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►  Kelly has to do more or Trump’s presidency may never recover

It’s entirely possible that the Trump presidency is beyond repair. Donald Trump has accomplished none of his major priorities (except for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court) and has proved himself to be an unreliable and inept partner for the Republicans on Capitol Hill. He surely isn’t going to be able to accomplish more in his second six months than he was in his first, when he was supposedly at the peak of his popularity and power.

Moreover, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, along with his ace team of 16 lawyers, at least one grand jury and a somewhat serious Senate Intelligence Committee, are pursuing not just the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with Russia but also possible obstruction of justice. So, yes, even if Trump does everything right from here on out, his presidency may never recover, even if he manages to stay in office until January 2021.

That said, Trump’s most immediate problem – and the country’s – is establishing himself as a sober, competent and calm commander in chief. So far this week he has shown himself to be irrational, excitable, ill-prepared and thoroughly unfit to lead the country in a tense standoff against North Korea. His rhetoric has been so intemperate that we’re now back to fretting about his possession of the nuclear codes. The Washington Post reports:

“As with most things Trump, the furor over the ‘fire and fury’ has divided the nation in two – those who believe the president is a loose cannon, impulsively blurting whatever flits through his mind, and those who believe his inflammatory talk is a wily combination of politically savvy instincts and a gut-driven populism that simply aims to please.

“When Trump went off script Tuesday to deliver a startling threat to North Korea – ‘They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen’ – it was as if the nation relived the most lurid themes of the 2016 campaign in one chilling moment. . . . At the core of the anxiety over Trump’s remarks is the worry that the president made his threat without consideration of what might follow.“

Trump’s presidency will court disaster – a shooting war – so long as his chief of staff, John Kelly, and senior staff treat his unhinged, unthinking outbursts as acceptable:

“Presidents don’t usually improvise comments on global crises. ‘What would be “normal” in the Bush or Obama or Clinton administrations would be for the combination of strategic communications people and policy people – including the national security adviser – to develop, in consultation with the State Department and the Defense Department, a messaging strategy with top lines that they felt the president needed to emphasize,‘ said a senior diplomat who served in all three administrations.“

Trump’s broadside against Pyongyang was so out of sync with his advisers that they rushed forward to explain the president was speaking extemporaneously. That’s the cleanup message, mind you. In other words: “Don’t listen to him, and it’s not our fault.“ But it is their fault and their problem.

Kelly and other senior advisers cannot tiptoe around the president nor enable his erratic behavior. If his national security team cannot control him, perhaps his family or Pence will have better luck. Trump needs to understand he has called into question his mental fitness and ability to uphold his oath. If this does not abate, his own utterances will fuel talk of impeachment and/or invocation of the 25th Amendment. In the meantime, the question hangs over our military: How do they manage their obligations to the country with respect to civilian control of the military in the event that he orders them to pursue ill-conceived and possibly cataclysmic military action?

This calamitous week should dispel the fantasy that Kelly can save the president from himself. If he cannot control Trump’s outbursts and keep him off Twitter, Kelly will fail in arguably the most important assignment of his career. And the country’s security and democratic institutions will be stressed like never before.


►  Analysis: The rise of populism shouldn’t have surprised anyone

For decades, it seemed like the world was on an unstoppable march toward closer integration. The world was flat and getting flatter, thanks to the spread of multinational corporations, new technologies like the Internet and international migration, all of which knit together far-flung countries around the world.

Since the financial crisis, however, globalization no longer appears inevitable. Countries, including the United States, have seen the rise of a populist backlash against more liberalized trade and international integration that could result in globalization playing out in reverse—with countries’ economies becoming more insulated and less integrated. Look no farther than the trio of Donald Trump, Senator Bernie Sanders and Brexit for proof that populism is both a wide-ranging and powerful force.

This backlash demonstrates just how much the world needs to urgently reexamine the mechanisms of globalization and trade to ensure that more people benefit from them, says Dani Rodrik, an economist at Harvard. In a recent working paper and a forthcoming book, Rodrik argues that preserving the liberal global order will hinge on broadening its benefits to more people. In the meantime, the future of globalization hangs in the balance.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: For decades, it’s seemed like globalization was inevitable. Do you see greater economic integration as the long-run trend of history? Or maybe we’re thinking of it backwards, and the recent period of global integration we saw up to the financial crisis is the exception to the norm?

A: One of the biggest falsehoods in the discussion of globalization is that it has been inevitable, and there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, globalization and the type of globalization we have is the product of the choices we made. Trade agreements have to be negotiated. We had to coordinate international organizations to disseminate the norm of free capital flows and financial globalization.

So I think it’s silly to presume that it cannot be reversed, if we manage it really badly. I don’t see that on the horizon, but I do not think we should minimize the role of our own decisions in the form that globalization took.

Q: Where do you come down on trade now? In your recent paper, you say that “trade generically produces losers,“ and you cite studies that show how the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization led to job losses. But freer trade also creates obvious economic gains.

A: I would say that the agenda for globalization has become very imbalanced. There are specific groups that are benefiting handsomely, and there are groups that have lost out. The challenge is not to reverse or oppose globalization. I think the challenge is to rebalance it in a way that will provide broad gains to many groups who feel they have been excluded.

I do think we’ve mismanaged this process badly. The forces that have gained, the right-wing populists, don’t have a stake in either liberal democracy or the liberal world economy, and both are at stake right now. But I do think there is a way out. It’s going to require alternatives to the narrative of the right-wing populists, and I’m hoping that will come about.

Q: What is the difference between left-wing populism, which you say falls along economic cleavages, and right-wing populism, which centers around ethnic and national differences?

A: They differ in two key respects, which makes me more sympathetic to left-wing populists than right-wing populists.

One is that left-wing populists have remedies in mind that would eliminate the divisions which create the backlash in the first place. They talk about cleavages in terms of inequality of opportunity and income and wealth, and to the extent that you’re able to overcome these things, you are working to eliminate divisions. Whereas right-wing populists feed off cultural, ethnic, racial and religious cleavages that need to be deepened to make them successful. In other words, right-wing populists actively create an enemy that can mobilize their supporters. That makes them dangerous, because their remedies entail deepening the cleavages they thrive on.

The second aspect is that, not always, but typically, right-wing populists do not have any great love for the norms of liberal democracy, because they believe that there is one true national will. They generally abhor the idea that we should have different views as to how that is determined, or things like a free independent judiciary. So right-wing populism is more dangerous to democracy than left-wing populism.

Q: You mention that left-wing and right-wing populism derive from different economic and social conditions. Looking at the U.S. today, do you see one form being more ascendant?

A: I make a distinction between the deep causes of populism, and the political narratives around which they get wrapped. The deep causes of populism are economic and structural, generally speaking. There might be residues of racism and ethno-nationalism in the United States and other European countries, but I don’t think that’s what’s really driving populism. What’s driving it is the economic insecurities, the rising inequality, and the economic and social divisions that have been created, not just by globalization, but by the kind of policies we have pursued in the last few decades.

But the manner in which populism gets packaged is different. You can package it around a right-wing, ethno-nationalistic, racialist narrative, or you can package it around a left-wing social and economic exclusion narrative. What’s happening on a day-to-day basis might make it easier for right-wing than left-wing organizations. Refugees are in the news, and if there is the constant threat of Islamic terrorism, that is going to provide fuel for right-wing populists. It’s much more salient and gives them a way of organizing this broad-based discontent.

Q: We’re obviously seeing a strong backlash now to freer trade, which seems like a dramatic shift from public opinions just a decade or two ago. Is there anything economists got wrong about trade? Or did they just not do a good job of explaining the downsides?

A: Economic theory would have predicted this kind of backlash. The models trade economists use predict not just that trade liberalization is accompanied with significant income redistribution, but also that the amount of redistribution tends to rise relative to overall economic gains as we start chasing after the most remote impediments to trade. So there was a curious disjunction between what economists know and the way they represented the discipline to the rest of the world.

Q: Do you think that conversation was co-opted by businesses and other special interests?

A: Yes. Clearly, there was an alliance of convenience between many financial institutions and exporters, who were interested in opening up markets elsewhere, and economists, who thought that freer trade was a direction that was worth moving in and were happy, by and large, to act as cheerleaders for the kind of globalization that we have experienced. Economists lent their expertise and their prestige to particular interest groups, who used economists to advance their case.

In the process, economists had a tendency to poo poo many of the distributive and fairness implications of trade agreements. I don’t think they consciously or explicitly decided to deemphasize some of the complications to freer trade. But on the whole, given how the principle of comparative advantage and the overall gains from trade are such crown jewels in the economics profession, I think the profession decided that anything that moved us closer to freer trade was a cause worth supporting in public.

Q: What needs to be done to alter globalization going forward?

A: I have a book coming out this fall in which I talk about rebalancing globalization. There are three areas I emphasize. One is that we need to move toward agreements that provide greater benefits to employees and labor instead of employers and capital. Another is that I think we’ve moved too far in terms of global governance and standardization of regulations. We need to enhance national governance, and paradoxically that would make economic globalization work better. Third would be moving from areas where overall economic gains are relatively small to areas where overall economic gains could be relatively large, such as increasing the mobility of workers across borders.

Q: You imply in a recent paper that Europe has done more than the United States to redistribute the gains in trade, and it has resulted in a different kind of populism in Europe. Explain that.

A: In the U.S., every time there was a trade agreement, you needed to tack on trade adjustment assistance to get labor to go along. Over time, it’s become clear that these measures really don’t work, because there are no political incentives to ensure they work once agreements have been signed. In Europe, you don’t have a separate mechanism for compensating trade losers. Instead you have very broad social insurance mechanisms. Europe, which became an open economy much earlier than the United States, was able to manage this openness because of the presence of these expansive welfare states.

Indeed, it’s not that populism hasn’t taken up in Europe, it’s just that European populists, including the right-wing populists, are not necessarily anti-trade. There are specific aspects of trade agreements which become politically controversial. But the nature of the conversation over trade is very different in Europe, and it is not nearly as contentious as it has become for quite some time in the United States, going back to Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, who were in many ways antecedents of Donald Trump.


►  No shift in U.S. military footing evident

The U.S. military does not appear to be moving toward a wartime footing with North Korea despite Donald Trump’s repeated threats this week of military action against Pyongyang, with few if any additional military forces moving into the region and the Pentagon chief emphasizing diplomacy over bloodshed.

The military posture has effectively remained the same even as Trump said Friday that he hopes North Korean officials “fully understand the gravity of what I said” and that “those words are very, very easy to understand.“

But it appears Trump is still waging a rhetorical war rather than preparing to launch a military one.

Among the signals that a major U.S. operation is not imminent is a trip just underway by Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a small cadre of his staff. He arrived Friday in Hawaii with plans to visit Japan, South Korea and China, all of which would be in peril if a war between North Korea and the United States exploded.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying flotilla of destroyers and guided-missile cruisers returned to port Wednesday in Yokosuka, Japan, the Navy announced. The ships and the thousands of U.S. service members aboard spent three months patrolling the region and could have stayed at sea off the coast of the Korean Peninsula if the Pentagon was preparing for near-term conflict.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also have repeatedly sought to reduce tensions. Mattis, asked Thursday about Trump’s comments and what the death toll could look like in a nuclear confrontation, said that it was his job “to have military options should they be needed” but that he thought a diplomatic effort led by Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was gaining traction and should remain at the center of U.S. policy.

“I want to stay right there, right now,“ said Mattis, who commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine general before retiring. “The tragedy of war is well enough known. It doesn’t need another characterization beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic.“

Despite North Korea’s colorful and threatening rhetorical broadsides, there also are few signs that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is spoiling for a fight that could lead to his ouster, and there has been no evacuation of American citizens from South Korea announced, said Michael Horowitz, a political-science professor and author at the University of Pennsylvania who studies military conflict.

“The U.S. is pre-positioned to respond to North Korean aggression on the peninsula all the time,“ Horowitz said. “But what we are not seeing yet are true naval movements, family movements and troop movements that would suggest that the military is preparing for imminent conflict.“

The Pentagon has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea to deter any North Korean attack and has kept at least 28,500 deployed there each year since an armistice agreement put a halt to fighting in the Korean War in 1953. They would almost certainly be the first into the fight if North Korea decided to launch an attack, and there is no indication that their operations have significantly changed.

The United States also keeps bombers and other military equipment on bases throughout the Pacific, including B-1B bombers on the U.S. island of Guam. Pacific Command said in a tweet Friday that the aircraft are ready to carry out missions if called upon and Trump retweeted that message, but their availability is routine: Bombers have been deployed there on a rotational basis for years. The Pentagon still has some planes that can drop nuclear bombs, but none of them are stationed in the Pacific.

Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on whether any major changes have occurred but said that U.S. forces in South Korea remain ready for any kind of attack.

Patrick Cronin, the senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said that despite Trump’s rhetoric, he doesn’t see a major shift in U.S. policy toward North Korea. The plan still appears to be to pressure Pyongyang to stop its nuclear weapons development and be prepared to respond overwhelmingly if they strike, Cronin said.

But Cronin – who said he discussed North Korea with White House officials this week – added that there is an important difference in Trump’s approach to Kim. By “turning up the brightness” on what was done in the past, Trump is still angling to put pressure on China to get North Korea to come to the negotiating table, Cronin said.

“This is the same policy, just amped up a bit,“ he said. “We’re putting this through the Hollywood glitz here.“

Nonetheless, the stakes remain high and unpredictable, said Abraham Denmark, a former Obama administration official who worked on Asia issues at the Pentagon. It appears right now that “rhetoric seems to be far out front of the physical manifestation of our policy,“ but the language used by world leaders can create unintended consequences, Denmark said.

For now, a particularly sensitive question will be Trump’s response if North Korea carries out its threat to test a missile that lands near Guam but does not hit the island.

“I’m sure,“ Horowitz said, “that’s a question that people are working on in the Pentagon that we don’t quite know the answer to.“


►  Trump’s Venezuela comments pose challenges for Pence

It’s a role Mike Pence has come to know well.

Pence departs Sunday for Latin America on the heels of yet another provocative statement from Donald Trump that he is sure to have to answer for. This time it’s Trump’s sudden declaration that he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro has been consolidating power, plunging the country into chaos.

The dramatic escalation in rhetoric seemed to upend carefully crafted U.S. policy that has stressed working with regional partners to increase pressure on Maduro. It also contradicted high-level administration officials, including Trump’s own national security adviser, who had warned that any perception of U.S. intervention would stir decades’ old resentments and play into Maduro’s hands.

Experts on the region said the president’s comments Friday would undoubtedly make Pence’s task more difficult when he arrives Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, on Venezuela’s doorstep.

“Once again, Latin Americans will be looking for Pence to reassure them, to put a lot of daylight between his more traditional, moderate Republican views and those of his meandering president,” said Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has extensive experience in the region.

The president’s comments will also complicate the calculus of Latin American leaders, many of whom had been speaking out against Maduro’s actions.

“It pulls the rug out from Latin American leaders who had braved internal political criticism to stand against the dictatorial trend in Venezuela and the human rights violations of the Maduro regime,” said Mark L. Schneider, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He said Trump’s “off the cuff comment” on military options amounted to throwing Maduro “a beautiful life preserver at a time when the growing Latin American consensus was causing fracturing within his own supporters and probably the military.”

“Now they will have little option other than to unite at least rhetorically against the Trump threat to ‘send in the Marines,’” Schneider said.

Almost since Maduro took office in 2013, he has been warning of U.S. military designs on Venezuela, home to the world’s largest oil reserves. Maduro has also directed his barbs at Trump, describing him as a crass imperial magnate and accusing him of backing a failed attack on a military base.

Just last week, the foreign ministers of 17 Western Hemisphere nations met in Peru, where they issued a rare joint statement condemning Venezuela’s new constitutional assembly and declaring that their governments would refuse to recognize the body.

Harold Trinkunas, of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said it was the strongest condemnation of any fellow government that he has seen in a generation.

“In general, Latin American countries are very reluctant to criticize each other,” he said.

Trump’s comment, Trinkunas said, will make it harder for Pence “to convince Latin American leaders to publicly coordinate measures with the United States to increase pressure on the Maduro regime. Latin American states will not want to be seen as endorsing U.S. military intervention.”

It was a concern raised by Trump’s own national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, in a recent interview.

“Well, you know, there’s a long history in the region of American intervention and that’s caused problems in the past,” he said. “And so, I think we’re very cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to give this regime or others the opportunity to say, well, you know, this isn’t the problem with the Maduro. This is the Yankees doing this.”

But a spokesman for Pence insisted there was no daylight between him and the president.

“Trump is sending the Pence to South and Central America to deliver a very clear message both to our partners in the region and to the Maduro regime. Trump and Pence have discussed the trip in depth and are totally aligned on Trump’s message to Venezuela and Latin America overall,” said the spokesman, Jarrod AGeneral

Pence’s trip comes as the situation in Venezuela has grown increasingly desperate. The U.S. has accused Maduro of a sweeping power grab following the creation of a new constitutional assembly, which has been granted the power to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution, declared itself superior to all other government institutions, and ousted Venezuela’s outspoken chief prosecutor. The moves have sparked violent protests.

Pence’s trip had been aimed both at rallying opposition to Maduro in his own backyard, as well as bolstering trade and economic and security cooperation with four key U.S. allies in the region. His schedule includes stops in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Panama City. Pence is expected to meet with each of the country’s leaders, deliver a major speech on U.S.-Latin American relations, and tour the Panama Canal.

The trip is the latest indication that Pence has emerged as the U.S.’s top voice on the region — a distinction that was also held by his predecessor, Joe Biden.

“Once again the U.S. is sending Pence to deal with Latin America,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. While some might view that as “downgrading,” she said, many leaders in the region may prefer dealing with Pence.

“I think they consider Pence more predictable and measured,” she said.

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