Saturday, August 26, 2017

Goodbye Jack Rosenthal.

In the writers world networking is a key part of expanding ones horizons. Years ago Pranay Gupte introduced me to Jack Rosenthal and his lovely wife, Holly Russell, who were visiting Dubai. Something must have clicked because after their official trip was over, we asked them to spend sometime with us and they stay a few days at my home. It was perhaps because rarely, in this world so energized by the material pursuits of people, does one meet someone who simply engages the mind. I vividly recall a dinner we had at home and after everyone had retired I made some mental notes about Jack.

He was a journalist of class and standing, but he brought that unique skill to his social engagements. It was not like he was interviewing people around the dinner table, but he was getting them to speak about themselves. He asked a few questions, always encouraging them to open up and feel comfortable. Jack never once spoke of himself, his enormous and indeed iconic standing in the word of the written world; New York Times, the amazing social role and his role with government too. I guess when you have achieved as much as he had you do not speak about it. In essence I was impressed with the man who graced our table and I wondered if the curry had not been too spicy.

On the few trips after that first encounter in Dubai that we made to New York, we made it a point to meet up with Jack and Holly. One remarkable trip we were in New York with the renowned equine sculptor Karen Kasper, and heard that there was an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Muesum on the history of the horse. The problem was we were leaving at mid day and with the exhibition opening at 10 AM we would really have to give it a miss. Somehow over dinner the fact we would miss the exhibition came up, and Jack smiled and said yes it would be lovely for horse people to see something as unique as that.

Arriving at the hotel we found a message, an urgent one, from someone from the PR team of the New York Met and that I must call back. Doing so I was almost instructed to be at the a steps of the Met at 8 AM, given a phone number and the final words, 'see you there.' I had a deep suspicion Jack had something to do with that phone call but past mid night did not wish to disturb him. Sure enough at the 8 AM in the morning our party of five was escorted by the curator of the exhibition and given a royal tour of exhibition and indeed it was Jack who had arranged it. Even when I called him to thank him about the thoughtfulness of this amazing man, he sounded embarrassed to be thanked and simply wished me bon voyage.

Jack in a sense anticipated what people would like and did it without any fan fare it was like a true act of giving.  The New York Times have posted an obituary of this amazing soul and my words can never compare or do justice. But in my own experience of Jack Rosenthal all I can say is rarely have I met a man with such compassion and empathy. I know he passed on  and I would simply like to think of him being in the other room and whenever I want to visit him I can recall the memory of the man. I believe I just visited him with this memory of the New York Met, and yes he smiled back, and like he said it 9 years ago, 'my pleasure please you don't need to thank me for it.' he repeated those words and yes he smiled also.

Be safe you will be missed. I will visit you often.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Trumps Afghan Policy.

President Trump's time in office was conspicuous thus far by the absence of a cogent and clear statement on foreign policy. He seemed to tweet his foreign policy feelings and yet his campaign promise of a new policy of NATO, Afghanistan etc were realms of international affairs he could ignore for long. I would also suspect that barricaded by the Russian probe and the chaos in the White House Trump needed to do something dramatic. The Afghan policy can best be received with mixed emotions. While, from an American perspective, Afghanistan seems to be a thorn on the side of a super power like USA, history would tell us that this barren harsh land has been irksome to both the British and the Soviet Union in the past.

Insofar as the intent to have a surge of US forces in Afghanistan is driven by America's strategic objectives, which are murky in terms of Afghanistan, has its own merits. One can argue if the original aim was to rid the world of Osama bin Laden, and that since done during the Obama administration remaining there is in a sense strategically futile. The argument runs that the area is the home for both radical groups like the Taliban and recently the ISIS, so there is a strategic aim to rid them of a home base. One cannot argue against that, however to assert the US is not into nation building but fighting terror is all fine, and something even Obama asserted, a weak nation is more prone to be fragmented by terror groups.

The core of the policy seems to be a military solution. However, we all know from Vietnam to Lebanon that one cannot have a military solution to what is essentially a political problem. In the case of Afghanistan it is the political vacuums that has existed now for over four decades. Trumps open invitation to India to help fill the gap is in a sense short sighted because while India can provide economic and trade based interaction the core of Afghan society is deeply Islamic and staunchly tribal which would be at odds with a Hindu dominate India. Yes India has a role to play but with Pakistan in between the two countries the solution would have been more for both Pakistan and India to be jointly encouraged to stabilise the region.

This leads Trump and his host of sycophants to make statements about Pakistan being the 'safe haven' for the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Such an argument ignores that all shades of the current terrorist groups were created and supported by virtually all the current powers that are fighting them. They were created with the aim of fighting the Russians and Pakistan was the conduit to fund and train them. Yes indeed Pakistan had its own motives in this and when Afghanistan slipped into civil war after the Soviet defeat, they with other allies promoted and created the current Taliban with the idea of replacing the crumbling power structure in Kabul.

The fact remains from 2001 most countries including Pakistan, somewhat reluctantly, took to curbing these terrorist groups and both Afghanistan and Pakistan suffered a series of terrorist attacks. Few understand that Pakistan has suffered over 7000 military deaths and over 65,000 civilians killed and 3.4 million people displaced. Afghanistan during the same period has suffered 61,000 military deaths and 20,000 civilian deaths. It is obvious that Pakistan has borne the brunt of the war on terror no less than Afghanistan and thus to go on talking of the country as a safe haven is incorrect. The TTP (the Taliban faction that attacks Pakistani targets) is based in Afghanistan, just as the Haqqani network which attacks into Afghanistan is based in Miranshah, the tribal north of Pakistan. In 2014 Pakistan launched an offensive against the Haqqani Network and other groups and in November 2014 Gen J Anderson of the US command said that the Pakistan offensive had seriously reduced the ability of the Taliban to conduct offensive operations in Afghanistan.

There is no denying that both Afghanistan and Pakistan want to curb terrorism but in an environment of accusing each other this will not work. The porous border between the two countries is next to impossible to control even though Pakistan has three times as many border check posts on their side compared to the Afghans. I would have felt that Trump should encourage Pakistan and Afghanistan to work together rather than signal Pakistan as partially responsible for the situation in Afghanistan.

On a strategic note such a policy of isolating Pakistan in this vital region will only drive them closer to China, who has been Pakistan's closest ally and China has a long standing border dispute with India too. Many may think that US aid to Pakistan is a leverage but with $750 million is not enough of a tool to change policy alone. Indeed Pakistan needs to do more to fight terrorism and by the same token the world needs to understand that as many people have died to terrorism in Pakistan as any of the countries in the front line of this war. Excluding Pakistan and making it insecure with overtures to India may not really be the best policy.

The single objective of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is noble in its own context but we have to be realistic that such a war will also bring destruction and suffering to more people. Indeed the balance will be whether this escalation brings more suffering to the people on the ground or the continued attacks by the likes of Taliban do the same. There has to be a plan to bring administrative order, district by district, all across Afghanistan as the Taliban and terror groups are ousted. Merely wining the war and not creating a politically and socially workable system will only remove a threat today but will create the fertile ground for someone equally terrible like the Taliban, to replace it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

North Korea: Brinkmanship that could go wrong.

When studying for my Masters in International Relations one of the cases studies we worked on was the Cuban Missile Crisis. It remains a masterful studying of managing brinkmanship and the art of the graduated response. Kennedy and Khrushchev in that crisis were a blink away from nuclear war and yet we realize that throughout the crisis a process of graduated response and measured strategic analysis was used. From Oct 15th 1962, when the Soviet missiles were spotted in Cuba till Oct 22 1962, when Kennedy made his famous speech asking the Soviets to back down, numerous meetings were held with the NSC and an EXXCOMM was set up and Congressional leaders were consulted on each of the steps.

One of the options that the US Joint Chief of Staff recommended and supported was an all out invasion, something even key Congressional leaders supported, Kennedy decided to use a series of graduated responses from a blockade to diplomacy to resolve the crisis. Indeed, key US allies were briefed on the morning of the 22nd of October BEFORE Kennedy made his speech and side by side back door diplomatic channels were opened to the Soviets to resolve the crisis. By October 28th 1962 the crisis had been defused and the world stepped back from what would have been a major outbreak of war.

Today we a different form of brinkmanship in the stand off between USA and North Korea. It might be more realistic to say its a show down between President Trump and the Korean despot Kim Jong Un, the latter being in his mid thirties with a panache for missiles and nuclear warheads. Unlike Kennedy in 1962, President Trump has taken to twitter and makes speeches about 'fire and fury' and hopes his rhetoric will be enough to get an equally irrational Kim Jong Un to back down. While there is not denying that any military conflict between North Korea and USA may well result in the total destruction of Kim Jong Un's regime and sadly also his nation. However, as one sided as it may be the fact that Kim Jong Un only needs to make sure that one, yes only one, missile armed with a nuclear warhead lands somewhere close to USA or one of its allies.

Analysts, military and non military, keep telling us that North Koreans would not be foolish enough to take such a risk which would destroy their country. First of all its not the North Koreans taking the risk, its Kim Jong Un, and frankly does he care if a million people are killed when he knows he himself will be taken out? Second, as the twitter tirade continues there is no guarantee that Kim Jong Un may well be taking these tweets more seriously than they are and lacking a sense of humor may just feel any one of them is enough of a hint that the US will strike first. Kim Jong Un knows well that if the US has first strike then his ability to have an effective counter strike will be severely curtailed and may be not even possible.

The danger therefore is that Trump, without even meaning it, may well start the hostilities, and perhaps in that process fulfill his wish to be a war-time President. Factoring China's response into this equation of possibilities creates a puzzle that will take far longer than the 20 odd minutes to have missiles land on some hapless people somewhere in the world. While Rex Tillerson is certainly trying to bring in a modicum of diplomacy to the table, it seems that he is fighting an uphill battle. One is not sure of the NSC and Congress has been consulted on the state of affairs.

The flip side is that the ground work for a diplomatic solution does not seem to be visible. What does one negotiate with? Offer Kim Jong Un there will no regime change if he agrees to give up missiles and nuclear warheads? Well that was the promise to Gaddaffi of Libya and he agreed to the deal only to be ousted soon after. Kim for sure will not give up his war toys, so some middle ground needs to be sought out and he is brash enough not to really be concerned about how much his people suffer under sanctions. In a sense Kim Jong Un is like a suicide bomber he has nothing to lose and therefore there is nothing that can be offered to him in a negotiation.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Trump will go to war. Here is why!

President Trump may, arguably, have knowledge of domestic policy, but when it comes to foreign policy he is woefully out of his depth. His understanding of the world political stage is pedestrian and embarrassingly incorrect. Just the other day when meeting the Lebanese Prime Minister he thanked Lebanon for the war on terror and for fighting ISIS and 'Hezbollah'! Does he not know Hezbollah are part of the Lebanese government and sworn enemies of ISIS? In the back drop of his lack of understanding of foreign affairs it is no surprise that no cogent foreign policy statement has come from his administration. To some extent he has alienated the US from its traditional allies in Europe, departed from the spirit of a consensus on major global issues through interaction with other leaders, and it would seem to him managing foreign policy through 'tweets' is his style or perhaps reflection of his minuscule understanding of the world.

There is no denying the world is in turmoil, and there are some serious theaters of conflict and potential conflict. While there are signs of skirmishes between Iran and US forces in the Arabian Gulf, the bigger, and more troubling, problem of North Korea's nuclear and missile posture causes serious concerns. In the initial days of his Presidency, and before the 'Kremlingate' matter attracted public attention, President Trump was eager to show his diplomatic skills. Meeting the Japanese, Mexican and Chinese leadership. He was buoyant that the Chinese would work with the US to reign in North Korea and not only would a rouge state being stopped in its tracks he would claim he was the mastermind of a diplomatic effort that brought peace to the world. (Perhaps the Noble Peace Prize).

While China has dragged itself, one foot at a time, into sanctioning the North Koreans and tried to pressure its leadership to abandon the missile and nuclear program, the results have not been encouraging. In a sense the Chinese solution, if there is one, would be a series of small, deliberate steps, to convince the North Koreans of changing their policy. Beijing knows that diplomacy is not like instant coffee and an axis of a Beijing-Washington pressure on North Korea has to be well orchestrated and coordinated. Sadly Trumps lack of understanding shows up when North Korea continues to test missiles he loses his cool and tweets not only against the tests but also has a swing at China for not doing enough!

Here is a plausible theory, and one could be totally wrong, but in real politik this happens.

As Trump is beleaguered more and more into the Kremlingate investigation, and perhaps loses support of the Republican's in Congress who held a slim hope that President Trump would be more rational than candidate Trump, I believe Trump will need to change the focus to something bigger, more pressing. In this context an escalation of tensions with North Korea will be the best course for him to take. This may explain why he would 'tweet' his disappointment with China, perhaps knowing that the Chinese would step back on the North Korean issue. The difficult question would be if China would allow the United States to be the policeman in its backyard?

The Chinese know, for the moment, North Korean posturing is not against Beijing, and they may well tolerate a well armed North Korea and in time reign back its missile program, when it suits Chinese policy aims. Would they step up to help Washington in this regard without a qui pro quo. China may well wish to establish that America accept a bi polar world with China having its own sphere of influence extending the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean, and the US having its own region of influence.

But these are complicated issues to put into a model of foreign policy and why do that when you can tweet your way into trouble. So here is the prediction, 'if the heat on the Russian issue becomes too much for Mr Trump he may not hesitate to start limited, or surgical, hostilities against the North Koreans. While he may not have read a decent history book, his butler may well tell him that nothing unites a nation like a war.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Media and the US Political Process.

One of the principles of the US political process has been the process of accountability of politicians and government by the vast and power media. To the purists the power of the press as been seen as an important watchdog over executive power enshrining the principle of free speech into a legal right, thus giving it  unmatched ability to not only question but even bring down political figures. Gary Hart, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton all faced the sanctions of the press and these episodes exhibited to the average thinking American that there was someone outside the political process speaking out for the excesses of politicians.

The emergence of Donald Trump onto the political scene in a sense changed the working formula between the press and the politician. While today we are overloaded with the jargon of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts', there has been something more interesting happening. When Trump announced his intent to run for President most felt that not only was it a far fetched idea he also would be the largest target for the press to go after, his bankruptcies, his treatment of women, his almost xenophobic and racist view, all suggested he would be brought down by the press before he even finished spelling the words PRESIDENT, (assuming he could spell).

 Then something quite unique happened. Trump knowingly or unknowingly, started to use the press, yes the very press who could target him, to manufacture consent amongst the public. In the backdrop of the political climate of the US, he enraged the liberal within us, and was embraced by the disfranchised American who seemed betrayed by the political process. When he claimed he would 'drain the swamp' in Washington DC, he spoke out what millions of Americans felt that there was a stinking swamp in DC. When he went after the Mexicans and talked of wall be appealed to the millions of Americans, who rightly or wrongly felt they lost their job to the illegal immigrants. When he painted a religion as 'terrorist' and called for a total ban on all Muslims from entering the US, he voiced what many not familiar with the rise of terrorism were really thinking.

As Trump became more bizarre in his comments and approach the press actually gave him more press coverage! WHY? Simply put as much as the liberal press wanted to go after Trump they knew this outrageous, politically incorrect and often factually off the mark candidate was getting more eyeballs to their channels and newsprint. To media advertising revenue is important and to get that they need eyeballs. The more they fed the news, even if ridiculing Trump, the monster became larger and larger. In a sense it was the Press that created Trump, gave him a media mandate he could not have bought for all the dollars in the world. I believe in that sense the very networks Trumps calls 'fake news' are the ones who created him, and in a sense helped him win the hearts and minds of the unheard vote within America.

On a broader front the political climate into which Trump was stirring the press was fraught with its own problems. The Democratic Party was divided in a more deeper sense than was visible on the surface. Eight years of Obama's administration had in a sense ignored its constituency and the party organization at the state and county level in key states seemed to have been ignored. Hilary Clinton represented a political segment which largely was considered out of touch with the blue collared workers who had been behind the Obama revolution, and too entrenched with the vested interests within the Democratic Party resulting in Bernie Sanders as the voice for the very workers that felt had been ignored by the likes who those who threw in their lot with Hilary Clinton.

It would not be incorrect to say that the Clinton camps shenanigans robbed Bernie Sanders of the nomination and in that one move stepped further away from the very blue collared workers who then swayed to the Trump camp. Hilary's own problems with emails, and lack of focus on the issues all played out in a back drop where Trump was winning over the unheard, making statements and promises that seemed stretched but by then the electorate really did not care.

I have no doubt in my mind that the moment Hilary Clinton hijacked the nomination from Bernie Sanders she lost the heart of the Democratic Party. I also believe that Trump could not have romped into the White House had he been facing off Bernie Sanders. While the Democrats have to reinvent themselves and go back to the grassroots with a fresh approach the media on the other hand has three and half years of waltzing to learn with a Trump who will always be out of step with them.

The media also has to do a major rethink of their role and in a sense bring in a more balanced approach. Feeding the monster will only make it larger than it is, and while resetting the relationship may not be easy it would help if the media realized they were a part of the circus that created the consent that took Trump to the path of the White House.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

India-Pakistan Final: Form against the Unpredictable.

On Sunday India and Pakistan take to the field at Oval for the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, each carrying the weight of expectations of millions of people. India rides on the form of its front line batsmen and the fact that in the recent group stage match they thrashed Pakistan. Sharma, Dhawan and Kholi backed by a hard hitting middle order, (though not tested yet) have been the mainstay of India's strength in one day cricket. In this sense they have embraced the style of modern cricket, which suggests to rely on the batsmen to post a high score or have the hard hitting to chase down any total. England, South Africa and many other nations imbibed this philosophy as the rules of the game changed to favor batsmen more than bowlers.

For Pakistan who for decades have had a mercurial batting line up the strength to win matches always rested with the bowlers. In a sense as the rules changed the dice were loaded against strong bowling sides. For the past decade Pakistan has tried to follow the style of modern cricket, failing mainly because their players never had the exposure or temperament and perhaps self belief to approach the new form of the game with confidence. The adjustments have been all the more hard because as they felt the gap was being filled a betting scandal would force them to lose a talented player.

After the defeat to India, it would seem someone woke up in the Pakistan camp and said this new approach to one day cricket just does not work. In the matches since then the modern approach was shed off and a return to what Pakistan was good at was visible. The bowlers became the mainstay of their strategy, explaining the bizarre decisions to bowl first where many other captains would have done otherwise.

India on the other hand has continued to reinforce its belief in its batsmen, keeping in tune with the modern approach to the game. The result has been usually muscling their way to wins with never really having to bat below number 6. Interestingly the one game they lost to Sri Lanka, they reached 319 for 6 mainly due to the openers contributing 200 of the 321 runs they put on the board, the other six batsmen adding only 100 runs in the crucial power plays and yet Sri Lanka played the same game and romped home with ease.

To predict a win an passion filled match such as this final would be foolish. It could be anybody's day. While India will not change their modern day approach to the game Pakistan will perhaps revert to their bowling as the mainstay. But the bowlers will not have to try and contain India, like they tried in the recent game, but to go for wickets, like they did with South Africa, Sri Lanka and a strong England. Yes the Oval pitch will be skiddy and different to the wicket in Cardiff, and the bowlers will have to stick to a line and length form of attack. If Pakistan can do that then a couple of quick wickets will change the complexion of the game.

India may well on the exterior be confident of their strength and form but they know well the potency of the Pakistan attack once it smells blood. For the men in green the discipline on the field and belief in the bowling will have be the potential weapon that could rattle Indias top order and expose the middle batting line. India will also know that the batting line Pakistan now presents has learned to keep the scoreboard moving and in a couple of new faces they have the ability to change the fate of the match.

Either way, who ever wins, in terms of cricket fans it does not get bigger than an India and Pakistan final. Its a match where statistics, form and the words of pundits all are left on the boundary line, because on the square any thing can happen..

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pakistan Cricket: Batting on Hope!

Pakistan cricket team turned up for their match on June 4th at Edgbaston against India, and yes there were 11 players decked in green and they all had the necessary gear. That is about the best that they could do, sans Mohammed Amir, who clearly must think immigrating to a cricket playing country may be better than playing for a team for which amateur might be a compliment.

From the selection, to the bizarre decision to bowl first, and to tactics this was a sorry saga of a slow death, almost by choice. Rarely have Pakistan gone into major tournaments without the hope that one player will come to the party and play a match winning game. Micky Arthur, the Pakistan coach, admitted his choice of Wahab Riaz was based on the hope the big match would bring out a big game from him. After Amir's brilliant first over the script, if written in the mind of the captain, went to shreds. Any edifice a restoration of morale based of a middle overs come back went to shreds with Wahab Riaz's senseless bowling.

Sarfaraz as captain always gave the Pakistan team the hope, yes hope, that the leadership will have a spirit of fighting back. Simply having a fighting spirit is not enough, there has to be a strategy and one has to play to that strategy. Yes talent is good, and perhaps we have too much of it, but little skills to create the winning attitude within the teams thought process.

It was never clear what Pakistan as a bowling side was trying to achieve other than perhaps buy a wicket. And when the chances came they were squandered away and put done to the pressure of the game. In the modern game playing Ireland is a pressure game, so wake up and get used to it. The captain seemed on his own, lost in a confused state of mind and none of the senior players were consulted by him; it seemed he has an unshared plan and somehow through some miracle of hope it would fall in place.

If the bowling was abysmally lost in the woods, the batting was a disgrace. In the modern game you rotate the strike, you pick the loose balls to put away, you make the bowling side work for your wicket and do everything to derail their plan. Azher Ali may well carry the statistic of a fifty to his name, but someone had to remind him its not a test match. Azhar Ali and Hafeez were schoolboys who somehow picked up the Pakistan colors and thought that was enough. Babar Azam, while talented cannot fall into the trap of lauding on past innings, he has to play his role with professionalism and not just hope.

Was the target achievable? With a game plan, yes, with application and a positive approach yes. So what was missing? Perhaps the decision to bowl got to the team as it baffled everyone else. India planned it clearly that given the weather DLS would come into play and all India needed to do was get to 20 overs with a 130 odd score with no loss. We all know with each over lost the DLS system works against you if the side batting first has put up a decent score with no wickets lost.

Pakistan cricket needs dependability and this means just like we know Amir will get 7 to 8 of his 10 overs in at a good economy rate and apply pressure, we cannot be sure of any of the other 10 players. We can not even depend on them to field the ball or take a simple catch. There has to be a thought process behind the game, who does what and when, and when things are not going to plan what is plan B and Plan C.

Yes not playing cricket at home can be part of the problem, but strategy and approach are not bred on the grounds on Gaddafi Stadium, this is common sense and it would seem that is pretty uncommon with the people who manage cricket in Pakistan. In some sense our losses are put down to the one excuse, we do not get to play on home grounds! Pray tell me what will the dead pitches of Karachi and Lahore teach you to handle conditions in Australia or England? Indeed its not easier to prepare the domestic talent without cricket at home, but there is a domestic league and till the security situation is not seriously improved one has to make do with the resources we have. Nay not make do, but to approach the game with a modern mind set.

Yes the Champions Trophy is a tough battle and Pakistan cannot get anywhere if their approach does not change towards the remaining matches. This means some major chats with key players, it also means axing some players and getting a strategy in place not only for each game but each phase of each game.

Hope will not win matches, talent alone will only give you flashes of individual brilliance, but a team focused on a plan and true teamwork where all departments of the game change. We know making changes midway in a tournament are not recommended but then desperate times need desperate measures.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Building Walls.

President Trump's rally call, as a candidate, was the building of a wall with Mexico. A call that resonated with the America's blue collar workers who felt they had been disfranchised and lost jobs to illegal immigrants. Appealing to base emotions rather than facts Donald Trump accused the trade agreements for the loss of US jobs; strangely enough workers in German car factories in USA also nodding their approval for the xenophobic rhetoric that swept Trump to the White House.

While one may argue that the Trump camp lacks a cogent and cohesive foreign policy the reality is that within President Trumps mind there is a policy statement garnished with the slogan of Make America Great Again. In those four words a filter has been created and for Trump anything that does not meet his definition of greatness or erodes the edifice in his mind, it needs to be purged and replaced.

President Trump is an isolationist with a twist; isolationist to anyone who would question his view, isolationist to any process where he feels he is accountable, engaging only with those who will embrace his view of the world. Having manufactured consent on the back of building walls during the elections, he now is building walls, both visible (still to get budget funding) to invisible walls. Having drawn a line in the desert between Mexico and the US, he moved to impose tariffs on Canadian lumber, setting off a trade war of attrition.

For those of us who paused and said well he has got that out of his system and will now step into the role that behoves a world leader waited with abated breath for his first visit abroad. The Middle East leg went well from trumps perspective, away from the 'nasty fake' reporters in Washington, only to land in to Europe where the depth and resolve of a Trump doctrine on foreign policy, especially leadership of NATO was expected to unfold.

A dumbfounded world audience just watched Trump push aside a Nato member premier, have an uncomfortable handshake with President Marcon, and then alienated himself from NATO partners by going off in a golf cart on his own while they walked to a summit conference hall. The more hard nosed amongst us brushed these bizarre incidents as part of the idiosyncrasies that frame the personality of Donald Trump and felt the meat on the bone would be covered in due course.

From there on President Trump in each statement, each utterance, brick by brick started to build an invisible wall with the closest and staunchest allies of the United States. First he did not reaffirm America's commitment to Article 5 of the NATO alliance, a tradition that every US President has done since NATO was formed. Then as the discussion veered towards the Paris Accord on Climate Change, President Trump shocked the world by not endorsing it.

President Trump in those two fateful steps moved away from the leadership of the moral compass of the free world and put a wall between him and Europe. His discomfort in the company of the very allies he was dumping was obvious, perhaps lacking the intellectual depth to hold his own with them he took the one course he knows best, step as far away as possible.

It seems to be clear that his vision of making America Great Again is clearly not got its mind around the fact that America is great in its leadership of the world. For a country with 5% of the world population and 25% of the world economy and 20% of the worlds carbon pollution, it cannot just stand on the sidelines in isolation to march of 190 nations who are concerned about the world we will leave for the next generations. You cannot make America great by ignoring that NATO, with all its issues, is still the only bulwark to prevent Russia repeating the Crimea take over elsewhere in Europe. America's greatness comes from its world leadership and from a strong domestic economy.

In the vacuum that is thus created in Europe the role of Germany and France, with perhaps a resurgent UK, will be pivotal to the shape of world politics. It will soon be clear that if President Trump continues to build these walls he will have a great America, sitting on its on, having eroded all the effort of 60 odd years of world leadership.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Comeygate: Trump's quick sand?

President Donald Trump has achieved notoriety for his impulsiveness and of late the use of social media to make his opinions known. As he has hammered the press about ‘fake news’ he has compulsively ignored that he has been the architect providing the fodder for concern and confusion. Political positions change, policy stance can become less rigid but his flip-flops are simply bizarre. Expediency is a prerequisite for a politician to survive; even though he may claim he is not a political figure, once he jumped into the race for President he becomes political. However, to be expedient and to be brazenly contradictory are shamefully different and Trump has shown all that matters is his own image and his own ego.

The unfolding saga with the former FBI Director James Comey has a confrontational element to it that will plague President Trump and his team in a thornier manner than the Flynn firing. Since July of 2016, when James Comey announced the FBI had no further investigation into the Hillary Clinton email matter, Trump and Comey somehow got wedded into a symbiotic relationship which does not end with Comey’s firing.

It might be useful to narrate the record on this relationship because it will perhaps be a case study for students of crisis creation in the future:

July 5, 2016 Comey recommends that the Justice Department not prosecute Hillary Clinton on the private email server issue. Trump immediately reacts with the following words, “Today is the best evidence ever that we’ve seen that our system is absolutely, totally rigged. It’s rigged.”

October 12, 2016 at rally in Florida he says of the suspended investigation, “..furthermore we are going to investigate this phony investigation. It’s a phony investigation.”

October 31, 2016 James Comey announced that the investigation into the Clinton emails is being reopened. Trump immediately announces:

"It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. But I'll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He's got to hang tough, because there's a lot of people who want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing."

November 6, 2016 James Comey tells Congress the FBI has not changed its position on not charging Hillary Clinton and clarifies that the investigation was reopened only in terms of the Huma Abedin emails backed up on a private computer. Trump immediately responds with his rigged system comments.

"Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it, the FBI knows it, the people know it. She is being protected by a rigged system. It's a totally rigged system."

January 22, 2017 , and two days after being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, Trump at a reception at the White House says  "Oh, there's James, he's become more famous than me," before patting him on the back and shaking his hand.

March 20, 2017 James Comey confirms to the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI is investigating links between the Trump campaign team and the Russians. Sean Spicer is asked if the President still has confidence in James Comey, and he answers, "there's no reason to believe he doesn't [have the president's full confidence] at this time".

April 12, 2017 When speaking to Fox news Trumps says "it's not too late" to fire Comey. "But, you know, I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens. You know, it's going to be interesting."

We know the events of since then resulting in the firing of James Comey on May 9th 2017 with the comments that everyone has lost confidence in Comey and this was based on recommendations of the Deputy Attorney General, a statement since watered down by Trump himself stating he never was comfortable about Comey and would have fired him anyway.

It is known that Trump does not have extensive discussions with his key team members before he ‘tweets’ or makes important decisions, especially those that concern matters that irritate him. This is borne out by the comment that his surrogates who speak to the press are not always going to be up to date on matters!

The fact that the President of the United States would go on record with a veiled threat about taped conversations with Comey is unbelievably insane. James Comey’s response that he would testify to Congress but only in ‘public’ clearly means he is willing to throw down the gauntlet. Trump and Co may release parts of the taped conversation, which considering the FBI director would speak of many issues and may seem compromising to Comey, it also carries the double edged sword that there could well me comments not to the liking of the Trump cause.

More importantly Trump by bringing up taped conversations has played a fatally wrong card as Congress can subpoena those tapes and cause a confrontation with the White House. Trumps assertion that Comey told him ‘three times’ that he (Trump) was not under investigation with respect to links with Russia during the campaign will come to the forefront. It is very likely that what he may have said was ‘based on the current information with us you are not the subject of this investigation.’ This does not exclude that possibility that if evidence comes up then the net would spread wider.

Trumps style of dealing with allegations that come too close to his skin are always deny and then attack. In his brazen belief that firing Comey would be seen as a positive ‘cleaning the swamp’ move seems to have back fired because it is done in the backdrop of the Russian investigation and no matter what the spin comes out of the White House the Comey firing carries the hallmark of getting rid of an irritant FBI Director.

The take away from the Comey issue is that is has all the signs of becoming a crisis that will overshadow Washington’s attention. Already key GOP figures are running for cover and realize that their man in the Oval office has created a crisis he could well have ignored and let the Russian link investigation continue its course.

Here is how this game could play out:

·      Congress cannot ignore the Russian connection and now link it to the Comey firing. In a sense the firing has given the Democrats the teeth to the investigation.
·      Comey will testify in public and will cause further headaches for Trump leading to a public spat which will only make Trump look more defensive than he should be.
·      No matter who is chosen as the new FBI Director it is impossible to stop the Russian link investigation.
·      Michael Flynn suddenly could play a key role and Congress may grant him immunity in return for his story, which seems would add fuel to the fire.
·      Eventually if there is a slightest hint of Trump acting to either protect key targets of the investigation or indeed steer questions away from himself GOP doubters will increase resulting in a crisis of confidence in Trump as never seen before.

In short Trump and his tweets have stirred up a hornets nest and he just has to hope they are not heading his way. It might be useful for him to give the blue bird that tweets a bit of a rest.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Korean Missile Crisis.

In October 1962 a young President J K Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis which, in the words of some, put the world a blink away from a nuclear war. The 13 day crisis was defused finally but not after a level of brinkmanship which has remained a text book case study of crisis management. Today North Korea's King Jong Un and President Donald Trump are enacting a dance of brinkmanship that, without a doubt, is possibly going to dwarf the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are stark differences between the two conflicts, and yet the similarities are to the extent that a possible nuclear confrontation could get out of hand.

Without discussing the 1962 crisis in too much detail, one thing was clearly obvious in that crisis was that the Russian movement of missiles to Cuba in a sense posturing by Moscow to get the US to roll back its Jupiter missile deployment in Turkey. Indeed, as the crisis rolled out the posturing could have resulted in outbreak of hostilities but one can argue that given the Russian motives there was a line they did not want to cross.

In contrast the current crisis is not something that has suddenly surprised the world. North Korea for some time now has not been secretive about its desire to have both a nuclear weapons capability and to have a credible delivery system. A study of nuclear proliferation shows that once an aspiring nuclear country crosses a certain point in its development system the roll back of the system through pressure and threats begins to fail. We saw this in the case of Israel, India and Pakistan, and North Korea is no exception to that process. Theoretically a nuclear capability is easier to achieve that back during the 1940's Manhattan Project, the two big challenges are to develop a delivery system and to then be able to reduce the size of the nuclear weapon to then be carried as a warhead.

While there is no conclusive evidence that this warhead capability has been developed by North Korea, there is a capability with them to drop a dirty nuclear bomb from conventional means, i.e aircraft or a crude warhead. Irrespective of the effectiveness of such a capability there is no doubt that a dirty bomb or a sophisticated warhead the threat to the world is present and dangerous. So let us assume that North Korea does have the capability to cause considerable trouble.

On the current crisis it is evident that the crisis and the outcomes will be influenced by the personality of the two principal players in the sordid drama; Kim Jong Un and Donald J Trump. Let is first see the Korean leaders stance, personality and posture.

Kim Jung Un is clearly an autocrat who has absolutely no restraint on his actions from within his government or its functioning system. He has demonstrated clearly that he does not tolerate dissent and more often than not will eliminate opposition even on the basis of a hint of discontent towards him. He seems to have a stubborn streak and tends have a tit for tat mentality without regard for the stakes involved in his actions. he is on record to have said recently that he has no issue to attack American military capabilities in the region and even said he soon expects to have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting mainland United States of America.

To Kim Jung Un the goals seems to be to continue his missile testing without restraint and to continue play a game of brinkmanship with President Trump. The Korean leader is posturing as if in a game of chess and relishing the standoff perhaps believing that without the support of Congress it would seem unlikely that Trump would up the ante to a first strike on North Korea. Kim Jung Un could be making a fatal mistake as it is obvious that President Trump might be impulsive enough to order a first strike without warning. All one could then hope for is that his military brass are correct in assuming a first strike could disable North Korea's entire missile system.

Should such a first strike take place it will have to assume that China, who seems to have agreed to work with Washington to defuse the situation, may step back from being neo-neutral and change its posture. Secondly, one cannot assume that Russia would stand back in the event of a US first strike against North Korea; for them there would be distinction between a missile strike in Syria by the US with an all out first strike against North Korea.

Donald Trump has approached this crisis with a degree of aggression and bravado that is atypical of the Presidents office. The fact that Trump has said he does not rule out hostilities with North Korea is a chilling statement and while it may well be designed to give a strong message to Kim Jung Un, it was greeted with a missile launch by North Korea the very next day. Diplomacy is not one of Trumps strong points and one would imagine sane voices in his Administration would have suggested that China be asked to deliver the message of US resolve.

The danger remains that the two leaders could get embroiled in a ego war the cost of which will be borne in the loss of human life beyond our imagination. The solutions have to be offered for a quick deescalation of crisis and it would seem China's role in this is paramount. Already there is a mixed message out there with Trump saying there is a major risk of war and Secretary Tillerson not ruling out the possibility to sit and talk with the North Koreans. Indeed giving an escape route to the North Koreans to come to their senses is a plausible policy, but then one is not dealing with a rational human being. One additional problem is the maverick personality of President Trump which can only create uncertainty in the current climate.

On a closing note I wonder if Trump is reading up on the 1962 Missile Crisis and if Kim Jung Un is attending his anger management classes. Sad we are close to a stage where in one afternoon we can destroy all what God created on earth.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trumpism: The Message

Donald J Trump promised he was going to be a 'different' President, none of us quite imagined 'how different?' Born into privilege, and not having held public office and his lack of finesse were givens that were known and not a revelation. Trump is not an avid student of constitutional law, like Obama, or holds a legacy of political inheritance, like Bush, or carries the charisma of a Kennedy, or the vision of Regan, but we all hope, somewhere within him is a philosophy of governance waiting to express itself. Thirty days into the Presidency the Trump administration has just not kicked out of campaign mode, and in more ways than one has shown weaknesses in its administration that wrestle logic.

Yes there is no denying that Trump spoke for the disfranchised workers, mostly white working class, and he spoke to them, during the election, with a political incorrectness that they liked and identified with. To them the ills of their economic and social plight lay with the Chinese and the Mexicans, and their insecurities came from the threat of Islamic terrorism. Trump, a candidate for the highest office, was speaking things they spoke in bars, he was not the smooth talking intellectual who has spoken to them for decades before. The fact his message was rhetoric, lacking in substance and policy, did not matter, the man was going to clean the 'swamp' in Washington and in some miraculous way change their destiny in their little hometown was all that mattered.

I am reminded of a very brilliant politician from my home country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who in 1970's stepped up and promised everyone, yes everyone, in Pakistan 'roti, capra and makkan, i.e. 'bread, clothes and a house'. He swept to power in the first general election after years of military dictatorship, even though he did not command the majority in then East Pakistan, he worked to ensure he was in power and not the majority party from the East. Bhutto was a brilliant man, but a man who knew that his promise of bread, clothes and a house were false but it did not matter, he was in power. In sense Trump reminds me of that election promise, minus the intellectual power of a Bhutto.

Sadly the message that Trumpism is bringing to the forefront is that wrestling with the values of the constitution, dismantling the edifice of the separation of powers, judging the judiciary are all fine. Yes Presidents have lied before, yes Presidents have not delivered all their promises but never have they attacked the values of what we, from the outside, see as one of America's greatest virtues, the ability to hold people in public office fully accountable. It was these institutional values that brought Nixon and Bill Clinton to face their failures, not only as Presidents but as people in office expected to hold high standards of personal and moral conduct. While it would be unfair to characterize Donald Trump as a dictator in the making, most certainly there are deeply troubling signs of his definition of his own power, without recognizing its limits, that ought to bother the saner voices amongst us.

Having spent hours listening to his election speeches and those since he took office, one cannot see even an iota of an effort for the man to become Presidential! One can excuse his style of oratory, one can excuse his hyperbolic gestures, one can even find some of his utterances, (ala Sweden's terror attack last week, which never happened) as amusing, but then Mr. Trump where are the words that carry not a nation only but the world with you. Everything is not a 'deal' and even when you talk of a new deal between the Israeli's and Palestinians, you tell us what two decades ago was proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the Arab League.

This is where the message from President Trump gets all muddled up. Clearly he has no sense of history and certainly not a man who has read much of history or anything at all. His intake of intellectual stimulus supposedly comes from watching cable TV, and his prowess over words is limited to the 140 character or so that Twitter allows! I do not expect President Trump to be an authority on Plato and Socrates, or even America's own political history, but somewhere in those disjointed words I would expect some words of encouragement that we have a President leading the free world with some vision, some political insight that is more than on offer in a run down bar in the middle of nowhere in America.

If the first 30 days have not seen the man change, we can forgive him that, but then four years is a long time to endure this sort of political leadership. His confrontational style has called the press the 'enemy' the judges 'incompetent' and ensured that America's neighbors do not feel they want to be on the same continent. It is only a matter of time, and not too far down this rocky road, when he will clash with the Republican party itself, it is almost as predictable as the sun rising tomorrow. President Trump only you can change the course of this plane, only you can give it stability and direction that instills confidence and to do that you have to take three days off, sit alone and ponder on the simple question of how do you want to lead the nation and the world, and while doing that shut down your Twitter account.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Letter to President Trump: Some Common Sense advice.

Dear Mr. President,

First of all congratulations for making it to the Oval office, a year ago it seemed as remote as Donald Duck making it there, but you out foxed the GOP candidates and then contrary to what was expected worked on the fears of the people to get where you have. Well done. I doubt you read my blog, and if you do you may think I support the other camp! Well on the contrary I support humanism and empathy and care for the people, not rhetorical words, but actions, and in all earnest some of what you have uttered has been against the grain of my values. So yes in that sense I do not support you, but it does not mean I am a Hillary supporter. (its not a zero sum game, look it up).

Given the reality you are the most important man on the planet it might not be my place to give you advice, but then who knows in the sandpile of wisdom, or the lack of it, one never knows where the surfing of the net might lead the President of the United States.

So here is some honest advice, not because I admire you, but because I am scared you will mess up and cause some catastrophe from which human kind may not recover too easily. (Study history, read up Donald there were a few men in history who single handedly caused more damage than 100 divisions of crack troops could not.)

So this list might be something you want to put on your mirror and glance it each morning as you put that clump of strange colored hair into place.

1. Stop Tweeting: President's tweet once in a while, to inform and encourage, not to denigrate and ridicule.
2. The White House is not designed to promote business interests; let Ivanka's fashion line problems stay outside the Oval office, they are not your concern especially to stop during an intelligence briefing to tweet your anger at Nordstrum.
3. Stop Feeding the American population doses of fear. Terrorists kill more people in one week in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere then the entire number of people killed by them in the US.
4. Putin is NOT your friend, have the courage to condemn what he is doing in Ukraine before you launch an attack on other countries. He loves you because you are making America weak on the international stage. Here is what Putin thinks "Donald make American great again, and leave the rest of the world to me."
5. Mexico and Canada are your neighbors and for most of modern times have been good friends, dumping crap on them will not serve your cause, and a country with weak neighbors eventually becomes weak itself.
6. Take a language course, in English. There are more expressions in the english language than 'very very' 'bigly' etc etc.
7. Read the Constitution very carefully, your attack on the judges and your attacks on the press forget that there is a thing called the separation of powers.
8. Bring some empathy into your heart, this is not like some reality show and the country is not your personal company where you can do what you like, say what you like. Humility might help.
9. The elections are over so making false statements again and again don't make them true.
10. Most important learn to lead, not just have people sitting around agreeing to you, listen to the other view, there is merit in that, especially as the majority did not vote for you and you are now their President too.

Mr President, we look to you for leadership, not for entertainment, we want you to be a statesman not a character the comedy shows will lampoon week after week. This is a serious job, all the most because next to you is a suitcase with some nuclear codes and you can destroy in one afternoon all that God has created on Earth. So be careful with this power, you owe that to the next generation.

God Bless Humanity.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

President Trump: The First 10 days.

A recurring question, during the elections, was whether Donald J Trump was competent to be the President and most argued that being a successful business, so they say, he certainly could do the job at the White House. In his first ten days in the Oval Office, President Trump and his cronies has not ceased to amaze one of their lack of expertise and their stubborn will to run the highest office in the US in a style that has even some Republicans wondering what the next three years and 355 days are expected to be like.  Clearly this will go down in history as 'The Twitter Presidency" given the propensity of Mr. Trump to use the social media as the means to announce policy, vent his anger and react to the criticisms.

If there were any hopes of a more mature and sober President to emerge from the skin of Donald J Trump these were quickly dashed when Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, appeared before the press and basically told them they were wrong in the way they reported the inauguration of the 45th President and then presented 'alternative facts' to support his, and his masters, view that the crowds were indeed the largest ever in history. About the same time President Trump was at the CIA headquarters informing his audience that the Media are horrible people and in effect he will be at war with them, presumably as he sees them as the 'enemy'.

President Trump also then signed an executive order withdrawing USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of the Pacific Rim countries including Canada. While the agreement would only take effect in Feb 2018, subject to 86% of the countries ratifying the agreement, Mr, Trump really killed the agreement before it even reached the stage of being blessed. While major modifications to the agreement were warranted scraping the agreement only plays into China's trading strategy given that the Chinese have, in the last 2 years, made commitments of investing $368 billion into the Latin American countries. While some may argue that bilateral agreements could recover the lost ground without giving the concessions that the TPP gave, the fact remains bilateral agreements will take years to put into place.

Next in line was approving the Keystone Xl pipeline which is to run 1900 KM from Alberta Canada southwards to connect to other pipelines to take Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast. Other than to upset the environmental lobby the pipelines will not necessarily benefit the US economy directly and explains why the Canadian Prime Minister was quick to welcome the decision. However the executive order by President Trump ignores the years of work done in various government agencies to ensure the pipeline does not damage a fragile ecosystem in the areas it is supposed to go through. It was interesting that about the time the order was being signed a 'gag order' was issued to the US EPA disallowing anyone from making any public statements or press releases.

The following day the big election promise of building the wall on the border with Mexico was turned into an executive order, with the small print that initially the US will pay for the wall and then later Mexico will reimburse the US. Mexico was quick to respond that there was no such agreement and the forthcoming visit of the Mexican President was cancelled by the Mexicans, (even though the Trump camp tried to make out the cancellation was a mutual decision). Clearly the backlash of American taxpayers having to pay for the wall was not going down too well with his supporters and before any noise could be heard the Sean Spicer suggested that the White House was considering a 20% tax of Mexican imports which would be more than enough to pay for the wall. Indeed, Mr Spicer clearly is not a student of economics because such a tax is always paid by the importer of record, which in this case is the US company importing the goods, so in the end the consumer would pay for the wall, not the Mexicans.

It would seem that things were getting a bit too stuck for the new team in the White House so the final coup de grace was then administered when President Trump signed the order banning people from seven countries (all Muslim) from entering the United States. While this was not 'a total and complete ban on all Muslims,' it certainly was the most ill conceived of his decisions. Yes the President has the right to make the borders secure, and yes he can pass such an order, provided it does not violate the constitution but here is the chilly aspect of it all; he never consulted the Justice Department, or the Homeland Security or the State Department on this order and certainly none of them were taken into confidence to be prepared for the effects of it.

Insofar as these are the decisions he made we must step back from them an look at some of the issues of style and substance in putting these executive orders out. Also by seeing what has happened since then we have to certainly wonder what lies ahead. When senior State Department officials, who are career diplomats, voiced their concern and dissent over the last order, through an age old tradition used by career diplomats, the quick response was to hint to these career technocrats that they are free to leave office. Unlike other government agencies generally the career diplomats in the State department are retained by every new president and only some ambassadorial positions are allocated to the incumbent President to allocate.

While the acting Attorney General may well have been in the right about questioning the legality of the immigration executive order, she may well have been wrong to question the policy, the whole affair was badly handled. Yes she should have sought to meet with the White House and express her reservations before going public, but irrespective it would seem that without a prior consultation on the new executive order the acting Attorney General may well have felt like someone being ordered to do whatever the White House wants.

The troubling aspect of this new President is that he has shown a clear inability to trust anyone and certainly not to lean on them for advice. Its almost an arrogant self belief in himself and while this may work within the executive branch of the government it is going to be a different matter when dealing with Congress in this style and manner. On a lighter note one can only be amazed at how President Trump can embellish facts to suit his own motives to the verge of lying. A case in point is when asked about the chaos his travel ban imposed he 'tweeted' that it was really the Delta airlines computer glitch that caused the chaos and his order was working 'very very nicely'. Well President Trump the Delta airlines computer glitch was 24 hours after your order went into effect.

The essential question we have to ask is whether this man is competent to understand that while he is the most powerful man on earth there are checks and balances to his power and these come from Media, the Judges and the Congress. Yes Judges can strike down his executive orders if they violate the existing laws, and yes the Media can question his decisions. This is something that we will need some getting used to.

For the record I did not support Hilary Clinton but rather felt Bernie Sanders would have been the best choice for the US. Alas we now have to stop following the media, even though I doubt he can muzzle it, and follow something called Twitter. Welcome to the Twitter Presidency.