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   2016 REPORTS


 
FACING TRUMP REALITIES: (Martin Woollacott);  THE STATE OF RUSSIA: TRUMP'S FOREIGN POLICY MYSTERY (Sara Bielecki);  WAR IN IRAQ: ISIS AT BAY (Alessandro Bruno)

 

TRUMP'S TRIUMPH

To Brits, indeed to fellow Europeans, waking up to the news of Trump’s triumph, the feeling was that “we’ve been here before”…. and very recently. The surprise and aftershock of Brexit continues to dominate our UK political news, since it overturned amongst other things, long-held comfortable assumptions about ourselves, our domestic politics and simply “the way things were” - but are no longer.

The spectacle of the US presidential campaign –and it’s result, is one of the few heads of state appointments, that truly affects the whole world. The US President after all, has since the middle of the 20th century, certainly since the end of the Cold War, acquired the image of being simply the most powerful human being on earth, a knowledge tempered by the fact that his or hers is a democratic appointment, subject to a number of democratic checks and balances. Hitherto, in most people’s lifetime that certainty has allowed them to then seek to understand how the many decisions that will follow – sometimes decisions affecting War or Peace - will play out. But this time it is different.

So very unconventional a campaign, fought alongside, but not dependent on the Republican Party and its funds and political machine, leaves the new president clearly larger not merely in image, than his party and their other elected representatives. He never departed during the campaign from living the role of his Trump family company’s ‘Mr Big,’ itself not an unfamiliar phenomenon, yet following a lifetime of this, it provokes the question as to how will it affect his decision taking and judgement in future challenging situations, that have no easy precedent to follow? Will he remain known for abruptly concluding discussion, pointing his finger at such as his Secretaries of State or of the Treasury, and uttering the damning judgement familiar to his TV audience: “You’re fired”?

The best response to that question might be another question. Can he exercise some degree of humility (is there any there) – being new to the job? If he can, then given good advisors, present concerns may recede. Yet there is at this point a feeling that having succeeded in this election against everything that “they” could throw against him, critically the Democratic and his own Republican establishments and most of the media, will this perhaps just confirm his own high regard for his unique abilities and lead him down a subjective, rather than a collegiate path on the great issues that will be presented to him?

In "Facing Trump Realities," Martin Woollacott gives a sense of perspective, as we collectively reel from the shock.

*****

The State of Russia

Despite the many surprises and shocks that emerged during Trump’s extensive campaigning, it became apparent that many of his foreign policy interests and positions had little that could be understood merely by reference to the Republican Party’s Foreign policy record. His position on China veered from that of a massive challenge, all the way back to business as usual. But it is his attitude towards Russia and to its president, that has attracted the fascination of foreign policy wonks, and for which clarification is most eagerly sought. Back some months ago, even before he had polished off his many rivals for the presidential nomination, he was heard in several contexts to lament that relations between the USA and Russia seemed to have inherent hostility set as the default mode. That certainly reflected our own long-held view:- why didn’t the US and Russia repair this unsatisfactory state of affairs - “this horrible cycle of hostility,” in Trump’s words?

We have long observed that the US ‘man in the street’ considers that the US ‘beat’ the Russians in ‘the Cold War’; and in Russia, the resentment that this has caused where typically people react with the fact that there had been neither a war nor any defeat. “The events of 1991”, they maintain, “saw the end not of Russia, but of the international Soviet communist system” (to the relief of many of them, it might be said). In preparation for whatever surprises may newly emerge in US – Russia relations, Sara Bielecki takes us through a Russia whose closest European neighbours are currently asking themselves, “What price Article FIVE – “the one for all, and all for one,” defensive part of the NATO treaty?”

*****

Iraq War: ISIS at bay

In NewNations Bulletin of December last year, we led with: “Syria: ISIS First –everything else will have to wait.” Following the autumn of that year’s terrorist horrors, first in Paris and then Brussels, middle –east priorities had changed. A prolonged season of universally seeking to close down Islamic terrorism, simultaneously with the narrower western position of indirectly removing Assad from Syria, the latter probably illegal and highly questionable ‘sunni’ war aim was dropped, at least temporarily, in favour of concentrating on the destruction of the Caliphate.

ISIS – ‘Daesh’ it was, whose disciples had murdered so many citizens and visitors in Paris and in Brussels, in what might be categorised as a challenge to the world, that is, not their Koran- encircled world.

So now, a year later, whilst the self-declared Caliphate’s modest administrative capital in Syria’s Raqqah, is at the early stages of coming under siege, it is in neighbouring Iraq whose city of Mosul with more than a million inhabitants, has long been held by ISIS, where the Caliphate itself was declared, also the home of ‘the Caliph’ Abu Bakr al Baghdadi; the city in which the religious regime has been modelled and where the inevitable showdown is now well underway.

Alessandro Bruno, including both Syria and Iraq, contributes: “War in Iraq: ISIS at Bay;” the principal message of which is that although anything but easy, it is assumed that the military outcome is not seriously in doubt. Yet the defeat of ISIS will not in itself, settle the many problems of IRAQ, where the variety of conflicting political and religious interests, he describes, resembles a basket of snakes with their waving heads protruding from it, each having the capacity to strike, yet none having the capacity to wound globally, that ISIS has established.

It is possible, even traditional that in this hard fought siege, if it is in fact the showdown for ISIS, that Abu Bakr al Bagdadi himself might disappear, to add to the number of lost Caliphs that punctuate the riven history of Islam.
 

Clive Lindley - Publisher/Editor

 

Facing Trump Realities

The world’s leaders today resemble the cast of a long running play which has just learnt during an interval between acts, that the leading role has been unexpectedly handed to a beginner with a reputation for ham acting and for forgetting his lines. There is a huge commotion backstage as the company tries to work out how this will affect them, or whether it might even bring the run to an end. On the other side of the footlights, a restive audience, which is to say people everywhere, wonders, some hopefully most apprehensively, how the play will now turn out.

International life to a great extent rolls along accustomed grooves even in troubled times. Donald Trump’s victory, it is generally agreed, could jolt it out of those grooves, with unpredictable and dangerous results. The most unsettling and dangerous of all, to return to the dramatic metaphor, is that the show will flop because the new man can’t handle the job. The inchoate, contradictory, and incompetent qualities of what will soon be the administration are already evident, with some aides and advisors sacked almost as soon as they have been appointed, wide divergences of opinion and policy notable among those still in place, and youthful family members promised top positions. Is Trump the man to bring order out of this muddle in the time remaining until inauguration, given that as a businessman, he encouraged rivalries and used overlapping assignments as ways of controlling his staff?

He would not be the first president of course, to operate on such a basis. It is easy to forget at this moment how problematic past presidents have seemed, both to Americans and the rest of the world. [continues...]


The State of Russia

2016 has seen some dramatic global events in unexpected quarters - from the Brexit to the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House. These events have shaken the totemic ideas of what the ‘West’ represents; they have undermined the notion of European integration and of an American commitment to liberal democracy. In doing so they have also offered a chance to re-evaluate the long standing notions of two poles - of Russia and the West - the Cold War axis that dominated geopolitical thinking for 50 years, and which has, under Putin (so vilified by the West) returned as a mode of perceiving the world. The Barack Obama regime hoped for a ‘reset’ with Russia in 2009, but the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine, and the bombing campaign in Syria have all soured relations with the West and seen tensions re-ignite. The regime of Vladimir Putin, whilst not being considered a rogue state, is widely considered a pariah regime and a degree of Russophobia has been the default position for Western eyes, the near entirety of Putin’s reign. Could this be about to change?

Prior to his election, Trump already praised the Russian leader and questioned the logic of US-Russia rivalry. Addressing a forum on national security in September Trump noted, ”The man has very strong control over a country […] Now, it's a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he's been a leader. Far more than our president [Obama] has been a leader. We have a divided country." Prior to the election, there were indications that Russia was more supportive of his candidacy than that of Hillary Clinton. Unusually, the Russian ambassador to the US was present at Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech in April, at which the Republican candidate suggested ending “this horrible cycle of hostility”. Typically diplomats stay away from matters of domestic policy, so this anomaly was remarked upon. Although Trump’s camp denies it, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the press that “quite a few” Kremlin officials were in contact with the Trump campaign prior to his election. Additionally to this, it was widely suggested that Russian hacking group ‘Fancy Bear’ may have been behind the leak of Clintons emails which cost her so dearly in the second presidential debate...  [
continues...]


The War in Iraq; ISIS at Bay

The war in Iraq did not end when U.S. President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” aboard ‘the USS Abraham’ aircraft carrier in May 2003. The ‘Abraham’ had just returned from the Persian Gulf. It was after that declaration that the real war began. It did not take long for sectarian and ethnic conflicts to erupt in Iraq, just as many analysts, who had studied Iraq, rather than the neo-conservative machinations that informed its invasion, had predicted. Al-Qaida, or groups claiming allegiance to it, appeared in all its ugliness in Iraq, where it had never dared earlier set its pinky toe, let alone a whole foot, during the Saddam Hussein era.

Since then, terrorism and sectarianism only intensified in quality and quantity. Elections brought nominal democracy, but in effect they replaced the rule of the Ba’ath Party with the rule of Shiite dominated political forces, bent more on revenge than fairness and establishing institutions to allow the whole population to participate. Islamic State or ISIS/DAESH (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria / Dawla Islamiyya fi Iraq wa Shams) is but one of the most terrifying, political-military creatures to emerge from the ashes of post-Saddam Iraq. If Mary Shelley were alive today, she could not have found a better physical manifestation for her ‘Frankenstein.’

After wreaking havoc from northern Iraq to eastern Syria, taking over the cities of Mosul and Raqqa, ISIS is finally in trouble in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed, it is hard to extricate the fate of ISIS without discussing both Iraq and Syria. But, this analysis focuses on the Group’s Iraq manifestation, for it marks the final stage of the war that G.W. Bush began. Of course, the end of ISIS will not permanently terminate the group; much less will it terminate Islamic fundamentalism. ISIS is an ideological-religious group, rooted in apocalyptic eschatology. Its actions were and are amplified by the conditions of the Iraq War and Iraq’s inherent fragility, rooted in its very inception from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and the Sykes-Picot agreement. The Islamic State will be no more; its demise is not in doubt. The major concern of this latest chapter of the war is the future of Iraq after the Islamic State or the Caliphate, that ISIS carved out of the lands that the Assyrians once ruled... [
continues...]


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