Post #129: Carrots or Sticks? Addressing North Korea’s Fifth Nuclear Test

As many experts predicted, North Korea (DPRK) followed another ballistic missile test with its fifth nuclear-weapon test on September 9.  The event continues a pattern of testing increasingly sophisticated weapons and delivery systems (see my Post #116) designed as much to thumb noses at the international community’s sanctions as to demonstrate that North Korea, unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, has the ability to defend itself.  Once again the community of North Korea watchers is divided as to Pyongyang’s motives and what to do to rein in its military program.

Among these observers is a substantial number who believe that sanctions alone will not move Pyongyang from its current course.  They believe the North, and for some China as well, needs to be provided with incentives to return to the bargaining table, with nuclear disarmament of North Korea the goal.  But they also believe North Korea must be punished if it rejects the bargain the US would offer, lest it become an unmanageable threat to its neighbors and eventually to the US homeland.

Retired Joint Chiefs chair Admiral Mike Mullen and former Senator Sam Nunn, for example, offer a four-point plan:


  1. . . . China can help get North Korea back to the negotiating table. . . . To encourage China to participate, the United States should offer a new dialogue on the future of the peninsula that includes discussion of the disposition of U.S. forces. This dialogue should coordinate planning in the event of a crisis and convey that it is not U.S. policy to cause the collapse of the North Korean regime.
  2. New and genuine incentives should be offered for North Korea to participate in substantive talks. These talks would include the possibility of a comprehensive deal in which North Korea, South Korea and the United States — supported by China — signed a peace agreement that would finally end the Korean War and gradually normalize relations in exchange for complete nuclear disarmament and progress on human rights. A new diplomatic approach could potentially freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and lay the groundwork for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
  3. Further steps must be taken to increase economic sanctions that more severely restrict the regime’s funding sources. The Obama administration laid a foundation for this with the strong sanctions recently achieved by the U.N. Security Council with the support of China and Russia. . . . Current enforcement of sanctions is far too lax.
  4. . . . The Pentagon should step up its work with U.S. allies to build the capacity necessary to enhance deterrence on the peninsula, enforce sanctions and impede North Korean missile programs. Expanded naval capacity will be needed to interdict North Korean vessels, detect submarine activity and intercept North Korean missile launches. (

Included in their plan is a military response if North Korea refuses to negotiate:  “future North Korean aggression would be met with an active and proportionate self-defense response, including inside North Korea,” and interception of long-range North Korean missiles.

Joel Wit, at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, also advocates a new deal with North Korea that would stop and eventually eliminate its nuclear arsenal (  He endorses negotiating a permanent peace treaty with North Korea as well as suspension of annual US-South Korea military exercises.  But like Mullen and Nunn, Wit calls for enhanced sanctions against the North and supports the Obama administration’s decision to deploy a regional missile defense (known as THAAD)—a decision that China has vigorously opposed in the belief the system is actually directed at its missiles.

These ideas are an improvement over the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience,” which has relied on escalating sanctions, UN Security Council declarations critical of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, and the mistaken belief that China is the key to denuclearizing the North.  (See my Post #106.)  As was true under George W. Bush, Obama has ruled out direct talks with North Korea unless and until it first agrees to eliminate its nuclear weapons—a nonstarter if ever there was one. We should therefore welcome calls for resuming negotiations with Pyongyang, whether in the Six Party Talks that ceased in 2009 or in some other format.

Kim Jong-un evidently is amenable to denuclearization talks, based on a North Korean statement of July 6.  But combining carrots with sticks is very unlikely to interest Kim Jong-un for the simple reason that he and his military leaders will see the formula as sticks now, carrots later.  They will need to see real carrots from the US, South Korea, and Japan up front before they put their sticks down.  What they are seeing now is commentary from pro-engagement sources that stress the North Korean nuclear threat, and the urgency of a multilateral effort to halt it.

Specifically, calling for North Korea’s complete denuclearization as a condition of an agreement puts the cart before the horse.  Its nuclear weapons, as the North’s leaders see it, are the only thing standing between survival and regime change—and probably also between China’s support and abandonment.  North Korean leaders are not about to surrender those weapons at the outset or during negotiations; and even if a new agreement is arranged, it seems doubtful at this point that they would surrender them. We have to believe Kim Jong-un when he says the DPRK will never give them up.  No doubt the Chinese believe him; they understand that many years of living under the shadow of US nuclear superiority requires a credible deterrent, and the North is clearly bent on having one of its own.

Denuclearization should therefore be the last item on a negotiating agenda, not the first: It should follow on other agreements that build trust and convince the North that regime change is not US or South Korean policy, as Mullen and Nunn say.  If the North Koreans are given incentives that are meaningful and reliably delivered, nuclear weapons will be useless to them except as the ultimate deterrent and a prod to the great powers to accept them as negotiating partners.

One such incentive, supporters of engaging North Korea generally agree, is concluding a peace treaty to replace the Korean War armistice. The treaty, guaranteed by the US, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, would provide security assurances to the DPRK by acknowledging the legitimacy of the North Korean state and pledging not to attack it.  Establishing diplomatic relations with the North, providing official economic development aid, and resuming delivery of humanitarian relief (the US has provided virtually none any since 2009, and the DPRK’s northeast is recovering from major floods right now) are among other steps that would help build trust.  Eventually, military matters must be discussed, including the North’s substantial weapons modernization program that keeps tensions high on the Korean peninsula.  Only when a pattern of faithful implementation of agreements by all sides has been established can negotiators move on to nuclear weapons.

Now that North Korea has a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons, however—at least 10, probably closer to 20—and is getting closer to having the capability to deliver them across the Pacific, complete denuclearization no longer seems achievable. The best deal might be to freeze and later warehouse those weapons under strict international supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  As Andrew Nathan writes, a new deal may even require US recognition of North Korea as a nuclear-weapon state (“Who Is Kim Jong-un?” New York Review of Books, August 18, 2016).

China has every reason to support a diplomatic resolution that forestalls a nuclear confrontation on its border. But it will not be party to a US-engineered strategy that amounts to regime change. US-China differences over theater missile defense, the South China Sea islands, human rights, and several other issues have created a contentious relationship.  (The Obama-Xi agreement on climate change is a welcome exception.)  Even in better circumstances, China could never be expected to undermine Kim’s rule and create a chaotic border situation that ultimately would redound to the benefit of South Korea and its US ally.  But given today’s US-China tensions, marked by a widespread belief in Beijing that the US is again seeking to contain China and undermine its reforms, full-out Chinese pressure on North Korea is inconceivable.  To the contrary, many accounts suggest official and local-level tolerance for North Korean evasion of UN sanctions in collaboration with Chinese trading firms.

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” –Abraham Lincoln

In my most recent posts on North Korea—#115 and 116—I argued that sanctions will not be effective against a regime that has historically found itself on the defensive, is internationally isolated, and is led by a young man who seems out to demonstrate that he is even tougher than his father and grandfather.  Only by returning to the negotiating table can the US clarify its and the DPRK’s intentions and discuss incentives that might persuade North Korea to shelve its nuclear weapons, open them to international inspection, stop producing more of them, and agree to a ban on selling or transferring ballistic missiles.  Negotiations are probably the only way to regain China’s (and Russia’s) cooperation in bringing about a deal.  The alternative of constantly upping the pressure on North Korea has led it to produce longer-range missiles and more powerful nuclear weapons—with the prospect that the next US president will have to deal with 50 to100 North Korean nukes (


Post #128: The Dark Side of United Nations Peacekeeping


United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKOs) involve over 125,000 soldiers deployed in sixteen countries, with a total budget of nearly $8 billion.  Their missions range from interposing themselves between combatants to providing relief from a health or environmental crisis.  These missions are difficult to organize and finance, yet often represent the only alternative to large-scale loss of innocent lives.  As welcome as “blue helmets” may be in very trying circumstances, however, there is a major negative: UN peacekeeping soldiers sometimes do more harm than good.

All too often, UN soldiers behave just as badly as the soldiers they are meant to deter, raping and pillaging in complete violation of their mission and to the great discredit of the organization itself.  Following on widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo in the early 1990s, a UN-commissioned study in 1996 on the fate of children in war noted: “Children may also become victims of prostitution following the arrival of peacekeeping forces. In Mozambique, after the signing of the peace treaty in 1992, soldiers of the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) recruited girls aged 12 to 18 years into prostitution. After a commission of inquiry confirmed the allegations, the soldiers implicated were sent home. . . . In 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict prepared for the present report, the arrival of peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.”

The study recommended: “Prevention of gender-based violence should include a role for the military, and United Nations peacekeepers in particular. Senior officers often have turned a blind eye to the sexual crimes of those under their command, but they must be held accountable for both their own behaviour and that of the men they supervise. The 12 case studies on gender-based violence prepared for the present report found the main perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation to be the armed forces of parties to a conflict, whether governmental or other actors. Military training should emphasize gender sensitivity, child rights and responsible behaviour towards women and children. Offenders must be prosecuted and punished for acts against women and children.”  ( )

But the UN took none of these steps. Thus: “There were 99 allegations of sexual abuse against UN staff last year, a 25 percent increase over 2014, affecting peacekeeping operations in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali and Sudan” ( “Failure to investigate and act” is part and parcel of the problem.  In most cases, it seems that the UN secretary-general became aware of the problem but chose not to take immediate action.  Other UN agencies likewise have turned a blind eye to reports of rape and human trafficking.

In 2013 French peacekeepers not directly under UN command raped boys at a refugee camp in Central African Republic, and the next year, when a formal UN PKO took over, more than forty cases of sexual abuse, mostly of girls, were reported.  In the latter case, only one abuser was charged with a crime (   An internal UN report said: “The end result was a gross institutional failure to respond to the allegations in a meaningful way. . . . In the absence of concrete action to address wrongdoing by the very persons sent to protect vulnerable populations, the credibility of the UN and peacekeeping operations are in jeopardy” ( report above).

When wrongdoing by peacekeeping soldiers occurs, the UN’s usual response is to send the soldiers home.  The UN is not allowed to arrest and prosecute; only a soldier’s own government has those powers, and they are rarely used.  Of course there is much talk about having better trained soldiers and more of them, including more female soldiers, but the wheels grind slowly.  What remains in place is perhaps best described by Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general: a culture of impunity. “If people feel and know they are not going to get away with this, we’ll have a whole different system,” he said. “If the U.N. can’t ensure accountability on something like sexual violence, how is the U.N. able to talk to anybody else? I think there’s a massive gap and much more to be done” (

The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti in 2010, following on a massive earthquake, is another example of peacekeeping gone awry.  A special rapporteur appointed by the UN has reported that waste from the UN base established in Haiti was the likely source of a cholera outbreak that has killed at least 10,000 people.  Though the UN leadership has finally taken some responsibility for the consequences, it has thus far refused to make payments to the victims’ families.  This prompted the rapporteur to say that the UN “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that the member states respect human rights, while rejecting any responsibility for itself” (

Then there are the cases in which the UN PKO sits on its hands in the midst of terrible violence.  The Rwanda genocide is surely the best known instance.  But now we have South Sudan, where the PKO has just been increased to 16,000 soldiers in response to a breakdown of a peace agreement in the civil war.  The UN mission is being accused of failing to prevent violence, widespread sexual abuse by local soldiers, and looting of food supplies.  The UN contends that forces loyal to the government are mainly responsible ( for atrocities committed against civilians, but the peacekeeping operation has done little to stop it.  Foreign aid workers, who face enormous obstacles as people flee the country and hunger increases, have lately been a principal target of government-backed soldiers (  The secretary-general has expressed “outrage” and ordered a special investigation.  By the time the investigation ends and some action is taken, we can imagine what the death toll will be.

There is no question in my mind that we need international peacekeepers trained to prevent or at least minimize violence and to respect UN conventions on the rights of children, women, and refugees.  When performed properly, PKOs are worth every penny; their total budget is less than one tenth of one percent of global military spending.  But those at the UN who are responsible for PKOs, and who are always pleading for more money and other resources, need to take a hard look in the mirror.  Too many peacekeeping soldiers have engaged in criminal or grossly negligent behavior, and the UN leadership has often done little more than cover up the problem or, when pushed, study it.

Post #127: Mission Impossible in the Middle East

We all know from personal experience how difficult it is to burn the candle at both ends when we’re trying to satisfy two people who are at odds with one another.  Yet that is exactly what Washington is now trying to do with the Turks and the Saudis, two security partners in the war on ISIS with authoritarian governments.  Relations with Turkey now require that Washington placate a leader, Recep Tayyif Erdogan, who has just survived a military coup attempt and is now resuming a crackdown on political opponents.  Unfortunately for the US, those opponents include the Kurds, who are also (and very effectively) fighting ISIS.  By providing air support for the just-launched Turk offensive against ISIS positions in the border area with Syria, the US must somehow restrain the Kurds who are fighting in that same area.  Clearly, Turkish forces are just as determined to diminish the Kurds as they are to defeat ISIS, for Turkish leaders know that the Kurds’ quest for greater autonomy, if not outright independence, for all their people—in Syria, in Iraq, and in Turkey—is the Kurdish end game.  The US, in the Nixon-Kissinger era, has stifled that quest once before, and by every indication Washington remains opposed to Kurdish independence.

Meantime, the US is guilty of complicity with Saudi Arabia in the horrific civil war raging in Yemen.  US intelligence, bombs, and equipment are critical to the Saudis’ devastating air campaign that, according to a just-released report by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has killed at least 3,800 civilians, wounded over 6,700, forced a tenth of the population to flee their homes, and destroyed many nonmilitary structures such as hospitals and schools (  The US has long been a major supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding that regime’s protection and promotion of Wahhabism, an extremist form of Islam that fuels jihadist violence around the world (

Here is “crackpot realism” (in C. Wright Mills’ phrase) at its worst: the Obama administration, determined to buy back the Saudis’ affection after concluding a nuclear deal with Iran that they strongly oppose, abets relentless bombing of civilian targets in Yemen.  (The UNHCHR report cited above called for investigating possible war crimes there.)  As with Turkey, US leaders seem to feel compelled to apologize, look the other way, and pay something for doing the right thing—supporting the Kurds and engaging the Iranians.

In an editorial on “the exasperating complexity of Washington’s foreign policy” (whew!), the New York Times explains how the US is caught between placating Turkey, “an important NATO ally” and “a repository for allied nuclear weapons,” and maintaining good ties with the Kurds (  The editorial sides with Vice President Joe Biden who, in visiting Turkey, opted for trying to conciliate—he reportedly apologized for not arriving sooner—rather than saying “what most American officials really think.”  And what do these officials supposedly think?  That the Erdogan government deserves condemnation for using the coup attempt as a basis for further repression, and for arousing suspicion of that the US supported a coup.  The Times concludes that realism, meaning Turkey’s strategic importance, trumps (sorry) concerns about human rights and humane governance.

In Turkey and Saudi Arabia we have two grossly undemocratic regimes whose leaders have learned the fine art of manipulating US foreign policy priorities to serve their own interests and keep autocrats in power.  It’s an old story. US leaders, on the other hand, never seem to learn—or, if they are clear-eyed, seem unable and unwilling to break with the past.  These are embarrassing relationships that contradict professed American values and undermine international partnerships.  Worst of all, they are extremely costly to innocent people caught up in their countries’ war machine.  As the head of the UNHCHR said regarding Yemen, the international community has “a legal and moral duty to take urgent steps to alleviate the appalling levels of human despair.”

We might as well call US policy in these cases for what it is: appeasement.  And appeasement, which is what happens when you try to burn the candle at both ends, never works; the appeased party is never appeased.  We can expect the Turks to keep demanding the extradition of the cleric Fethullah Gulen and containment of the Kurds; and we can expect the Saudis to keep demanding US assistance in their Yemen bombing campaign and deeper involvement in Syria in order to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.  Both will want increased “rent” from the US—money and weapons—in return for their support of US policy.  They know, just by looking at the shape of US politics, that nobody of consequence is going to say “no.”

Post #126: How Trump Deals

The revelation from a New York Times investigation that Donald Trump’s chief campaign adviser, Paul Manafort, was on the take with the former pro-Russian Ukraine president should come as no surprise (  Even before the Times report, we knew that Manafort was a well-paid economic adviser to President Viktor Yanukovych on election strategy and foreign investments.  What we now know is that he was among a substantial number of individuals who may have received millions of dollars in illegal, under-the-table payments or gifts from a Ukraine administration that was up to its neck in corrupt practices.  Whether or not Manafort actually received the $12.7 million designated for him by Yanukovych’s party, the fact is he profited from a close association with a pro-Russian government—an association that surely helps account for the pro-Russian views of Trump himself.

But the real story here is the insight it provides into how a Trump administration would conduct foreign policy.  In a nutshell, it’s “the art of the deal.”  Regardless of who might be on the other side of the table—Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, or Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico—Trump’s guideline would be that business interests are central to the national interest.  Anyone unfriendly to the US dollar would be an enemy, subject to sanctions. After all, the art of the deal is to win, and for Trump “winning is everything. I can only say: my whole life has been about winning” (interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa,

Neither US strategic priorities nor “idealist” concerns such as human rights and civil society would be allowed to interfere with cutting a deal.  As another of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, said, “ironically, Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress [with Moscow] through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change” (  Thus, if Mexico balked at paying for the Trump Wall, Trump would have no qualms about punishing Mexico economically.  If China pushed back at the US navy in the South China Sea, Trump might erect barriers to Chinese imports.  As for Russia, where Trump, Page, Manafort, and other advisers already have business ties, investments are perceived as the key to moderating US-Russia relations and thus “solving” disputes over Crimea and Ukraine.

In Trump’s world, everyone has a price.  He has often told the story of how his view of China is mainly shaped by the sale of a Trump Tower apartment to a Chinese banker. (See my Post #110, Trump and China.)  Despite that profitable venture, Trump’s larger picture of China is that the Chinese are fleecing the US, they are “our enemies,” and only by threatening to disrupt trade with them can the US earn Beijing’s respect ( If the US wants to reverse China’s policy on exchange rates, the trade deficit, and even the South China Sea, all Washington has to do is hurt its economy.  Trump has no doubt—he is immune to doubt—that China will cave under such pressure.

Donald Trump and his inner circle have no interest in seeing the world through the eyes of others.  The world is reduced to markets, and diplomacy to The Deal.  The other forces that motivate nations—nationalism, insecurity, underdevelopment, historical grievances—don’t seem to be worth understanding or acknowledging.  That’s a major reason why Trump and Manafort are most comfortable dealing with—and admiring—dictators.  Dictators run a tight ship; their word is law; no one else need be consulted or persuaded.  Cutting a deal with them is so much easier than contending with democratic leaders, messy legislative processes, and outside influences such as unions and NGOs.

Fortunately, such a dangerously narrow view of world affairs is not going to win in November.  But it won’t go away, if for no other reason than that as US influence in the world declines, as US ability to end terrorism, climate disruptions, and other large-scale threats becomes ever more problematic, and as social and economic inequality persists at home, politicians preaching simplistic solutions and promising to put “America first” will reemerge.  Trump may go on vacation after the election, as he has promised; but Trumpism will survive.


Post #125: Our Deteriorating Environment: Is Anybody Listening?

Since beginning my blog in January 2014, I have written several pieces on the urgency of dealing with climate change and other large-scale environmental challenges—challenges that I have argued constitute the number-one global security issue of our time.  As the months pass, more and more evidence accumulates to justify this assessment.  But while the scientists have been doing their job in calling attention to the multiple ways in which environmental decline threatens the planet, we hear less and less from political leaders.  Their focus is on the here-and-now—terrorism, jobs, immigration—and not on commitments to the future.  Last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change (see Post #101) seems like a distant memory.

Here is some of the latest scientific evidence, which points not only to the magnitude and immediacy of the problem, but also to the interdependence of its parts:

  • To the now familiar melting of the Arctic ice packs—which the most recent study shows is likely to cause a sea level rise of “at least several meters” (– should be added the equally if not more dangerous thawing of the permafrost, which means increasing emissions of methane and carbon dioxide ( “Indeed,” Chris Mooney reports, “scientists have discovered a simple statistic that underscores the scale of the potential problem: There may be more than twice as much carbon contained in northern permafrost as there is in the atmosphere itself. That’s a staggering thought.” (Methane, by the way, seems to be the unsung villain: all the attention to carbon dioxide, Bill McKibben tells us [“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry,” The Nation, April 11-18, 2016], detracts from methane’s equally potent heat trapping.  Increased use of natural gas, plus fracking, are significantly increasing methane emissions in the US.)
  • The world’s largest forest “carbon sink,” the Amazon basin, is losing its ability to soak up excess carbon dioxide, a British study reports ( In a nutshell, growth—i.e., conversion of forest land to agriculture—is outpacing forest sustainability.
  • New studies of flooding confirm that rising sea levels as the result of global warming are occurring at a faster rate than ever before. The coastal flooding witnessed in recent years in Miami, Charleston, and Norfolk is likely to be more frequent and prolonged in the future.  Ocean levels may rise up three to four feet by 2100 (
  • China, while promising to draw 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, is in fact continuing to construct coal-fired plants—on average, one plant a week until 2020, according to the latest Greenpeace report ( The extraordinary fact about this new construction is that it creates huge excess capacity, the result not of central government dictates but rather of permits for investment in coal-fired plants by leaders in distant provinces.  Unless this trend stops, as much as $200 billion will be wasted and water availability will dramatically decline.

Two pieces of good news: nuclear power is in trouble everywhere, and the ozone “hole” over the Antarctic is starting to heal.  The latest World Nuclear Industry Status Report ( details the numerous nuclear power plants that have been or in a short time will be shut down.  Financing problems, aging plants, and technical breakdowns are a big part of the reason; but competition from renewable energy sources is becoming the most important factor.  The future energy picture is captured is this notation:  “Globally, wind power output grew by 17%, solar by 33%, nuclear by 1.3%” in the past year, and “Brazil, China, India, Japan and the Netherlands now all generate more electricity from wind turbines alone than from nuclear power plants.” Meantime, thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that phased out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, the ozone layer is growing back—a sign that international agreements backed by a coalition of scientists does work (

Public opinion trails behind scientific findings on climate change, according to Pew Research Center polls.  The urgency of climate change is felt more strongly in Europe and Latin America than in the US and China:  That fact is worrisome: Americans and Chinese, who live in the biggest carbon producing societies, should be the most concerned about climate change. On the other hand, Americans’ concern is rising again: the percentage of Americans polled by Gallup in 2016 who believe climate change is a worrisome problem stands at 64 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, only 10 percent of US adults now discount global warming as a major problem (  But before we celebrate, we need to remind ourselves that expressions of concern don’t equate to what people are willing to do to combat the problem, even at the polls.  And if many of them are inclined to “let the politicians figure it out,” or hide behind “I’m not a scientist” disclaimers, we’re in great trouble.

Sadly, climate change is barely on the election-year agenda.  That’s hardly surprising in the case of Donald Trump, a climate change denier.  His come-uppance will be when his prize Florida hotel, Mar-a-Lago, goes under water in perhaps thirty years (, along with many other coastal properties as mentioned above.  Beaches and streets are already flooding in Miami.  (Trump should talk with high-end Miami realtors, two-thirds of whom are very worried about climate change. But of course, he won’t; he doesn’t need advice from anyone.)  As for Hillary Clinton, she has mentioned global warming of course, but it’s clearly not a high priority in her campaign.  Whether or not that changes in her presidency remains to be seen, but (if you’ll excuse the expression) don’t hold your breath.

A final thought, which comes from an opinion piece by William Gail, former president of the American Meteorological Society ( Future generations may have to start from scratch in grappling with the “new dark age” of climate-altering changes.  Their learning process will have been disrupted.  Models, technologies, and other resources used to identify patterns, and predict and act on Earth’s dramatic changes, will be largely useless.  Our children and grandchildren have no idea what they are inheriting.


Post #124: Break-in: The Kremlin-Trump Connection

Richard Nixon had “The Plumbers.”  Donald Trump, it seems, has the Russians—either the FSB (Federal Security Service, formerly the KGB), the GRU (military intelligence), or some pro-Moscow outside group.  Nixon had to resort to a physical break-in of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office complex; the Russians simply hacked their way in.  Their act of cyberwarfare is another step in an escalation of US-Russia tensions that has lately included assaults and intimidation of US diplomats in Moscow.

To my mind, the cyber-hacking was ordered at the highest level in the Kremlin (as many cyber experts are saying) with the motive of influencing the US elections (  The Russians hope not merely to embarrass the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign by leaking tens of thousands of private emails, but also to elevate the candidacy of their new friend in the Trump Tower.  None of these assessments will probably ever be provable, but the coincidence of the hacking and turnover of materials to Wikileaks just days before the Democratic convention was to begin defy a different interpretation. Unfortunately, whereas Nixon’s attempt to cover up the covert operation failed and he paid dearly for ordering it, Vladimir Putin probably will be able to hide his role forever.

Some may excuse the Russians by arguing either that US administrations, after all, have a history of meddling in other countries’ elections, even those of allies (e.g., the Australians long ago); or that the hacking is payback for the US-engineered release of the Panama Papers in part to spotlight corruption at the highest levels of the Russian government.  The current situation is different: It amounts to information warfare.  Unlike the cyberwarfare now apparently going on between China and the US, which is “normal” intelligence gathering, Russia’s venture might be considered a serious breach of US national security.  (See David Sanger’s article:

While the full impact of the hacking incident on US-Russia relations may not be apparent for awhile, it will be immediate on the presidential race.  The Russians have already scored two successes—causing the resignation of the DNC national chair and forcing Hillary Clinton to have to deal again with Bernie Sanders, whose accusations during the campaign of DNC bias against him have now been borne out by the released emails.  But their third target—helping Trump’s candidacy—is bound to fail miserably.  For one thing, nobody anywhere likes foreigners to meddle in their politics.  The result is usually blowback.  And in the present case, Donald Trump’s open affection for Putin (along with other autocrats), his belief he can work with Moscow (much like George W. Bush’s claim he could look into Putin’s “soul” and see good), and his discrediting of the NATO alliance will not go down easily with the electorate.

If these were the Cold War years, Trump’s friendliness toward Moscow would guarantee his defeat.  But now that the Cold War with the Russians is reviving, the Clinton campaign has a golden opportunity to benefit from the connection between Russian hacking and Trump’s campaign.  We can count on blowback, and Trump may rue the day he befriended Putin.



Post #123: Donald Trump—A “Unique and Present Danger”

“There can be no prosperity without law and order.”  If you saw Donald Trump delivering those words—he repeated “law and order” three more times—you had every reason to think you were watching another tin pot dictator in action.  (If you can bear it, the full text is at  He stood before Republican delegates as the great leader, the one who would singlehandedly lead America out of the darkness. “I am your voice,” he declared.  It was, in all, a frightening spectacle.

Like many other observers, including plenty of prominent Republicans, I believe Donald Trump is a dangerous man.  Not merely for his ideas, which run the gamut from empty to unconstitutional to outlandish, but for his character and values: megalomania, disregard for other viewpoints, racism, sexism, and demagoguery, just to cite a few.  People like Trump come along once in a lifetime in American politics—the person who truly believes he has been anointed to save his people and the world.  See Charlie Chaplin’s “The Dictator” to reacquaint yourselves with this aberrant behavior pattern.

Progressives may be disappointed in the Democratic Party’s ticket.  But when we consider what the US might become under a Trump-Pence administration, it seems to me that we must do everything we can to ensure a Clinton-Kaine victory—including not supporting a third party, which might take precious votes away from the Democrats.  We thought electing Ronald Reagan would be a calamity and McCain-Palin even worse.  But a President Trump would be “a unique and present danger” to our democracy.

Those words come at the end of a superb July 22 Washington Post editorial that brings together the many disturbing facets of Trumpism and captures the key reasons why he must be defeated.  I can’t do any better, and so reproduce below the full editorial.  You might want to do the same for your friends and colleagues.


DONALD J. TRUMP, until now a Republican problem, this week became a challenge the nation must confront and overcome. The real estate tycoon is uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament. He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.

Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr. Trump a peril. We recognize that this is not the usual moment to make such a statement. In an ordinary election year, we would acknowledge the Republican nominee, move on to the Democratic convention and spend the following months, like other voters, evaluating the candidates’ performance in debates, on the stump and in position papers. This year we will follow the campaign as always, offering honest views on all the candidates. But we cannot salute the Republican nominee or pretend that we might endorse him this fall. A Trump presidency would be dangerous for the nation and the world.

Why are we so sure? Start with experience. It has been 64 years since a major party nominated anyone for president who did not have electoral experience. That experiment turned out pretty well — but Mr. Trump, to put it mildly, is no Dwight David Eisenhower. Leading the Allied campaign to liberate Europe from the Nazis required strategic and political skills of the first order, and Eisenhower — though he liked to emphasize his common touch as he faced the intellectual Democrat Adlai Stevenson — was shrewd, diligent, humble and thoughtful.

In contrast, there is nothing on Mr. Trump’s résumé to suggest he could function successfully in Washington. He was staked in the family business by a well-to-do father and has pursued a career marked by some real estate successes, some failures and repeated episodes of saving his own hide while harming people who trusted him. Given his continuing refusal to release his tax returns, breaking with a long bipartisan tradition, it is only reasonable to assume there are aspects of his record even more discreditable than what we know.

The lack of experience might be overcome if Mr. Trump saw it as a handicap worth overcoming. But he displays no curiosity, reads no books and appears to believe he needs no advice. In fact, what makes Mr. Trump so unusual is his combination of extreme neediness and unbridled arrogance. He is desperate for affirmation but contemptuous of other views. He also is contemptuous of fact. Throughout the campaign, he has unspooled one lie after another — that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, that his tax-cut plan would not worsen the deficit, that he opposed the Iraq War before it started — and when confronted with contrary evidence, he simply repeats the lie. It is impossible to know whether he convinces himself of his own untruths or knows that he is wrong and does not care. It is also difficult to know which trait would be more frightening in a commander in chief.

Given his ignorance, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Trump offers no coherence when it comes to policy. In years past, he supportedimmigration reformgun control and legal abortion; as candidate, he became a hard-line opponent of all three. Even in the course of the campaign, he has flip-flopped on issues such as whether Muslims should be banned from entering the United States and whether women who have abortions should be punished . Worse than the flip-flops is the absence of any substance in his agenda. Existing trade deals are “stupid,” but Mr. Trump does not say how they could be improved. The Islamic State must be destroyed, but the candidate offers no strategy for doing so. Eleven million undocumented immigrants must be deported, but Mr. Trump does not tell us how he would accomplish this legally or practically.

What the candidate does offer is a series of prejudices and gut feelings, most of them erroneous. Allies are taking advantage of the United States. Immigrants are committing crimes and stealing jobs. Muslims hate America. In fact, Japan and South Korea are major contributors to an alliance that has preserved a peace of enormous benefit to Americans. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans and take jobs that no one else will. Muslims are the primary victims of Islamist terrorism, and Muslim Americans, including thousands who have served in the military, are as patriotic as anyone else.

The Trump litany of victimization has resonated with many Americans whose economic prospects have stagnated. They deserve a serious champion, and the challenges of inequality and slow wage growth deserve a serious response. But Mr. Trump has nothing positive to offer, only scapegoats and dark conspiracy theories. He launched his campaign by accusing Mexico of sending rapists across the border, and similar hatefulness has surfaced numerous times in the year since.

In a dangerous world, Mr. Trump speaks blithely of abandoning NATO, encouraging more nations to obtain nuclear weapons and cozying up to dictators who in fact wish the United States nothing but harm. For eight years, Republicans have criticized President Obama for “apologizing” for America and for weakening alliances. Now they put forward a candidate who mimics the vilest propaganda of authoritarian adversaries about how terrible the United States is and how unfit it is to lecture others. He has made clear that he would drop allies without a second thought. The consequences to global security could be disastrous.

Most alarming is Mr. Trump’s contempt for the Constitution and the unwritten democratic norms upon which our system depends. He doesn’t know what is in the nation’s founding document. When asked by a member of Congress about Article I, which enumerates congressional powers, the candidate responded, “I am going to abide by the Constitution whether it’s number 1, number 2, number 12, number 9.” The charter has seven articles.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to care about its limitations on executive power. He has threatened that those who criticize him will suffer when he is president. He has vowed to torture suspected terrorists and bomb their innocent relatives, no matter the illegality of either act. He has vowed toconstrict the independent press. He went after a judge whose rulings angered him, exacerbating his contempt for the independence of the judiciary by insisting that the judge should be disqualified because of his Mexican heritage. Mr. Trump has encouraged and celebrated violence at his rallies. The U.S. democratic system is strong and has proved resilient when it has been tested before. We have faith in it. But to elect Mr. Trump would be to knowingly subject it to threat.

Mr. Trump campaigns by insult and denigration, insinuation and wild accusation: Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; Hillary Clinton may be guilty of murder; Mr. Obama is a traitor who wants Muslims to attack. The Republican Party has moved the lunatic fringe onto center stage, with discourse that renders impossible the kind of substantive debate upon which any civil democracy depends.

Most responsible Republican leaders know all this to be true; that is why Mr. Trump had to rely so heavily on testimonials by relatives and employees during this week’s Republican convention. With one exception (Bob Dole), the living Republican presidents and presidential nominees of the past three decades all stayed away. But most current officeholders, even those who declared Mr. Trump to be an unthinkable choice only months ago, have lost the courage to speak out.

The party’s failure of judgment leaves the nation’s future where it belongs, in the hands of voters. Many Americans do not like either candidate this year . We have criticized the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in the past and will do so again when warranted. But we do not believe that she (or the Libertarian and Green party candidates, for that matter) represents a threat to the Constitution. Mr. Trump is a unique and present danger.


Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.