As Turkish troops move in to Syria, the risks are great – including for Turkey itself



Turkish armoured vehicles drive down a road during a military operation in Kurdish areas of northern Syria.
AAP/EPA/STR

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

Turkey did not waste much time in launching an attack on Syrian soil just days after US President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw US forces from northern Syria. As this development opens a new chapter in Syria, Turkey maybe unwittingly sinking deeper into that country’s civil war.

This is not the first time president Trump has mentioned withdrawal from Syria – he voiced it in April 2018.

Alleged gas attacks by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s incumbent government followed, which resulted in the US continuing its stay in Syria despite its reluctant president.

The US government has always been tentative with its Syrian policy, which was openly exploited by Russia in its bid to support the Assad government’s grip on power in the embattled country.




Read more:
Trump decision to withdraw troops from Syria opens way for dangerous Middle East power play


It is also not the first time Turkey has talked about a military presence in Syria. In January 2018, it sent troops to north-western Syria, establishing its control over lands to the west of the Euphrates river. Turkey has increased its military build up on the Syrian border ever since.

The US contained any further Turkish advances by making it clear Turkey was not welcome to the east of the river, especially when the US needed the support of Kurdish forces in ending Islamic States’s presence in Syria.

Why does Turkey want to increase its military presence in Syria?

There are three main reasons Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eager to send more troops in to northern Syria east of the Euphrates river.

The first is the prospect of free Kurdish states near its borders inspiring the sizeable Kurdish populations in the south east of Turkey to seek similar aspirations. Northern Iraq is slowly moving towards independence. If Kurds in northern Syria were to establish an autonomous region, it would only be a matter of time before the same demands were raised in Turkey.

Fearing this development, Erdogan has pursued an increasingly tough policy on Kurdish political activities in Turkey. The leader of pro-Kurdish party HDP, Selahattin Demirtas, has been in jail for almost three years.

Turkey’s second concern is the reported 3.5 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey since the conflict began in 2011. Although they were initially welcomed with open arms, there is growing discontent in the Turkish media and society, with many calling for their return.

Opposition parties have been critical of the Erdogan government’s inability to effectively manage the refugee crisis, which was one of the key issues that led to Erdogan’s loss in this year’s Istanbul elections.

Erdogan plans to create a safe zone in Northern Syria, establish new settlements within this region and slowly move Arab Syrian refugees back to Syria. This will change the demographics of the region and undermine Kurdish dominance.

Erdogan’s third aim is to make a political investment for future elections. This may be the most important reason, as Erdogan first mentioned a military offensive in Syria soon after his local government election loss in June 2019.

The Turkish leader needs the coalition with MHP, the nationalist party, to maintain his grip on power and enhance his chance of re-election. He needs a war to unify his electorate, please his coalition partner and silence the growing critical voices in the midst of a worsening Turkish economy.

Erdogan made strong hints in August he would send troops to northern Syria against the US-allied YPG, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist group. He was most likely testing international, especially US, reaction. The US responded by offering a joint operation in the region.

It appears Erdogan thought the US involvement was limiting his goals and wasting his time. Perhaps he reasoned the timing was right to make a bold move when Trump was politically weakened by an impeachment inquiry.

It seems Erdogan’s strategy worked. Trump agreed to withdraw from Syria on the condition Turkey took responsibility for handling thousands of IS prisoners and their families in camps.

Trump added a threat to “totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey” if it was to do anything considered “off-limits”. But the move was still a green light for Turkey to send troops to Syria.

What is likely to happen now?

Trump’s announcement does not mean the US is pulling out of Syria completely. It’s likely the US will continue to have a presence in eastern Syria to watch developments closely and intervene if the situation deteriorates.

A total pull-out would further weaken Trump. He would not want to risk the already-waning Republican party’s support over concerns about a resurgence of IS in Syria.

Russia seems to be pleased with the developments. Putin knows the US withdrawal means greater Russian influence and shores up the Assad government. Since Erdogan does everything with full Russian endorsement, their close collaboration gives Russia leverage in its political and diplomatic struggle with the NATO.




Read more:
Further strikes on Syria unlikely – but Trump is always the wild card


One possibility is that Turkish forces do not face much resistance. They would then only advance to a limited region, with their stated aim of establishing a safe zone and returning Syrian refugees back to Syria. This may contain the situation without further escalation.

Another possibility is that the US abandoning its protection of the Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria will have a cascading effects. A sizeable portion of Kurdish civilians may be displaced, and some may flee in advance, fearing the worst.

The Kurdish YPG forces may initially avoid open conflict with the advancing Turkish forces, and look for new alliances in Syria. The most likely candidate for this is Assad, who may see an opportunity to bring the Kurdish populations and regions under his control.

If an Assad-Kurdish partnership eventuates, Turkish forces may be drawn into the war within Syria.

Kurdish populations in Turkey may then become involved, threatening Turkey with what it fears the most – a Kurdish insurrection within its own borders.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls



While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

About two weeks since a transcript of Donald Trump’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president was revealed, his approval with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate is 41.6% and his disapproval is 54.0%. Trump’s net approval is -12.4%, down 2.5% since last fortnight’s article.




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Warren placed second after Biden, as Trump’s ratings rise. But could the impeachment scandal make a difference?


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.2% and his disapproval is 53.9%, for a net approval of -11.7%, down 3.4% since last fortnight. The Ukraine scandal has had a small but discernible impact on Trump’s ratings.

As I wrote previously, I did not expect this scandal to have a serious or lasting impact, as better-educated voters already detest Trump, while lower-educated voters are far more focused on the economy. Indeed, after an initial drop, Trump’s ratings have stabilised recently.

While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply. Before the Ukraine scandal, 51.0% opposed impeachment and 40.1% supported it, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker. Currently, 49.2% support impeachment while 43.3% are opposed. Support has risen strongly among Democrats and non-aligned voters, but only modestly with Republicans.

The vast majority of Trump disapprovers now support impeachment, but the Ukraine scandal has not converted many Trump approvers into disapprovers.

Despite the increased public support for impeachment, there is very little chance that the Senate, which Republicans control 53-47, will reach the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office before the November 2020 election. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump has well over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination, with the other three candidates at about 2% each. Republican senators are very unlikely to go against their party’s base.

In head-to-head polling against the three leading Democrats in RealClearPolitics averages, Trump trails Joe Biden by 7.4 points (7.7 points last fortnight). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 4.5 points (4.0) and Bernie Sanders by 5.2 (4.8).

US jobs situation still good

Last week, there were worse than expected September industry surveys for the services sector in both the US and Europe. However, the US added 136,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% – the lowest since 1969. The one negative aspect of this jobs report was that hourly pay dropped 1c after increasing 11c in August.

The low US unemployment rate is not just because of low participation. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans who are employed – increased 0.1% to 61.0% in September, its highest since December 2008, near the beginning of the global financial crisis.

My view is that, bad as Trump’s ratings are, they would be worse without the strong US economy; this explains why Trump’s ratings improved during September as the recession talk from August faded. If the US jobs reports continue to have good news until November 2020, Trump will have a reasonable chance of re-election.

There are two economic policies being pursued by the right that could undermine the global economy. One is the US/China trade war, where talks this week are unlikely to make progress. The other is Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit may occur on October 31, but is more likely after an election that current polling indicates the UK Conservatives would win.

Warren surges to tie with Biden in Democratic polls

In the RealClearPolitics average of Democratic national polls, Warren and Biden are virtually tied, with Warren at 26.6% and Biden 26.4%. It is the first lead for anyone other than Biden. Sanders is at 14.6%, Pete Buttigieg at 5.6%, Kamala Harris at 4.4% and nobody else has more than 3%.

Since the September 12 Democratic debate, Warren’s support has increased at the expense of Biden, Harris and Sanders. Some of Sanders’ recent drop is probably due to his October 1 heart attack.

In early state polls, there have been no new polls since last fortnight in Iowa, with Warren leading Biden by 23.0% to 20.3%. In New Hampshire, the two polls taken since the September 12 debate have Warren leading Biden by one to two points.




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The big exception to Warren’s rise is South Carolina, which is the last of the four early states to vote on February 29. Owing to strong black support for Biden, he has a lead over Warren exceeding 20 points in three post-debate polls in that state.

The next Democratic debate will be held on October 15. Contrary to my previous expectations, the 12 qualifying candidates will not be split over two nights, but instead appear all on one night. The threshold has been increased for November and future debates, and so far eight candidates have qualified for the November 20 debate.

Brexit, Austrian, Portuguese and Canadian elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger about Brexit and the September 29 Austrian election results, in which the conservatives won, but need an ally to reach a majority. My latest Poll Bludger article is about Brexit and the October 6 Portuguese election, a rare triumph for the left in a democratic world that is trending to the right.

The Canadian election will be held on October 21. The CBC Poll Tracker has the Conservatives and Liberals virtually tied in voting intentions, with the Liberals ahead on seats, but short of a majority.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

The latest Australian Newspoll, conducted September 26-29 from a sample of 1,660, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged since early September. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down two), 13% Greens (up one, and their best Newspoll since 2015) and 6% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +4, down six points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -1, up four points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 50-31 (48-28 previously).

Voters favoured prioritising the US relationship over China by 56% to 25%. All figures from The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump decision to withdraw troops from Syria opens way for dangerous Middle East power play



Turkish and US troops on patrol in northern Syria. President Donald Trump has announced he plans to withdraw US troops from the region, paving the way for great destabilisation.
AAP/EPA/Sedat Suna

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

US President Donald Trump’s precipitate announcement he was withdrawing American forces from northeast Syria to enable Turkey to assert its authority along the border risks wider regional bloodshed – and further destabilisation of one of the world’s most volatile corners.

If implemented against a furious pushback from his own side of politics, the Trump decision threatens a region-wide conflagration. These are the stakes.

Trump has given contradictory signals before on the same issue. It remains to be seen whether he gives ground again after what appears to have been a hasty, certainly ill-considered, decision following a phone conversation with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Now under enormous stress from his own side, Trump is resorting to bombast. He tweeted:

Leading the charge against the Trump decision is his close ally, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. He has threatened to introduce a Senate resolution opposing the administration’s decision, describing the move as a “stain on America’s honour”.

Like plucking a thread from a finely woven Turkish rug, the administration’s announcement effectively to abandon a Kurdish militia could lead to a complete unravelling of that part of the Middle East in which various forces have collided since the Syrian civil war broke out in March 2011.




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America’s Kurdish allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia arm (known as the YPG), would be at the mercy of a Turkish thrust across the Syrian border into territory the Kurds now control.

Turkey has made no secret of its intention to create what it is calling “safe zones” up to 30 kilometres inside the border in northeast Syria. This would enable it to relocate tens of thousands of Syrian refugees among the 3.6 million on Turkish soil.

In the face of such a Turkish move, the YPG would be hard put to hold sway against both Turkey’s military and Islamic State fighters seeking to take advantage of militia weakness in the absence of US support on the ground and in the air.

The ABC reports that something like 70,000 members of Islamic State or their supporters are being held in camps in SDF-controlled territory. Around 60 people of Australian origin, including children, are in this situation.

Thousands of IS militants are being held in prison camps in SDF-controlled territory. These fighters have already sought to stage mass breakouts from prison facilities.

Turkey views the YPG militia as cross-border allies of Kurdish separatists – and it regards the Kurdish separatists as terrorists.

The situation along the Turkish-Syria border is, by any standards, an explosive mix.

At the same time, Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran and Russia, would inevitably be poised to take advantage of chaos and regain territory lost in the civil war. This is a highly destabilising scenario.

In other words, Trump’s announcement could hardly portend a more worrisome outcome in a part of the world riven by years of conflict.

The US announcement also sends a disturbing signal to the wider Middle East that the Trump administration is intent on pulling back from its commitments in an unstable region.

Confidence in American steadfastness is already precarious due to Trump’s repeated statement that America wants to remove itself from “endless” wars in the Middle East.

In a Twitter message early this week that amplified a White House announcement, Trump said it was time for the US to withdraw from “these ridiculous Endless Wars”.

Trump also attacked European allies over their failure to take back their nationals among IS fighters held in SDF-run detention centres in northeast Syria. Some 10,000 prisoners are being detained.

This is a situation ripe for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The latter is seeking to reassert itself in a region it regards as its own sphere of influence. Moscow’s support for Damascus is part of this regional power play.




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Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords, the prospect of peace in the Middle East remains bleak


These are telling moments. Signs of an apparent American lack of commitment might well encourage Iran and Russia, as well as Islamic militants such as IS and al-Qaeda. These groups have been biding their time.

None of America’s regional friends, including Gulf states and Israel, will draw any comfort at all from the Trump decision – if implemented – to head for the exit.

By any standards, this is a mess of Trump’s own making.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

America now solves problems with troops, not diplomats


Monica Duffy Toft, Tufts University

Is America a bully?

As a scholar, under the auspices of the Military Intervention Project, I have been studying every episode of U.S. military intervention from 1776 to 2017.

Historically, the U.S. advanced from a position of isolationism to one of reluctant intervenor, to global policeman. Based on my research since 2001, I believe that the U.S. has transformed itself into what many others view as a global bully.

I do not use the word lightly. But if, by definition, a bully is someone who seeks to intimidate or harm those it perceives as vulnerable, then that is an apt descriptor of contemporary U.S. foreign policy.

The decline of traditional diplomacy

Venezuela is indicative of a larger problem facing U.S. foreign policy, which currently favors troops over diplomats.

During a January press conference addressing the crisis in Venezuela, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s legal pad notes indicated that he felt that sending 5,000 American troops to Colombia was the preferred method to solving the presidential crisis in Venezuela.

What began as social, economic and political crisis under former president Hugo Chávez has continued into the presidency of Nicolás Maduro; who is now being pressured to step down through mass civic protests and constitutional challenges. The U.S. has struggled to respond effectively. Part of the difficulty is that the U.S. has not had an ambassador in Venezuela since July 2010.

Historically, as a reward for those with deep donor pockets, political appointees made up only 30% of U.S. ambassadorial appointments, leaving 70% of the posts to career diplomats. Under the current administration, that proportion is nearly reversed.

The professional corps of foreign affairs bureaucrats has also diminished. According to the Office of Personnel Management, under the Trump administration, the State Department lost some 12% of employees in the foreign affairs division. Its remaining diplomats are increasingly isolated from the formation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, with foreign policy being established much more often by the executive branch, and then implemented by the Department of Defense.

From the perspective of conservative U.S. political elites, U.S. diplomacy has not suffered. Rather, its quality has shifted from often hard-headed and hard-won negotiations among career diplomats in possession of in-depth local knowledge – what we political scientists think of as traditional diplomacy – to what I have elsewhere referred to as “kinetic diplomacy”: “diplomacy” by armed force unsupported by local knowledge.

Examples from recent history

Looking at the overall use of U.S. armed force abroad, it’s clear that the U.S. has escalated over time as compared to both small and great powers.

In our database, we note every hostile incident. We rate each country’s response on a scale from 1 to 5, from the lowest level of no militarized action (1), to threat to use force, display of force, use of force and, finally, war (5). In some cases, states respond; in others, they don’t.

Over time, the U.S. has taken to responding more and more at level 4, the use of armed force. Since 2000 alone, the U.S. has engaged in 92 interventions at level 4 or 5.

Consider Mexico. Data from the Military Intervention Project reveal that the U.S. has been far more likely to attempt to resolve conflicts with Mexico by the use of armed force than has Mexico in its disputes with the U.S.

Granted, the U.S. has become dramatically more powerful in military terms than Mexico, but power in the more traditional sense is not as critical in interstate relations as it once was. Increasingly, smaller states have been able to frustrate the objectives of larger ones.

Nevertheless, our data make clear why so many Mexicans had come to think of America as a belligerent bully.

With Mexico, for instance, the U.S. frequently resorted to the use of force. Often, Mexico didn’t even offer a response to armed U.S. action. From 1806 to 1923, Mexico engaged in 20 interactions with U.S. with varying levels of hostility, while the U.S. engaged in 25, and with higher levels.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. levels of hostility have continued to increase. In fact, during the Cold War, the U.S. was relatively less hostile. But once the Soviet Union and its bloc went bust, the U.S. began to engage its armed forces more intensely and more frequently.

Just as with Mexico, U.S. resort to force against Iran is consistently higher than Iran’s use against the U.S. While our database records 11 hostile engagements from Iran directed at the U.S. from 1953 to 2009, the U.S. intervened in Iran 14 times.

Of course, Mexico and Iran are relatively small powers compared to the U.S. But what of China?

As with Mexico and Iran, the U.S. resort to force is much more consistent and at higher levels toward China than vice versa. From 1854 to 2009, the U.S. intervened nearly twice as much in China as China did in the U.S. Our database records 17 incidents for China and 37 for the U.S.

Tanking US global reputation

Is kinetic diplomacy – bullying – an effective way to advance U.S. national interests?

In terms of the country’s global reputation, being a bully is not paying off. A February survey revealed 45% of global respondents viewed U.S. power and influence as a major threat to global security, with the largest shares originating in South Korea, Japan and Mexico – notably all U.S. allies.

The U.S. is now seen globally as a bigger threat to global prosperity and peace than China and Russia.

The U.S. is seen as a threat not simply because it has expanded its use of armed force abroad over time, but because at the same time it has abrogated a number of its own core principles of legitimacy.

Among the principles that have been abandoned: The U.S. maintains it has a right to treat “enemy combatants” outside the rules of the laws of armed conflict, while insisting its own armed forces not be subject to international investigations.

It has detained people without trial, sometimes indefinitely and without legal representation.

It has even allowed its chief executive – in this case President Barack Obama – to order the execution of an American citizen abroad without trial.

It has separated young children from their asylum-seeking parents in order to deter other families from seeking asylum, regardless of the validity of their asylum claims.

In short, the U.S. has surrendered its moral high ground. That makes any U.S. use of armed force increasingly appear illegitimate to the residents of other countries, and increasingly our own.The Conversation

Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s bad Nixon imitation may cost him the presidency


President Richard Nixon, left, and President Donald Trump, right.
AP//Frank C. Curtin; REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Ken Hughes, University of Virginia

Whatever Donald Trump does, Richard Nixon usually did it first and better.

Nixon got a foreign government’s help to win a presidential election over 50 years ago. Trump’s imitation of the master has proven far from perfect, and that may cost him the presidency.

Trump’s first mistake was soliciting foreign interference personally. As a result, he cannot deny that he urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden. The proof is in his own White House’s record of their telephone call.

Nixon was a more cautious international conspirator, as I detailed in “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate.”

When Nixon solicited foreign interference on behalf of his presidential campaign, he was careful to use a cutout, a go-between whose clandestine activities could, if exposed, be plausibly denied. Anna Chennault, a conservative activist and Republican fundraiser, acted as Nixon’s secret back channel to the government of South Vietnam.

Nixon’s illegal interference with Vietnam peace talks helped win him the election. Here, he meets with President Lyndon Johnson in July 1968.
LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Playing politics with war

The Vietnam War was the biggest issue of the 1968 presidential campaign.

Nixon’s great hope was to hang Vietnam like an albatross on Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey, the sitting vice president. Nixon’s great fear was that President Lyndon Johnson would start peace talks before Election Day, boosting Humphrey’s campaign along with hopes for an end to the war.

Nixon’s fear was realized when Johnson announced peace talks in the campaign’s final week. Nixon watched his lead over Humphrey dwindle to nothingness.

So he turned to Chennault. She conveyed a secret message from Nixon to South Vietnam, urging it to boycott the peace talks. The South did just that only three days before the election, thereby destroying any hope for an imminent peace.

President Johnson learned of Chennault’s activities from the FBI and other sources, but he had no proof Nixon himself was involved. Nixon’s use of a cutout worked. She was burned, but he was not.

On the eve of the 1968 presidential election, President Johnson asked his three top advisers on the Vietnam War – Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford – if he should expose Republican interference with his efforts to start begin peace talks.
AP/Bob Schutz

President Johnson discusses with three top advisers whether to expose Republican interference in the Vietnam peace process. They all advised the president not to do so.

False counter-accusations

It’s too late for Trump to use a cutout with Ukraine, but in other ways his actions mirror Nixon’s.

One recurring Nixonian tactic was to falsely claim the Democrats did things that were just as bad as the things he actually did. For example, Republicans charged that Johnson played politics with the war by announcing peace talks right before Election Day.

The diplomatic record proves otherwise. Johnson set three conditions for the peace talks months earlier. He offered to halt the bombing of North Vietnam if Hanoi: (1) respected the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Vietnam, (2) accepted South Vietnamese participation in peace talks, and (3) stopped shelling Southern cities.

Hanoi, however, insisted on an unconditional bombing halt. Johnson refused to budge. So did the North Vietnamese – until October 1968, when they accepted all three of Johnson’s conditions. The timing of the peace talks was their choice, not his. The partisan accusation was false.

Likewise, Republicans’ oftenrepeated, never-substantiated conspiracy theory that one or more Bidens did something corrupt involving Ukraine is the opposite of true. But it does shift the spotlight off Republicans and onto Democrats. And it fosters the false sense that “both sides do it” when only one side did.

Another of Nixon’s favorite tactics was to suggest there was something shady about detecting his crimes. Just as Trump baselessly claims that the Ukraine whistleblower got information about him “illegally,” Republicans like William Safire baselessly claimed that LBJ “abused the power of our intelligence agencies” to get dirt on Nixon.

Rudy Giuliani, left, was President Trump’s unofficial emissary to Ukrainian leaders, whom he wanted to dig up dirt on the Biden family.
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The records of the CIA, NSA and FBI prove otherwise. Like presidents before and since, Johnson used the CIA and NSA to collect diplomatic intelligence. To provide him with Saigon’s true, private position on the peace talks, the CIA bugged the office of South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu and the NSA intercepted cables to Thieu from the South Vietnamese embassy in Washington, D.C.

Johnson did learn something about Chennault’s activities from this surveillance, but only because diplomatic intelligence is supposed to uncover attempts to thwart presidential diplomacy.

Based on what he learned, Johnson ordered the FBI to tail Chennault and tap the South Vietnamese embassy’s phone. Mere days later, the FBI wiretap overheard Chennault telling the South Vietnamese on behalf of “her boss (not further identified)” to “hold on, we are gonna win.”

Here was evidence that the Nixon campaign was violating the Logan Act – which forbids private U.S. citizens from conducting “any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government” – by undermining the president’s diplomatic efforts to end a war that was killing hundreds of Americans every week.

In other words, Johnson used the FBI to uncover a crime that was also a threat to national security.

That’s not an abuse of the FBI. It’s why the FBI exists.

Clearly, there’s one thing that can overcome Nixonian tactics: evidence. For this reason, House impeachment investigators will likely subpoena as much as they can, and President Trump will likely withhold as much as he can.

Withholding evidence is yet another Nixonian tactic, one called “stonewalling.” It was the basis of the final article of impeachment against him.

[ Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter. ]The Conversation

Ken Hughes, Research Specialist, the Miller Center, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Myth busted: China’s status as a developing country gives it few benefits in the World Trade Organisation



President Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison insist it matters whether China is classified as “developed” or “developing” in the World Trade Organisation matters. It may not.
Shutterstock

Henry Gao, Singapore Management University and Weihuan Zhou, UNSW

Whether China is a “developing” or a “developed” country for the purposes of the World Trade Organisation matters a lot to the US president.

President Donald Trump ignited a new front in the US-China trade war in July by tweeting that the world’s richest nations were masquerading as developing countries to get special treatment.

They were “cheating”, according to Trump.

He directed the US Trade Representative to “use all available means to secure changes” at the WTO.

Then Australia joined in. While in the United States, Prime Minister Scott Morrison referred to China as a “newly developed economy”, and backed Trump, saying that “obviously, as nations progress and develop then the obligations and how the rules apply to them also shift”.

China is digging in. It hasn’t resiled from a statement by its commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng in April:

China’s position on WTO reform has been very clear. China is the largest developing country in the world.

But what’s at stake? In practical terms, almost nothing. Trump and Morrison are demanding something that would give them little.

What does “developing” even mean?

In the WTO, developing countries are entitled to “special and differential treatment” set out in 155 rules.

However, none of those rules define what a “developing country” is.

Instead, each member is able to “self-designate”, subject to challenges from other members.

Being recognised as a developing country was one of the three key principles China insisted on when negotiating to join the WTO in 2001.

It faced resistance. Several members cited “the significant size, rapid growth and transitional nature of the Chinese economy”.

In response the WTO took what it called a “pragmatic approach,” meaning that China got hardly any of the special treatment that would normally be accorded to a developing country.




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For example, under the Uruguay Round of tariff reductions that applied to developing countries already in the WTO, China would have only needed to cut its average industrial tariff from 42.7% to 31.4%. Instead, it agreed to cut it to 9.5%.

Similarly, it agreed to cut its agricultural tariff from 54% to 15.1%, instead of the 37.9% that would have been required had it already been in the WTO. These put its commitments on par with those of developed rather than developing countries.

On some issues, China’s commitments far exceeded those of even developed countries. For example, it agreed to eliminate all export subsidies on agricultural products, an obligation that developed countries were only able to accept 14 years later.

It also undertook to eliminate all export taxes, which are still allowed under WTO rules and still widely used by many governments.

Many of China’s WTO commitments were imposed only on it or modified the general rules to either impose heavier obligations on it or confer less rights on it.

Contrary to popular belief, China has received hardly any of the benefits that accrue to developing countries when it became a WTO Member, other than the ability to use the title “developing country”.

It’s more about identity than benefits

After its accession, China acted as a member of the developing country group and pushed hard for its interests. In 2003 it joined India and Brazil in pushing developed countries to reform their agricultural trade policies while retaining flexibility for developing countries, a push that has yet to achieve success.

In the meantime, it enjoys little preferential treatment for itself, partly because it has eschewed special benefits, partly because most of the transition benefits that were available to it have expired, partly because some of the provisions available to it are essentially voluntary on the part of the country offering them, and partly because many of the benefits available to developing countries are not available to developing countries with large export shares.




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At times it has actively forgone important benefits, such as by not invoking its right to receive technical assistance under WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.

However, on some other issues, the sheer size of China has made it difficult to accommodate China’s claim for developing country treatment. One example is the negotiation on fisheries subsides, which would not be able to move without substantial commitments from China, which operates one of the largest subsidies in the world.

Identity matters to China

In its position paper on WTO Reform, China says it “will never agree to be deprived of its entitlement to special and differential treatment as a developing member”.

At the same time, it says it “is willing to take up commitments commensurate with its level of development and economic capability”.

It remains far less developed than traditionally developed countries. In purchasing power terms, its standard of living is about one-third of that in the United States.

Although not practically important in terms of its obligations under the WTO, its developing country status is useful to it in other ways, giving it the opportunity to gain meaningful advantages in other international organisations such as the Universal Postal Union.

It costs the rest of the world little to accommodate China’s wish to be described as a developing country. If Trump and Morrison got what they wanted, they would find little had changed.The Conversation

Henry Gao, Associate Professor of Law, Singapore Management University and Weihuan Zhou, Senior Lecturer and member of Herbert Smith Freehills CIBEL Centre, Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Morrison needs to avoid ‘the conveyor belt of Trumpism’



Prime Minister Scott Morrison needs to inject a little more subtlety into his pronouncements – and keep a lid on the frustrations.
AAP/Sarah Rhodes

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison’s Lowy lecture on foreign policy, titled “In our interest” and delivered on Thursday, was peevish in its tone and lacked nuance in its content.

While Morrison canvassed the positive side of globalism, the take-out was his forthright criticisms of what he sees as its negatives.

He warned against globalism “that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill-defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy”.

He went on, “We can never answer to a higher authority than the people of Australia”.

Morrison’s visit to New York last week seems to have left him particularly liverish about international institutions.

Not that he even attended the United Nations leaders summit on climate. His office explained his absence by the fact Australia wouldn’t get a speaking spot, which only went to countries with new initiatives to announce. So Morrison devoted his address to the UN General Assembly to defending his government’s climate policy.

The prime minister is clearly frustrated at the pot shots that are fired at Australia over climate change, although they come from well beyond the UN (remember the Pacific Islands Forum). Successive conservative governments have also been riled by the long running criticism from UN bodies over Australia’s treatment of refugees.

When on Friday he was pressed for an example of where an unaccountable international bureaucracy had sought to coerce Australia, Morrison started talking about commentary on border protection, while stressing Australia determines its own policy.

In general, Morrison believes that activists on various issues are too entrenched and powerful in UN institutions.

His angst about internationalism also stretches to the European Union and its failure to facilitate Brexit.

He deploys stark lines of defiance.

On climate, he told the general assembly Australia was “doing our bit” and “we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

On Australia’s international engagement, he adapted a Howardism to say in the Lowy lecture: “We will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them”.

With only a year’s experience as a prime minister on the international stage, Morrison is becoming assertive. He has told the foreign affairs department “to come back to me with a comprehensive audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where we have the greatest stake”.

He wants Australia to have a bigger role in setting “the standards that will shape our global economy”. The speech didn’t spell this out fully, but it includes industry standards.

Morrison appears to be tracking to the right. He always has an eye to the immediate politics and his attack on “negative globalism” will play well with the conservatives in the ranks of the Liberal party and the more strident commentariat.

But there is a rather startling lack of thought in the stance he adopted in the Lowy address.

Yes, the government is sensitive to UN pressures over climate and asylum policy.

But we are signed up – of our own choosing – to a range of international institutions, from the UN to the World Trade Organisation, because they are part of a rules based international order that serves our long term interests.

The government might be narky about the UN on some issues, but it was only a few years ago that it was highlighting Australia’s role on the Security Council after the MH17 downing.

And it’s one thing saying institutions like the WTO need to reform – which is correct – and another having a general spray about international bureaucracy.

Australia is urging both the US and China to a greater commitment to the rules based system. If it wants its arguments to be taken seriously, it’s best to talk up global co-operation, not talk it down.

It was unfortunate that Morrison’s words had an echo of Donald Trump’s speech last week, in which he elevated patriots over globalists.

Given Trump’s rants over the past few days, one can’t help feeling Morrison was lucky he came out of the US trip as well (and as unscathed) as he did.

Now is no time to appear to be, in the words of one observer, “sitting on the conveyor belt of Trumpism”.

All in all, the text of the Lowy speech needed a good deal more subtlety, as well as having the white-out applied to the frustrations.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the impeachment inquiry might affect Trump’s 2020 re-election chances



As the impeachment inquiry gathers pace in the US, Donald Trump is likely to keep doubling down on his opponents.
AAP/EPA/Chris Kleponis

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

The next 13 months will see American politics completely dominated by the fate of Donald Trump. As the House of Representatives moves towards impeaching him, leading to a hearing which then moves to the Senate, the Democrats will be engaged in an increasingly bitter contest for the nomination to run against Trump in the November 2020 elections.

At this stage, it appears there are the numbers in the house for impeachment, which entails formally charging the president with “high crimes and misdemeanors”. Their indictment then moves to the Senate, which can remove the president by a two-thirds majority, in a hearing chaired by the chief justice.

Because 2020 is an election year, both sides will manage proceedings with an eye to the November poll. It is possible the house will vote before the end of the year: the decision to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath was made in the last three months of 1998.




Read more:
8 reasons why impeaching Donald Trump is a big risk for the Democrats (and 3 reasons why it’s not)


Clinton was cleared by the Senate by the following February, so it is also possible the Senate will hold its own proceedings before most of the presidential primaries commence. It takes two-thirds of the Senate to remove a president from office, which has never happened.

While several Republican house representatives have expressed concern about the president’s behaviour, the overwhelming majority of Republican politicians are either supporting him or remaining silent.

Rather as Boris Johnston seems to have captured the British Conservative Party, so Trump has imposed himself on the Republicans. Those who three years ago assailed his unfitness for the presidency, such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, are now his loudest defenders. Meanwhile, several of his opponents are withdrawing from political office.

However, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president in 2012, has indicated his disquiet, which is almost certainly shared by others. If the house uncovers more apparently illegal activity on Trump, and if public opinion seems to be turning against the president, there are several other senators who may follow, if only to preserve their own positions. Republican senators are facing re-election in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, where they are increasingly vulnerable.

There is an odd historical parallel with the history of Senator Joe McCarthy, who led increasingly virulent anti-Communist crusades in the early 1950s and whose protégé, Roy Cohn, in turn influenced Trump.

Eventually, Republican senators turned on McCarthy, and censured but did not expel him. But this happened only once it was clear that public support for McCarthy was collapsing, which is so far not evident for Trump.

Faced with possible impeachment and loss of support, Richard Nixon resigned. It is difficult to see Trump doing this – it is more likely he will become even more irrational and vengeful as the process winds on. Right-wing media will echo the president’s claim that the impeachment hearings represent treason, with real danger of violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Trump.

For the Democrats, the best outcome would be a split within Republican ranks, which leaves Trump in office but weakened and vulnerable to a challenge for re-nomination. Removing Trump would place Vice President Mike Pence in office, and presumably ensured of nomination in 2020.

The dilemma for the Democrats is that the impeachment process will dominate the news cycle as they jockey for position going into next year’s long battle for the presidential nomination. Trump will use the allegations to focus attention on former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son’s business dealings in Ukraine triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Biden may hope this will allow him to emerge as the injured defender of political propriety, but he will be tarnished through guilt by association, and is likely to slip further in the polls. Biden represents some of the traditional working class and African American base of the Democratic Party, and how they react could determine the ultimate Democrat candidate.

At the moment, Elizabeth Warren challenges Biden’s lead in the polls, with Bernie Sanders the only other candidate consistently supported by more than 10% of Democrats. None of the others in a crowded field — 12 have qualified to take part in the next televised Democratic debate — have much support, and they will start to drop out once the primary season begins in February 2020.




Read more:
In the Democrats’ bitter race to find a candidate to beat Trump, might Elizabeth Warren hold the key?


If Biden continues to lose support, there is room for someone to emerge as the moderate front-runner, given that both Warren and Sanders represent the more radical instincts of the party. This is presumably why so many candidates are determined to continue campaigning, even when some of them rarely muster 2% in the polls.

Were Sanders’ current health problems to lead to his withdrawal most of his support would presumably switch to Warren. Predictions are risky, and my record is poor. But it is increasingly likely that the Democrats will nominate someone other than an old white man in 2020, betting on a figure like Barack Obama who can galvanise a bitterly divided nation and persuade people to turn out and vote.The Conversation

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.