THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY: WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

THE UNWINDING OF AMERICAN SECURITY:

WHITE HOUSE CREATED CHAOS ON DISPLAY AT THURSDAY PRESS CONFERENCE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

The Trump press conference on Thursday was one of the most surreal experience I have ever had in Washington for 45 plus years. But it was emblematic of the whole Trump world. It was filled with lies and exaggerations. It was aimed at attacking his critics and trying to undermined especially the press and news outlets and not least also the intelligence community. But its strategic aim was to deflect attention from his most recent serious debacle namely the relationship of him and his people to Russian intelligence and officials and the failure of himself to run an effective logical and constrictive White House let alone the government that remains in disarray.

The embarrassments of his key NSC head Mike Flynn who made a surreptitious contact that likely was illegal with the Russian Ambassador showed an out of control dysfunctional staff. And we still do not know if Trump knew of or order that meeting, as Trump at the press conference avoided a direct answer. One key question is whether US sanctions on Russia were discussed. At the likely urging of Bannon Flynn was picked but Trump should have known Flynn was a total flake. It seems Trump had no intention of running a true professional NSC. This was proved by appointing Bannon to an official NSC seat and initially taking his intelligence chief and Military Chief of Staff off of the NSC Principles Group all indicating his aim was to conduct a secretive truly only personally directed “disruptive” foreign and security policy.

An example of how chaotic is Trump’s White house his next pick for head of the NSC was retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward who declined the offer. It was reported that he was not promised the ability to pick his own staff as he saw the need for staff that actually know what they were doing given what was at stake. It was said theat there were three persons on a new list and they seem all to have problems. One John Bolton is an extreme war hawk and disliked for his rough personality, in the end the head of the NSC turned out to be Lt. General H.R. McMaster, an active duty officer without any high policy coordinating experience. Trump has almost entirely picked active or former military flag officers in un-presidented numbers for national security and diplomatic positions that normally are largely filled by high ranking civilian officials and experts. At the recent Munich strategy conference Senator John McCann decimated the Trump security and foreign affairs record of Trump in front of the European defense community but later praised the selection of McMaster and the revised NSC team.

Trump a made no attempt at the conference to discuss in a serious way key challenges like climate change, what to do about North Korea, the issues of Iran, nuclear weapons, poverty, not least his failure to maintain American respect or how exactly to deal with Russia and Putin and a host of domestic issues including immigration and refugees.

He avoided serious questions from the press. Probably he has no clue on how to seriously deal with the issues that are on his desk. He has not advance a rational or even creditable national strategy or program. This was proven by choosing many individuals who’s main aim is to destroy the agencies that they head or to put forth policies that are clearly destructive of our nation’s moral, economic, and security fabric and interests. It almost seems that he wanted to choose people who were even less experienced but as destructive as he was.

My main view is again that Trump’s aim was to attack the media and their coverage and thus deflect from the chaos that he himself has caused. Phrases like “dishonest media” and ‘fake news” were designed to fend off criticism or public understanding of accurate facts and objective news analysis of his incompetence which has taken on a crescendo recently given the massive dysfunction and stench emanating from Trump and his people. Trump’s attacks oddly are to attack others for the same characteristics and flaws he has himself!

During the conference Trump tired to depict himself as popular with our citizens and quoted one Republican orientated poll of 56% support when in reality it is closer to 40% in recent polls. He said he inherited “a mess” at home and abroad but the reality is that he inherited fewer large wars, normal global challenges and a growing economy. His acts are undermining of American respect. He has made enemies of our friends and brought joy to our opponents. He and Bannon support far right parties in Europe whose main aims are to destroy both the EU and the unity of the Atlantic community. He argues the moral equivalence of Russia and America. He even took credit for pre-Trump growth of our economy.

Russia may turn out as his most vulnerable arena and challenge. Trump denied that his people had contact with Russians during the campaign and transition while the intelligence agencies has clear evidence that in fact there was contact with Russians during the campaign by his associates which some of these associates deny. Reports in the news seem to indicate that the professionals in the intelligence community do not fully trust him and his staff with the most sensitive data, while still providing him with the main intelligence and assessments to make key decisions. Frighteningly, Trump seems bent on destroying the objectivity and competence of the intelligence community which, if carried out in a political “house cleaning.” could endanger the security of our nation.

The simple fact is the White House under Trump is a disaster zone without rational leadership and the people that Trump has surround are, and there is no other way to put it, a bunch of the most ignorant, bigoted, and incompetent people every to have inhabited the White House in its history. I simply cite Stephen Bannon a White nationalist supremacist and formally key founder and manager of the fascist Alt-Right news outlet Beritbart and follower, like Trump, of Ayn Rand’s version of brutal extreme right ideas and avaricious destructive capitalism. But look at the likes Kellyanne Conway who also lies and violates civil service rules, disgraced Mike Flynn who we have already described, a press assistant that also lies, and a host of others without any government experience and with far right ideology that drives bad decisions and reinforces prejudices.
Trump’s excuse for his actions is that there was a “mess” before he arrived, and he alone with unlimited powers can fix it. But he has deliberately made our nation and whole globe a real “mess” with his twisted madness and made us all more insecure.

There is in short, dysfunction but more than that it is, in my view, in key part deliberate misleading and manipulation of our citizens and the media (which they have too often acted as accomplices), accompanied by a destructive world view. He acts so as to run, in time, an authoritarian state based on one man and his family’s interests. A kind of conspiracy to up-end our best values, decency within our diverse society, to rip out the effort of government to help our most disadvantage citizens, and to create a world of even more conflict and chaos. This all to justify such rule. Already, he has undermined the institutions that have held this nation together protected our citizens and surely take from us all a nation truly great and doing good.

We welcome your comments. See box below for your comments.

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THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: “GLOBAL CLIMATE LEADERSHIP”

THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS:
GLOBAL CLIMATE LEADERSHIP

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Our final look at the Democratic Platform foreign and national security issues focuses on Climate Change and other international environmental issues. This topic like nuclear weapons is one of global “existential” consequences and deserves the highest level of attention and resources. In our previous look at the Republican platform and statements of “climate denial,” support of the most dirty form of energy, and ignoring the health consequences also of our own citizens in the process their policies are a model of concerted deliberate obstruction of any real effort to deal with our warming climate and its horrific consequences. The question now is does the Democratic Platform and the statements of Hillary Clinton clearly reflect a significant path towards avoiding cataclysmic outcomes of doing too little too late.
TEXT OF 2016 DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM:

Global Climate Leadership

Climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security, and Democrats believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to wait for another nation to take the lead in combating the global climate emergency. According to the military, climate change is a threat multiplier that is already contributing to new conflicts over resources, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe. While Donald Trump says that climate change is a “hoax” created by and for the Chinese, Democrats recognize the catastrophic consequences facing our country, our planet, and civilization.

We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists, and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis. Our generation must lead the fight against climate change and we applaud President Obama’s leadership in forging the historic Paris climate change agreement. We will not only meet the goals we set in Paris, we will seek to exceed them and push other countries to do the same by slashing carbon pollution and rapidly driving down emissions of potent greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons. We will support developing countries in their efforts to mitigate carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, deploy more clean energy, and invest in climate resilience and adaptation.

As a proud Arctic nation, we are against putting the region at risk through drilling in the Arctic Ocean or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Instead, while protecting our strategic interests, we will seek collaborative, science-based approaches to be good stewards of the rapidly changing Arctic region.
COMMENTARY:

 

There can be little doubt about the difference between the Trump/GOP stance on climate change, on environmental stewardship, and on the proactive stance towards dealing with it on a global scale and the Democratic Party’s perspective. But here there is not much in terms of specifics except the promise to exceed the Paris goals which indeed is necessary to stave off massive damage to life and economies, especially those with coastlines. The calling of a major conference in 100 days is fine but unless there is a willingness to put on the table major resources, work with others, and come away with hard commitments, too many meetings end without real follow-on. I say this as a person who worked hard in this area while in government to get binding treaties in these areas.

There are no pledges of specific levels of resources in the platform, or levels of Green House gasses that will be eliminated by transportation, burning of coal for energy nor of dealing with a harmful environmental trend in our oceans. Nor is there any specific indication of how to protect key rain forests that are important to getting C02 out of our atmosphere, and setting specific priorities in terms of slowing carbon emissions and how much to invest in clean energy. The media and citizens need to ask these specific questions of our candidates.

I know that Platforms are designed to make people feel something will be done and set general goals but not alienate some blocs of voters with narrow perspectives and interests with hard specifics as to how and at what cost. But after decades of debate the time has come to very much get to very specific programmatic promised actions.

But as noted, the differences here are choices between a party acting to address these challenges and the party of anti-science, pro-unlimited polluting of our environment no matter the health costs to our people and the deaths they cause, coupled with the pernicious interests of the “old” energy companies especially coal. We need to add  the influence of what I call “bought ideologues” on the far right our wrongheaded advocates for doing nothing, along with conservative business interests and the pliant media who refuse to tell the truth on climate science. There is little doubt we need a party that is dedicated to some significant action and acknowledges the problem and wants to really fix it for the sake our on-coming generation and survival of a livable planet.

What will be interesting in the coming months is whether this topic will resonate in all the hubbub of this election season.

We welcome your comments in the box below our post!!!!

TRUMP: EXTREME VETTING AND AN EXTREME CANDIDATE: HIS OWN WORDS!

TRUMP: EXTREME VETTING AND AN EXTREME CANDIDATE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

There is much one can learn from the most recent Trump speech on foreign policy. It is still scary and incredulous that there is no real “there there” with any of Trump’s foreign policy perspectives. This is especially true when he is off his text and speaks what is really in his mind at that moment and it leads him to express ideas that are his own unbalanced perceptions of reality and his worst prejudices. Yes they are often crazy and silly and not least dangerous.

The examples of going off tract and into the realm of “extreme” views is exemplified in much of this speech which was billed as a means to show a serious policy side in the foreign affairs sector. Between a few peremptory statements that were written by his so-called foreign affairs “experts” that in large part were often along the lines of our current policies, much of the speech’s content would make the world a less secure and more dangerous in a host to areas.

Some examples:

His statement that he would institute what he called “extreme interrogations” of Muslim immigrants and visitors to America. Once again, along with building a massive “wall” between the US and Mexico, and clear bigotry against Muslims and even deceased American Muslim war heroes, he sees only what the people at the NRA and the KKK see and this is perhaps more destructive to American democracy, its internal unity, and yes our security globally than almost any other external challenge we face abroad.

On the question of dealing with ISIS, Trump adopted much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the so-called Islamic State. Trump’s outrageous perception of “solutions include in his words: “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in.” Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. All of this is clearly absurd, crude unthought through strategy, and also illegal under international law.

What he has not made clear is whether he would send massive troops into the Middle East conflicts?

One lie was his statement was when he said that he has been right about the Middle East from the start. This is not true, old video and audio clips shown on the
MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showed footage against his claim that “I have been an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” as he said in his address at Youngstown State University in Ohio. But The “Morning Joe” video played a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show. At that time he asked Trump if he was for invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The same is true when Trump also contradicted himself on the troop withdrawal or draw down in Iraq.
He said on August 15th: “I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out,” But the record shows he supported pulling out of Iraq in 2007, when he said “You know how they get out? They get out,” Trump told CNN that year. “Declare victory and leave.”

He also prevaricated on Libya. In his speech he said “Libya was stable and President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya,”
But he also he advocated for deposing Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In February 2011, Trump also said in a video filmed in his office that “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. We should go in. We should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”

He has been all over the map on the Middle East and time and time again he has change his position but never admitted it that he was wrong. What this shows is his clear lack of analysis, willing to face hard facts on the ground, and unwilling to accept being wrong. That is dangerous for a president and for our nation’s effective leadership in the world.

Trump repeated his previous policy to continue the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and even fill it with new detainees. He hinted at including, possibly some U.S. citizens. This facility is one of the great weapons that terrorists point to of the evil of America and a recruiting tool for ISIS. Trump does not even acknowledge this and seems to think that water boarding, torture, and mass bombing including killing of civilians is the way to conduct an effective policy in the Middle East. Even worse he has hinted at using atomic weapons. The Obama administration is trying to close Guantanamo via sending current detainees abroad, which he did recently with 15 individuals, and more are planned. But the easy and right answer is to send them to American maximum security prisons and bring them under US laws.

His stands on climate change, NATO’s unity and that of EU, the Iran deal, trade, and dealing with Russia, and on many other issues are the among the most dangerous for a viable and peaceful world and US national security.

In sum, the time has come, given Trump’s own words over time and especially now, for a true deep serious analysis of what Trump might do to American respect and security and indeed just rationality in our vital foreign and national security area.

Some in the media have done this, but in the vast conservative Republican owned mainline media and right wing radio talking heads have done little to challenge Trump’s lies and clearly deranged and unnecessary aggressive statements that have frightened our allies and embolden our adversaries. It is a high risk world where idiocy is our greatest danger. Indeed, we need more debate and even more serious examination in the media of the full range of global challenges and of what our own corrosive politics has done to our global position. Time has come for more public questioning and more attention to the implications of Trump’s policies if we are to achieve a sane and safe world.

We welcome your comments!

SEE OUR 2016 ELECTION PAGES FOR DEBATE UP-DATES

 

What is Populism in America? A Historical Approach

By Blaze Joel, National Security Intern

If you look at U.S. Presidential elections throughout history, you will see a few familiar themes. One of the biggest is the prevalence of “political outsiders” who rail against the “corrupt insiders and elites” because they do not know how to make the country work for the average citizen. These calls have come from ideological opposites such as Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Teddy Roosevelt, George Wallace, movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, and even Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2016. While almost every candidate for the Presidency post-Watergate (and especially in the 2016 campaign) has tried to label themselves as an “outsider,” the success of these candidates has been mixed but steadily improving, as this graph from The Atlantic shows. In many ways, this trend culminated with the Republican nomination of Donald Trump, who had no political experience before his campaign.

Pundits were quick to declare that 2016 was the “Year of the Outsider,” which was a fair assessment given the successes of Sanders and Trump. Why is claiming to be an outsider so mainstream in American politics and what helps that message resonate? The answer lies in the political ideology, or more accurately philosophy, of populism.

Defining Populism

At a recent press conference in Ottawa, Barack Obama went on a self-described “rant” about the term when asked about Donald Trump’s divisiveness. The President said that he was “not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist…They don’t suddenly become populist because they say something controversial in order to win votes. That’s not the measure of populism; that’s nativism or xenophobia.” To Obama, populism is a philosophy that looks out for those who are vulnerable through policies like guaranteeing education and fairness for workers. This definition led him to conclude that “I suppose that makes me a populist.”

Populism is a broad term that is somewhat hard to pin down, precisely because it does not fit easily into a left-right ideological spectrum – how can something used to describe Barack Obama, Hugo Chávez, and Jean Marie Le Pen? That is because populism has no liberal or conservative ideological tenets. Populism can be defined as a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of insiders or elites – be they political, cultural, or economic – and the “system” must radically change accordingly.

Throughout history and across the world, populist leaders and movements have campaigned in vastly different ways, and 2016 is no exception. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren decry the evils of Wall Street and the “One Percent” while Donald Trump demonizes immigrants to arrive at similar conclusions that a political system of distant elites does not truly care about the average citizen. In Europe, the term is most often used to characterize cultural nationalists and right-wing politicians like Le Pen and Nigel Farage. In Latin America, it is more closely allied with figures such as Hugo Chávez and Juan Perón – politicians who are economic nationalists “looking out for the little guy” being exploited by international corporations. The United States has seen both types of populists throughout its history, sometimes even at the same time. This year, Donald Trump fits more into the European model of populism (though he also employs an economically nationalist message) while Bernie Sanders is much more in the vein of a Latin American populist.

Jacksonian Roots: The History of Populism in America

In 1828, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams were set for a rematch of the 1824 election, which Adams won thanks to a vote in the House of Representatives. Adams was the quintessential insider: not only was he the incumbent, he was also the son of a President; a former Ambassador to Russia, Prussia, and the Netherlands; and a Senator by the time of the 1828 election. He had been out of politics for only two years since his 27th birthday. Jackson had been a politician before his election, but was best known for his leadership on the battlefield during the War of 1812, especially at the Battle of New Orleans.

Jackson campaigned for a strong Presidency to serve as a bastion against an elitist and “aristocratic” Congress and their interests. While in office, Jackson crusaded against government spending and favoritism (though established a patronage system), because he viewed it as “anti-democratic” and selectively benefitting the rich elites of America. This is perhaps best seen in his one-man war against the National Bank. Jackson’s Democratic Party coalesced a base of farmers, urban laborers, and religious minorities in order to build a party organization that stretched from the local to federal level, allegedly representing the grass roots.

Jackson’s outsider and populist message would likely not have had as much resonance if not for the electoral reforms that characterized the early 1800s. The franchise was greatly expanded as states eliminated the property requirements for suffrage. While the vast majority of Americans were still not eligible to vote, the nearly ten percent who did in 1828 was almost triple the turnout for any other U.S. Presidential election to that point. Additionally, reforms made direct election of state offices and members of the Electoral College more prevalent. While Jackson and the Democrats did not create these changes (by 1832, all states except South Carolina elected Presidential Electors directly), they did use them to their advantage.

While populism again became a force in the 1850s with the Know-Nothing Party and their anti-immigrant rhetoric, it truly came to the forefront of American politics in the 1890s with the founding of the People’s Party in 1891, its merger with the Democratic Party in 1896, and William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. The People’s Party grew out of an alliance of farmers and unions and ran in one election before merging with the Democrats in 1896. Their 1892 platform declared that they “seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of the ‘plain people’” in the face of rampant corruption.

After the recession of 1893, William Jennings Bryan came to epitomize the populist movement and won the 1896 Democratic nomination for President. At the Democratic Convention, he delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, which lambasted East Coast “elites” who sought to “press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns” and “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold” via the gold standard. Bryan argued that: “We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity…We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them…in this land of the free you need fear no tyrant who will spring up from among the people. What we need is an Andrew Jackson to stand as Jackson stood, against the encroachments of aggregated wealth.”

Populism was not solely a phenomenon of the Democratic Party. Dissatisfied with the Republican Party, Theodore Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and Robert LaFollette, Sr., formed the Progressive Party in 1924. Both of these new parties took a decisively populist tone from the beginning. For example, Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Party platform declared that: “Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” The platform also called for a number of labor reforms and the creation of a social safety net.

LaFollette’s Progressive Party was no different. In its 1924 platform, the party stated: “The great issue before the American people today is the control of government and industry by private monopoly. For a generation the people have struggled patiently, in the face of repeated betrayals by successive administrations, to free themselves from this intolerable power which has been undermining representative government. Through control of government, monopoly has steadily extended its absolute dominion to every basic industry. In violation of law, monopoly has crushed competition, stifled private initiative and independent enterprise, and without fear of punishment now exacts extortionate profits upon every necessity of life consumed by the public. The equality of opportunity…has been displaced by special privilege for the few, wrested from the government of the many.” The platform similarly called for labor and agricultural reforms in the name of “popular sovereignty.”

Populism did not always have such noble connotations in the United States. Andrew Jackson is perhaps best known for his brutal policies against Native Americans culminating in the Trail of Tears. Many of the populists of the late nineteenth century adopted xenophobic and racist overtones like the Democratic Party of that era. Bryan even gave a speech at the 1924 Democratic National Convention against a platform item that sought to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. No Democratic politician better epitomizes this shift than Thomas Watson of Georgia. In 1896, Watson advocated for an alliance between poor whites and African-Americans in the South in the People’s Party based on common economic and class interests. However, by the early 1900s, that populist rhetoric was obscured by xenophobia and nativism, as seen in his magazine’s 1913 anti-Semitic article against Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent accused of murder.

Populism became conservative during the Cold War, thanks in large part to Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy and his allies famously attacked elites across the country (and especially in Hollywood) for allegedly being Soviet spies and selling out “real Americans.” Scholars at the time like Richard Hofstadter and Daniel Bell classified McCarthyism as a “populist” movement because of its similar anti-elitism to the nineteenth century movement and the label stuck. In addition to McCarthy, George Wallace sprung to national prominence railing against “pointy-headed bureaucrats” who wanted to desegregate schools. Televangelist Jerry Falwell similarly villainized the “secular humanist” elites who were leading America away from its Christian principles. By the time of the Watergate scandal, it seemed like anyone could claim to be a populist in America.

Populism in the 2016 Race

Like many things in modern American politics, Watergate represented a real change from the past. After the scandal, politicians and voters – especially Republicans – began to express more distaste and distrust in government. This trend was seen in the elections of Jimmy Carter (the moral peanut farmer) and Ronald Reagan (the incumbent President who ran as an outsider), and perhaps culminated with the Tea Party movement in 2010. The distrust engendered by Nixon (and by extension the rest of the government) has been slow to recover. In fact, monthly Gallup polling since 1979 has registered over 50 percent satisfaction with the direction of the United States in less that 15 percent of months.

Given this prevalent dissatisfaction with the government in the post-Watergate era, and especially under Obama – 87 percent of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction just after his election and the high water mark of public satisfaction with the direction of the country was just 33 percent in November 2012 – it is not surprising that anti-establishment forces became prevalent in 2016. As Jeb Bush said at a recent speech in Amsterdam, people “are not as optimistic for legitimate reasons and there should be respect for that…People look at the political system and they think of it as a foreign object.” He pointed to the challenges of globalization, economic inequality, partisan polarization, and a lack of empathy, saying that “the inability to deal with these great challenges…makes it easier in retrospect to see, on the left, a candidate like Bernie Sanders, and certainly in my party, the emergence of Donald Trump.”

These “great challenges” will be examined in a later post, but to conclude, I would like to pose a question that The New York Times (and a number of other outlets) asked: How can Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both be populists? By describing them both as populists, I by no means look to equate the two or all of their policy positions, merely to categorize a tactic and philosophy they have both utilized on the trail. Both have campaigned vehemently against free-trade deals like TPP and NAFTA, referring to the latter as one of the worst mistakes in our nation’s history because it sold out the average American worker. Both have railed against the establishments – whether they be in the RNC or DNC, Washington or Wall Street, the media or superdelegates – for creating a system that is “rigged” against the common American to the benefit of the “oligarchs” and “aristocrats” who rig it. But, and importantly, Trump’s brand of populism is tinged with xenophobia and isolationism, while Sanders sticks to a populism based on creating economic justice for those who have been left behind.

Perhaps the fact that Sanders and Trump are both called populists reveals that there should be a better term than populism to describe anti-establishment and anti-elite politics in modern America. But in some senses, perhaps populism is the perfect word precisely because of its amorphous ideological connections. As David von Drehle argued in a Time Magazine article from June: “Populism is not an agenda; it is a way of viewing the world. It can come from the left or the right. It can be progressive or reactionary—or both, in an incoherent mix. It is simply the political expression of the free-floating sense that power corrupts, that those who have power conspire to keep it at the expense of humane and patriotic values. There is a streak of populism is virtually every American—it’s no accident that the opening words of the Constitution are ‘We the people.’ But as long as people are capable of hatreds, resentments, and small-mindedness, populism will never be as simple as Barack Obama [or scholars and commentators] would like it to be.”

A BREXIT VOTE OF GLOBAL CONSEQUENCES: ITS MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY

A BREXIT VOTE OF GLOBAL CONSEQUENCES: ITS MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY

By: Harry C. Blaney III

Reporting from London

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A BREXIT VOTE OF GLOBAL CONSEQUENCES: ITS MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The UK vote to leave the European Union by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to stay has already created great costs to the UK and much of the rest of the world on every level – economic, political and security. The impact has already been sizable and more effects will undoubtedly continue to come as nations and people evaluate the real implications of this historic, massive, unnecessary, and tragic act.

The truth is that Britain is a badly split nation and the margin of winning was indeed small, despite the Leave campaign claiming it was large. There are inherent dangers to taking such a dramatic move that did not garner the support of the vast majority of people. There is speculation that many people, including those that did not vote, did not want to leave. A petition for a re-vote already has over 3.6 million signatures. We may see still a major fight yet over the future of Britain in Europe and the world, as well as the future of the UK itself. Leaders in both Scotland and Northern Ireland have implied that referenda on their future as part of the UK could be coming soon. These problems will be complicated by the leadership struggles that currently plague both the Conservative (Tory) Party and the Labour Party.

One of the major lessons for the vote was that, at its heart, it was a protest and demonstrated a sense of disaffection by working class and some older citizens who feel that their well-being has been neglected, and by those who believed the intolerant cries of far right leaders like the UK Independence Party and MP Boris Johnson, the likely Tory candidate for the new Prime Minister.

It is estimated that 62 percent of Labour voters voted to Remain while a third of Labour voters chose Leave, largely because of immigration fears, unhappiness about their declining living standards, and anger at the EU hyped by the partisan media and the Leave Campaign. Voters also understandably blame the UK political establishment for their situation, especially on jobs, education, the decline on health care, and immigration. The Labour Party has already faced a leadership challenge with MPs calling for a confidence motion against Jeremy Corbyn, who said that he was going nowhere at a press conference in London. Corbyn also noted that there is a need for a new look at international relations.

The aim of the Leave campaign was to direct anger against the EU, not against the Tories. However, the EU is not to blame at all for the plight of their voters.  Another issue Leavers hit at was a “loss of control” and “sovereignty” at the hands of Europe.  Interestingly, Leave voters were largely right-wing Euro-skeptic Conservatives and far-right party supporters, although some of the faces of the campaign were the well-educated and wealthy like Boris Johnson and the conservative media.

Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London, made the case for keeping close ties to Europe and wanting to find a path forward that does not disadvantage London as Britain’s London-based financial sector. He campaigned in London for staying.

Many Remain voters are very upset over the results, not just those in London, but also voters in Scotland and young voters. The many negative impacts already being felt. The question here in London is what can be done to reverse this decision, as seen by the petition for a re-vote. Few think this is possible, but many want a reversal. I think this tug of war will not go away anytime soon.

Outside Britain, Europeans are very unhappy and troubled over the results. The EU is torn between wanting to protect the UK’s trade position but also does not want other nations that have Euro-skeptic and anti-immigrant movements to take the British example and leave. Marine Le Pen in France has already also for an “out” referendum.  The EU Commission leaders do not want the negotiations to be left in “limbo.” It seems that most of the EU nations wants to start negotiations “immediately.”


While much of Europe wants to move toward negotiations as soon as possible, German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants time to think, consider, and not “be nasty” in the negotiating the implications of Britain’s exit and finding the best path forward. Already EU nations are thinking of how to take economic advantage of the situation for their narrow interests. Some of the European leaders want a quick resolution, as they said it would be in the interest of both sides. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will stay on until October, when the Tory party will meet to choose a new leader who will lead the nation in negotiations out of the EU over the two years, as stipulated by the EU Treaty Clause 50. So things might get nasty between Britain and Europe and no one will be a winner.

As a dear friend in London wrote to me in summary: “Europe takes this very seriously.  France and Germany, in particular, are aware that the EU is much more than an economic union.  It was designed also to prevent the kind of differences which lead to two disastrous World Wars in the 20th c.  Already, on the morning after the vote, the right wing Dutch party is calling for a referendum there, as is Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National party in France.  If this move takes down all of Europe, there will be Hell to pay. “

On the strategic side, Vladimir Putin has stated his delight over the British exit and sees it as perhaps his major victory in his path to divide and fundamentally weaken West Europe and the EU, and for that matter undermine NATO.

Global markets have already suffered major damage and predictions show that Britain and other EU nations will see less economic growth than they would otherwise enjoy. Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded Britain’s credit rating from AAA to AA. The London Stock Exchange dropped an additional 2.55 percent on Monday, doubling down on Friday’s downward spiral.

 

Already there are predictions of major shock waves around the world and a reassessment of British relations toward Britain and the EU. Not least is the American reaction, led by President Obama that although the decision would not change the “special relationship,” Britain would still be in the back of the queue in trade negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in London to reassure Britain that relations will continue to be strong between the US and UK, saying “We will continue, the United States, to have a very close and special relationship with Great Britain. We value that relationship. That does not change because of this vote” in Italy on Sunday.  

Frankly, I think there will undoubtedly be major changes in the priority of American focus with a weakened Britain, out of Europe, with Scotland looking for its independence and a restive North Ireland. In Europe, the UK will be considered a lesser part of the core European decision-making system. The Leave campaign saying it would not is just disingenuous.

Finally, the impact has already been a major disaster for Britain. Global stock markets have crashed, as over two trillion dollars have already been lost. The Scottish Prime Minister is already motioning for an independence referendum and is moving to negotiate directly with the EU for a possible special status within the EU.

The nation is divided and at war with itself; financial firms in London are likely to be either greatly diminished and may even move abroad; Britain will have lower influence with the U.S.; and the UK may possibly dissolve. Not a bad day of work for “Little England” Euro-skeptics and the super-nationalists and racist groups that supported this madness.  For the rest of the world, it is an unmitigated disaster in a world that already has high risks.

More on the implications in post over the next week from London.

We welcome your comments, see the box below to have a chance for your say!

Go to our Brexit page for a full page of key sources, facts and developments in this historic act.

 

THE VOTE IN BRITAIN: UNITY OR MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY?

THE VOTE IN BRITAIN: UNITY OR MORE CHAOS AND DISUNITY?

BY Harry C. Blaney III

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 2.34.40 PM

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

As I write this, I am watching the British television and the polls have closed. The results of the EU referendum are too close to call at this time. This is a look at the pre-vote period and day of the referendum. More to come after the votes are in.  Some results are beginning to come in, but the official notice will be made at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Wednesday night, I watched the UK Channel 4 debate on the referendum. Voting “Leave” in effect would impact Britain’s full engagement and influence in Europe. In short, such a vote would mean a diminished Britain divided amongst and almost at war with itself. A Leave result would refute John Donne’s great lines quoted above.

The worst of it is that so many lies have been told during the campaign, including on the Channel 4 program, almost all of which have been from Leave advocates. These statements have been made simultaneously by people of one-time high rank who should know better and those that clearly had little more to say than racially-tinged shouts and disparaging remarks about Europe and their opponents. In addition, Jeremy Paxton, the debate’s moderator, added to the one-sided and caustic environment.

In my four decades of observing British politics closely, including living in the country from time to time, I have never seen a more nasty, emotional, and heated debate. The moments of hard truths, frank assessments, and citations to the history of Britain’s role in Europe have been drowned out by yelling, cutting people off, lopsided time for one side, and lies which have never been really questioned by a moderator. The odd thing is that an 80-odd-year-old former actress said the most when she made a poignant point about British sacrifice and commitment over time to Europe and the perils of leaving Europe on its own by withdrawing.

Meanwhile, key leaders blanketed the country on Wednesday by making speeches, appearing for photo-ops, going on TV programs, and, in the case of Boris Johnson, even kissing a fish! But the debates and my brief interactions just talking to people on the street have indicated the widespread anger was the key today to British politics.

The problem is that the campaigning in this referendum has been based on not just delusion, but also on the stirring up of hate, bigotry, and fear of the “Other.” Now, thanks to some shortsighted leaders that have used prejudice and fear to gain support for their cause of far right and neo-fascist ideologies, Member of Parliament Jo Cox has been killed and Britain stands on the precipice of leaving the European Union.

 This phenomenon also exists in the United States, as evidenced by the words of hate we saw in both the Charleston and Orlando killings and even beyond to those who deliberately continue to enrage citizens to unspeakable acts.

Watching the debate here and in the U.S., there are so many large-scale, disastrous consequences of this trend towards the right. At this critical moment of time, we need to deeply reassess our basic humanitarian values, as well as the safety and durability of our democratic institutions. The influence and power of the right-wing media in this UK debate, but on both sides of the Pond for this can’t be forgotten among these institutions.

Nothing less is at stake, not just in the UK’s Brexit vote on Thursday, but also in the U.S. election this November. Attention needs to be paid to the xenophobic tendencies and scapegoating of minorities and the EU for the problems which are within ourselves and our national governments.  The key danger lies in our inability to perceive the disastrous trajectory we are on.

See our Brexit Page for further coverage.

We welcome your comments in the box below.

 

THE REPUBLICANS LAST 2015 DEBATE: NATIONAL SECURITY OR INSECURITY AND FEAR MONGERING AND MEDIA COMMENTS THEREAFTER.

 

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Given the recent statements by the Republican presidential candidates none appear to have any new or even relevant answers to the strategic challenges that America faces other than bluster, mass bombing (which kills thousands of innocent woman and children and civilians which is what the terrorist do), and making disparaging remarks about the policies of President Obama. That is frankly not enough for any one who is aspiring to be the leader of the free world and possibly Commander-in-Chief with his fingers on the atomic button.

The debate last GOP debate of 2015on November 16th only reinforced this impression, besides trying to put each other down and making what can only be described as vague and even outrageous remarks on serious national security issues it shows again what light-weights they all are and I do mean nearly all were in the area of foreign policy and national security.

Much of the key part of the debate focused on who would be harshest on ISIS without really a word that would actually provide or seriously outline a true comprehensive realistic and efficacious strategy to deal with the complex threat that is ISIS or the regional landscape.

Trump thinks that banning Muslim believers is a strategy to defeat Islamic radicals in ISIS, most experts believe it has just the opposite effect of increasing the recruitment of more terrorists at home and abroad. This misguided policy is just what ISIS wants. In fact Bakr al- Baghdadi who heads the Islamic State has recently taunted America for not putting troops on the ground so that can be easy targets – in effect Trump is playing to ISIS’s trap. He is just that stupid.

On of the more sane candidate side, by only a small margin, was Jeb Bush who said:

“Well, first of all, we need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force.

We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?”

Bush added as an example of his vague and simpleminded view of the struggle against ISIS: “It is developing a strategy, leading the world, funding it to make sure that we have a military that’s second to none, and doing the job and making sure that we destroy ISIS there. That’s how you keep America safe.” As if this simplicity is a real policy!

Note we already are leading the fight against ISIS, we are already have a military that is second to none (did not Bush already know that?), and “making sure” is a strategy?

This statement proves both points above: namely that he is following Obama’s plan only “more so,” if one can figure out what that means in the end. The one idea that he included which has not yet been adapted is to establish a “no-fly zone” which would require the strong support of Muslim troops on the ground that included both Sunni and Shia forces and, in my view, also UN peacekeepers and much higher levels of refugee support and security than it seems the Republicans are likely to vote for in Congress to help Obama. The “no fly zone” idea is seen by some as an opening wedge to get US combat troops on the ground without saying so. (It does not have to be so however.)

But Trump is not alone in coming up with ideas that are counterproductive and dangerous. What is interesting is that these candidates are all paying to basic fear after the Paris attack and trying to increase that fear among Americans. This includes both pointing to an attack on America and saying over and over that Obama is “weak” on dealing with ISIS. They all think they could do better but when pressed for specific policies they often just repeat what Obama is already in doing — only “more.”

Lets take the case of Sen. Marco Rubio to frighten his GOP audience he said:

what’s important to do is we must deal frontally with this threat of radical Islamists, especially from ISIS. This is the most sophisticated terror group that has ever threatened the world or the United States of America. They are actively recruiting Americans.”

The fact is that terrorist threats in America have decreased rather than increased since 911 and many are “lone wolf” types and small scale. More people die of guns being used daily but the candidates never talk of stopping people from having guns or restrictions on gun ownership or use. Are they really interested in the safety of Americans?

Rubio other misstatement was on the growth of ISIS “We also understand that this is a group that’s growing in its governance of territory.” The fact is that ISIS control over Iraq and parts of Syria have been reduced from their heights (a loss reportedly of some 30-40% of land control in Iraq), and outside Iraq and Syria they are in some places on the run and not least from their deadly terrorism competitor Al Qaeda affiliates in some Islamic nations and attacks by US and allied special forces and bombing.

The other candidate Sen.Ted Cruz with little comprehension evidently of the true complexity of the Middle East, and especially the complex role and differing goals of the many actors in the region, and seems oblivious to the danger of ‘doing stupid things” as Obama put it.

Cruz’s answer to the issue of immigration and the terrorist threat is not quite that of Trump but still exclusionary legislation, he described it this way: “what my legislation would do is suspend all refugees for three years from countries where ISIS or Al Qaida control substantial territory.” So those who are most threatened with being killed by ISIS would be excluded from being refugees which are by definition are in danger in their own country. I wonder if he feels the same why about excluding Cubans, like his family, from the United States if they feel they are threaten by the communist party there???? America has almost automatically been welcoming Cubans to America for decades.

Take the sophistication of Cruz’s strategic vision and what he proposes that might be different from what is already taking place on the ground:

“…… ISIS is gaining strength because the perception is that they’re winning. And President Obama fuels that perception. That will change when militants across the globe see that when you join ISIS that you are giving up your life, you are signing your death warrant, and we need a president who is focused on defeating every single ISIS terrorist and protecting the homeland, which should be the first priority.” And Obama is not?

Cruz also said: “What it means is using overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS. To put things in perspective, in the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet bombed them for 36 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.

Right now, Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day. It is photo op foreign policy. We need to use overwhelming air power. We need to be arming the Kurds. We need to be fighting and killing ISIS where they are.”

My comment to these remarks is, yes Senator Cruz, and Iraq in 2003 turned out so great with that same strategy. It seems to me that the U.S. strategy includes quite a bit bombing attacks, arming and training of the Kurds and Sunni tribes and Iraqi aremy and seems after time and hard U.S. efforts to be now working. The bombing under Obama has been, as it should under international laws of war, not aimed at civilians. Cruz misses the point that most of the ISIS troops are camped in cities and towns with civilians….and it is our duty to try not to kill them. We are there to save them but when we kill their families they will be supporters of the Islamic State.

One added thought about possible ISIS fighters being afraid of death and our bombing and troops……..Cruz you may not have been reading about so many that have happily joined suicide squads and pledge to die for their cause. And like Trump, Rubio, and Cruz and none of the rest has the wit of getting to some of the fundamental religious, social, political, and historical realities on the ground, which thankfully Obama and Secretary Kerry were and are dealing with under difficult conditions – but not these crazy and clueless ideologues, which is likely the only path towards long term peace and real security for the region.

As for the rest of the lot, none came up with any new ideas or analysis that got to the bottom of real conditions and solutions to ISIS or the larger Middle East conflicts.

As to the media coverage of the debate, it was as vapid as the earlier ones, including those largely on domestic issues…….filled with highly laudatory or banal reviews by the usual right wing pundits and TV and radio commentators….or selected criticism of the “wrong” candidate of the moment and the “right” one of favor.

The questions did not get to the heart of the matter in most cases. The post debate mainline media chat was mostly empty of real insight since many commentators especially on TV and radio were even less knowledgeable than the candidates themselves. There were few real experts on the Middle east or strategic matters asking questions and those that were put on after seemed almost made up of cheering squads and echochambers of the worst kind made up of neocons and Fox News types without hard decades of real field experience. Happily there were some deep and thoughtful commentaries but mostly in the quality press which does not, sadly, reach the mass viewers of broadcast outlets.

Where were the  real reporters? Now we get talking heads and “hosts.” Where were those who have spent decades on the ground in combat zones in the Middle East or North Africa – almost nowhere to be found? Much of the “bought” U.S. media is as much a danger to our democracy as are the GOP candidates. Few challenged clear mistaken facts or shallow understanding, indeed it was as if they were covering a horse race not the would be leaders of the free world. In the world of parachute journalism few have the chance to be on the ground long enough to truly know the terrain. Others are chosen more for their looks or ideology than expertise. I hope future debates are more enlightening.

Finally, you can find many added quotes from the debates and other statements on this blog in the section at the right top.

We welcome comments!!!!!