The continuing flood of mis-steps by the nascent Trump Administration provide plenty of fodder for what is becoming a series a blog posts under the heading of “Green Global Wreck”. The intention here is to chronicle, for ourselves, and any interested readers, the saga of US foreign policy implosion as it unfolds. Rather lengthy post, I fear, but… lots going on…
So let’s get started.
1) Russia-gate / Kremlin-gate
What started as a surprising amalgam of Trump Administration advisors – during the campaign, then during the transition and now in the new Administration – has blossomed into a hydra-like multi headed monster. There is just so much “content” with Russian flavoring that it’s hard to keep abreast of all the ingredients that have gone into the making of the deconstructing of American Democracy, which I will call the Trump Borscht policy.
In its initial stage, it appeared as though there was but a small handful of oddly interested parties, namely Paul Manaford, Roger Stone and General Flynn. How quaint were those days. The list of ingredients that make up that Borscht policy has now been augmented, and now includes:
– A couple of nameless mid level campaign national security advisors, who initially claimed to have had zero contacts with Russian officials, then reversed their position when their meetings were documented by the media. Why this matters is that these mid level advisors turn out to be the very folks who worked, during the Republican National Convention, to explicitly modify wording of the RNC platform, to take out any support for the sale of lethal weapons to the Government of Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and violation of its sovereignty.
What is at issue here is not whether the US should change its policy vis a vis Russia – it is after all the prerogative of an incoming President to reshape foreign policy per his/her liking. What is at issue is that these two advisors, far from being part of the sausage making of the comprehensive RNC platform on a whole host of issues, appear to have descended into the arena for the very sole purpose of taking out this specific piece of policy. Nothing more. And now there is the beginning of a dot-connecting effort that is firming around a possible quid pro quo whereby Candidate Trump may have used his sway to remove the call for the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine, in exchange for the timely release of damaging emails hacked from the Democratic Party by Russia.
The slow drip, drip, drip release of Democratic emails started precisely 3 days after the possible “deal” to remove the call for sale of weaponry to the Ukraine. This is a big deal. It would be evidence one in a possible menu of quid pro quo… stay tuned.
– Jeff Sessions, the incoming Attorney General, is also in the Borscht. We now know that, while serving as Senator, on the Armed Services Committee, and acting as a surrogate for DT, Senator Sessions, met with Russia’s Ambassador. This in and of itself, is not important. It is in fact the job of any Ambassador to meet with politicians, and it is perfectly reasonable for a senior member of the Armed Services Committee to meet with the Russian Ambassador, given the range of national security issues (such as the fight against ISIS, where US and Russia’s interest either collide or converge).
The problem, however, is that Sessions, under oath during his testimony or interview if you will, to become the Attorney General, either omitted, or lied, about meeting the Ambassador. Once again, the media caught up with his fib, and then Attorney General started to obfuscate, skirt the issue, and essentially started to say that there is no issue there and that the attention to these meetings is simply unwarranted.
Perhaps, but seeing as it comes on the heel of 17 US intelligence agencies confirming that Yes, Russia DID try to influence the outcome of the elections, it is pretty bizarre how casual our incoming Attorney General is about meeting the number one Russian official in the U.S.
Once faced with evidence that he did meet, he then took steps to move on, but the media did not let go and, ultimately, our Attorney General decided to recuse himself from a specific set of investigations that he carefully scoped as “investigations into the campaign”. There are so many problems here, it would take too long to elaborate, but let’s just clarify here: It is PRECISELY the job of the Attorney General to ensure the sanctity of the hearings and it is certainly in his brief to prosecute anyone who would perjure himself while under oath. He lied. Period. He got caught. He now has recused himself.
But this cannot be the end of the story, mostly because the carefully scoped recusal “about the campaign” is wholly inadequate. What may emerge from a multitude of parallel Congressional investigations will be pieces of a complex puzzle. The jury is still out whether an independent counsel will be granted the power to really investigate, not just the limited scope of campaign interference, but rather what is obvious to any layman who reads a newspaper, namely, that there is a pattern of multiple actors with Russian interests, and that there is a further pattern of deceipt, as though they had something to hide.
Of course true to form, Trump himself is baffled by the decision of his own Attorney General to recuse himself. He of course would NEVER do that. Deny, deny, deny is his M.O. combined with a skilled practice at changing the news cycle. Truth and pertinence a not germane when the game is to change the conversation. And so, as of this writing, Trump has lashed out through his Twitter account, a totally un-substantiated, and absurd charge to anyone who has but a passing understanding of how the US Government works, about Obama having wire tapped Trump Tower. No matter that the President does NOT have the authority to issue a wire tap, and that there is a well oiled FISA process, with independent judges who review the merits of wire tap requests. Still, he, unsurprisingly, is trying to muddle the conversation and media coverage… so now media commentators, even if they take aim at Trump’s latest tweets, are talking about… Obama and an alleged, but totally unsubstantiated wire tapping of Trump Tower.
– Rex Tillerson,the incoming Secretary of State. Remember him? It would be easy to forget though, as Tillerson is turning out to be the softest voice (so far) on a topic that is central to his job. How very, very sad that a Secretary of State, whose job description is to navigate the complex waters of international engagement, and that of course includes producing a strategy for engagement with all major powers, including Russia, has been positively mute.
How absurd is it that the Secretary of State is essentially AWOL? That he did not participate in the President’s first meetings with foreign heads of states, is a bit odd, and certainly does not bode well for the role of Secretary of State in this administration. But whether he was at a lunch with the Japanese Prime Minister or the Canadian’s Prime Minister, is not catastrophic by any means. The fact that he has been positively MUTE on this whole issue of US-Russian relations is yet one more indication that there are many more shoes to drop. This is only month 2. 46 months to go! Calling Imelda Marcos and her famed museum of 500 pairs of shoes!
There are several other ingredients into the Trump Borscht, but suffice to say, these three new ingredients are potent indeed.
But the most, absolutely baffling, aspect of this great Borscht, is the Republican party in its near entirety. Only TWO Senators, life-long foreign policy and national security experts, on key Senate Committees – Senator McCain and Senator Graham, have had the balls to cry foul. Really? nearly 60 Republicans and only TWO feel impassioned enough to call foul?
That, folks, is the moment the Republican party lost any remaining soul it had. In the words of some Republican politicians “better a Russian-Controlled Republican leadership, than a Hillary Administration”. Really? “Make America Great Again” you say?
The desire to keep a blog succinct should force a stop, but it’s not possible, because… the green global wrecking ball has struck multiple other fronts.
And if your stomach is not churning yet, check THIS out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5exiuko3-nQ
2) The Muslim Ban:
Last month, it was a ban, per DT. But then, he didn’t like the terminology once he heard it on TV, so he instructed his spokesman to say it’s not a ban. OK, whatever it was, it was the most pathetic roll out of any policy (regardless of how one feels about the actual policy). The total lack of coordination, the lack of interest in garnering input from experts within the government about how such things are done. The lack of proper communication to implementing agencies… all this led to a screeching halt when a few courageous judges, at multiple levels of the legal system, placed a hold on the implementation of the policy.
Again, my intention here is not to get into the argument of whether such a ban is warranted (it is not, since none of the 7 countries have ANY linkage to ANY terrorist act in the U.S.), it is rather to observe and comment on the shortcomings of this incompetent and vile administration.
This, we were told was oh so urgent. The sky was going to fall, and judges, or rather as DT called them “so called judges” were bringing lethal chaos to the U.S. and any US fatalities would be on them. But here we are 6 weeks later, and… the Administration has not done ANYTHING to replace, reword, revisit, replan the ban.
It went from one extreme position that it was of utmost urgency, so urgent in fact, that some slight mis-steps might be forgiven given the necessary haste of implementation, to… silence. What is coming across, in light of this silence, is that either it was not that urgent, or the incoming team, devoid of any experienced policy wonks, has actually no idea how to go about how to translate their strategic vision for America, into actual policy. That their sophomoric roll out was completely flawed and that lives of muslim Americans, refugees, immigrants who have followed legal processes to get legal visas, and erstwhile muslim friends of the US who, for instance, have worked for years in very dangerous situations, as translators in Iraq or Afghanistan, did not bother the Administration a bit. They are Muslim after all…
So 6 weeks on, no replacement language on the policy… One can pick interpretation. Perhaps they just don’t know what they are doing. Or perhaps they have managed to craft an improved set of policy guidelines, and perhaps they have managed to coordinate and we will eventually see the muslim ban 2.0 emerge, but then it begs the question as to the urgency. Per Administration insiders – they wanted to bask in the glory of a Presidential Trump who managed to read an entire 60 minute speech without veering off into crazy land. He was a good boy and stuck to the teleprompter. That earned him a 72% rating as “more Presidential”.
But, forgive my incredulity, surely stopping the oh so dangerous hordes coming from Somalia takes precedence over affording DT the glory of a few days basking in the glow of his State of the Union. As it turns out, the Great Borscht has completely cast shadow over the State of the Union glow, and attention is now on the Attorney General. And so a Muslim Ban 2.0 will be released…
Immediate impact: 2 Indian men were shot to death in a Kansas bar by, evidently, a Trump supporter. His defense when confronted by the Police? he thought he was shooting Iranians! Ah well, in THAT case!! As of this writing, another Indian national, a Sikh, was also shot, this time in Seattle. Maybe they should consider renaming the Muslim Ban and just align it with the racist tendencies of the Trump fan club and call it the “Brown Ban”?
Where to start? How about a “Jews and Israeli Democracy 101” for our non Jewish readers. This should be incredibly obvious, but… just in case… Israel is a Democracy. A very vibrant Democracy. And, like all Democracies, it has a range of political actors espousing a range of views. Anyone who has had Jewish friends will know that it is pretty customary, if you have 10 Jews in a room, to have 10 opinionated voices. And so it is in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
To grossly simplify (for the sake of brevity), let’s imagine that there were only two main parties, the Likud (more akin to Republicans) and Labor (more akin to Democrats). In fact, it’s a lot more complicated than that, as there are multiple parties and governing Israel is an art form that, more often than not, requires a Prime Minister to govern through a coalition, of often shifting interests. OK, so… JUST like there are, obviously, differences, sometimes radical differences between visions of what’s good for America between Democrats and Republicans, so are there equally (in fact far more diverse) views of what’s good for Israel.
Enter Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, who had a famously antagonistic approach to Obama. The fact that he managed to convince a chunk of American Jews that Obama was “bad for Israel” and that Republicans would be “good for Israel”, is rather irksome to anyone with a passable understanding of the reality of US relations with Israel. But I digress. That Obama passed the largest ever military aid package to Israel seems to be conveniently ignored.
Bibi is Likud. But he is not just Likud. He is a Prime Minister on life support who needs a coalition to govern, and he made his choice – he opted, years ago, to align with the far right in Israel, further to the right than Likud was, historically. These are the guys who have a Messianic zeal to execute a zionist vision, which in practical terms means – take land from Palestine families, steal or destroy their houses, build settlements for zionist Israelis and set up “facts on the ground” that go in the direction of a larger physical perimeter for the state of Israel.
OK, so what does all this have to do with Trump?
With a conservative jewish son in law and converted Jewish daughter and jewish grand-children, Trump thinks himself a great “friend of Israel” – whatever this means. As I described above, there is not ONE vision of what’s good for Israel. There is the Likud version – expand the land, subjugate the Palestinian population, and there is the Labor version – reach out, negotiate, emphasize economic development and try to build a common future. This is obviously a very simplified version of a much more complicated topic. But let’s be super clear. Not all Israelis support the Likud’s expansionist policies. In fact, most don’t. But the magic of coalition governance makes it possible for a minority view to block a fragmented opposition.
Enter Trump who within 48 hours of being President does and says three things that pretty much disrupt a decades -old balancing act .
Bombshell number one was the Administration’s choice for an ultra-zionistic US Ambassador to Israel. How extreme a choice? David Friedman, DT’s Ambassador’s to Israel famously said that liberal American jews, more aligned with a Labor Party view of Israel’s national interest, rather than a Likud view, are like the Kapos. To appreciate how outrageous this is, one needs to understand that Kapos were the names given to Jews who opted for survival in the Nazi war camps, by collaborating with the Nazi regime. They ratted on fellow camp inmates, they facilitated in all sorts of ways the extermination of their fellow jews. Now, who’s to say how any of us would react in the face of an existential threat?, but there is absolutely no denying that the concept of treason doesn’t even begin to cover the hideousness of their collaboration with the killing German machine. So I, and everyone in my family, typical center-left leaning American Jews, am described by the new US Ambassador as one of these Nazi collaborators. Nice! That was just item 1.
Then of course, there is the proclamation by Trump that he would quickly move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. To be fair, many US Presidents, hoping to score some points with their Jewish electorate have made such statements, only to quickly back down in the face of facts on the ground.
And so, per ritualistic custom, here was a declaration of intent to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, a move that would put a blow torch to the Jerusalem powder keg. Jerusalem, lest one forget is indeed a sacred city for Jews. The problem is, it is equally sacred to muslims, who revere the city quite as feverishly as Israeli Jews do. The Temple Mount, is as sacred a holy place to practitioners of Islam as the wailing wall is to Orthodox Jews. But wait, there is more – Jerusalem is ALSO a sacred holy place for Christians. While Jerusalem does not compete with the Vatican in terms of the critical mass of Roman Catholic political and administrative influence, Jerusalem has its share of Christian historic and biblical importance. And for these reasons, Jerusalem has been recognized and administered, as a multi-religious administrative region.
To move the US Embassy to Jerusalem would be tantamount to disregarding the legitimate claims to Jerusalem as a city of religious and historic significant to the three religions that cohabit it. And, to no surprise, after a mere 6 weeks in office, the Trump Administration has had to walk back its bold statements after it came to understand how very fragile the balance is that has been achieved and maintained in Jerusalem. No more talk of moving the embassy to Jerusalem.
And the third fiasco brought to us by the Trump Administration concerns the so called peace process. It has been a long standing policy of the US, both during Republican and Democratic Administrations, to seek to support a process of negotiation, no matter how arduous, with a view to reach an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians around a two state solution. Another topic that is massively complicated. But, fast forwarding past all the inevitable recriminations on both sides – Israelis believing that they have no one to negotiate with, as Palestinians are split between Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Authority, and believing the they are the ones who have made oh so many concessions, but that the Palestinians have been unable to find a way toward peace by accepting Israeli terms. Of course, there is a completely different perspective, with Palestinians believing that Israeli offers have been a disingenuous, that an Apartheid-like regime has put forth deals that have not addressed their basic concerns, such as for instance, the right of return of Palestinians who were chased out of town by Israelis during the creation of the State of Israel, had their properties seized etc..
Again, way too long and too complex a history to boil down to a few sentences, but suffice to say that, as is often he case, there are multiple sides to the story of failed negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. More than one US President has naively thought he would have the magic key to unlock ever lasting peace in the Middle East.
Trump joins the group of US Presidents, by assigning the task of “fixing it” to his son in law. That he would do this certainly diminishes the influence of his incoming Secretary of State, but that’s the Trump way. No doubt a smart and capable real estate developer, Jared Kushner has scant experience dealing with such a complex set of issues. To Trump, his being Jewish and a smart guy seems to suffice to expect Jared to do what has eluded a lot of very smart people, over many decades. But why not? give Jared the job and, who knows, maybe he can achieve what Kissinger and every Secretary of State since Kissinger has failed to do. He seems to be taking an approach to reach out to Sunni muslim countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc…) and that’s not a bad place to start, so he should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Except that within 6 weeks of moving into the White House, and before Jared has even had the time to form a coherent play, Trump rushed in with declarations that he was prepared to jettison the decades old consensus, stating in company of a beaming Israeli Prime Minister, that he doesn’t care THAT much about the two-state solution, and that he would be fine supporting a one state solution. His flippant comments at a news conference held during the Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, about the one state solution, or the two state solution, (“whatever they are happy to do, we are happy to support”) speak volume about the lack of gravitas brought to this very serious topic. But it was music to Bibi’s ears, as he is on record for having said, many times, that he no longer believes a two state solution is achievable.
Amusingly, Trump’s Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, was quick to back track and confirm at the U.N. that “the U.S. had not abandoned the two state solution vision”. So which is it? Yes, pursue a two state solution? or no, forget the past 30 years, push for a one state solution?
Why this matters? because the U.S. is very fond of proclaiming that Israel is the only fully functioning Democracy in the Middle East. This is a recurring theme (especially during debates about the size of the US Govenrment’s financial assistance and military cooperation with Israel. The problem is this: In a one state situation, Israel has to choose: It simply CANNOT be both a) a Jewish State and b) a Democracy.
The reason is anchored in demographics. I know, how petty of me to turn to facts when he is having such a good time dealing in “alternative facts”. Yet, in the rest of the world, facts are facts. And the facts here are that a Democracy in a One State solution would mean applying the “one man, one vote” philosophy and since the muslim population is already over 20% and growing at a faster rate than the Jewish population, and this is BEFORE including in the “one state” the Palestinian population…
So Israel would have to CHOOSE between a) being a Jewish State (given the large and augmented muslim population of a “one state” solution, OR B) a democracy.
This is all a tad academic, because the level of organizational effort to assemble and sustain momentum toward a solution, any solution, is totally out of the realm of what this new Administration has demonstrated so far.
So here we are: the Borscht Administration, the Muslim Ban and Israel… a pretty good mess as we enter month 2.
And looming over the horizon, North Korea, which just lobbed 4 missiles at Japan. If I was a betting man, I’d say that, as a good dictator, Trump will leap at the opportunity to change the topic in a very big way, and to engage in a new war, with North Korea. How can he resist? This would automatically make Americans line up behind their President, with a little of Patriotic packaging… After all, they have nuclear technology, there are supported by China, they are reckless and threaten our allies. Not long before the U.S. strikes back at North Korea; that’s my bet.
See the prior Green Global WRECK post: