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The Zigzagging Personnel Policy of Donald Trump

Valery Garbuzov

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It will soon be eighteen months since Donald Trump, the most eccentric, provocative and authoritarian leader in U.S. history, took up office as President of the United States. He came to power as a fighter against the Washington political elite and became a symbol of the protectionist, anti-globalist and anti-expansionist moods long simmering within American society. He read those moods and offered simple, understandable, quick and radical methods of resolving the problems that had been accumulating for decades.

Despite the mass protests, the opposition of Congress, the courts and the Washington bureaucracy, the unwillingness of many federal officers to serve in the billionaire’s administration, the malicious media attacks, the inquiries into the “Russian connection” and the looming threat of impeachment, Trump’s presidency is still pretty much alive and kicking, to the surprise of many. He has managed, although not without difficulty, to fit into the existing political landscape and become an integral part of it.

The original top tier of the Trump administration was represented by a slapdash Conservative coalition held together by libertarian values, one that comprised several rival groups that had emerged during the 2016 campaign: 1) Trump’s closest associates (his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his lawyer Michael Cohen and billionaire Carl Icahn); 2) a group of influential retired generals (James N. Mattis, John F. Kelly, Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. and Herbert Raymond McMaster); 3) organizers and activists of the right-wing Conservative Tea Party movement, which had provided Trump with the core of his voters (Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Marc Short, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway); 4) representatives of business circles (Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross and Steve Schwarzman); and 5) traditionalist right-wing Conservatives who provided Trump with ideological support (Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus, Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, etc.).

Due to its fragmented and incoherent nature, the Trump administration was extremely contradictory and unstable from the very start. Another negative factor was that many of its members had chanced onto Trump’s team without the requisite political and life experience; they were not prepared to perform as senior government officials in a very tense situation on both domestic and international political fronts. Many of them were appointed after other candidates had opted out.

One Resignation after Another

The first days of Trump’s presidency were darkened by events that caused many observers serious concerns. Cobbled together from people who were too different from one another and not always properly trained for their roles, the new administration started developing cracks. Differences mounted not only among the various factions, but also among the presidential advisors. Pieced together with the use of several heterogeneous groups, the administration started falling apart surprisingly quickly, shedding the president’s closest assistants for various reasons. The first one to go was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (retired), Trump’s national security advisor, who stepped down on February 13, 2017, just 23 days after his appointment, amid allegations of his suspicious contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

This was followed by the dismissals of several high-ranking members of the administration. James Comey was fired as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on May 9. The summer of 2017 proved particularly rich in dismissals. Rich Higgins, the director of strategic planning at the National Security Council’s strategic planning office, was forced out on July 21. On the same day, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer announced his resignation. Assistant press secretary Michael Short bowed out on July 25. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci were let go in late July. The latter had only been at his post for 10 days. Scaramucci later claimed that a conspiracy was in the works against Trump.

Richard Trumka, President of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), quit Trump’s manufacturing council on August 15. Steve Bannon, one of the most infamous members of Trump’s administration, stepped down as the White House Chief Strategist on August 18. On that same day, Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform, Carl Icahn, also left his post. Almost all members of the president’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned on August 19 due to their strong disagreement with Trump’s policies. Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka left on August 25.

The administration began to disintegrate. It appeared that the ominous forecasts voiced in Washington during the 2016 electoral campaign to the effect that Trump’s only legacy would be internal discord, chaos and confusion were coming true. Indeed, such an unstable, fluid and constantly reshuffling administration was unusual for America.

Mass resignations of senior administration members continued in 2018. These included Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. In March alone, two key members of the foreign political wing bowed out: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was replaced in his post by former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, while National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster was superseded by super-hawk John Bolton. Also in March, Trump’s chief economic advisor Gary Cohn left the administration. Cohn had criticized the protectionist slant in the president’s policy, in particular his decision to introduce customs duties on aluminium and steel imports.

The Dismissal of Rex Tillerson

The process of approving Tillerson’s candidacy in the Senate in January 2017 was not easy. The main accusation against him was his links with Russia. The former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Exxon Mobil, who had been developing business ties with Russia and was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship, was considered one of President Vladimir Putin’s American friends, so his ability to confront Russia as secretary of state was called into question.

Tillerson chose the only possible tactic, recognizing Russia as a serious adversary under Western sanctions while arguing that a certain level of dialogue with Moscow was still necessary. However, his intentions regarding Russia fell victim to the ongoing investigation into Moscow’s alleged intervention in the U.S. election, so they never materialized. Tillerson, who did not try to conceal his generally positive attitude towards Russia, came to be viewed as a mild and weak politician struggling under a load of prior experience and new circumstances. His behaviour obviously ran counter to the outspoken anti-Russian position of United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker, who view Russia as an aggressor and an unreliable partner. Trump was also dissatisfied with Tillerson’s stance.

Tillerson and Trump had different views – not only on Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election, but also on the United States’ approaches to Iran and North Korea. The secretary of state, whose authority was consistently shrinking, was evidently irritated by Trump’s harsh, ill-conceived and threatening statements addressed to these countries. The two men failed to agree on a common approach to Afghanistan. Tillerson was against the idea of building the United States’ military presence and continuing military actions in the country, something on which Trump insisted.

During his brief stint in the Department of State, Tillerson, much like Trump, developed a specific behavioural pattern: his stern and sometimes belligerent statements would be interspersed with positive and even peaceful comments. This periodically gave cause for dangerous, misleading illusions.

Nevertheless, a peace-loving, moderate, balanced and thoughtful Tillerson, with his disposition for negotiations, was the odd man out in the Trump administration. The differing approaches to tackling problems and conflicting takes on the nature of those problems were aggravated by the barely-disguised personal animosity between the two men. Many suspected that the 69th Secretary of State would soon be replaced (and Tillerson’s dismissal had been mulled over since autumn of 2017). Trump’s tweet about Tillerson’s dismissal, written in the president’s signature style, came as a logical finale to the drawn-out drama.

To be fair, such situations have happened before in the U.S. state administration system. Based on checks and balances allowing the reconciliation of differing interests, that system is inevitably conducive to the emergence of rivalling centres of power and department heads opposed to one another within the presidential administration. This often results in fights for access to the president, and even to irreconcilable confrontations [1].

The Appointment of Mike Pompeo

Back in the summer of 2017, Mike Pompeo was believed to be the most probable next United States Secretary of State. Unlike Tillerson, the Director of the CIA was much closer to the authoritarian Trump, both ideologically and politically. Having switched to politics in 2010 after the end of his business career, Pompeo, a sympathizer of the Tea Party movement, came to be a leading figure in the ultra-right Conservative wing. He supported Trump in 2016 and was appointed Director of the CIA under the new president. In this new post, Pompeo clearly demonstrated his right-wing Conservative sentiments: he spoke against the nuclear deal with Iran, criticized the proponents of talks with North Korea, advocated electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens and defended the tortures practised at CIA black sites.

As the new Secretary of State, Pompeo is undoubtedly a more professional, reliable and unwavering conduit of the president’s policy than Tillerson, who had a habit of thinking before acting.

The Dismissal of Herbert McMaster

Another high-profile dismissal involved Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster, Trump’s National Security Advisor. McMaster participated in virtually all the major modern military conflicts involving the United States and had earned a reputation as a well-rounded individual and a reserved and thoughtful officer with a strategic mind. To everyone’s surprise, McMaster proved the only member of the Trump administration whose appointment was hailed by both the president’s supporters and his opponents. Many expected him to provide the uniting momentum the new team needed so badly.

McMaster’s view of Russia was largely in line with the predominant opinions within the U.S. political elite. He believed that Putin was deliberately pursuing an aggressive policy aimed at dismantling and revising the new world order that had emerged following the Cold War. On the other hand, he was generally restrained and, unlike Trump, tried to avoid half-baked decisions and overreactions.

It was up to the generals in the presidential administration to maintain at least some appearance of discipline and order amid the confusion generated, especially in the early days, by Trump himself with his chaotic thinking and ill-conceived actions.

The Appointment of John Bolton

In the most controversial and symbolic appointment yet, McMaster was replaced by John Bolton, an infamous uncontrollable hawk. Bolton’s long career with the Department of State and the Department of Justice under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush provided him with a springboard for furthering his political career, which truly flourished as Under Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration during the “war on terror.”

A proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton radicalized the United States’ foreign policy in an effort to integrate the country’s overseas interests into the “war on terror,” which became a universal vehicle for strengthening Washington’s global dominance. As the United States Ambassador to the UN in 2005–06, he did his utmost to make U.S. unilateralism policy, which was criticized even by America’s allies, a reality.

Bolton’s excessive asperity and conservatism deterred many. A consistent critic of the United States’ adversaries (Iran, North Korea and Russia), he dismissed even the possibility of seeking a compromise with them. The escalation of tensions with Russia, in addition to Trump’s threats towards North Korea, aimed at gleaning concessions from Kim Jong-un, created an appropriate atmosphere for renovating the presidential administration and taking the ultra-Conservative Bolton on board.

New Director of the CIA Gina Haspel

The top-level reshuffles in the Trump administration resulted in a career boost for Deputy Director of the CIA Gina Haspel, whom the president offered the post of director. If approved by the Senate, Haspel will become the first female director in the history of the CIA.

Haspel had previously headed a black site in Thailand and is still being accused of having organized the torture of terrorist suspects kept there. She had also served as deputy director for foreign intelligence and covert action in the National Clandestine Service. This career path provides some background for the portrait of the new CIA director.

The constantly zigzagging personnel policy, as well as the recent reshuffles, which mainly affected the foreign political wing of the Trump administration, indicate not just swift personal shifts, but also an evolution of the country’s foreign policy towards a tougher strain of offensive pragmatism amid the continuing inquiry into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election and the intensifying conflict with Moscow.

The key factor in the current situation is certainly the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, which is believed to have been orchestrated by Russia. The subsequent anti-Russian actions in the form of the expulsion of diplomats from a number of leading Western countries and new U.S. sanctions against Moscow are merely another escalation in the dangerous and rapidly worsening United States–Russia confrontation.

[1] Valery Garbuzov. Alexander Haig, or Three Careers of a General. Moscow, 2004.

First published at our partner RIAC

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Delusions of U.S. Hegemony In A Multi-Polar World: Trump Visits Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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To say that US foreign policy is delusional is not an exaggeration.  It seeks political hegemony and a relationship with China and Russia akin to what it has had with Japan and Germany, that is, go ahead and develop in the economic sphere but don’t try to flex political or military muscle.

There are at least two problems with this scenario:  China is now the world’s largest economy on a purchasing power parity basis, and the Russians have the nuclear capacity to make a wasteland out of the US.  Russian weapons systems can also be superior.

Take the S-400 in comparison with the US Patriot missile defense system — the purpose of these surface-to-air systems is to shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft.  The S-400 has a more powerful radar, double the range, is faster (Mach 6 vs Mach 5), takes five minutes to set up against one hour for the Patriot, and is cheaper.  China has just bought 32 launchers and is expected to buy more, thereby challenging Japan, Taiwan (which it claims) and other neighbors for control of the skies, as it is doing over the seas bordering itself.  NATO member Turkey has recently signed a purchase deal, and Iran wants to, as does Qatar after its recent spat with Saudi Arabia.  If Russia supplies Iran, any attack planned by the US or Israel would prove to be very costly and politically infeasible.

In our world of instant and continuous news feeds, one can imagine a bemused Vladimir Putin listening to Trump exhorting NATO members to increase contributions to NATO — an organization designed to counter the Russian threat — specifically castigating Germany’s Angela Merkel for being beholden to Russia with her country’s reliance on Russian natural gas.

Early next week he meets Mr. Putin in Helsinki, fresh from his soft power World Cup triumph as the world beat a path to Russia.  What does Mr. Trump tell the leader of the world’s largest country covering eleven time zones?  US political hegemony is a non-starter.

Europeans clearly want access to China, its labor, its markets, even finance, and with it comes Russia and their numerous initiatives together including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIE) their answer to the US-sponsored World Bank.  That Britain joined AIIB contrary to US wishes is a clear sign of China rising as the US declines comparatively;  Britain, having faced up to the US, was followed by a rush of European countries.

Russia wants sanctions lifted.  What does the US want?  Crimea is a non-starter.  Help with Iran?  For the Russians, it has become an important ally both with regard to Syria and as a Mideast power in its own right.  Mr. Trump’s instincts are right.  But what he achieves is another matter.  Childish petulance accompanied by a different story for different leaders would leave an observer with little optimism.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump manufactures and markets his own reality; this time on his popularity (‘I think they like me a lot in the UK’) despite avoiding roads and traveling by helicopter when possible during his pared down UK visit.  Hordes of demonstrators undeterred have a giant parade balloon several stories high of a bloated child with the trademark blonde hair.  It is one the largest demonstrations ever outside the US against a sitting president.

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This 70-year-old program prepares young women for leadership

MD Staff

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A record number of women are running for public office this year. In the near future, we can expect more female public servants representing the American people — from local chambers to Capitol Hill. In light of this exciting trend, it is important to highlight programs that help develop young women to become the next generation of female leaders. One such program? American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation.

ALA Girls Nation is a weeklong mock experiential learning program, one that positions high-potential teens for a lifetime of public service to our country. This summer, 100 female high school seniors — two from each of our 50 states — will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 72nd Annual ALA Girls Nation. Each teenage girl represents her state as a “senator” — mirroring the structure of government at the federal level. During this transformative weeklong program, these senators form a fictitious nation, become “Nationalists” and “Federalists,” enthusiastically campaign to hold office, and — perhaps most important — accept and celebrate the outcome of these elections and come together to serve for the good of the nation.

ALA is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans’ issues, promoting patriotism, mentoring America’s youth and proudly presenting ALA Girls Nation for over 70 years. The ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation are privately-funded and presented by members of the organization. The world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA was chartered in 1919 to support the mission of The American Legion.

More than 6,500 young women have attended ALA Girls Nation since its inception in 1947. Each participant leaves the program informed about the fundamentals of U.S. government — and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens. It lasts for one short week. Yet the seven-day experience — one that champions the legislative process and serious collaboration — has laid the foundation for thousands of bright futures.

Many alumnae have chosen careers in public service, putting their ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation experience into action to serve the people. The lessons learned about teamwork, resilience and the democratic principles that guide the republic in which we live are applied in real life by many alums who have gone on to serve at the local, state and national level — including high-ranking members of the judiciary.

Justice Lorie S. Gildea began her tenure as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010. She participated in the state-level version of ALA Girls Nation, known as ALA Girls State in 1979 — and the program, Gildea said, “empowered her to embark upon a lifetime of service and leadership.”

“At ALA Girls State, we learn that every voice has value and that every woman needs to use her voice,” said Gildea. “We also learn that we need to be courageous and confident enough to take life up on the opportunities that present themselves to us.”

“An informed citizenry is essential to the success of our democracy. ALA Girls State [and ALA Girls Nation] plays a vital role in informing and educating our future leaders,” Gildea said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and see firsthand how the three branches of our government work. I am so grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary for presenting ALA Girls State and teaching me and thousands of Minnesota’s young women about the value of participation and the possibility of leadership.”

Other alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, military, media, education and law. Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, president of Augustana University and former South Dakota U.S. representative; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the president; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush — among countless others.

For some girls, it is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspectives differ from their own. For all, it is a moment in time when a select few teenage girls from all over the country come together to discover and celebrate the honor and importance of participating in our democracy. To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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Colombia-Venezuela: A Conflict with US Participation

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The victory of right-wing candidate Ivan Duque in the Colombian presidential elections is not the best news for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The newly elected president has already refused to recognize Maduro’s victory in the recent elections in Venezuela and announced that he would not send an ambassador to Caracas.

It is believed that Ivan Duque is the successor of the political line of the Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe (in power from 2000 to 2008) who was notorious first of all for fighting the left radical insurgent FARC group and accusing Hugo Chavez who was the Venezuelan President at that time, of harboring the FARC rebels in Venezuelan territory.

Troubled Sister Countries

There is no need to recall that Maduro owes his entire political career to the late Chavez.  Maduro was not only a long-time associate of Chavez but was perceived in society as the heir to Venezuela’s legendary leftist leader. Maduro also inherited from Chavez a course toward friendship with Russia (Russia made large investments in Venezuela), as well as a diplomatic confrontation with the USA and its main ally in northern Latin America – Colombia. At one time Chavez made a point calling Colombia, intertwined with Venezuela by a 1,300 km-long common border, “Latin American Israel, hinting at the military and economic support provided by Washington to the Colombian leadership. In 2010 Chavez broke off any of his country’s relations with Colombia.

Despite the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe, signed a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016, the relationship between Caracas and Bogota during Santos’ rule has not improved. In his recent speech President Maduro accused Santos of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs, to which Santos responded with speeches lamenting the lack of freedom in the “leftist” Venezuela.

Hatred against “Chavism”

Optimists expected relations to improve if the left candidate – Bogotá Mayor Gustav Petro would have won the elections in Colombia. In fact now Juan Manuel Santos finishes his second term as a “lame duck” after Duque’s victory, and his dislike for Maduro can no longer have a negative impact on relations. But Petro lost, although he received 42 percent of the vote. And the very course of the presidential campaign showed that this is not about personal antipathies, but about strong ideological differences between the leaders of Venezuela and Colombia. During the election campaign, Duque’s supporters declared the slogan: “Vote for our candidate, so that Colombia does not become another Venezuela.” The former Colombian President Uribe does not conceal his hatred for “Castro-Chavism,” and the victory of his candidate (Uribe created the Democratic Party that supported Duque) does not promise Maduro or any other “chavist” relations improvement.

Russia’s Stance

Russia takes an emphatically distant position in relation to the political standoff of the two neighboring Latin American countries, and this approach seems reasonable in this situation. Russia does not make a secret of the fact that Venezuela is experiencing enormous economic difficulties. The Institute of Latin American Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences acknowledged that there is hyperinflation in the country and that its GDP reduced by 12 % in 2017.

Russian political analysts are aware of the US interest in the “early collapse of the Chavist regime”, but nevertheless, they do not veil the fact that Venezuela’s leadership is primarily to blame for the country’s economic problems. Experts of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) also came to this conclusion, pointing out the inability of the Venezuelan leadership to convert petrodollars of 2000s into diversification of domestic economy. So the Russian approach to both Venezuelan and Colombian issues can be seen as lacking ideology: Russian companies responded to Venezuela’s business proposals, but this response was based on mutually beneficial cooperation, not on a desire to support a left or right ideology.

Violence as Tradition

As for the continuing ideological struggle between the “left” Venezuela and the “right” Colombia, its result is far from a foregone conclusion. The success or failure of  the ruling elites in Venezuela, and especially in Colombia, people estimate not only by economic indicators, but also by the safety of life.  And in Colombia, this is even worse than in Venezuela: the leftist insurgent movement FARC (the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia”) has waged a civil war in Colombia since 1964. And FARC seized the baton of violence from the so-called liberals: the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC grew out of the war between supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties of Colombia that continued for a decade (!) in 1948-1958, (it is this violence, which claimed about 200,000 lives, was reflected in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”).

In 2016, the outgoing President Juan Manuel signed a peace agreement with the FARC, but the majority of the country’s population refused to approve the agreement in a referendum. Violence and fear did not stop although the FARC became a formally legal political party and changed the meaning of the abbreviation of its name (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionariadel Comun – The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force).

The fact is that the violence in Colombia in recent decades has come not so much from the left, but from the right side of the political spectrum. Even the traditionally anti-communist British BBC reports that in the political sector Colombia has a radical, sometimes violent, right-wing tradition.

The BBC admits that this tradition in Colombia is linked, among other things, to the murders of leftist politicians and cultural figures. The members of the so-called “The United Self-Defenders of Colombia” (Autodefensas Unidas de Columbia – AUC) especially often resorted to violence. For many years they proclaimed their task to wage armed struggle against the FARC rebels.  But in 1997-2006. under the pretext of  fighting the Colombian “chavistas,” the AUC forces killed thousands of people; in 2006 the AUC was officially declared a terrorist organization and dissolved. Before that, this ultra-right group was reported to be involved in drug trafficking as well as in hostage-taking for ransom – the two types of criminal activity traditionally associated with the FARC. As for the level of violence, the AUC and their successors leave far behind Venezuela’s government forces who have killed several dozen protesters in recent months.

Maduro Accuses

In his propaganda war with President Santos, which is likely to soon turn into a propaganda war with the new Colombian President – Duque, Maduro and his supporters emphasize the ties between the Colombian government and the USA and the US intelligence services. There is nothing unexpected in this accusation: Uribe as well as Santos closely collaborated with the “advisers” from Washington and even invited the American armed forces into the country.

But now, when the chair beneath him staggers, Maduro considers Colombia as a “strike force” of US intervention directed at him. Recently  Maduro directly accused Colombia of trying to provoke an armed conflict with Venezuela and overthrow the “chavist” authority.

This Maduro’s accusation against Bogota is worth listening to. In this situation Russia will have many allies among Latin American countries: after all, even cautious Brazil and Argentina turned against the Colombian President Santos, when in early 2010s Colombia started talking about deploying American bases on its territory. However, later the same countries which are part of the Organization of American States excluded Venezuela from their ranks for the deficit of democracy. Somewhat strange contradiction.  From this one can assume that the countries of the southern continent want democracy, but without American “supervision”.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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