Full economic recovery may require vaccine

The US Federal Reserve Chairman  says that a full economic recovery may take well over a year, and it may be dependent on a Covid019 virus becoming available.

That isn’t a surprising prediction, as a return to unrestricted international travel is likely to also depend on a vaccine. Travel affects business, especially tourism. Airlines that survive may it difficult to get back previous levels of business if social distancing remains required.

Reuters: Fed’s Powell says full economic recovery may require coronavirus vaccine

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said a U.S. economic recovery may stretch deep into next year and a full comeback may depend on a coronavirus vaccine.

“This economy will recover. It may take a while … It could stretch through the end of next year. We really don’t know,” Powell said in remarks aired on CBS’s “Face the Nation”.

“Assuming there is not a second wave of the coronavirus, I think you will see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year. For the economy to fully recover people will have to be fully confident and that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine.”

Like governments a lot of businesses will need to rely on borrowing to survive, and that could be a burden for years.

The world economy is in part reliant on the US economy, as is New Zealand’s economy. We have done a lot of travel to and through the US, and a lot of business with them.

Covid deaths have now passed 90,000 in the US, with trends indicating that wil reach well over 100k by the end of May and still climbing into June – see Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We’re Headed 

Reuters: So far, no spike in coronavirus in places reopening, U.S. health secretary says.

U.S. authorities are not yet seeing spikes in coronavirus cases in places that are reopening but it was still too early to determine such trends, health secretary Alex Azar said on Sunday.

“We are seeing that in places that are opening, we’re not seeing this spike in cases,” Azar said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “We still see spikes in some areas that are, in fact, closed.”

However, Azar said identifying and reporting new cases takes time. A critical part of reopening will be surveillance of flu-like symptoms in the population and other hospital admissions data, as well as testing of asymptomatic individuals, he said.

“It’s still early days,” Azar cautioned in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He said data will take some time to come in from states that reopened early such as Georgia and Florida.

There are now 315,000 deaths currently recorded world wide. It is difficult to predict what the trends are going to be over the next few months as US states as well as countries start to cautiously reopen.

Some countries have increasing problems, like Brazil and Mexico, and Russia is now second to the US in number of cases, but with an extraordinarily low number of deaths recorded.

Two of the worst hit countries are at lowering rates – Spain and Italy record lower death tolls

Spain has recorded its lowest death toll in two months with 87 deaths in 24 hours, while Italy recorded its lowest daily toll, 145, since lockdown was declared.

It was the first time that Spain announced under 100 deaths in a day since mid-March, which could be due to a delay in reporting over the weekend, the health emergency coordinator said.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday that the government would request to extend the state of emergency for another month as the country continues to phase out restrictions on movement amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The state of emergency was set to end on May 24.

Declaring the lowest number of daily deaths since 9 March, Italy is now looking to bring forward the reopening of some commercial activity in the country, with retailers, hairdressers, salons, restaurants and cake shops authorised to open from tomorrow.

Spain has been relaxing stringent restrictions over the lats week. But weekend numbers are lower then weekday numbers.

DW: Brazil overtakes Spain, Italy in COVID-19 cases

Brazil overtook Spain and Italy in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on Saturday, making it the fourth-largest outbreak in the world.

The country’s total number of cases rose to 233,142 after authorities logged 14,919 new cases, according to data form Brazil’s Health Ministry.

A total of 15,633 people have died due to the coronavirus in the country so far, with the country registering 816 new fatalities over the past 24 hours.

Experts have warned that due to under-testing, the actual figures could be as much as 15 times higher, cautioning that the worst could be yet to come.

Despite the rising case numbers and fatalities, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, dismissing the virus as a “little flu.”

He has also continued to attack lockdown measures implemented by some governors to contain the spread of the virus, and calling for businesses to reopen

“Unemployment, hunger and misery will be the future of those who support the tyranny of total isolation,” the far-right president tweeted.

RNZ: Brazil’s Bolsonaro sees second health minister quit

Brazil’s health minister has resigned after less than a month in the job following disagreements over of the government’s handling of the country’s escalating coronavirus crisis.

At his news conference, Teich did not reveal why he had stepped down. He just thanked President Bolsonaro for giving him the chance to serve as a minister and praised healthcare workers.

But he has clashed with the president over several aspects of how the government has dealt with the spiralling epidemic.

He disagreed with the president’s desire to widely use chloroquine as a treatment. The drug has gained widespread attention although the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there’s no definitive evidence it works.

Teich also butted heads with the president over plans to open up the economy, saying last week that he was not consulted ahead of an order that paved the way for gyms, beauty salons and hairdressers to reopen.

Case and death rates are increasing in Brazil.

A study comparing Denmark and Sweden claims that most of the drop in consumer spending is due to the virus itself and not the lockdowns. Newsroom: New paper calls into question benefits of Swedish strategy

Economists at the University of Copenhagen have found lockdowns have had little impact on consumer spending habits and that the true dampener of purchasing activity is the coronavirus itself.

The findings of the preprint paper, which may not have been peer-reviewed, call into question the premise of the much-touted Swedish strategy, in which the Nordic country has shied away from entering lockdown, suffering thousands of deaths as a result, in order to preserve the economy.

Transaction data for 830,000 Danes and Swedes from the second-largest Scandinavian bank found aggregate spending dropped by 25 percent in Sweden and 29 percent in neighbouring Denmark, which instituted a lockdown. Denmark has had 10,713 cases of Covid-19 and 537 deaths, while Sweden has seen 28,582 cases and 3529 deaths.

“In Denmark, spending drops sharply around the shutdown on 11 March 2020 and remains below the level in the reference period,” the researchers write.

“In Sweden, spending drops sharply at almost the exact same time although no significant restrictions were imposed. Presumably, this is no coincidence but reflects that the Danish shutdown responded to an escalating pandemic, similar in the two countries, with its own strong effect on spending. This highlights the empirical difficulty of separating the effects of social distancing laws and the pandemic they are designed to contain.”

In their conclusion, the economists argue that the lockdown resulted in just a 4 percent decrease in spending and that the virus itself was to blame for the vast bulk of the economic slump.

With no sign of a vaccine keeping the virus in check and getting economies back in action may be a long slow process.

Covid-19 deaths pass 300,000 and gloomy outlooks

The total recorded Covid-19 deaths has now passed 300,000 and is could be significantly higher than this. There are doubts that the Chinese toll of 4,600 is accurate, and while Russia has quarter of a million cases they officially have just 2,300 deaths, which seems quite out of kilter with rations in most countries.

Moscow defends reporting of low coronavirus death statistics

Russia’s high number of confirmed coronavirus cases but low number of deaths has raised questions about the veracity of the Kremlin’s reporting of the pandemic’s statistics.

But Moscow hit back on Wednesday, saying its way of counting and attributing deaths was the most accurate.

More than 60 percent of people who died in April after contracting coronavirus had their deaths ascribed to other causes, said city officials.

Of Russia’s 2,212 coronavirus deaths, Moscow, the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, accounts for 1,232.

Moscow’s department of health said Russia, unlike other countries, conducted post-mortem examinations for every death in which coronavirus was suspected as the main cause.

“Therefore, post-mortem diagnoses and causes of death recorded in Moscow are ultimately extremely accurate, and mortality data is completely transparent,” it said.

“It’s impossible in other COVID-19 cases to name the cause of death. So, for example, in over 60 percent of deaths the cause was clearly for different reasons – such as vascular failures (such as heart attacks), stage four malignant diseases, leukaemia, systemic diseases which involve organ failure, and other incurable fatal diseases.”

But:

Data released by Moscow’s city government on Friday shows that the number of overall registered deaths in the Russian capital in April exceeded the five-year average for the same period by more than 1,700. That total is far higher than the official Covid-19 death count of 642 — an indication of significant underreporting by the authorities.

A similar picture has been observed in many other countries. In neighboring Belarus, for example — where the authoritarian leader Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has rejected calls for a lockdown as “frenzy and psychosis” — the reported death rate is about 10 per million. In Mexico, officials have recorded more than three times as many deaths in the capital as the government has acknowledged.

With over 86,000 recorded deaths it looks far from over in the US.

U.S. faces ‘darkest winter’ if pandemic planning falters: whistleblower

A whistleblower who says he was removed from his government post for raising concerns about coronavirus preparedness told a congressional hearing on Thursday that the United States could face “the darkest winter” of recent times if it does not improve its response to the pandemic.

Hours after President Donald Trump railed against him on Twitter, whistleblower Rick Bright testified to a U.S. House of Representatives panel about readiness for the outbreak.

“What we do must be done carefully with guidance from the best scientific minds. Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged,” Bright said during his testimony.

Later on Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he had watched some of Bright’s hearing.

“To me he’s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person,” Trump said, adding that he did not know Bright.

A gloomy economic outlook too.

Seven weeks into coronavirus lockdowns, Fed has a new, darker message

One Thursday morning seven weeks ago, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell made a rare appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” to offer a reassuring message to Americans dealing with economic fallout from measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

At the time, Powell said he expected economic activity would resume in the second half of the year, and maybe even enjoy a “good rebound.”

But on Wednesday, he offered a much more sober outlook.

In an interview webcast by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Powell warned here of an “extended period” of weak economic growth, tied to uncertainty about how well the virus could be controlled in the United States. “There is a sense, growing sense I think, that the recovery may come more slowly than we would like,” he said.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was similarly somber when he told lawmakers earlier this week that the country was by no means in “total control” of the outbreak.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci said.

In New Zealand yesterday’s budget allowed for an increase of debt from 20% of GDP to 50%. Snowballing ebt is a problem worldwide.

Coronavirus to leave a legacy of unprecedented global debt

Enormous doses of stimulus spending are offering relief from coronavirus damage but their lifelong legacy of debt could seed future crises by hobbling economic growth and worsening poverty, especially in developing countries.

Central banks and governments worldwide have unleashed at least $15 trillion of stimulus via bond-buying and budget spending to cushion the blow of a global recession tipped to be the worst since the 1930s.

But the steps will pile even more debt on countries already struggling with the aftermath of the 2008-9 financial crisis — total global debt has risen $87 trillion since 2007, and governments, with $70 trillion, accounted for the lion’s share of that increase, the Institute of International Finance estimates (IIF).

This year alone may see the global debt-GDP ratio rise by 20 percentage points to 342%, the group said, based on 3% economic contraction and a doubling in government borrowing from 2019.

Money seems to replicate as easily as the coronavirus, but with no attempt to find an economic vaccine.

And more problems in the US.

Sen. Burr steps aside as Intelligence Committee chairman amid stock sale investigation

Republican Sen. Richard Burr has stepped aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid an investigation into his stock sales during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the development in a brief statement Thursday, saying:

“Senator Burr contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation. We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow.”

Later, Burr confirmed that he would be stepping aside.

Suspicions arose last month after it was revealed that several senators dumped stocks prior to the coronavirus pandemic upending the global economy. The FBI reportedly reached out to Burr to discuss the sale of as much as $1.7 million in stocks.

Senate records indicate that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to nosedive and government health officials began to sound alarms about the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.

This all makes our Covid-19 and economic problems look puny in comparison – 21 deaths and no new cases over the last three days as our lockdown is relaxed.

 

Covid-19 climbs around the world, last day before NZ lockdown

Cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus and deaths continue to climb around the world, with many countries having significant increases.

Currently (JHU data):

  • Total confirmed 407,485
  • Total deaths 18,227
  • Total recovered 104,234

 

The February spike will be China, but the rest of the world is now picking up.

The toll across the United Kingdom rose by 87 in the last day to 422 (a 26% increase) and confirmed cases were up 21% to over 8,000. They are still having problems with crowded trains.

Spain has had more than 500 deaths in a day, making a total of 2,800 who’ve died from its 39,676 cases.

Germany has had a relatively low number of deaths from 31,991 cases but have jumped recently to 149.

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

Either the spread or detection is slow in most parts of Africa.

Conspicuous is the lack of reported cases and deaths in Russia.

Official: Russia has no ‘clear picture’ of extent of Covid-19 outbreak

Russia, which shares a border with China and has a population of 144 million, has so far reported 495 cases of the coronavirus but no confirmed fatalities.

“The problem is that the volume of testing is very low and nobody has a clear picture” of the situation in Russia and the world, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin told President Vladimir Putin during a meeting.

“The picture that is unfolding is serious,” said Sobyanin

This photo from a store in Moscow suggests it is a major concern of not a problem there.

A man, wearing a protective mask, walks past empty shelves in a store, due to the fear of Covid-19 outbreak in Moscow March 17, 2020. — Reuters pic

JHU data shows 519 cases in India and 10 deaths, which seem very low for such a densely populated country.

India’s 1.3b people to enter ‘total lockdown’

India is to impose a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced.

The restrictions will apply from midnight local time and will be enforced for 21 days.

“There will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes,” Modi said in a televised address.

The US could soon become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic after a ‘very large acceleration’ in cases, WHO warns

  • The US could soon become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organisation warned Tuesday.
  • A WHO spokeswoman, Margaret Harris, noted that there had been a “very large acceleration” in cases in the US in recent days.
  • In the past 24 hours, 85% of all new coronavirus cases were in the US and Europe. In the US, 553 people have died from COVID-19.
  • President Donald Trump has refused to impose a national lockdown, however, and has instead insisted the US will soon be “open for business.”

Current John Hopkins data shows 49,768 cases in the US (third to China and Italy and ahead of Spain) and 600 deaths.

Despite this Pence says White House not considering a nationwide coronavirus lockdown (a number of states are in lockdown) and:

Trump, during Fox News coronavirus town hall, calls for re-starting economy by Easter: ‘We have to get back to work’

President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual townhall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.

Trump argued he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. He also said he worries the U.S. will see “suicides by the thousands” if coronavirus devastates the economy.

“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview.

“We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”

That’s contrary to how most countries are handling Covid-19, and also major US states.

And contrary to US officials:

During a coronavirus town hall with U.S. forces around the world, Defense Secretary Mark Esper estimated it could take up to 10 weeks, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley went a little further saying he expected the military to be dealing with the virus for the next three months.

Currently in Australia there are 2,139 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.

Many New Zealanders who have suddenly lost jobs in Australia and will get no Government assistance there are trying to come back here.

Australian states have taken different actions, but some restrictions have been applied to the whole country. Official information:

  • Tight new restrictions on weddings, funerals, fitness classes, beauty salons, arcades and play centres will be implemented from 11:59pm, 25 March. An international travel ban (with some exemptions) will also be introduced. Read more.
  • Some states and territories are closing their borders, meaning anyone entering will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Currently, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia have announced they will close their borders. Essential services are generally exempt from this requirement but some states require undertakings and/or evidence be provided to prove that entry into the state is essential.
  • School closures (both government and non-government) are a matter of the respective state and territory education authorities. Read more.
    (Schools aren’t being closed yet in Queensland but parents can choose to keep their children at home).
  • All pubs, licensed clubs and hotels (excluding accommodation), places of worship, gyms, indoor sporting venues, cinemas, casinos must be closed. Restaurants and cafes can offer takeaway options. Supermarkets, pharmacies and essential services can remain open. Read more.

Cases in New Zealand (confirmed and probable) jumped to 152 yesterday. We go into full lockdown (except for essential services, shops and petrol stations) at 11:59 pm tonight.

A state of emergency will be declared in Parliament today. A UBI is being considered as one option.

People needing to travel on domestic flights, trains and Cook Strait ferries to get home before the country moves into level 4 lock-down tomorrow night will be able to continue using the passenger services until midnight on Friday.

 

The impeachment, Ukraine, Russia and election interference

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continues in Washington. It is far more political than legal. Just about everyone expects the Republican dominated Senate to acquit Trump,

Regardless of the outcome, Trump is likely to remembered as a president who was impeached, just like it is one of the first things people remember Bill Clinton for (he was also acquitted).

The Democrats may lose this battle but they are trying to win a bigger war, this year’s election. The target of Trump’s Ukraine pressure is Joe Biden, who has a good chance of competing with Trump for the presidency (that is why Trump tried to pressure the new Ukraine to dump on Biden). So the impeachment attempt is likely to be a major influence on a geriatric face off.

There’s bigger issues involved, in particular the Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Here’s one take on that – allegations that Trump was promoting Russian fake news that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election.

Note first that the writer of this has Ukraine connections “Kenneth Foard McCallion is a former organized crime and counterintelligence expert with the U.S. Department of Justice, and has been counsel for former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and numerous other Ukraine pro-democracy leaders and businessmen.”

RealClear Politics – A Key Impeachment Fact: Trump Pushed Russian Disinformation

Article One of the Articles of Impeachment now pending before the Senate is primarily focused on President Trump’s extortionate demand that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announce an investigation into the Bidens.

However, it should be kept well in mind by the House managers as they present their case on the Senate floor that Trump has also been impeached for improperly using the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating, in the words of Article One, “a discredited theory promoted by Russia’s disinformation machine, alleging that Ukraine — rather than Russia — interfered in the 2016 United States Presidential election.”

Russian and right-wing media propaganda, and Trump himself, have wrongly claimed that CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to investigate the massive hack of its server, is “owned by a very rich Ukrainian” and is hiding evidence that could clear Russia of any wrongdoing in regards to the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. Intelligence agencies agree that this discredited theory, which deftly shifted blame for the cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system away from Russian and squarely onto Ukraine and CrowdStrike, originated as a Russian intelligence talking point before it gained traction in right-wing media outlets and, ultimately, in the White House.

Ukraine could not give into Trump’s demands for an “investigation.” Announcing an investigation of a leading U.S. presidential contender would have been harmful to Zelensky’s reputation, and an investigation by Ukraine into its own government for U.S. election interference would have been crippling to the Zelensky administration. Furthermore, the Ukraine government well knew that once it gave in to Trump’s extortionate demands for announcement of these two bogus investigations, the demands and the extortion would not stop.

Given Ukraine’s extensive experience with predatory Russian practices, the Ukraine government strongly suspected that Putin and his U.S. crony in the White House were capable of neutering and ultimately dismantling Ukraine as an independent pro-Western democracy. Due to the fortuitous public disclosure of the whistleblower complaint and the ensuing impeachment investigation, Ukraine was not forced to subject itself to this destabilizing humiliation.

Make no mistake, the Russians will not hesitate to manipulate the 2020 U.S. election in the same way they did in 2016. They know U.S. election machinery in key swing states is vulnerable, and that many electronic voting machine systems in these states are fully hackable.

The Democratic leadership is understandably hesitant to call Trump’s abuse of power what it is: TREASON. However, the House has at least given its managers the tools to explain to the American people during the impeachment trial that Trump was not just crassly seeking to further his own political interests at the expense of U.S. national security interests, but that he was also trying to do Russia’s bidding while, at the same time, selling out the United States and one of its staunchest allies. The House managers must not ignore this crucial fact.

(Parts of this are edited).

While the impeachment is likely to fizzle out, the issues surrounding it may swirl around the US election all year.

Russian PM and Cabinet resigns, Putin power push?

RNZ: Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev resigns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has formally put forward Mikhail Mishustin, the little-known head of Russia’s Federal Tax Service, to be Russia’s new prime minister, the Kremlin said.

Putin gets to choose who Russia’s Prime Minister is?

It came after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said his government was resigning to give Putin room to carry out changes to the constitution.

And Putin gets to decide on what changes can be made to the Russian constitution?

The unexpected resignation, which came shortly after Putin proposed a nationwide vote on sweeping changes that would shift power from the presidency to parliament, mean Russia would also get a new prime minister.

Wednesday’s changes will be seen by many as the start of Putin’s preparations for his own political future when he leaves the presidency in 2024.

Whoever he picks as prime minister will inevitably be viewed as a possible presidential successor – echoing the way that Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 to become prime minister under Medvedev, who then stepped aside four years later to allow Putin to resume the presidency.

Reuters: Putin unveils shake-up that could extend his influence as cabinet quits

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes on Wednesday that would give him leeway to extend his grip on power after leaving the presidency, and picked a new prime minister after Dmitry Medvedev and his cabinet resigned.

The dramatic moves were widely seen as preparing the ground for 2024, when Putin, now 67, is constitutionally obliged to leave the presidency after occupying the Kremlin or the prime minister’s job continuously since 1999.

Critics have long accused Putin of plotting to stay on in some capacity to wield power over the world’s largest nation – and one of its two biggest nuclear powers – after he steps down. Putin, a former KGB officer, has always kept mum on his plans.

But the constitutional changes he set out, which he suggested should be put to a referendum, would give him the option of taking an enhanced role as prime minister after 2024 or a new role as head of the State Council, an official body he said he was keen to build up.

Under his proposed constitutional changes, the powers of the presidency would be diminished and those of the prime minister’s office beefed up.

Opposition politician Leonid Volkov said it looked as though Putin was digging in.

“It’s clear to everyone that everything is going exclusively toward setting Putin up to rule for life,” Volkov wrote on social media. Dmitry Gudkov, another opposition politician, said Putin had decided to re-arrange everything around him now rather than wait until closer to 2024.

Putin told the political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech that he favored changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose the prime minister and other key positions.

“It would increase the role and significance of the country’s parliament … of parliamentary parties, and the independence and responsibility of the prime minister.”

And it could increase the future power of Putin, designed by himself.

US House condemn Trump over Syria, Pence in Turkey

MSN: House condemns Trump’s Syria withdrawal

In a stinging bipartisan rebuke, the House on Wednesday condemned President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria.

Voting 354 to 60, lawmakers approved a non-binding resolution opposing the move, which set the stage for Turkey’s military assault against Kurdish forces in Syria that the U.S. partnered with to beat back Islamic State terrorists.

“What kind of message does this send to the world? How can America be trusted to keep its word when we betray one of our close partners?” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) asked on the House floor. “Congress must speak out against this disgrace.”

The top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, said he understood Trump’s “legitimate concerns” about committing troops overseas, but said the president’s Syria pullout had damaged U.S. interests in the region.

“I, too, want to wind down our overseas conflicts and bring our troops home,” McCaul said. “But leaving [northeast] Syria now does not resolve the problem that brought us there in the first place. It only creates more.”

“We need a residual force in place,” he added. “The consequences of this decision have already unfolded before our very eyes.”

The resolution is non-binding and doesn’t condemn Trump by name. It calls on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to halt Turkey’s military campaign in Syria and urges humanitarian support to displaced Syrian Kurds and calls on the U.S. to ensure Turkey “acts with restraint and respects existing agreements related to Syria.”

The resolution also urges the Trump administration to outline “a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

Reuters: Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will urge Turkey on Thursday to halt its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, a day after President Donald Trump threatened heavy sanctions over the operation.

Turkey’s week-long assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 160,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Islamic State fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.

Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish fighters, who were Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Turkey launched its offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump defended his move on Wednesday and called it “strategically brilliant”.

Trump is one of very few who have praised how he has handled this.

Pence will meet Erdogan around 1130 GMT, while Pompeo and other officials are expected to hold talks with counterparts. A top aide to Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, met National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Wednesday and said he conveyed Turkey’s position.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a “successful meeting”, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise. Kalin said that Turkey’s foreign ministry was preparing to retaliate to the U.S. sanctions.

Erdogan has dismissed the sanctions and rejected a global chorus of calls to halt the offensive, which Turkey says will create a “safe zone” extending 20 miles (32 km) into northeast Syria to ensure the return of millions of Syrian refugees and clear the area of Kurdish fighters Ankara views as terrorists.

Trump’s decision to withhold protection from Syrian Kurds upended five years of U.S. policy.

It has also created a land-rush between Turkey and Russia – now the undisputed foreign powers in the area – to partition the Kurdish areas that were formerly under U.S protection.

Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, has called the offensive “unacceptable” and said it must be limited in time and scale. In a rare criticism of Turkish policy on Syria, Moscow said Turkish troops had the right to temporarily go up to a maximum of 10 km into Syria, under a 1998 agreement between Damascus and Ankara.

Syrian troops, accompanied by Russian forces, have meanwhile entered Kobani, a strategic border city and a potential flashpoint for a wider conflict, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war.

The White House tried to talk tough (-ish):

The White House, fighting the domestic political damage and perhaps trying to demonstrate the president’s efforts to stop the offensive, released a Trump letter to Erdogan from Oct. 9 that said: “Don’t be a tough guy” and “Don’t be a fool!”

But Erdogan is acting unmoved.

Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk, quoting sources, said Turkey had rejected Trump’s appeal to reach a deal to avoid conflict, saying the letter was “thrown in the trash”.

Think: Trump’s letter to Turkey’s Erdogan shows the U.S. is struggling to keep up with Ankara

President Donald Trump’s letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him not to go after an enemy Kurdish military group in neighboring Syria as U.S. troops depart the war-torn country, indicates that the U.S. president wants to corner his Turkish counterpart. But Erdogan, who has run Turkey for nearly two decades, may well be smarter than to let himself be trapped.

So far, the Turkish president shows no sign of stopping his relentless advance despite the threat of American sanctions Trump delivered in his missive, made public Wednesday but penned last week. Erdogan has calculated that even if the sanctions come, they won’t be sufficient to disrupt the Turkish military strategy; he figures that what Trump wants most is to bring U.S. troops home, and he won’t do much more to prevent the offensive against the Kurds.

The BBC is just reporting: Turkey to suspend Syria offensive, US says

Turkey agrees to pause operation in northern Syria to let Kurdish-led forces withdraw – US Vice-President Mike Pence

A Trumpian slip?

Donald Trump has been taking a risk with his habit of firing off tweets.

He tweeted yesterday ” I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected”.

This has been reported as acknowledgement by Trump that Russia helped elect him, but also as a possible mistake. Trump backtracked soon afterwards.

LA Times: Trump sows confusion with tweet conceding Russia helped him win the 2016 election

Maybe it was a presidential epiphany. More likely, it was a Twitter miscue.

Either way, President Trump appeared to concede for the first time Thursday that Russian intelligence agents tried to help him win the 2016 election, as the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, a reversal of his long-held claims.

Trump later reversed himself again but the episode highlighted the difficulty he faces rejecting the official U.S. assessment, backed up by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s recent investigation and two grand jury indictments, that the Kremlin deployed a combination of fake news stories, phony social media accounts and hacked Democratic Party documents intended to damage Hillary Clinton and help Trump.

Speaking to reporters, Trump also claimed that Mueller was “totally conflicted” and a “true never-Trumper” who led a biased probe, a curious claim since he has repeatedly praised Mueller’s 448-page final report for, in the president’s eyes, fully exonerating him of any wrongdoing.

Trump has often been inconsistent and contradictory with his claims.

Trump deleted the tweets minutes after posting them, suggesting he had misspoken. But then he reposted them, fixing a misspelling of the word “accusation,” but leaving the phrase “helping me get elected” intact.

So did he really mean it?

Later, talking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump was asked to clarify in person.

“Russia didn’t help me at all,” Trump said, returning to his old talking point. “Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.”

PBS News Hour:

In our news wrap Thursday, President Trump renewed attacks on Robert Mueller and his probe into Russian election interference. Trump also tweeted that he himself had nothing to do with Russia’s “helping me get elected,” but later tried to walk back the reference to Russian involvement.

Trump remains furious at House investigations of his finances and businesses, and apparently by the growing number of Democrats, including several running for president, to start impeachment proceedings. He described impeachment as a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

Much of Trump’s newest frustration stemmed from Mueller’s statement Wednesday. Saying he didn’t intend to speak again on the matter, Mueller reiterated that his report did not exonerate Trump on obstruction charges and said that he declined to weigh in on whether Trump committed a crime only because Justice Department rules prevented it.

This all continues to be a distraction. Meanwhile Trump’s trade war against China continues, and also yesterday he threatened to impose tariffs against Mexico until they fixed his border immigration problem.

This latest side show isn’t as bad as ‘live by the tweet, die by the tweet’, it shows the risks Trump is taking doing his own online promotions and attacks.

The National (American) Interest and ‘realism’

I don’t know anything about ‘realism’ as far as foreign policy goes, but The National Interest promotes it for the United States.

It is about American interests. It is guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger. Though the shape of international politics has changed considerably in the past few decades, the magazine’s fundamental tenets have not. Instead, they have proven enduring and, indeed, appear to be enjoying something of a popular renaissance.

Until recently, however, liberal hawks and neoconservatives have successfully attempted to stifle debate by arguing that prudence about the use of American power abroad was imprudent—by, in short, disparaging realism as a moribund doctrine that is wholly inimical to American idealism. This has been disastrous.

After the Bush administration’s failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it became abundantly clear that the lack of a debate in Washington was part and parcel of a larger foreign policy failing, which was the refusal to ponder the larger implications and consequences of the promiscuous use of American power abroad. A reflexive substitution of military might for diplomacy, of bellicose rhetoric for attainable aspirations, dramatically weakened rather than strengthened America’s standing around the globe.

But today, as Russia, China, and Iran assess and act upon their own perceived national interests, Washington must attempt to understand those nations as they understand themselves.

I’m not sure that the US has been very good at understanding other nations, apart from how they can be influenced and manipulated too serve US interests.

What actually constitutes true realism is, of course, an appropriate source of controversy.

I don’t get that.

And so, on both its web site and in its print edition, The National Interest seeks to promote, as far as possible, a fresh debate about the course of American foreign policy by featuring a variety of leading authors from government, journalism, and academia, many of whom may at times disagree with each other.

The National Interest editorial:  Standing Up For Realism

The Center for the National Interest, which was founded by Richard M. Nixon in 1994, is being criticized for its embrace of realist principles, including outreach to Russia based on a combination of diplomatic and military strength.

Realism, long associated with authoritarian European statesmen such as Otto von Bismarck and Klemens von Metternich, has been consistently portrayed as antithetical to American democratic traditions. During the Cold War, statesmen such as Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski were depicted as amoral or even harboring, in the case of the latter, loyalties to Poland rather than America.

But in one form or another, no matter what the detractors may claim, realism is at the very heart of American foreign policy. It is what helped America to emerge as the dominant power after World War II and during the Cold War.

The realist approach served as a bipartisan foundation for Washington’s approach to the world, providing a common framework for identifying threats and defending American interests abroad. Everyone from Harry Truman and Dean Acheson to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to George H.W. Bush and James Baker espoused a strategic realism that played a decisive role in ending the Cold War on American terms. Even Ronald Reagan, who talked about battling an evil empire, ended up signing sweeping arms control treaties with the Kremlin and consigning the Cold War to the dustbin of history.

These statesmen helped to establish a stable balance of international power that safeguarded Western prosperity and freedom while allowing for the peaceful internal transformation of the Soviet bloc.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, realism fell into disrepute. Headier doctrines that amounted to old wine in new bottles now found favor. The United States found itself alone at the top of the international pyramid and became convinced that its security could be based on transforming non-Western nations in America’s image.

The two major strands of American foreign policy that dominated during the post-Cold War period—neo-conservatism and liberal internationalism—may have disputed the appropriate mix of force and diplomatic persuasion, but they were united in pursuing a missionary foreign policy.

This approach has failed. It has led to debilitating wars in the Middle East that have sapped America’s treasury. It has helped turn competitors into enemies. Regions that once enjoyed the strategic benefits of a balance of power have been thrown into disorder and disarray. The world order that prevailed in 1989 is now in shambles.

I don’t think the ‘world order’ that prevailed in 1989 was very flash either.

The Center for the National Interest has consistently challenged liberal international and neocon thinking to advocate a foreign policy based on a prudent combination of diplomacy, economic and military strength to defend American national interests.

Realism is asserting US power by any means available?

Who got it right? The answer seems self-evident. But at the very moment that realist doctrines should be ascendant, a media backlash is taking place that is directly targeting the Center, principally for its pursuit of a dialogue with Russia. The idea seems to be that it is illegitimate, even unpatriotic, to advocate anything that defies foreign policy conventional wisdom.

Dialogue amongst major powers is important. The US should talk to Russia to try to work out how to co-exist peacefully and prosperously.

To be sure, previous foreign policy debates, whether over Vietnam or the second Iraq War, have been marked by fierce vitriol. But those debates took place within a commonly agreed framework of seeking to advance American interests. Today, the debates have curdled into vitriol and character assassination, pure and simple.

That’s where US politics has seemed to have evolved to. It doesn’t help that the President repeatedly sets an example using vitriol and character assassination, but he seems to have avoided that with Russia, instead heaping praise on Putin  – or at least his talks with Putin. Actually he has just had a phone conversation with Putin.

Reuters also quote him as saying “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing”.

It is a good thing if the US gets along with Russia and China, and peace seems to be working fairly well, except in Afghanistan where the Taliban is increasing it’s influence, and in Syria where Russian influence increases as the US tries to work it’s way out of the complications there.

Reuters:  Trump says he, Putin discussed new nuclear pact possibly including China

U.S. President Donald Trump said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed on Friday the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China in what would be a major deal between the globe’s top three atomic powers.

Trump, speaking to reporters as he met in the Oval Office with Peter Pellegrini, prime minister of the Slovak Republic, also said he and Putin discussed efforts to persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, the political discord in Venezuela, and Ukraine during a call that stretched over an hour.

Trump cited the expense of keeping up the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a motivating factor behind wanting to limit how many weapons are deployed.

“We’re talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less and maybe where we get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now,” he said.

Trump said China during trade talks had “felt very strongly” about joining the United States and Russia in limiting nuclear weapons.

“So I think we’re going to probably start up something very shortly between Russia and ourselves maybe to start off, and I think China will be added down the road. We’ll be talking about non-proliferation, we’ll be talking about a nuclear deal of some kind, and I think it’ll be a very comprehensive one,” he said.

The Kremlin said the call was initiated by Washington. It said the two leaders agreed to maintain contacts on different levels and expressed satisfaction with the “businesslike and constructive nature” of the conversation.

But the the reality is, it’s not simple:

The two leaders discussed Ukraine. Trump canceled a summit meeting with Putin late last year after Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships on Nov. 25 and arrested 24 sailors. Putin also told Trump that the new leadership in Ukraine should take steps to solve the Ukrainian crisis, the Kremlin said.

With the United States concerned about a Russian military presence in Venezuela at a time when Washington wants Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, Trump told Putin “the United States stands with the people of Venezuela” and stressed he wanted to get relief supplies into the country, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Putin told Trump that any external interference in Venezuela’s internal business undermines the prospects of a political end to the crisis, the Kremlin said.

Trump also raised with Putin the issue of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Trump has met twice with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but Kim has yet to agree to a disarmament deal.

Putin has just had talks with Kim Yong Un. NY Times: After Meeting Kim Jong-un, Putin Supports North Korea on Nuclear Disarmament

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made a public show of support for North Korea on nuclear disarmament, seeming to undermine President Trump’s approach to nuclear diplomacy, as Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un on Thursday wrapped up their first summit meeting.

Russian officials have long insisted they wanted to support Mr. Trump’s efforts at one-on-one nuclear negotiations with Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader. But speaking to reporters after the meeting in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific Ocean coast, Mr. Putin said that North Korea needs security guarantees from more nations than just the United States before abandoning its nuclear arsenal.

At talks in February in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Mr. Trump had proposed a “big deal” to lift punishing economic sanctions in return for a quick and complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Kim offered, instead, only a partial dismantling of nuclear facilities — while keeping his arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles — in exchange for relief from the most harmful sanctions.

After the breakdown in talks in Hanoi, North Korea vented its frustration with a weapons test and accusations that Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were sabotaging negotiations.

But since then (Reuters):  North Korea fires ‘projectiles’, South Korea says stop raising tensions

North Korea fired several “unidentified short-range projectiles” into the sea off its east coast on Saturday, prompting South Korea to call on its communist neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula”.

Analysts suspected the flurry of military activity by Pyongyang was an attempt to exert pressure on the United States to give ground in negotiations to end the North’s nuclear program after a summit in February ended in failure.

I’m not sure where Realism fits in here.

 

 

 

Trump recognises Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights

Sovereign over the Golan Heights has been a contentious issue in the Middle East since Israel captured two thirds of the area from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, and effectively annexed in 1981.

Donald Trump has earned praise from the embattled President Netanyahu by recognising Israeli sovereignty, the only country to do so, but could stir up tensions again in the Middle East.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel.

From 2012 to 2018, the eastern Golan Heights became a scene of repeated battles between the Syrian Arab Army, rebel factions of the Syrian opposition including the moderate Southern Front, jihadist al-Nusra Front, and ISIL-affiliated factions. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.

Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory in 1981.

his move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golan_Heights

Washington Examiner – Trump: Time for US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

The announcement comes just weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facingpotential criminal corruption charges, is up for re-election. Netanyahu, who has leaned heavily on Trump’s support, praised the announcement Thursday.

Speaking beside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for recognizing the region.

“President Trump has just made history. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy here, then he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions, but now he did something of equal historic importance.”

Haaretz: Trump Signs Order Recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

In a joint press conference, Trump said: “We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv,” adding: “Our relationship is powerful.” Trump then said: “We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism.”

Netanyahu said he brought Trump a “box of the finest wine from the Golan Heights.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the proclamation, calling Trump “a true friends of the State of Israel.” Opposition head Shelly Yacimovich, as well as Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, also commended the move.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria on Monday, in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Netanyahu said, “We feel that it’s a Purim miracle, President Trump made history today.” According to Netanyahu, “Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights at a time when Iran is trying to use it as a platform to destroy Israel.”

The move by Trump caused an instant international uproar of protests: under international law, the Golan Heights are considered to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel, like East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel captured the Golan Heights, which is populated by around 25.000 Druze, in 1967 and de facto annexed the territory in a 1981 law.

After the Trump tweet, a European Union spokesperson in Israel told Haaretz the EU will not change its position regarding the Golan Heights in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration. Representatives of Russia, Turkey, multiple actors in the Arab world including Palestinians and Syrians also condemned the move.

Washington Examiner – Netanyahu to Trump: ‘Israel has never had a better friend than you’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Trump on Monday that “Israel has never had a better friend than you”.

“Mr. President, over the years Israel has been blessed to have many friends who have sat in the Oval Office. But Israel has never had a better friend than you. You have showed this time and again,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, thanking Trump, said of the formerly Syrian Golan Heights: “We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

Al Jazeera: Why Trump recognised Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights

While the US decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is primarily being explained away with geopolitics, it, in fact, has much more to do with US domestic politics. With this move, President Donald Trump aims to cement the gradual shift in partisan support of Israel from the Democrats to the Republicans and rally evangelical Christians around his presidency.

He chose to sign the Golan Heights sovereignty decree on March 25 as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Israel lobby group in the United States, was holding its annual conference in Washington. This year, the event took place against the backdrop of Democratic House Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments criticising the lobby and the decision of a number of Democratic presidential candidates to boycott it.

Trump and members of his administration took the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, with Vice President Mike Pence rebuking the Democratic party for being “afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America”.

A few days earlier, Trump was even more explicit: “I don’t know what happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they are anti-Jewish.”

The White House is purposefully feeding a narrative that the Democrats’ commitment to Israel is wavering and that there are growing signs of what one former Trump campaign aide has called “Jexodus” – the supposed exodus of American Jews from the Democratic camp, which they have traditionally supported, to the Republican one.

There has always been a complex political symmetry between Israeli and US politics. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never got along with two liberal US presidents; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. However, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.

The current collusion between right-wing leaders in both the US and Israel is unprecedented and is marginalising the left in both countries and pushing back against what they perceive as liberal institutions, most notably the media and the judiciary branch. Trump hopes to use this alliance to engineer a sway to the right in US politics, similar to the one in Israel.

While political decisions favouring Israel are certainly boosting Trump’s and Netanyahu’s chances of re-election, they are conflicting with other US objectives in the Middle East. Pompeo’s March 22 visit to Beirut, for example, was eclipsed by Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights, which undermined his call on local political forces to deter Hezbollah.

The Trump-Netanyahu alliance is putting Arab allies of Washington in a difficult position, as unconditional US “gifts” to Israel are increasingly antagonising the Arab public. These policy distractions undertaken by the Trump administration are undermining the US’s attempt to deter Iran and are in many ways helping Tehran’s anti-US narrative.

The growing alliance between the US evangelicals and the Israeli right is polarising US and Middle East politics and, while it may secure short-term electoral gains for Trump and Netanyahu, in the long term, it may prove disastrous.

Dina Badie (Channel NewsAsia):  Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory matters

Trump is popular in Israel, particularly after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently using the American president’s photos in his re-election campaign posters to take advantage of this.

In fact, some analysts and reporters have suggested that the timing of this announcement was politically calculated to bolster Netanyahu’s campaign in the upcoming Israeli elections on Apr 9.

So claims that both Trump and Netanyahu see election advantages foe themselves over the move by Trump.

I expect that the decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will run into the same difficulties that afflicted the Trump administration’s change in policy with regards to Jerusalem for two reasons.

First, it reverses decades of consistent US policy that demanded any territorial recognition come as a result of direct negotiations, rather than unilateral declarations.

Second, it runs counter to international law, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over territories occupied during the 1967 War.

To be sure, Trump’s move is a symbolic, rather than legal, gesture. But given the dimensions of America’s global influence, US recognition could lend some legitimacy to Israel’s controversial annexation policy.

And I believe Trump’s approach to contentious issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict will further undermine the US government’s claim to be an honest broker. In my view, it makes peace in the Middle East less likely.

And claims that there could be flow on effects of this move by Trump.

Heather Timmons (Quartz): Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Russia’s neighbors may also be affected. Russia has already called outUS “hypocrisy” over sanctions related to the Russian annexation of Crimea, notes Stacie Goddard, a professor of political science at Wellesley College.

“In the short run, this is most likely to bolster Russia’s confidence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the breakaway territories that were once part of Georgia, but now supported by Russian military.

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.”

Stephen Blank (The Hill): Trump’s Golan Heights announcement will backfire for Netanyahu — and US

While the military situation in the Golan has not changed, Trump’s decision fundamentally alters the political context there. Rather than enhancing Israeli security this decision actually diminishes it. Trump’s statements have made it impossible for any future Syrian government, not only Bashear Assad’s regime, to make peace with Israel. No Syrian regime of any stripe will accept Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights leading to Damascus.

Moreover, Israeli annexation of the Golan furnishes an ideal and enduring pretext for Iran, and its client forces like Hezbollah, to stay in Syria to defend against the “Israeli threat.”

Thus, Iranian forces and terrorists associated with them will not only stay in Syria and threaten Israeli forces and civilians in the Golan and Israel proper, their belief in their cause and their recruitment will grow, causing major new security challenges and costs to Israel.

Likewise, it also furnishes an outstanding pretext for Moscow to strengthen its military bases in Syria. That also challenges U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean. This will make Moscow even more resolute about trying to undermine U.S. policy across the entire Middle East and Africa as it is now doing with visible success.

Clearly, the U.S. has no viable strategy for building peace in the Middle East or for confronting the Palestinian or Iranian challengers to peace.

Nothing is simple in the Middle East. I think it’s difficult to predict what effect Trump’s recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights will have, but it is unlikely to improve peace prospects.

Blatantly intervening in Israel’s politics ahead of an election, we have undercut our argument to everyone else that Russia (and implicitly China) must be countered because they interfere in our and our allies’ domestic politics. Here again, we have sacrificed principle for expediency and given our opponents the means to stigmatize our policy as being hypocritical.

Like Russia, the US is guilty of trying to influence and interfere in elections around the world for a long time.

Cynical politics rules.

Clinton rules out 2020 run for presidency a win for Putin?

Hillary Clinton has ruled out another run for the US presidency in 2020. This may be seen as a win for Vladimir Putin, with it being pointed out “how much Vladimir Putin hates Hillary Clinton” – the misogynist versus the sort of feminist.

Could Russia target Ardern and New Zealand democracy? Have they already done this?

CNN:  Hillary Clinton rules out 2020 run, but says ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Hillary Clinton said Monday that she is not running for president in 2020 but will continue to speak out about politics, saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m not running, but I’m going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe,” the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee told CNN affiliate News 12 Westchester.

“I want to be sure that people understand I’m going to keep speaking out. I’m not going anywhere,” Clinton said.

When asked if she would consider running for governor, mayor or any elected office again, Clinton told News 12, “I don’t think so,” adding that she loves living in New York and is grateful for the time she spent as senator of the state.

“What’s at stake in our country, the kinds of things that are happening right now are deeply troubling to me.” She said the country has become “not just polarized, we’ve gotten into really opposing camps unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my adult life.”

Clinton said that “we’ve made a lot of progress” but “we still have a long way to go on women’s rights, on gay rights, on making sure that every person has the same chance to have their dignity and their identity respected.”

This may be why Russia got so involved in the 2016 US election. Whether Trump’s campaign ‘colluded’ with Russia, or whether Russia used Trump to dump on Clinton, are still unanswered questions. The Robert Mueller report may or may not provide answers.

More from Erynn Brook:

It’s basically impossible to say HRC’s name without being bombarded with memes and trolls and propaganda. And that’s all intentional. I’m not talking about her policies. I’m talking about the interpersonal dynamic between Putin and HRC playing out on a world stage.

Oh the dog incident with Merkel isn’t just “related”, it’s more evidence. It’s in the intelligence briefings that’s she’s afraid of dogs. He gave Merkel a stuffed dog the year before. It’s straight up psychological warfare.

Foreign Policy: Putin uses dog to intimidate Merkel

Remember that Hillary Clinton was First Lady when Putin became Prime Minister and then President. Remember that Hillary is widely cited as being the driving force behind her husband’s political career.

Remember that she had an objectively successful political career, AFTER her husband’s impeachment. I don’t mean a while after, I mean like while it’s happening she’s running for state senator in NY. Which she won. That should have been impossible.

Love her or hate her, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Hillary Clinton is demonstrably, a very, very good politician. It’s likely she decided she wanted to be president when she was a kid and that influenced a large majority of her life choices.

So Clinton becomes Secretary of State when Putin is Prime Minister for the second time, and she is a force to be reckoned with. AND she’s the wife of his former American counterpart. She’s the woman he used to tell his wife to entertain. She’s fucking decor to him.

I am begging you to get this: refusal to see the role misogyny played in all of this, in the state of our world right now, is making things worse.

Don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Do some real, substantial research.

And ask yourself: if the richest, most powerful, most dangerous misogynist in the world, thought that the woman who had been coming for him for decades, who saw through all his shit and wasn’t afraid of him, if she was about to get the one job she could get to take him down.

If he saw that coming towards him, if this dangerous man who built a career on crushing political dissidents iduring Cold War, if this “world class misogynist” felt threatened by a WOMAN…

What would he do? What could he do?

Here, I’ll even give you a few places to get started. By all means, if you can show me I’m wrong while still addressing all the Russia crap, without resorting to more misogyny, and with actual, demonstrable, critical analysis, I’d love to hear it.

Brook links to another thread:

And it’s a wider problem.

What are the implications for New Zealand? Jacinda Ardern has positioned herself in stark contrast to both Trump and Putin. New Zealand may not matter much to Russia, but it’s possible Putin could start taking potshots at Ardern. And at our democracy.

Has it already happened? Why did Cameron Slater and Whale Oil actively promote Winston Peters in our 2017 election?

A year ago Peters was in the news here for promoting a trade deal with Russia, and for fudging around while other Western countries condemned Russia for their involvement in the Salisbury nerve agent attacks.

Noted noted: What’s with Winston’s crush on Russia?

With Winston Peters, it’s the Secret Samovar. He has this thing about Russia, and no one can explain why. There was the suggestion, when he began harping on about restoring full trade relations with Russia some years ago, that his close ties with the fishing industry had made him hyper-sensitive to lost trade opportunities in seafood.

This week, Peters has repeated his scepticism that Russia shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014 and expanded that refusenik-ism to cover the growing suspicion that Russia just poisoned a spy and his daughter in Britain.

He also averred that our getting a free-trade deal with Russia would be just as good, and should be just as big a priority, as scoring one with the European Union.

It may be that Peters admires Putin’s strongman approach in the way he shares some heartland electoral territory with Trump over immigration and protectionism. Among his startling comments as Foreign Minister this week was one expressing sympathy with the US’s proposed new tariffs on aluminium and steel – which had immediately to be contradicted by Trade Minister David Parker.

Anyway, Peters’ preoccupation with Putin’s Russia goes back years; it’s not something he’s just manufactured as a handy coalition prying bar. And dying in a ditch over Russia is hardly the gesture lost NZ First voters – or any other voters, for that matter – would rally around.

It may be a stretch to suggest a Russian-Peters-Slater conspiracy.

It could simply be that to different degrees Peters shares a similar misogynist view with Putin and Trump, seeing themselves as superior to female leaders, and attracted to each other in a ‘strongmen unite’ sort of empathy.