Relationships with countries are vital

There are no perfect people, so we cannot expect perfect leaders. There are also no perfect countries, so we cannot expect perfect agreements among countries. To respond to these short-comings, we must do our best to value relationships.

This works for people as it does for countries. An ambassador noted America’s strengths are its military might and its relationships with other countries. Our relationships predate the existing leadership team, so it is imperative to nurture them. This will help us resolve problems as they arise.

This is not just a US problem where its current front man acts rashly and chaotically, breaks commitments and agreements and lies more than he does not. He has made America less trustworthy and other countries are finding a need to seek better agreements with others that do not include the US.

The imperfect European Union is experiencing significant tension with the pending Brexit, the current difficulties in Italy and the growing nationalistic movements in EU countries. This is made worse by targeted social media efforts by countries that would benefit from a dysfunctional EU and US. Russia is one of those countries and they have been accused of such targeting.

A key part of these relationships is a financial one. The global economy is larger than it otherwise would be due to these relationships. If each country only tried to maximize its own profits in a zero-sum effort, the total pie is smaller and we all lose. This concept is called the Nash Equilibrium, which won John Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Yet, it is more than that. These relationships make the world more secure and safe. The nationalists argue the opposite, but the more commerce is intertwined, leaders work harder to nourish those relationships. A strong EU makes Europe safer and prosperous. A strong relationship with the US and other countries does the same.

Yet, these agreements are imperfect. Not every citizen within a country may benefit equally from a global economy. There is a graph called the “Elephant Curve,” which is a silhouette of an elephant with its trunk raised. The body forms the rampant growth in income of the poorest workers around the world, while the trunk represents the even more significant growth in the highest income earners. The trough inbetween represents the middle income earners who are seeing stagnant incomes, who are in more flourishing economies. This trough has led to populist politicians who over-simplify the problems and come to short-sighted solutions.

Their needs must be addressed, but first we must understand the causes are more than the global economy. The larger threat is techonology advancements. Through our relationships we must invest together on addressing these issues. If we do not, we will create zero-sum contrasts, that will cause even more tension. The rise of fascism in Germany evolved out of dire economic circumstances after WWI.

This last example should inform us of why working collectively is so important. We must value our relationships and make them as beneficial as possible. Going it alone may seem like a good idea to some, but we need to think through the benefit of trade and mutual investment in each other.

If this concept sounds theoretical, let me explain it better by BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan making cars in America, with GM and Ford making cars around the world. And, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Jobs are created as we invest in each other’s countries. This is true for other industries and suppliers. And, we may be less inclined to create war, when so much is invested in each other.

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US is going alone again

Unless we alter our course, this period of time will be remembered as when the US ceded its global leadership role. We are following a path of nativism and retrenchment. And, there is one thing for certain – we cannot shrink to greatness.

First, we drop out of an Asia/ Pacific trade partnership early in the Trump presidency. The remaining countries proceeded without the US and inked a deal at the end of last year. Why is this important? When approached to do a bilateral agreement, Japan told Trump to reenter the Asia/ Pacific agreement.

Second, last June we decided to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, leaving an agreement with pretty much the rest of the world. Even ExxonMobil told us to stay in the accord. Fortunately, businesses, cities and states are picking up the dropped baton, but more is needed from our DC leaders.

Third, we do our darnedest to restrict immigration into our country from several countries and are actively seeking to expel both undocumented immigrants and children who came forward under DACA. What we fail to understand is immigration is accretive to our economy and this is a key part of our ideals.

Fourth, we have introduced tariffs on our allies and trading partners. Not only are we acting like a bully, we are acting unwisely, so say 1,140 economists including Nobel laureates and Presidential advisors. We could be precipitating a retrenchment of the global economy, of which we are a key part. The economists say this is how recessions start.

Fifth, by pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, we are heightening global risk. But, we also have turned our back on our allies who asked us to work with them to stay in the agreement. With the reimposed sanctions any EU countries doing business with Iran will also be sanctioned. This will invite sanctions by the EU on the United States’ companies doing business there.

The President views the world in a transactional way which is why he prefers bilateral agreements. He must win the transaction. In multilateral agreements, everyone wins some and loses some. He also does not value diplomacy as we have retrenched in those capabilities. The hard work is done by these folks and China is lapping us in their diplomatic efforts.

We cannot go this alone. We should pay attention to the words of French President Emmanuel Macron when he spoke to the US Congress. He beseeched us to remain involved working with others.

 

Two Western Leaders came to Washington

Last week, the two leaders of the western world met with the US President, who has ceded the US role in the world. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany visited with Donald Trump.

Of course, the US has the most powerful military in the world. We’d better as we spend far more than other countries. Yet, with our pulling back on diplomacy and the number of diplomats, with our imposition of tariffs on even our allies, with our retrenching from global agreements and with an unprecedented level of untruthfulness, we have ceded our global leadership role to China, overall, and Germany and France in the western world. And, while the UK remains important and formidable, I am sad to say Brexit will precipitate its decline from these ranks.

Macron and Merkel beseeched the US President to remain in the Iran Nuclear deal signed by seven parties (including the four countries above). As with other issues, Trump does a lot of chest beating without the benefit of being factually accurate. John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” does a nice job of defining the terms of the agreement and noting three untruthful things the US President says about it.

And, at least Macron openly requested the US to remain in the Paris Climate Change accord. We know this as Macron was allowed to speak with Congress and did so with an eye to the future and a statesman like flair. Yet, Merkel did not get such an opportunity. It puzzles me why Trump does not like her as his contempt easily shows.

He dotes on Macron, but he looks like he would rather be elsewhere when he is with Merkel. Is he jealous because Putin will actually listen to her? Is he superficial to not like her because she does not have a model’s shape or looks? Or is it her policies of openness to refugees? Or, it may be she is a student of understanding issues and he is not?

Nonetheless, she sees the future in the appropriate light as does Macron. “Narrow-minded nationalism” is something we must guard against Macron said to the US Congress. Global trade and relationships make the world safer.

I firmly believe if Trump remains in office for four years (and God forbid eight years), history will judge this period as when the US gave up its leadership role in the world. And, this happened with others not firing one shot, just a well-orchestrated influence campaign by the Russians who want a weaker west. But, don’t trust my judgement. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow has penned a book called “War on Peace” that notes the same premise with definitive examples. The decline in diplomacy is a huge mistake – we sent two people to a global issues meeting, while China sent twenty. They worked the rooms.

This is a sad state of affairs. We have listened to a populist President who does not care to know historical context and is not beholden to the truth. He has listened to people who want us to retrench. And, there is one thing for certain, we cannot shrink to greatness. It matters not what the ball caps say at Trump rallies.

The demise in influence has already begun

I believe historians will look back at this period of time, unless it is reversed, as the time when the US ceded its leadership role in the world. They will also speak of how China easily transitioned into that role.

On the first show of the new season, John Oliver highlighted what is happening on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight.” Although it is a comedy show, the news covered is envied for its depth and veracity. I have seen topics covered here that other sources will later pick up.

On this show, Oliver repeated a Pew survey result that has shown trust in the US leader has fallen from 48% to 30% since the leadership reins have changed. Looking past the ridicule the President is getting from comedians and even leaders around the globe, Oliver discussed two concerning news items.

First, we do not have ambassadors in many countries under this President, including important countries like South Korea, Turkey and Saudi Arabia per Oliver. General Mattis said in 2013 before the Senate Intelligence committee that we need funding for diplomacy because if we don’t then he has to buy more bullets. The current President said in an interview that he is the only diplomat that matters. That is scary to me as he does not know what he does not know. Nor does he want to do the necessary homework.

Second, an equally scary concern is because of our retrenchment, the US is sending only a a couple people to global meetings, while China sends two dozen. The Chinese officials cover all of the meetings to build relationships, where it is difficult for the Amercans to do the same. It should not be lost on people that Xi Jingping has twice now followed Donald Trump at global forums in Davos and Hanoi giving the speech that the US President usually gives. Xi speaks of global trade, whereas Trump speaks of bilateral agreements.

When I hear Trump’s strident fans say what a great job he is doing, I think of his reducing our influence around the globe. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is just one example. We must have relationships with our allies to build consensus. The sad truth is this is supposed to be Trump’s strength. Instead we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

I will not be surprised

I will not be surprised if the Mueller investigation finds that the President of the United States has been compromised by Russia. There is too much lying, ignoring and self-preserving going on by the man in the White House. In fact, if it turns out he is not, that will surprise me. At the very least he is an unwitting agent of Russia. Just ask yourself why he did not impose sanctions on Russia nor has he shown alarm over the Mueller findings that Russia has attacked the US and is still doing so?

I will not be surprised if Congress does not do a damn thing about better gun governance. I am so proud of the young people calling for a march begging for action. Yet, Congress and the President don’t have the backbone to do the right thing and do what a significant majority of Americans have asked for – background checks and elongated waiting periods. These actions should be no brainers, but the NRA dictates subservience to Republicans and some Democrats.

I will not be surprised if Congress cannot reach compromise on the immigration bills, especially with the ever-changing President putting his fingerprints on discord. He upset the proceedings on Friday, a few weeks after he stabbed Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin in the back and asked Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue to lie for him. What all legislators have discovered is the famous self-proclaimed negotiator is not trust worthy. If you do so, it is at your own peril.

I will not be surprised if we have more school shootings in the near future. I will not be surprised if the British parliament decides against Brexit. And, I will sadly not be surprised if one of the leader of Norh Korea and United States does something too provocative. On the school shootings and North Korea issue, I hope I am dead wrong. On the former, with our gun laws, it is very hard to stop a dedicated individual shooter. On the latter, I am not confident that judgment can temper ego with respect to these two leaders.

 

Watergate was bad, but that was not Nixon’s greatest crime

I have been watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary on The Vietnam War. While tough to watch at times, the ten part series has been very informative, as it takes us through a variety of perspectives on this tragic war – American soldiers, Viet Cong soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and citizens, American parents and relatives of soldiers, draft dodgers, protestors, Presidents, military leaders, experts, etc.

What has been frustrating, JFK, LBJ and Nixon all were not very forthcoming with the American people or press on the Vietnam issues. They knew early on this was an unwinnable war and that we had partnered with a corrupt leadership in South Vietnam. And, as many American soldiers attested, we were fighting a very effective opponent in guerilla warfare. These leaders also led on the American people to believe we were winning the war, when that was not the case.

The two Presidents that frustrate me the most on these issues are LBJ and Nixon. For all the good LBJ did domestically, he went down a poor path that said we must stave off communism at all costs. As a result, he escalated the war. But, Nixon did something that was unforgivable that is actually worse than what he did with the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to his resignation and jailing of over twenty of his staff members.

If it were not for Watergate, the Nixon Presidency would have been mostly remembered for its positives – opening up China, establishing better relationships with the Soviet Union and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency, balanced by the negatives of his widening of the Vietnam War and his iron thumb on protestors. So, what was worse than Watergate?

Richard Nixon committed treason and twenty thousand more Americans died and even more were injured. Nixon called the President of South Vietnam five days before the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey to ask him to hold off on going to Paris peace talks that had been progressing and he would his influence on North Vietnam to get better terms. The encouraging news of the peace talks had brought Humphrey closer to Nixon in the election polls and Nixon felt the need to derail the peace talks for his benefit.

How do we know this? The CIA bugged the South Vietnamese President and recorded the conversation between him and Nixon (see below link). LBJ listened to the recording and called the most senior Republican Senator and a friend and they both spoke of Nixon’s treason, repeatedly using that term. LBJ decided not to act (does this sound familiar), but did get a call from Nixon where he noted to LBJ he had heard these rumors and they were not true. That was a lie, but LBJ did not call him on it. Maybe LBJ felt it would lead to his own lies on how well the war was going or maybe he felt like Obama did last year that it would look politically motivated.

The result of this treasonous act is the peace talks stalled and the war went on for four more years. Many more Americans died needlessly. To be frank, American deaths which occurred before then were needless as well, as we knew we could not win. Some folks may contend I am making this up or using inflammatory language. But, the word “treason” was used by the President of the United States and the lead Republican Senator to define what Nixon did. Intervening with a foreign entity to override our policy is far more than poor form. It is criminal. And, American people died or were injured.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668

When Leaders Hide the Truth

I have been watching the excellent documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick called “The Vietnam War.” After just two episodes, a key conclusion can be made. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer.

American leaders, both military and in the White House, did not shoot straight with Americans and people died. There were numerous opportunities to realize what we should have known going in, that we were abetting a war effort that could not be won.

We backed a leader that was corrupt and who hired corrupt leaders all down the line. We were battling an enemy who was winning the hearts and minds of the rural people, who detested the corruption and Americans who supported it. We told Americans at home, things were going better than they were and tried to cover up the bad news.

As evidence, there was one battle after which the leaders in Saigon declared victory, but the leader in the field said it was a debacle. It was so bad, the Viet Cong was galvanized around their victory and no longer feared the Americans.

Leaders must not hide the truth. An American soldier said we were the first troops to realize we could not trust our leadership to tell us the truth.This battle was early in the Kennedy Presidency, so we could have saved many American lives had we been more honest with ourselves and the American people. What became apparent, we remained and expanded our efforts only to prevent the spread of communism as this was in the middle of the Cold War.

The sad truth is we do not learn lessons from history and are destined to repeat mistakes. Everything we needed to know, we could have gleaned from the French failure in Vietnam. Later, we went into Iraq and Afghanistan without full understanding of the issues and people involved. We should have known about Afghanistan as we aided the tribes to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. We sided with the less than scrutable leadership in Iraq.

What frustrates me is people die when we don’t think things through and are not truthful. And, as John Fogerty sang, it is not the senators’ sons who are dying. This is what bothers me most about our current President who has a very hard time with the truth. Coupling that weakness with his lack of desire to learn what he does not know exacerbates his ineffectiveness. I just hope people won’t die due his limitations and behaviors.