, the crown prince? (The trip, Kushner’s third to Saudi Arabia in 2017, was unannounced, supposedly linked to his Middle East peace efforts. But perhaps meetings with other Middle East leaders were merely a cover, since among those purged was a frequent critic of Trump, the billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who once called Trump a “disgrace” to America, after Alwaleed had twice bailed out Trump financially.

It’s all about Iran.

For the Saudis, as for Trump and Kushner, Iran is the main target of the current Saudi-US honeymoon. The Kushner-led regional “peace plan” he supposedly leads—one that is short on substance and even shorter on qualified people (they’re all businessmen) to sell it—is riveted on Iran’s “aggression.” In Lebanon, where Hezbollah is entrenched, Iran seems to be the proxy target. Might Iran have been correct in accusing Kushner of being responsible for the surprise (actually, forced) resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister the following weekend—a resignation announced in Riyadh, where the prime minister was apparently held against his will because he was considered too soft on Hezbollah? The Saudis are ratcheting up the pressure on Lebanon, telling its citizens to leave and dangling the prospect of kicking out around a half-million Lebanese workers in Saudi Arabia who send home some $3 billion annually in remittances.

Salman’s moves against Qatar, which Trump (but not Tillerson), condoned, and now against Hezbollah and Iran, will inevitably further complicate the US position in the Middle East, where “stability” is already so far out of reach. As one astute commentator argues, the Washington-Riyadh axis against Iran “seems to mistake presidential and princely preference and mutual agreement for statecraft and implementation.” But that critique merely suggests that Saudi Arabia be “less aggressive” in its hostility to Iran. More creative statecraft would involve a Saudi diplomatic initiative on Iran to moderate their rivalry in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. But now, with Trump on board in place of Obama, who in fact urged just such a Saudi initiative, diplomacy is out the window. Iranian nationalism is on the rise even among the educated anticlerical class. Trump and Salman have succeeded in generating “widespread support for the [government’s] hard-line view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted and that Iran is a strong and capable state . . . .”

If Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is accurate, Donald Trump believes that by getting close to the Saudis, he can resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Fantasy; it’s the Saudis who have Trump just where they want him. They have to be as satisfied as Russia over what their money has bought: a US Middle East policy that relies on continued arms sales, confrontation with Iran in company with Israel, and acceptance of massive human rights violations in Yemen—in short, further chaos in the Middle East. Fareed Zakaria is correct to conclude: “With Trump so firmly supporting the Saudi strategy, the United States could find itself dragged further into the deepening Middle East morass.” That morass might well include war with Iran, the common obsession of Trump and his national security team. Better to jettison Saudi Arabia; like Pakistan, it is a dubious partner that promises endless trouble for the United States and no help in dealing with terrorism.

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

Jared, Ivanka, Money 1/24/18

Kushner and China: Where Money Talks  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Add Jared Kushner’s all-too-cozy relationship with the Chinese to the long list of Trump administration corruption, conflicts of interest, and unholy foreign entanglements. I have reported on Kushner’s extensive real estate holdings, his and Ivanka Trump’s wealth, their significant bank debts, and his by now well known efforts to cultivate ties with the Russians.

All these activities, including his lying about Russian contacts, should, I have argued, keep him from obtaining a national security clearance and bar him from involvement in official diplomacy.

Now, Adam Entous and Evan Osnos, writing in the January 29 issue of The New Yorker, point to Kushner as the likely target of an investigation into “a member of the president’s family” whom Beijing may be seeking to influence, doubtless with the lure of money-making opportunities. Kushner has had frequent contacts with China’s ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, both during and since the transition. We don’t know anything about the substance of their discussions.

But the FBI counterintelligence division has warned Kushner that he is a leading Chinese intelligence target and that another Chinese national, Wendy Deng Murdoch, the ex-wife of Rupert Murdoch and a friend of Kushner and Ivanka Trump, might be a Chinese spy. Yet Kushner remains a major figure on Trump’s foreign policy team, and while he has yet to receive a top-secret clearance, he continues to have access to the same top-secret reports available daily to the president himself.

Kushner and Ivanka Trump have multiple investments with Chinese partners—he in real estate, she in women’s apparel. Like Donald Trump, the Kushners make no distinction between public service and private gain; the former is used to support the latter. Reportedly, Kushner sees no reason to curtail his China activities because he cannot imagine being used by Chinese officials and business people for purposes antithetical to US national security interests.

No evidence has been brought forward to show that Beijing has tried to manipulate Kushner’s commercial aims. Indeed, he supposedly stood against Steve Bannon’s hardline approach to China and believes, like Henry Kissinger (who introduced Kushner to Chinese diplomats) that regular high-level contacts with Beijing can ease tensions.

Done transparently and professionally, such engagement is fine. But Jared Kushner is a foreign-policy novice who seems, like his father-in-law, uninterested in expert opinion and all too interested in making lucrative deals. The way he has conducted his “peace plan” for the Middle East is indicative of both his amateurism and his greed, providing good reason for terminating his role as a representative of the United States.

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

Global Greatness 1/3/18

A Scenario of Planet Earth’s Survival: Far-out Thoughts at the New Year- by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

What does the future hold for our planet? It is easy to prophesy doom: a nuclear war, irreversible climate change, hordes of dispossessed people converging on well-to-do cities, a contagion with no cure. I’m going to buck the tide with a scenario of planetary survival, on the assumption we can avoid mass destruction in the next 50-100 years.

My scenario is founded on the willingness of governments to surrender substantial elements of their sovereignty. At some point of global crisis, a consensus will emerge among national leaders that the planet is on a suicide mission so long as every country responds in its own way to military, environmental, and economic threats. The only way forward suddenly becomes clear to all: surrender national control on these fundamental security issues to an international authority they will have to construct together.

In this scenario, nation-states would still have important regulatory tasks within their own borders—policing, budgeting, taxes, industry, health care. But now those tasks will have to be undertaken in the context of a global decision making authority that sets direction on military affairs and the various elements of globalization. The upshot of this framework is (or should be) that national leaders are severely constrained from war making and motivated to develop peacetime economies and more just societies. After all, they will have been relieved of budget planning that emphasizes military spending and international competition.

As we begin the new year and survey the quality of national leaderships, this survival scenario seems absurdly distant. Leaders of every major country are profoundly ill-equipped to imagine a new world order in which the wellbeing of the global community prevails over national and self interests. For them, preparing for war is more sensible than preparing for peace. Injustice and inequality are inevitable while freedom is relative. They view their job as making their countries “great again”; the notion of a global community is pure idealism.

Such narrow-mindedness—madness, really—helps account for why the current global situation is unsustainable and intolerable. To be sure, in every country there are activists at work on energy conservation, human rights, social justice, immigration reform, and so many other causes in the human interest. But governments make the rules, and at any moment they may crush those who work for humane change. What might replace them? A world federalist system? A United Nations with legislative authority? A group of international wise women and men? I cannot say, but I feel certain that finding an entirely new structure of global governance is the key to sustaining our fragile planet.

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

China’s Fear 12/20/17

An Unfortunate Revelation on Securing North Korean Nukes – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Specialists on North Korea have cited many reasons over the years for why China cannot be relied on to stop the DPRK from continuing its nuclear and missile buildup. The reasons are by now quite familiar, and have mostly to do with China’s fear that pressuring Kim Jong-un’s regime will destabilize it and produce a chaotic situation adverse to China’s security interests. Yet US administrations have consistently proposed that China is the key to resolving the standoff with North Korea—that if only Beijing would exploit its economic and political leverage with Pyongyang, Kim will be forced to knuckle under.

Today’s news that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had, perhaps unintentionally, revealed ongoing US efforts to coordinate with China on the removal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons in the event of a political collapse in Pyongyang further undermines the notion that China has usable leverage. North Korean experts read the newspapers! They have surely known for a long time—and today’s news only reinforces it—about US-China consultations on North Korean nukes. Now Tillerson has confirmed them, saying “We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how that [removing the nukes] might be done.” US sources may say that their Chinese counterparts have resisted reaching an agreement that would avoid a clash should both armies move into North Korea in the wake of a collapse. But the North Koreans have no reason to believe that, and every reason to think this is further evidence of Chinese-American collusion to undermine their regime and occupy their country.

To be sure, if the day ever comes when the Kim dynasty implodes, securing nuclear weapons will be important, and ensuring against a clash between Chinese and US forces will be essential. But raising these matters in public could not come at a worse time, for it only confirms the North Koreans in the view that regime change is a common subject of discussion between Washington and Beijing. Their suspicions can only further undermine what little remains of Tillerson’s idea of direct US-DPRK talks without preconditions—and give North Korea’s hawks more reason to push for completing work on nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and editor-in-chief of Asian Perspective. His most recent book is Will This Be China’s Century? A Skeptic’s View (Lynne Rienner, 2013).

Common Priorities 12/13/17

The Calculated Destruction of America’s Government – by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

It is truly extraordinary: the still-new Trump administration keeps appointing people whose common priority is the destruction of the agency they head. Their mission is therefore the opposite of their agency’s: priority to management over responsibility, product over people, and private interests over public service. In essence, Trump is presiding over a government that rejects governing and seems intent on creating a state within a state.

The examples are well known. Consumer protection is now in the hands of an anti-consumer, pro-business guy, someone who once called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “a sad, sick joke.” The Environmental Protection Agency is under an oil and gas industry proponent who despises environmentalists and denies human agency in climate change. He is removing environmental reporting from the EPA website and preventing government scientists from speaking to the public. Housing is under a well-known surgeon and political airhead who hasn’t the slightest idea about his department’s purposes. A millionaire who leads the department of education has no experience in public education and is busily trying to privatize it. Trump’s pick for health and human services is a drug company executive who had a hand in raising drug prices. And then there’s the justice department, run by a racist who is determined to keep non-whites out of the country, limit enforcement of civil rights laws, and disenfranchise minorities. Other government agencies, such as defense, homeland security, and immigration and customs (ICE) follow the same pattern of politically skewed missions that undermine our most cherished values, not to mention common sense.

But the best example is the state department under Rex Tillerson. He announced his purpose as being to reorganize the department and save money, not promote diplomacy or refine America’s interests abroad. Tillerson’s notion of good management has resulted in a gutting of the department and loss of considerable expertise in precisely those regional specialties—East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa—that demand constant attention. Following the lead of the president and his inner circle of inexperienced know-nothings who spout a white nationalist agenda, Tillerson is showing career staff the door in disdain for “bureaucrats.” Even when he makes a feeble mention of peacemaking, as with North Korea, Iran, and Israel-Palestine, Trump immediately pulls the rug out from under him—as he just did with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The state of State is disheartening, to say the least, and the rumored removal of Tillerson in favor of CIA director Mike Pompeo will not make the slightest difference. Career diplomats are leaving in droves, the budget is being cut by nearly one third, and the number of new applications for the foreign service is down by one half. The new guy in charge of personnel, who would normally be a senior diplomat, has only eight years of experience. (But then, who needs an experienced personnel manager when so few people are left to manage?) Another Tillerson appointee who was supposed to manage the downsizing has resigned after only several weeks at the job.

What we are witnessing is the destruction of the government we pay for and to which we are asked to pledge allegiance. Every week some government service we took for granted is weakened or eliminated by official fiat. By my count, Trump has now severely criticized or attacked outright seven American institutions: the media and various courts; the departments of Justice and State; the FBI; and both political parties. No public official who defies presidential preference is immune from Trump’s wrath. He has played with the idea of establishing a private spy network to get around the CIA—an idea being peddled by none other than Erik Prince (of Blackwater fame) and Oliver North (cf. Iran-Contra). This president is totally committed to sustaining an oligarchy in the image of Vladimir Putin.

Those critics who point to the Trump administration’s failure to pass any legislation as evidence of the strength of the resistance are only partly right. When you put together all the Obama-era administrative regulations that have been rescinded and the legal cases in defense of the public interest abandoned, and add to that the reactionary actions of right-wing dominated state legislatures and the Supreme Court majority, you have quite a record of intentional destructiveness as prescribed by Steve Bannon.

There is no law that says weakening the federal government’s role is a crime. But deliberately subverting the US government is reason enough to seek Trump’s impeachment. He is doing to America what no foreign adversary could do. Some might call it treason.

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

Diplomatic Momentum Please 12/13/17

Momentum for Talks with North Korea?  –  by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Possibly, just possibly, a new momentum for direct US-North Korea discussions is developing. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided some of it when, in a talk at the Atlantic Council December 12, he for the first time proposed talks without preconditions—a significant departure from previous remarks, echoed by other senior US officials, in which he insisted on North Korea’s cessation of weapons tests and lowering of tensions before any kind of talks might begin.

Tillerson’s proposal was almost a plea to Pyongyang to respond to an opening, perhaps in recognition that other US officials have lately suggested that time is running out before the US makes a military response to North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile tests. Here’s what Tillerson said:

We’ve said from the diplomatic side, we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Let’s just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards.

The other push for talks came from Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. Returning from a visit to the DPRK, where he talked with North Korean foreign affairs officials, Feltman pointed to the urgency of conflict prevention in view of the “most tense and dangerous” situation on the Korean peninsula (UN Web TV). Specifically, he “emphasized the importance of opening or re-opening technical channels of communications, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, signal intentions to prevent misunderstandings, and manage any crisis. I also urged the DPRK to signal that it was prepared to consider ‘talks about talks.’ The UN or others can facilitate both of those processes, if desired. My interlocutors and I agreed that my visit was only a beginning and that we should continue our dialogue.”

In short, both Tillerson and the UN leadership are on the same page in being prepared to start talks with the DPRK without insisting on any party’s agenda.

But will President Trump agree to reaching out to the North Koreans? Or will “fire and fury” and the belief Tillerson is “wasting his time” on peacemaking remain his positions? The North Koreans, having by their own account reached the end of the first stage of their long-range missile program, might be motivated by talks without preconditions—a longstanding demand—as well as by the UN proposal for conflict prevention measures. It may require a concrete incentive, however, to move Kim Jong-un, such as suspension of military deployments and exercises that the North Koreans consider threatening and a shutdown of Trump’s hostile tweets.

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

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.

 

Page 1 of 6
1 2 3 6