Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 12)

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Let’s be careful about France…

Predictably, pro EU, managerial Emmanuel Macron and far right Marine Le Pen moved on to the second round of French elections. In a historic result, none of the major parties, the Socialists, as well as the Republicans went to the second round, in what could be a historic first since the second world war. The socialist candidate of President Hollande’s party got only 6 percent votes, as his votes were divided between Macron and far left candidate Melenchon, who was another outsider, who won around 19 percent votes, similar to what the center right republican candidate Fillon got. Both Fillon and the Socialist candidate Hammon promptly endorsed Macron, and pointed out that far right is the biggest threat to French unity. The far left candidate, Melenchon, refused to endorse anyone.

Macron’s policies, are as most of the readers already know, fairly centrist and neoliberal. Contrary to what the media is trying to portray him as, he is as establishment as it gets. He is an investment banker by profession, and believes in reforming the market which includes controversial statements like changing French work hours as well as French taxation and French retirement plans. Macron is pro EU, extremely managerial, and pro immigration. The country is fairly divided, with almost half supporting Macron, and the top right half supporting Le Pen.

Le Pen is of course on her traditional right wing nationalist populist rhetoric. She is trying to market herself as an independent resigning from her party, but no one is buying it. She wants to “kill” the EU, cut off immigration, ban the Islamic Burqa and Mosques and forge a more nationalistic path for France. In fact the flurry of support for Macron from the republicans and the socialists only help Le Pen bolster the claim that she’s the only true outsider here in the race. While Macron wants to shape the race as one between centrism and populism; Le Pen is shaping it as one between patriots and globalists. She aims to kill Macron’s reputation as an outside who started his own party barely three months back, instead she wants to paint Macron as an open border globalist stooge in hands of Brussels and Berlin, who is all for globalization and open borders. Infact, if one combines the v
ote of far right Le Pen, and far left Eurosceptic Melenchon, the total count goes to 46 percent of the vote. 

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To continue growth, keep out of conflict

When the Soviet Union was there, a field called Kremlinology was prevalent in the West. It was the study of the secretive Kremlin to understand and fathom what was happening behind the iron curtain. Things such as chair placement, who sits next to whom, etc was supposed to give an idea on how Soviet economy is supposed to perform. It was pseudoscientic, and most of it was of course threat inflated guesswork. Obviously sitting arrangements might give a hint of who within the Kremlin walls are falling out of fashion or not, but in no way can it give any hint about the overall direction of the country. Naturally the Kremlinologists couldn’t for the love of God, predict anything about Soviet economy, and couldn’t foresee the primary reason behind Soviet collapse.

In recent days, something similar is back in vogue. There is a steady stream of prediction about Chinese economy. As recently as in Davos forum last year it was predicted that Chinese economy was in for a hard landing. It wasn’t. China’s economy actually grew 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year, which was slightly better than expected, as well as predicted. 

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Syria Strike: The better of two possible outcomes?

In the aftermath of the U.S. strike on a Syrian airstrip, the world is left to consider what this means for U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.

While many, including myself, have been disconcerted by the prospect of American intervention in Syria, the outcome so far of Trump’s foreign policy can also be seen as reassuring compared to the extreme foreign policy vision of withdrawing from NATO, letting nuclear weapons proliferate in Asia, and committing war crimes and stealing oil he promised on the campaign trail.

Jeet Heer of the New Republic summarizes what apparently happened: The Generals won their war with Trump. Many said they hoped James Mattis would be a voice of rationality for the administration, as opposed to Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon. Now both of them are gone from the National Security Council, and H.R. McMasters has joined as well.

The problem, however, could be that men of uniform are generally more likely to rely on military solutions for almost any problem, especially in an administration where the State Department is understaffed and facing a proposed 30% budget cut.

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Who said Trump was never a non-interventionist?

In the wake of the U.S. launching over 50 missiles at targets in Syria in response to Syrian use of chemical weapons, which reportedly killed at least 74, some are surprised that Trump isn’t really a non-interventionist, nor is he a realist.

Some who aren’t surprised? The editors of Bombs + Dollars. There will be more to be written later, but for now, enjoy some of our related coverage on Trump and Syria.

Sumantra Maitra gets us started with his piece explaining why Trump was never a realist:

After the debate about Obama being a Realist, (he’s ofcourse not) it was inevitable the Neorealist tag would be on Donald Trump after his interminable dross for New York Times. It is an incoherent mess, with talking points which will make, Hayek to Say to Ricardo to Morgenthau to Waltz, all cringe in shame, but it had some interesting moments.

As I mentioned in the Obama article above, it is perhaps a bit back in fashion these days, with growing isolationist tendencies across both sides of the Atlantic, to use talking points of indifferent stoic state interest. While superficially it might sound realist, it is not, and it lacks theoretical rigor and coherence. Realists have opposed Trump previously, alongside others. And although I don’t speak on behalf of the entire Realist school of FP here, it is safe to presume, they will oppose any delusional lunatic again, and everytime.

Maitra: So, is Donald Trump a Neo-Realist?

And:
Maitra: The Realist civil war and Donald Trump
Maitra: Is Obama a Realist in Syria? TL-DR: No.
Blatt: No, Trump’s not a Realist. He’s not anything, because he has no ideas.
Blatt: Trump’s fake anti-war position slips

In a column I wrote after his inauguration, I explained that Trump is just a saber-rattling strongman who wants to use military intervention to prove his “toughness”:

The discourse over whether Donald Trump is “anti-interventionist” or a militant warmonger is misguided. Trump is neither, and yet he’s also both. Indeed, he has put forward arguments — contradictory as this may sound — for both ways of thinking.

It’s a misnomer, however, that Trump doesn’t want to send American troops abroad to fight terrorist and insurgent groups. After all, he’s repeatedly said he wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. In March, he even paid lip-service to the need to send in up to 30,000 ground troops.

He has expressed the view that Obama has been a “weak” president for being relatively passive when confronting terrorism and crisis.

Blatt: Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

Maitra, from 2016, on why sympathy for dead civilians is no justification for war:

Unsurprisingly, the worst kind of virtue signaling can start over a visual, and this poor boy was no exception. Historically visuals were used to rally people for a cause. Just one example, during the Indian mutiny of 1857, the power of British press was evident, as paintings of Lady Britannia delivering retributive justice to the evil Indian rebels was used to bring the entire country together in what was one of the toughest time of the Raj. Similar instances are littered throughout history.

Realist academics and policy makers cannot rely on hashtags or candle light vigils, because simply real life is different and there are more considerations than simplistic narratives. If anyone comes and shows dead children photos, and demands action or inaction, that is “Argumentum Ad Passiones” or in common parlance, an appeal to emotions. That is not however a ground for policy. What could be a policy in this situation?

Maitra: Baby pics and appeal to emotions

Correction: A previous version of this article said “over 100” people died in the sarin attack, a number that was cited in some early reports. Most reports in major media now report 74 verified deaths. B+D has updated this post to reflect that “at least 74” people died, which also includes the possibility of 100 or more.

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Quick early take on the Xi-Trump meeting

Compromises and grand bargain time ahead

 

The State Department briefing on North Korea was a diplomatic equivalent of a mic drop, the thing when hip hop artists do when they drop their microphone after a particularly pithy innuendo laden verbiage. That’s what I am told, I am obviously too old for hip hop. Anyway, after North Korea launched another missile, the state department said in a statement by Secretary Rex Tillerson, that they don’t have anything more to say. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” Short, pithy, ominous. Nothing like this have been seen in a diplomatic communique before, which are mostly long drawn, and vague. This means that the time for talk is up.

Almost within hours, President Donald Trump in an exclusive interview with Financial Times stated the often-pronounced charge, that it’s time push comes to the proverbial shove with regards to North Korea. “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” Trump said in the interview. But this is clear, Trump is readying himself, and US for a grand bargain with China. And in politics, every offer of bargain, implicitly comes with a threat of noncompliance. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.” This time, the threat is real. The time for talks is over, at least from the US side.

This is a huge change. Forget everything that one can read in op-eds in newspapers, about how the upcoming meeting is a clash of differing values, ideologies etc, about how everything will be hinged on the personal chemistry of the leaders. Nothing like that will matter in the long run. The visit of President Xi to US is considered to be a power politics, as old as the 18th century. This is international relations at its earliest form, this is the language of realpolitik, at its peak and prime, at its most raw.

Let’s simplify the situation then.

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Liberal interventionists and Trump blinded by Syrian chemical weapons attack

Donald Trump is effectively continuing Barack Obama’s policy on Syria, but you wouldn’t know that from the New York Times‘s breathless coverage of a chemical weapons attack apparently committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Trump’s administration affirmed one week ago, via UN ambassador Nikki Haley, that they weren’t interested in focusing on overthrowing Assad. Then a few days later, the Syrian government reportedly used chemical weapons.

Trump’s initial response was to attack Obama, for not having acted after Assad used chemical weapons in 2013–the same strategy (not overthrowing Assad), incidentally, that Trump often supported on the campaign trail. For while Obama did pay lip service to putting pressure on Assad and did sent scant weapons to anti-Assad rebels, for the most part the U.S. stayed out of Syria. For that, the U.S. was criticized by the likes of the Economist and other elite liberal publications.

Nikki Haley just formalized existing policy and stopped pretending it was anything different. There are many terrorist groups among the Assad opposition, so why should America support a policy that would likely lead to an unstable state in the mold of Libya?

The NY Times ran a news analysis by Peter Baker that begins by asserting “the world recoiled at the televised images of lifeless children in the latest atrocity in Syria’s savage civil war.” For the Times, “the world” consists of American White House correspondents cloistered in the press club in Washington, DC, and Syria is the center of the world.

Anyway: “Where other presidents might have used the moment to call for the departure of Syria’s authoritarian leader, Bashar al-Assad, President Trump’s spokesman dismissed the notion as impractical because it would not happen.”

And why shouldn’t he? It is official U.S. policy not to aggressively push for the overthrow of Assad. As there are terrorists on the ground, and no policy in place to replace Assad, it would be highly dangerous to overthrow him.

Yet, Trump, rhetorically, at least, seems persuaded by media outrage.

In less than 24 hours from his first statement, the president with no spine claimed to have changed his mind about Assad:

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Moon Jae-in wins Korean Democratic Party nomination, Becomes favorite for presidency

Moon Jae-in, who lost Korea’s 2012 presidential to the now arrested former president Park Geun-hye and served as an aide to president Roh Moo-hyun, has officially won the Minjoo (Democratic) Party’s nomination and is the favorite to win Korea’s presidential election on May 9.

B+D editor Mitchell Blatt presents some links to explain what to look for in the election:
As the Korea Herald‘s Jo He-rim points out, Moon is considered by his supporters as a liberal defender of civil rights:

A native of Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, Moon was a human rights lawyer-turned-chief of staff to liberal President Roh Moo-hyun, before entering the National Assembly in 2012. … As a former member of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, or Minbyeon, Moon has built an image as a champion of human rights and democracy as well as an advocate of a fair and just society.

His core support base is made up of liberal-minded voters who idolize the late former President Roh. A large proportion of supporters of the Democratic Party regard him as the successor to continue the legacy of the late president, who championed making politics work for ordinary citizens, not for those with vested rights.

Full article: Moon seals Democratic primary victory

But Moon’s connections to Minbyeon (also called Minbyun) and to Roh are viewed with suspicion by conservatives who consider the group and the former president to be radical leftists. Minbyun has even taken court actions aimed at forcing 12 North Korean defectors to testify in circumstances that could expose them or their families to harm.

About two months after fleeing their oppressive homeland, 12 former workers of a North Korean restaurant in China on Tuesday faced a legal debate over the legitimacy of their stay here under state protection.

Pyongyang also claims that the new arrivals were “lured and kidnapped” by South Korean agents and demands their repatriation.

The spy agency has declined the association’s appeal to meet with them at their shelter, saying the restaurant servers had volunteered to come.

Yet controversy is simmering as the court issued a summons to the 12 people, fueling concerns over their safety and that of their family members left behind in the North.

Joshua Stanton, an American who writes the conservative blog FreeKorea.us, wrote on the subject:
Minbyun’s frivolous lawfare terrorizes 12 young N. Korean refugees & endangers lives.
S. Korea’s quisling left goes all-out to bully N. Koreans out of defecting, and it just might work

Roh Moo-hyun is also criticized for having continued the Sunshine Policy towards North Korea and held “anti-American” views. As John Lee, a conservative Korea columnist, told Bombs + Dollars, Roh even asked on national TV, “What is wrong with being anti-American?”

A memoir by Song Min-soon, who served as foreign minister during Roh’s presidency, even claims that Moon advised Roh to solicit advice from North Korea before voting on a UN referendum on North Korean human rights abuses.

Kim Hyo-jin explained in the Korea Times:

According to Song’s memoir, amid a sharp dispute between top officials over whether South Korea should vote in favor of or against the U.N. resolution in November 2007, then-intelligence chief Kim Man-bok floated the idea of asking North Korea’s opinion directly, which Presidential Chief of Staff Moon accepted, saying “let’s check through an inter-Korean channel.”

A few days later, Song was informed that North Korea said it would closely keep an eye on the South’s vote, warning of the possibility of dangerous circumstances in inter-Korean relations. Baek Jong-chun, then chief secretary on foreign and security policy, delivered a note describing the response to Song in person while accompanying the President at his residence.

At that time, President Roh told Song “Let’s go for abstention now that we’ve already asked. We shouldn’t have asked,” Song wrote in his memoir.

Full article: Memoir puts Moon Jae-in in hot water

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Mitch Blatt in The National Interest on North Korea

Bombs + Dollars editor Mitchell Blatt was published in The National Interest‘s website on U.S.-China relations with regard to North Korea.

Although he put Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments in context, noting that they don’t necessarily mean a vast change in policy, he did say that certain actions the U.S. has already taken, like the deployment of THAAD, and any possible change in policy to be more aggressive, are not acts of provocation but rather responses to growing North Korean provocations.

“But if the Trump administration does up the ante, it will be because proposals to engage in toothless talks with North Korea—like that made this week by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi—have utterly failed, and China hasn’t done its part to try to reign in its rogue frenemy,” he wrote. “Juxtaposed against its vitriolic response to the South Korean deployment of Terminal High Area Altitude Defense, China’s impassive response to multiple North Korean nuclear tests, always predicated on the same “firm opposition” talking point, which makes it look like China hasn’t been taking the threat of a nuclear North seriously.”

He pointed out that China hasn’t been faithfully enforcing some of the sanctions they agreed to against North Korea.

In summary, “As long as North Korea is an out-of-control threat, South Korea will need to take tough actions. China is reaping what it sowed from years of complacency.”

The whole article can be read here: Why China Must Confront North Korea.

The UK’s MoneyWeek also quoted Blatt’s article:

On the contrary, “China has largely itself to blame” if the US now pursues a more militaristic agenda towards North Korea, says Mitchell Blatt in the American magazine The National Interest. Beijing has spent years “turning a blind eye to sanctions violators and keeping the dangerous North Korean regime alive and its leaders well fed”, so it is not surprising that Washington now thinks “enough is enough”. China has also reneged on promises to limit imports of North Korean coal. Overall, “if China wants to avoid instability, then China must take an active role and take responsibility”.

Blatt also has an article about South Korea-China relations coming out in The Korea Times on Tuesday.

John Lee on Korea’s election, North Korea, and why South Korea isn’t “ethnically pure”

John-Lee-copyJohn Lee is the Conservative Columnist at NK News and the writer behind The Korean Foreigner. Born in Brunei to immigrant parents, Lee was educated in English (a legacy of British colonialism) and then went to study in the U.S., before taking up citizenship in his ancestral Korea. As such, he says he feels like “a foreigner in my own country.” I interviewed him about the upcoming Korean elections, policy towards North Korea, Korean politics, and other topics.

Mitchell Blatt: There’s been lots of news about North Korea launching missiles and threatening to test an ICBM that could hit the U.S. South Korea is having elections, and the Trump administration seems to be suggesting that they might take a more aggressive policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the time for “strategic patience” is over. Do you think that Trump and Tillerson are going in the right direction on this?
John Lee: I don’t think that either Donald Trump or Tillerson are going in any direction regarding North Korea. Just recently they said that all options are still on the table. But that’s the same thing they’ve been saying since the Clinton administration. And anytime you say, ‘All options are on the table,’ what that means is, yeah, we have options, but we haven’t picked one yet. So I think they’re just going with being ‘tough’ on North Korea as far as their rhetoric goes, but I am not convinced that their rhetoric can be backed up by any significant actions.

Blatt: Suppose there was an attempt to go in a new direction. Do you think a new direction is needed?
Lee: If by “new direction,” you mean something more kinetic, then I think that would be a horrible idea. I think deterrence has worked for the past seventy years, and I think it can continue to work. Strong deterrence militarily and economic sanctions, I believe will help contain the situation as much as possible, but something more kinetic would involve a lot of human lives being lost. I think that would be the absolute worst case sanctions.

Blatt: China is talking about trying to open up four party talks. What kind of role does China play in this, and is there any possibility for China to play a bigger role in keeping North Korea in check?
Lee: I think China’s role is more limited than people think it is. It has been proven repeatedly that the North Koreans do not listen to China all that much. China does not want the North Koreans to conduct these missile tests, but they’re conducting them anyway. Recently, because of the unofficial sanctions that the Chinese has imposed on South Korea, China has lost a lot of good will with the South Koreans, too. Four party talks might be enticing for the next progressive government, but I think they will have a hard time juggling the economic interests of China with the military alliance of the United States. The military alliance, as much as they [the progressives] disdain it, is not something that they can just ignore. It would just be irresponsible.

Blatt: One of the big sticking points there is THAAD, and most of the Minjoo Party candidates over the past year have opposed it, but now they seem to be shifting their positions. Do you think in the end, they are going to—if not support THAAD—support the status quo, which is the deployment of THAAD?

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Trump’s North Korea policy causes Trump to withdraw campaign pledges

If Donald Trump wants to turn the heat up on North Korea and China, as recent statements by himself and his administration leaders suggest, then he’s going to have to fail to implement many of his campaign promises.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on his visit to Seoul,”Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table.” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley two weeks ago said there was no time for talks, which she doesn’t expect would go anywhere, with North Korea.

Trump weighed in on Twitter: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

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