Sunday, 27 November 2016

Trump wisely spares Hillary (Pakistan Observer)

November 27, 2016 | 
Geopolitical notes from India | M D Nalapat

PRESIDENT-elect of the United States Donald John Trump has indicated that he would not be appointing a Special Prosecutor to seek the incarceration of Hillary Rodham Clinton, his Democratic Party challenger in the Presidential sweepstakes. This decision will annoy several of his most loyal supporters, most of whom were energized by the prospect of the former First Lady being sent to jail. However, from a pragmatic point of view, Donald Trump has taken the correct call. A prosecutorial investigation and possible indictment of Hillary Clinton would take at least ten months, and is likely to have dominated the news cycle for much of that period.

The resulting hubbub would be a severe distraction from President Trump's own agenda, thereby diluting the possibility of shepherding the basket of policies through the legislature. In particular, because the investigation would develop into a partisan circus which would further poison relations between the White House and the Democratic Party. Although the charges against the former Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation are serious, the fact remains that donations to the latter were made through cheque and not through envelopes stuffed with cash. Proving a judicially verifiable link between decisions taken by the State Department and foreign donations to the Foundation would be a difficult task. Certainly Foggy Bottom ( as the Department of State is evocatively referred to) pandered to the whims and geopolitical fantasies of states such as Qatar, China and Saudi Arabia.

However, it was usually not an outlier in such policies vis-a-vis the rest of the Obama Administration but part of a pack heading in the same direction. Importantly, almost always other NATO member-states endorsed the same policies, especially in matters relating to the Arab Spring and its aftermath. The Clinton Foundation may have opportunistically sought to cash in on policies already worked out within the bureaucracy, but only in a very few instances was it the initiator of policy, and this often at the level of the individual. Shrewd businessperson that he is, Donald Trump has apparently decided not to continue to invest time and effort on a Clinton prosecution but to direct his attention towards matter of greater concern to the United States as a whole, rather than to the small group of Clinton-phobic individuals who are unhappy at his decision to give Hillary Clinton a pass on the charges made against his defeated challenger.

By doing so, Trump has strengthened his image of pragmatism and created significantly greater distance between himself and a perception of vindictiveness of the kind that led President George W Bush to finish off Saddam Hussein at a crippling cost to the US. For Bush Junior, wrecking both an entire country as well as much of the US economy was an acceptable price to pay for getting rid of an individual who tried to get his beloved Pappy ( George H W Bush) assassinated. What President Trump needs is a cellphone configured to ensure that his tweets flow only to a limited number of intimates, ideally only Melania and Ivanka. Both the incoming First Lady as well as the First Daughter have conducted themselves with style. With her charming accent and expressed dislike of bad behaviour, Melania Trump boosted the voting tally for her husband on November 8.

Unlike Jackie Kennedy, who loved the spotlight while professing to hate the attention, the spouse of a very strong-willed personality clearly has qualities that have enabled her to weather what must on occasion be a stormy life with an individual who is both passionately admired and hated, sometimes by the same audience. Hopefully the new First Lady will use the moral power that will soon be hers to push for policies that assist the poor, especially children. Although the biggest economy in the world, the US is far less caring of its needy citizens than any of its major European partners, or indeed countries such as Kuwait and Taiwan. Despite Obamacare, the Big Pharma lobby in the US has combined with the Doctors Mafia to ensure the most expensive healthcare system in the world, and which despite the money lavished on it, is uncaring of the poor.

Correctly, President-elect Trump has gone public about his intention to preserve some of the features of the Affordable Health Act while tweaking or sometimes removing other sections. This sets him apart from Ted Cruz, who is a fundamentalist in his political beliefs and therefore regards compromise as a weakness. At the same time, Trump refuses to hide his views, even when they may lose him votes. An example is the way he distanced himself from the views of Mike Pence on Russia. The next Vice-President of the US embraces the Beltway at least in his foreign policy outlook, and joined in the baying against Moscow. For this, he was publicly contradicted by Trump, who insisted that he would seek a genuine reset in relations with Moscow rather than follow the Paris-London line of hostility to Vladimir Putin. This sets him apart from Senator Marco Rubio, who follows the Clinton playbook of adopting positions that are popular with the audiences which are being wooed.

Donald Trump has the confidence to remain himself, which is why the surprise within the Washington Beltway at his choices is inexplicable save for the fact that the denizens of this privileged state of mind have dismissed him as an intellectual lightweight without a complete analysis of the man. It is clear that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is focussing mainly on "unifying" the party. Such a stand neglects the reality that voters opted for change and not continuity. From such a viewpoint, it would be senseless to appoint Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, for the man hates Trump. Far better to send him to the prestigious post of Ambassador to the UK. Choosing an envoy of such eminence would ensure that the globe understand that the special relationship between the US and the UK will be continued by a President Trump.

Given that a war on terror is ongoing, the historical parallel of the 1939-45 war against Germany needs to be remembered. Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent Lord Halifax as envoy to Washington in a gesture towards a crucial relationship. In like fashion, sending Romney to London would be a geopolitical gesture of significance, as would asking Representative Tulsi Gabbard to serve as US envoy to India. The former US Marine Corps member has developed significant traction within the ruling establishment in India, and could play a key role in ensuring a full scope alliance between Washington and Delhi during the Trump presidency. Trump's choice of a brilliant neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, as Housing & Urban Development Secretary, is inspired. Dr Carson can be expected to visualize and to implement cutting edge strategies for ensuring that the deterioration in infrastructure in the US be reversed at a reasonable cost.

As for Trump's family, they will be aware of the fact that while the patriarch of the clan has forgiven Hillary Clinton, the Clinton machine may be expected to keep up the pressure on Trump. Indeed, with Paul Ryan ( who has the same distaste for President-elect Trump as Mitt Romney) remaining the Speaker of the House of Representatives in another Reince Priebus-inspired. gesture of reconciliation between the old Republican establishment and new that is getting formed around Trump, there will be more than a few within the House of Representatives looking for an opportunity to impeach Donald Trump and place Mike Pence inside the White House.

Presidential candidates usually avoid such possible power plays by ensuring that their running mates are far less popular and indeed toxic. However, a confident in himself Trump chose the affable Pence, who has friends across the board in the Washington Beltway swamp who would be delighted were he to take over from the individualistic Trump. Given determination and qualities of next President of the US, it is likely that he will overcome the snares and traps placed in his way and emerge as a transformational leader. In his family, Trump has a group of able and loyal individuals not seeking official positions, and they too seem capable of batting away darts already being aimed their way.

Friday, 18 November 2016

NATO is ‘fighting’ Daesh by committee (Pakistan Observer)

November 18, 2016 | Geopolitical notes from India | M D Nalapat

IF the humbling of the European country of Serbia through bombing raids be excluded, NATO has not won a single war since its inception, and has indeed lost every conflict it has entered into, especially since 1999. Of course, perusing books by trans-Atlantic "scholars" or television channels from that and affiliated zones, this fact gets obscured by coverage that is misleading and mendacious. Channels taking their cue from government sources, such as CNN or BBC, lead in giving viewers only what the chancelleries of the countries they are based in want them to see. They have, in effect, become an external publicity cell of the State Department in the US or the Foreign Office in the UK, although the fiction that these countries have a free press is mentioned by them and by their admirers repeatedly when comparing such media to those in the target countries of NATO.

If media in Russia is overwhelmingly on the side of Basher Assad in the Syrian war, to take an example, the media in the US or the UK has been overwhelmingly mobilised in favour of the "moderate fighters" battling Assad, almost all of whom are Wahabi and share that sect's distaste for European civilisation, although for tactical reasons, such an opinion is being kept hidden from view while the flow of assistance from NATO and its regional partners in the Middle East continues. In early 2011, this columnist warned that the fighters challenging Muammar Qaddafi in Libya were Wahabi ultras. This view was based on an analysis of the literature and speeches of some of the leaders of the NATO-backed revolt. Almost entirely, such tracts were filled with bile against Qaddafi but the reasons given for the same were not the absence of democracy in Libya or Qaddafi 's verbal sallies against US and its European allies.

The reasons these "moderate freedom fighters" of Libya gave for their antipathy to Qaddafi was the latter's refusal to convert Libya into a Wahabized State by blocking the education of women and making what they defined as religious law the basis of the jurisprudence of the State, stoning and amputation included. Many of the tracts used violent language to describe not only the regime in Tripoli but the trans-Atlantic partners as well. Clearly, neither the many speeches nor the pamphlets the "moderate freedom fighters" penned were taken seriously by NATO, else it would have been obvious what the future of Libya under the control of Wahabi militia would be. These fighters have defeated NATO by ensuring that the country over which they have near-total control has become an incubator for Daesh and a funnel through which hundreds of thousands seek entry into Europe. After the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1919, the 2011 "Arab Spring" gave NATO the illusion that the alliance could once again establish control over the Arab "street" through its control of social media platforms.

A telephone call to Palo Alto or to Seattle ensures that web filters get redone so as to generate kind of news and (mis)information that NATO regards as helpful to its objectives. There was recently a mock fight between Apple and US authorities about access to a phone belonging to a terrorist. A flood of media reports appeared that claimed that the US corporation was defying even the FBI "in order to protect privacy of owner" of each of handheld phones marketed by that company. Intention behind this imaginary fight was to ensure that buyers of such phones believed that Apple would protect their privacy. The reality is that each transaction on such instruments is open to scrutiny by US authorities, as indeed are transactions on Facebook, Twitter, Google, Hotmail, Yahoo and other platforms based within NATO alliance. Of course, platforms based in China have an even greater transparency to local authorities, as do others based in Russia.

What is noteworthy is that the NATO powers claim that their practices are different, when in reality only their "message spin" is. The Chinese or the Russians do not bother to conceal their access to modern methods of social interface and communications the way NATO does, even while it ensures the exile of an Edward Snowden or a Julian Assange, neither of whom would have become a fugitive had the US and Australia enforced the principle of freedom of speech.

Given the anger within intelligence agencies in the US about the way in which Bill and Hillary Clinton have traded access to decisions for cash, it would not be surprising if it were discovered that Wikileaks indirectly got its evidence against Hillary Clinton from intelligence agencies much closer to home than Russia's Federal Security Bureau. Given the anti-Trump bias of the US media, it was not surprising that much of the media commentary about the episode concerned the origin of the documents rather than the truths they revealed about a campaign fixated on no other ideal than power. Those who were heartened by Donald Trump's following the example of Churchill and Roosevelt in focussing on the prime threat rather than dissipating energies in subsequent conflicts were taken aback when General Flynn, who is billed as his closest national security advisor, made remarks about Turkey that ignore the reality of the situation in that country.

Some of Flynn's paid consultancies influenced this lack of realism about a country where Daesh has been mutating, thereby diverting him from the steely realism of Candidate (now President-elect) Trump. It is a disgrace that Mosul and Raqqa have yet to be captured by NATO forces, a setback explainable only by the way in which that alliance is hitting at Daesh with one arm and nourishing its warriors with the other, of course under a different label. The problem with NATO is that the alliance lacks a single focus but is instead driven by a cluster of agendas, some mutually exclusive.

The consequence is a mishmash of policy, the exact nature of which depends on which faction within the alliance has the advantage over the others at that particular time. They are seeking to fight Daesh by committee, not the best way to wage a war. President Abraham Lincoln prolonged the US civil war by at least a year because of his refusal to replace incompetent commanders in time and to enforce clear priorities rather than seek to mediate between rivals. And it is on the issue on which he was resolute, the Emancipation Proclamation, that he has earned a place of honour in human history. Unfortunately for the war on potentially the most destructive terror force in the world, NATO is showing in its battle with the scourge the same vacillation and misreading of ground realities that it has demonstrated in past conflicts, all of which it has in effect lost.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sanders should be US Senate Minority leader (Pakistan Observer)

 | M D Nalapat
AS predicted in these columns in July 2015, Donald Trump has defeated Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential elections. But for the manipulations indulged in by the Clinton political machine, it would have been Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who challenged the billionaire for the world's top job. Sanders would have had a much better chance than Clinton to defeat Trump, in that the millions of unemployed and under-employed who voted for the Republican candidate on November 8 would mostly have remained loyal to the Democratic Party ticket.

The Clintons have become too smug and too obviously wealthy to gain the loyalty of those who have seen their lifestyles plummet since the 2008 financial crash caused by Wall Street. And as this column has often pointed out, the Clinton Foundation has become a vehicle for patronage, its primary utility being as a vehicle for the political ambitions of Hillary Clinton and the extravagant lifestyle of Bill Clinton, whose penchant for travel in corporate jets and stays in luxury hotels began while he was Governor of Arkansas a quarter century ago. The tab for a significant share of such travels gets picked up by the Foundation, which markets itself as a saviour of the underprivileged. The Clintons were certainly close to impoverishment for years, but that was before he took office as Governor of Arkansas and later as President of the United States. Since then, both he and his wife are millionaires several times over, while daughter Chelsea is married to one of the richer families of New York.

Those in contact with the Clintons say that it has been Bill's ambition to launch his telegenic and gifted daughter into politics, but that this had to be put on hold because of the hunger for the US Presidency of Hillary Although reliable figures are difficult to come by in view of the secrecy maintained by the Clintons, it is estimated that $ 608 million was spent on the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, which began in 2013, including money spent on securing the nomination. Cash has flowed in from multiple sources, and this must now be seen as a dead investment, in view of the fact that the Democratic Party has lost the White House while remaining a minority in both the US Senate as well as in the House of Representatives.

To Hillary's credit, even though such a step may have been politically advantageous in a close election, she refused to oblige Both Hillary and Bill Clinton are certain to remain the most powerful couple within the Democratic Party, even more so than Michelle and Barack Obama. The current President and First Lady of the United States lost a considerable amount of respect and goodwill in the final weeks of the campaign, when it seemed as though they were at Hillary's beck and call. Seemingly to the neglect of his awesome official responsibilities, Barack Obama criss-crossed the nation begging people to vote for Hillary Clinton. Whether by accident or design, the Clinton campaign showcased the couple with an African-American context, believing that the Obama would be able to generate a firewall of black votes in crucial states that were expected to win the contest for Hillary Clinton.

The reality is that President Obama has run the government in a neutral way and not as a representative of the African-American community, although that is the ethnicity to which he belongs. As it happened, although citizens of every colour – brown, yellow, white and black – flocked to listen to one of the most charismatic individuals on the planet, a much fewer number were enthused about Hillary Clinton, whose husband as US President introduced changes in the justice system which resulted in several hundred thousand African-Americans going to jail, often for long periods of time. At the same time, others were put off by the spectacle of their popular President and the First Lady (who has the elegance of a fashion model and the looks of a filmstar) serving almost as hired hands of Clintons, going from place to place at their bidding.

During the campaign, Obama lowered the dignity of his office by indulging in partisan politics on a scale never before seen in US elections, and that too, making the most personal and derogatory remarks about an individual who was on the road to being his successor Apart from Barack Obama, another individual tarnished by the campaign is Bernie Sanders. Although he had repeatedly pledged to take the battle for the nomination up to the Nominating Convention floor, he retreated and emerged instead as an admirer of Hillary Clinton. Together with the Obama, the Clinton political machine sent Sanders across the country to seek votes for Hillary, but the extravagant way in which he praised a candidate whom he knew to be close to Wall Street turned off several followers.

The same fate befell Senator Elizabeth Warren, who acted as a Clinton surrogate despite her idealism and the knowledge that Hillary Clinton was in league with interests that Senator Warren had courageously and consistently opposed. Now that Hillary has been defeated, both Sanders and Warren are left with very little leverage to fulfil their wishes in the matter of public welfare, unless Bernie Sanders bids for the post of Minority Leader of the US Senate. Should he take over this position, the New Yorker who has spent a lifetime in the service of the underprivileged may be able to have a potent influence on policy, or at least be able to challenge decisions of the Trump White House much more strongly than as a lone voice.

Hillary Clinton may not approve, but the reality is that Bernie Sanders is the fittest candidate to serve as Senate Minority Leader. Should a Sanders associate become the House of Representatives Minority Leader as well, the pair would be a formidable force in Washington. Senator Sanders has walked away from a fight before, that with Hillary Clinton over the Democratic Party nomination, and that retreat had disastrous consequences for his party. Will he have the will to wrest the leadership of the Senate and House for himself and an associate? Should he do so, the Sanders revolution will endure in the ashes of the Clinton Presidential flameout.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Hillary’s ‘Russia card’ fails to convince (Pakistan Observer)

SPEAKER of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan seems from his recent actions to be among the overwhelming majority of politicians who have a single objective : their own progress in politics and in other fields. At a time when his own Republican Party nominee Donald John Trump was closing in on Hillary Clinton in the polls, Ryan sought to fatally weaken the Trump campaign by declaring that he was opposed to the party’s Presidential nominee. Had he whispered this change of mind to his wife in private, and used the anonymity of voting to cast his vote for Hillary Clinton, many within the Republican Party may have even sympathised with Ryan.
The front line of Hillary Clinton’s party is united in working for her, so much so that the Democratic Party candidate is able to order President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama to visit those states where her campaign staff believe that reinforcement is needed. Their visits are given huge dollops of publicity by the media simply because of the posts they hold for the next two months. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent by the Clinton campaign to portray Donald Trump as unsuitable for the most important job in the world, even more so than the second most consequential post, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The Clinton campaign has been given significant traction by a friendly media, with CNN, ABS, NBC as well as key newspapers acting as cheerleaders for the Democratic Party candidate and competing with each other to pour abuse on Donald Trump.
It must be admitted that the Clinton spin is rendered more effective by the clumsy response of the Trump campaign to them. Not once has Donald Trump pointed out, for instance, that it would be a simple matter for Huma Abedin to release her own emails rather than demand that the FBI do so, while being fully aware that this will not happen before the elections take place. The most ludicrous allegation is that Donald Trump is in some way beholden to Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Republic. Apart from those already opposed to the Republican nominee, few will believe such a nonsensical charge. Had Donald Trump been a foreign agent, the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security would have stepped in to brief the voting public in the US about this. They would certainly not have kept silent about a “foreign agent” being in competition to lead government of their country.
Certainly some within the Trump camp – or who were there in the past – have been involved in business dealings with Russian entities, but so has John Podesta (the Clinton campaign chairman) and Bill Clinton himself, who has accepted speaking fees from entities linked to Moscow, as indeed he has from others linked to numerous countries, including some in the subcontinent. The effort to link Trump to Putin has thus far had little impact, in large part because today’s Russia is far from the USSR before Mikhail Gorbachev took over and began the Gorbachev-Yeltsin era of Moscow acting as a poodle of Washington, a status that got briefly (albeit in a diluted manner) revived when Dmitry Medvedev was elected President because of the backing of Vladimir Putin. However, the former KGB operative is a nationalist through and through, and has been following a Russia First policy during much of the time that he has been Head of State, especially during his second innings in the job.
Of course, it is becoming more apparent that Hillary Clinton (or her advisors) are setting course for a limited conflict with Russia. This, they calculate, will achieve two goals (a) weaken Russia’s global standing, especially in the Mideast and (b) serve as a lesson to the more powerful rival of NATO, China, as to the consequences of going against its diktat the Way Xi Jinping has in the nearly four years that he has thus far led the Peoples Republic of China. The likely theatres for such a conflict include the East and South China seas and Middle East, with Taiwan straits figuring behind these two in extent of probability of a conflict involving air and sea power but not land forces, in view of NATO’s repeated missteps in ground warfare. Such a “Clinton’s War” would be a hugely disruptive exercise on global economy, and is likely to have consequences beyond those that have been calculated by its protagonists.
In the 1939-45 war, Adolf Hitler was assured by the foreign policy experts that he consulted that it was safe to go to war against Poland in 1939, as neither the UK or France were likely to take the step of declaring war on Germany as a consequence. However, within days of the brutal invasion of that country by Hitler, both London and Paris declared war on Berlin, although subsequently doing little to contain the German war machine until the next year, when it invaded and occupied France and much of West Europe. The next year, Hitler made one of the three mistakes which cost him the war, which was to invade USSR.
The other two mistakes were to go slow on the development of the atomic bomb and its delivery systems until 1943, and to commit genocide against the Jewish community, which had the highest per capita brainpower in Germany and which had played a significant part in ensuring with complete (if somewhat misplaced) patriotism that Germany lasted nearly five years against its powerful foes during 1914-19 before surrendering. For the Clintons as for Trump, winning is everything. For the Democratic Party candidate, even implicitly accusing the security services of the US of conniving with Moscow against her is worthwhile in the cause of the couple winning the White House for a third time. Soon, the ballot box will reveal whether the smear has worked or has failed to stop Donald Trump in his march towards the Oval Office.