US embassy says refugee deal stands, but Trump casts new doubt in tweet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Donald Trump has lashed out at Australia’s refugee deal with the US in an inflammatory tweet.

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Earlier story:

The American embassy in Canberra has been forced to reaffirm that President Donald Trump’s undertaking to honour the refugee deal stands, after new doubt arose following an explosive story in the Washington Post.

Malcolm Turnbull refused to be drawn on a Washington Post report that Trump “blasted” him over the refugee deal in their weekend conversation, which the president told him was his worst call of the day.

Turnbull’s silence was taken as an effective broad confirmation of the Washingon Post story.

“‘This is the worst deal ever’, Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honour its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre,” the Washington Post reported.

“Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was ‘going to get killed’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘next Boston bombers’,” the story said.

“At one point Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that, ‘This was the worst call by far’.”

The report said Trump had abruptly ended the call after 25 minutes when it had been expected to go for an hour.

It said Trump had told Turnbull it was his “intention” to honour the agreement. Turnbull told Trump that to honour it the US wouldn’t have to accept all the refugees, but only to allow each to go through the normal vetting procedures.

“At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to ‘extreme vetting’,” the Washington Post said, citing a senior US official who spoke to the paper.

One of the article’s two authors, Philip Rucker, said the sources for the story were “US officials who have been briefed on the specific details of the conversation”. Rucker is the White House bureau chief of the Washington Post. The other author, Greg Miller, covers the intelligence beat for the paper.

On Monday Turnbull described the conversation as “constructive”.

Peppered with questions at his Thursday news conference in Melbourne called to talk about energy, Turnbull repeatedly refused to be drawn. “I’m not going to comment on these reports of a conversation,” he said.

He did add that: “Australians know me very well. I always stand up for Australia in every forum.”

He repeated that he had received Trump’s assurance that the deal, negotiated with the Obama administration, would be honoured.

A US embassy spokesperson later said: “President Trump’s decision to honour the refugee agreement has not changed and [White House] spokesman Spicer’s comments [confirming this] stand. This was just reconfirmed to the State Department from the [White House] and on to this embassy at 13:15 Canberra time.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull should “talk straight to the Australian people” about what was going on. “We don’t want to find out our news from the Washington Post. We should hear it first from our prime minister.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What has Turnbull agreed to do for Trump?


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Let’s hope it’s worth it. Malcolm Turnbull has sacrificed whatever remaining credibility he may still have had as a small-l liberal in a desperate effort to save his tawdry asylum-seeker deal with the US government.

Those hoping for great things from Turnbull will be disappointed but unsurprised, perhaps. What looked like a brilliant political ploy to resolve the running sore of offshore detention has now come back to bite him.

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for his plight. The reality, however, is that it could – and still may – have been so much worse. If the unpredictable xenophobe who currently runs the US and much of the rest of the world shows any consistency, there is no way the asylum seekers on Naru and Manus Island ought to be allowed into the land of the free. After all, most of them are from the countries that have been hit by Trump’s blanket ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries.

The question is what Turnbull had to say or even promise in his 25-minute phone call with US President Donald Trump to persuade him to honour an agreement forged with his predecessor.

Given that Barack Obama was routinely dismissed as being weak on terrorism, border protection and unambiguously naming supposed threats to American security, getting Trump to agree is no small achievement – if he actually follows through on it. At the very least the would-be asylum seekers will be subjected to “extreme vetting”, which many may not pass.

One assumes that Turnbull must have pointed out the immense political damage that reneging on this deal would do to him personally and to perceptions of the alliance relationship with the US more generally. For the first time in recent history there is a serious debate about Australia’s alliance with the US, and a repudiation of the deal would have been a political nightmare for Turnbull.

It would have been extremely difficult for him to mount a continuing defence of a relationship that is regarded in such a cavalier, instrumental and seemingly expendable fashion by the US.

Trump’s “transactional” approach to allies is entirely dependent on what benefit they bring to the US, not the stability of the international system, much less the wider collective good. It is not even clear whether Trump or many of his key advisers would actually recognise the idea of a collective interest at the international level as a meaningful concept.

The question, therefore, is what Turnbull had to offer as his part of a deal between two famously successful businessmen.

Not criticising the Trump regime would be a given in such circumstances, and Turnbull is dutifully fulfilling his part of the bargain, tacit or otherwise. Giving a running commentary on the domestic policies of other governments is not part of his job, apparently – something the likes of Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte will be delighted to hear, no doubt.

More immediately, has Turnbull given an explicit or in-principle commitment to support the Trump administration in whatever actions it may decide to take in the “war on terror”, or – more consequentially for Australia – “standing up to Chinese aggression”, as key Trump advisor Peter Navarro might put it?

The stakes here could hardly be higher, especially for Australia. It is not simply because Australia is bound to be adversely affected by any deterioration in the bilateral ties between our principle strategic and economic partners, but because there is the very real possibility that the relationship could descend into actual conflict.

Despite the fact that Australia could make absolutely no real difference to the outcome of such a conflict, there is every chance that it could get sucked into it as a compliant, ever-reliable and obliging American ally. Australia’s propensity to do America’s bidding is high at the best of times.

The worry is that Turnbull has, as the Americans say, doubled-down on our implicit strategic obligations with a renewed commitment to act – whatever policy the Trump regime embarks on. It is the very least Trump would expect in return.

The asylum-seeker problem is nightmarishly complex and offers no easy solutions. While it is possible to have some sympathy for a problem that wasn’t entirely of the Turnbull government’s making, it is difficult not to see the “American solution” as yet another illustration of the dangers of strategic dependence. It reeked of dubious political expediency under Obama; it is fraught with dangerous uncertainty under the Trump regime.

The growing band of critics of the alliance will feel vindicated and emboldened. If the relationship with the US causes Australia to become embroiled in yet another questionable and unnecessary war on behalf of our supposed protector, it can only be a question of time before wider public confidence in the relationship is eroded, too. That really would be a problem for the Turnbull government.


This piece was originally published on John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations, and is republished with permission.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull news conference an exercise in avoidance and obfuscation


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

There were several takeouts from Malcolm Turnbull’s rather odd Monday news conference, which followed his Sunday telephone conversation with Donald Trump.

First, Australians are still not to be given any detail about the agreement – forged under the Obama administration and now confirmed by Trump – that the US will take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

Second, Turnbull appears to want at all costs to avoid criticising the Trump crackdown on the entry of nationals from the seven nominated countries. This is despite widespread international criticism of the bar. Presumably Turnbull is substantially driven by fears that forthrightness might jeopardise the refugee deal.

Third, Turnbull could not or would not give an indication of what the suspension might mean for Australian dual citizens from these countries.

The press conference, held jointly with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saw Turnbull opening with very similar lines to those put out about the phone call by the government on Sunday on an unattributable basis. They had a “yesterday’s story” feel about them.

Turnbull looked as though he was on the podium reluctantly – his head was often down, he seemed dejected.

His refusal to provide any further information in relation to the refugees the US is supposed to be taking off our hands is cynical and unacceptable. Turnbull has won favourable headlines in the wake of having Trump reconfirm the deal. But as we don’t know the fine print – for starters, the rough number of people likely to be accepted, and when they could start to leave – we can’t judge how much praise Turnbull deserves for either the deal or the confirmation.

This is media manipulation at its worst. There is no legitimate justification for that secrecy; Turnbull’s suggestion that it’s all a matter for the US sounds a fob off.

When Turnbull was pressed to express an opinion about aspects of the Trump executive order, he simply slid around the issue.

It wasn’t his job to run commentary on the domestic policies of other countries, he said. Australia’s border arrangements were the envy of the world. “If others wish to emulate what we’re doing, they’re welcome to do so.” Is he equating Trump’s measures to Australia’s? But then he added “Our rules, our laws, our values are very well known,” including “our commitment to multiculturalism, our commitment to a nondiscriminatory immigration program. … So that’s where we stand.”

As for the urgent matter of how Australian dual citizens might be affected by the executive order, Turnbull was unenlightening.

“If those issues arise in respect of Australian citizens we will, and we are, taking up that issue with the Administration. Can I just say to you, we have a very close relationship with the United States, and when we want to engage in discussions of this kind, we do so privately and frankly.”

Yet Britain has already set out the position of its dual citizens.

A statement dated January 29 from the British Foreign Office said: “Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has today held conversations with the US government and as a result we can clarify that:

“The presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the seven named countries.

“If you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth.

“If you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries.

“If you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you.

“The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the seven countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

“The US has reaffirmed its strong commitment to the expeditious processing of all travellers from the United Kingdom.”

It was left to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to say later: “I have directed our officials in Washington DC to work with US officials to ensure any preferential treatment extended to any other country in relation to travel and entry to the United States is extended to Australia”.

The work should have already been done and Australia should have had a statement out when the UK did.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Donald Trump’s ban will have lasting and damaging impacts on the world’s refugees


Phil Orchard, The University of Queensland

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration fundamentally alters decades of bipartisan US practice. It blocks immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and stops all refugee resettlement for at least 120 days.

Trump’s justification for the order is:

… the US must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles.

The first element includes blocking any immigration from seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for at least 30 days.

The first day after the order was approved dual citizens and US permanent residents – usually called green card holders – were prevented from boarding flights to the US and even detained on arrival. A temporary injunction has provided at least some protections, though it is being applied patchily and only to those people who have already entered the US.

The order also suspends all refugee admissions for a minimum of 120 days. After that the US will still admit only nationals of countries where the government has “procedures [that] are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the US”.

In a continuation of current congressional practice, the US will also prioritise refugee claims based on religious-based persecution, where the person is a member of a minority religion in their own country. And no Syrian refugees will be admitted until the US refugee admissions program aligns with the national interest.

Finally, the US will limit the number of refugees it admits in 2017 to 50,000. So, what does this all mean for refugees?

What does it mean for refugee acceptance?

The UN Refugee Convention provides refugees with a strong set of rights. However, it applies only when a refugee is within a signatory country’s territory or jurisdiction. The convention does not oblige any signatory to accept other refugees.

However, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers resettlement to be one of three “durable solutions” for refugees, alongside voluntary repatriation and integration in a host community. These solutions enable refugees to live their lives in dignity and peace.

The UNHCR has determined, in most cases, that the people awaiting resettlement are refugees. Resettlement is used especially in cases where a refugee’s:

… life, liberty, safety, health, or fundamental human rights are at risk in their country of refuge.

Thus resettlement can be critical to provide refugees with protection.

Resettlement also has important geostrategic implications. It helps, as several former US government officials have noted, support the stability of allies that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.

Similarly, in a call with Trump on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly argued that:

… the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.

The US resettlement program has long had strong bipartisan support. But it is also critical to global refugee resettlement. The US takes in by far the most resettled refugees of any country. Canada and Australia are a distant second and third.

Top ten countries for refugee resettlement in 2015.
IRIN News

The justification for the shutdown is to improve the US’s own security measures by introducing, as Trump has previously argued, “extreme vetting”.

But this already exists for resettled refugees. As part of the Refugee Admissions Program, individual refugee cases are screened through a seven-step process, including security and background checks, personal interviews with agents from the US Department of Homeland Security, and other measures. This process can take up to two years.

This system has worked; virtually no terrorist attacks on US soil have been caused by refugees. As a September 2016 report by the Cato Institute, a right-leaning think-tank, noted:

The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion per year.

Similarly, in 2015, a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted to the US since 2001:

Only about a dozen – a tiny fraction of 1% of admitted refugees – have been arrested or removed from the US due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the US. None of them were Syrian.

The wider effects

Trump’s ban will also have two wider effects.

It appears not to be affecting the November agreement between Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island in the US in exchange for Australia accepting a group of Central American refugees. Many of those on Nauru and Manus Island come from Iran, Iraq and Somalia.

The Australian government remains keen for the deal to go ahead. But US Republican politicians have previously been critical of the deal. Republican congressman Brian Babin said earlier this month he was confident that Trump:

… will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop to this secret Australian-US refugee deal that should have simply never happened in the first place.

But in a phone call between Trump and Turnbull on Sunday, Trump appears to have given assurances the deal would still go ahead. The order gives the power to the secretary of homeland security to continue to admit refugees for resettlement on a case-by-case basis, irrespective of the wider shutdown.

Globally, the shutdown will have lasting and detrimental effects for refugees. In the Middle East, it may prove to be a boon to the Islamic State. The terrorist group has long sought to disrupt refugee movements.

The ban will also put more pressure on refugee-hosting countries. About 90% of the world’s refugees are in the developing world. The international refugee system works through burden-sharing: host countries know that at least some refugees will be resettled and that they will receive financial assistance for the refugees from the UNHCR and other organisations and governments.

Trump’s move challenges this directly, and will likely lead to further restrictions on the ability of refugees to receive basic protections.

The Conversation

Phil Orchard, Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies and International Relations; Research Director at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s arrival means it time for Australia to review our relationship – and perhaps learn to say ‘no’


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is discovering the political cliché “change the government, change the country” might have bigger implications for Australia’s relationship with the United States than anticipated.

We might re-engineer the cliché to read “change the government, change its foreign policy”, and thus how America manages its relationships with friends and foes alike.

If it has not already dawned on Turnbull and his foreign policy advisers then it should have: a new American administration like no other in recent memory will require a rethink in how Australia calibrates its relations with Washington.

Not since the Gough Whitlam’s Labor government of 1972-75 has such a potentially awkward relationship existed between Australia and its principal ally, or to use another description, custodial power.

Whitlam parted company with his predecessors in his testy interactions with the Richard Nixon White House. Whitlam felt under no obligation to espouse a “pro-American” perspective on matters relating to the war in Indo-China in particular.

Many Australians found this refreshing.

While it was inevitable that a moment would arise when Australian and US interests would find themselves out of kilter, it has perhaps come more quickly than anticipated, driven by the arrival in the White House of a man untethered from principles that have guided American foreign policy for generations.

In Trump’s Inauguration speech there was one passage that should have given Turnbull and his advisers pause, even if these words might be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish:

We assembled here today are issuing anew decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land, from this day forward, it’s going to be only American first, America first.

He added:

Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength.

The latter observation could hardly have been more antagonistic to the free trade principles and practice on which Australian prosperity rests, or for that matter be regarded as anything more than an affront to America’s own history.

In 1930, Congressmen, Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley sponsored legislation that raised punitive tariffs on some 900 imports, and in the process added poison to the well of slowing global trade, as The Economist put it.

Smoot and Hawley did not cause the Great Depression or add significantly to it, but the legislation represented a populist response to political anxiety.

Nearly a century later, an American president appears to hold the view that an “America first” approach – or a form of isolationism – will serve his own country’s economy well and those of its friends.

This view, even if you accept that the trade liberalisation pendulum has swung too far, is not sustainable if economic growth globally is to be nurtured.

Otherwise, disaster beckons, including a global entrenchment that will serve no-one’s interests, including America’s.

Trump’s stroke-of-a-pen end to America’s involvements in the liberalising Trade Pacific Partnership gave expression to his antagonism towards trade deals generally and spelled a pause in American leadership of a laborious process of opening markets and reducing trade barriers.

From the establishment of the General Agreement on Tariffs Trade, to the formation of the World Trade Organisation, to progress towards open markets under the Uruguay Round – alongside a plethora of bilateral trade deals – an era of liberalising trade has underpinned global prosperity.

So, the question becomes: how should the Turnbull government respond to these new circumstances in a way that serves Australia’s interests, and in an environment in which the world is in disarray? And it is likely to become more so if the early stages of an idiosyncratic Trump administration is any guide.

Policymakers need to think outside the narrow confines of what has been regarded as “America first” policy postures that have dictated Australia’s foreign policy choices, to consider what might be regarded as a less dependent relationship on our security guarantor.

None of this is an argument to weaken Australia’s commitment to the ANZUS alliance, nor our alignment with what we have always regarded as America’s better angels. But the time has come for a reassessment.

Trump’s ascendancy to power reminds us there is no such thing as permanent alliances, simply permanent interests.

Australia is not obliged to make a choice between its security in the form of its treaty arrangements with the US and its commercial interests, namely with China. But it does need to move to a position where it gives itself more flexibility in addressing its security and other challenges.

In other words, arguments for greater self-reliance – including defence preparedness – grow by the day.

How Turnbull achieves such a shift will prove a test of his diplomatic and leadership skills, and indeed his understanding of our country’s history. After relying on great and powerful friends for our security, we may be entering a new and distinct phase.

Whatever judgements might be made about the likely trajectory of a Trump administration, early days suggest that what he said on the campaign trail will guide his actions in office.

So when he talks about a form of isolationism summed up by the phrase “America First” he must be taken at his word, until demonstrated otherwise.

This poses obvious challenges for Australian policy. Do we gravitate towards the sort of world defined by Trump – with its risks of a return to a 1930’s isolationism or perhaps a form of 19th century mercantilism – or do we assert our own separation from such a worldview?

Are we seeing the end of “pax Americana”, in which the US proved to be the indispensable cornerstone of global security in the rebuilding of Europe, the containment of the Soviet Union, and a security presence in Asia post the Korean war that has enabled an extraordinary economic transformation in our own region to our advantage?

Turnbull needs to ask himself whether it is in Australia’s national interest for institutions like the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to be weakened.

Is it in Australia’s interests for there to be a confrontation between the US and China on trade, or security in the South China Sea?

Or a return to a ground war in the Middle East that would demand a larger commitment from Australia with unknowable consequences?

Lessons might have been learned from an earlier disastrous intervention.

Finally, Turnbull should resist pressure from his the right wing of his party, salivating over the arrival of an authoritarian in the White House.

Turnbull was derided over his initial response to Trump’s decision to abandon the TPP, in which he said China may wish to fill the gap as if, reflexively, he needed to fall in line with Washington.

While the TPP may be dead, Turnbull and his ministers shouldn’t be blamed for trying to keep alive an idea that would have provided a basis for a liberalising trade and investment zone in the Asia-Pacific.

Contrary to the views of its critics, the TPP was always about more than simply a trade liberalisation mechanism. It was also aimed at providing a framework for further action in counterpoint to China’s growing dominance.

Finally, Turnbull might consider the example of former Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who politely declined when he came under pressure to join George W. Bush’s cavalry in the invasion of Iraq.

Chretien, as leader of a country that shelters under a US security umbrella and is a fellow NATO member, said “no”, or “non” in his native Quebecois.

Last time we checked the sky had not fallen in for Canada.

The Conversation

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Loose-cannon Trump enters the tinderbox of US-Russia-China relations


Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Donald Trump’s inauguration speech had one simple message: “America first”. His was an inward-looking vision of the future in which America would set about regaining all that has been stolen from it.

His one promise was to restore America to its former wealth, power and security – to recreate a past that has long since gone.

But ours is an increasingly interdependent world, in which America’s relations with its arch-rivals, Russia and China, now less than cordial, are precariously poised. It is a world in which the wider economic, security and political environment is in a state of radical flux.

Neither Trump nor his cabinet nominees appear to grasp how far-reaching these changes are, how severely they limit America’s room for manoeuvre, and how serious are the dangers of miscalculation and overreach.

For all three countries, bilateral ties weigh heavily. Trade looms large in Sino-American relations, and US sanctions against Russia are a major bone of contention. But in reviewing relations between these three centres of power, we need to ask larger questions that go to the heart of regional and global security.

A key question is whether the US and Russia can find ways of accommodating each other’s legitimate interests without provoking European divisions and anxieties. Another is whether they can avoid the proliferation of proxy wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. Importantly, they face the task of averting a renewed nuclear arms race.

It also remains to be seen if China and the US are of a mind to contain, if not resolve, conflicts in East Asia. As the world’s two largest economies, they have to decide whether they will actively promote an orderly system of trade, institutions that can better guard against periodic financial crises, and a climate-change regime that is equal to the task.

We also wait to see whether the three most powerful members of the UN Security Council will allow the UN to play the constructive security and peace-building role assigned to it. Importantly, will they give UN reform the attention it so desperately needs?

Sadly, nothing on the public record suggests these challenges are uppermost in the minds of the new president or his advisers. Tellingly, on all these questions Trump’s inauguration speech maintained a deafening silence.

How will a Trump administration deal with Russia?

Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to be tougher with China’s Xi Jinping.

But what is it that helps explain his approach? In each case, it seems his main preoccupation is to maximise business opportunities for the US corporate sector, and by extension for the US economy.

In decoding Trump’s chaotic use of language, we should not underestimate his ability to surprise and confound his critics. The greater risk would be to overestimate his capacity to control events, or the coherence of his anti-establishment rhetoric.

When it comes to Russia, we should not assume the Trump administration will speak with one voice. Nor should we assume that it will always command the support of the Republican majority in Congress, or that it will be able to disregard entrenched bureaucratic ways of thinking about Russia or the preferences of the immensely powerful US security and intelligence apparatus.

Several prominent Republicans are known for their hostility to Putin’s policies and advocacy of even stronger sanctions against Russia. Already the Senate Intelligence Committee has announced it will conduct a review of Russian hacking in the 2016 election and examine any intelligence “regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns”.

Even among his cabinet nominees, anti-Russian sentiment is strong. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for defence secretary, cited Russia as a major threat to US interests:

I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr Putin and we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance.

With Mattis as Trump’s defence secretary, what chance a reset in Russian-American relations?

Even if Trump is given to periodic denunciations of NATO allies – for doing too little rather than too much – how likely is it that his administration will review NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe, or withdraw the thousands of troops that have just arrived in Poland as part of an ongoing rotational deployment?

In any case, Trump will sooner or later have to address the animosity he has aroused in the US intelligence community, and by extension in the American conservative establishment.

Recent allegations that Russian spies have gathered compromising material on Trump’s links with Moscow will make for added caution. Accurate or not, the leaked dossier will have the effect of subjecting his relationship with Putin to the closest scrutiny.

In the end, Trump may be happy to settle for improved economic relations and the easing of sanctions, but little more than that. Pleasant surprises are possible, but reversing the dangerous path on which Russian-American relations are currently set remains a distant prospect.

Donald Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Reuters

Troubling stance on China

Trump’s announced intention to play tough on China is even more troubling.

Having accused China of being a currency manipulator, of engaging in unfair trade practices, and of stealing American jobs and intellectual property, he could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions.

Given the large US balance of payments deficit with China, he could impose import surcharges of up to 15% for up to 150 days. He could also lodge a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation.

But such measures are unlikely to produce the desired result, and each is open to costly retaliation. This may help to explain why Trump has, with characteristic clumsiness, made a point of raising two highly sensitive issues: relations with Taiwan, and the South China Sea dispute.

Acceptance of the One China policy has been the cornerstone of Sino-American relations for close to four decades. By threatening to review it, a Trump administration may hope to extract trade and other economic concessions from China. In return, it would agree to retain the status quo on Taiwan.

The same thinking may have inspired Trump’s brief post-election comment on the South China Sea, considerably amplified by Rex Tillerson, his nominee for secretary of state. Having likened China’s building of a militarised island in the Spratlys to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he issued a rather extraordinary warning:

We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.

Is this a real threat or mere bluff? Either way, the signs are ominous. And although the official Chinese response has been measured, the Chinese media’s reaction was predictably swift and furious.

Donald Trump could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions on Xi Jinping’s China.
Reuters/Ruben Sprich

What do the next four years hold?

Trump and his team have yet to think through the implications of their statements. Far from “making America great again”, their sloganeering will deepen mistrust of US motives and irreparably damage any prospect of co-existence, let alone a more co-operative world order.

Perhaps the greatest casualty will be the loss of anything approaching a moral compass.

Support for torture, disregard for the rule of law, almost complete indifference to the human rights agenda, and erection of physical and legal walls to keep the victims of war, persecution and economic hardship at bay will merely serve to encourage authoritarianism the world over, not least in Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China.

Assuming Trump lasts the journey, the next four years offer an unprecedented opportunity for America’s friends and allies, both the people and their governments, to exercise a newly found independence of thought and action. Collaboratively and with humility, they may need to assume the moral leadership that has become the great imperative of our time.

The Conversation

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘America first’ – Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States


Tom Clark, Victoria University

Donald Trump is now the 45th president of the United States of America, duly sworn in before a crowd of well-wishers, rivals, and desperately curious others. Now, while he is installing himself in the White House, the words of his inaugural address are filtering through the world.

His remarks made significant, but not huge, departures from the “stump speech” we have heard from him many times already. As with his victory speech, Trump was conspicuously magnanimous towards the individuals he was elected to oppose:

We are grateful to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

This time, perhaps disappointing many, it was not the bling – the “You’re gonna love our speeches … we’ve got some of the best words, and some of the best people writing our words”, as Alec Baldwin might satirise it.

Still, for the first five minutes or so, it was sounding more like a speech of opposition than of government:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left. And the factories closed.

Many have noted it was a speech that addressed Trump’s support base most directly, as the transcript’s next paragraph revealed. These are the people whose opposition to the way things are has brought Trump to power. Shifting from oppositional behaviour to constructive government without estranging that base may just prove too hard to achieve in public:

The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes starting right here and right now. Because this is your moment. It belongs to you.

A sense of agenda for Trump the president only seemed to click into gear after he caricatured the lives of those “forgotten men and women” (echoes of a phrase we have heard before?) he claims to champion:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.

And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

And what is that agenda? What is this “new decree, to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power” that Trump proclaims?

The clear word from his speech was protection, meaning protection from the rest of the world. It is a note against multilateral free trade, but it goes further. Not many of the political leaders who are fighting to maintain post-1945 institutions of global co-operation, including those in the US, are going to enjoy these sentiments:

From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward it’s going to be only America first — America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and great strength.

In the terrific NPR annotated transcript of Trump’s speech (other news services, take note), Ron Elving draws attention to the difficult connotations of that phrase “America First”.

It was particularly associated with Charles Lindbergh, a right-wing figure who in the 1930s had expressed sympathy and fascination for the German government of Adolf Hitler, especially his air force (Lindbergh made his fame as an aviator). Lindbergh’s doctrine of “America First” meant an isolationist refusal to join the second world war, accompanied by a protectionist economic stance.

Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, published in 2004, explores the hypothetical scenario in which Lindbergh becomes the president in 1940 and New Jersey’s Jewish population shifts to a climate of high fear. There have been many echoes of that fiction in all the fevered speculation about Trump’s motives lately, especially for his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This is not the place to fuel or debunk such speculation, but its prevalence in public discussion is a very clear pointer to the prevalence of fear and distrust. It seems that more Americans fear and distrust this president on his inauguration day than any other in the history of such opinion polls.

Countering that negativity is the big challenge for Trump, which is why his speech was hard-pressed to avoid talking about it:

The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is unites, America is totally unstoppable.

There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

As his own opposing and condemning of the previous government makes clear, it will be very hard for Trump to bring his country together in biblical pleasantry. This speech offers no reason to believe he will try.

Meanwhile, a significant problem with focusing on transcripts and their annotations is that we tend to notice the logic of the words more than their delivery. Victor Klemperer wrote in 1947:

What a man says may be a pack of lies – but his true self is laid bare for all to see in the style of his utterances.

Trump’s tone and body language offered a rather subdued version of the personality we have grown used to: less rude, less ribald, even less bombastic than the campaign-trail Donald. There is clearly some measure of self-discipline involved here – and that at least suggests a seriousness of intent.

If you are interested, that same NPR page links to a video recording of the speech. It is well worth watching.

Donald Trump’s inaugural address.

The Conversation

Tom Clark, Associate Professor, College of Arts, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.