Don’t Believe the Trump Administration: MS-13 is Not Ravaging the United States.

Flickr: Mara Salvatrucha

Immigration rates are slowing, and violent crime is at historic record lows, yet the rhetoric about both could not be more heated. The number of new legal immigrants leveled off starting with the Great Recession, while the absolute number of unauthorized immigrants has been falling since 2007. Crime rates have been dropping sharply for far longer, especially for violent crimes, which are just half as common as in 1993, according to FBI statistics.

Yet if you didn’t know better, you might think we’re living in a crime-ravaged dystopia out of “RoboCop,” where foreign gangs prey on fearful citizens in lawless sanctuary cities. That’s certainly the impression one gets from President Trump, who spoke of “American carnage” in his inauguration speech and has proposed a federal agency to track crimes by immigrants, even though research has shown immigrants commit less crime than U.S.-born citizens. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been leading a crusade against sanctuary cities — cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities to encourage immigrant cooperation with local police — claiming that these cities have higher rates of violent crime than other cities. The report he cited, however, actually showed this is not true.

The latest boogeyman is MS-13, a gang network that is playing a larger-than-life role in the Virginia gubernatorial election, with encouragement from Trump. Last week, he tweeted that Democratic candidate Ralph Northam “is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities.” The tweet echoed television ads that Northam’s Republican opponent Ed Gillespie has been airing throughout the commonwealth, which state Northam “voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” while flashing the words “Kill, Rape, Control.”

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

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Trump Is Signaling an Unprecedented Right Turn on Foreign Policy

donald-trump-red-button-nukes-nuclear-weapons-war

Shutterstock

Every few years — sometimes four, sometimes eight — America’s political mood swings from one pole to another.

It’s a not-uncommon disorder for democracies. Voters get disgusted with one flavor of politics and opt for another. For better or worse, the United States doesn’t have a Baskin-Robbins democracy. So, the vacillations in Americans’ political taste can only pendulum between chocolate and vanilla.

It’s one thing for America to lurch from one end of the spectrum to the other on fiscal matters, the advisability of universal health care, or the economic impact of immigration.

On foreign policy, however, the shifts are not just mystifying to those outside U.S. borders, they’re downright frightening.

Consider the Trump administration’s decision to make a U-turn on Iran policy. This week, Trump has pledged to go against the previous administration, many of his own top advisors, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in decertifying that Iran has abided by the terms of the nuclear deal negotiated back in 2015.

For Trump’s critics, including virtually all Iran policy experts at the moment, this attempt at scuttling the world’s most sophisticated arms control agreement sends absolutely the wrong signal to Iran. Trump is essentially saying, “It doesn’t really matter whether you have adhered to the letter of the agreement, we’re still going to break our commitment because, honestly, we just don’t like you. And by the way, you can’t count on the United States to keep its word in the future.”

Trump is sending an even more damaging message to the rest of the world: “We as a country suffer from mood swings so severe and delusions so enduring that we can no longer be a responsible member of the international community.”

After deep-sixing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration is making good on this one campaign promise even as all the others stall in Congress or the courts. Trump will make America First even if it means going against obvious American national interests, even those defined by the Chamber of Commerce.

This is not the first time that other countries have witnessed the political instability of the United States. But in the past, some underlying continuity provided a measure of reassurance to other countries. Voters might choose vanilla or chocolate, but the world still expects in the end to get some variety of ice cream.

What makes the Trump era different is the lack of that underlying continuity. Trump might look like vanilla or chocolate or some kind of swirl, but in reality he’s Semtex in a cone. After pretending for a year or more that he’s a natural product of the system, even top members of the governing party have become deeply worried about the orange brick of plastic explosive that now occupies the Oval Office.

Past Mood Swings

The last 40 years of American political life have been a series of switchbacks. Ford made way for Carter who made way for Reagan. After George H.W. Bush came a leftish turn under Clinton, a rightish turn under George W. Bush, then a left with Obama, then a hard right with Trump.

In some cases, the new party in power instituted a profound policy transformation. Ronald Reagan ushered in a new economic order. George W. Bush introduced a new post-Cold War unilateralism.

Trump has vowed to destroy the old order altogether.

Adversaries and allies alike can be excused for suffering from whiplash trying to keep up with the changes. Let’s consider this problem from the vantage point of North Korea, which has had only three leaders in over 70 years and no significant U-turn in policy during that time.

The North Korean leadership negotiated a deal with the Clinton administration in 1994 only to come face to face six years later with open hostility from the George W. Bush administration. It was a bewildering experience. Kim Jong Il apparently mourned what had been possible under Clinton, saying to the former president when he visited in 2009 that “The United States would have had a new friend in Northeast Asia in a complex world.”

Then, after finally managing to secure agreement with this initially hostile Bush administration in 2005, North Korea came up hard three years later against the cautious indifference of the Obama administration. The North Koreans were not entirely blameless in this shadow play, but still they must think that the United States has cyclical bouts of insanity.

It’s not just the North Koreans. The democratic world, for instance, found the transition to the George W. Bush years particularly bewildering. Even before the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration announced that it wouldn’t implement the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. After the attacks, the administration broke with international law by embarking on a “preventive” war, violating the Geneva Conventions on treatment of captured combatants, and engaging in torture. The administration also backed away from the Rome statute establishing the International Criminal Court in May 2002 and withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russia in June 2002. All of these actions profoundly troubled America’s allies.

And yet in some respects even the Bush years seem like a golden age of multilateralism compared to the present moment. The Bush administration mobilized international support against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It attempted to fashion its own “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. It would put together six-party talks to negotiate a deal with North Korea. It pushed through a Central America Free Trade Agreement. Bush may have been a cowboy, but he didn’t embrace an entirely go-it-alone ethos.

In other words, even with its sharp turn toward unilateralism, the Bush administration held to a bipartisan consensus in favor of multilateral initiatives that benefit the United States. In some ways Bush offered only a variation on the Clinton theme of “a la carte multilateralism” in which the United States picks and chooses the international structures with which it wants to cooperate.

This kind of Bush-style unilateralism wrapped in a-la-carte multilateralism has returned to the White House. It’s represented by most of the top administration officials involved in foreign affairs: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Pentagon chief James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. These are the so-called adults in the room.

But Trump is something different. And that’s what has thrown Republicans like Bob Corker (R-TN) into a tizzy.

Corker and Iran

When the Obama administration was trying to win congressional support for the Iran nuclear deal back in 2015, the Republican Party was skeptical, to say the least. In the Senate, Republican lawmakers even managed to attract four Democrats to their effort to break a Democratic filibuster against a resolution to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But the effort still fell two votes short, and the deal went through.

Bob Corker was part of this Republican bloc. But his role behind the scenes was more complicated than this vote might indicate. Together with Ben Cardin (D-MD), Corker negotiated a series of deals with the Obama administration that ultimately eased passage of the bill by requiring not congressional approval but, rather, congressional disapproval of the agreement (which required more than a simple majority vote). In return, the administration agreed to various oversight mechanisms — including one that requires the president to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days. Corker and Cardin also worked to expand non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.

Bob Corker is not a moderate Republican. He has an 80 percent ranking from the American Conservative Union for 2016 (by comparison, Susan Collins of Maine clocks in at 44 percent). He’s no softie on Iran, either. Last year, he continued to try to pile on additional sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, he had to content himself with an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act for another 10 years. During the presidential campaign, Corker advised Donald Trump on foreign policy and was even in the running for secretary of state.

Corker is cut from the same cloth as Rex Tillerson. They’re conservative Republicans who believe in “America First.” But they’re also committed to preserving a measure of professionalism, if nothing else, when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. They want to preserve U.S. alliances. They want to advance the interests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They’re not isolationists, and they’re not exactly internationalists either. They occupy the right wing of the underlying foreign policy consensus that encompasses the think tanks, lobby shops, and mainstream media in DC. They play ball whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House and whichever party controls Congress. They are part of the continuity in American foreign policy that transcends the elections.

So, when Bob Corker takes aim at Donald Trump, it represents a serious breach not just within the Republican Party but within the foreign policy establishment. Over the weekend, Corker charged that Trump was making threats toward other countries that could send the United States reeling toward “World War III.” Later, Corker tweeted in response to Trump, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Having decided not to run for re-election, Corker is now free to speak truth to power.

Corker’s most proximate concern is Trump deciding to bomb North Korea. But the issue of Iran is also on the senator’s mind. Trump has blamed Corker for the Iran deal when in fact the Tennessee senator was merely trying to give Congress some say over the process. When the president decertifies Iran’s compliance, according to the legislation that Corker helped to pass, Congress will then have the authority to re-impose the nuclear-related sanctions that the JCPOA lifted. But the Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and the president can’t afford to alienate a single member of his party.

So, why pick a fight with Corker just when the president will need him most on the congressional battle over any new Iran sanctions? Writes Adam Taylor in The Washington Post:

By handing off any real decision to Congress, [Trump] can avoid having to make a hard decision himself. And by picking a fight with Corker, he has a scapegoat if his supporters grow frustrated with a lack of action in Congress. It seems plausible that Trump’s allies are simply being prepared for another legislative failure.

In other words, it’s all about the war that Trump and his still-loyal lieutenant Steve Bannon, assisted by UN ambassador Nikki Haley, have declared on the “deep state.” They want to dismantle the foreign policy establishment that has presided over America’s engagement in the world. A progressive might find much to rejoice in this attack, given that America’s engagement with the world has often been through war and corporate penetration. But the establishment is more than that, and Trump/Bannon also want to unravel everything of diplomatic and humanitarian value as well.

Also, Trump and Bannon aren’t really interested in draining the foreign policy swamp in DC. They simply want to install their own cronies who will ensure that war and globalization benefit them rather than Kissinger and his ilk. It’s a shell game designed to fool Trump’s base, but the rest of the world has kept its eye on the ball. That’s why Israel and Saudi Arabia, who also benefit from Trump-style war and globalization, continue to rejoice at White House policies when everyone else is aghast.

Trump is calculating that every defeat he’s handed by the foreign policy establishment will only boost his standing for the next election. The outrage of Bob Corker and the international community only burnishes his reputation among those who want to build walls everywhere, from the border with Mexico to the public bathrooms of North Carolina, and destroy everything else.

But those elections are still some time away. In the meantime, Corker and other freethinking conservatives in his party may be the only thing that can contain the politician of mass destruction that is Donald Trump.

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VIDEO: The U.S. War in Afghanistan Is Now 16 Years Old. Trump Has No Plans to End It.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. The war is now 16 years old — and that’s not even counting the decade of U.S. intervention in the country during the Cold War.

Donald Trump once advocated the “speedy withdrawal” of U.S. troops from that country. As president, however, he’s gone in the opposite direction, demanding the U.S. must now “fight to win.” 

As Phyllis Bennis, director of the IPS New Internationalism project, explains in this short video, Trump’s plans to extend the war he once supported ending are even more worrisome for their lack of transparency. He’s not said how many new troops he’ll send or how long they’ll be deployed. Worse still, civilian casualties in multiple U.S. wars have been on the rise since he took office — by 67 percent in just six months.

It’s clear by now that the solution to terrorism won’t come from using military power, Bennis explains. That can only be achieved by diplomacy. “It’s harder, it takes longer, it’s not as sexy, it’s not sexy on CNN, it’s not any of those things,” she concludes. “But it’s the only thing that will work.” 

Video by Victoria Borneman and Peter Certo.

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INDIANA FARMER CAMPAIGNING WITH TRUMP TO REPEAL ESTATE TAX CASHED $3.3 M IN FARM SUBSIDY CHECKS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, September 27, 2017

Contact: Jessicah Pierre, jessicah@ips-dc.org617-401-1470
Chuck Collins, chuck@ips-dc.org617-308-4433
Domenica Ghanem, domenica@ips-dc.org202 787 5205

Kip Tom, the Leesburg, Indiana farmer who will stand today with President Trump calling for repeal of the federal estate tax, has cashed in over $ 3.3 million in farm subsidy checks, including $ 2.6 million between 2004 and 2014, according to the most recent data available.

Research compiled by the Institute for Policy Studies based on publicly available data reveals that Kip Tom of Tom Farms, a large corn and soybean producer, is the ninth-largest farm subsidy recipient in the state of Indiana.

“The definition of hubris is to complain about your taxes but cash millions in checks provided by other taxpayers,” said Chuck Collins, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies.  “I’d be embarrassed.”

Tom Farms has changed legal status over the last 20 years, but received subsidies every year. Between 2004 and 2014, Tom Farms Partners received $ 2,612,561 in subsidies, mostly commodity subsidies. Between 1996 and 2006, Tom Farms LLC cashed $ 667,732 in farm subsidy checks. In 1995, Kip Tom took in $ 42,826 in subsidies, but then refunded $ 17,494 for a net subsidy of $ 25,332. Between 1995 and 2014, this amounts to over $ 3,305,625 in government subsidies.

Republicans have often used farmers and ranchers as props to give the impression that a wide swath of hard-working Americans are threatened by what they call the “death tax.”  In reality, only families with over $ 11 million in wealth and individuals with wealth over $ 5.45 million are subject to this tax.  Nationwide, fewer than two out of a thousand estates are subject to the estate tax, which, if left intact, would raise over $ 230 billion in much-needed revenue over the next decade.

“If you want to see who would benefit from estate tax repeal, look no further than President Trump and his cabinet,” said Collins, who co-authored a 2003 book with Bill Gates Sr. in defense of the estate tax, Wealth and Our Commonwealth.  Collins is director of the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a 52-year old research institute, and co-editor of the website, Inequality.org.

Very few farms are subject to the estate tax and already have different valuations and carve out provisions. Most of the people who pay the estate tax are wealthy and based in urban and coastal areas.

Organizations that represent small farmers, like the National Farmers Union and the Family Farm Coalition, support retention of the estate tax.  They believe concentrations of wealth, farmland and farm subsidies post a threat to competitive agriculture. Over 41 percent of Indiana farmers do not receive any subsidies, according to the USDA.

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How Energy Department Whistleblowers Outsmarted the Trump Administration

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The Department of Energy just issued a new study on alleged threats to the reliability of the electric grid. Maybe that sounds boring and arcane to you, but the backstory is actually quite gripping.

It’s a tale of high-level government corruption, an Inquisition-like atmosphere for career government scientists, and a sinister agenda that appears to be going off the rails, thanks partly to brave whistleblowers. In short, it has all the ingredients of what in normal times would’ve been a classic Washington scandal.

A bit of background: In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered his staff to perform a study on how “continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.”

The term “baseload” refers to fossil fuel and nuclear power plants that can generate power continuously, unlike intermittent renewable sources that generate power only when the sun shines or the wind blows.

Cutting through the jargon, Perry ordered the study with a clear outcome in mind: to suggest that regulations on coal and government supports for clean energy were somehow destabilizing the U.S. power grid.

Evidently Perry doesn’t know much about advances in energy.

Technological change and market forces are making clean energy competitive with dirty fossil and nuclear energy, helped along by small tax credits (which are nonetheless dwarfed by much larger fossil fuel and nuclear subsidies).

Coal-fired power generation capacity has decreased, nuclear capacity has stagnated, and even natural gas capacity has barely ticked upward — while solar and wind capacity have grown by double digits. Plus, according to Perry’s own department, wind and solar now employ hundreds of thousands more Americans than older industries like coal.

Together with impressive advances in energy storage and smart grid technology, those trends are reducing the need for a large baseload capacity by making it possible to store renewable energy and distribute it wherever it’s needed.

Thankfully, career experts at the Energy Department don’t share Perry’s ignorance or bias. To prove it, they leaked a draft of their completed study before political appointees could alter or bury the results.

Unsurprisingly, they concluded that Perry’s starting premise was faulty — even as coal and nuclear plants are retired and the share of renewables in the grid grows, the grid has become more reliable. A number of independent experts share this conclusion.

Thanks to these brave whistleblowers, it’s easy to spot the subsequent meddling by political hacks.

And meddle they did. However, the degree of tampering was less than what it could have been had the earlier draft not been released. The overarching conclusion that the reliability of the grid has not been compromised — and in fact the grid has become more reliable — has not been altered.

But new policy recommendations have been added that betray an obvious political footprint. For instance, the revised version actually calls for easing pollution control requirements for coal-fired power plants — a backwards and potentially illegal move.

Another troubling recommendation calls for a mechanism to “compensate grid participants for services that are necessary to support reliable grid operations.” One such mechanism would be to add a premium to the price of coal power to pay for its supposed reliability — a ratepayer subsidy, in short, for struggling coal-fired power plants.

Still, it could’ve been much worse. The administration could’ve used the report to argue for eliminating “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) that mandate grid space for non-polluting energy.

RPS policies have been instrumental in driving the rapid growth of solar and wind energy in the U.S. in recent years — in fact, 29 states and D.C. have them. So it’s no surprise Perry’s fossil fuel allies are taking aim at them.

Months ago, when asked about whether he’d use the findings to block state RPS policies, Perry stooped to the lowest trick of contemporary American demagogues — invoking “national security.” That framing led some to worry that Perry was plotting an unprecedented federal intervention in state energy policy.

But thanks to career public servants who reported the facts and made it far more difficult for Perry’s cronies to manipulate or hide them, these destructive ideas didn’t make it into the report. That was no small risk in an administration that’s censored climate science on government websites and undermined the independent scientific boards that advise the EPA. (Not to mention that President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry himself all publicly deny much of the climate science — even though, in Perry’s case, his home state of Texas is presently underwater from Tropical Storm Harvey.)

The anonymous Energy Department whistleblowers are unsung heroes of our time, helping to derail part of the administration’s destructive agenda on energy and the environment.

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Trump Promised to Put American Workers First. He Lied.

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(Photo: Maryland GovPics / Flickr)

ADonald Trump celebrates Labor Day by proposing to slash taxes for CEOs such as himself, it may come as a shock that a president who was previously best known for firing people on TV might not have been completely sincere in his promise to put “American workers first”.

And like most things he says, it’s hard to tell what that’s supposed to mean. This is the same man who, as a candidate, said US workers’ salaries were “too high”, something even the most reactionary politician knows not to say out loud.

So when he proclaims that “lower taxes on American business means higher wages for American workers”, the fact that this statement is demonstrably false is beside the point: as a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies shows, the job growth rate for corporations that paid the least amount in taxes over the past eight years was negative 1%, compared to 6% for the private sector as a whole; businesses for the most part spent tax breaks not on job creation but on stock buybacks and executive pay.

It’s also beside the point whether Trump actually believes corporate tax cuts benefit workers. They benefit him, and the people he goes golfing with, and that’s all that matters. This is a president who embodies rent-seeking at its purest.

Read the full article in the Guardian.

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Trump: The Anti-Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan sit down together inside the Hofdi in Reykjavik, Iceland on Saturday, Oct. 11, 1986 at the start of a series of talks. (Photo: Scott Stewart / AP)

Back in the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev had a magic touch internationally. Traveling outside the Soviet Union, he often received the adulation that was so frequently lacking at home. When Gorbachev visited other Communist countries, crowds would turn out to welcome him as a savior.

He had that effect in Beijing when he visited on May 16, 1989. The protests in Tiananmen Square had started the month before, and the protesters saw in Gorbachev a possible future trajectory for China. According to a contemporary account in The New York Times:

The demonstrations were doubly embarrassing for the Chinese leaders because of the obvious enthusiasm that many of the protesters felt for Mr. Gorbachev. Several had prepared banners in Russian hailing him as a great reformer, and a crowd of workers and bicyclists applauded when he drove past them on his way to the Great Hall of the People.

Even more startling was his appearance at East Germany’s celebrations of its 40th anniversary on October 7, 1989. As he passed along Unter den Linden, crowds on either side of East Berlin’s famous boulevard cried out, “Gorby, help us.” Two days later, 70,000 people showed up to demonstrate, non-violently, in Leipzig. The East German regime, as Gorbachev had warned, was living on borrowed time. The Berlin Wall would fall a mere one month later.

Gorbachev made other important visits — Czechoslovakia in April 1987, Romania in May 1987, Cuba in April 1989 — that contributed to a wave of transformation that took place in East-Central Europe (though not China or Cuba). Of course, Gorbachev failed to transform the Soviet Union as he’d hoped and ended up destroying the very structure he wanted to rehabilitate. Still, he’ll be remembered for his contributions to ending the Cold War and bringing hope to many throughout the Communist world.

Now along comes Donald Trump, the head of another putative superpower desperately in need of internal reform. Trump has promised his own form of perestroika in the form of his attacks on the “administrative state.” He offers his own form of glasnost with his obsessive tweeting. Trumpeting a xenophobic foreign policy, he’s also vowed to thoroughly transform the bloc that he nominally leads.

And when Trump goes abroad, he has his own transformative effect. But while Gorbachev promoted democratization in his wake, Trump promotes exactly the opposite.

The Trump Touch

Donald Trump is the Tinkerbell of tyranny. He sprinkles pixie dust on autocracies to make them more so and on democracies so that they move ever closer to dictatorship.

Trump’s touch was on full view in Saudi Arabia during his first overseas stop as president of the free world. It was an odd choice of destinations, since Saudi Arabia is one of the key leaders of the unfree world.

But Saudi Arabia is Trump’s kind of place, where oil is king, women are submissive, no one protests on the street, and the ruling clique does pretty much whatever it wants to do. Trump seemed fully at home in this feudal kingdom, and he had nothing but praise for his hosts. While there, he also met with other autocrats of the Gulf, such as those ruling Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Not long after he left, Bahrain decided that Trump had effectively given the country a green light to crack down on its opposition. A mere two days after meeting Trump in Riyadh, where the president assured King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa that his administration wouldn’t complicate bilateral relations with anything so trivial as human rights considerations, the Bahraini government used force to disband a nonviolent sit-in in support of the country’s most prominent Shiite leader. Five protesters died, and the authorities arrested hundreds. Then, the government shut down al-Wasat, the most prominent independent newspaper, and the Trump administration uttered not a peep of protest.

Saudi Arabia, having extracted a promise of even more U.S. military assistance with which to prosecute its war in Yemen, decided to see how far it could go to leverage its new relationship with the Trump administration. Together with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, it moved against Qatar, a Gulf outlier for its relatively cordial relations with Iran and its relative tolerance for independent journalism in the form of Al Jazeera. This time, the Trump administration was divided, with Trump himself seeming to side with Riyadh while the State Department and the Pentagon stuck up for Doha, a key ally on military matters in the region.

The latest place to experience this Trump effect is Poland. Since Poland is a democracy, at least for the time being, the people fought back and produced an unexpected result.

The Putative Polish Putsch

Trump’s decision to visit to Poland just before the G20 summit was just as pointed as his choice of Saudi Arabia as a first overseas stop. The Polish government that took over 2015, led by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has taken just the kind of stances that Trump loves: against immigration, against a free press, against the rule of law.

Poland was the perfect place for Trump to hammer home his veiled white supremacist message. Peter Beinart, in The Atlantic, contrasts Trump’s speech in Warsaw to George W. Bush speech there in 2003:

In his 2003 speech, Bush referred to democracy 13 times. Trump mentioned it once. And for good reason. Ideologically, what links the current American and Polish governments is not their commitment to democracy — both are increasingly authoritarian. It is their hostility to Muslim immigration. The European Union is suing Poland’s government for refusing to accept refugees. Among Trump’s biggest applause lines in Warsaw was, “While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.” Given that Trump had linked “our values” to America and Poland’s “tradition,” “faith,” “culture,” and “identity,” it wasn’t hard to imagine whom that leaves out.

Equally important, at least for the PiS audience, was the benediction Trump gave to Poland’s leadership. Poland, Trump said, is “an example for others who seek freedom.”

Shortly after the visit, the Polish ruling party decided to remind the world of precisely what that example represents. It attempted to ram through several laws that would have severely hobbled rule of law in the country. One would have allowed the government to fire all Supreme Court justices and appoint its own replacements; a second would have given parliament, controlled by PiS, the authority to appoint members of the National Council of the Judiciary, a body designed to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Building on earlier moves to eliminate any pesky judicial constraints on its authority, which prompted an EU “probe” into Polish actions, PiS was following a game plan devised by Viktor Orban and Fidesz in Hungary: to clear away all constitutional barriers to creating an illiberal democracy.

The surprise came when Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed the two bills. A former PiS stalwart — he had to resign from the party when he became president — Duda was responding to an EU threat to suspend Poland’s voting rights as well as the enormous wave of protests that had washed over the country. Hundreds of thousands of Poles took to the streets in Warsaw, and many veterans of the Solidarity era, including Lech Walesa himself, spoke out vehemently against the government.

PiS was furious at this apostasy. It put enormous counter-pressure on Duda to force him to sign the third bill in the package, which gives the justice minister the power to appoint the heads of all lower courts.

The EU is nevertheless following through on its threat to begin proceedings against Poland, beginning with a legal suit filed by the European Commission against the country for breaking rules on judicial independence and sizeable fines from the European Court of Justice.

In Poland, Donald Trump sees a future trajectory for his own administration. He hasn’t yet attempted to change the laws regulating the courts because he’s been too busy packing them with right-wing ideologues, starting with Neil Gorsuch at the Supreme Court and including 27 lower-court judges (three times what Obama nominated over the same period). Trump has been woefully slow in filling administration positions, particularly at State, but he’s moved at lightning speed to transform the judiciary.

More generally, Trump’s trips to Saudi Arabia and Poland are part of a new geopolitical realignment that advisers like Steve Bannon are pushing. Forget NATO. Forget the Community of Democracies. Donald Trump wants nothing less than a worldwide suppression of liberal values such as rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and an independent press.

Gorbachev presided over the end of a geopolitical system — the Cold War. Popular protest — in East-Central Europe and in the Soviet Union itself — led to the unraveling of Soviet-bloc Communism as well. Trump may inadvertently preside over the end of U.S. hegemony, as both Europe and Asia chart more independent paths.

Let’s hope that popular resistance destroys his Trumpian perestroika as well, before it gets any further off the ground.

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Donald Trump and the Triumph of Anti-Politics

globe-nest-drought-hand-dystopia

(Image: Little Perfect Stock / Shutterstock)

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I testified before the great assembly of our land.

When I describe this event to children today, it really does sound to them like a fairy tale. Once upon a time — a time before the world splintered into a million pieces and America became its current disunited states — this old woman was a young idealist who tried to persuade our mighty Congress that a monster was stalking the land.

“Did they listen to you, Auntie Rachel?” they typically ask me.

“Oh, they listened to me, but they didn’t hear me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I thought and I thought, and I wrote and I wrote, and I put together an even better presentation,” I say patiently. “I had to somehow make that monster visible so those mighty people could see it.”

“What did it look like, Auntie Rachel?”

“It was invisible, my dear children, but we could feel its hot breath. And we could see the terrible things that it did. It could make the oceans rise. It could make the crops wilt in the fields. Still, we kept feeding this terrible beast.”

“But why?”

“It’s what the monster demanded. Some monsters want to devour little children. Others insist on young maidens. But this one insisted on tankers of oil and truckloads of coal. Even as it grew, it only demanded more and more.”

At this point, the children are always wide-eyed. “What did you do then?”

“I talked to those great people again. And this time I tried even harder to describe the monster.” As I slip into the past, the faces of the children become those of long-dead politicians. “I provided more detailed graphs of rising temperatures. I cited statistics on the impact of burning coal and oil and natural gas. I displayed photos of what the melting ice and the surging waters had already done. And then I showed them pictures of what the future would look like: submerged cities, drought-stricken lands, dead seas. They looked and still they didn’t see. They listened and still they didn’t hear. Great people,” I conclude, “are not always good people.”

“What did you do then?” they always ask.

“I stopped talking, my darlings. I came here to escape the monster. I came to Arcadia.”

They look disappointed. The children know their fairy tales. They expect someone — perhaps a knight in shining armor — to appear suddenly and slay the monster.

“There was no knight,” I lament. “And the monster still lives. We can feel its hot breath even now.”

Of course, my young charges don’t really understand my story. Today, in 2050, there is no Congress. There are no committee hearings. There are no intergovernmental panels or global gatherings. I might as well be telling them about Roman banquets or medieval jousts. And yet my little students always clamor for more stories of the vanished world of Washington, D.C., 2017, just as they would beg for yet another of Aesop’s fables. But they don’t quite see how these tales of long ago connect to their lives today.

After all, they live in a post-political world.

The Death of Politics

Before the global thermometer went haywire, before the great economic panics of the early 2020s, before the battles escalated between vigilantes and jihadis, before the international community cracked like a mirror smashed by a fist, there was that initial death, which was barely noticed at the time.

As the historians — those left to tell the tale — will inform you, there were no funerals for the death of politics, nor were there obituaries. And even if there had been, few would have shed any tears. The confidence the American public had in Congress back in those days was lower than in any other institution — a mere 9% had such confidence, compared to 18% for big business and 73% for the military.

Politics in the muggy swamp of Washington, where I lived in those antediluvian years, had become a tug of war between two hated teams. Sometimes, one side won and dragged the other through the muck. Then the situation would be reversed. No matter: at the end of the day, everyone was left covered in mud.

Yes, things might have turned out differently. Radical reforms might have been enacted, a new generation of politicians cultivated. But at the moment of greatest peril — to the republic and the world at large — Americans turned their backs on politics, electing the most anti-political candidate in the history of the country. The founding fathers had done everything they could to ensure that the system would not produce such a result, but there was no way they could have anticipated Donald Trump or the circumstances that put him in power.

When the initial Europeans arrived in North America more than half a millennium ago, they brought weapons far more powerful than the stone axes and wooden clubs wielded by the First Nations. But it wasn’t just the guns that proved so devastating. The Europeans carried within them something far more lethal: invisible diseases like smallpox and the flu. Those viruses cut through the Native Americans like so many scythes, killing nine out of every ten of the original inhabitants of this continent.

Many centuries later, Donald Trump arrived in Washington armed with the explicit weapons of extremist rhetoric and sociopathic sangfroid with which he had destroyed his political opponents. But it was what he carried hidden within him that would ultimately turn out to be so catastrophic. Although he had railed against the political establishment in the election campaign that put him in the Oval Office, in his own way he had also played by the political rules to get there. Deep down, however, his greatest urge was to destroy politics altogether: tweet by tweet, outrage by outrage.

And his attack on politics would finish off the world as we knew it in Washington circa 2017. In the end, it would render congressional testimony and Congress itself irrelevant. Even today, more than 30 years later, the bodies are still piling up.

The Judgment of Paris

I teach science to the young children here in Arcadia. It’s not difficult to explain the basic scientific concepts that so changed our world, and we have a well-equipped lab for them to run experiments. So they understand the science of climate change. What bewilders them is how the crisis came about.

“Why didn’t our grandparents run the factories every other day?” a bright young girl once asked me. “Why didn’t they drive those stupid cars just on the weekend?”

Our children know little but Arcadia, and this community is fully sustainable. We produce everything we need here in this corner of what was once the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. What we don’t grow, we synthesize or create on our 3-D printers. We conduct limited trade with the few neighboring communities. If there is an unexpected death, we issue another birth permit. If our solar batteries run low during the winter, we ration energy. Everything is recycled, from our chicken bones to our night soil. The children of Arcadia don’t understand waste.

They also don’t understand the now-strange concept of an international community. They’ve never ventured beyond the walls of our little universe.  It’s only thanks to virtual tourism that they’ve seen the world outside, which just reinforces their desire to remain here. After all, the world out there is just a collection of sharp little shards, what my ex-husband used to call the “splinterlands” of this planet. My students can’t comprehend how those shards, most of them exceedingly dangerous micro-environments, once fit together to form larger nations that in turn sometimes cooperated to solve common problems. It’s like that old story of the elephant and the six blind men. The children of Arcadia can understand the parts, but unsurprising enough, given the events of the last three decades, the whole eludes them.

Think of that long-gone international community, I tell them, as a squalling infant born in 1945 to bickering parents. A troubled childhood was followed by an awkward youth. Only in middle age, with the end of the Cold War in 1989, did it finally seem to come into its own, however briefly.  Unfortunately, within a few short years, it was prematurely in its dotage. In 2017, at 72, the international community was past retirement age, in frail health, and in desperate need of assisted care.

Once upon a time, this aged collective creature, this Knight of the Sad Countenance, was supposed to be our savior, the slayer of the horrible monster. When the time came, however, it could barely lift a lance.

Without some knowledge of the life cycle of the international community, my children can’t possibly understand why global temperatures continued to rise in the first part of this century, despite the best efforts of scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens. Several countries, Uruguay and Bhutan among them, had gone to extraordinary lengths to reduce their carbon footprint, and more than a dozen cities eventually became carbon neutral. Individuals adopted vegetarianism, drove electric cars, turned down their thermostats in the winter — as if lifestyle changes alone could slay the monster.

Unfortunately, a global problem really did require a global response. The Paris climate accord, which 196 countries signed at the end of 2015, was just such an effort. Only two countries refused to sign, one (Syria) because it was mired in a civil war and the other (Nicaragua) due to sheer cussedness. And yet the terms of the agreement were far from adequate. The international community, which had come together in this twilight of cooperation, well understood the enormity of the challenge: to keep global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average. At best, however, the Paris treaty would have kept temperatures from rising three degrees.  And as everyone now knows, the best was hardly what happened.

In this way did that community abandon the very idea of sustainability and embrace its lesser cousin, resilience. I try to explain to my children that sustainability is all about harmony — maintaining balance, never taking more than what we give back. Resilience, on the other hand, is about making the adaptations required by a crisis, about simply getting by. The judgment of Paris, with its nod toward resilience, was, in fact, an acknowledgment of failure.

Although flawed, it was at least part of a process. That’s what democratic politics is all about, I tell my charges. You have to begin somewhere and hope to improve from there. After all, there’s always the possibility that one day you might even graduate from resilience to sustainability.

But, of course, there’s also the option of going backward, which is exactly what happened, big league — to use an expression of the new American president — in 2017.

The Trump Revolution

It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that destruction is so much easier than construction. Anyone can wield a sledgehammer; few can use a trowel. An inadvertent sneeze can take down the most elaborately built house of cards.

Donald Trump was more than just a sneeze. His devotion to the destruction of the “administrative state” was impressive. At the time, we were all so focused on the domestic side of that destruction — the toppling of the pillars of the welfare state, the repeal of universal health care, the rollback of legal protections and voting rights of all sorts — that we failed to pay proper attention to just how devastatingly that destruction spread internationally.

Yes, the new president cancelled pending trade deals, thumbed his nose at traditional allies, and questioned the utility of agreements like the one that mothballed Iran’s nuclear program. But those were largely bilateral attacks. Much more dangerous were his fierce sallies against the international administrative state.

The most important of these, of course, was his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. Admittedly, it was a weak, voluntary agreement. Yet even that was too much for Donald Trump. The president declared that the agreement would disadvantage Americans and force workers and taxpayers “to absorb the cost” of reducing greenhouse gas admissions through “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.” It didn’t matter that none of that was true.  Renewable energy programs were creating more well-paying jobs in the United States than the dirty energy industries were trying to maintain.  In his surge of destruction, however, President Trump never felt the need to justify his actions with recourse to actual facts.

The United States, moreover, was both the richest country in the world and historically the largest producer of carbon emissions. As we tell our students here in Arcadia, if you’re most responsible for the mess, you should be most responsible for the clean-up.  It’s a simple concept for children to absorb. Yet it was beyond the ken of most Americans.

Worse than being merely indifferent, the new president was determined to hasten global warming, single-handedly if necessary, by expanding offshore drilling; green-lighting more gas and oil pipelinesreducing restrictions of every imaginable sort on the dirty energy industry; cutting support for the development of alternative energies; encouraging the production of, and reduced emissions standards for, gas-guzzling vehicles; and slashing the budget for the enforcement of environmental standards of every imaginable sort. Trump, in other words, wasn’t just willing to let the buried treasure of fossil fuels well enough alone.  He was eager to feed the monster even more than it demanded.

If we had been living in a normal time, it might have been possible to fight back effectively in political terms against this onslaught. But just as Trump’s carbon-based vision of America and the world was exploding upon us, politics was taken into a backroom and strangled.

The Politics of Antipolitics

I remember the birth of antipolitics. I was a young woman when dissidents in the communist world began to associate official political activity with support for an immoral order. Voting, they believed, was an empty gesture if the ruling party won 99% of the ballots cast. Parliaments were empty vessels if the Party leader and the Politburo always ended up making all the decisions. When politics are compromised in this way, all but the opportunists retreat into antipolitics.

Communism died in 1989, and politics was reborn in those lands of antipolitics — but all too briefly. Within a decade, the new converts to democracy began reverting to their earlier mistrust of anything political and conventional politicians became the enemy.  Collaboration and compromise were once again anathema.

And then this very dissatisfaction with politics as we knew it began spreading beyond the post-communist world. Voters elsewhere became dazzled by the most illiberal of politicians, a crew who were naturals for one-party or one-leader states. Donald Trump was just part of this new fraternity of nationalist populists that included Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Viktor Orban of Hungary.  All of them quickly began concentrating power in their own hands in an attempt to rule by decree (or, in Trump’s case, by executive order). In the process, they used antipolitics strategically to defeat any potential challenges at the domestic and transnational level.

It was odd that, in so many countries, voters seemingly couldn’t wait to disenfranchise themselves through this new antipolitics. To a man, these autocrats came to power not through coups but through elections. Odder still was the fact that, in those years, it was increasingly young people who no longer considered it important to live in a democracy. When only the old believe in such a system, then it, too, is but one step from the grave.

Perhaps the culprit was economic. The major parties in these countries had almost uniformly supported policies that widened the gap between rich and poor, robbing young people of jobs and any hope for a future. No surprise, then, that they lost faith in the secular religion of democracy.

Or perhaps technology killed politics. The computer and the cell phone combined to reduce the attention span required for sustained involvement in public affairs. The micro-communities created by social media obviated the need to interact with those who didn’t share one’s own micro-concerns. And of course everyone began to insist on immediate results at a single keystroke, which, at the political level, translated into an increased preference for decrees.

For a brief moment, the Trump “shock” provoked a counter-reaction. In the United States, there were huge protest marches, while unsympathetic government bureaucrats dug in their heels — but this only strengthened the populist narrative of an irresponsible liberal elite and a hostile “deep state.” In this brief moment of seeming reversal, Trump’s allies in Europe even lost a few elections, but the victors in those contests continued policies that disadvantaged the majority economically and politically and in the next round or the one after the predictable happened.

As those of a certain age remember, Trump himself eventually fell from power, undone in the end by his own self-defeating vengefulness.  At that moment, his critics exulted in their schadenfreude, only to find that he was replaced all too soon by someone who shared his destructive anti-politics without his noxious personal traits.

Trump stunned the international community. His successors gutted it.  And as everyone in Earth’s splinterlands now knows, the monster continued to be fed, while the thermometers, floods, droughts, wild fires, sea levels, tides of refugees, and all the rest continued their inexorable rise.

Childhood’s End

Fairy tales should have happy endings. I assure our children that they are safe inside Arcadia. They can see for themselves how successfully we raise our crops. They are far enough from the ocean’s tidal waves not to fear the waters. They participate in the democratic political life of our community. The occasional breakdown notwithstanding, Arcadia is a small island of hope in a sea of despair.

The temperatures continue their climb. Outside, the scramble for resources becomes bloodier by the year. Many of the communities that once dotted the landscape around us are nothing but a memory. The walls surrounding Arcadia may be next to impregnable and our armory remarkably well stocked, but the question remains: Can we survive without our founding members, who are just now beginning to die off?

We raise and educate our children under the threat of the same monster grown larger yet. As they get older, some of the young accuse my generation and me of failing to slay that creature and, unfortunately, they couldn’t be more right. I believe that we, at least here in Arcadia, did do our best, but sadly it wasn’t good enough.

Soon, it will be our children’s turn. They will tend the crops and maintain the armory. They will continue the search for a scientific solution to climate change in the absence of a political one and an international community to enforce it. And they will be the ones who must make sure that the monster, however much it huffs and puffs and threatens our very livelihood, does not in the end blow our house down, too.

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Now Eric Trump is Accused of Stealing from a Cancer Charity

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(Photo: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock)

It’s a tough time to be an heir to a multi-billion dollar fortune.

Well, no it isn’t, but Donald Trump Jr. is dominating the news cycle over his admitted collusion with Russia over the 2016 election. And he’s not the only Trump kid making life harder for himself than it has to be.

Before we get into what the Trump kids have been doing with their time, let’s first acknowledge that life as a Trump is pretty dang plush. If they do absolutely nothing but wait, they’ll have more money than they could ever spend in a dozen lifetimes.

The president’s stated fortune, $ 10 billion, is a bit larger than Forbes’s estimate, $ 3.5 billion. But no matter how you define it, he’s a very rich man and his family is firmly in the top 0.00001 percent of wealth holders.

Tiffany Trump appears to be the only one to truly understand the virtues of laying low. Her only major headline in recent months focuses on her recent vacation (or average Tuesday, to a billionaire heiress) on a yacht in Italy.

Ivanka Trump has mostly stayed out of the news as well, albeit under very different circumstances, as one of her father’s closest advisers in the White House. Her only negative press in recent months involves allegations of poor labor conditions at supplier factories for her personal shoe brand — not a small scandal by any measure, though a depressingly familiar one in the workings of global capitalism.

So, what has the other Trump kid, Eric, been up to?

Read the full article on Newsweek. 

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Can Trump Actually Cut (Good) Deals on Diplomacy?

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(Photo: Nyord / Shutterstock)

American beef is now available in China — as a result of a deal that Donald Trump made with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In exchange, Chinese chicken is now available in the United States.

Seems like a fair deal — hats off to Trump.

Oh, except that there are a few important caveats to the quid pro quo. The chicken can only be cooked. It won’t be labeled as coming from China. And consumers won’t even know the name of the brand that will market the birds. So, if you’re worried about eating chicken produced in a country with notoriously lax food safety regulations and inspections, stay away from that box of drumsticks in the freezer aisle.

But here’s perhaps the most idiotic part of the deal. The chickens that China cooks have to be sourced from the United States, Canada, or Chile. Chickens can’t fly long distances. But these particular chickens are jetsetters, flying as much as 12,000 miles one way from Chile to China and then another 7,000 miles from China to the United States.

Sorry, Donald: As deals go, this one’s definitely a zonk, as Monte Hall would have put it.

Donald Trump based his campaign in part on his ability to make better deals. He lambasted trade pacts like NAFTA and promised to do better. He criticized the Iran nuclear agreement and promised to do better. He challenged the terms of alliance arrangements with Japan and South Korea and promised to do better.

So far, however, the Trump administration has either left previous deals in place (NAFTA, Iran, alliances) or simply pulled out unilaterally (Trans Pacific Partnership, Paris climate deal).

Now, nearly a half-year into his term, Trump needs to demonstrate his dealmaker cred. He’s just returned from the G20 meeting in Hamburg where he’s touted his agreement on Syria with Vladimir Putin. It’s not yet clear whether this ceasefire will stop the fighting in Syria or whether it will turn out to be another crazy chicken deal with its ridiculous stipulations.

Meanwhile, the United States desperately needs to sit down and talk with North Korea to avert war in Northeast Asia. It has to help patch up relations between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors. And it has to find some way to repair ties with Europe in the wake of Trump’s resolute efforts to alienate German and French leadership.

This is the bare minimum of negotiating that the administration needs to do. More ambitious and urgent deals, such as another climate pact or a way for America to rejoin the existing one, are obviously beyond Trump’s interest or understanding. At the same time, Trump’s ability to make any deals in the present is complicated by the deals he or his associates might have made in the past, particularly with the Russians.

But for the sake of world peace, let’s assume that Trump can do something positive. It’s been all too easy to see what Trump minus looks like. What about Trump plus?

Dealing with North Korea

On July 4, North Korea crossed a red line that Trump drew in the stratosphere. At the beginning of 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to launch a successful ICBM within the year. Trump tweeted in return, “It won’t happen.”

Now that North Korea has successfully tested something that approximates an ICBM — in reality, it would be difficult at this point to imagine the Hwasong-14 accurately reaching a target in Alaska — Trump must decide how to proceed.

The Trump administration could continue to ignore North Korea — the very strategy it has criticized the Obama administration for adopting. It could go to war, which would be a catastrophe as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Korean peninsula could tell you.

Or Trump could go with door number three.

North Korea likes to make deals, and it bargains hard. It tries to extract the most money or the most ironclad guarantees from both allies and adversaries. It also sometimes breaks agreements. That, alas, is all too common in geopolitics.

In 1994, the United States managed to retard North Korea’s nuclear program by supplying heavy fuel oil and promising to build two light-water reactors through the Agreed Framework. North Korea secretly pursued a different (uranium enrichment) path to the bomb, while the United States and its partners never built those nuclear reactors. Deal off.

Between 1992 and 1994, Israel attempted to pay North Korea about a billion dollars to stop it from exporting missiles to the Middle East. North Korea even agreed to allow Israeli inspectors on North Korean soil to verify the agreement. The United States, however, blocked the effort. Deal off.

In 2007, because of a deal reached at the Six Party Talks, North Korea began to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions and the removal of the country from the U.S. terrorism list. But a year later, disagreements sharpened over inspections, North Korea grew more recalcitrant, and the incoming Obama administration failed to engage immediately to sustain momentum. Deal off.

What kind of deal would North Korea consider at this point? Of course I’d like to see North Korea mothball its nuclear program. But because of its fear of regime-change efforts, North Korea probably won’t agree to give up its deterrent capability. The United States could still attempt to freeze North Korea’s program as is and explore a moratorium on long-range missile tests (which Pyongyang maintained from 1999 to 2006). The real question is how much sweetener Washington will have to add to its offer, and what that sweetener will look like.

Trump has proven that he gets along great with dictators. For once, he should put this talent to good use.

A Deal with Doha

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was a terrible choice for secretary of state for many reasons — his lack of diplomatic experience, his conflicts of interest in the energy sector. But if there’s one place in the world where he should be able to exploit his modest capabilities, it’s the Persian Gulf. In the wake of the falling out between the tiny sheikhdom of Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Tillerson is on his way to the region to see if he can help sort things out.

It’s not going to be easy. Not only does he have to deal with Riyadh, which has presented Doha with a long list of frankly unreasonable demands such as the closure of Al Jazeera, but he also had to do battle with his own administration. President Trump has indicated his own supportfor Saudi Arabia in this conflict even as his underlings in State and the Pentagon are desperately trying to patch things up. Qatar, after all, hosts Al Udeid airbase (and 11,000 U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces) and plays a key role in the fight against the Islamic State.

So, first task: Get the president to stop tweeting on the issue. It’s not that difficult. Qatar’s banishment was a full month ago, Trump is easily distracted, and he’s now busy defending his son from charges of colluding with the Russians.

Second task: lower expectations. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announcedlast week that “we believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify.”

Third task: connect with the most promising mediator. Kuwait is the go-to country in this regard. It has remained neutral in the Gulf showdown. It has also tried to mediate other conflicts in the region, such as the war in Yemen. It’s the first stop on Tillerson’s itinerary.

Fourth task: apply leverage. The United States can threaten to reduce Saudi arms sales — which would be an excellent idea anyway — and it can threaten to move its base away from Qatar. Indeed, Washington holds a lot of trump cards in this game.

But first, Tillerson has to maneuver Trump out of the game. To clean up the Gulf mess, I’d choose a former oil exec over a former reality TV star any day.

Reset with Europe (and Russia?)

A picture in The Washington Post shows Donald Trump sitting alone at a table during the G20 summit as other participants socialize behind him. Here is America, in the “solitude of its power,” having “ceased to draw other nations to itself,” as Jean-Marie Colombani wrote immediately after 9/11in his famous Le Monde article “We Are All Americans.”

Of course, Trump supporters will see a very different photo. Snooty Europeans! And there is our defiant president, sticking to his guns and continuing to declare at every turn that America is first.

Indeed, Jeffrey Lord in a CNN commentary, gives Trump 11 out of 10 for his performance at the G20 (because of the apparently inadvertent reference to the movie This Is Spinal Tap, I initially took Lord’s piece to be a satire). “Count on the president’s supporters seeing this as a great win — a win in which Trump stayed true to his campaign promises to put American interests above all else,” Lord writes.

Trump has made no real effort to bridge the distance between himself and European leaders. Indeed, his only other stop in Europe was Poland, where he could commune with a similarly far-right government that hates immigrants, the media, and an open society. The Polish government obliged by bussing in loyalists who could be counted on to cheer a world leader in which only 23 percent of Poles have any confidence.

From adulation, Trump then traveled to consternation. Even otherwise conservative politicians like the UK’s Teresa May have been appalled at Trump’s maladroit moves at the global level. The assembled leaders of the G20 probably would have preferred if Ivanka had substituted for her father throughout the entire proceedings instead of just that one short seat-warming occasion.

In a direct rebuke to Trump’s dangerous and delusional approach to environmental issues, the European Union and the rest of the “G19” issued a final communiqué reaffirming their commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change. It will probably be the last G20 meeting Trump has to worry about — the next summits will be in Argentina, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking when he was sitting by himself at the table. Or perhaps he was daydreaming about firing all the other G20 leaders.

The focus of media coverage, meanwhile, was the sideline meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Controversy continues to swirl over what the two might have said, or promised, concerning the charges of Russian interference in the U.S. election. But let’s take a closer look at the deal-making.

Putin and Trump capped several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations when they announced a ceasefire in Syria as the UN starts up its seventh round of indirect peace talks. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why this ceasefire is flawed. Every previous attempt at stopping the bloodshed has failed. This one covers only one part of the country. Iran did not participate in the deal. Russian police are slated to monitor the ceasefire, but Israel has already said that it doesn’t want Russians across its borders in Syria. It’s a win for Syria’s murderous leader, Bashar al-Assad.

But peace has to start somewhere. So, let’s provide some muted applause for the deal. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Syria. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Trump’s foreign policy, and Tillerson can use the political capital in both Doha and Pyongyang.

But beware of the fine print on any deal with Trump’s insignia on it. For a businessman who routinely swindled his contractors and filed bankruptcy to escape from his monumental mistakes, the “art of the deal” is all about looking out for number one.

And let’s be clear, number one is not America. It’s Trump himself.

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