“The 13 Angry Democrats (plus people who worked 8 years for Obama) working on the rigged Russia Witch Hunt, will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans (stay tough!) are taking the lead in Polls. There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats!”
— Donald J. Trump 29 May 2018 on Twitter.
“Why aren’t the 13 Angry and heavily conflicted Democrats investigating the totally Crooked Campaign of totally Crooked Hillary Clinton. It’s a Rigged Witch Hunt, that’s why! Ask them if they enjoyed her after election celebration!”
— Donald J. Trump 29 May 2018 on Twitter.
“This whole Russia Probe is Rigged. Just an excuse as to why the Dems and Crooked Hillary lost the Election and States that haven’t been lost in decades. 13 Angry Democrats, and all Dems if you include the people who worked for Obama for 8 years. #SPYGATE & CONFLICTS OF INTEREST!”
— Donald J. Trump 27 May 2018 on Twitter.
I am very nervous about the future of our country. The president is deliberately undermining the institutions that help to keep us safe in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. In addition, he is already claiming that if Republicans lose control of the House or Senate it is because Special Counsel Robert Mueller “meddled” in the election. Preposterous!
Let’s face it. The president lies. It is deliberate and pre-meditated. All three quotes above are his attempt to change the narrative regarding the investigation underway by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They were some of the thirteen Tweets put out by the president over the holiday weekend relating to the investigation of Russian efforts to disrupt our elections. These statements go far beyond opinion and land squarely in the realm of consciously lying. We can no longer — if we ever really could — trust the president on anything he says.
The average citizen is just trying to get by from day-to-day. Going to work, taking care of one’s family and dealing with the rigors of daily life make it difficult to keep up with the continual barrage of information deliberately designed to deflect and distract. The issues are complicated and cannot fully be understood through a Tweet or a fifteen second sound bite on television. Totally understandable. In fact, Mr. Trump and his abettors count on that as they throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. But it is important to try to ferret out the truth.
“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
— Joseph Goebbels
For the moment, lets put policy changes aside. Many people support his efforts — although I am afraid he is going to destroy our economy through his capricious and erratic trade policies, which is why we should remember his multiple bankruptcies — and I can respect that, even if I disagree. I cannot ignore the daily character issues surrounding the president and his bullying and his attacks on institutions that keep America safe. Would you honestly look to Mr. Trump as an example for your children and grand children to emulate?
Here are the facts (but look them up for yourself, don’t rely on my word) as to what is going on most recently with the Russia investigation and thus the Tweets above:
- Last week Mr. Trump tried to get Congress to investigate the investigators investigating him by claiming that a “spy” was put into his campaign by the FBI. Despite originally saying that only Republicans would be briefed on the actual facts (no politicizing of intelligence in this case!), senior members of both parties (known as the Gang of Eight) were briefed. There was no there there. Nothing. Bumpkiss. Nada. Just one more in a long line of false accusations put out by the president. Claims of wiretapping of Trump Tower, an “unmasking scandal” of intelligence intercepts, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (with apologies to Yul Brynner in the King and I).
- The leadership of the Department of Justice (DOJ), FBI, and the Special Counsel are all Republicans and appointed by Republicans. Some by the president directly.
- The FBI actually helped Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. The FBI and DOJ received information from an allied intelligence source that three individuals with his campaign did or may have close ties to the Russians with the intent of interfering with the election. It was their duty to investigate a possible assault on our electoral system and indeed, that one or both of the campaigns were being disrupted. An informant met with the three to assess the depth of their knowledge and possible associations with known Russian operatives. By the way, the informant worked in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan. (Also all Democrats?!)
- FBI Director Comey publicly announced an investigation into Secretary Hillary Clinton — twice — during the campaign. The investigation into the Trump campaign was kept secret so as not to disrupt his campaign or impugn anyone on his staff until the facts were known.
- The Mueller Team has approximately sixteen lawyers with experience in both Republican and Democrat administrations supported by roughly thirty-six staff, including investigators and non-attorneys.
- The “witch hunt,” after only a year, has already resulted in nineteen indictments including Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser, former campaign manager and the assistant campaign manager.
- Mr. Mueller’s team does not leak information, which gives the field of public opinion completely to Mr. Trump and his abettors. That said, it is widely believed that Mr. Mueller is looking into the following crimes.
- Russian election interference.
- Links between Trump associates and Russian officials.
- Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.
- Obstruction of Justice.
- Financial transactions including money laundering and tax evasion.
- Violations of federal campaign laws.
- I could fill pages more of facts directly countering the president’s pronouncements.
Look at how Mr. Trump says what he does. Very rarely does he dispute the facts. Rather he creates falsehoods and/or attacks individuals or institutions. There are no specifics, but only vague accusations. As a result, he can never be wrong and can, when that proves to be a dead end, he just comes up with the next wild and false thing.
Apparently, he wants to use the DOJ and FBI as a personal force, loyal to him rather than the nation and the rule of law. He will not stop until he gets what he wants and is willing to destroy anyone or any institution to protect himself and his self-interests. Obviously he is getting increasingly desperate as the investigators close in around him. We should all worry about just how desperate he may get. Mr. Trump will not go quietly into the night.
I fervently hope that our nation’s leaders, Democrats and Republicans, stand tall and remind the president that no American is above the law.
Vladimir Putin is thrilled. His efforts are paying off beyond his wildest hopes.
“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.” — Lysander Spooner
“Because it’s an economic enemy, because they have taken advantage of us like nobody in history. They have; it’s the greatest theft in the history of the world what they’ve done to the United States. They’ve taken our jobs.” — Candidate Donald J. Trump 3 Nov 2015 responding to a question on China.
“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” — The President on Twitter on 13 May 2018
To some, developments surrounding the giant Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE may be a little too technical and down in the weeds. I think it is a perfect example of how erratically and whimsically the current president operates. It may also demonstrate that the president is primarily interested in policies that benefit him or his company rather than the nation as a whole.
Stick with me while I outline what happened. It really is not that complicated. Consider these facts regarding ZTE.
- ZTE is a Chinese government-owned telecommunications company, based in China, that manufactures cellphones and other equipment with clients in 160 countries and research centers around the world.
- ZTE uses U.S. technology and parts that make up nearly half of the materials they use. They are also the fourth largest seller of smartphones in the U.S.
- In 2012 the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released an in-depth report on ZTE (and another Chinese company named Huawei) saying that the company poses a national security threat because they are stealing U.S. technology. The report recommends that “U.S. government systems, particularly sensitive systems, should not include Huawei or ZTE equipment, including component parts.” There was, and presumably still is, a concern that ZTE may be using their products to spy on the U.S. or to provide the opportunity to disrupt essential activities.
- In 2016 the Commerce Department found that ZTE was violating sanctions laws by selling devices, that included U.S. made parts, to Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Cuba — all under embargoes at the time.
- In April, the Commerce Department banned it from buying U.S. technology or products for seven years.
- The Defense Department banned the sale of ZTE and Huawei phones on military bases through the Post Exchange and Navy Exchange systems as they “may pose an unacceptable risk to the department’s personnel, information and mission.”
- Last week ZTE reported that they were stopping all “major operating activities” which was widely understood to mean that they were going out of business because they could no longer get U.S. parts needed to continue their operation.
So, to summarize, the president is helping a Chinese company that is well-known as a sanctions violator and a threat to U.S. national security to get back into business by ordering the U.S. Commerce Department to “get it done!” Why?
To be blunt, no one is quite sure. But of course many people are never quite sure why Mr. Trump does many of the things that he does. There are several theories, however.
The U.S. is about to enter into a major trade war with China if negotiations taking place this week fail. Chinese President XI was reported to be “furious” about the decision to ban sales of parts to ZTE and threatened to impose harsh sanctions on the U.S. and/or to walk away from the trade negotiations. So, apparently, the president on Sunday caved to his demands before ever reaching the negotiating table because it was politically more important to him to get a “deal” than to protect national security. (Some analysts speculate that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un saw how quickly the president gave in to get something he wanted (“better trade deals with China”) and thus, among other reasons, threatened to walk away from talks with the U.S. in order get concessions. But I digress.)
As part of that political calculation, Mr. Trump may be, rightly or wrongly, putting the interests of his supporters above national security. When the Trump administration unilaterally imposed tariffs on Chinese imports earlier this year, the Chinese retaliated by refusing to buy U.S. soy beans. China is the second-largest market for U.S. agricultural exports. According to the Department of Agriculture, soy beans are the main crop sold to them. By the beginning of May, China reportedly cancelled all purchases of U.S. soy beans and turned to Canada and Brazil for their supply. If the ban continues, it will have a major economic impact in farm communities around the country, but especially in the mid-west. Farmers are rightly worried that once the Chinese shift to other markets, they will never return to buying U.S. soy beans, whether or not tariffs and trade wars are resolved. To me, this is yet one more example of Mr. Trump making a grand pronouncement and acting tough without consideration, or more accurately without understanding, the ramifications of his actions. Other nations will not be dictated to by our president, especially other strong countries with their own interests at stake.
Other possible reasons may be that he may wrangle concessions from China as a quid pro quo to helping ZTE, thus helping to avoid a deep and wide-spread trade war. Mr. Trump may also have done it because he needs China’s help and cooperation in dealing with Kim Jong Un in North Korea.
Whichever reason, or combination of reasons, explains his abrupt about face, Mr. Trump’s action sets a dangerous precedent. Besides continuing to reinforce the international perception that Mr. Trump is mercurial and cannot be trusted — thus raising questions as to why enter any deal with the U.S. — it violates the long-standing U.S. principle that trade decisions should not be based solely on domestic political reasons. This is particularly crucial with respect to trade enforcement decisions. Once other leaders discern that Mr. Trump is willing to cave on issues of trade or national security for purely domestic political reasons, expect more of them to demand concessions for their own issues.
Additionally, putting politics above enforcement weakens our positions on the rule of law and the normal course of interactions between nations. If there are no rules, or if the rules can change on Mr. Trump’s whim, we lose all standing to insist that other governments abide by their own agreements. There appears to be little to no consideration by Mr. Trump as to what happens next when he makes these arbitrary decisions. As I wrote in my last piece in this space, a prudent decision maker and government leader will consider the consequences of decisions and the subsequent actions that must take place — whether successful, or not successful, or when perverse and unexpected consequences result.
Finally, there are those in and out of government that worry that the Negotiator-in-Chief really is not that good at it. In this case and others, he demonstrates a propensity to give up leverage (in this case the actions against ZTE) before getting the other side to offer up their own concessions. In this case China offered nothing in return for the president rescinding the actions against ZTE. Based on his tweet on Monday, it may be that Mr. Trump’s biggest concern is keeping his good buddy President XI happy.
“ZTE, the large Chinese phone company, buys a big percentage of individual parts from U.S. companies. This is also reflective of the larger trade deal we are negotiating with China and my personal relationship with President Xi.”
This week the President announced that the United States would withdraw from the flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the “Iran Deal.” It is impossible to predict the short and long-term impacts of this action, but there are huge changes on the horizon as a result. Some analysts have called our withdrawal the biggest change in the international world order since World War II. There are many reasons why this may be true.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that the JCPOA was not meant to solve every problem in the Middle East or even to inhibit Iranian adventurism in promoting unrest in the area or their possible development of ballistic missiles. It was meant, in very technical and specific ways, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program. It worked. The Iranians, unlike the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, do not have nuclear weapons, thanks to the agreement. There are many valid criticisms of the Iran Deal, and you may even think that the president made the right decision, but to truly discuss it, one must remember that it was meant to be a stepping stone to resolving other issues, including those not addressed in the JCPOA. Sanctions against Iran for violating existing limits on ballistic missile developments, or as a reaction to other valid issues of concern could still be imposed. This is one of the reasons why the Europeans pushed so hard for the U.S. to stay in the agreement and to work with them to tackle the other legitimate issues that should be addressed.
The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from a multi-lateral agreement where by all accounts, all elements of the agreement were being followed by all of the members. During his confirmation hearings just a few weeks ago, now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when asked if the Iranians were in compliance with the agreement, said “With the information I have been provided, I have seen no evidence they are not in compliance today.” Further, when asked if the Iranians were building a nuclear weapon, Secretary Pompeo, who was the head of the CIA at the time of his nomination, said, “Iran wasn’t racing to a weapon before the deal, there is no indication that I am aware of that if the deal no longer existed that they would immediately turn to racing to create a nuclear weapon.” Recall that under the Iran Deal, Iranian facilities are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and are subject to no notice inspections. There is no evidence of cheating as some claim. No proof exists that they have abrogated their responsibilities and indeed the international consensus is that the Iranians have fully complied.
In matters of diplomacy and military strategy, a long-standing adage is that one must always strive to “seize the initiative.” We have now conceded the initiative to Iran. They stand on the moral high ground in this agreement as they have filled all of the requirements. We are the ones that left the agreement, even as we concede that it is working as designed. Mr. Trump upon announcing our immediate withdrawal gave no specific reasons for doing so other than vague pronouncements that the agreement was “defective at its core.” Presumably, he means that some years in the future, the “sunset” clauses of the agreement will kick in and Iran will build nuclear weapons. Besides being technically incorrect, this argument ignores two important factors. One we know, and the other is speculative but within reason. First, right now Iran has no nuclear weapons. Assuming the worst, which over simplifies reality, under the agreement they could start working on them again in ten years. The last time I looked ten was better than zero. They now have the decision in their hands as to whether to resume their program or not. They didn’t break the agreement, we did. Secondly, ten years of steady diplomatic effort, as all sides benefit from the agreement, could readily persuade Iran that building nuclear weapons was not in their best interests. Even if they did threaten to resume their program, nothing precludes the international community from reinstating severe sanctions and other measures to keep them from building them.
Mr. Trump announced the immediate reinstatement of sanctions against Iran and reasoned that sanctions brought the Iranians to the table before and so it will bring them back again for “a better deal.” Perhaps he is correct. Even under the current agreement, Iran’s economy is in dire straits. It might work. However, logic says that Iran has no incentive to return to the table for a better — to the U.S., but not Iran — deal. Most obviously, the U.S. walked away from the last deal. It would be easy for them to brand us as “liars” that cannot be trusted to stick to any agreement. What trust will they have, even if they return to the table, that we will stand by what we say? None.
More importantly, we had a multi-national sanctions effort the last time around. The JCPOA was an agreement between the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union, and Iran. It was unanimously ratified by the United Nations Security Council. All other signatories have clearly stated their intention to remain in the agreement, which means no universal sanctions will be reimposed on Iran. The U.S. may be the biggest economic power in the world, but we cannot alone bring Iran to its knees economically if other nations trade freely with them. The other members of the agreement have asked Iran to remain in the agreement. Again, this gives the initiative to Iran. They may actually want a “better deal” — for them — with the other nations involved as their price for remaining within the agreement.
The president clearly does not understand that the “enemy” has a vote on how things go. We cannot dictate to other nations when they do not see that their own best interests are being served. Playing hard ball in a New York City real estate deal may work for him, but nations have other interests at play and can deploy their own form of hard ball. The Iranian regime went through an eight year war with Iraq without flinching, even as they lost countless lives and treasure. They are tough. Bluster will not bring them to the table and may in fact, cause them to demonstrate their own resolve through some form of military action.
Clearly, the U.S. must act in its own best interests. Always. However, it is extremely short-sighted to isolate ourselves from our allies and to pretend that no deal can be a win-win for all nations. Seemingly, to Mr. Trump everything is a zero sum, win-lose proposition. This is not true and is dangerous in the international arena. We are quickly isolating ourselves and may find that in a time of need, we are on our own having burned too many bridges. Other nations may allow “America First” to become “America Alone.”
This is what may be the most troubling aspect of Mr. Trump’s bluster and belligerence toward Iran. This is why many analysts call this the biggest change in International Relations in the post-World War II era. Our closest allies, U.K., Germany and France stand against us on this issue, and increasingly, on a number of other issues as well. Couple our stance on these issues with Mr. Trump’s disdain of NATO. We are helping Mr. Putin achieve his fondest dream, the break up of the western alliance that stands between him and his ambitions. As we draw away from our western allies, look for Mr. Putin to become ever more adventurous, especially in Estonia or another Baltic state where many ethnic Russians reside.
Mr. Trump’s imposition of sanctions includes any business or nation that does not follow our lead. In other words, if he follows through, should Germany or any other ally continue doing business with Iran, then we, the U.S., would impose sanctions on those businesses and/or nations — even, he says, our allies. He is banking (literally and figuratively since the biggest impact would be on the financial industry) that when push comes to shove, western Europe will fall in line and not do business with the Iranians. That may or may not be a good bet. Right now, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese plan to stand by the agreement. If the Europeans cave to Mr. Trump — an action that is politically untenable in their own countries — and re-impose sanctions, the Russians and Chinese will do ever more business with Iran, and thereby achieve their own international goals. Should the Europeans withdraw from the agreement at some time in the future, clearly the Iranians would have no incentive to abide by it on their end.
All of this, of course, ignores the fact that by withdrawing from the agreement, the U.S. increased the likelihood of war breaking out in the Middle East. Indeed, just yesterday, Iranian forces fired directly on Israeli military forces for the first time. The Israelis in turn, bombed Iranian forces and command and control nodes in Syria. The chances for a major miscalculation, or misunderstood bellicosity, could lead to major regional warfare.
Finally, none of us can currently evaluate the impact of our withdrawal from the Iran Deal as it impacts ongoing negotiations with North Korea. Mr. Trump and Mr. John Bolton his National Security Adviser, claim that it will strengthen our hand in those discussions because it shows how tough we are. Or as Mr. Trump said on Tuesday about our withdrawal from the Iran Deal, “the United States no longer makes empty threats.” It is unclear what he means by that, but I suppose it his way of sounding tough.
An alternative outcome may be that Kim Jung Un comes to believe that along with Saddam and Muhamar Quaddafi, one can put Iran on the list of those that made a deal with the U.S. to give up their Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and found that we could not be trusted.
Mr. Trump is already talking about the Nobel Peace Prize for his Korean efforts. In that context, we should be worried that Mr. Trump will do whatever suits him at the moment to get good “ratings”. Just another episode in the show and a chance to deflect from his problems at home. However, I honestly hope that his efforts with North Korea pay off and they hand over their nuclear weapons and their ability to produce WMD, but we should be wary. Frankly, it denies logic that Mr. Kim will hand over his WMD. This will be at least the third time that North Korea promised to do so, the other two times they reneged. The meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump will be historic. If nothing else, we should be thankful that three American citizens held as prisoners in North Korea returned home last night. To date, that action is the only substantive thing that Kim has done to show his willingness to deal. They released prisoners in the past, too. Which of course totally ignores the fact that U.S. citizens were taken as hostages in the first place. They also kill them, as was the case with Mr. Otto Warmbier, the college student imprisoned and probably tortured by the Koreans who died as a result. Talking is way better than fighting. I hope the talks succeed, but I would not hold my breath. Walking away from the Iran Deal complicates our negotiations with the Koreans. More on that in a yet to be post in this space.
Maybe Mr. Trump walked away from the Iran Deal because his main foreign policy objective merely entails undoing anything and everything that President Obama put in place. No clear foreign policy doctrine has emerged from this administration and as French President Macron and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said after talking to the president, there is no U.S. “Plan B.” That makes it one mighty big gamble. Every endeavor should have branches and sequels, or “what ifs.” What if we succeed then what do we do? What if we don’t succeed, what is the next step? There is no discernible plan behind just walking away from the agreement.
One might suspect that Mr. Trump’s decision on the Iran Deal was done primarily because he could and that somehow it showed what a tough guy he was. There are no next steps. He should look up the definition of hubris (arrogance, conceit, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, excessive pride or defiance leading to nemesis), and nemesis (the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall).
Hubris is not a policy.