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Donald Trump’s War on Truth and Justice: Crude, Unprecedented and Still Accelerating

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“To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”[1]Plato, The Republic

For US President Donald J. Trump, policy making by imposed chaos has become normal. Again and again, we see that this president’s decisions are founded upon manipulation and contrivance; inevitably, his choices(both conspicuous and inconspicuous) injure American interests and ideals….and at the same time. Should they be left insufficiently opposed, such injuries will impair the most rudimentary expectations of American national security and international justice.

There is more. These markedly grave impairments continue on several intersecting (and sometimes synergistic) levels.[2] Most ominously, there have been satellite images confirming that North Korea is moving ahead aggressively with its ballistic missile program. As corollary, we may now also learn, prima facie, that Mr. Trump’s earlier reassurances about “peace” with North Korea were not merely silly fabrications, but also deliberate falsifications. Prospectively, there are corresponding nuclear consequences for America’s close allies in South Korea and Japan, some of them potentially existential.[3]

“We fellin love,” said Trump after first meeting Kim Jung Un in Singapore a few years back. But by the most basic standards of prudent policy-making, any such alleged “romance” must remain beside the point. In any event, as the recent and recurrent missile tests by Pyongyang reveal, Trump’s declared love is glaringly unrequited.

Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosophers.  “I believe because it is absurd.” With great deliberateness, systematically, this president studiously avoids any knowledge-based judgments. Another recent example is Trump’s blaming of California “mismanagement” for the raging wildfires in that state (“They should have raked….”). The president also abrogated this country’s legal obligations under the INF treaty, a destabilizing termination that has already shattered codified American promises at international and domestic legal levels, This is apt to be followed by US rejection of New Start treaty obligations.[4]

 Of course, even before launching this particular presidential assault on legal order, international law and national law, Trump formally withdrew the United States from the July 2015 Iran deal (the JCPOA), a multilateral agreement that the UN’s IAEA had several-times reaffirmed was being respected by Tehran.

There are, to be sure, all-too-many additional examples of US President Trump undermining America’s indispensable legal and moral obligations. All of these examples, some of them plausibly irrational,[5]reflect the unsupportable core assumption that “attitude, not preparation” is what matters in diplomatic negotiations. For some unimaginable reason, moreover, Jared and Ivanka (the president’s “hidden geniuses” according to Trump’s previous UN ambassador) have not yet been able to fashion an impressively coherent plan to save the Middle East.[6]

What a surprise. Naturally, we are routinely advised, the failure must be someone else’s fault. Perhaps Hillary. Using Trump “logic,” that conclusion would seem to be a frequent and generally applicable remedy.

There is more. A self-declared “very stable genius,” US President Donald Trump still wages a bewildering war against his own intelligence agencies and national legal institutions. What remains detached from any competent national assessment is Trump’s underlying abhorrence of intellect and learning. Should anyone doubt this perilous loathing, one need just “tune in” to the latest presidential “rally.”

“I love the poorly educated,” intones Trump to his assembled acolytes.

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Not much erudition here; just a cultivated incoherence.

Donald Trump is no scholar. To be fair, no one should ever have expected anything else. But this president is notoriously weak on most vital matters of law and justice, so much so that he believes manipulating US foreign aid to injure his domestic political foes is altogether reasonable and permissible, whatever the deleterious effects upon another state’s most vulnerable populations. A conspicuous case in point is the extortion-like leverage seemingly exerted against an already-fragile Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, this particular Trump dereliction was intended to benefit not only the American president himself, but also his regularly and strangely venerated Cold War II “rival,” Vladimir Putin.[7]

Though not generally known, international law remains an integral part of the law of the United States. Inter alia, among other authoritative sources, it says this explicitly in the Constitution, the very same document that Mr. Trump’s supporters are fond of citing in their recurrent reverential references to “gun rights.” Various express codifications can be discovered at Article 6 (the “Supremacy Clause”) and at certain corresponding U.S. Supreme Court decisions (see particularly the Paquete Habana, 1900 and Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic, 1981).

There is more. Article 6 of the US Constitution clarifies that “…all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land….” The United States is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which contains (at Article 33) the basic principle of non-refoulement:  “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Nonetheless, from the beginning, under Donald Trump’s fitfully-released and often self-contradictory executive orders, impermissible expulsions and returns have become “official” policies of the United States. Earlier, “ground-zero” for such evident presidential manipulations had been the refugee “caravan” and its alleged “invasion.” At that time, Trump not only ignored Russian-Iranian-Syrian war crimes, but openly praised the principal architect of these derelictions, Vladimir Putin.

There is more. Most recently, against the wishes of his most senior military, Trump issued pardons for certain US soldiers accused of egregious war crimes. Among other derelictions, these pardons undermined the peremptory expectations of the laws of war or humanitarian international law. By definition, therefore, they also represented stark violations of duly “incorporated” US law.

Still, despite his serious violations of US and international law, Trump is not the genuinely underlying “pathology.” Rather, his law and government-violating presidency is“merely” the symptom of a much wider and more deeply systemic disorder. This disorder is an insistently anti-intellectual American society,[8] one that frowns upon virtually any original expressions of logical explanation or independent thought.[9]

                When the infant children of desperate refugees were being housed in cages, this president, tanned and bemused, journeyed to Florida or New Jersey foryet another round of golf. Significantly, though generally unknown to Americans, the due process clauses of the US Constitution protect all “persons,” and not just “citizens.”[10] Jurisprudentially, this authoritative scope of competence – one drawn from fully invariant Natural Law or Higher Law bases of the American Republic – is “beyond legal question.”[11]

                In life and law, truth is exculpatory. Derivatively, we are not witnessing a normal and law-abiding American presidency. Accordingly, we must now finally inquire:”Is this an excusable and remediable legal deformation, or is it rather an execrable dress rehearsal for astill-widening chaos”?[12]

                It’s high time for candor. What Donald Trump values most in both national and international politics is chaos.  A deeply troubling affection, it is impossible to reconcile such curious affections with even the most rudimentary legal expectations of US government or law.

At very basic levels of explanation, Trump’s feverishly loyal supporters, who still number in the tens of millions, yearn for the tangible warmth of “belonging, ” of being part of a perpetually shrill and shrieking crowd, of enjoying the numbingly false pleasures bestowed by deceptively simplistic explanations. Always, after all, complexity is anathema to those who loathe serious thought. It is excruciatingly daunting for those who would reject intelligence and intellect in virtually any form, whether by offering loud belligerent chants or more cautiously, softly, almost sotto voce.[13]

“Intellect rots the brain,” cautioned Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the 1935 Nuremberg rallies.

“I love the poorly educated,” offered candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 US presidential campaign.

These crude sentiments are not altogether dissimilar. Palpably, though many years apart, they still resonate warmly with each other, across the years. Inter alia, both display a species of “truth” that corrupts absolutely any hint of history or science.

This truth is “literally nothing but the shadows of images.”


[1]Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, seeks to explain politics as an unstable realm of sense and matter, an arena formed and sustained by half-truths and distorted perceptions.  In contrast to the stable realm of immaterial Forms, from which all genuine knowledge must be derived, the political realm is dominated by the uncertainties of the sensible world.  At the basis of this political theory is a physical-mental analogy that establishes a correlation between the head, the heart and the abdomen, and the virtues of intelligence, courage and moderation. 

[2] On these levels, the “whole” of such Trump-induced impairments will exceed the simple sum of its “parts.” In other words, the cumulative impact of these presidential impairments will actually be far worse than what first meets the eye.

[3] For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[4] See Louis René Beres, “Nuclear Treaty Abrogation Imperils Global Security,” Yale Global Online November 1, 2018  https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/nuclear-treaty-abrogation-imperils-global-security

[5]Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[6] The Middle East is not the only task placed upon Jared Kushner by his father-in-law. He has also been given a lead role in fashioning US trade policy, reorganizing thegovernment of the United States, reforming the entire American criminal justice system and overseeing construction of the border wall.

[7]Acknowledging the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become increasingly bipolar. For early conceptual writings by this author on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[8]Along these lines, Sigmund Freud had maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism,” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[9] See pertinent essay by this writer at The Daily Princetonian:http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[10] The founding fathers of the United States – believing firmly in natural law and natural rights – held that the human rights expectations of the Declaration of Independence must apply to all peoples, for all time, and can never be properly reserved solely to Americans.

[11] Under international law, the idea of a Higher Law – drawn originally from the ancient Greeks and ancient Hebrews – is contained, inter alia, within the principle of jus cogens or peremptory norms. In the language of pertinent Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969: “A peremptory norm of general international law….is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole, as a norm from which no derogation is permitted, and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.”

[12] Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:” During chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,” it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[13] “Reason,” warns the philosopher Karl Jaspers, “is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no logical argument, and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd….” (See: Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, Archon Books, 1971, p. 78).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Transition 2021: How Biden is likely to approach the Middle East

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In terms of foreign policy, the new President of the United States, Joe Biden,is likely to face numerous challenges, especially when it comes to the Middle East because of the disastrous policies of the former President, Donald Trump, in the region. Even in his inauguration speech, Biden made it clear that it was going to be testing time. Some of the challenges that the new administration would be facing includethe nuclear deal with Iran, the ongoing war in Yemen, issues of human rights issues and the current deadlock between Israel and Palestine. There is some possibility that Biden’s foreign policy towards the Middle East would either be a revival of Barack Obama’s former policies or new strategies would be formulated based on the nature of the challenges faced. However, it is certain that Biden will address or undo Trump’s terrible policies in the region. 

The Biden administration’s top foreign policy agenda is the policy towards Iran. The Iran nuclear deal (2015) or JCOPA was considered to be a milestone in multilateral diplomacy that was irresponsibly abandoned by Trump in 2018. Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran aimed to please the traditional allies as they faced a common enemy in Iran. Biden has promised to return to the 2015 JCPOA agreement, and he would also discuss Iran’s nuclear program and exchange for sanctions relief. In this process, it is expected that Washington might pressure Iran to withdraw its support for regional proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Moreover, the US would also seek to curb Iran’s export of precision guided missiles to her regional allies. Iran though, has already made it clear that these issues would not be discussed in the event of a renegotiated JCPOA. Furthermore, this plan may be complicated by the recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, which was not condemned by the White House that Iran blames on Israel. Public outrage had not even subdued at the point due to the assassination of Qasim Sulemani. Currently, the architecture of the Middle Eastern region is even more complex and challenging than it was four years ago butthe fact is that Iran cannot afford military conflict at this point when its economy is already crippling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic along with the sanctions imposed by the US.

Trump administration’s “Israel-first” approach in the region brought severe criticism at the global level. The Abraham Accord, signed in September of last year,which normalized Israel’s relations with UAE & Bahrain, is widely seen as Donald Trump’s most significant foreign policy achievement. This Accord altered the decades long regional perception that Arab-Israel peace could not be achieved without first addressing the issue of statehood for Palestinians. Biden has said that he supports more countries recognizing Israel but at the same time Israel needs to work towards genuine solutions between the two states. Moreover, the new administration at the White House will not show the same tolerance for Israel’s settler expansionism as its predecessor. However, there are certain foreign policies by the Trump administration that the new US leadership does not want to renew. The normalization of Arab-Israel relations is something that enjoys bipartisan support. And also, the shift of the US embassy to Jerusalem seems unlikely to be undone.

The US policy inthe Middle East under the new leadership will be less ideological and would be more based on fundamental principles.  These principles will greatly focus on human rights as some analysts view human rights as the core foreign policy agenda of the Biden administration. Thus, it does not seem not to be good news for the traditional allies of the US including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel. There are a variety of issues in addition to the human rights issues: the KSA intervention in Yemen, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the lingering mistrust, the jailing of activists and Jamall Khashoggi’s murder case, which are creating uncertainties between the Washington and Riyadh. Hence, KSA is going to have a very difficult time with the Biden administration. Similarly, the new administration can also be expected to take a less tolerant view towards Moscow and Ankara because of the extraterritorial activities in the Middle Eastern region.

Certainly, returning to the Iran nuclear dealofficially, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-will take a longer time to review because of the complexity of the issue and the domestic problems that the US is currently facing. There is also a possibility of a dangerous escalation without a nuclear deal due to Iran’s aims of buildingmilitary scenarios. Therefore, multilateral diplomacy is the best option for regional peace and security, which has been tried in the previous years.Even the JCPOA was a result of such diplomacy. The US ending its support to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen might turn away the traditional allies for some time but not permanently due to the common interests in the region. Biden is also likely to alter Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from the region as it would decrease US influence in the region. The top priority of the US administration in the Middle East would be to try and manage Iran’s problems and to maintain reasonable relations with Israel. Traditional allies of the US in the Middle East were content and supportive of Trump’s policies in the region but they view Biden, not as a President, but Vice President of the Obama Administration. Trump’s bilateral relations were often based on personal ties with the foreign leaders while Biden is expected to adopt a more multilateral approach in engaging with the allies. Still, scholars believe that there would be no fundamental change in the US foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially when it comes to protecting its vested interests in the region.

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Rejoining the UNHRC will be the State Department’s first diplomatic mistake

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As over the last days US Vice President Harris swore in Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the new US Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of State Blinken announced in parallel that the US is now seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council, in an attempt to rejoin the UN system. But that’s not the right first move back at the UN that the US should be making. And that’s not what the progressive left had in mind when the real left groups put in office the new Biden Administration.

My perspective comes from having worked in the UN human rights system and as a finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech last year – but also as a progressive left voice.

The days when UN engagement defined Democrats vis-a-vis Republicans are over.

Shunning the UN has always been a Republican hallmark but backing and pouring so much funding into an old style, corrupt bureaucracy that has little to do with “diplomacy” is not what the new, awaken progressive left wants either.

Several weeks ago, I made the estimate that the 10bln dollars which the US government pours into the black hole called the UN equals the Covid relief that 16mln struggling American people could be getting now. The Biden Administration’s State Department diplomats have to remember who put them in office.

Democrat centrist diplomats have more in common with the UN in terms of ways, goals, style and world view than they do with the progressive left. Backing the UN means backing the old, corrupt ways, which the real progressive left voted to break last year.

The decision to announce the US’s goal to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council comes in the same week when President Biden finally announced his real stance on the Black Lives Matter ‘defund the police’ goals. Biden, it turns out, unsurprisingly does not support that. That’s not what the progressive left signed up for, either.

The UN institutional funding inertia by the US government does not define the Democratic Party anymore. That’s not what the left voters want. 

The left’s reasons for not embracing the UN and the UN Human Rights Council have little to do with the usual Republican ‘go it alone’ at the international stage.

Yes to diplomacy and multilateralism. No to the corrupt, faceless UN. “International diplomacy” is no longer the same thing as the UN system.

The wave that rose across American political life last year, with so many young black activists and so many people voting for the first time, signaled a big resounding No to old ways and old institutions, which have little concern for the actual needs of the people.

The new US Ambassador to the UN, Thomas-Greenfield, will have the tough job of reforming the UN, and in my opinion, even defunding the UN.

The days when love for the UN defined Democrats are certainly over. It’s time for the Biden Administration to do what it was elected for, which is to not simply go back to the same old, same old corrupt, faceless bureaucratic institutions swimming in money. This is not what we want. The progressive left voted for change and now that also includes the UN.

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U.S. Climate Policy Could Break the Ice with Russia

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Photo: Fiona Paton/ flickr

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity” — Albert Einstein

Within the climate crisis lies strategic opportunity for the United States. Climate change offers the chance to earn back the good will of allies, to prepare American cities for an urgently needed increase in immigration, and to reinvent U.S.-led institutions that have gone stale. Perhaps most of all, foreign policymakers should remain cognizant of how climate action can help the U.S. navigate relations with the other great powers.

As a recent report from the Center for a New American Security details, synergy between China and Russia is more problematic for U.S. interests than the sum of the challenges that each nation poses individually. Similarly, a recent Atlantic Council publication observed that “allowing Russia to drift fully into China’s strategic embrace over the last decade will go down as the single greatest geostrategic error.” Chinese and Russian interests do currently align on defense, economics, and the degradation of the U.S.-designed world order, but the nature of their alignment does not constitute an alliance.

In characterizing the relationship, this distinction is paramount. For as long as China and Russia remain merely convenient partners, rather than ideologically kindred allies, it is possible to keep these neighbors at arm’s length. To this end, the U.S. must reorient its approach to Russia. It is the Russian perception that world politics are rigged to benefit the U.S. at Russia’s expense that has prompted its support for China.

Russia’s national interests are rooted in the desire for respect. With this in mind, Russia could pull back from synergy with China if a better opportunity to advance these interests presented itself. Ultimately, the ability of the U.S. to offer a mutually acceptable alternative will hinge on two related factors: the Arctic and NATO. Critically, the issue of climate change is central to both of these factors.

In the Arctic, rapid warming removes barriers to resource exploitation, shipping activity, and great power competition. This has drawn many non-Arctic states to the region. Yet, even with China inserting itself as a “Near-Arctic State,” Russia has expressed the need for a hierarchy of regional influence in which the interests of Arctic states are prioritized over non-Arctic states. On this, American and Russian interests align.

Russian distrust of the U.S. complicates matters, however. Arctic military assertiveness from Russia is evidence of its sensitivity to the NATO alliance. In response, U.S. military branches have been releasing strategies for Arctic-specific forward defense. Such militarism is not conducive to improving relations, securing sovereign influence, or addressing climate change. 

In order to limit undue Chinese influence in the region and stabilize its relations with Russia by securing a multilateral agreement that formalizes an Arctic hierarchy, the U.S. will need to alter its foreign policy so that Russia perceives it to be a viable partner. The alteration should be sufficient for reducing friction with Russia’s core interests, but not so extreme that liberal values or American security are put in jeopardy. Such transactional considerations should include fashioning a new climate-positive role for the U.S. in NATO. After all, the permanent physical presence of roughly 76,000 U.S. troops on the European continent not only irks Russia, but this posture is also expensive, carbon-intensive, and perhaps not even the most effective approach to conflict deterrence. 

Indeed, research has shown that rapid deployment of new forces is significantly more likely to stymie aggression. This suggests that the U.S. should reduce its troop levels in Europe by at least 75 percent while bolstering rapid deployment readiness. This would allow the U.S. to simultaneously reduce its military’s fuel demand and greenhouse gas emissions, earn the good will necessary for stronger diplomacy with Russia, and still honor its security commitment to NATO in the event of a crisis. Moreover, the U.S. could then reinvest the potential savings into both Arctic sustainability and NATO’s capacity to manage climate insecurity.

Through the establishment of a bounded Arctic order and the greening of American leadership in NATO, the U.S. can dispel Sino-Russian synergy in the region and help maintain balance between the great powers. Specifically, these actions would both politically distance China from Russia and give the Kremlin substantial reason to begin feeling more optimistic about its relations with the West. To be sure, similar measures will be necessary in other regions to fully assure balance. However, the Arctic is a natural place for the U.S. to begin this endeavor. Usefully, the themes of climate mitigation and adaptation provide a blueprint for what countering Sino-Russian synergy elsewhere ought to generally entail.

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