Thursday, July 27, 2017
Hey World, Is It “America Last” Now?
Just about every nation believes its policies and actions are in its best interests. Even foreign aid gives the donating nation power, influence and often special access to local business opportunities… not to mention trying to stabilize volatile regions that interfere with our global political and economic priorities everywhere. Entering into global commitments to control terrorist and environmental threats are often policies that cannot be accomplished on a go-it-alone basis. It’s no secret that selfishness is usually at the core of such national decisions, even if humanitarian efforts are valuable and “make us feel good.”
But when a nation flaunts its selfishness, literally issues challenges to the rest of the world to accede to our internal priorities, trying to force them to kowtow in the face of their own constituencies to big bully threats from what is increasingly viewed as the biggest bully one earth, exactly what would you think the overall global reaction is likely to be? How would you react if China issues a “China First” edict and demanded that the United States pull all of its military out of any station in Asia? Or if “Europe First” demanded that Google, Apple and Facebook cease European operations unless they operated solely through locally-owned companies.
Does it get worse when the words “America First” are also strongly laced with powerful historical connotations that read “White Christians Must Rule” precedents? Don’t believe me? Take a look at the clear historical trail in my June 5th “America First” – A Phrase with a Very Dark Past blog. But today’s blog is not about deprioritizing what is important to the American body politic, what is relevant to the best interests of American citizens everywhere. That clearly is what responsible elected officials must do. It is about our taunting the rest of the world, slapping allies in the face and thinking that bully tactics of a narcissistic CEO of a non-publicly-traded series of (often failed) corporations – with very limited public disclosure obligation and responsibilities – will actually produce positive results to our benefit. What is your instant reaction when someone tries to bully you? Especially when you have some genuine power of your own? How about reacting in a way that proves you cannot be bullied? A strong reaction into the opposite direction?
Mexico has not offered to pay for a wall. Germany’s Angela Merkel – cajoled and threatened with tariffs if Germany did not immediately fixed its trade imbalance with the U.S. (which would, unfortunately because of E.U. law, result in a trade war with the entire European Union) – threw up her hands and took every opportunity to chastise Trump’s America as an unreliable “ally,’ refused to budge on the Paris climate change accord and scoffed at the thought of Germany towing Trump’s line. Despite France’s Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to serve as a European intermediary, nothing positive has emerged in E.U.-U.S. relations.
As Donald Trump cozied up to his bro, professional bully Vladimir Putin, to the consternation of Trump’s own Republican Party, there were zero gains for American interests from that exchange. Putin extracted a withdrawal of U.S. military support for Syria’s anti-Assad regime rebels and an unrefuted (by any U.S. official in recent the long meeting(s) between the American and Russian leaders) confirmation from Donald Trump that Russia did not interfere in our elections… even though they did.
Theresa May’s failure to achieve her needed simply majority in the recent U.K. snap parliamentary election was widely touted by the regional press as stemming in serious part from her overly-close relationship with the much-hated Donald Trump administration. Another ally where it is considered politically prudent to turn their back on American demands. Want more?
“In his opening remarks to the annual US-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross criticised China's $347bn (£266bn) trade surplus with the US, saying it was not the product of market forces… The US was critical of China's trade surplus and demanded ‘more fair’ trade arrangements.
“[The result of this unilateral Trump administration demand?] The US and China have wrapped up contentious trade talks in Washington without agreement… The two sides did not issue a joint statement or action plan after the meeting and cancelled scheduled press conferences.” BBC.com, July 20th. North Korea? No change.
Again, bluster and confrontational tactics that effectively require the other side openly to bow to our demands failed. I must admit that in my role as a professional negotiator, rather consistently, those who bluster and showboat against my clients seldom fare well in their end result. Perhaps I should write book and call it: “The Real Art of the Deal.” But then, Trump self-admittedly does not read. If you are a bully and want to get your way, you have to be willing to use every weapon at your disposal – with often exceptionally dire consequences – and slice and dice your opponents for all the world to see. If you are rash enough to take those steps. Threaten? LOL! World to Trump: been there, done that, next!
In the world of global politics and international diplomacy, how do sophisticated operatives achieve their goals without blustery demands that require equal and opposite reactions? I think we can draw our lessons from a diabolical and incredibly Machiavellian part of the world that very few Americans understand: the awkward interrelationship in the Subcontinent (mostly India and Pakistan) and parts of Central Asia (mostly Afghanistan). After all, both Pakistan and India are our allies, and we have been engaged in this country’s longest war to “liberate” Afghanistan and punish terrorists. Riiiight!
Understand that the powerful military intelligence operatives – Pakistan’s “deep state” – inside of and behind the seeming elected Pakistani officials have gotten the job done in a very unstable country. Since its inception, not one single elected Pakistani Prime Minister has completed his/her full term of elective office. Death (unexplained accidental or out-and-out assassination), military coups, corruption probes, etc. have taken their toll. But the deep state continues to get its way and call the real shots. After reading the piece below, ask yourself if you believe Donald Trump knows any of this himself or if his blustery alienation of most of the earth’s leaders is effective.
This extract from former senior director for South Asia, National Security Council, presented in the July 20th The Cipher Brief, explains how government policies (“[Name of Country] First) are dictated much more effectively under the surface:
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) today represents the defining example of a ‘deep state.’… Historically responsible for coups, assassinations, domestic political manipulation, covert action, media suppression, torture, and ‘disappearances’ across the country – particularly in Pakistan’s insurgency prone Baluchistan province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – the ISI, has developed from a military intelligence organization focused solely on India into a mythological force of nature in Pakistan and its near beyond. In reality, however, the ISI presents much more of an enigma: although it is afforded significant power and authority, the reach and strength of the ISI isn't always what it appears…
The organization does much more than just collect foreign intelligence. ISI’s role over time has included brutal suppression of anti-state rhetoric, fomenting and countering insurgency, providing illicit channels for drug smuggling, acquiring nuclear weapons components, and developing proxy organizations to splinter domestic opposition political parties. The organization has become an integral component for those wielding power - both for civilians and for those leaders still in khakis.
ISI’s overall directive is to protect Pakistan’s national security. It is tasked with collecting foreign and domestic intelligence and conducting covert offensive operations. ISI de jure resides under the direction of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, but in reality, it is part of the military and answers to the Chief of Army Staff. Historically, whenever an elected civilian has been in power in Pakistan, the Chief of Army Staff ensured that the elected Prime Minister did not develop control over ISI. If the ISI showed loyalty to the civilian government, the Chief of Army Staff would move to marginalize it.
In today’s Pakistan, ISI is used not just to protect the state, but also to ensure that the army maintains its grip on authority. While in 2012 it was announced that the ISI had disbanded its political cell, it is still widely seen as active in surveillance, influence, and manipulation of domestic politics.
When considering the role and mission of the ISI, it must also be made abundantly clear that Pakistani generals view national security from a radically different vantage point than, say, someone from the United States. [Pakistan First?] ISI is tasked with engaging in all of the actions listed above to maintain the nation’s security: threats, perceived or real, drive Pakistan’s leaders to direct actions that enable them to simultaneously maintain their grip on power and protect the nation’s security. Such a strategy includes developing, maintaining, and deploying militant organizations, both internally and externally, and has birthed groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
The primary argument made by Pakistani generals is that due to historic and growing disparities with India in the conventional military balance, these proxy groups are essential for keeping India off-balance, as well as for ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a Western-aligned and India-dominated neighbor encircling the Pakistanis. Since the democratic election of Nawaz Sharif [whose family is currently facing a major corruption scandal] in 2013, the Pakistani government has consistently argued that it has done away with the practice of nurturing and supporting these types of organizations, but it’s simply not true. And while the case may be that the civilian leadership is not fully aware of the activities of the senior military leadership, the fact is, this operational mindset and behavior is a historical practice dating back literally to the inception of Pakistan.
With the exception of military operations against insurgents such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who openly oppose Islamabad, little justifies the civilian government’s stated positions in face of the reality on the ground: the leadership of the Afghan Taliban continues to operate freely in Quetta and Peshawar; the Haqqanis roam freely in Miramshah and are even spotted in Rawalpindi; Masood Azhar - the head of JeM - calls into large rallies from his Bahawalpur home, clamoring for state-sponsored jihad, and Hafiz Saeed - the head of Lashkar-e-Tayyiba - remains merely in “preventive detention,” or house arrest.
Despite its almost mythological reputation and ongoing pivotal role in fomenting insurgencies and manipulating domestic politics, the ISI remains an enigma. It represents one of the most passionate guardians of the Pakistani state, exuding a sense of sincerity and honor - while at the same time remain coldly ruthless behind the scenes, to the point of silently condoning attacks on U.S. soldiers by its proxy forces in Afghanistan.
Here’s a big PS to the above: “The Pentagon will withhold $50 million in reimbursements to Pakistan because it was unable to verify that Islamabad conducted adequate counter-terrorism operations against the Haqqani network, a hardline branch of the Taliban… The decision comes as the Trump administration considers a tougher stance against Pakistan, an ostensible ally, as part of a new military strategy for the nearly 16-year-old war in neighboring Afghanistan… Despite the $50-million cut, Pakistan received $550 million in U.S. aid in the last fiscal year for operations against militants in the federally administered tribal areas, or FATA, a rugged northwestern region where the central government has limited control.” Los Angeles Times, July 23rd.
This ISI Pakistani reality is precisely the kind of “deep state” that Donald Trump says is solidly embedded in our own federal bureaucracy, the swamp that must be drained, and why he – and not our other elected officials or the legions of highly-skilled/experienced senior bureaucrats – and his policies must be implemented no matter who might oppose him/them. Hello Trump base! Conspiracy fans! I wish I could have found hard examples of that American “deep state,” but since I could not, I used Pakistan to show what one really looks like. Bottom line: Except for his litany of executive orders (which he likens to signing Congressionally-passed bills), Donald Trump isn’t getting much done, is alienating both local and global masses to unprecedented levels and, in the eyes of the vast majority of world leaders has placed Trump’s national priorities into an “America Last” position. Tired of winning yet?
I’m Peter Dekom, and indeed, Donald Trump has made America Grate Again.