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.