Monday, December 28, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon and the Degradation of the Republican Party

The Republican Party stands at crossroads today in the face of dreadful rising of a fear mongering and xenophobic populist, Donald Trump. An outsider take over itself is nothing so special in American politics. Most of the presidents in history cited anti-Wasington slogans to shake up old politics in their election campaigns. But this case is completely different from those in the past. Trump draws tremendous media attention with his repeated inflammatory remarks, which fascinates right wing isolationists and helps him surge in the poll. However, his continual profanities to foreign nations and ethnic minorities has severely tarnished the reputation of the Republican Party, and furthermore, that of America. Regretfully, Trump supporters do not care anything about that, and simply pursue their own self-satisfied and recluse safety and well-being.

Historically, the Republican Party is Lincoln’s party founded by the establishment for national unity in the face of the Civil War. But today, hijacked by under educated people, it has fallen into a party of national disunity. The problem is the quality of Trump supporters. According to the poll by CNN/ORC in December, his electoral base is the least intellectual among Republicans, while those for Senator Marco Rubio are the most well educated (“Donald Trump is polling better than ever. Here’s why.”; Washington Post; December 4, 2015). It is quite imaginable that those people are easily charmed by every word and deed of an offensive TV personality, while hardly take any consideration to the consequences in real politics. An earlier study by the Boston Globe showed that Trump used 4th grade words in his speech, which was the lowest among candidates of both parties (“For presidential hopefuls, simpler language resonates: Trump tops GOP field while talking to voters at fourth-grade level”; Boston Globe, October 20, 2015). As long as politics is an event of TV entertainment rather than serious policy debate, that is no disadvantage. Poorly educated and TV addicted people need words and phrases that appeal to their emotion, not to their reason.

This is typically shown in the Las Vegas debate on December 15, shortly after Trump’s notorious racist remark in November. It turned out that Trump is extremely ignorant of key foreign policy issues, though national security was the agenda in the TV debate. Particularly, when the moderator ugh Hewitt asked him about nuclear triad, Trump replied awkwardly and mentioned something completely off the point, and Rubio explained what it is to him lucidly (“Marco Rubio schools Donald Trump on the nuclear triad”; Politico; December 15, 2015). There is no wonder Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, questions Trump’s credential for the Commander in Chief (“Ignorance is No Excuse”; Commentary; December 16, 2015). Actually Rubio’s debate performance was graded highly among intellectuals, while Trump won recognition as a TV entertainer (“Winners and Losers from the 5th Republican presidential debate”; Washington Post; December 15, 2015 and “GOP Insiders: Rubio shined in Vegas”; Politico; December 16, 2015 also “GOP debate winners and losers”; Hill; December 16, 2015).

While Trump drew overwhelming media attention, the focal point of this debate was interventionism represented by Marco Rubio and isolationism represented by Ted Cruz. Rubio argues for robust and resolute reactions to terrorism, and proactive American role for world peace in view of the Paris and the San Bernandino attacks. Meanwhile, Cruz insists on more restrained actions in the Middle East and more focus on homeland defense rather than democracy promotion (“Tough Talk vs. Military Muscle”; Defense One; December 16, 2015). Growing terrorist threat makes voters in favor of Rubio as he endorses NSA surveillance of potential terrorist communication, deposing anti-American dictators, and bolstering defense spending. On the other hand, Cruz appeals to isolationist sentiments among Republicans as he opposes citizenship for illegal immigrants (“The Fight of the Night: Ted Cruz v. Marco Rubio”; Weekly Standard; December 16, 2015). Meanwhile, it was revealed that Trump could hardly address his foreign policy views within fourth grade words. But quite strangely, Republican voters do not care how ignorant and empty he is, and his approval rate surged after the debate (“Trump keeps 20-point lead in post-debate poll”; Washington Examiner; December 18, 2015).

The rise of Trump is a sheer insult to bipartisan efforts by top experts to fill partisan foreign policy gaps since the Iraq War, and to stand against rising isolationism for robust American leadership on the global stage. As I mentioned in a previous post on Afghanistan, conservative American Enterprise Institute and liberal Center for American Progress hosts joint policy forums. Also, on the governmental level, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution joins the secretary of state’s foreign affairs policy board, though he was a policy advisor to John McCain’s 2008 campaign, and co-chairs the bipartisan working group on Egypt. But the Republican Party today is hijacked by unlearned mobs around the country. Trump’s profanity has offended Islamic allies so much that the Republican Party has stigmatized America’s reputation in the world. Notably, Saudi Arabia desperately wanted a Republican candidate to replace Obama, in the face of rising Iranian threat, but the Chaos Candidate ruined everything.

Generally speaking, respectably educated voters abstain from electing a man who has spent a hedonistic life since his youth and comments something flamboyant with nasty words in a popular TV show. Those who were exalted to hear the praise to Trump by Russian President Vladimir Putin (“Putin praises Trump: ‘Very bright and talented man,’ and ‘absolute leader’”; Washington Post; December 17, 2015), are extremely naïve. Putin is not a communist, but he detested to see his mother land plagued with “Western styled” greedy profit chasers after the fall of the Soviet Union. Trump is exactly that sort of capitalist, and it is hardly imaginable that Putin respects him. We must keep in mind that Putin is a silovik, and how repressively he treated hedonistic oligarchs in Russia. Rather, it is more likely that Putin disdains Trump deep in his heart.

What we need to do is to explore the reality behind such horrible degradation of the Republican Party. Even if Trump fails to win the nomination, Senator Ted Cruz follows him in the poll. The rise of xenophobic candidates is already harming America’s position in the world. Cruz is the only candidate who has declined to condemn Trump’s notorious Muslim ban. More problematically, he joined Trump to provoke popular fear of conspiracy that the government works closely with Islamic terrorists behind the curtain, rather than criticizing the Obama administration rationally (“Lexinton: The politics of panic”; Economist; December 12, 2015). What made the Republican Party so susceptible to bigotry? Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal laments that 9-11 terrorist attacks have driven conservative Americans away from the Reagan ideal of free trade and pro-immigration (“The Roots of Republican Fears on Immigration and Trade”; Wall Street Journal; December 14, 2015).

David Frum argues furthermore, that it is utterly wrong to regard the Tea Party and other grassroots conservatives as proponents of Wall Street Journal editorials. They are workers who distrust big business as well as the government. They do not believe in an ultra-limited government. As workers, they do not want their earnings redistributed to those who do not work. From this point of view, working class conservatives loathe immigrants because they receive generous benefits like language help at school, while taking away low skilled jobs from such laborers. Since those working class people are interested in maintaining their own living in their small world, they do not want robust foreign policy, and see another Iraq War a nightmare (“The Great Republican Revolt”; Atlantic; January/February 2016). Frum presents a deep insight to understand the idiocratic hijack of the Republican Party.

Even though the wind of changes is blowing among Republicans, Trump nomination will destroy long founded trust of this party both domestically and internationally. The Republican Party can oust him for violation of the constitution as he infringed religious freedom with his inflammatory anti-Islam remark. Trump has tarnished the reputation of the Republican Party, and furthermore, that of America. An election victory with Trump is a nightmare, which is far worse than an election without Trump for both the Republican Party and America. His competence and personality do not meet the requirements for the president. Actually, conservative onion leaders think the same way.

George Will of the Washington Post warns, “[Trump’s] compulsive boasting is evidence of insecurity. His unassuageable neediness suggests an aching hunger for others’ approval to ratify his self-admiration” (“If Trump wins the nomination, prepare for the end of the conservative party”; Washington Post; December 23, 2015). Others speak much more bitterly of Trump. Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal even argues that conservative voters elect Hillary Clinton to stop Trump and preserve the value (“Let’s Elect Hillary Now”; Wall Street Journal; December 21, 2015). William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, suggests another idea that conservatives start the third party if Trump wins the nomination (“Kristol: If Trump loses Iowa, ‘mystique’ disappears”; Hill; December 26, 2015). Furthermore, Republican Congressman Chris Gibson commented harshly, “I have concerns about giving that guy an army" as a 29 year veteran of the Army, because Trump’s temperament and judgement are so unreliable (“GOP Rep. on Trump: 'I have concerns about giving that guy an army'”; Washington Examiner; December 27, 2015). The problem is beyond poor knowledge in national security, and Trump is utterly unfit for the Commander in Chief.

This is just one election, and Republicans can rebuild the party from current horrible degradation in the future. An election victory under Trump will simply cloud out respectable Republicans. Those who are hijacking the Republican Party are Americans of the worst quality in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. A failure to stop Trump will stigmatize America’s reputation in the world irrevocably.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The World after the Paris Attacks

The Paris Attacks have awakened the global community to understand that the War on Terror is no longer America’s war. People should have recognized this when 9-11 attacks broke out, rather than blaming the US-led coalition for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, the incident has some impacts on European security and the global coalition against terrorism.

As to European security, responses to the terrorist attacks are divided, after people expressed condolences and solidarity with the victims. France reacted immediately as the United States did after 9-11. Britain also took the attacks seriously and decided to expand anti-ISIS airstrike in Iraq into Syria. Meanwhile, military minor powers are reluctant to get involved in the war against ISIS as old pacifist Japan was, and simply try to shut out Muslim refugees. When French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asked burden sharing to EU member states on November 17, their commitments tuned out just verbal. Only Britain reacted seriously (“Despite Initial Solidarity, Paris Attacks Will Deepen Europe’s Divisions”; World Politics Review; November 19, 2015). The Cameron administration offered France to use RAF Akrotiri base in Cyprus (“Brits offer Cyprus base to French”; Defense One; November 23, 2015).

It is ironical that the Hollande administration acts like the Bush administration, considering the vehement criticism of the Iraq War by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villpin at that time. Now, France as a sheriff, faces frustration with unwilling and irresponsible bar masters of her fellow European nations. Common European defense is a long way to go as seen in Britain’s Brexit movements, and reemergence of the Anglo-French entente implies that European security is turning more nation-state oriented. The split within Europe reflects national interest and capability of each country. The more militarily powerful the country is, the more serious it is to take terrorist threats. Ultimately, military intervention is necessary to eradicate their territorial strongholds and revenue sources like oil fields, human trafficking, and so forth. Nevertheless, countries with weak armed forces would rather avoid the risks of war like casualties, rising budgets, and pressures from antiwar protesters. They leave the burden to military great powers. The chasm within Europe may grow, if the war in Syria goes harder and longer than expected.

At the global level, there is no firmly united anti-ISIS front line. For fear of a Syrian quagmire, in view of long War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global coalition including Russia and Iran was explored as shown in French President François Hollande’s visit to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after the Paris Attacks (“Moscow is ready to coordinate with the West over strikes on Syria, Putin says”; Washington Post; November 26, 2015). However, both Russia and Iran do not share vital strategic objectives with the West. They fight against ISIS, simply to sponsor Assad or another puppet regime, and it is not their interest to wipe out extremist strongholds. They want to weaken Western influence in the region, and harness instability to augment their influence. Kimberly and Frederick Kagan of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute , comment that it is the Assad regime that radicalizes ISIS as Syrians displaced by his troops join terrorist organizations (“What to do and to don’t in response to the Paris attacks”; AEI Critical Threats; November 15, 2015).

While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded positively to President Barack Obama’s invitation for Russia to join the US-led anti-ISIS coalition (“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya,”; Foreign Policy News, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia; December 11, 2015), the US Department of Treasury revealed that the Russian-sponsored Assad administration is the greatest customer to buy oil from ISIS while both are fighting each other (“US official details who’s buying the bulk of ISIS oil”; New York Post; December 10, 2015). In addition, Russian Su-34 Fullback fighters use Iranian air force bases for a reliable pathway to conduct air strikes in Syria, and bombers such as Tu-95 Bear, Tu-160 Blackjack, and Tu-22 Backfire are even escorted by Iranian fighters (“The Russo-Iranian Military Coalition in Syria may be Deepening”; AEI Critical Treats; December 14, 2015). Here again, Frederick Kagan warns of the danger of the Russo-Iranian axis. Actually, Iran tested Ghadr -110 ballistic missile for the second time since the nuclear deal was concluded (“Iran violated nuclear deal with second ballistic missile test last month, U.S. officials say”; UPI News; December 8, 2015). Obviously, that is the Iranian Monroe doctrine for Shiite dominance and the elimination of Western influence in the Middle East.

Furthermore, we have to remember that Putin’s vital interest in weakening NATO, and that was typically seen in the Russo-Turkish clash. In order to help Assad, Russia conducts air strikes in Turkemen areas in Syria, which was extremely provocative for Turkey. There is no wonder that Turkish F-16 shot down Russian Su-24 on November 24 (“Russo-Turkish Tensions Since the Start of the Russian Air Campaign”; AEI Critical Threats; November 24, 2015). Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu commented that the Russian presence in Syria was dangerous because they are “two separate coalitions with different goals”, shortly after the accident (Turkey: “Additional accidents are likely to happen”; Jerusalem Post; November 29, 2015). Even prior to the plane crash, Russia confronted Britain as RAF Tornadoes operating in Iraq loaded aerial combat missiles in preparation for possible crossfire against Russian fighters in Syria (“Cold War 2015: Russia 'FURIOUS' after RAF pilots cleared to shoot down Moscow warplanes”; Daily Express; October 13, 2015).

In addition to such fragile circumstances around Syria, geographic rivalries between Russia and Turkey are also important. While Russia is closely aligned with Iran, Iraq, and Syria, Turkey is in deep ties with Azerbaijan (“Turkish-Russian war of words goes beyond downed plane”; Al Jazeera; December 9, 2015). Historically, Russia saw Turkey as a good buffer against Europe (“The Czar vs. the Sultan”; Foreign Policy; November 25, 2015). There is no wonder why Putin seizes this opportunity to impose further pressure on Turkey, as he did on Georgia and Ukraine. Following the accident, Russia sent anti-air missile cruiser Moscow to eastern Mediterranean sea (“Russia deploys missile cruiser off Syria coast, ordered to destroy any target posing danger”; RT; 24 November, 2015), and deployed S-400 anti-air missiles in Syria (“New Russian surface-to-air missiles in Syria, DoD confirms”; Military Times; December 1, 2015), which are more advanced than S-300 reportedly already deployed there before (“America's Worst Nightmare in Syria: Has Russia Deployed the Lethal S-300?”; National Interest; November 5, 2015).

We should be more concerned with Putin’s pressure on Turkey. With advanced SA-17 air defense system associated with anti-air missiles, Russian radar targets US planes flying above Syria. The American side stops flying manned aircrafts for a while to explore how to manage Russian air defense (“New Russian Air Defenses in Syria Keep U.S. Grounded”; Bloomberg News; December 17, 2015). Things around Turkey have developed like those in Ukraine. But Turkey herself is also to blame. The Erdoğan administration has strained the relationship with the West in their pursuit of Islamism. Deviating from Kemalist tradition, Turkey even tried to buy HQ-9 anti-air missiles from China, which upset the whole Western allies including Japan. Putin is seizing this opportunity. He would never act so provocatively to loyal NATO members like Poland, Baltic nations, and Romania. We should not dismiss Putin’s dangerous expansionism, and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio argues that Turkey has improved relations with Kurds and press freedom since the Paris attacks, in order to help the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS (“Why We Must Stand Up for Turkey and Against Russian Aggression”; World; December 1, 2015 or here).

The Paris attacks have made the world increasingly unpredictable. The transatlantic rift has shifted into Europe. Fear driven minor powers just shut out immigrants, without making serious commitments to defeat terrorism. Only capable military powers like France and Britain act responsibly. This chasm may lead Europeans to doubt the value of regional unity as typically shown in the Brexit movements. The grand coalition with Russia and Iran is hardly feasible, in view of their geopolitical ambition to edge out Western influence from the Middle East, and even to dissolve NATO. They are eager to find and exploit any weakness on the Western side. We must never forget this.