Tales of exaggeration and outright lies by this president are not new. In 1974, the New York Times did a profile on the young Trump. He claimed he was worth $200 million when his taxable income then was $2,200 a week; that he was of Swedish heritage; that he had graduated at the top of his class at Wharton! Claims of high intelligence are repeated often, and an assurance of how he would get better deals abroad.
Which brings us to his foreign policy. His campaign promoted America First, a doctrine earning its name before WW2 when proponents wanted the US to stay out of another European war. Roosevelt thought otherwise and the Japanese ended the issue.
Since the election, however, the only isolation Mr. Trump has initiated is in the unintended alienation of allies. Against foes, he has been quite belligerent. He has threatened to annihilate North Korea; he ordered missile strikes against Syria when the evidence of its culpability was vague; the stepping back from the Iran nuclear deal and his clear backing of the Saudis place him in the Sunni camp against the Shias.
While closely aligned with Netanyahu, he claims to be pushing for a peace deal. He certainly has of a different source. Beset by the new Trump-Netanyahu-Saudi alliance, the Palestinian factions Hamas and PLO have agreed to peace (at least a truce) and power sharing.
Trump’s pugilistic approach to trade has offended friends and rivals prompting Angela Merkel’s caustic remark that if Americans want to sell cars here, why don’t they make cars Germans would want to buy. Meanwhile, China and Russia are drawing closer, swooping up Iran, possibly Turkey and other peripherals while Trump threatens Pakistan, now less dependent than ever on America.
He has sent an additional 6,000 troops to Afghanistan, a drop compared to Obama’s efforts which failed. They have made no difference and the Taliban control half the country.
If all of this constitutes foreign policy, its strategy remains a mystery while it has all the makings of a mishmash response to events in ways ill-informed even thoughtless.
Meanwhile the specter of his Russian problem looms larger turning partly real with the indictment of Paul Manafort Jr., who managed the Trump campaign briefly, and the guilty plea of campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI about his connection with the Russian government’s efforts to influence the 2016 election. The latter could conceivably lead to the White House particularly when Papadopoulos is busy negotiating a lenient sentence in exchange for information and could involve others.
Of course, the Clinton campaign spent $12 million trying to get dirt dug up on Trump including the notorious dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British Intelligence operative turned consultant, who founded Orbis Business Intelligence the firm hired.
Six of one and half a dozen of the other as each campaign tried to acquire ammunition to smear the other. So, what else is new?
A U.S.-ASEAN summit—a face or a farce
Inherited from the classic diplomacy of Europe, summit is a globally recognized instrument of highest-level meeting for common interests among nations. It has been practiced from time to time until now. Ad hoc summit principally aims to promote symbolic purpose rather than specific negotiations, therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that though controversial over its essential functions, summit is better suited to the promotion of friendly relations with an emphasis on ceremonial functions. Due to this, the U.S.-ASEAN summit held on May 12-13 is no exception.
At the end of the summit, the United States and ASEAN member states reiterated in the joint vision statement the importance of adhering to key principles, shared values and norms enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter, the Declaration on Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN), the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ). In addition, they committed to strengthen and build more comprehensive ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue Relations, which have been seen indispensable to bilateral ties as well as the broader region and the international community.
It is clear that the U.S. officials had entertained the design to make the case that Russia’s invasion demonstrated the fragility of the international system while China’s tacit support for the invasion equally made a contrast with the United States’ principled stance. Yet, ASEAN members in general kept their heads down and avoided the issue rather than getting in the middle of a dispute between major powers. Rather than clearly denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the U.S. has acted globally, the joint vision statement called on an immediate cessation of hostilities and creating an enabling environment for peaceful resolution, and genuine respect for sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity in line with the U.N. Charter and international law. As a result, it is inevitable that the geostrategic hawks in Washington were disappointed their unsuccessful persuasion of ten Asian countries to take side with the United States and its allies and partners. Because of this, the U.S. aid package to the ASEAN was seen as a joke because it agreed to offer $150,000,000 for peace in a sharp contrast to the multiple-billions dollars for supporting a long war to weaken its geopolitical rival Russia, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.
ASEAN is a regional economic community founded in 1967, yet it has been seen as the most dynamic economic powerhouse in the 21st century. With its hugely rich natural resources and technological innovation capacities, ASEAN has committed to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone and free of all other weapons of mass destruction, as enshrined in the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ Treaty). Therefore, ASEAN vow to fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, taking into account the international community’s call for diplomacy as the instrument to maintain peace and security in the region.
It is understandable that amid the Ukraine war, Washington was highly motivated to hold this special summit to demonstrate its leading role in the world affairs including Asia. As the Biden administration has said that it was the high time to show its enduring commitment to ASEAN and that the Indo-Pacific region is a U.S. national security priority. Yet, although China’s power projection in Southeast Asia figures prominently into the summit, the two-day meeting did not touch the question openly and collectively. Instead, the summit primarily discussed a host of other critical issues — from COVID to climate change to the uncertain scenario in Myanmar. Actually, as Brian Harding explained prior to the summit that considering the Biden administration’s geostrategic design, Washington as the host was sure to address how ASEAN factors into Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and how the nations showed their supports to Ukraine during the ongoing war with Russia. Essentially, while competition with China is at the heart of the United States’ regional strategy, support for a cohesive and resilient ASEAN is one of the critical means for success in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific alongside modernized alliances like the Quad (i.e., the U.S., Australia, India and Japan). However, it is not easy to achieve since ASEAN is an extremely diverse group of 10 countries that operates by consensus, meaning it is rarely nimble nor bold, even on its best day.
It is self-evident that ASEAN countries are highly alert to the fact that relations between the United States and China have important implications for themselves. Accordingly, they all want an engaged and present multiple players including United States, China, Japan, India, Australia and the EU member states to be involved into the regional equilibrium. As former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has called it more positively, a dynamic equilibrium. Yet, what they do not want is to be forced to choose between the United States and China.
China and ASEAN approved the comprehensive strategic partnership in 2021, and now it stands ready to strengthen coordination and collaboration with ASEAN countries to update the action plan and to deepen cooperation in fields such as digital connectivity, green economy, public health, and industrial and supply chains. More sensible is that China hopes that the consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea will maintain the positive momentum and reach a consensus since Beijing has openly declared that the South China Sea is common asset of all the countries in the region.
From a geostrategic perspective, China opines that the ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture has formed in East Asia, which is the key to maintaining peace and stability in the region. Consider that the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy moves toward against the common and long-term interests of regional countries, China has to react against the U.S. to advocate the Cold War mentality and the relevant approaches such as establishing QUAD, a typical of bloc confrontation in the region, and promoting AUKUS which is essentially provoking an arms race in the region. Although China welcomes any countries outside the region to play a constructive role in the peace and development in the region, but it does not accept any actions that undermine peace, stability, solidarity and cooperation in the region. In brief, no matter what regional strategy is proposed by one country, the purpose should be mutual benefit and win-win results rather than a zero-sum game.
Despite all these arguments, there is no reasons for the world to underestimate the close and comprehensive cooperation between the United States and ASEAN. This summit agenda were primarily focused on apolitical areas cooperation, such as clean energy, health security, the digital economy and the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. President Biden was aware of the wisdom of not making his ASEAN guests to be as frustrated with the situation as himself since there was deep divisions among ASEAN member states on the issues and challenges they have to face. Accordingly, it is fair to say that the U.S.-ASEAN summit recently held in Washington was good enough in public relations but insufficient in tackling the real global issues from poverty, climate change and illegal change of regime by “color revolution”.
Peace and Punishment: “Saving” Ukraine or Embarrassing Putin?
As we near 100 days of the special military operation in Ukraine it would be good to take a strategic-analytical step back and see where the current situation is in real terms. Unfortunately, despite all sides and all parties giving extensive and continuous rhetoric to the interests of peace and the cessation of violence, the reality is the Ukraine conflict does not seem to be close to ending and instead seems more poised to hunker down into an old-fashioned military quagmire. Unlike quagmires of the past, where historians and political scientists tend to examine missed opportunities and strategic missteps that made said conflicts almost inevitable devolutions into non-progressive stalemates, the Ukraine conflict today does not seem to structurally mimic those previous lessons. As such, the question that needs to be asked is not whether this is about striving for peace and peace alone as much as it might be about how one side is striving for peace AND punishment.
On May 9, President Biden signed a new Lend-Lease Act which would facilitate the easier transfer of weapons systems and other military aid to Ukraine in its defense against Russia. The US Senate passed the bill unanimously, a rare act of unity given the current state of domestic politics in America. Unfortunately, this bipartisanship is no signal of new-found friendship across both aisles between Republicans and Democrats. They still mistrust each other as much as they ever did. But, interestingly, the bipartisan unanimity of the bill does show that despite their differences and animosity for each other, the desire to “send a message” to President Vladimir Putin and the overall desire to continue to cause problems for the Russian military within Ukraine is a “single-issue unification” factor for the United States Senate. No matter what President Biden says publicly on the microphone, this military aid and the delivery of major weapons systems is not aimed at solely achieving peace. At least, not a constructive peace in which both sides are able to walk away with a semblance of dignity and self-respect (which is truly the only way this conflict will end and stay ended). Aid like the Lease-Lend Act is quite literally the opposite of the wiser intention of trying to create a “Gentleman’s Exit” that would be enticing for Putin. Rather, the peace Biden is really talking about with this measure (but never explicitly explained to the American people) is a peace in which Putin is first embarrassed and Russia is humiliated. THIS is the real goal. So, in this way, the so-called peace measure instead adds fuel to the fire because President Putin is neither naïve nor blind. It will not be difficult for him to see the real essence of the maneuver. Consequently, it will quite possibly force a reaction in which there is no capitulation but instead a ratcheting up of conflict.
Why else would all of these declarations of new military aid take place on “Victory Day” in Russia? Do not forget the Lend-Lease bill is reviving a form of military aid from WWII, where the US was helping the UK fight Germany more readily. Thus, in a humorlessly ironic way, the US is sending a signal that Putin is the Hitler-like figure, exactly on the day when Russia celebrates its own victory against actual Nazis in WWII. It is without doubt a vicious message. The West says it had to be sent because they were more worried Putin would officially declare a formal war against Ukraine on this day. But one must ask: logically speaking, does it make sense to say America is worried about Putin going deeper into war with Ukraine so therefore it must send even more weapons and deadly munitions into Ukraine? In other words, more weapons will make it “less” of a war??? It is almost laughable if not so tragic.
If one is relying on the acute intuition of the American people to see through these contradictions and put a stop to such counter-intuitive “peace” initiatives, then frustration can be expected. Unfortunately, the American public attention span has held true to form in that most people are no longer really paying that much attention to Ukraine. Unquestionably, they still generally support Ukraine as Americans always love supporting and rooting for the underdog. Especially when cheering for the underdog in this case not only comes without any physical risk to American soldiers but also adds on the benefit of getting to humiliate your rival while assisting the lesser power. That is a “win-win” in American public eyes.
But the fevered following of the news and exhaustive social media blasts garnering endorsement for Ukraine’s efforts do not, to me, seem as intense or as comprehensive as they did just two months ago. Thus, the frustration: this lack of attention to conflict details means no one can expect any kind of pressure from the American people seeking an end to the conflict. They will simply follow, sheep-like, the narratives being provided. Ergo, providing more weapons is the way to “peace.” Embarrassing Putin is the only way to “save Ukraine.” Humiliating the Russian military is what brings “greater security.” If there was even a modicum of greater introspection by the American people, there would be more questions about whether or not this is really the most efficient and best way to achieve peace. You would think after America’s own travails this century in Afghanistan, it would understand that quagmires benefit no one except the military-industrial complex and the many powerful corporations that feed into it. While not trying to be overly cynical, this is really the only side that truly and most obviously benefits from an extended and protracted military stalemate in Ukraine.
As for reports and rumors that the United States was actually considering the Lend-Lease Act back in January, that is, before the actual Russian declaration of a special military operation, I would not put too much conspiracy theory into the idea that this proves the United States was already intending to foment violence itself in Ukraine with Russia. The reality is tension between the US and Russia has existed over Ukraine for quite a long time and the United States Intelligence Community is extremely good at its job, ie, acquiring data and collecting information that gives it insights into the future maneuvers of other countries. I have no doubt the USIC had an inkling of suspicion that the special military operation was coming or at least quite likely. And as soon as this suspicion emerged, it would have instantly begun preparing responses and counteractions to undermine said operation. More importantly, this isn’t even the right question to focus on for the global community. The right question is this: are we truly convinced these American initiatives are aimed only at achieving the quickest and most efficient end to the conflict and establishing peace or is it aimed more than anything at using Ukraine as a field of play to ensure that Russia is damaged and weakened for decades after the conflict is finished?
The US and UK have made it rather clear that peace alone is not enough. Tranquility in Ukraine is not the only goal. Peace AND punishment is. Which is without a doubt the most depressing and dangerous aspect to the whole affair. The United States currently is trying to deftly balance itself on a knife edge of military and psychological speculation: how far can it go in helping Ukraine inflict damage on Russian military units? How much weakening of Russian power can occur before the situation becomes desperately untenable and the Russian side might be inclined to enact “more reckless” initiatives? It is not coincidence that American mainstream media pushes out daily reports about the worries and concerns NATO and the West have about Putin intending to utilize chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons as the conflict in Ukraine gets ever murkier and more unclear for his side. What the media leaves out, however, in this lament is the fact that it is not Ukraine creating the murkiness: it is the weapons systems being pumped into Ukraine and the Western “advisors” on the ground and embedded within Ukrainian units, teaching them how to use the systems with deadly efficiency, that potentially push Russia toward a so-called reckless edge. In short, the Americans declare concerns over dilemmas that are their own creation. And that, again, is because what is transpiring today in Ukraine has nothing to do with peace exclusively. The West does not want peace as soon as possible and by any means necessary. It wants peace with a lesson attached, with a weakening of power that places Russia back into a docile and less assertive state.
In which case, if true, perhaps everyone in this conflict is focusing on the wrong Germany. On both sides, the imagery constantly being invoked is of Nazi Germany, the Germany of WWII. In reality, the country everyone should be worried about is WWI Germany, the one that simply had to be humiliated and laid low for its hubris and aggression. The country that everyone had to make sure would never be in a position to threaten the world again. It was that Germany that directly led to the insanity and atrocity of WWII. We would be well-warned to remember the lessons of one hundred years ago when pride in the punishment was a higher priority than peace itself. When security was thought better established through humiliation and emasculation rather than through diplomacy and enhanced collaborative communication. Hopefully, the West remembers eventually that even an imperfect peace is preferable to peace through punishment. The former allows for development and evolution. The latter brings only destruction and devolution.
U.S. & EU Set to Spend Hundreds of Billions of Dollars on Ukraine
On 9 May 2022, Reuters headlined “U.S. Congress plans nearly $40 bln more for Ukraine, COVID aid to wait” and reported that “U.S. congressional Democrats agreed to rush $39.8 billion in additional aid for Ukraine,” and:
The House of Representatives could pass the plan, which exceeds President Joe Biden’s request last month for $33 billion, as soon as Tuesday, and Senate leaders said they were also prepared to move quickly.
A proposal for additional COVID-19-related funding, which some Democrats had wanted to combine with the emergency Ukraine funding, will now be considered separately.
Biden on April 28 asked Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military assistance. That proposal was a dramatic escalation of U.S. funding for the war with Russia.
The U.S. Government, with virtual unanimity, view the war in Ukraine to be not so much Ukraine’s war with Russia, but actually as America’s war with Russia, and therefore as being the first direct battleground of World War III, which America will win at all costs. The plan is for America ultimately to become enabled to place its nuclear missiles on Ukraine’s border with Russia, just a five-minute flying-time away from blitz-nuking Moscow and thereby greatly weakening Russia’s command-and-control by eliminating Russia’s central command faster than Russia will be able to launch its retaliatory missiles (if any of those survive America’s initial attack). In 2006, America quietly and unilaterally (though never officially, because the policy-change was gradual and secret) abandoned the meta-strategy that had guided both Russia and the United States ever since the end of World War II, which was called “M.A.D.” or “Mutually Assured Destruction” (the use of nuclear weapons only in order to prevent a WW III) to, instead, “Nuclear Primacy” by America (the use of nuclear weapons to win a nuclear war). Even some top American nuclear scientists have spoken publicly against that plan. But with the participation now of over 98% of the members of the U.S. Congress who constantly are voting for it, and of all U.S. Presidents ever since the time of George W. Bush, that plan (“Nuclear Primacy”) is the plan, and it aims for America to conquer, actually, in the final analysis, the entire world. Ukraine has become central to this plan because Ukraine’s border is closer to Moscow (and the Kremlin) than any other is. (Therefore, Finland’s would be the second-best, from the U.S. Government’s point of view, the “Nuclear Primacy” view.) The EU, under Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, is almost entirely united behind it, and, like France’s Emmanuel Macron, hopes to change the EU’s Constitution so as to eliminate the ability of each individual EU member nation to veto any foreign-affairs proposal such as for the EU to immediately admit Ukraine into its membership (thereby, vetoing for America to become enabled to get Ukraine into its military alliance against Russia, NATO). As Macron said on May 9th, it will take ‘several decades’ for Ukraine to join the EU, and therefore the EU’s founding documents need to be changed in order to prevent this sort of roadblock from ever happening again. So: America and EU both are in agreement that Russia must not be allowed to win this war, which is called Ukraine’s war but is really the U.S.-and-allied war to conquer Russia. (Any stragglers will then easily be able to be taken care of.) They are pulling out all the stops they can, to win this, to win in the first real battleground of WW III, which is Ukraine, on Russia’s border.
Also on May 9th, Bart M. J. Szewczyk, a nonresident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (which was set up to memoralize the Marshall Plan, which U.S. President Truman had set up in order to bribe European countries with billions of dollars of U.S. reconstruction money if they would join with America against the Soviet Union), headlined in America’s Foreign Policy magazine, “Ukraine Faces an Economic Abyss”, and wrote that “Ukraine may need $600 billion for postwar reconstruction — and more the longer the war drags on.”
Washington’s instructions to Ukraine’s President Volodmyr Zelensky are to continue the war for as long as possible so as to enable as much weapons from Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and other U.S. ‘Defense’ contractors, to pour into the country and maybe wear out Russia and force Russia to capitulate to Ukraine (i.e., to America) in this, the first round of WW III. That $600 billion, or so, would, of course, come from U.S. and EU not during the war, but AFTER the perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars will already have been spent during the war, in order to buy, from those firms, the weapons that Ukrainians will, by then, have used, in order to achieve Russia’s defeat in this non-nuclear opening round of what clearly now will be a long war to conquer Russia. Szewczyk went on to say that
The trans-Atlantic division of labor over the past eight years — roughly speaking, about 80 percent of economic aid for Ukraine from Europe and 80 percent of military aid from the United States — suggests likely future trends. As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen argued this week, Europe has a “special responsibility” toward Ukraine and must allocate “massive investment” to sustain it. In particular, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development — which has invested more than $150 billion across Central and Eastern Europe since its founding in 1991 — will be a key player in galvanizing this effort. The bank has already facilitated over $16 billion of investment in Ukraine and recently announced a new $2 billion package. Its annual meeting next week will already be dominated by the topic of Ukraine.
Of course, U.S. and EU taxpayers have already spent lots of money in order to get this war started, up till the point when, on 24 February 2022, Russia finally invaded. Szewczyk wrote that “the European Union and European financial institutions — Ukraine’s main backers — provided around $18 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine between 2014 and the start of Russia’s latest invasion on Feb. 24.” He ignored there the billions that America had spent, even prior to Barack Obama’s successful coup which had brought to power in Ukraine a rabidly anti-Russian regime there to replace the neutralist government that Ukraine had had prior to that U.S. coup, which undeniably did occur, and which had been in the planning stages of the Obama Administration ever since 2011 at the very latest.
Furthermore, Szewczyk wrote,
An even deeper collapse of Ukraine’s wartime economy could send millions more refugees to Europe.
There are ample resources across the West to finance Ukraine’s wartime economy through grants, loans, and trade concessions. Getting Ukraine up and running is in the West’s — and above all, Europe’s — own interest. Not only does the EU need a functioning bulwark against an imperialist Russia, but the EU is also Ukraine’s main trade partner.
So, all of these estimates are far likelier to increase, instead of decrease, during the coming decade.
Szewczyk is the author of the 2021 book, Europe’s Grand Strategy: Navigating a New World Order, which his publisher introduces by saying of it, “This book proposes that the European Union should craft a grand strategy to navigate the new world order based on a four-pronged approach. First, European decision-makers (both in Brussels and across EU capitals) should take a broader view of their existential interests at stake and devote greater time and resources to serving them within the wider cause of the liberal order.” The description of him provided there is “Bart M.J. Szewczyk served as Member of the Policy Planning Staff at the US State Department and Adviser on Global Affairs at the European Commission’s think-tank.”
So: when Reuters headlined on May 9th that “U.S. Congress plans nearly $40 bln more for Ukraine, COVID aid to wait”, it was clearly a harbinger for “belt-tightening” by U.S.-and-EU publics on everything else than what is said by their respective governments to be “existential” matters, which means conquering the entire rest of the world, before such issues as “COVID” can be overcome. U.S.-and-allied ‘national security’ interests “against an imperialist Russia” (as Szewczyk put it) must come first, in these ‘democracies’. War must come first. That is clearly the policy now, because of the “existential” threat, not to Russia, but from Russia.
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