THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WEST

THE RUSSIAN-TRUMP CONNECTION: GETTING TO THE TRUTH AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

By Harry C. Blaney III

DATELINE :LONDON

The perspective from London: the news that both the Director of the FBI James Comey and the head of the National Security Agency Admiral Mike Rogers have confirmed two key points has given some light here on America’s own disarray: the most important revelation is that of Comey in affirming that an investigation of the connection between the Trump team and Russia is taking place. The other statement by the NSA head, at the congressional committee, is that they could not find any evidence that Obama or his administration called for a wiretap on Trump Tower and affirmed that such a request would be illegal by Obama or any president. This severely undercut the Trump White House assertion that such wiretapping was ordered. They are looking at whether there was any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia to influence the election.

Russian Interference in the 2016 election is the other key issue and the need to look more at this seem on the agenda and will have still public profile until more if revealed and this is also a finding which Trump fears.

Here in London this Russian connection story was given wide coverage especially on BBC News and in the quality newspapers. The question was also raised here whether the Trump unproved accusations that the UK GCHQ, the counterpart of the American NSA, had spied on the Trump camp. This only added to the unease about American leadership. The GCHQ stated that any idea of their spying was nonsense. In fact, at the US House Intelligence hearings on these issues, the NSA head confirmed that such an order was expressly counter to the so-call “5 eyes” of nations with special access to and sharing of intelligence information, and was contrary to its firm rules and no such order was ever given.

With all of that, the White House totally denied any reality of collusion with Russia and stood on their untenable positions, with no indication of any apology or refutation of the now totally denied chargers.

With the affirmation of the FBI Trump-Russian connection inquiry, the possibility of some connection between the Trump people and Russian, before the election and before taking office grows more worrisome. It is clear that something odd was at work in that Trump’s staff. The Trump associates did approach the Russians before the election and that the former NSC head Flynn felt he had to lie to the American Vice president about his talk to the Russian Ambassador. Also US intelligence did report that at least 3 or possibly more members of the Trump team also had contacts with Russians. There were also hints that some of these Russians were from Russian intelligence agencies.

Another disheartening news for Europe is that Secretary of State will not be coming to the forthcoming NATO Council meeting of Foreign Ministers and news reports confirm that he supports the drastic cutting of the State Department and USAID budget which will cost million of vulnerable lives. This only adds to the unease here in Europe and brightens Putin’s efforts to divide the West.

One other element is that UK Prime Minister May has set Wednesday March 27th as the date she will invoke Article 50 to leave the EU. This plays into also Putin’s goals and it seems, that the British right-wing is in its ascendancy and the Labour Party here is in even more disarray than earlier which is saying a great deal given its critical internal turmoil. There seems, as noted before, a rush of the lemmings over the clef.

Finally, the combination of Trump fighting with our allies and pushing, it seems, for their disunity, along with the UK Prime Minister May also on board with the Brexit plunge into even greater isolationism and nationalism, add also lurking economic crisis upon actual breakup. One then must mix in the ascendancy in Europe of the Alt-Right-neo-Fascist parties and groups, despite the Dutch vote, along with the factor of Putin’s Russia playing a not so secret effort to weaken and divide Europe and undermine democracy, result: we have a very dangerous landscape.

All this exacerbated by a very foolish, uninformed, and clearly malevolent man. Not a very good picture for those that prize peace, democracy and security. The costs here are too great to imagine.

More in the coming days from Europe and it’s “discontents” and America’s role in all this.

We welcome your comments! See box below.

Populism in Modern America – Why 2016?

By Blaze Joel, National Security Intern

On July 1, David Brooks wrote of a “Coming Political Realignment” that had been exacerbated by Donald Trump. Brooks argued that Trump is shattering the usual party demarcator in America – a small government versus a big government – and replacing it with a “right-left populist coalition” that battles against a centrist coalition over the issue of an open or closed government. Trump’s “only hope is to cast his opponents as the right-left establishment that supports open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture, and global intervention. He would stand as a right-left populist who supports closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture, and an America First foreign policy.” Trump has exemplified this new American populism, tacking hard to the right on issues like immigration while moving left of Hillary Clinton on free trade.

In a previous post, we posed the question of how both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can be called populists when they seemingly represent completely divergent ends of the ideological spectrum (despite striking a similar tone on trade). This post will seek to answer: Why 2016? What is it about this year that has allowed the messages of populists, but especially of Donald Trump, to resonate with the American people? We will analyze a number of issues in this post, from the direction of the country to jobs, the economy, and trade to immigration, terrorism, and “law and order,” providing data and its historical context.

Direction of the Country and Institutional Faith

As noted in our last post, most Americans are not satisfied with the direction of our nation, despite Obama’s over-50 percent approval ratings. In fact, the number of Americans satisfied with the way things are going dropped from 29 percent in June to just 17 percent in July. But, as also noted in our previous post, this dissatisfaction is nothing new. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight revealed that 52 percent of Trump supporters (as opposed to 14 percent of anti-Trump Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats) are “very” angry about the way things are going in the country today.

Coupled with this anger at the direction of the nation is a mistrust of “elite” institutions such as the government, banks, media, and big business. Among the three branches of government, the Presidency and the Supreme Court share the highest approval ratings, as 36 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in each. However, 23 percent of Americans surveyed this June have “very little” or no confidence in the Supreme Court (a 10 point rise since 2003) and 36 percent have “very little” or no confidence in the Presidency (one of the lowest numbers since 2008). Furthermore, the 36 percent confidence in the Presidency is lower than after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (55 percent) and after the UN discovered there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2005 (44 percent). The “very little” result has more than doubled since June of 2003.

Congress is the most maligned branch of government, as 55 percent of Americans have “very little” or no confidence in the institution as compared to just nine percent that have a “great deal” or “quite a lot.” This is quite a precipitous drop-off, as 30 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of faith in the Legislative Branch as recently as 2004 and 45 percent of Americans had “some” confidence in it as recently as 2009. As is often humorously pointed out, Americans favor Darth Vader, Jar-Jar Binks, root canals, cockroaches, and used car salesmen to Congress. The reasons for the rampant disapproval of Congress are many – partisan gridlock, seemingly pointless politicking, gerrymandering, and constant fundraising and campaigning. Perhaps the most glaring reasons are its relative inactivity in recent years, culminating in the 113th Congress from 2013-2014 that passed just 72 bills, and the prevalence of governing from crisis-to-crisis and kicking the can down the road. These attitudes have facilitated the rise of candidates who want to “shake-up” or metaphorically “burn down” the system in order to try to fix it.

Partisanship and a Divided America

The increased partisanship doesn’t just reside in Congress. The American public is becoming more divided as well. This expanding rift became evident in 2005, when the average Republican began to drift further to the ideological right while the Democrats stayed put. Beginning in 2012, both parties started migrating further toward their respective poles. Pew research from this spring found that 49 percent of all Republicans (62 percent of highly-engaged Republicans) and 55 percent of Democrats (70 percent of highly-engaged Democrats) were “afraid” of the opposing party. Similarly, 52 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party as “closed-minded.” A whopping 70 percent of Democrats have the same view of the GOP. Around a third of both parties also consider the other to be “unintelligent,” while over 40 percent of both parties think the other is “dishonest.” Today, 91 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably (58 percent would classify their views as “very unfavorable”) while 86 (and 55, respectively) percent of Democrats hold the same view of the Republican Party. Moreover, a majority of Americans in both political parties say that the main reason they support their respective party because the other option’s policies are “bad for the country,” rather than out of a belief in their own party’s positions.

The campaign season in 2016 has been marked by intense protests, animosity towards a number of candidates, and outright violence at political rallies. Part of this is attributable to the flaws and mistrust in the political system noted above, but part is also a result of an increasingly divided American public. If the other side is a fundamental threat to America, then how and why should we even work with them? This atmosphere is ripe for people who want to exacerbate partisan divides and paint the nation as in need of fixing.

Jobs, The Economy, and Trade

Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville told the President in 1992 that he should focus on “the economy, stupid.” Since then, that cliché has become an instrumental part of American politics and a major predictive factor for elections. The United States (and global) economy has been rebounding since the “Great Recession” of 2008-2010. The unemployment rate is back under five percent and 25 of the last 27 quarters have witnessed an increased GDP (though it is lower than hoped and the recovery is slow). Wage growth has stagnated (as it has since the 1970s), but it is doing better when pegged against inflation. Nonetheless, 71 percent of Americans feel the economy is “rigged” according to a recent poll.

Why is this the case? Inequality is on the rise – the top 1 percent of Americans owned 36 percent of the wealth in 2013 – and the middle class is shrinking due to a number of interrelated factors. On the campaign trail, Trump and Sanders have both pointed extensively to free trade deals like NAFTA, which they argue have cost America millions of manufacturing jobs, thus fulfilling Ross Perot’s famous statement from 1992 that the trade deal would create “a giant sucking sound going South.” This year, according to a Brookings/PRRI poll, 52 percent of Americans think free trade agreements are “mostly harmful because they send jobs overseas and drive down wages.” Among Trump supporters, the number jumps to 60 percent.

Is free trade (specifically NAFTA) that bad? The results on the trade deal nearly 23 years after its enactment are mixed. There are approximately 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs in America today than there were when NAFTA was signed in 1994. The Economic Policy Institute calculated that more than 500,000 of these losses were due to the trade agreement. However, overall U.S. employment is up 22 percent since 1994. Not all of these lost jobs have gone to NAFTA nations – EPI data shows that approximately 3.2 million jobs (over 75 percent of which were in manufacturing) have been lost due to outsourcing to China since 2001. Additionally, this shift away from manufacturing has been present – though more pronounced recently – since the 1960s. Improvements in technology, the U.S. regulation system, and corporate outsourcing to cheaper labor markets have also all played a role in the loss of “blue collar” jobs over the last 20 years. While the effects of free trade are mixed, there is no doubting that certain locations and segments of the U.S. have been disproportionately benefitted by recent economic trends. The transition to an economy primarily based on services has benefitted those with more education and those who live in urban or suburban areas – the opposite profile of the “average” Trump supporter. NBC News found that Trump won over 75 percent of counties in which there was a low white labor participation rate or a strong decrease in average annual pay.

Immigration, Terrorism, and “Law and Order”

The final plank in Trump’s populist appeal is his promise to keep Americans safe and “restore law and order.” Other than his proposed wall along the Mexican-American border, a “Muslim” immigration ban, and utilizing waterboarding in interrogations, Trump has been nebulous about the specific policies he will enact to do so. Regardless, this rhetoric has found a home in an America where more people now are at least somewhat worried that they or their family will be a victim of terrorism. Sixty-five percent of Trump supporters share this belief. Over 40 percent of independents surveyed by Brookings and PRRI support barring Syrian refugees from the United States, building a border wall, and banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are 66 percent, 64 percent, and 64 percent, respectively. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters support the actions against Syrian refugees and foreign-born Muslims, while over 80 percent of Trump supporters want to build the wall.

Despite Trump’s claims that illegal immigration is rampant, Pew found that the number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has stabilized in recent years at approximately 11.3 million – down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. Over 40 percent of Trump supporters believe that undocumented immigrants should be “identified and deported” – 12 percent more than the average Republican and 30 percent more than the average Democrat. Over 75 percent of Trump supporters believe that immigration needs to decrease in America, according to FiveThirtyEight. Anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats both polled in the 20s.

In the wake of the Paris attacks last November, Pew released data that showed that more Americans disapprove of the government’s job handling terror for the first time since 9/11. More Americans also view Islam as more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Among Republicans, 68 percent hold this belief. Additionally, 49 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of self-identified “conservative Republicans” believe that Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny in federal efforts to prevent terrorism, compared to just 32 percent of all Americans.

That same Pew poll found that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to believe that defense/national security, immigration, terrorism, and ISIS/War in Iraq and Syria are the most important issue facing our nation today. In fact, 42 percent of Republicans surveyed (as opposed to just 24 percent of Democrats) viewed these issues as most important. ISIS polls as the biggest threat to America for both Republicans and Democrats – appearing on 93 percent of Republican responses and 79 percent of Democratic responses. However, Democrats rank climate change as the second biggest threat (73 percent) while Republicans vote for Iran’s nuclear program (79 percent).

Conclusion

“Populist” politics have been a fixture in America since its founding, but seem to have reached a fever pitch in 2016 due to a range of factors – including the economy, seeming global chaos, and disaffection with the nation’s political and financial elites. Donald Trump has exacerbated these tensions with his unique brand of populism that finds a home in places with more “distressful white experiences,” as NBC News characterizes it. Almost 70 percent of Trump supporters and Republicans believe that the “American way of life has gotten worse since 1950,” as opposed to the nearly 70 percent of Democrats who say that it has improved. In an increasingly divided America that at times seems at odds with itself and whose government often seems to fail when called upon to enact change, Americans are looking for someone who will advocate for them this election – the perfect environment for a populist who claims he will come in and “fix the system” that some feel has let them down.

HISTORIC CLIMATE CHANGE PARIS ACCORD REACHED NOW THE HARD PART WHERE AND HOW WE GO FROM HERE?

President Obama with Modi
Photo: Fox News

By Harry C. Blaney III

A lot of credit must go to President Hollande, his team, President Obama, and Secretary Kerry as they all worked beyond human energy levels for a positive outcome at the COP21 conference especially at the ninth hour and beyond on Saturday night December 12th. Also, some great credit must go to the political and diplomatic leaders that led the way and overcame major obstacles. Having attended a number of major conferences throughout my career, getting consensus or at least lack of opposition is a hard lift, and in too many cases an impossible task. I have long argued that one of the great historical moments in human history would be the decision by the global community to decide to act effectively to address the looming, if not already present disaster that is climate change or global warming. It is an existential challenge, not just to the nations states but for the peoples of the entire planet.

A reminder, it is not just this accord in itself that is key, but rather, the will to actually work towards its goals that are important. That will still take political will and the strong backing and daily support of citizens around the world along with strong and determined leaders who will stand by their work and their successors.

Here are comments, analysis, and questions on some of the key points of the agreement:

TEMPERATURE INCREASE AT A 2.0 OR 1.5 CELSIUS CAP TARGETS:

We need to be frank on this difference. The developing countries wanted to get some commitment to the 1.5 C target and they got that but it will be difficult if not impossible to achieve even the 2.0 C goal. But better to put this on the table for future debate as this compromise helped to get some of the developing countries on board for the entire Paris package. A number of NGOs also thought this was necessary as many scientist believe that even at 2.00 C could bring about catastrophic impacts, especially on the poorer and vulnerable nations like the Island countries.

BURDEN SHARING OF COSTS WITH RESOURCES TO DEVELOPING NATIONS FROM DEVELOPED:

Here there again were trade-offs. There was acknowledgment on the part of the economically advanced nations that they had an obligation to support those with few resources to deal with and address local climate change making assistance much needed. But there were few hard commitments towards specific amounts. America pledged $800 million but it will be up to Congress to appropriate the money, or it will come out of other development aid accounts. Already Republican leaders in Congress have said the money will not be voted on.

ABSENCE OF “GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS NEUTRALITY” FROM PARIS PRIORITIES, IS IT REALLY DOABLE  OR THE BEST PATH TO THE 1.6-2.0 TARGETS:

This is a tricky issue and one with much uncertainty. There are groups, many in the private sector, that are auguring for a “technological fix” or in other terms a “geo-engendering” of our planet on a mass scale. This, in effect, would employ new means to “capture” greenhouse gasses by storing them underground. Other technologies would include taking CO2 out of the air.

None of this has yet to be demonstrated as economically proven or on a mass scale feasible. The consensus was to informally embrace this concept especially since much of the funding for this approach will likely come from very rich persons who strongly believe that this is a key path to address warming since traditional approaches are not likely to work.

But others argue that messing with nature could have unforseen consequences. Final judgement: This approach is on the policy table but no new technology has proven to be a “quick fix” anytime soon. Finally, many experts believe that stopping deforestation, planting new trees, protecting the oceans, and letting photosynthesis do its job is a better, perhaps cheaper option, with many side benefits and within the capability of poorer large forested nations. The question is the money and the commitment on all sides there to make greening of the globe work.

OPTIMISM OR PESSIMISM BALANCE OF THE ACCORD AND ITS DO ABILITY:

The key answer is that the Paris accords taken together are a major advancement towards fully addressing climate change on the part of the entire globe –developed and developing nations – which in my view, is the absolute “sine que non” for a real chance to mitigate the catastrophic consequences within the lifetime of most on this planet. It is the necessary condition for a political and economic consensus going forward to build upon if future leaders recognize the dire alternative and are willing to pay the price for saving this planet.

THE DIVIDE BETWEEN DEVELOPED AND DEVELOPING NATIONS ON WAY FORWARD:

As noted above, the masterful diplomacy of president Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in getting the truly key developing nations on board, namely India, China, and others, moved the conference away from confrontation, which was never absent from the meeting. This was a key element in getting the final almost complete consensus and ,even more important, a sense of momentum and a framework for future progress. The introduction of a 5 year review progress was also a necessary element to give some hope of holding nations pledges to the fire, getting them to think of ways to improve their own pledges, and provide needed greater transparency to the agreement. The benefit will be future actions that will undoubtedly be required as we learn more of the science and have better tools to make improvements.

QUESTIONS FOR THE FUTURE:

Yes this was a historic achievement but the success, as always, rests in the hands of, we hope, wise leaders and wise and empowered global citizens. We need better and more resourced international institutions to help shape our global response to the high risks and challenges to our globe, and the key test of this new international capability will be climate change, and the other will be new efforts at dealing with nuclear-proliferation.

Within America we need to better educate our citizens, of which nearly a third are skeptical of climate change due to the power of true crazies, including Republicans running for president, those with massive amounts of money, from the coal and oil industries, and right-wing think tanks, along with the lack of our mass media to say the truth in front of those that argue nonsense about science like the current Chairman of the Senate environmental and Public Works Senate committee James M. Inhofe. He said that the Paris talks were “full of hot air.” The danger to our nation and world are people like Inhofe and the people behind him, as they undermine American values, and our real security and global leadership by their insanity, ignorance and greed. 

We will need better leaders if our real national and global security is to be safeguarded and enhanced.  We will examine in the future how the Paris agreements are implemented.

Please click on the title of this post where you may leave any comments! 

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: NEAR END-GAME SCORECARD AND ASSESSMENT

kerry
Photo: VOA News

By

Harry C. Blaney III

The final decision still awaits in the Paris Climate change outcome. The now revised shorter text of the agreement is being negotiated on Friday and Saturday and perhaps beyond. Still we see mutual recriminations both at home and globally from all sides. Having started down the road for agreement it seems that most key powers recognize the problem and are working to put together a final document that will hopefully move us all forward towards a cleaner safer and livable world. But problems abound.

The initial release of the draft COP21 climate agreement text was criticized by environmental groups as not going far enough, especially on the side of shutting down carbon based energy sources by 2050 and not providing enough funding to do all that needs to be done. A new shorter draft text has been issued which many think still leaves key issues unresolved.

There has appeared to be many objections by a wide range of nations to the draft text. India and Malaysia want a stronger text including more resources from the richer nations. Advanced richer nations want the text to apply to everyone as the best way to deal with the climate crisis.

As we have noted, the stumbling blocks towards the last days of the conference are appearing. China especially, has a wide range of objections to the existing text including not wanting to accept a “review every five years of the pledges of action to reduce carbon emissions and to reassess the target of no more than a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures.” The Chinese representative said Beijing would not be able to change its climate plans for at least another 25 years.

Many other countries have agreed, including developed and developing to reviewing the targets. The Chinese representative was against trying to look at a possible goal of a rise of just 1.5C and said it was not something that is realistic. China opposed the measure in the agreement to broaden the base of nations delivering money to help poorer countries fight climate change. The 1.5C was also opposed by Saudi Arabia in another spanner in the negotiations.

On the other side Island nations and others said without the 1.5C limit they will cease to exist. This hoped for goal is supported by a wide groups of developing nations and Europeans to deal with the climate crisis. The real problem is that even with the pledges on the table now it will be hard to meet the goal of keeping temperatures well below even the 2 degree C target. The bottom line seems that more, much more will be needed now or in the near future if the science is right on emissions and means to limit them.

This new test was issued after intense overnight negotiations Wednesday, and the Conference is going into at least Saturday or Sunday. It would be a wonder if even that extension would be met unless major compromises were found. Island nations were especially asking for yet stronger language. The reality is likely that any agreement will likely have some changes but not meet fully what any side desires. The question is does the “imperfect” defeat any agreement that will move towards the needed solutions?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an $800 million climate pledge by 2020 from the U.S. at the UN climate change conference in Paris on Wednesday. He criticized deniers of global warming, saying: “Make no mistake: If, as a global community, we refuse to rise to this challenge—if we continue to allow calculated obstruction to derail the urgency of this moment—we will be liable for a collective moral failure of historic consequence.” He said also that deniers are “so out of touch with science that they believe rising sea levels don’t matter, because in their view, the extra water will just spill over the sides of a flat Earth.” (See speech here) Kerry came back to the conference to try to bring the sides together

On the other side, the climate deniers, coal, oil and other polluters and Republican supporters of the deniers and industry, already say it goes too far. Environmental groups in Paris believe it is too weak and they have a real case to be made, but these global negotiations are places of hard realities and the real question is are we truly moving forward? No document of this comprehensive and negotiated type, with 195 participant countries, will ever please all sides.

This new draft of 29 pages is down from 49, in which the key top members from the main nations will argue and work out a new, hopefully consensus, draft in the next few days, (or not), that will again not satisfy everyone likely. There are, according to reports, some 100 items where decisions have not been made due to conflicts over objectives or methods. Officials say the key issue is still how to define the obligations of nations developed or developing in addressing climate change.

The conference will in the future either be seen as a major negative catastrophic event for the globe or the starting point for some real progress. It is this text and the commitments that will follow that will prove if the international community – all sides – are in this together and all share a responsibility or we abandon our earth and the avoiding of mass disasters that we can in fact mitigate.

An assessment of the results and future paths and options will be posted after the results are known!

 

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PRESIDENT OBAMA’S OVAL OFFICE TALK, THE SYRIAN CONFLICT, AND DOMESTIC POLITICS

 

obama
Photo: CNN


By

Harry C. Blaney III

The president was hardly out of the Oval Office before the Republican candidates and the largely Republican owned main line media were attacking him for being “weak” and saying comments such as “nothing new.”  None of these pronouncements had a single realistic and intelligent word that was creditable for an alternative strategy that Obama has not already put in place or has announced.

The only implication of these statements and criticism is that many Republicans and neo-cons really want American combat troops on the ground without directly saying it,  so that they can be killed, captured, or tortured and beheaded by the ISIS. These same right-wing pundits, editorial writers, and TV networks and radio talk shows, to say nothing re the GOP presidential candidates would then be asking for Obama’s own head!

For example, Republicans are auguring that the air war might have a larger international ground component which would include American combat troops. On Wednesday December 9th at a House Armed Services Committee hearing with DOD Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Chairman Senator John MaCain demanded more aggressive strategy against ISIS implying the present strategy was not working, too weak and that his approach would work. But clearly that strategy would require considerably more American troops on the ground and higher casualties.   Further,Trump and his GOP colleagues want un-fettled bombing without consideration of innocent civilian causalities.

In a recent appearance on CNN with Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for the creation of a 100,000-strong “regional army to go into Syria” to fight the Islamic State, claiming that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were already on board with the plan.  We are already urging  greater military support from these states and the reality is that Saudi Arabia has taken their planes out of the Syria theater and into the Yemen battleground. No official Saudi troops are fighting in Syria now.

There is much talk and little action and statements of Arab states helping, but as one presidential candidate put it “regional countries must bear part of the burden” in the Syrian fight. But they still assume the US and Western allies will do the real major fighting. Senator Graham — who is running for president on the Republican ticket — also called for more than doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 3,500 to 10,000.

What is a good smart man to do? My answer is to continue a careful, cautious, and effective long-term multiple tools strategy to “degrade and destroy ISIS.” That is what Obama and his team are doing and despite all the right-wing rhetoric it is in fact working bit by bit with some setbacks  in a murky and difficult complex landscape. This strategy includes using the tools of diplomacy, not least the effort to bring other actors to the forefront for the solution of getting rid of ISIS, as an Islamic State with land  able to expand is a serious threat to the US and its allies.

Let’s look at a bit of the real facts and the trend line of the strategy:

First, the president said this would be a multi-year effort even one of a decade given the spread of ISIS to other lands other than Syria or Iraq. But my view is that already in place and what is planned is not just a likely effective and careful strategy to degrade ISIS, but to eviscerate its ability to hold significant territory and larger populations. But this will not happen overnight. There are too many forces with conflicting goals.

Second, Obama and our allies have now been reinforced by fighters from France, and Britain has agreed to hit Syrian targets. Further, Germany will help to supply logistics and intelligence resources. The anti-ISIS coalition has launched over 8,000 air strikes against the Islamic State over the past 16 months in Iraq and Syria. These attacks have killed some 20,000 fighters, according to U.S. estimates. New supplies and weapons are being put on the ground.

The administration also recently proposed to utilize U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to launch targeted raids against Islamic State leadership across Iraq and Syria, copying the way U.S. commandos previously hit the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq and Taliban leadership in the past. The military is working on added programs to hit the heart of ISIS. Already, according to Secretary Carter on Wednesday, ISIS oil sales are down due to the bombing and the start of closing the Turkish border and other actions have been taken to stop funds and fighters from getting into Syria.  Assistance to key anti-ISIS and yes anti-Assad fighting forces, with mixed objectives, is starting to put real local pressure on ISIS. Russia is a problem that needs and is getting diplomatic attention.

Third, and most important, America and some allies are working the key tract of a short and long-term strategy for defeat of ISIS in its home ground and create the framework for a future stable and peaceful society. The key hard challenge will then be to put together a coalition of the existing diverse players to create the conditions for peace and some measure of fair and broad based governance in the region.

I do believe that soon some kind of humanitarian zone is needed and practical if an effective international peacekeeping force is also included along with the enforcement of a “no-fly zone.” Syrian displaced citizens which must form the heart of a future nation need to stay in their own country and be part of a future government and help with nation building. Already the current millions of refugees have denuded the nation of among its best talent which is needed more than ever. That meas resources to support these people who have lost so much.

Finally, what we do not need is more calls for American ground troops in the fight, we do not need those that create, at home, a divisive and anti-Muslim bigoted rant of the nature of Trump and many of his fellow GOP candidates which play into the hands of ISIS. Obama’s caution is wise as he noted that most Muslims are our fellow citizens, and we should be mindful of our words and actions given our past experience of unneeded recklessness calls for war and hate towards others.

Nothing in this world of conflict is certain but stupidity and lack of counting the costs and risks is true disaster and complicates solving the problems of the Middle East.  The time has come for the U.S. to apply wisdom, smart power, and due forethought and act with others while looking at what needs to be done when the fighting abates.  Sadly the right-wing Republicans have no answer to these questions and only seem to want endless costly war and not, it seems, peace. If America is to continue to be the key accepted wise world leader and to win in a conflict filled globe we need to avoid fascism, racism, and hate to be our call letters.

Please click on the title of this post where we welcome your comments! 

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS: THE WORLD AWAITS

Paris climate change conference
Photo: USAToday

All local leaders, investors, economic and social actors, citizens, must understand that the things have changed.” –Hollande

“We are the first generation to feel climate change and the last that can do something about it.” –President Obama

By

Harry C. Blaney III

With the opening in Paris of the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the ecological stakes are the highest, not just for dealing with the serious catastrophic impact of climate change, but also the ability of the international community to deal with high existential risks for the entire planet.  As President Obama has noted, this generation is the last that can possibly make a difference. But frankly, if participating parties do not all contribute to mitigating the danger, and let bitterness and self-interest overcome the common peril, then we are doomed.

As a person who has held positions in government that dealt with global environmental issues, and wrote about climate change four decades ago as part of what I characterized then as a “world at risk,” we are still sadly debating the reality of this at home, and even abroad. There are strong moneyed groups that are not just “climate deniers” but actively working to destroy any effort to acknowledge the problem and above all do anything about it.

The hopes are that somehow an agreement can be reach and likely some document will emerge but will it be enough to really have people and nations and institutions and the world’s power brokers on board? That last question in not likely to be answered for another decade. But you will know when each country adds or does not add to the resources necessary to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and adds to the technology that can replace fossil fuel, and our oceans and forests are protected and made whole.

To simplify, somewhat, a very complicated problem, can’t be solved by just one action like a carbon tax, or one country like China or America taking initiative. The path towards addressing climate change is doing globally a million things, doing them well, and doing them as quickly as possible.

The reason to care is very simple; we are at the 11th hour of acting and beyond that is total disaster from the analysis of the best minds in this field on the globe. Yet if one had to bet, it is now sadly possible that the Paris negotiations will fail as we see initially a repeat of some of the vindictive and inaction that took place in the last meeting in Copenhagen. People came to avoid action and accuse others, and did nothing themselves.  But from the  speeches and some  early indication progress and perhaps compromise, may yet emerge. The earth has already paid a price in floods, droughts, hurricanes, heat waves, starvation, spread of disease, loss of forests, and habitat for the earth’s diverse species on land and in the ocean.

Yet, our global political and institutional system was not, and may not be up to the task of acting together and with the necessary political and economic commitment to get the job done.  I’d first blame weak leaders and the corrosive and myopic politics back home, not only in America but in many other countries as well. But equally, one could attribute the blame then and now to the powerful forces of the “polluters,” corrupt politicians, and countries and companies that profit from dirty energy, the destruction of forests, and the plundering of the ocean’s resources.

Real progress will not be made unless we recognize and act in light of today’s realities of what is possible and what can be achieved via some compromise.

The second factor that needs to be highlighted is recognizing the absolute actions that are necessary to get the world community on a clear path towards sustainability, and “institutionalizing” the process of stewardship of the earth beyond words and pieces of paper.

Here are some key points the reader can look for that may indicate we have returned to some rationality:

– The first is to recognize what ,in reality, a country or a political leader can or cannot do and work to maximize what is possible. For example, President Obama will never get the Senate to ratify a binding Climate Change treaty. But what he can do, and is doing is by executive authority and regulatory power, and diplomacy is achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gasses. So some countries are trying to find a modality that will permit less than “legal” commitments to achieve the necessary reductions.

– The second reality is the need to go beyond the old destructive North-South divide and the useless blame game that some developing nations are playing to push the whole effort of solving climate change upon the “rich countries,” and absolving themselves thereby of doing nothing but asking for amounts of money they are not likely to get.  And on the other hand, the need for the “rich” countries to recognize that real major support for the transition to a clean energy economy in the developing world will not take place without some external significant investment, probably from public and private sources, the EU, World Bank, and IMF. Sadly, it is unlikely that the Republican dominated climate denial Congress will add much to this effort and “other ways” will need to be found to contribute to a “global solution.” If both sides accept they ALL must make a concrete effort instead of throwing bricks at each other, and recognize that the developing world is most vulnerable, will we make real progress.

– The third outcome that one needs to look at is the acceptance of the need to reform or create new capabilities and responsibilities and resources on a broad international institutional scale that empowers old or new institutions to undertake major global commons repair and renewal. The creation of the most transparent and reliable organization to hold countries and institutions accountable for their actions or in-actions on a frequent basis, staffed by the most prestigious scientists, economists, and other experts, led by the highest profile hard headed global leader available, is also necessary.

There are clearly a thousand things that need to be done, like bring forth new clean technologies, restore denuded forests, invest in closing down dirty energy sources as quickly as possible, make cars and planes more efficient and less polluting, put in place more quickly and efficient machinery and conserving resources, making houses,  buildings, and factories more conserving of energy, etc. Great strives have been made by London School of Economics scholars among others, in indicating that such efforts can be economic, grow our economies, and even save in the long run our earth and make our societies more sustainable.

In the coming days, the indicator of success and failure or in between, will emerge but in Pogo’s words “it is us” that must take responsibility  if we are to save our next generation, and those that follow. Diplomacy and leadership is now key. Keep watch.

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THE FALLOUT OF THE PARIS ATTACKS: THE DESTRUCTIVE AND DANGEROUS SIDE?

Donald Trump
Photo: Associated Press


By
Harry C. Blaney III

The sad and tragic attacks in Paris have resulted in many disparate reactions on both sides of the Atlantic. It provided excuses for the far right to push their racism and ideology and hatred of “the other.” And on the liberal progressive side, while generally supporting action against ISIS, we see increased sense of sharing a common tragedy, trying to learn how these events may be a way to come together, and the need for healing against the conservative push to blame generally immigrants or refugees for these acts.

It has become the norm for conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic to advance far right ideological and often racist agendas.  There has been a significant reaction towards the more destructive, dismaying, and bias self-serving side. The Republican presidential candidates seem to want to use the attack in Paris to show an even more extreme and crazy adherence to the worst elements of  their stance of existing racism and xenophobic prejudices. Unbelievably, Donald Trump said he would be open to the idea that Muslims should carry a special ID and could be placed under surveillance “to learn about the enemy.” He added that mosques should be shut down, they represent “hotbeds” for terrorists.

Paris was an excuse for many Republicans to attack immigrants and refugees. Another prime example was the House of Representatives passing overwhelmingly with some Democrats, a law that aims to almost completely restricts Syrian refugees from entry into the U.S.  President Obama has already said it would be vetoed. Some states have also said they would not take Syrian refugees.

In Britain and continental Europe there has also been acts by many right wing parties and fascists groups to use the Paris attacks for their own, long held, ideological and racist goals. These include calling for restrictions on already settled migrants and Muslims, calling for identity papers to indicate if a person was is Muslim, and an imposition of new barriers to immigrants especially from the Middle East and Africa. Already some states have closed, almost completely, their borders to refugees, with some EU nations saying they would only take Christians. And these are only some of the proposal to marganialize immigrants and even settled residents.

There are moves by far right parties to pass laws that could increase loss of civil rights for certain groups. France has already passed a three months state of emergency act which restrict rights of citizens and France has also put up new barriers at their borders. Some of this is understandable given the extent of the killing, but it is also a way to institutionalize some discriminatory practices.

If these are the kind of prejudice filled restrictions and possible police widespread clampdowns that apply to Muslim citizens and new refugees, the result will only be more harsh marginalization of these groups and more resentment and sense of helplessness and anger.

In this case the terrorists will have won with their vicious acts in Paris. This will be a loss to terrorism, and a massive increase in military and police forces, which will cost the nations billions of Euros. They will have also won with their argument that Christians hate Muslims and will never permit them true integration in their nations.  

Further on the positive side, in the UK the initial reaction was to stand in unity with the French in their moment of tragedy. Here in Britain, there were many events of people gathering with flowers and candles, there was  a “friendly” European football match in Paris, between England and France, where both sides sang the French national anthem.

The media in Europe is divided on how to deal with these attacks and how to approach the serious problem of a large influx of especially Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan citizens, as well as North African immigrants and refugees. Here in London some conservative papers, which make up a vast majority of journals, have pandered towards the worst prejudices. And they also have argued for major police clamp down, increase of funding for police, and for a mostly military approach and solution to the Paris attack without much analysis of cost, means, or consequences. Also left parties have been attacked by these conservative news media for their lack of support of strong major military actions and questioned for their defense of the nation.

To be honest, the same seems to be true with American media. The Wall Street Journal in their 11/18  editorial “A Syrian Refugee Lesson for Liberals” and their publication of a  quote by the British right wing scholar and super hawk Niall Ferguson, seem together to think that all the problems of the Middle East, including ISIS and the refugee crisis, is due to President Obama, and liberals. Their aim seems to entice America to send massive armed combat forces into Syria and Iraq and accusing the West, especially President Obama, of “weakness.” They have learned nothing by Iraq, and again their only real answer is sending in more American solders to fight on a murky and unintelligible landscape with no idea of how to shape the end outcome and create sustaining peace in the region.

It is critical to winning the struggle against terrorism that the “better angels of our nature” are at work as an important and constructive element. We need a common sense of sympathy and shared compassion in the face of brutality. There have been in Europe, groups and individuals of Muslims and other religious traditions who have stated jointly their unity in both denouncing and opposing terrorism. Nations need to not permit discrimination or reprisals against the vast majority of moderate Muslims, to win against terrorism.

At this writing it is unclear whether the “better angels” or the bigots and war hawks will win in either Europe or in America — sadly.

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