Thursday, May 16, 2019

Trump Puts American Democracy in Danger



Earlier this year, “Freedom in the World 2019” by Freedom House told that democracy was losing momentum worldwide, and particularly, the decline of democracy in America was critical. The total score of the 100 point Freedom House index has dropped sharply since Donald Trump took office. Founded by Wendell Willkie and First Lady-then Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941, Freedom House has been involved in reinforcing America’s value diplomacy. Wilkie was a Republican presidential rival against Democrat Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election, who edged out isolationist candidates in the primary of his party. Today, the bipartisan NGO for democracy promotion worldwide is shifting their focus to the domestic front. The decline of democracy at home is more critical to American hegemony than the 5G rivalry with China. Historically, Britain stood out as the world role model of parliamentary democracy, even though Germany emerged as a formidable rival in techno-hegemony during the Bismarck and the Kaiser era. The corrosion of American democracy is so devastating.

The Freedom House report narrates the general trend as follows. After the victory of Western democracies in the Cold War, authoritarian powers like China and Russia backlashed the liberal world order. Some Third World nations follow this trend, and their freedom score has dropped sharply. In addition, globalization has widened inequality in the Western society. It has benefitted the rich in developed nations and workers in emerging economies, while low skilled workers in developed economies are impoverished. This has led to the rise of anti-liberal movements in America and Europe, and they embrace authoritarian nationalism to deny multilateral rules, immigrants, and constitutional democracy. This report calls such loss of confidence in liberal democracy from 2005 to 2018 “the 13 year decline of global freedom”. Deplorably, the United States is not the leader of global freedom, but a battleground between democracy and autocracy, now.

The vital reason why I consider democracy decline in America so important is that this is an internal corrosion of the superpower. When experts talk about great power rivalries in this century, they tend to focus on external factors like global power shift, the rise of China, and the resurgence of Russia. But the supremacy of liberal democracies rests on internal strength, stability, and confidence, rather than external challenges by autocracies. American democracy was already in crisis before Trump. Partisan divide widened, economic mobility decreased, special interest groups grew uncontrollable, and people did not respect fact-based journalism. In the Trump era, things are deteriorating furthermore. The Freedom House report describes the state of American democracy as follows. Since Trump scorns fundamental norms of democracy, the United States is the worst among the G7 plus Australia in the Freedom House index. Though this country has managed to stay in the category of “free”, not falling to “partially free” or “not free” of the Freedom House grading, it suggests that the American political system of the Founding Fathers is no assurance to sustain sound democracy. The report raises examples like Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey, to argue how vulnerable democratic institutions are to autocrats.

The report gives a diagnosis of the Trump presidency from the following five points. First, Trump is too contemptuous of the rule of law. When the judge made decisions disadvantageous to him over immigrant issues, he attacked the credentials and impartiality of the judges, like “Obama’s judge” and “so-called judge”. He even demanded the Department of Justice to prosecute political opponents, notably James Comey and Hillary Clinton. His political manipulation of judicial system goes furthermore to use his pardon power to reward political allies. These are critical threats to the independence of justice. Second, Trump represses the press freedom. He easily labels some media unfavorable to him “fake news” or “the enemy of the people” to agitate popular distrust to fact-based journalism. He disdains legal and social protection of journalists, which could ruin the safety of news reporters, as it happens in some autocracies like Putin’s Russia. These two points raised by Freedom House show that Trump infringes on checks and balances. In my view, Trump exploits popular anger just for himself, at the expense of democratic governance. He does not care how many people he sidelines, in order to achieve his goals. He does his job just to satisfy his electoral base.

Such egoism leads to corruption, which is vital for the country-based assessment by Freedom House to determine the level of democracy. The third point of the report is transparency and public service norms. Trump has broken the ethical standards of modern democracy so frequently. Notably, his affiliates have received money from questionable foreign sources. The Trump Organization negotiated for investment from the Shanghai Municipal Investment Group, a Chinese state-owned company, for a construction project in Manhattan (“As tariffs near, Trump’s business empire retains ties to China”; Washington Post; July 5, 2018). Also, Saudi Arabian lobbyists reserved Trump’s hotel rooms, shortly after the presidential election. In addition to these foreign interferences, the appointment of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump is Third World nepotism. There are so many conflicts of interests. The fourth point is that Trump attacks the legitimacy of the election when the result is unfavorable. In the midterm election in 2018, he told his supporters that Democrats cheated voting, without evidence. On the other hand, his administration shows little interest in gerrymandering and foreign meddlings including Russia.

In addition to these four domestic issues, the fifth point is that Trump disdains democracy promotion and collective defense so much that allies and the global community trust America less and less. On the other hand, autocratic nations from Russia, Saudi Arabia, to Cambodia applaud Trump’s refusal to uphold American values. Even China, that faces a bitter trade war with the United States, welcomes this trend so that she can export her authoritarian development model to the Third World. Freedom House worries that this will provoke the breakdown of the liberal world order. All the five points that Freedom House raises are deeply intertwined in the Russia probe. It is questioned that Trump’s handpicked Attorney General William Barr distorts the recommendation of the Mueller Report, though Robert Mueller and his fellow prosecutors say Trump is indictable. The administration’s wrongful behavior hurts the rule of law and the legitimacy of election in particular.

The problem is Republican appeasement to Trump. This is typically seen in the closed door meeting between former Vice President Dick Cheney and Vice President Mike Pence, which was set by the American Enterprise Institute. While Cheney raised a concern with growing frictions with allies and “Obama-styled” noninterventionism, Pence justified it to say that it was voters who had chosen Trump, and the administration acted accordingly (“Former vice president Cheney challenges Pence at private retreat, compares Trump’s foreign policy to Obama’s approach”; Washington Post; March 11, 2019). Furthermore, Max Boot comments that leading Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham embrace Trump’s illegal and unethical conducts over the Russia Probe, though they denounced similar Democrat misbehaviors in the past (“Republicans are hall-of-fame hypocrites”; Washington Post: May 9, 2019). Democracy promotion is the core value of American hegemony. Currently ongoing trade war with China draws much attention, but whether to win or lose it is just a local skirmish in the world order. This is typically seen in the speech of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Western liberal model of the society is dying and the world no longer trust America (“The New New World Order and the Russian Care Bear”; New American; April 15, 2019). So many allies still prioritize the relationship with the United States, though Trump makes America less and less trustworthy. That is turning the world more and more destabilized.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Japan Needs to Reexamine Russia’s Geostrategy in Europe and the Middle East

President Vladimir Putin gave a strong reminder for the Japanese people to realize huge perception gaps lie ahead between both countries, as he said that Japan’s alliance with the United States was a hurdle for the peace treaty and territorial talks (“Putin says 'Tempo has been lost' on Japan-Russia peace treaty”; Nikkei Asian Review; March 16, 2019). Every time bilateral summit is held, Japanese people and media fall into wishful thinking that Russia would be willing to return the Northern Territories, become a reliable geopolitical counterbalance against China, and commit herself to deepen bilateral economic development cooperation in the Far East. Certainly, Putin is exploring the pivot to Asia. The Asia Pacific region will be increasingly important in the global power shift, and domestically, under populated and under developed Russian Far East needs foreign direct investments. But that does not make Russia so generous as Japanese people expect.



Abe meets Putin.


Before talking of Russo-Japanese interactions, it is necessary to reexamine fundamental principle of Russian geostrategy, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, as there are many lessons to be learned to foresee the Kremlin’s thoughts and behaviors in Russia’s front door regions. On the other hand, the Asia Pacific region is still the Kremlin’s strategic back door, and the Russian influence there has fallen so drastically after the collapse of the Soviet Union that some Chinese officials even caricatures that this country is their junior partner. Currently, Russian strategy in East Asia is not so clear as those in Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, I would like to mention how Russia acts in both regions, in order to explore her global strategy and Japan policy.

To begin with, let me talk of Europe. As shown in Putin’s well-known comment that the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century (“Putin says he wishes the Soviet Union had not collapsed. Many Russians agree.; Washington Post; March 3, 2018), the Kremlin’s strategic priority is to restore Russian power and influence in the Former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations, and to weaken the Western alliance. Therefore, Russia annexed Crimea and sponsors proxy uprising in Donbass in Ukraine; intervened in ethno-religious conflicts in the Caucasus area like Georgia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh; and signed the Union State treaty with Belarus. In addition, Russia has been trying every means to dissolve the Western alliance. Since Russia was critically alarmed at post-Cold War expansion of NATO and the EU to the east, Putin sponsored far right rising in former Warsaw Pact nations, such as Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, and so forth. He went furthermore to intervene in the voting of Western Europe, notably in the Brexit referendum, and also national elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy. These manipulations have brought chasms among European nations and rifts in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

From this point of view, I assume that Putin told seriously to divide the security ties between Japan and the United States. Just as Donald Trump’s controversial election pledges were, Putin’s message to Japan is not a poker game. Actually, Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, had told Japanese people to split from the US-Japanese alliance, again and again. In practice, the Kremlin may not force Japan to abolish the alliance with the United States, but they are shaking security partnership of the two countries. In Europe, where Putin has been intervening for years, pro-Russian right wing regimes do not seek exit from the EU and NATO, but they destabilize multilateral institutions of Western democracies. Through bilateral negotiations on the Northern Territories and the Peace Treaty, Japan could fall into another target of Putin’s alliance breaking. Japanese politicians may argue whether to negotiate for a two-island or a four-island return of the Northern Territories among themselves, but that is meaningless in view of Putin’s solid will to dissolve the solidarity of liberal democracies in Europe and Asia.

Also, Japan can learn lessons from Russian geopolitical strategy in the Middle East. The Kremlin is neither interested in the War on Terror, nor any kind of regional order. The priority for Putin is to maximize Russian power and influence in a savage power game. Therefore, he supports the Assad regime in Syria, to secure the naval base since the Soviet era. Also, Russia dares to take contradictory measures. Though Iran is one of the closest partners in the Middle East, Russia has sold S-400 surface to air missiles to Iran’s strategic rival Saudi Arabia, and major regional powers like Turkey and Qatar (“RUSSIA MAY SELL MISSILE SYSTEM TO QATAR, SAUDI ARABIA, SYRIA AND TURKEY, FUELING ALL SIDES OF MIDDLE EAST CONFLICTS”; News Week; January 25, 2018). Actually, the Kremlin balances Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both regional arch rivals compete for their influence. In Syria, Russia endorses Assad with Iran, but that is not the case with Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and the Kremlin even sponsors pro-Saudi ethnic or religious groups in these countries (“Balancing Act: Russia between Iran and Saudi Arabia”; LSE Middle East Centre Blog; 7 May, 2018). Japan should bear such cold-blooded geopolitics in mind. In East Asia, we can regard pro-American Japan as a Saudi Arabia, and anti-American China as an Iran. It is too wishful to expect Putin’s Russia to check China for Japan.

While Russia acts on savage reality of international politics, quite a few Japanese are preoccupied with “cultural romanticism”. They argue that Japan as an Asian nation explore proud and more independent diplomacy with Russia, rather than associating herself with the West. It sounds brave, but their nationalism is empty and poorly founded, because they hardly give consideration to the behavioral principle of Russia on a global scale. They may stress Japan’s geographical position, ethno-cultural Asianness, and politico-cultural uniqueness from the West, but such a simple-minded emotion coincides with that of the far right in Europe and America. Nationalist extremists in the Atlantic nations assume natural bonds with Putin, simply because they share a white Christian identity and socially traditionalist values, but anyone of common sense understands how ridiculous it is. From this point of view, it is necessary to exonerate Japanese people from wrong perceptions. Remember that Joseph Stalin broke the Neutrality Pact with Japan unilaterally at the end of World War II, just as he did in Europe and the Middle East. Japan is nothing exceptional for Russians, and “cultural romanticists” should not make the same mistake again.

Finally, Japanese policymakers need to reconsider the real meaning of the frequently mentioned Russian complaint that whenever they meet Japanese experts, they are forced to hear about the dispute over the Northern Territories, and they are fed up with it. In my understanding, that implies something deeper than what it literally says. Russians may want to tell the Japanese to “grow up” enough to discuss something else. They may see Japanese in the same perspective as the Japanese see South Korean nationalists who are still preoccupied with the dispute over historical issue. Of course, the territorial issue is vital for Japan, but we must impress the Russians with our global and regional blueprints for the future, in parallel with this. Also, it would be interesting if Japanese experts ask a question in return, what people other than Japanese talk about when they meet the Russians. What do Americans talk about? How about Europeans? How about Chinese? How about Indians, Arabs, and Iranians? All the nations I mentioned here are of high priorities for Russia’s global geopolitical and economic strategy. If the Russians were to reply to this question, it would be helpful to bilateral diplomacy for the future.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Britain and the EU, Don’t Dismiss Russia behind Brexit




While most of the experts and the media watch close on parliamentary interactions in Westminster and UK-EU diplomatic negotiations, not so much attention is paid to British criminals who helped Russian President Vladimir Putin’s manipulation of the EU referendum. In other words, it is suspicious that current Brexit is the will of the Kremlin and traitors like Arron Banks and Leave.EU, not that of the people. Though the 29 March time limit for the deal with the EU is coming, I would argue that the process be suspended. In addition, the case of Arron Banks is strongly interconnected with the Russia probe on the Trump campaign in the United States. From these aspects, the question of legitimacy and legality of Brexit should draw more public attention.

Let me talk about the Banks case. The National Crime Agency has been investigating this affair since the Brexit vote in August, 2016. Last November, the High Court was in the process to judge the case brought by the NCA (“Brexit: High Court to rule if referendum vote ‘void’ as early as Christmas after Arron Banks investigation”; Independent; 24 November, 2018). Meanwhile, British expatriates in Europe sued a pro-Brexit organization called Vote Leave in December for illegal spending, in order to repeal Brexit (“Expats ask High Court to declare Brexit vote invalid”; Financial Times; December 7, 2018), the High Court fined only £61,000 for the organization, and some charges for individual student activists. James Eadie, Queens Counsel who represents the government in this case, commented that it was too late for a legal challenge against Brexit, because the procedure had gone through so much (“Brexit: High Court rejects challenge to annul referendum result in major blow to Remain campaigners”; Independent; 10 December, 2018 and “Expatriates lose in bid for High Court review of 2016 referendum”; Financial Times; December 10, 2018). As to Banks and Leave.EU, the Information Commissioner’s Office charged them £120,000 for violation of personal data to help Brexit movements (“Leave.EU and Arron Banks insurance firm face £135,000 in fines”; BBC News; 6 November, 2018 and “Leave.EU and Arron Banks insurance firm fined £120,000 for data breaches”; Guardian; 1 February, 2019). But this is not sufficient, in view of the critical security challenge that they posed. The Banks case is deeply intertwined with the Trump-Russia connection, and further NCA investigation could reveal something about Nigel Farage and the UKIP. Remember, Farage admires Putin, like his far right comrades in Europe and America.

Quite strangely, Russian interference in the Brexit vote is hardly on the issue on both sides of the Dover. Notably, Brexiteers of Westminster are excessively preoccupied with cumbersome regulations by Eurocrats and national sovereignty from Brussels, but their patriotism dismisses much more critical posed by Russia. From national survival point of view, EU bureaucracy is just a noisy regulator, while Russia sends agents to poison the Skripals, and intrudes the British air and sea sphere with fighters, nuclear bombers, and naval warships. But the British side is not the only one to be blamed, because both the Downing Street and Brussels focus solely on the due process of law in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In other words, May just acts as an executor of the Brexit vote, while the EU executives are preoccupied with long time conflicts between Britain and Continental Europe.

In view of such narrow-sighted simplicity, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran questions why May refuses the second referendum despite Putin’s theft of the will of the British people in the Brexit vote. Also, she criticizes Brexiteers for likening EU counterparts to the Nazis, while dismissing the threat of the real autocrat like Putin. Furthermore, she demands Arron Banks to explain more clearly about his donation of Russian money to Leave.EU in the NCA investigation, which is likely to continue after Brexit on schedule (“I asked Theresa May if she sides with Putin or the people – an answer would tell us who Brexit is really for”; Independent; 10 January, 2019). Nevertheless, Brexiteers only care about Britain’s “independence from Europe”. Quite interestingly, Professor Yuichi Hosoya at Keio University pointed out that the Conservative Party had become ideologically intolerant since Margaret Thatcher, as shown in her strong anti-socialism and anti-European integration stances (“May’s Historic Defeat in the Parliament over The Brexit Bill”; Nippon Broadcasting System; January 18, 2019).

Similarly, late Professor Emeritus Michio Morishima at the London School of Economics mentioned repeatedly that Thatcher’s visions were based on Methodist faith, so much that she saw everything from good and bad perspectives, in his books such as “Britain and Japan” and “Britain in the Thatcher Era”. This is typically seen in her unswerving belief in the market economy and refusal of socialism. Such oversimplified understandings of socio-economic and political issues are more like those of grassroots conservatives in America, rather than traditional Conservatives in Britain. Likewise, self-styled Thatcherite and Eurosceptics today are so narrow-sighted to focus entirely on Anglo-European discrepancies that they dismiss multi-dimensional aspects of international politics like Russian manipulation of democratic procedures in the West. They are lopsided like American far right Dana Rohrabacher, who lost the House seat in the midterm election, as he denied the Kremlin’s disinformation because Russia was no longer communist, at the House Foreign Relations Committee (“Rohrabacher: Russia Is No Longer Motivated By Communist Ideology, No Longer A Threat”; Real Clear Politics; March 10, 2017).

Meanwhile, the Open Democracy UK follows dirty money behind Brexit campaign, while major media and think tanks do not pay much attention to this. Regarding the donation from Banks to Leave.EU, thorough investigation is necessary, because Putin’s infiltration into Western democracy is a critical concern. In addition, this case is deeply intertwined with the Russia probe on the Trump campaign. The Open Democracy UK reveals another Brexit scandal that the Democratic Union Party of Northern Ireland Protestants received dubious money from India (“The strange link between the DUP Brexit donation and a notorious Indian gun running trial”; openDemocracy UK; 28 February, 2017 and “Revealed: the dirty secrets of the DUP’s ‘dark money’ Brexit donor; openDemocracy UK; 5 January, 2019) and someone associated with Saudi Arabian intelligence service (“Democratic Unionist Party Brexit campaign manager admits he didn’t know about its mysterious donor’s links to the Saudi intelligence service”; openDemocracy UK; 16 May, 2017) for their Brexit campaign. They may have been funded by Russia as well, and further investigation is required.

After all, it seems that so many inconvenient facts are hidden behind Brexit. Regardless of parliamentary and diplomatic interactions, this Brexit is too brusque and poorly prepared. I am not saying that Britain stay firmly in the EU forever. But the consequence of the EU referendum has simply brought confusion both inside and outside the United Kingdom. Some negative impacts on the economy are seen like financial companies’ shift to Frankfurt and the closure of Japanese car factories. Simply, that pleases Putin as it is his vital security interest to weaken the Western alliance. Above all, the validity of Brexit vote is questionable, whether the result is the will of the people. Fortunately, the May administration and the EU are extending the Brexit date, as Westminster rejected the bill repeatedly (“EU Wants a Brexit Delay But Governments at Odds Over Length”; Bloomberg News; February 26, 2019). In view of such turmoil, I would argue that British and European stakeholders wait and see the results of criminal investigations by public organizations like the NCA and private organizations like the Open Democracy UK. Unlike James Eadie, a legal advisor to the UK government, says, it is not too late to reexamine the validity of Brexit, from legal and national security perspectives.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Trump Republican’s Dangerous Shift towards the Far Right



As rumored among experts and the media, the Trump administration is reshuffling the cabinet after the midterm election, through firing adults like White house Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in order to remove hurdles to keep the election pledges. President Donald Trump declared to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, though terrorists are still formidable for local troops, and geopolitical power vacuums after that is critically concerned (“Mattis resigns after clash with Trump over troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan”; Washington Post; December 20, 2018). In addition to this, Trump adheres to the budget to the wall on the Mexican border too obstinately, which has led to the clash with the Congress and subsequent government shutdown inevitable (“The Latest: Democrats refuse to fund Trump’s “immoral” wall”; AP News; December 9, 2018). Clearly, the administration is shifting towards the far right. Everything goes as William Kristol said that Trump only wanted to occupy the Republican Party with his loyalists, and did not care about moderates who lost the seat in the midterm election (@BillKristol; Twitter; November 7, 2018 and @BillKristol; Twitter; November 12, 2018).

It is not the administration and the Congress that matters. The shift to the far right could change the Republican base, which would provoke further shift to xenophobic populism. A warning flash emerged in the semiannual CNBC millionaire survey in the last November. According to this poll, the rich are losing trust in Trump, including those of Republicans. Their population may not be large, but they are politically active in voting in the election and donating to campaigns (“Wealthy Republicans lose faith in Trump, as nearly 40% say they wouldn’t vote to re-elect him: CNBC survey”; CNBC News; December 23, 2018). The rich worry governmental dysfunction (“The biggest risk to millionaire wealth is Washington: Survey”; CNBC News; December 17, 2018). That is understandable, because political and national security risks are market risks. Trump’s poor handling of domestic and international politics can provoke them to break away from Republicans, which could enhance the far right furthermore within the party.

Such “Corrosion of Conservatism” implies that the Trump far right more caustic than the Democrat left. I would like to mention the following reasons for this. Firstly, even Democrat leftists like Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi are more willing to abide by bipartisan foreign policy common sense than Trump, as they have long and responsible congressional careers. Secondly, Trump adheres to unrealistic election pledges so obstinately as seen in the latest government shutdown over the wall on the Mexican border. Also, he defies everything in college textbooks of policy making as shown in his trade wars and alliance breaking. Thirdly, Trump’s leadership style is quite like that of corruptional Third World dictators, as he demands mafia-like personal loyalty to his staff. That could jeopardize American democracy. After all, no other politicians, regardless of partisanship and ideology, have such aberrant temperament.

The fourth reason is the most critical, and it has global implications. That is Vladimir Putin’s sponsorship of the far right in Europe, and the Trump phenomenon is a ripple effect of it. People focus on domestic aspects that give rise to him, but we cannot dismiss the worldwide crisis of democracy. As we know, Russia has been intervening Eastern Europe to restore Soviet era geopolitical influence there. Putin’s Russia goes furthermore into major powers in Western Europe. The most devastating one is Russian interference in the Brexit vote, which is deeply interconnected with the Trump case. At the end of the last year, the British National Crime Agency started to investigate an anti-EU businessman Aaron Banks, on suspicion of financing Leave.EU’s campaign in the EU referendum to help Russian troll on the web (“UK National Crime Agency Starts Investigation Into Eurosceptic Businessman Aaron Banks”; EU Today; November 1, 2018). More importantly, the High Court of England and Wales told the media that Brexit might be illegal and invalid, if the case was guilty (“Brexit: High Court to rule if referendum vote ‘void’ as early as Christmas after Arron Banks investigation”: Independent; 24 November, 2018). Just before Christmas, it was revealed that Banks talked with Cambridge Analytica whose notorious ties with Russia and the Trump campaign team are frequently mentioned, to help micro-targeting of British voters by Leave.EU (“Revealed: Arron Banks Brexit campaign's 'secret' meetings with Cambridge Analytica”; 19 December, 2018; openDemocracy UK). In addition to Britain, Putin demonstrated his support for Marine Le Pen in the 2017 presidential election in France. Also, pro-Russian French nationalists Fabrice Sorlin and Xavier Moreau joined the recent Gilets Jaunes riot (“"Russian World" supporters fly "DPR" flag at yellow vest protest in Paris”; UNIAN News; 8 December, 2018).

Quite conspicuously, Russian politicians and media cheered Trump’s decision to fire Mattis over Syria and Afghanistan. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump” (“Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again’”; Daily Beast; December 21, 2018). But such geopolitics is not the ultimate reason why Putin and right wing populists in Europe and America are so friendly with each other. Western far rights see strength, traditionalism, and nationalism in Putin’s personality and leadership. More importantly, they share common values such as fighting against Islamic extremism, protesting global economic integration, and reverting secularization of the society. After 2012 when Putin was reelected for the president, he launched anti-LGBT campaigns, which has won high esteem among Western social conservatives (“Putin and the Populists”; Atlantic; January 6, 2017). With this synergy of geopolitics and far right values, Russia can shatter the moral ground of liberal democracy. Even China finds this job too big for herself, despite her ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, and formidably growing economy.

The far right coalition led by an antagonistic dictator like Putin is so devastating that we have to keep a closer watch on them rather than the left, just as Winston Churchill made up his mind to fight against Adolf Hitler rather than Joseph Stalin. Some pundits comment that even the superpower is not omnipotent, and we should embrace popular anxiety, plight, and hopelessness in the global economy and a divided nation, that has led to the Trump presidency. Certainly, we should analyze the reason why he won the election unexpectedly, and make every effort to resolve those problems that has enabled such a demagogue. However, we should never embrace nor sympathize with Trumpism that destabilizes the world day by day. Still, there is some hope in the Republican Party. Newly-elected Senator Mitt Romney is expected to assume a key role to boost anti-Trump Republicans, and to lead them. Also, Senator Marco Rubio advances bipartisan politics (“Rubio Encourages Bipartisanship in Policymaking”; Hoya; October 5, 2018). Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the Democrat left is less caustic than the Trump Republican, but they are also problematic both domestically and globally. Max Boot comments foreign policy of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as the following. Though they are more respectful to multilateral cooperation than Trump, they do not share bipartisan understanding of the American liberal world order with foreign policy establishments. Since Warren argues that free trade benefits global big businesses at the expense of American workers, and Sanders insists on the pullout of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, rather than fulfilling the role of the world policeman, Boot calls them Trump of the left. Moreover, both of them do not show their ideas how to manage the threat of authoritarian powers like China and Russia (“The Democrats need a new foreign policy — one that doesn’t sound like Trumpism of the left”; Washington Post; December 26, 2018).

In view of such a strong presence of isolationists in both parties, Republican internationalists and Democrat moderates should align each other. Our real enemy is much bigger than a fat mad man named Donald Trump. The ultimate threat to us is alt-right ideology, which could persist even if Trump himself were forced to resign by impeachment or some scandal. This monster is immortal, and neither a knife stab nor a gun shot can exterminate it. Also, we should act beyond observing and analyzing what happens in America. We are not in a position to interfere illegitimately in American politics like hacking as Putin’s Russia did. However, pundits from American allies, notably, from Europe and Japan, can talk directly to American voters to promote understanding of allies’ contribution to American security, and the fallacy of America First. They do not have to criticize Trump specifically. Such campaigns should be in close coordination with bipartisan internationalists and moderates. This role is more suitable for private pundits rather than government officials. I believe this is a legitimate intervention in American politics. We should not just wait and see, but act!

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Enigma of Financial Source and Procurement System for Russia’s Military Power

A growing number of experts say that Russia is a great power in decline, while China is challenging American hegemony. In terms of the GDP and defense spending, Russia is not a rival to the United States, and even to China. In 2018, Russia is ranked the 11th in the GDP, which is just below that of Canada, according to the IMF. As Canada pursues a cost-efficient defense policy, it may appear Russia is overspending on the military. Above all, I wonder whether Russian threat is destined to fall so easily and rapidly as wishfully understood among some experts, particularly among the Japanese, who are craving for a geopolitical counterbalance to China. There is no doubt that China will grow more and more formidable, but that does not belittle Russia. The Putin administration is launching ambitious military projects one after another, for example, advanced avionics fighter jets like Su-35 and Mig-35, stealth fighters and bombers like Su-57 and PAK-DA, and advanced sensor tanks like T-14. In addition to these conventional weapons, Putin’s Russia is rearming new generation nuclear weapons, such as RSM-56 Bulava SLBM, 9K720 Iscandar SRBM, and recently announced 9M729 cruise missile which is Putin's notorious deal breaker of the INF treaty. Actually, many of these weapon systems have already been deployed. Moreover, Russia is engaged in a war and a skirmish in Syria and Ukraine. Can Putin finance these grandiose military projects, without sufficient funding resource? It appears that President Vladimir Putin makes impossible possible.


Putin's INF deal breaker, 9M729 or SSC-8 cruise missile


This is a question that I have been wondering for years, but I have found a clue in an article by Anders Åslund of the Atlantic Council (“It’s time to go after Vladimir Putin’s money in the West”; Washington Post; March 29, 2018). He is a former Swedish diplomat, and served as an economic advisor to Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan during the 1990s. According to Åslund, financial secrecy in the West enables anonymous investment by Russians, and that helps Putin and his fellows to manage their assets to maintain their power in Russia, and possibly, to assist national defense projects including asymmetric warfare as well. I would say. Let me tell it briefly. Putin and his inner circle, particularly the siloviki, accumulate a huge amount of wealth through controlling the secret police and big state companies. They raise money by extorting private businesses, manipulating commodity and stock prices, and so forth. They transfer those assets to the West, since the rule of law and investment secrecy protects them. Despite repeated Western sanctions and the Magnitsky Act, Putin and his fellows find loopholes of these regulations for their money laundering. Most of their investments go to the United States and Britain. According to the US Treasury, $300 billion was laundered in 2015, but financial secrecy hinders detailed investigation of it. In the UK, though the Cameron cabinet was about to launch a disclosure of these investments, they stepped down after the EU referendum. The May cabinet is not keenly aware of this problem, despite the Salisbury spy poisoning.

However, May’s poor attention to the Russian money was severely criticized by the Labour and the Liberal Democratic parties this March, as Russian investors are buying up luxurious properties in London. Some of them are near the Ministry of Defence, purchased by First Deputy Prime Minister-then Igor Shuvalov (“Russian elite must reveal how they paid for UK property, say MPs”; Guardian; 17 March, 2018). Furthermore, the Henry Jackson Society has released a report saying that nearly half of the Russians in London are associated with Kremlin spies, this November (“Half of the Russians in London are spies, claims new report”; Daily Telegraph; 5 November, 2018). In view of the threat of anonymous investment in America and Europe, the Abe administration needs to take cautious approaches in economic cooperation with Russia. Otherwise, Japan could fall into a loophole of Western sanctions against Russia, and could help asset management of Putin’s inner circle for fund raising to strengthen their domestic power base, to boost asymmetric and conventional warfare capability, and to found Kremlin’s overseas spy network. In other words, Tokyo could replace New York and London. Above all, Western sanctions on Russia will not be sufficiently effective, without being able to follow the money.

In addition to anonymous overseas investments, we need to review the nature of Russian capitalism which enables Putin to explore more defense friendly economy than the West. Here again, I would like to mention Åslund’s another article (“Russia’s Neo-Feudal Capitalism”; Project Syndicate; April 27, 2017). Under Putin’s rule, Russian businesses are renationalized, and crony capitalism is prevailing. The share of the state sector in the Russian GDP grew from 30% in 2005 to 70% in 2015. Nationalized companies are supposed to give priority to public interests. But in reality, those companies are managed by Putin’s inner circle, and they procure materials and sell assets out of the market price. The problem is not just crony capitalism. Nominally, Russian defense expenditure is the 4th largest, following the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, which is roughly 1/9 of American spending (“TRENDS IN WORLD MILITARY EXPENDITURE, 2017”; SIPRI Fact Sheet; May, 2018). However, in a crony capitalism of Putin’s silovik fellows, the defense industry can enjoy exorbitant privileges for their business. Quite interestingly, Russian weapons are much cheaper than comparable ones of the West, and even those of China. For example, the unit cost is $150 million for American F-22, $89.2-115.5 million for F-35, $102.4 million for UK-led Eurofighter Typhoon, and $78.3-89.9 million for French Rafale, but it is only $50 million for Russian Su-57, and $40–65 million for Su-35. Meanwhile, China’s J-20 costs $100-$120 million, and J-31 costs $70 million. The R&D spending on Russian weapons can be manipulated much lower than those of the West.

Of course, we have to bear in mind that we have often over evaluated Russian weapons, as shown in the case of the defection of Viktor Belenko in 1976, when Western experts learned that formidable MiG-25 was fast but not so capable as they had thought before. In any case, it is impossible in a fair market economy to manufacture any weapon to rival the most advanced American one so inexpensively, even though it is slightly less advanced. From this point of view, we should rather assume that Russian military power is beyond nominal defense expenditure. Also, we need to reconsider her balance of power with China. In the Far East, China overwhelms Russia in population and the GDP, but when it comes to a Eurasian scale strategy such as the Belt and Road Initiative, China is no senior partner to Russia as shown in her poor handling of the Uyghur problem. Also, it is likely that Putin assumes his defense projects are economically sustainable. Remember that he gave up on the Soviet Union quite early, when Western experts hardly thought of the collapse of the Eurasian superpower. This suggests that Putin is keenly aware of the balance between military power rivalry and economic sustainability. In any case, it is vital to make an appropriate assessment of the Russian power. So many things, regarding Russian fund raising and defense procurement systems, are unknown. Otherwise, any policy, including sanctions on Russia, will not be sufficiently effective.

Monday, November 19, 2018

After the Midterm Election, Russia and the Far Right Are Crucial

So many people evaluate the results of the last US midterm election in so many ways. Trump’s Republican won in the Senate, but lost in the House. It is quite difficult to tell which side actually won, with all things considered. Also, it is too premature to foretell political trends in the 2020 presidential election, simply based on the results. The media applaud the rise of female and minority seats in both Houses. But for the immediate issue is, how will the Congress check Trumpism that scares innumerable people in the United States and abroad. I would like to talk about hope and despair of post-election American politics from the following key words, that is, policy professionalism, human rights, Russia, and the far right. For this objective, I would like to focus on noteworthy winners and losers in this election, rather than arithmetic analysis of partisan rivalry.

On the hopeful side, I would like to mention Democrat Congressman Tom Malinowski of New Jersey’s 7th district, who was the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Before joining the Department of State, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and worked for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and some think tanks including the Ford Foundation. He served both the Clinton and the Obama administrations as a diplomat. During the Bush era, he was the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, where he campaigned for democratic reforms in Myanmar, women’s rights in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, and civilian protection in Syria. As his brilliant career shows, he is a renowned policy making professional on human rights. Though he is deeply associated with the Democratic Party, he received bipartisan congratulations from former senior diplomats when he was elected, such as Bush’s Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns and Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Powers.

Human rights have been a core agenda in US foreign policy, but current President Donald Trump is quite dismissive of this issue, as typically seen his lukewarm attitude in the Khashoggi case by Saudi Arabia. From the beginning, his appointment of Rex Tillerson to the Secretary of State was controversial. Though Tillerson was regarded as one of the adults of the team to mitigate Trump’s America First, his credential was severely questioned at the Senate hearing, as it turned out that he had little interest and insufficient knowledge in critical human rights issues such as women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, R2P in Syria, and so forth.

Remarkably, Malinowski is an immigrant from Poland. He moved to the United States at the age of six when his mother married a liberal journalist Blair Clark. Everything of his background is an antithesis of Trump’s barbaric anti-intellectualism, narrow-sighted nationalism, cold-blooded cruelty, and rancid vulgarity. Malinowski may not be a dazzling star like Beto O’Rouke, but his knowledge, experience, and trust from the State Department colleagues will be of great help to rebuild American foreign policy on human rights ever since Trump was inaugurated.

Another hopeful incident is the loss of Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher in California’s 48th district. This is not just a single seat, because he is notorious for close ties with Putin’s Russia and European far right including former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, former Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, and Hungarian President Viktor Orbán. Among them, Farage and Orbán resonate with Vladimir Putin’s anti-globalism and anti-liberal democracy initiatives to turn Europe into a nationalist and traditionalist sphere, which is completely at odds with the ideal of the EU and NATO. Rohrabacher was pro-Russia from an early stage, and has been sacrificing American national interests to advance his alt-right agenda. During the Russo-Georgian war, he blamed Georgia for provoking Russia. More importantly, he tried to delegitimize the Magnitsky Act at the House hearing, while Putin’s legal advisor Natalia Vesernitskaya met Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner for the FBI suspected collusion at the Trump Tower. Regarding the Russia probe, he even blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not closing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.


The Axis of the Far Right: Rohrabacher and Putin


Besides Russia, Rohrabacher remarked something questionable for his credential as a US congressman, regarding terrorism and human rights. He praised ISIS for attacking the Iranian majlis, which killed 17 civilians in 2017. That raised bitter criticism from Human Rights Watch and the National Iranian American Council. In addition, Rohrabacher expressed his gratitude for the support from a far right firebrand Charles Johnson, who openly denies the holocaust. As a Congressman, Rohrabacher was a steadfast anti-communist and a notable hawk against America's enemy like China and Iran, throughout his 30 year career. However, his close association with Putin and European far right, and his dismissive attitude to human rights are incompatible with American values, though he assumes himself a Reagan conservative. Actually, he is one of typical Trump Republicans, and that is the vital reason why his defeat in California’s 48th district is so important for the Never Trump side in this election.

On the other hand, not everything is hopeful. A despairing result is the reelection of a white nationalist Congressman Steve King in Iowa’s 4th district ("GOP Rep. Steve King, accused of racism, wins re-election in Iowa"; CNBC News; 7 November, 2018). Like Rohrabacher, King is an alt-right firebrand. This October, his House Republican colleagues led by Speaker Paul Ryan denounced him vehemently, because he endorsed a far right candidate Faith Goldy in the mayoral election of Toronto. She is a Canadian mini-Trump, as she admires American white supremacist Richard Spencer, and featured by neo-Nazi journal, the Daily Stormer ("Rep. Steve King’s endorsement of white nationalist mayoral candidate in Canada draws rebuke from conservative news outlet"; Washington Post; October 18, 2018). King is in close contacts with European far right, and praises Putin generous, simply because he did not murder Gary Kasparov, though the former world chess champion was forced to leave for the United States ("Steve King: Putin Allows Freedom of Dissent Because He Hasn’t Murdered Garry Kasparov in New York Yet"; Alternet; February 5, 2017).

Above all, alt-right influence still remains in the Republican Party and the Congress, though Democrats won in the House. In view of this, William Kristol warns repeatedly that Trump will grow more radical and divisive after the midterm election, and reshuffle his cabinet to appoint more loyalist members. Mentioning Johnathan Last’s article in the Weekly Standard on November 9, Kristol comments that Trump Republicans are Maoist-minded, thus, they are more interested in controlling their own party, rather than strategic rivalry with China or Russia. Though they kept the majority in the Senate, they lost in the House. This does not boost their legislative capability. But according to Last, Trump Republicans are not fighting against liberals, but traditional Republicans. In view of Trump’s word and deeds, his analysis seems to be somewhat plausible. Trump demands personal loyalty to himself from the staff. Also, Trump said he won the midterm election. If this is about intra-party conflicts, it makes sense. Trump Republicans do not care, even if Democrats defeat anti-Trump Republicans, from this point of view.

Last assesses the election results that Republicans have become radical, while Democrats more centrist. Far right populists are strongly associated with Putin’s Russia. They are disdainful to human rights and the rule of law. From this point of view, the focal issue is the Russia probe, and how will Democrats and “sane” Republicans protect Mueller from Trump’s abuse of power. Actually, Trump Republicans are obsessed with the seizure of power so much as Last says that they would find any means to obstruct the investigation, and even to disinform the public as Putin does. Anti-intellectualism among populist extremists would enhance these tendencies. That could erode policy professionalism in the Congress. Since Democrats won in the House, Obama care is no longer the top issue. It is the Russia probe that critically matters, and Trump opponents should defend the due process of investigation by all means.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Book Review: “Trumpocracy” by David Frum

The Trump administration is in a mess as shown in too many scandals and leaks. Some muckraking books are published, and draw extensive public attention. People talk about Trump’s gossips and idiosyncratic personality, but that is not so much helpful to understand current politics in the United States. Every day, Donald Trump annoys people across the United States and around the world with his smellingly vulgar words and deeds. It is quite difficult to see why so many voters were fascinated with Trump’s anti-globalism and anti-intellectualism like rebellious teenagers. Evidently, defiance to the orthodox political economy is destined to end in catastrophe. Nevertheless, Trump has a staunch base that still wants to bet on him. Some pro-Trump foreign opinion leaders argue that people need to be more respectful to innumerable American voters who endorse him with a great expectation to manage the nation in rapid transition. But we have to be critical to the political impact of Trump’s incivility, ignorance, corruption, and leadership style.

David Frum, the author of this book, was a speech writer for ex-President George W. Bush, and currently a senior editor of the Atlantic. Frum is a well known conservative pundit, and therefore, his criticism to Trump is not a liberal propaganda. We have to remember that so many conservative intellectuals have left from the party of Trump. This is why his analyses are extremely valuable. “Trumpocracy” focuses on the power of the Trump politics, not his personality, that is, how he gained it, how he has used it, and why his abuse of it is not checked effectively. Also, this book focuses on voters who empower and support him, rather than Trump himself. This approach is a back to the basics of political science.




To begin with, it is necessary to understand pre-existing conditions that have given rise to Trump. Since the enemy had disappeared shortly after the Cold War era, policy focuses have shifted from national security to domestic economy, such as stagnant growth in those days and the financial crises since 2008. As a consequence, ideological, cultural, and class feud within the nation has become intensified. In a grassroots psychology like this, fake news grew increasingly influential, as typically seen in the Obama birther dispute. Trump has seized this opportunity. Frum points out that Trump did not surge suddenly in 2016. In his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, he rose to the top in April. He exploited grassroots anger by appealing conspiracy in Obama’s birther case. This was the prototype of Trump’s nasty disinformation campaign in 2016 that defamed his opponents severely. From this point of view, experts underestimated the threat that he has posed to liberal democracies throughout the world.

Having shown the premise of the argument, Frum explores how Trump acquired power, and who helped him. At the beginning, there were enablers or core supporters who gave rise to Trump in the Republican primary. It is their anger and grief that drove him to emerge as the front runner in the Republican race. Grassroots conservatives are infatuated with Trump so much that they do not care ideological integrity, but they are increasingly dismayed with cultural and economic insecurity through globalization. In addition to such loser mindsets, they are in “information ghettos”, thus they are easily driven by Trump’s propagandas. Starkly in contrast, Frum points out that these Republican voters were not impressed with “The New American Century” that Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio advocated. As the Trump momentum grew, Republicans who were reluctant to accept him convinced themselves that Trump was the only alternative to Hillary Clinton. Those appeasers were willing to propagate fake news about Trump’s opponent such as Clinton was responsible for the rise of ISIS, and so forth. Quite interestingly, anti-élite biases kept working class women from voting for her. In their view, gender equality that Clinton represents is only for white collars, and totally irrelevant for them. Grassroots conservatives as typically seen in the Tea Party, do not adhere to market orthodoxy, but they object to welfare preference based on political correctness that Democrats give. In other words, Trump’s base is inclined to tribalism, and strongly against diversity.

In addition to the above political mechanisms, this book sheds light on how Trump used dirty techniques to turn conservative media into his propaganda platform. Quite interestingly, Fox News, which is one Trump’s favorite media now, was firmly anti-Trump at the early stage of the primary. Notably Megyn Kelly questioned Trump’s groundless claim that Mexico sent criminals to the United States. Quite surprisingly, Trump complained about her continually in CNN interviews. Both TV stations were in completely the opposite positions from those today. As is always the case, Trump retaliated Kelly through releasing gossips to defame her. As a result, alt-right anchorman Tucker Carlson has replaced her. We have to notice Trump’s hijack of conservative media, because this is a precursor of his mafia styled conquest of the Republican Party. Frum points out that Trump exploits fear and anxiety to dominate the Republican Party as he always does. While Trump is unpopular, his primary opponent within the party Paul Ryan is no less unpopular because he is a fiscal austerity doctrinaire. Paradoxically, this has made Trump more powerful than Congressional Republicans. Particularly, House Republicans desperately want Trump to sign their bills, before their majority expires after the midterm election. Driven by such worries, they defend Trump so loyally as his base, when he faces charges from the Russia probe to sexual harassments.

The nature of governance is also a critical issue that Frum discusses in this book. During the primary, Republican rivals likened Trump to a Latin American caudillo. Trump’s business is notoriously untransparent, as shown in his information closure on his tax return. Also, he spends public money for his travel to his golf courses like Mar-a-Lago, and even did public election funds for hush money payment for women whom he had affairs. As long as people assume it imperative to abide by the morals and social norms, politicians behave accordingly.However, if people tolerate unethical conducts by politicians, corruption prevails throughout the nation, they assume their misconducts are forgiven, which finally leads the whole nation to embrace autocracy and kleptocracy. Frum explores furthermore, how these aspects cast dark shadows on Trump’s handling of his staff. Trump demands loyalty and flattery to dominate his team, but he does not give rewards. He is notorious for firing his staff impatiently. Therefore, those who joined his administration with lofty motivations will be betrayed ultimately, as Eliot Cohen said during the transition period, because they are forced to make excuses for Trump’s sporadic remarks. Typically, when Trump mocked American obligation to Article V at the NATO summit in May 2017, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster was forced to defend his president that he did not say so.

The corrosive nature of Trump supporters and the current administration has overturned my preoccupation that conservatives are supposed to be more moralist, while liberals were tolerant to social heresies like LGBTs. Frum mentions furthermore, that rigged election system reinforces these aspects. It is frequently pointed out that Hillary Clinton failed to win black voter support. This book mentions that Republicans exploited midterm election victories in 2012 at national and local level, actually. They made new election rules to keep minorities away from voting, such as restrictions to early voting. As a result, black voting turned downwards in 2016. During the campaign, Trump blamed everything against him “rigged”. But in reality, the American political system has given disproportionate and dubious favor to his base. It seems to me that Republicans were traumatized with their repetitive loss to Barack Obama so much that they were desperately in need of retaking the White House, by fair mean or foul.

This book narrates and analyses sullen political landscapes of current America. More seriously, Frum comments that Trump’s antipathy to the "deep state" could strengthen it paradoxically, and alienate democratic governance. Ever since Trump’s inauguration, political analysts, both in the United States and overseas, talk about the control of Trump through the adults in the team. Also, American policy experts insist that federal institutions such as governmental bureaucracy, military organizations, intelligence agencies, etc, would stop Trump by all means, if he were to overturn everything. Actually, national security establishment rectified Trump’s appalling remarks at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as his trust to Putin rather than American intelligence agencies, and an agreement to send former ambassador Michael McFaul to Russian intelligence inquiry. However, Frum raises a critical concern that the military would edge Trump out of the command structure without being noticed, if they saw him unfit to the president. He worries furthermore, that such a move would make national security agencies uncontrollable for any president, and they would alienate a Democrat president in the future like this way.

I would say that the above situation is quite similar to Japan in the 1930s, when people lost trust in the Taisho democracy, and subsequent coup d'état attempts led to military rule. Are things in current America so desperate? According to Frum, there is a hope. The Trump phenomenon sheds light on social inequality from globalization and popular resentment that was dismissed by élites. However, it has turned out that his lie politics faces a nationwide resist. Also, his affinity to Russia has awakened the political left, which turned them more conscious of national security. Finally, I would like to mention Frum’s advice on how to manage Trump’s politics of profanity. When he attended a Politico conference in Pasadena, California, one panelist said, “We can’t stop Trump by going soft. If we want to stop him, we have to imitate him.” In reply, Frum said “But if you imitate him, you won’t stop him. You’ll only replace him.” He is right, but that is quite difficult to do, because Trump’s rancid vulgarity provokes our anger at him. We have to be patient and rational. This book overwhelms the reader with numerous political interactions explained in detail. I would firmly recommend “Trumpocracy” for a textbook of Trump politics, as Frum presents cool-headed and persuasive analysis.