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The logic and strategy of Trump’s Presidency

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap] hich are the psycho-political mechanisms and the actual policies that have led Donald Trump to power? It is not something simple to define. Certainly the Presidency of the businessman having a German origin – as former President Eisenhower’s – has gone against all the tenets and dogmas of the now intolerable politically correct. It has tackled the core of the US crisis that is much more evident at social level than Europe’s, which is not politically correct but at least has the Welfare State.

For example in almost 8% of American homes, there are “food insecure” children – a politically correct way to say that they do not eat enough.

Furthermore, in 2014, there were 43.1 million poor people in the United States, 19.4 millions of whom lived in extreme poverty.

Even the government statistical offices tell us that one of the major causes of poverty is immigration.

The immigrants coming from other neighbouring countries, namely Mexico, are ready to be paid less than the native people – hence the low-wage jobs are becoming increasingly rare and increasingly low-paid.

Then there is the huge military and security spending, which is 50% of the government’s discretionary spending. All this finally leads to what some sociologists have defined as the “culture of inequality”.

Indeed, the United States are alien to any social tradition of solidarity, which remains Protestantly withdrawn into the soul of the single individual.

Therefore populations are always segregated by income and race and, as already said, jobs are rare and underpaid, which generates mass crime and spreads the model of the “single parent family”.

Hence this is the starting design: the long progressive season in the United States; a political culture more interested in gay marriage than in mass poverty; a political language focused on the body and its “rights”; the pop culture as the axis of young people’s communication, education and training.

Young people have to be considered future consumers, not producers.

Conversely Donald Trump speaks, first and foremost, to the underprivileged masses, who are huge in the United States.

The Midwest region which voted for Trump, the Rust Belt of abandoned factories and endemic poverty of the former working class followed the Brexit example and voted for the New York’s tycoon.

All the universalistic political classes that remember what is useless and forget the new poverty will be wiped out.

In addition, and this still holds true at psycho-political level, Trump’s election campaign was specifically “male chauvinist and sexist”, without bending to the various current mythologies – as Barthes called them – which idealize and enhance the role of women and conversely make men an often unnecessary corollary.

Trump’s other chance of victory was Hillary Clinton herself.

She endangered the US ambassador to Libya, Stevens, who later died in an attack by Ansar al Sharia, by denying additional support to make the Benghazi’s offices safe. Not to mention the misuse of the Clinton Foundation, used as a bribe for those who wanted to talk to the Head of the State Department.

She was also blamed for the 15,000 e-mails on her personal server, as well as for her obviously not good health conditions and the aura of cynicism and truth denial shown in her political activities.

In short, only the naive Europeans, with their poor minds still tied to the myths of Kennedy’s “New Society”, could fund her publicly, being ill-informed of how the election campaign was going and later subjected to Trump’s revenge.

Let us not forget that, even during the election campaign, Hillary Clinton was focused on continuing to implement the tragic strategy of “bringing” democracy throughout the Middle East.

In fact, she had started the insurgency which unsuccessfully tried to oust   Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria.

Indeed, she used all the jihad delinquents, renamed – for the occasion – “moderate Islamists”.

Maybe those groups included also Ansar al Sharia, precisely the one which had assassinated Stevens and the others in Benghazi …

The jihadist fighters trained by CIA and the Department of State shot one another while, after the US training, some “moderate” jihadist groups went immediately to enlist and swell the Isis ranks.

The comedy of tragedy.

Reverting to the election campaign, it is not hard to guess that Bernie Sanders’ supporters voted for Hillary Clinton, but bringing not even an additional voter to the polls for supporting her.

However, what is President-elect Trump planning to do? He will most likely be the political leader putting an end to globalization, which was an Americanization and, hence, can only be stopped “at source.”

In more concrete terms, Trump said the united States should stop the great immigration from the South, namely from Mexico, which should pay for the now notorious “wall.”

Hence less immigration, less competition for “low-paid jobs” and wage increase in those sectors.

Trump, a politician from the Right, is the first candidate for the Presidency to talk about the poor during the election campaign.

This is not so strange. It was Bismarck, with the help of the Social Democrat Lassalle, to make insurance mandatory for workers.

Moreover, again in Trump’s mind, the Muslims coming from countries with a proven record of terrorism against the United States should be barred from entering the country.

However, are there Islamic countries not falling within this category?

Currently there are 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States.

An even smaller religious minority than Hindus and Sikhs in America.

Obviously Trump wants to avoid the quick expansion of this ethno-religious area, which the new President regards as a “fifth column” of all forms of Islamic insurgency.

This is another limit to globalization: one of its founding myths was everybody’s freedom to move everywhere to find good jobs, salvation and survival.

This was also a way to stabilize the Third World countries’ regimes which, thanks to emigration, got rid of their “dangerous masses.”

This is no longer the case in the United States.

Maybe the US stance and behaviour on these issues will encourage the countries recording strong migration flows to seal their borders permanently.

The issue of borders recurs everywhere – those borders which, according to Régis Debray, were the first motivation for a State.

Another issue raised in the election campaign, which will soon be implemented, is the end of “Obamacare”, the system of health insurance for the poor people that has also greatly irritated and vexed the US old and new Right.

In essence, “Obamacare” is the State support for purchasing health insurance, thus forbidding insurance companies from refusing to insure people for their past health conditions or economic status.

In the United States healthcare spending accounts for 10% of GDP, while in countries characterized by the Welfare State, such as Italy, it accounts for 9.2%.

The reason for all this is complex to explain, but one point is clear: it is a health system focused on doctors’ income.

Trump, however, believes that everyone should have health coverage, but not linked to the insurance market, which has other criteria than those of the healthcare system, because it only wants to make profit.

Nevertheless it is not yet clear how Trump wants to solve this problem in the future.

Furthermore the new President-elect believes that we should certainly set great store by clean air and water, but he thinks that “climate change” is a real hoax.

And to think that a former vice-President had made it the focus of his election campaign, fearing huge destruction which did not occur.

Certainly we must take care of the environment, but the scare-mongering campaign of “climate change” supporters has much to do with science fiction movies.

As to the global strategy, Trump has dared to challenge one of the most deeply-rooted common places in the US public, by saying that the world would be better if Saddam and Gaddafi were still in power.

They both fought terrorism better and made their countries stable; it was a US severe mistake to make them collapse.

This is an essential step: with Trump, America will cease to bring democracy everywhere, with the results that are before us to be seen.

Will it be a new isolationism? No, it will not.

It will be a new US position in the world, in close relation with China’s strong economic and political expansion, a more assertive Russia and an irrelevant Europe.

Not to mention the hot spots: Syria, North Korea and the whole Middle East.

Trump has already stated he is harshly opposed to the JCPOA Treaty on Iran’s nuclear power.

In his opinion, the 5 + 1 Treaty is a way to enrich Iran and not to really stop its nuclear weapons, thus making it continue to play its role as sponsor of international terrorism.

Certainly, as already discussed at length, the JCPOA Treaty has many chances to be circumvented and, in any case, it does not stop the Iranian race to nuclear weapons.

Trump has also stated he has a plan to eliminate Isis, but he has not delved into the issue during the election campaign.

Furthermore – and this is a sore spot for Europeans – Trump has dismissed NATO as “obsolete”.

In other words, the President-elect thinks that the primary axis of defence is not what unites Europe to America, but he believes that the United States should take autonomous and independent actions with regard to China, the Russian Federation and the other growing geopolitical powers.

Just to quote the witty remark of its first Secretary General, Lord Ismay, NATO had been created to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.

Today, this is no longer the case: the Germans are autonomous and often make foreign policy with the United States and not with the other EU Member States; the Russians are out but, despite the current NATO doctrine, they are not a deadly threat.

Now the new strategic potentials are elsewhere.

Hence if NATO is obsolete, we shall rethink the EU’s foreign policy, which will not have the automatic protection ensured by the Atlantic mechanism.

Therefore the EU shall rethink all its foreign and defence policy lines, including the most recent ones, and accept the fact that globalization, at least its first phase, is over.

The United States will play their game, regardless of Europeans liking it or not.

Moreover the European Union shall rethink its strategic role.

Shall it only be an economic union, with the euro that nobody wants any longer? It will soon fail because every political union has a strategic and military principle.

However, there will be a real European army, as some people hope after Brexit?

And who will dictate the strategies: the EU universalistic humanitarianism or other countries more aware of the new threats?

In short, with Trump, Europe is alone. It shall operate in a new world without the forms of protection which had arisen in the aftermath of World War II.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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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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