Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Letter from Tehran: Trump ‘the bazaari’

The Iranian Parliament just hosted its annual conference on Palestine and, among the dignitaries - that included Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani - and the 700 foreign guests from more than 50 countries was Asia Times columnist Pepe Escobar.

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The art of the deal, when practiced for 2500 years, does lead to the palace of wisdom. I had hardly set foot in Tehran when a diplomat broke the news: “Trump? We’re not worried. He’s a bazaari”. It’s a Persian language term meaning he is from the merchants class or, more literally, a worker from the bazaar and its use implies that a political accommodation will eventually be reached.

The Iranian government’s response to the Trump administration boils down to a Sun Tzu variant; silence, especially after the Fall of Flynn, who had “put Iran on notice” after it carried out a ballistic missile test, and had pushed the idea of an anti-Iran military alliance comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan. Tehran says the missile test did not infringe the provisions of the Iran nuclear deal and that naval drills from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, which began on Sunday, had been planned well in advance.
I was in Tehran as one of several hundred foreign guests, including a small group of foreign journalists , guests of the Majlis (Parliament) for an annual conference on the Palestine issue.
Not surprisingly, no one from Trump’s circle was among the gathering of parliamentarians from over 50 nations who attended the impressive opening ceremony in a crowded, round conference hall where the center of power in Iran was on display; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani.
Khamenei proclaimed that “the existing crises in every part of the region and the Islamic ummah deserve attention”, but insisted that the key issue remains Palestine. The conference, he said, could become “a model for all Muslims and regional nations to gradually harness their differences by relying on their common points”.
Khamenei’s was an important call for Muslim unity. Few in the West know that during the rapid decolonization of the 1940s and 50s, the Muslim world was not torn apart by the vicious Sunni-Shi’ite hatred – later fomented by the Wahhabi/Salafi-jihadi axis. The Wahhabi House of Saud, incidentally, was nowhere to be seen at the conference.
Hefty discussions with Iranian analysts and diplomats revolved on the efficacy of multilateral discussions compared to advancing facts on the ground – ranging from the building of new settlements in the West Bank to the now all but dead and buried Oslo two-state myth.
On Palestine, I asked Naim Qassem, deputy secretary-general of Hezbollah about the Trump administration’s hint of a one-state solution. His answer, in French; “One state means war. Two states means peace under their conditions, which will lead us to war.”
As with most conferences, what matters are the sidelines. Leonid Savin, a Russian geopolitical analyst, claimed that Russian airspace is now all but sealed with multiple deployments of the S-500 missile defense system against anything the US might unleash. Albanian historian Olsi Jazexhi deconstructed the new Balkans powder keg. Muhammad Gul, son of the late, larger-than-life General Hamid Gul, detailed the finer points of Pakistan’s foreign policy and the drive to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Pyongyang was also in the house. The North Korean delegate produced an astonishing speech, essentially arguing that Palestine should follow their example, complete with a “credible nuclear deterrent”. Later, in the corridors I saluted the delegation, and they saluted back. No chance of a sideline chat though to go over the unclear points surrounding Kim Jong-nam’s assassination.
Blake Archer Williams, a.k.a. Arash Darya-Bandari, whose pseudonym celebrates the “tyger tyger burning bright” English master, gave me a copy of Creedal Foundations of Waliyic Islam (Lion of Najaf Publishers) – an analysis of how Shi’ite theology led to the theory of velayat-e faqih (the ruling of the jurisprudent) that lies at the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Every time I’m back in Tehran I’m impressed with the surprising number of open avenues for serious intellectual discussion. I was constantly reminded of Jalal Al-e Ahmad, the son of a mullah born in poor south Tehran who later translated Sartre and Camus and wrote the seminal Westoxification (1962).
He spent the summer of 1965 at Harvard seminars organized by Henry Kissinger and “supported” by the CIA. He pivoted to Shi’ism only toward the end of his life. It was his analysis that paved the way for sociologist Ali Shariati to cross-pollinate anti-colonialism with the Shi’ite concept of resistance against injustice and produce a revolutionary ideology capable of politicizing the Iranian middle classes, leading to the Islamic Revolution.
That was the background for serious discussions on how Iran (resistance against injustice), China (remixed Confucianism) and Russia (Eurasianism) are offering post-Enlightenment alternatives that transcend Western liberal democracy.
But in the end it was all inevitably down to the overarching anti-intellectual ghost in the room; Donald Trump (and that was even before he got a letter from Ahmadinejad).
So I did what I usually do before leaving Tehran; I hit the bazaar, via a fabulous attached mosque – to get reacquainted with the art of the deal, the Persian way.
That led me to Mahmoud Asgari, lodged in the Sameyi passage of the Tajrish bazaar and a serious discussion on the finer points of pre-WWI Sistan-Baluchistan tribal rugs from Zahedan. The end result was – what else – a win-win sale, bypassing the US dollar. And then, the clincher: “When you call your friend Trump, tell him to come here and I’ll give him the best deal”.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ; A Letter to the US President

Iran's former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voiced strong support for Trump's uncompromising stand against Washington's "corrupt" political structure and media.

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By Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

To: His Excellency, Mr. Donald John Trump
The president of the United States of America

Your Excellency has been elected, in the recent US election, as the president of the country.

It can be inferred from the political and media atmosphere in the US that the result of the election has been despite the status quo, and beyond the will and prediction of the governing body and the main system behind the scene of the US political stage.

The stances of the rival party and some of your party members and most western leaders suggest the same notion. Irrespective of whether or not that is true, the recent election revealed part of the actual and accumulated demands of the US people.

Welcoming this and hoping it will have an effect, I hereby share some points with you, whereas I’d tried in the past to convey some important matters to the two preceding presidents, via letters.

A. Introduction

1- This letter is by no means political, in the common sense of the world; nonetheless, today it is from a human to another human. The letter is from a humane standpoint, rooted in interest toward and compassion for the American nation and other nations, and I expect your Excellency to read it from the same perspective, adopting a humane approach.

2- I speak as the son of the great, civilizing and culture-making nation of Iran. A nation with a prominent role in the global culture and civilization, by having presented thousands of scientists and artists, as well as innumerous scientific and cultural achievements throughout its honorable history.

A nation that, back 2500 years ago, by its great historical character, Cyrus, issued the order for freedom of thought and equality of human beings, as well as for annulling slavery, racial discrimination and exploitation; principles it has ever since adhered to.

A nation that managed an important part of the world for centuries, in brotherhood, justice and respect.

A nation that, in the current era, introduced the unique figure, Late Imam Khomeini, to the human society.

A leader who depicted the love and kindness of divine prophets to all human beings, and was the flag-bearer of freedom, justice and brotherhood for all nations. A great reformer who, from a divine-humane perspective, was the helper for all the oppressed and was the harbinger of peace, friendship and justice, heralding fundamental reforms to benefit all nations.

3- I have met many political, cultural and social figures, as well as people from all walks of life across the five continents of the world, talking to them about international issues. This letter can be interpreted as the standpoints of other nations and many contemporary experts and figures.

4- Your Excellency and I are, like other human beings, servants and creatures of The Only God, and have been created for an eternal life. God has not created us for enmity, hegemony and aggressiveness. People are all equal and in terms of possessing land, wealth, God-given opportunities and human rights, they’re alike. The true essence of human blossoms through monotheism, loving others and making endeavors toward the well-being and prosperity of others.

A human being, on his path to serve others, achieves proximity to God and eventually wins eternal salvation. In other words, a true human being and the actual winner of this world’s competitions and contests is one who spends his life in the service of other human beings’ well-being and welfare, and for doing away with oppression and establishing justice and friendship.

5- Enjoying the vote and trust of people and representing them is on the one hand a source of honor and on the other, causing an extremely heavy responsibility. If you have so far lived for yourself, basically you will need to henceforth live for the US people and the human society.

6- Having been elected the US president is a historic opportunity primarily for the elected person and secondly for the electorates and other nations. Although four years is a long period, but it ends quickly. The opportunity needs to be valued, and all its moments need to be used in the best way.

7- Those elected by nations and the rulers should never consider themselves being superior to people, or being their masters and dominant over people’s affairs. The rulers’ capacity is but to be humble toward the people, to serve them, and to follow up their demands.

All prophets, among them Prophet Jesus (Peace Be Upon him), were bearers of the same message and were in service of the people.

God, in the noble Quran, addresses Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and says “You are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller”.

The prophets came not to rule people and establish empires, but to unite human beings and instill sympathy, and to spread monotheism, freedom, justice and love across the planet and to endow everyone with them.

8- The laws ruling human societies have been codified by God. Those laws are unalterable. The people who, in their hearts, bear tenderness and love for human beings and strive on the path of serving people, have in fact filled their hearts with love for God and a beautiful fate awaits them, hence being honorable both in this world and in the hereafter.

9- Favoring the interests and satisfaction of the public and nations over the interest and satisfaction of an insatiable minority of tyrants of wealth and power, is a reasonable issue, bringing reputation to the rulers.

B. Some points on the status of the USA and Your Excellency’s stances during the election campaign:
Mr. President,

Your Excellency is well informed of the US history and the behavior of its rulers toward other nations, particularly over the past half-century. Levels of dissatisfaction from US rulers are so that a free election at any part of the world will result in the victory of the US government’s opposition.

You are also supposed to know the US internal situation and the oppression exerted over the nation, better than any other person.

Your Excellency has explicitly proscribed the US policies and performances, as well as its governance structure and media system that shapes the public opinion. Your Excellency has announced that you want to change the status-quo to people’s benefit.

Requisite for realizing those vows is paying attention to some important issues, of which I point out a few:

1- Your Excellency has truthfully described the US political system and electoral structure as corrupt and anti-public. The US electoral system has for decades enslaved people’s votes to benefit a certain minority; i.e. a group that seemingly rules in the form of two parties, but in fact represents a minority, i.e. the tyrants of global wealth and power.

Changing the US electoral system and setting people’s will and interests free from that imposed slavery, will be considered a great job and a fundamental reform.

It is clear that only with an integrated plan and relying on people’s true will, the status quo can be reformed. I believe that the position of the president in the US entails ample power and potential for taking the initiative in that great job. I hope you will be the first president of the United States of America who establishes novel changes to achieve people’s actual will.

2- Unfortunately, consecutive US administrations have assumed arrogance toward others, seeking progress of the state in holding others back, pursuing possession and welfare of US people in others’ poverty, questing its honor and grandeur in humiliating others, and searching US security in insecurity for others.
If all the world governments view the international arena from the same angle, and act accordingly, what will the result be? It’s my belief that the US people cannot support such policies and performances, and cannot pursue humiliation, poverty and insecurity for others, and cannot seize others’ wealth.

Whenever the US nation has, beyond the blurred atmosphere of media, become cognizant of such policies and behaviors, it has slammed it and disavowed the perpetrators.

If we pursuing fundamental and sustainable reforms, we need to respect all nations and cultures, as well as their will and interests. We need to share the happiness of nations, as well as their sorrow. We need to seek equality and brotherhood among nations, and respect the nations’ rights, as well as to avoid arrogance and efforts toward domineering others.

3- Your Excellency has announced that the US treasury has produced around $23 Trillion of illegal notes (paper assets). This means that without labor, effort or providing goods and services and by having abused the internationality of dollar, the funds has been taken from world nations’ pocket. Regrettably, the big and modern robbery has been committed in the name of the US people, but in fact to the benefit of a certain group. This signifies that the US administration and governance owe other nations the exact amount. I don’t think the US people are satisfied with this greatest robbery in history.

It is expected that the looted wealth of nations be returned to them, or at least the inhumane and destructive trend be halted. This will be an instance of fundamental and structural reform.

4- Mr. President, Your Excellency has pinpointed the existence of 70 million poor and millions of jobless people and said that resolving US domestic problems is on top of your agenda. You have announced that the US defense power has shrunk. Your Excellency has noted the $6 Trillion costs of US war in the Middle East. You know that the official US annual military expenditure is $700 Billion.

Experts believe that defending US geographical borders and preserving its domestic security vis-à-vis modern threats should not cost more than $200 Billion annually.

The basic question now is who has given the US government the mission to establish security worldwide?
What outcome has meddling in other’s affairs and military deployments to other regions and imposing thousands of US military, security and intelligence bases across the globe had, except for insecurity, war, division, killing and displacement of nations? Have the measures brought about anything beyond hatred and animosity toward US leaders, notoriety for the US people and imposition of military expenditures?

If all governments want to show behavior similar to the US administration, which visible horizon of peace and security will lie ahead of the human society? Isn’t it better to stop warmongering and not to interfere militarily in other regions of the world, in order to create an atmosphere of international understanding and to end the arms race, war and killing of people?

By doing so, a considerable wealth of resources will be saved to develop US people’s welfare, and to shed poverty and unemployment. Isn’t that the best way to change the world nations’ attitude toward the US governing body?

Furthermore, you know that relying on arms and threatening others is translated into entering an endless and highly costly arms race, which has no fate but war, poverty and annihilation of nations.
Nowadays it is revealed to the general public that the claim to safeguard security and establish peace in other territories by relying on weapons and warmongering is a false one, where colonial goals are hidden under humanistic slogans.

How can the race in production and export of arms create peace and security?

War instigates war, and peace is never established by war.
Killing only cumulates hatred. Sustainable peace and security will only be established by changing attitudes, beliefs and behavior.

Sustainable security needs to be sought in kindness, respecting other’s rights and administering justice.
The best defensive power is people’s power and satisfaction, and this will not be achieved unless by administering justice and respecting human beings.

If Your Excellency takes the initiative to remove the deadly arms race and stop the military presence and intervention in other regions, the annual killing and displacement of millions of human beings will be prevented. If so, hundreds of billions of dollars of global military and security costs will be reduced, to be spent in the health, education and welfare of nations, as well as in reducing the social gap and other problems, and to uproot insecurity.

Hasn’t the time come for all of us to believe that the human society needs human thought, justice and brotherhood more than arms and military power? Arrogance is a devilish deed and the root cause of all problems in the human society. Hasn’t the time come to change arms to pens, and to replace arrogance, discrimination and hatred with love, equality and brotherhood?

5- The United Nations is the most prominent achievement of historical experiences, and is the shared human heritage and the result of man’s hope for building a better world. The formation of the UN is a very sublime idea for the fair participation of all nations in global governance and for establishing sustainable peace and security, as well as yielding welfare and excellence for all.
The UN was founded for collective wisdom to replace dictatorship and arrogance.

The free participation of nations in global governance is not a threat, but a valuable opportunity that all genuine reformists will welcome.

Unfortunately, the dominance of consecutive US administrations over the global body has obstructed its right performance. Time has come for the center for manifestation of collective- and- free will of nations to be set free from the destructive dominance.
Of course, the job requires history-making men and arrival at a major decision.

6- Those ill-wishing for the US people are set to withstand the implementation of US people’s will to implement fundamental reforms in structures, policies and behavior of the US ruling system.

They seek deception, in order to divert the public movement of the US nation toward genuine reform and realization of their rights.
Unfortunately, some are pursuing the spread of discriminatory, racist and profit-driven attitudes in human relations, as well as expansion of false boundaries and causing rifts among the people.
The Devils are, under false flags of religion, race, skin color and even geography, trying to widen the gap among people, and spread hatred, to create opportunities for themselves.

The human society is, in an evolutionary trend, moving toward the one society, and on its way, is pursuing removal of the various borders and gaps among people and nations.

Human beings originate from the same root and nature, possessing a divine soul, hence respectable. There’s no enmity and hostility among nations of any religion, thought and race. Resolving the problems of the human society and building a better world would need sympathy, condolence and helping each and every of the world people.
As great Saadi, the renowned Iranian poet put it:

The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.

We should all try to make a better future and to expand friendship, justice and freedom. All people need to feel responsible and enjoy the opportunity to participate in and lead that sacred deed. I’m positive no wise human being will condemn an effort to eradicate racial discrimination and discrimination in the US.

7- Terrorism is an anti-human tool in the hands of global powers in order to cause insecurity and rifts, as well as to impose their will and policies on nations and governments.

I regret to remind you that most of the known terrorist groups across the contemporary world have either been or are formed and reinforced by US security services, or have, halfway through, started to serve their goals.

Fundamental fight against terrorism would mean cutting the terrorists’ financial resources and the intelligence, financial and arms support of US security bodies, as well as those of US allied governments.

The public expectation from Your Excellency is to make the public, and particularly the nations oppressed by terrorism, happy and thankful by taking such a measure.

I long for a day when the idea of arrogance, which is the root cause of terrorism and a great number of human society’s problems is transformed into humane thought.

8- The developments and the current existence of America today is the result of immigration of a variety of nations to that land. The presence and constructive effort of the elite and scientists of different nations, including the million-plus population of my Iranian compatriots has had a major role in the development of the US. It is necessary that the spirit of the policies ruling the US, value respect toward the diversity of nations and races. In other words, the contemporary US belongs to all nations, including the natives of the land. No one may consider themselves the owner, and view others as guests or immigrants. Care needs to be taken toward the same persons responsible for the current problems in the US not to infiltrate and divert the nation.

Mr. President,

It’s will not be an instance of over-demanding that Your Excellency invest into fighting the root cause of corruption and support the oppressed people, who are typically in the service of building the US.

C. And the final point:

1- Enjoying a country developed, powerful, rich and effective in international relations, is what any nation would long for, but this wouldn’t mean forming empires and interfering in others’ affairs, or boasting and exercising hegemony toward other nations.

I believe that the US land enjoys enough of natural resources and God-given wealth for making a prosperous, developed and sustainable life, so that no encroachment toward others’ resources will be needed. The US nation deserves enjoying all facilities and opportunities and having a sublime and stable life, via a constructive, fair and equal interaction with other nations.

You can rest assured that efforts to spread human behavior, to accept and respect the rights of other nations and to try to establish justice have always been admirable. Creating opportunities for constructive job for American youth, resolving people’s severe problems, making structural reforms and building America within the geography of the United States are welcome by the community of nations and ahead of them, the Iranian nation.

2- Women depict God’s beauty and are God’s most beautiful and valuable gift. Respecting women and dignifying them, is a sign of magnanimity.

The great men of history have paid the highest level of respect to women and recognized their God-given capabilities. Women’s role in the life and perfection of human society is special and in the best and highest form. Women’s management in domains of science, society, culture, etc. has been among the most precise and excellent.
We all understand the deep concept of unrivaled motherly love, the unique kindness of a sister and the irreplaceable position of a wife.
I hope women in all societies, including that of the US, while at utmost persistent esteem and respect, effectively and constructively participate and lead in building the ideal society.

It’s needless to remind of the glorious history of the great Iranian nation, which has seen numerous ups and downs. No trace is left on earth of the enemies and the malice and the vengeful ill-wishers toward the Iranian nation. However, the Iranian nation is alive and progressive, having successfully gone through and passed all minor and major historic events, as it will in the future. The Iranian nation possesses a bright future. I suffice to a point: please note that the image US media provide of the Iranian nation has never been and is not indicative of the facts regarding the great and honorable Iranian nation.

Mr. President,

With the good people of US, you currently have a landmark opportunity to kick off fundamental reforms and strive on the path, to be the initiator of huge change and leave a good reputation behind.

I hope the lengthy letter, which was proportionate to the nature of a fundamental and constructive talk, hasn’t tired you.

I pray to God The Merciful for all nations and also for the people of US glory, prosperity, peace, freedom, justice and welfare and for Your Excellency, success in performing the heavy duty of reforming the structure of the US system and in responding to people’s demand.

And peace on the righteous servants of God
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
In service of the Iranian nation.

The South China Sea and the Times Square squad car

Are US Navy patrols in the South China Sea the "right of incoherent passage?"

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Sending the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its escorts into the South China Sea is an apparent shift from the Obama administration’s policies of “de-escalation” and accommodation towards the People’s Republic of China.
Obama prohibited such Freedom of Navigation Operations — known in military acronym as FONOPS — in the South China Sea from 2012-2015, before allowing some patrols in 2016.
However, nobody quite knew if these challenged Chinese claims or implicitly recognized them, leading one observer to note they were exercising the “right of incoherent passage.”
What’s the significance of the recent cruise into those water by the nuclear-powered USS Vinson supercarrier?
In itself, the Vinson patrol doesn’t mean much — unless it is part of a broader, long-term strategy. Thus, the important thing to watch is how the Trump administration’s China policy plays out in the coming months.  Specifically, will it demonstrate a protracted commitment to defending the core interests of the US in the region?

Times Square

Here begins the South China Sea as New York’s Times Square analogy.
US officials and military officers have declared that the US can and will go anywhere and anytime it wants in the South China Sea. The New York police department had the same policy toward Times Square when it was the fiefdom of criminals and illegal activities, before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani cleaned it up in the mid-1990s.
The police would send a squad car through Times Square anytime they wanted and the criminal flotsam would part as it went through, only to flow back in and carry on illegal antics once the police cruiser was gone.

The US Navy operating in the South China Sea has about the same effect; they pass through and afterwards China just keeps on fortifying and militarizing the reefs and islands it has occupied, even though the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled such behavior illegal.
What this means is the steadily increasing capability of China’s military to maintain presence and project force in the South China Sea. The improving capability of the People’s Liberation Army to monitor everything that comes into the area — above and below the sea — means the illegal occupying force has de facto control of the South China Sea.

Thank you needed?

And it appears China’s naval vessels are shadowing (escorting, depending on one’s perspective) US Navy ships through the area – and have been for a couple years. The US Chief of Naval Operations indicated a few months back, however, that he didn’t’ seem to mind since the Chinese Navy was behaving professionally.
That’s comparable to the NYPD Chief appreciating that the illegals running Times Square back in the day were kind enough not to interfere with the police version of FONOPS.
The US Navy might be able to sail through without Chinese ships stopping it, but that doesn’t change the reality that China now dominates the place. And even if it allows American vessels and aircraft — both military and civilian — to pass through, China won’t necessarily let others do the same. That threat in itself is a useful restraint on how different nations behave in dealing with China on other matters.

FONOPs – not enough

The USS Vinson cruise and future patrols are useful but alone are not enough. None of this is going to roll back – or even overly intimidate China. It’s too late for that.
However, US operations in the South China Sea do insert risk and uncertainty into China’s thinking over its continued unrestrained militarization and moves to dominate the region — by raising the possibility the Americans might finally bite back.
The Trump Administration needs to move along a number of different lines and beyond the military option to have any real effect. To gauge prospects for success, watch what the new administration does in the following areas:
US Navy. In addition to operating regularly in the South China Sea, undertake long-term naval modernization efforts – to include building more (and more useful) ships and ship-to-ship missiles that go farther. Train the US defense industry to build ships and hardware for less than a price that would bankrupt Croesus.
Japan. Deepen links with Japan, focusing on an upgraded and properly funded Japan Self Defence Force able to operate with US forces — along the lines of what the US and Japanese navies already do – and conduct regular joint patrols and exercises in the East China Sea. Watch Japan’s defense budget, JSDF efforts to become a joint force, and what JSDF and US forces do together — and where they do it.
Taiwan. Revisit, indeed reread the Taiwan Relations Act and live up to its terms. End the dangerous standoffishness is US policy towards Taiwan that adds to its isolation and demoralization caused in large part by doubts over US (and the free-world’s) commitment to its democratic experiment.
ASEAN. Take a more systematic, concerted approach to ASEAN, recognizing that consensus is impossible and reticence is normal. Many ASEAN states and other Asian nations are watching to see how serious and reliable the new Administration is before deciding how close to get to the United States.
Australia and India. Work on these relationships, particularly the defense parts. These are both strategic partners and interested in the same things as America in Asia. Don’t take Australia for granted, and never forget what the Australians have done for the United States in remote parts of the world over many decades. Accepting a few surplus immigrants is a small price to pay.

Economic approach

Economic measures. If the Trump administration slaps tariffs on Chinese products, don’t be impressed. Beijing will respond tit-for-tat on American products, and can absorb any amount of such pressure. Instead, apply pressure elsewhere by requiring reciprocity for Chinese investments in the United States; enforcing WTO rules and eliminating exemptions; imposing harsh punishments for intellectual property violations past, present, and future; going after sanctions violations by PRC companies – as in the recent ZTE case; and simply taking 30 days to inspect Chinese ships coming into US ports owing to product health and safety concerns.
Trade. TPP is gone, so replace it with something useful, even if only bilateral agreements. These tend to attract others. It also shows both US interest and leadership in the region. Such things matter.
Strategic Communications. US strategic communications is mostly nonexistent. Coherently, loudly, and regularly speak up on behalf of US and its partners’ interests, and challenge China’s assertions of its entitlement to dominate the South China Sea and the rest of Asia.
CCP Corruption. Help the Chinese Communist Party eliminate corruption by identifying, publicizing and keeping in safekeeping its members’ and their relatives’ real estate, and financial assets in the United States.
So the USS Vinson sailing into the South China Sea made the headlines for a few days, though we still don’t know what difference or not it will make.
Hopefully, it presages a more serious and comprehensive US approach to the region.
Watch what Washington does over the next twelve months to determine whether we’ve just seen the naval equivalent of a really big NYPD patrol car drive through the old Times Square or something more meaningful.

Why American Democracy Will Hold

If Republicans are shamed into remembering true conservative values, this terrible time for America will be cut short.

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After five weeks of steady pummeling, American democracy is holding—because its institutions are stronger than Donald Trump. Let’s begin with the press.
As John McCain reminded us, dictators “get started by suppressing free press”—and Donald Trump is no exception. Trump and his press spokesman Sean Spicer will not be satisfied until there is a totally sycophantic press, accepting Trump’s twisted view of the truth, and adoringly reflecting it back to the great leader and his people. Kind of like the free press in Putin’s Russia.
But that’s not going to happen. The press has never been more determined to hold its ground.
Certainly, press solidarity behind the First Amendment is not all that it should be.
In last week’s schoolyard game of banning from a White House briefing media with the temerity to expose Trump’s lies, propaganda organs like Fox News and The Washington Times were all too pleased to play Sean Spicer’s petty game. Shamefully, so were ABC and NBC, whose correspondents did not walk out when The New York TimesThe Washington Post, CNN, and other mainstream media were banished.
But maybe this charade is a blessing in disguise. For one thing, news organs will have to decide whether they are part of White House propaganda machine, or genuinely independent media. The ones that show up to meekly parrot Trump’s lies will start looking very foolish.
For another thing, White House press briefings are vastly overrated. It’s no accident that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were on the Metro staff of The Washington Post, and did not cover the Nixon White House. They went after the real story where they found it—and press aide Ron Ziegler’s pressroom was the last place to look.
I had a White House press pass in the Watergate era, and I seldom used it. I can tell you that precious little news emerged from Nixon press conferences or briefings.
Fencing matches between reporters and Spicer are a weird form of entertainment, but not a venue from which truth will emerge. Besides, spectacle is Trump’s genre, not that of a free press.
There’s a good case that the serious press should not allow itself to be props in Spicer’s petty games. Yes, they should demand equal treatment, but if he continues to play favorites, the hell with him. Indeed, if the Times, the Post, and other serious news organs are banished from the White House, they will have more time and resources to ferret out the truth.
Bullies usually turn out to be cowards. Spicer is hiding from the serious press because he can’t face the truth. Likewise Trump’s own refusal to follow custom and attend the White House Correspondents’ annual dinner. He’d be roasted alive.
Each day that Spicer stage-manages a phony press conference, the serious media should publish lists of questions that demand answers. If Spicer ducks them, he’s that much more of a coward, because he and his boss can’t face the truth.
The press is one of several firebreaks in an era when the president of the United States wants to govern as a dictator. And the press is not alone. Indeed, some of the firebreaks, institutions usually considered conservative, are already surprising both Trump and his critics.
One is the courts. Even with the eventual confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, the courts will take a dim view of efforts by Trump to defy court orders. There is a higher loyalty to the independence of the judiciary. As opportunistic as many conservative judges are, an open attempt to place the president above the law would be struck down.
Another is the military. The military tends to be conservative in the best sense of the word. When zealous civilians (Cheney, Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, LBJ, Richard Nixon, et al) send American forces on fools’ errands based on grandiose lies, it is the military that pays the price. And the generals know that.
It is strange for people with no love of militarism to admit that the security of American democracy—not just in the sense of the national defense but of democracy itself—is now in the hands of three retired Marine Corps generals: Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security.
These are serious men, with the patriotism and self-respect to tell the president when he is blowing smoke. He can’t fire them all.
As Patrick Granfield wrote in a thoughtful piece for Politico, “a fundamental shift in civil-military relations is taking hold. Rather than civilian leaders checking military power, it is now military leaders who represent one of the strongest checks against the overreach of a civilian executive.”
A fourth firebreak is the more high tech part of corporate America. The nation’s most innovative companies have little patience for Trump’s war on immigrants, and are willing to say so. (Other corporations, alas, are following a venerable tradition of getting in bed with fascism if it serves their bottom lines.)
Yet another firebreak is American federalism—in two senses. Some blue states and cities can demonstrate policies that are the opposite of Trumpism. These policies are vulnerable, however, because most waivers that allow states to have policies at odds with those of the national government (such as higher minimum wages or tougher clean air standards) are merely statutory, not constitutional. And law can be changed.
But a stronger federal firebreak is the power of state attorneys general, who are beyond the reach of the Trump administration. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is said to be pursuing major investigations of Trump corruption under state law. Among other findings, these investigations could force the release of Trump’s tax records.
The press by its nature is an insurgent institution. It has always battled privilege and deception. But it’s a little strange for progressives to be cheering for other institutions that only yesterday were seen as citadels of conservatism: the military, the courts, and states’ rights. Yet these are not just instruments of right-wing policies—they are conservative in a deeper sense, one that is especially needed now.
One institution, however, is missing from this list of conservative defenders of the Constitution—the Republican Party. To an appalling degree, Republicans have been willing to let Trump govern as a would-be dictator, as long as it serves their policy and partisan goals.
If John McCain can shame a few more Republicans into remembering true conservative principles, it will drastically shorten this terrible time for America. Trump would be gone and McCain could win a Nobel Peace Prize.

State Department Faces 37% Trump Funding Cut as Senators Resist

  • Cuts would pay for Trump’s proposed defense spending increase
  • ‘Dead on arrival,’ Republican Senator Graham said of the plan

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