Thursday, June 22, 2017

THE DIPLOMATIC CONTRETEMPS IN THE ARABIAN GULF: A COMMENT

"The United Arab Emirates has ramped up the pressure on Qatar by saying the decision by Arab states to cut diplomatic and transport links with Doha was a “golden opportunity” to deal with what it alleges is one of the “main sponsors” of extremism in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a regional blockade on Qatar two weeks ago as they accused the gas-rich state of supporting terrorism, triggering the worst crisis in the Gulf region for decades. The dispute, which pits important US allies against each other, has raised concerns that it could escalate in a region already blighted by conflict and instability. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said the “harsh” measures imposed on Qatar — which denies that it sponsors terrorism — were necessary to send a “wake-up call for behavioural change”. But the four countries had not put forward specific demands to Doha because they first wanted to receive a “commitment that they [Qatar] will change course”. “Our message to many of the western states is of course the solution has to be diplomatic, but it has to be preconditioned on a change of course,” Mr Gargash said on Friday. “We haven’t seen that yet and until we see that I don’t think anybody is ready for a sort of bazaar of this is what we want.”
Andrew England, "Qatar blockade is ‘golden opportunity’ to halt terrorism". The Financial Times. 16 June 2017, in www.ft.com
"It began as a squabble between Arab allies, but the standoff between Qatar and its neighbours is threatening to engulf the Horn of Africa. When Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives declared at the beginning of June that they were severing diplomatic relations with Qatar it appeared to be of interest mainly to the Arabian Peninsula – and the Gulf in particular. The Saudis and their allies accused Qatar of backing international terrorism. The US, which has the Al Udeid air base in Qatar, looked askance, but did little more than use its good offices to try to ensure that the war of words did not flare into an open conflict. But the countries just across the Red Sea have found themselves dragged into the dispute. After prevaricating for some time, Eritrea, which had hitherto good relations with Qatar, fell into line with the Saudis and broke ties with Qatar".
Martin Plaut, "Qatar’s conflict with its neighbours can easily set the Horn of Africa alight". Reaction. 20 June 2017, in www.reaction.life.
If and only 'if' the House of Saud and their Gulf Arab allies have in the past shown any plausible degree of diplomatic skill and discernment, then and only then, would the diplomatic contretemps in the Arabian Gulf be deserving of support from the Western Powers. Make no mistake: the regime in Qatar is as dreadful in its diplomatic playacting and in its amateurish (but dangerous just the same) support for Sunni extremists in the Near and Middle East, as the Saudis, et. al., now claim. Of course the regime in Qatar may very plausibly counterclaim that the Riyadh has been equally at fault in the playing the very same game, only with more money and worse results for almost forty-years now. The real and pertinent issue in the quarrel between Qatar and the House of Saud is that given the maladroit character of Gulf Arab diplomacy, it would be the very mid-summer of madness to expect anything positive in nature coming out of such a situation. It is highly unlikely that the regime in Qatar will quietly and with good grace bow its head and agree to terms. A more likely scenario is that Qatar will endeavor to invite in Persia to support it in its struggle. Now the very last thing that anyone should wish for is for Persia to become involved in any way whatsoever in the other side of the Gulf. So far it has not occurred in a serous fashion. However, there is a real danger that unless the regime in Qatar decides to call it quits, then they may be forced by events to involve Persia. In short, I have extremely limited (indeed it is more akin to non-existent) faith in Saudi diplomacy and diplomatic skill. As I pointed out only a few months ago in the case of Yemen, the Saudis are simply unable to operate in any erste-world fashion:
"There is nothing in the situation in Yemen from when I first wrote about it back more than eighteen months ago, which the errata-filled Saudi-lead military intervention has not proven to be true. The military intervention other than preventing the Houthi rebels from completing ousting the government of President Abd-Rabbu Hadi, has not achieved any of its original goals. It has not defeated the Houthi, nor has it restored peace and security to this wretched country and its poor people. Instead the Saudi campaign, especially its military campaign has shown itself both ruthless and incompetent. The image that one is left with is that of Air Chief Marshal 'Bomber' Harris of World War II fame being impersonated by P. G. Woodhouse's 'Bertie Wooster'. Added to which is the sordid fact that the Saudi military intervention has perhaps inevitably resulted in a greater role for Persia in the country, as it has gradually increased its support for the Houthi. In short the Saudis have more than lived up to their previous military reputation as incompetent brutes and blunderers" 1.
So unless there is an immediate resolution of this diplomatic equivalent of the clashing of swords, it is best and indeed necessary for the Americans to force a modus vivendi settlement on both sides before matters truly get out of hand.
1. Charles Coutinho, "THE CEASE-FIRE IN YEMEN OR THE HOPED FOR END TO SAUDI MILITARY BLUNDERING". Diplomat of the Future. 18 October 2016, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

THE THERESA MAY DEBACLE: A COMMENT

"Theresa May’s decision to call a swift General Election took everyone by surprise, except those who know her well. For some time those closest to her have been weighing the pros and cons of an early election. Mrs May was sceptical about the desirability of asking people to go, once again, to the ballot box, but the Prime Minister is strong and confident enough to be able to listen to an argument and change her position if she feels it is necessary. Theresa May is a careful and thoughtful leader, but unlike Gordon Brown whose dithering over whether to call an early General Election sealed the fate of his chaotic and pointless Premiereship, she has not allowed herself to be boxed into a corner. It is a good example of the adroitness and flexibility necessary in all successful leaders. Theresa May’s thoughtfulness has resulted in decisive and resolute action. Her care and determination over decision making and her resoluteness once a decision has been made are two of the Prime Minister’s finest qualities. She is a strong leader, but not a dogmatic one..... The need to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in the long negotiations and to establish that unique bond a Prime Minister has with the British people that can only be forged in the white heat of a General Election victory meant that an early election, on balance, seemed to be the sensible and positive way forward.... Clearly however the Prime Minister is right when she says this election is essentially about the leadership we need over the next few years as Brexit is negotiated and the business of the country at home is conducted".
Mark Fox, "Theresa May is right to call an early General Election". Reaction. 18 April 2017, in www.reaction.life.
"That was quite the election night — one that almost no one in Westminster was expecting. Mrs May was ready to sail back into power, shake up the cabinet and go on with Brexit as before. None of that is on the cards. Jeremy Corbyn had become increasingly confident of putting in a good performance but few in the Labour party expected to better its 2015 result. Conventional political wisdom has been flipped on its head and Mr Corbyn’s grassroots and social media support have translated into votes. Young people turned out to vote in large numbers, after threatening to do so for many years.... The anger in the Conservative party, however, is visceral, deep and set to bubble over at any time. This election was a waste of six weeks and a serious embarrassment for the party. Mrs May is in power but has no authority. So how long will she last? Her departure could come in the next few days or weeks. She might decide that she has no confidence in her own ability to lead the country and the lack of moral authority has made her position untenable. Cue a messy leadership contest between Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd, David Davis and someone from a younger generation in the party. Mrs May might last until the autumn, seeing through the first wave of Brexit talks and stabilising HMS Great Britain after the shock election result. This would allow tension to ease and give the Tories time to decide where they want to go next (they would do well to listen and learn from Ruth Davidson). Or she might last a couple of years, assuming the DUP can be placated and Brexit talks do not entirely collapse. The party might decide to let Mrs May take the flak for Brexit and ensure she is ejected before the next election. Whenever that happens, the relationship between the PM and the Conservative party has been damaged beyond repair. Regicide is in the air and it’s only a question of when, not if, Mrs May makes an inglorious exit from Downing Street.".
Sebastian Payne, "UK Election Countdown: how long can May last?" The Financial Times. 9 June 2017, in www.ft.com.
"She does share with both Eden and Brown a tendency to be both a boring (at worse) or uninspiring (at best) speaker. All three were and are not 'clubbable' and glad-handing sort of politician (Neville Chamberlain & Balfour as well), being for the most part, private individuals with few friends outside of their immediate family. The fact that May succeeded in winning the race to Number Ten by in essence avoiding taking sides in the BREXIT debate also does not bode well for her going forward. Equally problematic is the fact that like both Eden and Brown, May has surrounded herself at Ten Downing Street the same coterie of youngish aides who were with her at her departmental office. Aides who are both violently loyal to their chief, but unpopular with the rest of Whitehall 1. This is of course all in the possible future and mere conjecture. And it could very well be that six plus years at the Home Office is not as dangerous to a future prime minister's political skills as say being either Chancellor or Foreign Secretary for ten plus years. To-day Prime Minister May is the toast of the town, at least Westminster. Hopefully this will continue to be so. The portents for those who known their Prime Ministerial history is unfortunately, not the very best. Or as the ancient historian Tacitus once put it about the Emperor Galba: 'Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset'".
Charles Coutinho, "THERESA MAY AS PRIME MINISTER: THE ILL-FORTUNE OF TOO MUCH EXPERIENCE?" The Diplomat of the Future. 19 July 2016, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
I would have preferred to have been wrong about Theresa May last Thursday night. Especially, since there were some (not on Brexit though) policies of hers (such as about Grammar Schools, Fox Hunting, Immigration) that I agreed with her. Unfortunately, as I predicted last year and as the election campaign (of a mere six-weeks no less) clearly, nay brutally showed, May is not the stuff that successful British Prime Ministers are made of. It is a sad thing to say, but it is a true one. All of the flaws that I pointed out (along side a few, very few indeed others) pointed out when she first was elected Tory party leader and then installed as Prime Minister have become crystal clear. Now of course the United Kingdom is in a rather horrid shape. May is in a sense (in the cruel but mot exact of George Osborne) "“She is a dead woman walking and the only question is how long she remains on death row" 1. But unfortunately, May must remain Prime Minister for the next crucial months to both stabilize the country and commence the Brexit Talks. This is of course nothing like the role that May thought of herself playing two months ago, but as Harold Wilson once aptly put it "A week is a long time in politics".
1. George Osborne quoted in the Financial Times. See: George Parker and Henry Mance, "Theresa May faces party showdown after disastrous election". The Financial Times. 12 June, in www.ft.com

Thursday, June 08, 2017

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, 1928-2017: REQUIESCANT IN PACE

"If the template for the job of White House national security adviser had been written in the 1970s, two men, Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, would have served as the models. Both were born in central Europe, had distinguished academic credentials, impeccable political connections and wrote extensively about the state of the world. And both were able to practice what they preached in print as the right hand men of the occupant of the Oval office. Brzezinski, who has died at the age of 89, was far from his predecessor’s doppelganger, but his record in office can stand fair comparison. On his watch, under President Jimmy Carter, the US normalised relations with China, severing ties with Taiwan in the process, signed the Salt Two arms treaty with the Soviet Union, brought Egypt and Israel together in the Camp David accords and concluded the Panama Canal treaty, ceding control to Panama. In each decision he was an influential player. On the downside, the US was caught flatfooted by the Khomeini revolution in Iran, allowing the deposed Shah refuge in the US, which eventually led to the Iran hostage crisis, a factor in Mr Carter’s election defeat in 1980. Brzezinski was also instrumental in arming the Afghan mujahideen after the Soviet invasion of 1979, a policy that came back to haunt the US two decades later (to prove his point, flamboyantly, he was photographed in the Khyber Pass pointing a rifle across the border). From their White House vantage point, both men had notoriously poor relations with the state department, respectively headed by William Rogers and Cyrus Vance, whom they viewed as staid and unimaginative. Vance eventually resigned in protest over the abortive hostage rescue mission in 1980, an operation Brzezinski actively supported. But both Kissinger and Brzezinski were known for their world views and doctrines, seeing the globe as a global chess board around which the US and USSR moved pieces. No national security adviser since them has had the temerity to venture so far, preferring roles as the facilitators of policies rather than as their intellectual authors".
Jurek Martin, "Zbigniew Brzezinski, US national security adviser, 1928-2017". The Financial Times. 26 May 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Zbigniew Brzezinski had an academic background similar to Kissinger's; conceptually, though the two could hardily have been more different. Kissinger had articulated a consistent view of International affairs: one could read A World Restored (published in 1957) and find in it a generally reliable guide to the policies he would seek to implement a decade and half later. Brzezinski's writings showed no such depth. There was instead, as one critic put it, an 'enduring penchant for fashionable issues and concepts that are adopted or discarded in the light of changing circumstances,...an unbecoming reliance on the intellectual cliche of the moment".' "
John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment.Revised edition. (2005). p. 346.
Like his fellow European emigre, academic star and thereafter high administration official, Henry A. Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski was one of a kind in many ways. Both men were of a generation which saw American academia rises to new heights, and both men quickly became scholars for whom mere scholarship was not nearly enough to withstand the siren calls of political power to be found in Washington. Five-years younger than Kissinger, Brzezinski was slower off the mark and perhaps due to his specialization in what was then called 'Soviet studies', less able to switch as quickly to the political realm. Also unlike Kissinger, Brzezinski had a taste, or perhaps what one may characterize as a flair for running after the current day's novelties. From being one of the co-originators of the once famous 'Friedrich-Brzezinski' model of totalitarianism, to his futuristic Between Two Ages, which eventually resulted in the setting-up of the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller in the early 1970s. As James Earl Carter's foreign policy sponsor and then National Security Adviser, Brzezinski had a very mixed-record. His semi-persistent anti-Soviet rhetoric and policies helped to put the 'detente' policies of the Kissinger era permanently on ice. Given the fact that it is now evident there was no Soviet aim or ambition to either conquer Afghanistan or for that matter Pakistan / Persia, his treating, nay opportuning the Soviets into an Afghanistan morass, is from hindsight questionable. As per contra to his later claims, it is very well imaginable that sans, the Russian Afghanistan intervention, that the dismantling of first the Russia Empire in Eastern and Central Europe and then Sovietskaya Vlast itself, would have occurred regardless. Similarly his pronounced leaning towards the Peoples Republic of China, also appears to be in retrospect questionable, given the fact that the Americans while offering the PRC much, received very little back in turn 1. Of course in that respect, Brzezinski was merely following in the unfortunate footsteps of Henry Kissinger. However, to give credit where credit is due, Brzezinski must be lauded for stepping up the Human Rights campaign against Sovietskaya Vlast. This campaign was important for two reasons in retrospect: i) it allowed the Americans to gain credit worldwide, after the debacle of Vietnam and the cynicism of the Nixon-Kissinger years for re-possessing the mantel of idealism. A weapon, while amorphous in nature, was and is vitally important in terms of 'soft power'. Similarly, Brzezinski must be credited for predicting, in the Hugh Seton-Watson Memorial Lecture (and elsewhere) in 1988 the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Central and Eastern Europe. Wherein, he predicted a (in the words of Timothy Garton-Ash) 'a 1848 in 1988' 2. Aside from this instance, there was not much by the way of glory or triumphs in Brzezinski's years out of power. Like Kissinger, he wrote a memoir, but unlike Kissinger's it was short (one volume only) and not nearly as interesting from either a historical or literary perspective. Again like Kissinger, he was never granted, rightly or wrongly access to the heights of power after he left government. In short, there was something truncated and (dare one say it?) second-rate about Brzezinski. Not so much as a man, but as a historical personality. In that respect for good or ill, he was never able to match Henry Kissinger.
1. See: Raymond Garthoff. Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. (1985).
2. See: Zbigniew Brzezinski, "America's New Geostrategy". Foreign Affairs. (Spring 1988), p. 686, wherein he states: "In the meantime, Eastern Europe is rapidly emerging as Europe's region of potential explosive instability, with five countries already in a classic prerevolutionary situation. Economic failure and political unrest are becoming the dominant characteristics of life in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia".

Monday, June 05, 2017

MERKEL'S FOLLY OR WHY SHE WAS WRONG ABOUT THE AMERICANS AND EUROPE

"Donald Trump’s first visit to Europe was awkward. Its aftermath has been explosive. Speaking at an election rally in Munich, shortly after the US president had returned to Washington, Angela Merkel came close to announcing the death of the western alliance. The German chancellor warned that: “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days. We Europeans must really take our destiny in our own hands. Of course we need to have friendly relations with the US and with the UK and with other neighbours, including Russia. But we have to fight for our own future ourselves.” Ms Merkel’s remarks swiftly made headlines. Richard Haass, who as president of the Council on Foreign Relations is the doyen of the US foreign-policy establishment, tweeted: “Merkel saying Europe cannot rely on others & needs to take matters into its own hands is a watershed — & what US has sought to avoid since WW2.” It is easy and appropriate to blame President Trump for this state of affairs. But despite her cautious phrasing, Ms Merkel has also behaved irresponsibly — making a statement that threatens to widen a dangerous rift in the Atlantic alliance into a permanent breach".
Gideon Rachman, "Angela Merkel’s blunder, Donald Trump and the end of the west". The Financial Times. 29 May 2017 in www.ft.com.
"Every great plan is long-term. Despite its power, I don't believe the United States has a long-term policy. Its desire, and it will satisfy it one day, is to desert Europe. You will see".
Charles de Gaulle quoted in Andre Malraux. Felled Oaks: conversations with De Gaulle. (1971), p. 30.
The German Chancellor's comments on the Americans no longer being reliable source of security is a diplomatic blunder in two senses: a) it is a warning couched as prophecy, which makes the prophecy more likely to become true. Something which I am sure that Frau Merkel does not in fact wish to occur; b) following from 'a' is the fact, that the words uttered by the Chancellor Merkel are completely and absolutely empty. Unlike Charles de Gaulle, who conceived and indeed worked towards a situation wherein: "the defence of France must be in French hands" 1. And among other things that required not only the ouster of NATO from French soil in 1966, but as importantly the construction of the Force de frappe. France's nuclear arm 2. There is absolutely nothing similar in either the remarks nor indeed the thought processes of Angela Merkel. It is all very well for her to proclaim that "We Europeans must really take our destiny in our own hands". But in the absence of a concerted and voluminous military build-up by Germany and to a lesser extent other European powers, her words a mere empty rhetoric. So, if that is indeed the case, and there is nothing to gainsay that that is not the reality of the situation, then Merkel's words are a diplomatic blunder of the first water. In the age of Trump, the very last thing that is needed or desired is for Europe to give the Americans the idea that Europe is self-sufficient and does not need or desire American protection. If Merkel were a politician of Gaullist stature and aims then it would be otherwise, but she is not by any means that. So accordingly, what needs to be done is for Europe to refrain from empty rhetoric, however desirable the feeling that it gives off and await the inevitable end of Trumpism. Just as Europe will see the inevitable (admittedly in a longer vein) end of Putinism. Until then diplomatic tranquility and not empty rhetoric originating from a Beer garden are what the current situation calls for.
1. Charles de Gaulle. Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor. Translated by Terence Kilmartin. (1971). p. 204 and passim.
2. See, in addition to Memoirs of Hope, Michael M. Harrison. The Reluctant Ally: France and Atlantic Security. (1981), pp, 49-101 and passim.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE MASSACRE IN MANCHESTER: A COMMENT

"A man with an “improvised” bomb killed at least 22 people and injured 59 outside a concert arena filled with teenagers in central Manchester on Monday night, in the worst terrorism incident in the UK since 2005. Police said the bomber, who died in the explosion, detonated the device around 10.30pm, shortly after the concert by US pop star Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. Among the dead were young children, police said. Isis claimed responsibility for the attack, although the jihadi group has in the past taken credit for terror incidents that were later found to be unconnected. Dan Coats, the US director of national intelligence, said Isis’s role had yet to be confirmed, adding: “They claim responsibility for virtually every attack.” Prime Minister Theresa May said security services believed they knew the identity of the bomber behind the “callous terrorist attack”, which was “among the worst terrorism we have experienced in the United Kingdom”. “We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room of young people as an opportunity for carnage,” Mrs May said outside 10 Downing Street. Police conducted two raids in Whalley Range and Fallowfield in south Manchester in connection with their investigation and arrested a 23-year-old man outside a Morrison’s supermarket in Chorlton. Ian Hopkins, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said authorities were working to determine whether the attacker “was acting alone or was part of a network”'
Andy Bounds & Robert Wright, "Terror bombing kills 22 in Manchester Arena". The Financial Times. 23 May 2017 in www.ft.com
Among the twenty two dead and fifty nine injured are children. Youngsters who had gone out to see an artist – 23 year-old Ariana Grande – who is particularly popular with young girls. In the hours after a lone suicide bomber detonated a device, in the foyer near the box office as the 21,000-strong audience made its way out at the close of the concert, there was confusion and scenes of heartbreaking desperation as parents searched for their loved ones.‎ Manchester rallied and the emergency services rushed towards the danger, not away from it, reminding us all of the debt we owe our public servants.... Britain and the West are up against a bunch of scumbags prepared to slaughter children at concerts. We need clear-eyed calm determination and utter ruthlessness in taking them on. We need a deep commitment to security, intelligence and policing. We do not need hand-wringing and equivocation.
Iain Martin, "Horror In Manchester". Reaction. 23 May 2017, in www.reaction.life
The massacre in Manchester this week, follows of course a series of similar massacres in Western Europe and the United States in the years since 2001. And again and again, we hear from our bien-pensant, liberal-bourgeois, post-enlightenment, commentators the following chants (yes, they are that ritualized): a) 'Islam is a religion of peace'; b) that we should not stigmatize the Muslim community in our midst as that would be racism and or Islamophobia. Albert Einstein once defined madness as someone who keeps repeating certain actions notwithstanding how disfunctional said actions are. Well, employing Einstein' definition, our bien-pensant liberals are the very epitome of mad, insofar as they ritualistically refuse, nay adamantly refuse to see the problem for what it is: Islam is indeed the problem. Far from being a 'religion of peace', Islam is and has always been a religions which have viewed holy war in highly positive terms. From the so-called prophet Mohammid, to the present, violence is viewed and has been employed to spread Islam far and wide. As Iain Martin correctly states, what is needed is 'clear-eyed calm determination and utter ruthlessness' in ridding the West of the incubus of Radical Islam in all its forms and shapes. If the West fails to remedy and quickly the problem of Islam and the radicalism that radiates from Muslim communities which are based in the West, we can only expect that the horrible prediction made twenty-years ago, by the leading literary & cultural critic in the Anglophone world, George Steiner will indeed be fulfilled in the years to come:
"Despite the detergent of ubiquity of the planetary media, differences remain profound. Fundamentalism, that blind lunge towards simplification, towards the infantile comforts of imposed discipline, is immensely on the march. In regards to Islam, European democracies stand increasingly bewildered and vulnerable. Prognostication is usually specious. It does look possible, however that the coming centuries will witness fierce conflicts between irreconcilable cultures, between antithetical world-visions even more divided by mutual fears and hatreds than are the ideological and ethnic camps of today 1."
1. George Steiner. Errata: an examined life. (1997), p.135. Time has not changed Steiner's pessimism in this respect, as in his most recent book just published in the United Kingdom, he states as follows: 'You are very harsh toward Islam, why is that? G[eorge] S[teiner]: First, because the threat at present is becoming increasingly cruel....I don't believe in ecumenism and I don't believe there can be agreement. Malraux predicted that the religious wars of the twenty-first century would be the greatest in history." See: George Steiner. A Long Saturday: conversations. (2017), p. 36.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

DONALD TRUMP AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY: OR LORD COOPER AS POTUS

"One of the joys of parenthood is that you see the world again through fresh eyes. Almost the same could be said of observing Donald Trump’s learning curve. Did anyone know how complicated US healthcare could be? Were people aware that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican? Who knew that North Korea was not at China’s beck and call? The good news is Mr Trump’s curve is often vertical. Some of his crazier positions have been discarded. The bad news is that Mr Trump’s shifts require constant vigilance. For the next four or eight years, global peace of mind will depend on Mr Trump having the right advisers at hand when it matters. Things go wrong when moderating influences are absent. On Monday, Mr Trump called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic president, to congratulate him on a narrow referendum victory that is in dispute. It is no coincidence this ill-advised call took place while HR McMaster, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, was out of the country. The president’s most incendiary daytime tweets often come out on a Saturday, when his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is observing the Sabbath. The others are issued at night when Mr Trump is alone. He is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s to go to bed and wake up alone. Until now, his wife Melania has shown no sign of wanting to join him in Washington. Beware Mr Trump when he is alone with the world. But his daytime company is greatly improved from when he started. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, has been criticised for failing to fill up the administration’s key diplomatic roles. His hesitation stems from an excess of caution. Until he knows what Mr Trump’s foreign policy will be, it is tough to know which people would be best to execute it. The same applies to Mr Tillerson’s shyness with the media. Why talk to journalists when Mr Trump may contradict you within minutes of stating a policy? Whatever Mr Tillerson’s shortcomings, impulsiveness is not one of them. The world should be reassured by that.... But there is little basis for assuming Mr Trump’s evolution will persist in the right direction. First, he has no personal loyalties. When his greatest friend and mentor, Roy Cohn (no relation to Gary), was dying of HIV-Aids in the late 1980s, Mr Trump refused to visit him. The notorious New York lawyer had ceased to be useful. “Donald pisses ice water,” Cohn said. Most presidents suffer from an excess of loyalty. Mr Trump is the opposite. The world’s diplomats are investing much time in cultivating Mr Kushner on the assumption he cannot be fired. That is almost certainly wrong. He can be marginalised, which is the same thing. Mr Kushner has been so overloaded with responsibilities he is almost destined to fail. Mr Trump never blames himself. Second, the president has set up a pipeline of foreseeable defeats. His team is no closer than it was six weeks ago to finding a replacement to Obamacare. A second failure on healthcare reform is almost certain. That, in turn, will endanger his centrepiece tax reform, which is no nearer a drawing board than when he took office. In some respects it is even further away. Many Republicans assumed that Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, would push through his own tax plan once Mr Trump had given up. They overestimated Mr Ryan’s competence. There is even less likelihood Mr Trump will get his own way on North Korea. At some point his failure to disarm Kim Jong Un will become dangerously obvious. Ditto for reducing the US-China trade deficit and opening the spigots on infrastructure spending. Mr Trump will find it hard to stand the reality of one defeat after another. Heads will roll. Some will be moderates. Stephen Bannon, the champion of Mr Trump’s “America First” instincts, may have been sidelined. But he is still there. That, ultimately, is the weakness of Mr Trump’s Oval Office tutorials. They depend on who is doing the educating. For the time being, Mr Trump is surrounded by cooler heads. When things go wrong, their loyalty will count for nothing".
Edward Luce, "Painting by numbers with Donald Trump". The Financial Times. 19 April 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Lord Cooper explained Nazism, Fascism, and Communism; later in his ghastly library, he outlined the situation in the Far East. 'The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere', he said. 'Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad'. Mr. Salter's side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent. When Lord Cooper was right he said, 'Definitely Lord Cooper'; when he was wrong. 'Up to a point'. 'Let me see, what's the name of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn't it?' 'Up to a point Lord Cooper'. 'And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn't it? Definitely Lord Cooper'."
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh. Scoop. (1949). p. 16.
Notwithstanding some of the more optimistic comments by various commentators, both in the United States and abroad, Trumpism as a foreign policy concept is disaster waiting to occur 1. The American President is a very dangerous combination of supreme ignorance and activism. Au fond 'un-masterly activity' could perhaps be said to be his motto. The bombing in Syria being the ne plus ultra of the very same. The fact that said bombing up-ended his previously declared policy of non-involvement in Syria, Trump perhaps (or perhaps not?) moved by the horrid usage of chemical weapons by the regime of Assad Fils, decided to almost completely reverse course and bomb one Syrian air field. Albeit after warning the Russians what was intended. Similarly, it has now been proved that the movement of a battle group into the waters off Korea from the Western Pacific, was more akin to a stunt than a thought-out policy decision. As the Financial Times' Edward Luce cogently notes, the real issue with Mr. Trump is that having no allegiances (except to himself), and no beliefs or deeply held views, added to which is a mountain-load of ignorance that would put Lord Cooper to shame. In short the American President is the human equivalent of a spinning top. Whoever spins the top last, has the possibility of ensuring where said top will go to. And while it is a very good thing indeed that Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillson, Vice-President Pence and General McMaster, are all level-headed people. Some being highly experienced individuals with long years of government service, there is little reason to believe that per se, if the President were to convince himself that one or all of them should be displaced and or sidelined, then displaced and sidelined they will be. If it could potentially happen to the President's son-in-law, Mr. Kushner (whose sole qualification for holding the power that he does is that he is indeed President Trump's son-in-law), then it may occur to anyone in the current Trump cabinet. Time will only tell where exactly the top labeled POTUS, will end up spinning to.
1. For a more 'optimistic' view of Trumpian foreign policy, see: James Forsyth, "Trump's plan for Pyongyang". The Spectator (London). 8 April 2017. Page 14.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

AMERICA'S ANTI-RUSSIAN MANEUVER: A COMMENT

"The US has announced sweeping new sanctions against Russia in retaliation for cyber attacks against the Democratic National Committee and the emails of a key Hillary Clinton adviser that it claims were orchestrated by the Kremlin. President Barack Obama said he had issued sanctions against Russia’s two main intelligence services — the FSB and the GRU — along with sanctions against six individuals: four of them high-ranking GRU members and two of them individual Russian hackers. Separately, the state department also expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives stationed in the Russian embassy in Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco for activity that the US said was “inconsistent with their diplomatic status”. This, it said, was in response to alleged harassment of US diplomats by Russia. The Russian officials have been given 72 hours to leave the country. The new measures represent a significant escalation in the US’s stand-off with Russia. The expulsion of close to three-dozen Russian officials is one of the biggest such expulsions in a decade. “All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Mr Obama said in a statement. “In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behaviour, and interfere with democratic governance.”
Courtney Weaver, Sam Fleming and Kathrin Hille, "US expels Russian spies over election hacking". The Financial Times. 30 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
"In a head-spinning turn of events on Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced that he would not retaliate against President Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions — hours after his foreign minister recommended doing just that. Mr. Putin, betting on improved relations with the next American president, said he would not eject 35 diplomats or close any diplomatic facilities, rejecting a response to actions taken by the Obama administration on Thursday. The switch was remarkable, given that the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had just recommended the retaliation in remarks broadcast live on national television, and given the long history of reciprocal expulsions between the two countries. Russian officials have traditionally been sticklers for diplomatic protocol. “While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Mr. Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for quarrelsome and unseemly acts. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration” of Donald J. Trump".
Neil MacFarquhar, "Vladimir Putin Won’t Expel U.S. Diplomats as Russian Foreign Minister Urged". The New York Times. 30 December 2016, in www.nytimes.com.
Just like American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry speech earlier this week on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the actions undertaken by the outgoing American Administration concerning Russia's undoubted interference in the recently concluded American Presidential election is very much a case of too little too late. Given the pro-Russian tendencies of elements of the incoming Trump Administration, it would have behooved the current American Administration to have acted upon the intelligence evidence that was in evidence going back to last summer and damned the political consequences. At that time, any such action, while perhaps controversial (with who exactly other than the Republican Presidential candidate and his immediate coterie?), would have given immediate and hard effect by retaliating for Russian behavior. However, but not acting in time and I would argue in the full quantity of expulsion and other moves: such as expelling double or triple the number of diplomats and engaging in black propaganda against Putin and his circle as well as more sanctions against Russian companies, the American Administration merely shows itself to be self-castrated and toothless 1. Hence, Putin's seemingly statesmanlike decision to avoid retaliating against the Americans. Not that Putin is by any means a 'statesmanlike' character. Far from it! Merely that the American decision was not of such significance as to require Russian retaliation. Per contra, if the full measure of sanctions as I have outlined it above had indeed been carried-out, it is quite certain that Putin would have been forced to retaliate and thus the incoming Trump Administration would have (providentially) been boxed-in politically speaking into an appropiate anti-Russian course. Now of course that question is still left up in the air. The first question being if the nomination of Mr. Rex Tillerson to the post of Secretary of State will be approved by the Senate or be blocked. One can only hope that it is the latter and not the former which occurs. Until then, regardless of the recent American move, all options are open as per the future course of Russian-American relations.
1. For a historical example of an appropriate response to Russian behavior on foreign soil, in this case, the expulsion of more than one-hundred Russian diplomatic personnel from Great Britain in 1971, see: Gill Bennett. Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy. (2013),pp. 123-146.