Saturday, 28 May 2016

US Foreign Policy in 2017: Who is Worse Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton ?

Jonathan Freedland, has called for those supporting Bernie Sanders as Democratic nominee for the President in November 2016 elections in the USA-and indeed for Sanders himself-to swing behind Hillary Clinton should he lose in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
'...a deep hostility to Clinton among many on the left, one that has been eloquently channelled by Sanders. They can’t stand her hawkishness, typified by her Senate vote backing the Iraq war. They can’t stand her links to Wall Street. And they can’t stand her long years inside the system'
The domestic implications of having President Trump or Clinton are for Americans to deal with but from an external and global perspective, that in as regards the consequences for foreign policy, the election of either of these two candidates is a chilling prospect and it is difficult to decide who could be worse.

Freedman slyly alludes only to Clinton's vote for the Iraq War while ignoring the more obvious fact that as Secretary of State she was responsible for the foreign policy debacle of Libya and Syria back in 2011. Whatever her credentials as a 'domestic reformer',in foreign policy H Clinton is a staunch progressive nationalist and interventionist.

As Anatol Lieven puts it in A Hawk Named Hillary,
Neither in her book ( Hard Choices ) nor in her policy is there even the slightest evidence that she has, in fact, tried to learn from Iraq beyond the most obvious lesson—the undesirability of US ground invasions and occupations, which even the Republicans have managed to learn. For Clinton herself helped to launch US airpower to topple another regime, this one in Libya—and, as in Iraq, the results have been anarchy, sectarian conflict and opportunities for Islamist extremists that have destabilized the entire region. She then helped lead the United States quite far down the road of doing the same thing in Syria.
Clinton tries to argue in the book that she took a long, hard look at the Libyan opposition before reporting to the president her belief that “there was a reasonable chance the rebels would turn out to be credible partners”—but however long she looked, it is now obvious that she got it wrong. She has simply not understood the fragility of states—states, not regimes—in many parts of the world, the risk that “humanitarian intervention” will bring about state collapse, and the inadequacy of a crude and simplistic version of democracy promotion as a basis for state reconstruction. It does not help that the US record on democracy promotion and the rule of law—including Clinton’s own record—is so spotted that very few people outside the country take it seriously anymore.
While it is thought US voters focus far more on domestic issues than foreign policy, they also focus on issues such as Homeland Security, the costs of foreign entanglements and their obvious decline as a superpower and waning global influence. Trump, by contrast, in seeking to 'Make America Great Again' promises 'America First'. 
This appeals to Americans tired with US global wars and spending billions of dollars on promoting 'regime change' in Arab lands where the locals are considered ungrateful and violent anyway and mentally incapable of democracy. As a consequence, Trump puts forward a foreign policy based only on 'what is in it for us'.

While many leaning towards Sanders would not put their anti-interventionist stance in those terms, the fact that Clinton promises further endless interventions and demonising Putin and his 'despicable' opposition to US foreign policy on Syria for example, is deeply disturbing to a large number of anti-Republican Americans.

The complete inability of H Clinton to have a capacity to understand the perspective of other states and their leaders and diplomats marks her out as shrill and self-righteous to a dangerous degree in a hazardous international context where a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to statecraft is required.

With rising tensions with China over the South China Sea, North Korea and its emergence as an economic and regional military superpower, Clinton's less subtle and more stated ambition of containing China in East Asia, as well as the desire to lecture China on human rights and democracy, could cause confrontation, even war.

Oddly enough, Trump, by contrast, though he is full of undiplomatic brags-such as taking the Chinese leadership to McDonald's-and catastrophic 'public diplomacy' as regards Islam and Muslims,does not appear to know much about global power politics at all. Even so, he recently met Clinton's favoured mentor-Henry Kissinger.

Trump may well be evolving towards a pose as supreme 'realist' in US global policy in away from the idealistic and naive liberal progressive internationalism. As regards entering negotiations with Kim Jong Un in North Korea,Trump was on to something as sanctions have failed and North Korea is, de facto, in 2016 a nuclear power.

H Clinton's campaign team lambasted Trump for a "bizarre fascination with foreign strongmen" as he wanted to open talks with the dictator in Pyongyang. Even so, it could be a better way forward than Obama and Clinton's approach given that neglect of North Korea has led it to develop nuclear weapons since 2011.

As regards North Korea, it is hard to see how Obama and Clinton could have failed more. The overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 signalled to North Korea that no matter what concessions are made on WMD, that would not save a regime from being overthrown by military force, especially after giving them up.

Of course, North Korea's envoy predictably rejected Trump's overtures.This is hardly surprising given that in March 2016 he advocated the insane idea that US allies, from Saudi Arabia to Japan and South Korea should be allowed to have nuclear weapons as a more cost effective way of ensuring global peace.

Trump claimed on Friday that H Clinton was 'lying' and 'I never said that' but it is , in any case, is somewhat hypocritical of her to accuse him of endangering world order by hinting the US could allow its Asian allies to have nuclear weapons when her own policies have contributed towards North Korea having them.

Not only that, H Clinton's lack of ethical realism in the foreign policy approach to China-and she was a key player in pushing for Obama's Pivot to Asia in 2010-11-has played a part in stimulating China's increasingly unilateral assertions of power in staking its claims to the South China Sea, as evidenced in 2016 in its island building programmes.

As Lieven points out, ' Obama and Clinton’s announcement of the pivot to Asia, at least in part, preceded the new aggressiveness of Chinese policy.' Unlike the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union, where the US was never seen to be on the side of powers making rival claims to Russian territory,Clinton has been blatantly partisan.

Lieven continued,
 'As a senator, Clinton was entirely complicit in the disastrous strategy of offering NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine, which led to the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 (and a de facto US strategic defeat) and helped set the scene for the Ukraine crisis of this year ( 2014 ). This is not to excuse Russia’s mistaken and criminal reactions to US policy; but to judge by her book, Clinton never bothered to try to understand or predict likely Russian reactions—let alone, once again, to acknowledge or learn from her mistakes. On the Georgia War, she simply repeats the lie (which, to be fair, she may actually believe) that this was deliberately started by Putin and not by Georgia’s president at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili.' 
The upshot is that it is difficult to say who is worse on foreign policy, whether H Clinton, who seems terminally incapable of learning from contemporary history, or Trump, whose foreign policy stances are largely about staking himself out as 'different', 'anti-establishment' and even 'anti-neoconservative', so as to put himself in the White House.

Friday, 27 May 2016

North Korea and the Danger of the Spiralling Arms Race in East Asia.

Kim Jong Un's pensive pose in a green rice field in late May 2016 is a piece of cliched political theatre. It mirrors Mao Tse Tung's famous visits to rural China at the time of the Great Leap Forwards after 1958 in which at least 20 million peasants died of famine. Propaganda posters for it too depicted Mao as an agricultural genius in rich fields.

Likewise, North Korea is once more, as it was in the 1990s, on the brink of famine and faced with internal elite discontent given the fact that the limited increase in wealth, for those who have joined the expanded Party, has been threatened by global sanctions, which China too ratcheted up in April 2016.

China's sanctions, placed on essential revenue earners such as coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium and rare earths, reflected Beijing's concern and anger at the North's increased nuclear and ballistic missile tests, moves which have given the US all the more of a pretext to deploy THAAD missiles to South Korea.

While on the face of it summits between President Obama and President Xi Jinping profess their devotion to denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, the real underlying fear in Beijing is that these missiles are part of a missile shield which could be used to downgrade the nuclear deterrent China possesses.

When added to US diplomatic moves elsewhere to the south in Vietnam, where Obama has indicated Washington seeks better relations with Hanoi and to lift sanctions on the sale of lethal weapons-as well as increasing US military presence in the Asia-Pacific theatre-the fear in Beijing is of encirclement.

This is why North Korea remains a deeply destabilising flashpoint in an increasingly volatile geopolitical situation in East Asia. The threat that the North Korean regime could collapse in the near future no longer seems impossible. Pyongyang is investing so much in its nuclear programme and famine looms.

The attempt to shore up the authority of Kim Jong Un since 2011 through using hard currency earnings is failing. The policy of gift giving for service to the regime, along with ruthless purges, has failed to stem resentment in the general population who have received 'toothpaste or a bottle of liquor' for labour service.

At the same time calls for 'an ardous march' would indicate that famine is present again as the term was first used leadership in 1993 as a euphemism for the four-year famine that from 1994 resulted in 3.5 million deaths. Going for full nuclear protection of the regime means it has the ultimate form of blackmail.

For a start, it would signal no matter who hates the regime, it is permanent and no external power can bring about 'regime change'. If the regime were to collapse it would lead to the nightmare of a chaos in which any attempt to end it through reunification would raise the spectre for Beijing of being flanked directly by a US client state.

Alternatively, should the North Korean regime survive, the threat of nuclear proliferation would also increase, not least if it developed an effective nuclear arsenal-and it already has nuclear weapons anyway- then the question would be how best to contain it without allowing possession to stimulate a regional arms race.

In the circumstances, the only option left is for the US to accept that sanctions have failed and that it would be better to work with China to negotiate with Pyongyang and offer economic incentives for it to prevent the nuclear programme developing further and else South Korea and Japan develop them too.

In time, North Korea might be persuaded to rescind its nuclear programme. Yet a spiralling arms race, rising nationalism and potential conflicts between fossil fuel deprived Asian nations and China over sea lanes and the oil and gas reserves in both the East and South China Seas, spells the potential for catastrophe.