U.S. Foreign Policy: This Is Us

Last weekend a pair of horrifying massacres in the U.S. cities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio sent shock waves through the country. The outrage was so powerful that even President Donald Trump had to overcome his own indifference to the act and say something that, from another source, might have sounded vaguely presidential. From him it only sounded insincere, especially since he could not even remember which Ohio city had just been so badly traumatized.

Among the punditry, Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton, had perhaps the most insightful commentary. As Glaude completed his brief speech on MSNBC, he noted that when we see these horrific mass shootings, we ask, “Oh my God, is this who we are?”

Glaude answered his own question. “What we know is that this country has been playing politics for a long time on this hatred—we know this. So, it’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders. It’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders. It’s easy to place El Paso on his shoulders.” But then Glaude resoundingly proclaimed, “This is us! And if we’re gonna get past this we can’t blame it on [Trump]. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”

Glaude is correct to point out that Trump is not inventing this, he is unleashing it, harvesting hate that has festered for decades, suppressed—but not defeated—by liberal ideals.

But as Americans so often do, we think of the Trump presidency in terms of ourselves, of what happens within our borders. For many of us, that doesn’t even extend to a place like Puerto Rico, which Trump was able to smugly neglect in a way he never would have dared to do to a mainland U.S. city. But what of our foreign policy under Trump and for years before him?

Events in Gaza, Iran, the United Kingdom, Congo, Kashmir, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and other places do not exist in isolation from the United States. Sometimes by action, sometimes by inaction, the U.S. affects events all over the world. That’s hardly news. Most Americans know it. But too few of us take it seriously enough to let it influence our votes or political activity. Read more at LobeLog

North Korea Is Not Iran

The drama around North Korea and Donald Trump took another bizarre twist last week, with the sudden announcement that Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would meet sometime before May. Reaction was as swift as it was diverse. The confusion deepened when the White House quickly walked back from its commitment, reassuring critics that there would be preconditions beyond those to which North Korea had already committed. Spokespeople later walked back the walkback.

Once again the Trump administration seems to be trying to extricate the country and the president from a situation he impetuously created. It is impossible, with a stripped-down and inexperienced staff in both the White House and the State Department, for a summit between two leaders to be ready in less than two months. That’s especially true with these two leaders.

This latest comic opera, however, allows us to take a snapshot of what’s wrong with the Trump administration’s entire approach to foreign policy and the U.S. approach to North Korea more broadly. Read more at LobeLog

A Short-Sighted US Policy In Egypt

This article originally appeared at LobeLog. 

It’s time to ask some tough questions about US policy regarding Egypt. The most pressing being what that policy is, exactly?

John Kerry in a pre-June meeting with then Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, and then-President Mohammed Morsi

John Kerry in a pre-June meeting with then Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, and then-President Mohammed Morsi

agreed with the easily assailable decision by the Obama administration to refrain from labeling the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi a coup. It still is my belief that doing so might be consistent with US law, but would not be helpful to Egypt. Instead of taking funding away from the military which, since it now directly controls the Egyptian till, would simply divert the lost funds from other places (causing even more distress to an already reeling Egyptian economy) it would be better to use the aid as leverage to push the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) toward an inclusive political process that would include drafting a broadly acceptable constitution and, with all due speed, re-installing a duly elected civilian government. Continue reading

Losing American Interest

President Obama has now left Israel and is winding up his trip. His speeches sounded very counter-productive, offering no hope for progress. And I suspect that was just the message he was sending, especially to Israel. I explain in this week’s Souciant column.

Hugo Chavez: Demonized and Idolized

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been greeted with the expected polarized commentary. Chavez was a man both vilified and idolized outside and, to some extent at least for a while, inside Venezuela. It’s worth taking a look at the man now.

Chavez was a populist, socialist leader who wasted little time alienating both the United States and the Venezuelan upper class after he took office. Chavez became a global

The Late Hugo Chavez

The Late Hugo Chavez

hero for the left, and with good reason. He didn’t just promise to help the poor, he took action. He spent Venezuela’s revenue on education and health care. He pulled the country away from US influence. On the local level, Chavez set up groups – the Bolivarian Circles and Communal Councils – that were decentralized community boards of sorts that had real influence on local issues, a hallmark of participatory democracy that is very significant and rarely seen. And through nationalization of oil, agriculture and other business, Chavez both alienated major investors and substantially grew Venezuela’s GDP, at least for a while.

But while Chavez stuck to his guns when international investment plummeted, he, like most leftist leaders before him, was unable to figure out a way to contend with this. The US isolated Venezuela in the wake of his program of nationalizing the oil and other major industries in the country, costing US investors a lot of money. And Chavez welcomed that isolation; it allowed him to lead the fight against US imperialism, and he surely reveled in the role. And, while Chavez has kept the economy steady in recent years, it has been a patchwork project.

In his later years, Chavez followed an all too familiar pattern, vesting more and more power in the executive. Of course, after the failed coup attempt in 2002, and the ongoing efforts to destabilize his regime, there were real reasons for this. That’s the Castro argument, and the effects were the same. Chavez became more repressive, even earning some opprobrium from the left a few years back after he imprisoned a judge because he issued a ruling Chavez (and many Venezuelans) disagreed with. Continue reading