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President Trump and future of US foreign policy

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] U [/yt_dropcap] pon successfully facing the presidency poll challenge from a senior politician Hillary, now Trump has to face and decide the issues in foreign policy. When Donald Trump became a serious contender for the presidency many eyebrows were raised but when he, against all predictions, trounced the establishment candidate Hillary Clinton, many doubts were raised too about his capabilities to the USA and world.

While some of the doubts could be valid, there is no solid proof to say Trump would fail himself, America and world. As for his foreign policy, Trump is likely to embrace some variant of the policies that have been pursued for the past few decades by the nation’s foreign policy establishment. Trump would choose a few elements as reference and consider his own ideas to change the format of US policy.

President Trump may break sharply with the establishment consensus that the USA as super power must play the lead role in imposing order on the world, many signs indicate that Trump will continue to ensure that the USA plays the dominant role in policing the world.

Trumpophobia

On the eve of presidency poll, Hillary and pro-Hillary media outlets let loose Trumpophobia – fear of Trump- essentially to terrorize the voters and defeat Trump. However, that strategy backfired as people saw through the ugly democratic strategy and Trump was elected to presidency. Now she is trying to cast doubts about the poll itself. . . .

Certainly, many Washington insiders feel differently about Trump whom they consider dangerous. On Election Day, former State Department official Daniel Serwer presented the standard view of the foreign policy establishment that the “dramatic differences” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made Trump a problematic candidate. Trump “prides himself on unpredictability” while Clinton “has a long track record well within the post-9/11 foreign policy consensus,” Serwer explained, adding that Clinton “wants to maintain the stability of the international system and restore American authority.” With his remarks, Serwer indicated that the foreign policy establishment could trust Clinton but not Trump to use American power to actively enforce a system of global order. The New York Times captured the basic establishment concern that Trump would no longer enforce the system of postwar order that his predecessors had maintained throughout the postwar period.

Trump, making the latest stop on a so-called “thank you” tour of states critical to his 8 November election win, introduced his choice for defense secretary, General James Mattis, to a large crowd in Fayetteville, near the Fort Bragg military base, which has deployed soldiers to 90 countries around the world. He vowed a strong rebuilding of the US military, which he suggested had been stretched too thin. Instead of investing in wars, he said, he would spend money to build up America’s aging roads, bridges and airports.

Critics say Donald Trump’s win foreshadowed an America more focused on its own affairs while leaving the world to take care of itself. They issued more serious warnings about Trump presidency 4 long years, saying Trump would reverse decades of foreign policy practice by withdrawing the USA from its deep engagement with the world. The basic establishment concern is that Trump would no longer enforce the system of postwar order that his predecessors had maintained throughout the postwar period. For the first time since before World War II, Americans chose a president who promised to reverse the internationalism practiced by predecessors of both parties and to build walls both physical and metaphorical but that has never happened.

Leftist scholar Noam Chomsky supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary but Sanders himself was a proxy working for Hillary. Chomsky had a message for voters who refused to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton to prevent Donald Trump from winning the White House: You made a “bad mistake.” Chomsky insists that voters did not have to ignore Clinton’s serious shortcomings in order to recognize Trump as the much more serious threat. “What it means is now the left, had Clinton had won, she had some progressive programs. The left could have been organized, to keeping her feet to the fire. What it will be doing now is trying to protect rights…gains that have been achieved, from being destroyed. The GOP “is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”

Chomsky is too naive not to recognize the act that now since Sept-11 there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats as both are eager to justify the illegal invasions from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya to Syria and legalize crimes against humanity in Islamic world where millions of Muslims have been slaughtered by US led NATO and Israel..

As he toured the USA in the wake of Donald Trump’s devastating electoral victory last month, senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders used his growing influence within the Democratic Party and among the voting population at-large to outline how the country can prevent slipping backward and in fact can move forward—even with Republicans soon in control of both the White House and Congress.”We can beat this guy. We can beat this agenda, but we have to do it in a way that we have never done it before. We have got to bring people together because we are fighting for the future of this country.”

Indeed, Chomsky further warned in the aftermath of the election: “The outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.” Chomsky refuses to admit that Mrs. Clinton now controls the White House and entire system and President Obama is just a puppet. Had she won she would have strengthened Israel to attack Palestine. She would defend the Israeli regime and its crimes against humanity. She would oppose any move for credible peace in the region and support all Zionist schemes with UN veto.

Certainly, many Washington insiders feel differently about Trump. Warnings have been given out by many about the Trump’s uncertain regime without a solid agenda.

Now that Hillary is gone, almost forever, the focus is on Trump’s policy as he has declared to make peace between Israel and Palestine obviously by supporting the establishment of Palestine with his UN veto.

Obama insisted that much of the media commentary about Trump missed the fact that most US officials continue to share the same basic foreign policy goals. Certainly, “there’s enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world,” Obama stated. “That will continue.” Citing the meeting that he held with Trump at the White House after the election, Obama said that Trump expressed a great interest in maintaining “ our core strategic relationships.” Trump, in other words, appeared eager to continue working closely with US allies to enforce a system of global order.

US national interest and core strategic position

Trump’s win took the supporters of “status quo” by shock and foreshadowed an America more focused on its own affairs while leaving the world to take care of itself. The New York Times captured the basic establishment concern that Trump would no longer enforce the system of postwar order that his predecessors had maintained throughout the postwar period.

Certainly, many Washington insiders feel differently about Trump. On Election Day, former State Department official Daniel Serwer presented the standard view of the foreign policy establishment that the “dramatic differences” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made Trump a problematic candidate. Trump “prides himself on unpredictability” while Clinton “has a long track record well within the post-9/11 foreign policy consensus,” Serwer explained, adding that Clinton “wants to maintain the stability of the international system and restore American authority.” With his remarks, Serwer indicated that the foreign policy establishment could trust Clinton but not Trump to use American power to actively enforce a system of global order.

More serious warnings were issued by pro-Clinton sources. For example, on the day after the election, The New York Times, having failed to get Hillary elected, warned that Trump would reverse decades of foreign policy practice by withdrawing the USA from its deep engagement with the world. “For the first time since before World War II, Americans chose a president who promised to reverse the internationalism practiced by predecessors of both parties and to build walls both physical and metaphorical,” the newspaper reported, Trump would weaken US power.

Although the foreign policy establishment of Bush-Obama-Hillary remains concerned with Trump’s unpredictability and perhaps even his neglect of decades of establishment thinking, several high-level officials in the Obama government have recently begun to suggest that the USA will continue to play the lead role in enforcing a system of international order. President Obama himself has made the case that Donald Trump would not be able to simply dictate a new strategy to the vast bureaucracy that manages the nation’s foreign policy.

The foreign policy decision-making process, according to Obama who seeks continuity in full so that the permanent war agenda of Bushdom reign continues, is the result not just of the President, it is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships between Pentagon and other global militaries, and US diplomats and other diplomats, and intelligence officers and development workers. Obama insisted that much of the media commentary about Trump missed the fact that most US officials continue to share the same basic foreign policy goals. Presidents simply cannot change the course according to their individual fancies. Certainly, “there’s enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world,” Obama stated.

Do Obama and Trump share objectives, values?

Obama wants Trump to maintain the existing world order. Citing the meeting that he held with Trump at the White House after the election, Obama said that Trump “expressed a great interest in maintaining “our core strategic relationships.” Trump, in other words, appeared eager to continue working closely with US allies to enforce a system of global order.

Trump and the Obama have always shared many of the same foreign policy objectives, even though Trump made every effort during his campaign to condemn Obama’s policies as dangerous and destructive to both the United States and the world. For starters, both Trump and the Obama have made it clear that they intend to ensure that the USA remains the most dominant military power in the world. In March 2016, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter presented the basic position of the Obama government when he assured the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the Department of Defense “will keep ensuring our dominance in all domains.” The following month, Trump declared his support for the same objective. “Our military dominance must be unquestioned,” Trump stated.

Trump has displayed similar commitments on other fundamental issues. Trump has made it clear that he intends to prioritize the interests of the USA above everything else. Trump announced during his campaign that America First will be the major and overriding theme of his government. Indeed, Trump insisted that he would base his foreign policy on the premise that the USA should only take actions in the world that work to its own advantage. “We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests, and the shared interests of our allies,” Trump stated.

President Obama has confirmed that his government has adopted an America First strategy. When he recently commented on his decision to commit the US to the Paris Agreement in order to address the threat of global climate change, Obama confirmed that he was primarily motivated by the US interests at stake. Although Obama has not used the same slogan, he has adopted exclusively an America First strategy. Vice President Joe Biden pointed to Obama strategy when he toured Asia in July 2016 as part of “rebalance” to Asia. “It’s overwhelmingly in our interest”. Two months later, State Department official Antony J. Blinken provided more direct confirmation of Obama’s strategy. “We don’t work with other nations as a luxury, or as charity,” Blinken explained. “Our national interest demands our global engagement.”

Currently, “the biggest threat when it comes to climate change and pollution isn’t going to come from us — because we only have 300 million people,” Obama explained. “It’s going to come from China, with over a billion people, and India, with over a billion people.” With his remarks, Obama indicated that the USA needed to join the Paris Agreement to prevent countries such as China and India from harming America with their pollution.

Both Trump and Obama have also made it clear that they intend to completely destroy the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). In November 2015, Trump outlined his position during a radio commercial in which he pledged to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.” Secretary of State John Kerry took a similar position. The USA has an interest in “terminating ISIL/Daesh, as fast as possible,” Kerry stated.

In fact, the Obama government has been busy working to fulfill its Syria mission. In the time since it began its air campaign in August 2014, USA and coalition forces have conducted more than 15,000 airstrikes against IS and have killed more than 45,000 ISIS fighters. In the end, the outgoing Obama government will soon hand over power to a Trump government that generally shares some of the very same foreign policy commitments.

Trump team

Trump is now getting ready with his team by appointing his future ministers one by one. Gov. Nikki Haley has been appointed by him as ambassador to the UN. Donald Trump’s critics say he is not a unifier, not a moderating voice, a darling of the Republican mainstream. As governor of South Carolina, she’s been an outspoken opponent of white supremacists, a proponent of immigration, including properly vetted Muslim refugees. And, obviously, a woman, one who sharply criticized him during the presidential campaign. In that light, her nomination as ambassador to the UN marks something new for the coming Trump government.

Some of the president-elect’s previous picks have been beset by claims of racism and bigotry. Governor Haley represents a hairpin turn. Those who have seen Gov. Haley’s improbable rise say the daughter of Indian immigrants is a force to be reckoned with, who has earned considerable respect among black South Carolinians, most of whom are Democrats. It is a kind of symbolic appointment by Trump, to beat back charges of bigotry and misogyny and to be able to make the case that he doesn’t hold grudges against those who stiff-armed him during the primary.

Haley has also triumphed in becoming the first female governor of a state where women have traditionally been marginalized from the political process. “She is an Asian-American woman governor of a state whose constitution was written to weaken the governor’s office just in case a non-white man won the office one day, a state that still has one of the worst records of female legislative leadership in the country. She was the first to breakthrough, has made her mark and ended up being the governor to bring the Confederate flag down.

Trump has decided the persons for many important posts and positions to support his government.

Despite the fact that the foreign policy establishment remains uncertain about Trump’s intentions, the president-elect has provided many signals that he intends for the USA to continue playing an active role in enforcing a system of global order. As Trump has put it, using the standard language of the foreign policy establishment, his government would mainly be “focusing on creating stability in the world.”

Trump’s foreign policy

President Trump is likely to make his own foreign policy while retaining basic structures of it developed for years cutting across the bipolar politics. He would strive to break with the post-9/11 foreign policy consensus of Bush-Obama- Hillary that focused on securing energy and route requirements and considerably reducing Islamic population by murdering millions of Muslims world over with help from countries like Germany led EU, Israel.

Experts the world over express predictions about President Trump’s possible policies, both domestic and foreign. Many argue that he would just continue with Bush-Obama policies. Although the foreign policy establishment remains concerned with Trump’s unpredictability and perhaps even his neglect of decades of establishment thinking, several high-level officials in the Obama administration have recently begun to suggest that the USA will continue to play the lead role in enforcing a system of international order.

Amid all the uncertainty prevailing about what a Trump presidency means for the future role of the USA in the world, one possibility is that Trump will embrace some variant of the policies that have been pursued for the past few decades by the nation’s foreign policy establishment. Although Trump may break sharply with the establishment consensus that the USA must play the lead role in imposing order on the world, many signs indicate that Trump would continue to ensure that American superpower plays the dominant role in policing the world so that it does not appear to be weak.

The standard view of the foreign policy establishment is that the “dramatic differences” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made Trump a problematic candidate. Trump “prides himself on unpredictability” while Clinton “has a long track record well within.

Foreign policy, though made by the president and his foreign ministry, it is the foreign minister who is responsible for applying foreign policy stipulations. Hence foreign minister plays important role in implementing foreign policy. Trump is seriously considering many names for the coveted post. His supporters are split in a big factional fight over this premier Cabinet position.

Who should be Donald Trump’s Secretary of State? It’s the followers of establishmentarian Mitt Romney versus those of loyalist Rudy Giuliani. To the winner goes Foggy Bottom and its prestige. It’s possible the spat will end with a third candidate stealing the prize. But one important part of this struggle may be the manner in which it’s being conducted. Perhaps surprisingly, Trump invited Romney to a meeting last weekend at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J. golf course. The two men seemed to hit it off as the confab lasted longer than expected. Afterward, word leaked that Romney was a secretary of State candidate as well.

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway publicized it via Twitter, perhaps as way to undermine former Massachusetts Governor Romney’s chance. Giuliani was the early favorite here. Following the election he reportedly told associates he was set for the Secretary of State post, since he’d told Trump it was the only thing he wanted. He’d been a loud and strong Trump surrogate throughout the campaign’s ups and downs. He deserved a reward, he thought. That hints Trump government internal discussions may play out in public on social media, in real time. Buckle up – the Trump years may be dramatic, and exhausting.

But the announcement wasn’t forthcoming. And as any veteran of the Washington appointment wars knows, to linger is to suffer denigration by a thousand published cuts. The press started chewing on Giuliani’s business ties with the government of Qatar and other foreign entanglements. Obviously, as far as President-elect Trump was concerned the former New York City mayor wasn’t “set” for the job. Specifically, the loyalists within Trump’s political operation who think Romney an apostate have turned up the dial on their disapproval. And they’re waving their hands to get Trump’s attention the best way they know how: in public.

Trump needs an efficient and honest person to deal with the world as foreign minister. Henry Kissinger, a Jew chosen to boost the criminally fanatic Jewish nation in Mideast, whatever his accomplishments as Secretary of State to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, had spent considerable time crossing the globe in shuttle diplomacy, continually spilled internal gossip to journalists.

US presidents have the privilege of maintaining multiple specialists to decide the course on an issue. That’s a quick hook that all the current claimants to the Secretary of State office might be wise to keep in mind. George Shultz, though, was indeed such a Secretary of State to Ronald Reagan. Loyal, phlegmatic, wise in the ways of government, he gave Reagan lots of good advice. Some was ignored – he hated the operation that morphed into the Iran-Contra scandal, for instance. But Shultz was Reagan’s second Secretary of State. The first was Al Haig, a former general who was also a loud, proud international business operator and skilled bureaucratic infighter who thought he knew best about international affairs. He exhausted Reagan’s patience, and when offered Haig’s resignation after only 18 months in office, Reagan accepted it.

However, going by his latest statements, Trump now is seen taking new positions on foreign policy of USA.

Observations

Domestic policy is a settled matter for USA but not its foreign policy, especially when in order to showcase its military prowess as advertisement for orders for its new terror goods from across the globe, it has unnecessarily committed the people a core part of cause of deeply involved in terror wars to perpetrate genocides of Muslims and deduction of their assets.

However, as the superpower it has a role to guide the world by a positive foreign policy. Without a credible policy abroad, incumbent president Obama has not been able to positively and successfully assert its global leadership role due mainly to its prolonged and illogical support for the Israel in Mideast and its misuse of UNSC veto facility to shield the Israeli military crimes against humanity.

Bush-Obama duo promoted not only Israeli regime in Mideast to threaten energy rich Arab nations but also the occupation of the American mind by outsiders, especially Israel and US Jews, and process must end.

President-elect Trump maybe inexperienced and lacks the nuanced knowledge of the complex crises the world is passing through but he as a businessman can comprehend the problems particularly in the areas including the US-NATO led terror wars in Islamic world, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sunni-Shiite war, and the civil war in Syria.

Reports suggest, Donald Trump has laid out a US military policy that would avoid interventions in foreign conflicts to engineer destabilization and regime change. We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” the president-elect said on in Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina. “Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying Isis, and we will.” Trump’s remarks came a few hours after Barack Obama delivered what was billed as the final national security address of his presidency.

President Obama, in spite of efforts, has thus far failed to solve the seven-decade old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mainly because he refused to support the Palestine cause at UN and refused to vote for the establishment and thereby only to indirectly promoted Israel and its crimes by gifting huge pile of terror goods. He is also not serious about credible peace talks. That is the reason why his chief mediator Secretary of State John Kerry failed to end the crisis and Israeli aggression and expansionism because he also does not take into account the psychological dimension of the conflict, the agony and pains of Palestinians under Israeli brutality.

Notwithstanding intensive negotiations in 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, the gulf between the two sides has become even deeper and wider, and Palestinians continue to suffer while Israel gain support of all anti-Islamic nations, getting high precision terror goods from USA and EU.

USA and NATO instigated the conflict between brothers Sunnis and Shiite leading to Sunni-Shiite war and ISIS-Shiite wars. Russia has joined the onslaught of Muslims in Syria. The civil war in Syria will not end unless the US changes its approach to the war by putting both Putin and Assad on notice that the slaughter of Syrian civilians must immediately come to an end.

ISIS, apparently launched by USA to continue with its global permanent war project, has made the plight of global Muslims worse. Defeat of ISIS, however, is not to bring an end to the Sunni-Shiite conflict as long as Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are fighting for regional hegemony. They will continue to wage a proxy war in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to secure their goal.

ISIS has been invented to divide both Iraq and Syria. But the lack of natural resources (i.e. oil) in the Sunni dominated areas is the bottleneck. Maintaining a united Iraq or Syria has become problematic now. Only a long period of peaceful coexistence between the two sides will allow them over time to develop a closer, more trusting, and friendlier relationship. This would also bring an end to the bloodshed between Sunnis and Shiites and to weaken ISIS. This will greatly satisfy the Saudis as the Sunnis will maintain a strong foothold in Iraq while Iran will still be in a position to exert some influence on the Shiite government.

The USA cannot assert its commanding regional role and at the same time save the Syrian people from near-complete destruction by leading from behind and merely providing military equipment and material to the rebels. USA has put an end to 81 years of the continuous Sunni rule of essentially a Shiite Iraq and is eager to end Shiite rule of Sunni state Syria but Russia supports Iran and also supports Syrian regime. The Iraqi Sunnis now find themselves at the mercy of the Shiite governing majority, which has systematically discriminated against and marginalized them from the first day the Maliki-led Shiite government came to power.

Image of US super power would increase as genuine phenomenon. Only by creating the social, political, and psychological atmosphere conducive to peace, and with the support of the Arab states, the EU, and other major powers, can the negotiations be resumed with a far better prospect of success. Trump said USA has become dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. Trump’s entire campaign is built around the idea that foreign influences are infecting the USA. One way of understanding the different directions of Bush-Obama duo is through American exceptionalism. Sanders voters want to make America more like the rest of the world. Trump voters want to keep America a nation apart. Trump wants to build a strong honest America.

Focusing on a process of reconciliation between nations that would mitigate the profound mutual distrust, Trust must try to instill a sense of mutual security, and disabuse the strong constituencies on both sides that they can have it all.

The USA must recognize that Russia has been for decades seeking a strong foot hold in West Asia to replace USA but now USA has given that opportunity in Syria. Russia will be a permanent fixture in Syria backed by Assad and Iran. Iran will not relinquish its longstanding interest and influence in Damascus as Tehran views Syria as the linchpin to the Shiite-dominated crescent of land between the Mediterranean and the Gulf.

There could be chaos in Syria even if the war ends. Apparently, Assad alone can keep intact the bureaucracy, military and internal security apparatus to prevent a replay of what happened in Iraq following the US invasion. By the way, a replay of what happened in Iraq following the US invasion could happen in Syria after the removal of Assad or end of war. Trump must convey in unequivocal terms to Putin and Assad that they must stop the indiscriminate bombing and killing of tens of thousands of innocent Syrians while erasing one neighborhood after another. Given Putin’s desire to work closely with Trump, he is likely to be more receptive in finding a solution to the conflict.

As the super power, USA has the responsibility to bring peace to world. It is quite likely that new president of USA would decide to end terror wars and stop misusing NATO for the Pentagon’s showcasing the prowess of US militarism.

In the end, the outgoing Obama administration will soon hand over power to a Trump administration that shares some of the very same foreign policy commitments. Despite the fact that the foreign policy establishment remains uncertain about Trump’s intentions, the president-elect has provided many signals that he intends for the USA to continue playing an active role in enforcing a system of global order. As Trump has put it, using the standard language of the foreign policy establishment, his government would mainly be focusing on creating stability in the world.

President Trump has got the firmness to persuade either side to make the significant concessions needed to make peace possible. By further pursuing the neutral line of thinking, of Obama, he can make Israel realize that US support for Israeli crimes against humanity is cannot be taken for granted Israel will have to concede the reality that Palestine will come into existence with full sovereignty. Trump can persuade Israel in his talk with Netanyahu in March to make the significant concessions needed to make peace possible by whole heartedly supporting the creation of Palestine state.

Election of Trump sent warning to Israel. Israel has stopped terror attacking the Palestine Gaza strip or kill children there ever since Trump emerged victory. Israel fears Trump. The current relative calm therefore should not be taken for granted as the simmering tension can explode any time when Trump faces problems in USA or if the Palestinians see no prospect of ending the occupation in the foreseeable future. Trump must not hesitate to pressure Israel now to seek a solution and save it from its own destructive path and for Israel’s own future security and political integrity.

Alongside, President Trump should also try a multi pronged approach in solving global problems. Occupation of Palestine and Kashmir by colonialist powers with nukes; war crimes by the Lankan military under Rajapaksha, etc should the focus of his government. Trump should not leave the Palestinians at the mercy of Israel and let it emerge as a genuine nation by ceding all criminal thoughts and plans. A credible peace situation would emerge if Israel accepts to promote the Arab Peace Initiative of 2003.

Trump can easily resolve the fake dispute between India and Pakistan over neighboring Jammu Kashmir which they jointly occupy now, brutally killing Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmir has already lost over 100,000 Muslims by Indian military brutality. Having got selfish agenda, India and Pakistan cannot be trusted to resolve the Kashmir crisis and therefore he must intervene to get peace deal done next year itself.

Establishment of Palestine and Kashmir as sovereign nations will considerably enhance the image of Trump as sensible peace maker and prestige and status of USA as the dependable ally for the cause of peace and prosperity.

Fortunately for Trump and humanity at large the Nobel Peace committee did not honor the president elect Trump with Peace Prize as it has falsely done when Obama was elected as US president as he had just became a usual American politician promoting colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.

Americans taught valuable lessons to Obama through defeating his presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Possibly Trump would be honored new year with a Nobel Peace Prize as the leader who worked sincerely and successfully for the freedom and independence of Palestine and Kashmir, and as a genuine crusader for global peace

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Biden’s Dilemma: Caught Between Israel and Iran

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

By all indication, the latest sabotage at Iran’s uranium enrichment facility in Natanz aimed at more than just disabling thousands of Iran’s centrifuges and thus cause another setback for Iran’s nuclear program, it was also meant as an indirect diplomatic sabotage vis-a-vis the on-going nuclear talks in Vienna; the latter had shown real signs of progress before the April 10th incident at the Natanz facility, blamed on Israel by the Iranian officials, who have vowed to get revenge — an attack on an Israeli cargo ship off the coast of Oman as well as an attack on an Israeli post in Iraq’s Kurdistan may indeed be the acts of Iranian retaliation.

But, from Iran’s vantage, the biggest response was the decision to upgrade the enrichment level from 20% to 60% percent, thus bringing Iran closer to the weapons grade enrichment, bound to raise the ire of Tel Aviv, which is intent on dispossessing Iran of nuclear weapons capability.  Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has followed suit by stating that Iran will not be dragged into a “protracted negotiation” with the US and that US’ removal of sanctions needs to be the first step in a future US return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  In turn, this raises the question of how will the Biden administration respond, and adjust to, the latest developments?

On the one hand, the Iranian setback in Natanz, widely interpreted inside Iran as a major “embarrassment,” as it is the second time in 9 months that Israel has successfully inflicted serious damage on the facility, weakens Iran’s hand at the table in Vienna, no matter how the Iran negotiators seek to spin the issue.  With Iran’s vulnerability to “nuclear sabotage” irrefutably established, Tehran’s ability to utilize its nuclear chips in the bargaining with US has been diminished, perhaps for the duration of the current year, thus leading some conservative politicians to urge the government to withdraw from the Vienna talks. 

On the other hand, it is by no means clear that the Biden administration favors Israel’s spoiler role, which might lead to an escalation of tensions in the region to the detriment of Biden’s determination to re-embrace the JCPOA as part and parcel of an Iran “re-thinking” policy at odds with his predecessor’s maximum pressure strategy.  Chances are that, much like the Obama administration, the Biden administration will need to defy Israel’s will on Iran and push ahead for a new understanding with Tehran at a time Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and, to a lesser extent the Saudi rulers, are wary of Biden’s resurrection of Obama’s (perceived) conciliatory approach toward Iran.  The big question is if President Biden is willing to act independently of Israel’s hawkish recipe for Iran and make meaningful concessions, above all in the area of post-2015 sanctions on Iran, in order to achieve its key demand of bringing Iran in compliance with its JCPOA obligations?  Lest we forget, Obama’s defiance of Israel on the JCPOA caused a major rift benefiting the Republican Party opponents of the deal, such as Donald Trump, and so far there is little evidence that Biden is unmindful of that prior experience.  In turn, this may explain the timing of US Defense Secretary Austin’s Israel visit coinciding with the Natanz sabotage, which may not have been coincidental as Israel most likely had informed Washington of the coming attack on Natanz beforehand.  

Naturally, Tehran is irritated at Austin’s presence in Israel at that particular time and his expression of “ironclad support” for Israel instead of raising any criticism of nuclear terrorism against Iran, just as China and Russia have done.  In fact, none of the Western governments, as well as the EU, partaking in the Vienna talks, have bothered to condemn the attack on Natanz, thus adding salt to Iran’s injury.  Instead, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, dispensed with any criticism of Israel and confined himself to questioning Iran’s post-attack decision to increase the enrichment level, which he called “irresponsible.”  But, is it really responsible for the US and European powers to refrain from condemning an act of sabotage with respect to a facility that, under the terms of JCPOA, is recognized to be the hub of Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle? Germany, France, and England, as well as the European Union, ought to act in unison denouncing the acts of nuclear sabotage in Iran, irrespective of Israel’s prerogative.  Their failure to do so simply adds another layer of distrust between Iran and these powers, to the detriment of any prospect for tangible progress in the Vienna talks.

As for Biden’s foreign team, which has reported of its “serious proposal” on the table, it must recognize that unless there is some pressure applied on Israel to stop its spoiler role, US’s national interests maybe harmed and even sacrificed by a hawkish Middle East ally that behaves according to its own calculation of risks to its interests.  In a word, an Obamaian rift with Israel may indeed be both inescapable and inevitable for the Biden administration.

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Roads and Rails for the U.S.

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For those who expect the newly announced $2 trillion Biden infrastructure program to be a goodbye to potholes and hello to smooth-as-glass expressways, a disappointment is in store.  The largest expenditure by far ($400 billion) is on home/community care, impacting the elderly or disabled.  The $115 billion apportioned to roads and bridges is #4 on the list. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) keeps tabs on our infrastructure and their latest report (2020) gave it an overall grade of C-.  Although bridges worsened, this is a modest improvement on the previous report (2017) when the overall grade was D+.  If $115 billion in spending sounds adequate, one has to remember it costs $27 billion annually for upkeep.

Astounding it might be the backlog in spending for roads and bridges runs at $12 billion annually.  Go back 20 years and we have a quarter trillion shortfall.  Add all the other areas of infrastructure and the ASCE comes up with a $5 trillion total.  It is the gap between what we have been spending and what we need to.  Also one has to bear in mind that neglect worsens condition and increases repair costs. 

One notable example of maintenance is the Forth rail bridge in Scotland.  A crisscross of beams forming three superstructures linked together, it was a sensation when opened in 1890 and now is a UN World Heritage Site.  Spanning 1.5 miles, its upkeep requires a regular coat of paint.  And that it gets.  Rumor has it that when the unobtrusive painters reach the end of their task, it is time to start painting again the end where they began — a permanent job to be sure though new paints might have diminished such prospects.

Biden also proposes $80 billion for railways.  Anyone who has travelled or lived in Europe knows the stark contrast between railroads there and in the U.S.  European high-speed rail networks are growing from the established TGV in France to the new Spanish trains.  Run by RENFE, the national railway, Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) trains run at speeds up to 310 km/h (193 mph)  — a speed that amounts to a convenient overnight trip between Los Angeles and Chicago.

The hugely expensive new tracks needed can be considered a long-term investment in our children’s future.  But it will take courage to contest the well-heeled lobbies of the airplane manufacturers, the airlines and big oil.

If Spain can have high-speed rail and if China already has some 24,000 miles of such track, surely the US too can opt for a system that is convenient for its lack of airport hassle and the hour wasted each way in the journey to or from the city center.  Rail travel not only avoids both but is significantly less polluting.  

Particularly bad, airplane pollution high above (26 to 43 thousand feet) results in greater ozone formation in the troposphere.  In fact airplanes are the principal human cause of ozone formation.

Imagine a comfortable train with space to walk around, a dining car serving freshly cooked food, a lounge car and other conveniences, including a bed for overnight travel; all for a significantly less environmental cost.  When we begin to ask why we in the US do not have the public services taken for granted in other developed countries, perhaps then the politicians might take note.

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Americas

Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas

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Image source: U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan

The FBI notably has an extended international presence running 63 offices in select countries overseas. The offices are called “legats” and are situated at the US Embassy in the host country. One of the major reasons for FBI’s international presence is fighting international terrorism.

The FBI legat personnel at the US embassies are fully accredited diplomats enjoying full diplomatic immunity but that poses several questions that are worth asking, such as: how is it possible for law enforcement to be diplomats and is that a good idea, legally speaking?

Police work should not enjoy diplomatic immunity because that opens the door to abuse. Does the FBI’s immunity overseas mean that the FBI attaches can do no wrong in the host country? How do we tackle potential rights infringements and instances of abuse of power by the FBI towards locals in the host country? The DOJ Inspector General and the State Department Inspector General would not accept complaints by foreigners directed at the FBI, so what recourse then could a local citizen have vis-a-vis the FBI legat if local courts are not an option and the Inspector Generals would not look into those cases?

This presents a real legal lacuna and a glitch in US diplomatic immunity that should not exist and should be addressed by Congress and the new Biden administration.

While FBI offices overseas conduct some far from controversial activities, such as training and educational exchanges with local law enforcement, which generally no one would object to, the real question as usual is about surveillance: who calls the shots and who assumes responsibility for potentially abusive surveillance of locals that may infringe upon their rights. It’s an issue that most people in countries with FBI presence around the world are not aware of. The FBI could be running “counter-terrorism” surveillance on you in your own country instead of the local police. And that’s not nothing.

When we hear “cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism”, as recent decades show, there is a great likelihood that the US government is abusing powers and rights, without batting an eyelash. That exposes local citizens around the world to unlawful surveillance without legal recourse. Most people are not even aware that the FBI holds local offices. Why would the FBI be operating instead of the local law enforcement on another country’s territory? That’s not a good look on the whole for the US government.

The legal lacuna is by design. This brings us to the nuts and bolts of the FBI legats’ diplomatic immunity.

Diplomatic immunity is governed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, under Chapter III on privileges and immunities. The US is also a state party to the Convention, along with most states around the world. While there could be some variations and disagreements on bilateral basis (including on weather for example one state could be hosted and represented through the embassy of another state in a third state), on the whole there is a universal consensus that the Vienna Convention sets the rules establishing diplomatic immunities and privileges.

Under the Vienna Convention, only top diplomats are given the highest degree of immunity from the law. This means they cannot be handcuffed, arrested, detained, or prosecuted by law enforcement officials of the country in which they’re stationed. Diplomatic immunities and privileges also include things like diplomatic “bags” (with very peculiar cases of what that could entail) and notably, protection and diplomatic immunity for the family of diplomats.

It is a universal consensus that not everyone who works at an Embassy has or should have diplomatic immunity.  Immunity is saved for diplomats whose role has to be protected from the local jurisdiction of the country for a reason. Not all embassy staff should enjoy diplomatic immunity. Granting law enforcement such as the FBI full legal immunity for their actions is bad news.

Only the top officials at an embassy are diplomats with an actual full immunity — and that’s for a reason.

It makes sense why a diplomat negotiating an agreement should not be subjected to local courts’ jurisdiction. But the same doesn’t go for a law enforcement official who acts as a law enforcement official by, for example, requesting unlawful surveillance on a local citizen, in his law enforcement capacity, while thinking of himself as a diplomat and being recognized as such by the law.

Law enforcement personnel are not diplomats. Dealing with extraterritorial jurisdiction cases or international cases is not the same thing as the need for diplomatic immunity. If that was the case, everyone at the export division at the Department if Commerce would have diplomatic immunity for protection from foreign courts, just in case. Some inherent risk in dealing with international cases does not merit diplomatic immunity – otherwise, this would lead to absurdities such as any government official of any country being granted diplomatic immunity for anything internationally related.

The bar for diplomatic immunity is very high and that’s by design based on an international consensus resting upon international law. Simply dealing with international cases does not make a policeman at a foreign embassy a diplomat. If that was the case every policeman investigating an international case would have to become a diplomat, just in case, for protection from the jurisdiction of the involved country in order to avoid legal push-back. That’s clearly unnecessary and legally illogical. Being a staff member at an embassy in a foreign country does not in and of itself necessitate diplomatic immunity, as many embassy staff do not enjoy diplomatic protection. It is neither legally justified nor necessary for the FBI abroad to enjoy diplomatic immunity; this could only open up the function to potential abuse. The FBI’s arbitrary surveillance on locals can have a very real potential for violating the rights of local people.  This is a difference in comparison to actual diplomats. Diplomats do not investigate or run surveillance on locals; they can’t threaten or abuse the rights of local citizens directly, the way that law enforcement can. Lack of legal recourse is a really bad look for the Biden administration and for the US government.

The rationale for diplomatic immunity is that it should not be permitted to arrest top diplomats, who by definition have to be good at representing their own country’s interests in relation to the host state, for being too good at their job once the host state is unhappy with a push back, for example. The Ambassador should not be exposed to or threatened by the risk of an arrest and trial for being in contradiction with the interests of the host state under some local law on treason, for example, because Ambassadors could be running against the interests of the host state, by definition. And that’s contained within the rules of diplomatic relations. It’s contained in the nature of diplomatic work that such contradictions may arise, as each side represents their own country’s interests. Diplomats should not be punished for doing their job. The same doesn’t apply to the FBI legats. Issuing surveillance on local citizens is not the same as representing the US in negotiations. The FBI legats’ functions don’t merit diplomatic immunity and their actions have to be open to challenge in the host country’s jurisdiction.

The FBI immunity legal lacunae is in some ways reminiscent of similar historic parallels, such as the George W. Bush executive order  that US military contractors in Iraq would enjoy full legal immunity from Iraqi courts’ jurisdiction, when they shouldn’t have. At the time, Iraq was a war-torn country without a functioning government, legal system or police forces. But the same principle of unreasonable legal immunity that runs counter international laws is seen even today, across European Union countries hosting legally immune FBI attaches.

Congress and the Biden administration should end FBI immunity overseas. It can be argued that for any local rights infringements, it is the local law enforcement cooperating with the US Embassy that should be held accountable – but that would ignore that the actual request for unlawful surveillance on locals could be coming from the FBI at the Embassy. The crime has to be tackled at the source of request. 

When I reached out to the US Embassy in Bulgaria they did not respond to a request to clarify the justification for the FBI diplomatic immunity in EU countries.

To prevent abuse, Congress and the Biden Administration should remove the diplomatic immunity of the FBI serving overseas.

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