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Updated: 8 min 28 sec ago

The #MeToo Movement Has Gone Global 

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 12:08pm

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The #MeToo movement started with a single tweet — now, it has produced an international treaty. 

One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, while close to three in four report having been sexually harassed. Much of this violence occurs in the workplace, where power imbalances and economic pressures increase the risk of abuse. Yet 59 countries have no legislation specifically addressing workplace harassment.

This June, the International Labor Organization (ILO) —  the United Nations agency for workers’ rights — took a historic step to close this gap. In a landslide vote of 439 to 7, the ILO adopted the legally binding Convention Concerning the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, as well as a non-binding recommendation that builds out the details.

Following years of campaigning by labor unions, women’s rights activists, and human rights organizations, this was a landmark victory. But the fight is not over. Like most treaties, the convention is only binding for those that sign on. 

To further the struggle against workplace violence and harassment, both here and abroad, the United States should ratify this new convention, which commits its parties to “respect, promote and realize the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment.” 

Under the new rules, states are obligated to ban violence and harassment, institute national prevention plans, establish substantive monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, ensure access to victim remediation, and more. Employers are required to work with employees to institute workplace protections, including complaint procedures, independent dispute resolution mechanisms, and whistle-blower safeguards. 

And, crucially for an agreement on labor rights, unions are championed for their essential role in combating abuse.

Some of the agreements’ greatest strengths are in the details: gender-based violence is highlighted as a unique, and uniquely insidious, challenge (though LGBTQ+ issues are not explicitly mentioned). Workers of all contractual statuses (such as trainees, contractors, and interns) and all sectors (public and private, formal and informal) are covered. The “workplace” is defined expansively, including travel, commutes, and meetings. 

States are also called upon to address domestic violence as it relates to the workplace — a particular win given that domestic violence is still legal in some countries. Vulnerable populations, such as migrant, hospitality, and domestic workers, are rightfully emphasized. 

Much of the implementation is left up to discretion. If the United States ratifies the convention, some existing regulations will be deemed sufficient, while others will require strengthening. Yet across the board, workers will gain a protective backstop and a powerful legal weapon in the fight for additional protections. Ratifying the convention would make all American workers safer. 

But the case for ratification extends beyond our borders. 

First, as the global hegemon, U.S. support sends a powerful message to other countries considering signing on, while providing leverage for the domestic civil society movements pressuring them to do so. 

Second, ratification is a precondition for other measures that may be used to improve global standards. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent trade plan, for example, would extend certain trade privileges only to countries that comply with international agreements like the Paris Accord. If similar methods are ever to be used for this convention, the U.S. must first sign on itself.

Third, the neoliberal model of globalization has allowed corporations to pursue opportunities for profits, and therefore exploitation, across borders. When countries are forced to compete to attract investment by weakening regulations, global treaties that establish minimum standards —  and the multilateral bodies dedicated to doing so — are essential. Ratification expresses a commitment to both.

Finally, the campaign for the convention has united major unions from around the world. Its ratification would be a victory for labor internationalism, and fuel for a growing movement with even higher aspirations.

Despite these benefits, ratification will be a struggle. The right wing is ideologically opposed to pro-worker regulations — especially when those regulations are embodied in an international treaty, a perceived restraint on unilateral American power.

With treaty ratification requiring the support of the president and two-thirds of the Senate, the U.S. has only ratified 14 of the ILO’s 190 Conventions. Under an administration resistant to multilateral cooperation, and with Republicans holding the Senate, the convention on violence and harassment is unlikely to be the exception.

But there is a chance. Of the ILO Conventions that the United States has ratified, one was a 97-0 vote in favor, and others have passed under a Republican majority. Further, while the U.S. delegation to the ILO was split on the recent recommendation vote, all four, including representatives of the government, employers, and workers, voted in favor of the convention. 

If past Republican senators and Trump administration delegates could bring themselves to support an ILO Convention, then a blue wave in the 2020 elections, leadership from the next president, and organized grassroots pressure may bring ratification within reach.

It won’t be easy an easy fight. But to address the scourge of violence and harassment in the workplace, to protect workers both here and abroad, and to enshrine the lessons of the #MeToo era into law, it’s a cause worth fighting for.

The post The #MeToo Movement Has Gone Global  appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Michael Galant is the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy 2019 Economics and Trade Fellow, and a recent graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is interested in building global solidarity for left alternatives to neoliberal models of globalization and “development,” and can be found on Twitter at @michael_galant.

Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War

Tue, 10/15/2019 - 11:58am

Syrian Kurdish refugees, 2014 (Shutterstock)

The biggest problem with the U.S. withdrawal of forces from the Syrian border with Turkey is that they were there in the first place.

Trump’s decision hands over the Kurdish-run region of northern Syria to Turkey, a NATO ally with whom the U.S. has been conducting joint operations at the border. The move gave Turkey the green light to attack Kurdish communities in the region, which is currently held by the Kurdish YPG militia. The bombing has already begun, killing dozens and driving tens of thousands to flee the advancing Turkish assault.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has ordered an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia, putting lie to Trump’s claims that the withdrawal from northern Syria had anything at all to do with ending “endless wars” or troop deployments.

The Turkish government has long been awaiting an opportunity to attack this region of Kurdish autonomy, while some inside Turkey support the Kurdish struggle. The issue is also linked to the region’s burgeoning refugee crisis: Turkey is preparing mass deportations of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey to the Syrian side of the border.

Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, U.S. allies who have fought ISIS at tremendous cost, has sparked bipartisan outrage — from Hillary Clinton to Trump’s own former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who wrote on Twitter: “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.” Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, usually strong Trump supporters, also broke ranks with the president.

Yet the U.S. betrayal of the Kurds did not begin with Trump’s announcement. Trump is only writing the latest chapter in a shameful history.

Haley finished her tweet with the hashtag “#TurkeyIsNotOurFriend.” But the fact is that Turkey, a NATO ally that has long provided airspace and collaborated in various ways with the U.S. military, has been an important ally of the United States for years. Turkey’s violence toward the Kurdish people inside and outside its borders, and its government’s escalating repression at home, has not complicated this.

According to the Security Assistance Monitor, from 2002 to this year, the U.S. has given Turkey more than $300 million in military aid. Through the ups and downs of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, the aid keeps flowing and joint operations between the countries’ two militaries have continued. As Turkey begins its offensive in northern Syria, it is likely doing so with American weapons.

The Kurds are stateless people who have faced violence and discrimination in countries throughout the Middle East — not just Turkey. The U.S. has signaled support for Kurdish freedom before, only to turn its back on their struggles.

In 1991, after the U.S. defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, President George H.W. Bush encouraged Kurds and others oppressed by the Iraqi government to rise up and topple it — only for U.S. forces to give a green light for Hussein to crush the rebellion and stand by while his forces mercilessly slaughtered tens of thousands, preferring to negotiate a separate U.S. ceasefire instead.

That 1991 catastrophe came after Hussein’s forces used chemical weapons against the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988 as part of the genocidal Anfal campaign, which was also a response to Kurdish resistance. Then too, thousands were killed. At the time, Hussein was an ally of the United States.

These atrocities should be seen in the context of broader U.S. violence in the region.

It is sickening that the U.S. would knowingly deliver the Kurds to Turkish violence again today. But our outrage should not lead us to embrace the U.S. presence in Syria. As in Iraq and beyond, that military presence — aimed at both defeating ISIS and jockeying for a seat at the table in determining Syria’s future alongside other regional powers — has been disastrous.

Amnesty International has investigated, for example, the Pentagon’s 2017 aerial siege of the city of Raqqa, where the Islamic State was headquartered. Amnesty concluded that U.S. forces acted with utter disregard for civilian life, killing and wounding thousands, and slaughtering whole families. Journalists Lama Al-Arian and Ruth Sherlock have documented the grim life for Raqqa residents since. The U.S. also abandoned these residents, freezing reconstruction funds after leaving 70 to 80 percent of the city’s buildings destroyed.

Trump may be especially brutish in the nakedness of his power calculations, and shortsighted in his outlook on U.S. strategy and relationships. But the U.S. has always been guided by what will advance its power on the world stage — and to the extent that there is a debate in Washington’s halls of power about foreign policy at all, it is usually about that.

If the U.S. wants to help the Kurds today, the answer is not more permanent war — that’s part of what’s made life so miserable for Kurds and so many others across the Middle East to begin with. Instead, it could suspend its military aid to Turkey, and end its racist exclusion of refugees.

Reversals and betrayals of allies are as common as long-term alliances. Patently uncommon are genuine commitments to democracy and human rights.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and InTheseTimes.com.

The post Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Khury Petersen-Smith is the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Dig Beneath the World’s Far-Right Governments — You’ll Find Fossil Fuels

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 4:52pm

Donald Trump with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: White House / Flickr)

The world’s burgeoning far-right movements are far-flung and diverse, but in government they share a few core tendencies: They attack minority populations. They criminalize dissent. And they’re horrible for the planet.

The slide into extractivist authoritarianism in the U.S. is part of a worldwide trend, exemplified by the parallels between the U.S. and Brazil, where far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is presiding over an accelerated destruction of the Amazon, attacks on Indigenous Brazilians, and brazen profiteering by aligned corporate interests.

Another striking international parallel was on display recently in Houston, Texas, where Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the stage with Trump at an event that felt like a fascist rally.

I’m not using the term “fascist” lightly. Here’s a brief explanation for readers unfamiliar with Indian history.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s political party, is rooted in a much older organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a connection the BJP doesn’t deny — Modi himself is a long-time RSS member.

Early RSS ideologues were inspired by European fascism. B.S. Moonje, a mentor of RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar, visited Italy, met with Mussolini, toured fascist youth indoctrination camps, and was inspired to popularize an Indian version of these camps through the RSS.

M.S. Golwalkar, another early RSS leader, openly praised Nazism in his writings. He wanted to create a Hindu nationalist India based on the ethnonationalist, militaristic vision of fascism. Golwalkar never apologized for or retracted these views during his lifetime, and the RSS waited 67 years to publicly repudiate them, making the repudiation not particularly credible.

But this isn’t just an ancient skeleton in the BJP’s closet. The violent ethnonationalism that RSS leadership admired and espoused in the 1930s is very much alive in the agenda of today’s BJP. This ideology views Muslims as the enemy of India’s national identity, and Muslims have been the main target of the Modi government’s politics of violence and repression.

The best-known example is the BJP government’s escalation of the decades-long conflict in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

Article 370 of the Indian Constitution provided for a certain measure of autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35A, a provision of Article 370, restricted acquisition of land in the state by persons from outside it.

In August, the Modi government unilaterally scrapped Article 370 using questionable means. This was a prelude to the further militarization of an already heavily militarized territory, a communications blockade that eliminated all internet, mobile phone, and landline service, and worsening violence against Kashmiris, with reports of deaths, torture, and detention (including detention of children).

Eliminating Article 35A opens the door to changing the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir through settlement, much like Israel’s practice in occupied Palestine. Doing so would be completely consistent with the BJP’s ethnonationalism.

A lesser known example of the Modi government’s Islamophobia is its campaign to strip Muslims of alleged Bangladeshi descent in the state of Assam of their Indian citizenship unless they can prove their citizenship — in a country where most people, especially the rural poor, don’t have birth certificates.

Also excluded from the “citizens’ list” created by the Modi government are transgender people.

The Indian government is now building camps to detain people who are stripped of their citizenship. Mass detention of a civilian population, usually based on their ethnic, religious, or other identity, fits the definition of concentration camps.

There are obvious parallels with the U.S. here. The Trump administration’s horrific border policies include detaining children and families in concentration camps, as experts who’ve studied the history of concentration camps agree, regardless of what right-wing apologists say. And The Trump administration is engaged in a legal assault of its own against the basic rights of transgender people and LGBTQ people more broadly.

Then, there’s the Modi and Trump regimes’ deep-seated hatred of Muslims. The U.S. government has gone to the extent of banning people from specific Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. altogether. While courts have upheld this policy on the grounds that its stated intent is to keep out nationals from countries with ties to “terrorism,” Trump’s own statements point to the intent to exclude Muslims from the U.S.

Other parallels between the far-right political projects in India and the U.S. include their ties to extractive industries and their shared objective of criminalizing opposition to extractivism, particularly by Indigenous peoples.

In the United States, a recent investigative news report revealed that oil and gas companies have been lobbying Congress to insert provisions criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure into a pipeline safety bill. Similar laws are already on the books in states such as Louisiana and North Dakota. Besides being an attack on the right to protest, these laws are outright assaults against Indigenous peoples who have been in the forefront of struggles against fossil fuel infrastructure in the U.S.

These laws are being pushed by the fossil fuel industry — along with regulatory changes rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards, making it easier for coal power plants to pollute, and more. The U.S. government increasingly acts like a tool of fossil fuel companies and oligarchs.

Similarly, Modi has direct ties with Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, who has benefited from public subsidies and deregulation for his fossil fuel, mining, and other business interests. Adani has also been a vocal supporter of Modi, including when the latter faced scrutiny for his role in covering up an anti-Muslim pogrom when he led the state of Gujarat. Adani’s company has a sordid record of destroying ecosystems and violating Indigenous rights, from Gujarat to Australia.

And like the U.S. government, the Modi government is also criminalizing Indigenous resistance to extractivism by equating it with “terrorism.”

Exploring these parallels isn’t an academic exercise. For cross-border movements for justice to successfully dismantle far-right ethnonationalism backed by fossil fuel and other corporate interests, in the U.S., India, Brazil, and elsewhere, we must start with a shared understanding of the common material and ideological foundations of the global far right. Sharper understanding can make our resistance more effective.

The post Dig Beneath the World’s Far-Right Governments — You’ll Find Fossil Fuels appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

The Pentagon Is Pledging to Reform Itself. Again. It Won’t.

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 4:23pm

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For the Pentagon, happy days are here again (if they ever left). With a budget totaling more than $1.4 trillion for the next two years, the department is riding high, even as it attempts to set the stage for yet more spending increases in the years to come.

With such enormous sums now locked in, Secretary of Defense (and former Raytheon lobbyist) Mark Esper is already going through a ritual that couldn’t be more familiar to Pentagon watchers.

He’s pledged to “reform” the bureaucracy and the spending priorities of the Department of Defense to better address the latest proposed threats du jour, Russia and China. His main focus: paring back the Pentagon’s “Fourth Estate” — an alphabet soup of bureaucracies not under the control of any of the military services that sucks up about 20 percent of the $700 billion-plus annual budget.

Esper’s promises to streamline the spending machine should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. Virtually every secretary of defense in living memory has made similar commitments, with little or nothing to show for them in terms of documented savings. Far from eliminating wasteful programs, efforts pursued by those past secretaries and by Congress under similar banners have been effective in only one obvious way: further reducing oversight and civilian control of the Pentagon rather than waste and inefficiency in it.

Examples of gutting oversight under the guise of reform abound, including attempting to eliminate offices focused on closing excess military bases and sidelining officials responsible for testing the safety and effectiveness of weapon systems before their deployment.

During the administration of President Bill Clinton, for instance, the slogan of the day —  “reinventing government” — ended up, in Pentagon terms, meaning the gutting of contract oversight. In fact, just to repair the damage from that so-called reform and rebuild that workforce took another $3.5 billion. Gordon Adams, former associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, noted accurately that such efforts often prove little more than a “phony management savings waltz.”

Secretary of Defense Esper has also pledged to eliminate older weapons programs to make way for systems more suited to great power conflict. Past efforts along these lines have meant attempts to retire proven, less expensive systems like the A-10 “Warthog” — the close-air-support aircraft that protects troops in combat — to make way for the over-priced, underperforming F-35 jet fighter and similar projects.

Never mind that a war with either Russia or China, both nuclear-armed states, would be catastrophic. Never mind that more effort should be spent figuring out how to avoid conflict with both of them, rather than spinning out scenarios for fighting them more effectively (or at least more expensively).

Prioritizing unlikely scenarios makes for a great payday for contractors, but often sacrifices the ability of the military to actually address current challenges. It takes the focus away from effectively fighting the real asymmetric wars the U.S. has been fighting since World War II. It leaves taxpayers with massive bills for systems that almost invariably turn out to be over cost and behind schedule. Just as an infamous (and nonexistent) “bomber gap” with the Soviet Union was used by the Pentagon and its boosters to increase military spending in the 1950s, the current hype around ultra-high-speed, hypersonic weapons will only lead to sky’s-the-limit expenditures and a new global arms race.

Esper’s efforts may end up failing even on their own narrow terms. Reforming the Pentagon is hard work, not only because it’s one of the world’s largest bureaucracies, but because there are far too many parochial interests that profit from the status quo. Under the circumstances, it matters little if current spending patterns aren’t aligned with any rational notion of what it would take to defend the United States and its allies.

A Revolving-Door World

The Department of Defense regularly claims that it has implemented “efficiencies” to ensure that every penny of your tax dollars is being wisely spent. Such efforts, however, are little more than marketing ploys designed to fend off future calls for cuts in the Pentagon’s still-ballooning budget. Here are just two recent examples of this sadly familiar story.

In September 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that the Department of Defense had provided insufficient evidence that $154 billion in alleged “efficiency savings” from fiscal years 2012 to 2016 had been realized; the department claimed credit for them anyway.

Just this month, the GAO came to a similar conclusion regarding a proposed Pentagon reform plan that was to save $18.4 billion between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Its report stated that the Pentagon had “provided limited documentation of… progress,” which meant the GAO “could not independently assess and verify” it.

Consider that a charitable way of suggesting that the Department of Defense was once again projecting a false image of fiscal discipline, even as it was drowning in hundreds of billions of your tax dollars. The GAO, however, failed to mention one crucial thing: even if those alleged savings had been realized, they would simply have been plowed into other Pentagon programs, not used to reduce the department’s bloated budget.

Esper and his colleagues have argued that it will be different this time. In an August 2nd memo, his principal deputy, David Norquist, stated that “we will begin immediately and move forward aggressively… The review will consider all ideas — no reform is too small, too bold, or too controversial to be considered.”

Even if Esper and Norquist were, however, to propose real changes, they would undoubtedly run into serious interference within the Pentagon, not to mention from their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, a man determined to plough ever more taxpayer dollars into the military, and from members of Congress in states counting on jobs generated by the military-industrial complex.

Inside the Pentagon, on the other hand, resistance to change will be spearheaded by officials who previously held jobs in the defense industry or hope to do so in the future. We’re talking, of course, about those who have made use of, or will make use of, the infamous “revolving door” between weapons companies and the government. Consider that the essence of the military-industrial complex in action.

Such ties start at the top. During the Trump administration, the post of secretary of defense has been passed from one former defense industry figure to another, as if it were literally reserved only for key officials from major weapons makers.

Trump’s first secretary of defense, retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, came to the Pentagon straight from the board of General Dynamics, a position he returned to shortly after leaving the department. Interim Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who followed him, had been an executive at Boeing, while current Secretary Esper was Raytheon’s former chief in-house lobbyist. The Pentagon’s number three official, John Rood, similarly comes courtesy of Lockheed Martin. And the list only goes on from there.

This has been a systemic problem in Democratic and Republican administrations, but there has been a marked increase in such appointments under Donald Trump. A Bloomberg Government analysis found that roughly half of the Obama administration’s top Pentagon officials had defense contractor experience. In the Trump administration, that number has reached a startling 80 percent-plus.

That revolving door, of course, swings both ways. Defense executives come into government, where they make decisions that benefit their former colleagues and companies. Then, as retiring government officials, they go to work for defense firms where they can use their carefully developed government contacts to benefit their new (or old) employers.

This practice is endemic. A study by the Project On Government Oversight found 645 cases in which the top 20 defense contractors hired former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress, or senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 alone.

There is, of course, nothing new about any of this. The late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) pinpointed the problem with the revolving door back in 1969:

“The easy movement of high-ranking military officers into jobs with major defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years from retirement and have the example to look at over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

Such revolving-door hires and former defense executives in government remain a powerful force for the status quo in Pentagon spending. They exert influence as needed to keep big-ticket weapons programs like the F-35 combat aircraft up and running, whether they are needed or not, whether they work as promised or not.

For his part, President Trump has repeatedly bragged about his role in promoting defense-related employment in key states, both from Pentagon budget increases and the sale of arms to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. In March, he held a one-hour campaign-style rally for workers at a tank plant in Lima, Ohio, at which he typically suggested that his budget increases had saved their jobs.

As for Congress, when the Army, in a rare move, actually sought to save a modest amount of money by canceling an upgrade of its CH-47 transport helicopter, the Senate struck back, calling for funding that the Pentagon hadn’t even requested in order to proceed with the program. The reason? Protecting jobs at Boeing’s Philadelphia-area factory that was scheduled to carry out the upgrades. Unsurprisingly, Trump seems fine with this congressional initiative (affecting the key battleground state of Pennsylvania), which still needs to survive a House-Senate conference on the defense bill.

The bottom line: Donald Trump is likely to oppose any changes that might have even the smallest impact on employment in states where he needs support in election campaign 2020. Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson summed up the case as follows: “We’re too close to the presidential election and nobody [at the White House] wants to lose votes by killing a program.”

And keep in mind that this president is far from alone in taking such a stance. Similar reelection pressures led former President Jimmy Carter to increase Pentagon spending at the end of his term and caused the George H. W. Bush administration to reverse a decision to cancel the troubled V-22 Osprey, a novel part-helicopter, part-airplane that would later be implicated in crashes killing dozens of Marines.

“We Won’t Get Fooled Again”

What would a genuine Pentagon reform plan look like?

There are areas that could easily yield major savings with sufficient political will and persistence. The most obvious of these might be the Pentagon’s employment of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that could be done by government civilians for less. Cutting that work force to “only” about half a million, for example, could save more than a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next decade, as noted in a recent report by the Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force (of which both authors of this article were members).

Billions more could be saved by eliminating unnecessary military bases. Even the Pentagon claims that it has 20 percent more facilities than it needs. A more reasonable, restrained defense strategy, including ending America’s twenty-first-century forever wars, would make far more bases redundant, both at home and among the 800 or so now scattered around the planet in an historically unprecedented fashion.

Similarly, the president’s obsession with creating an expensive Space Force should be blocked, given that it’s likely only to increase bureaucracy and duplication, while ensuring an arms race above the planet as well as on it.

Real reform would also mean changing how the Pentagon does business (not to speak of the way it makes war). Such savings would naturally start by simply curbing the corruption that comes from personnel in high positions who are guaranteed to put the interests of defense contractors ahead of those of taxpayers and the real needs of American security. (There are also few restrictions on former officials working for foreign governments and almost no public disclosure on the subject.) The Project On Government Oversight found hundreds of Pentagon officials leaving for defense industry jobs, raising obvious questions about whether decisions they made were in the public interest or meant to advance their own future paydays.

Real reform would close the many loopholes in current ethics laws, extend cooling-off periods between when an official leaves government and when he or she can work for an arms contractor, and make far more prominent information about when retired national security officials switch teams from government to industry (or vice versa). Unfortunately, since Esper himself has refused to pledge not to return to the world of the corporate weapons makers after his stint as secretary of defense, this sort of reform will undoubtedly never be part of his “reform” agenda.

One outcome of his initiative, however, will definitely not be money-saving in any way. It will be to boost spending on high-tech systems like missile defense and artificial intelligence on the almost laughable grounds (given the past history of weapons development) that they can provide more military capability for less money. Whether you look at the Navy’s Ford aircraft carriers (the first two costing $13.1 billion and $11.3 billion) or the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker (which has taken nearly two decades to procure), it’s not hard to see how often vaunted technological revolutions prove staggeringly costly — far, far beyond initial estimates — yet result in smaller, less effective forces.

As longtime Pentagon reformer Tom Christie has pointed out, to really change the acquisition system would require building in significantly more discipline. That would mean demonstrating the effective and reliable use of new technology through rigorous field-testing before advancing fragile weapons systems to the production stage, ensuring future maintenance and other headaches for troops in combat.

There is, in addition, a larger issue underlying all this talk of spending reform at the Pentagon. After all, Esper’s “reforms” are visibly designed to align Pentagon spending with the department’s new priority: combatting the security challenges posed by Russia and China.

Start with one crucial thing: these challenges have been greatly exaggerated, both in the Trump administration’s national defense strategy and in the report of the industry-led National Defense Strategy Commission. That document, when you analyze its future math, even had the nerve to claim that the Pentagon budget would need to be boosted to nearly $1 trillion annually within the next five years, reports Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Russia has much to answer for — from its assistance to the Syrian army’s ongoing slaughter of civilians to its military meddling in the affairs of Ukraine — but the response to such challenges should not be to spend more on ships, planes, and advanced nuclear weapons, as current Pentagon plans would do. In reality, the economy and military of Russia, a shaky petro-state only passing for a great power, are already overshadowed by those of the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Throwing more money at the Pentagon will do nothing to change Russian behavior in a positive fashion. Taking measures that are in the interests of both countries, like renewing the New START nuclear reduction treaty and beginning new talks on curbing their massive nuclear arsenals, would be extremely valuable in their own right and might also open the door to negotiations on other issues of mutual concern.

China’s challenge to the U.S. is significantly more economic than military and, if those two nations wanted to make the planet a safer place, they would cooperate in addressing the threat of climate change, not launch a new arms race.

Genuine reform of the Pentagon’s massive budget is urgently needed, but rest assured that Secretary of Defense Esper’s claims about implementing real changes to save taxpayer dollars while making the U.S. military more effective are the equivalent of bestseller-list Pentagon fiction.

The motto of Congress, not to speak of the White House and the public, with respect to the Pentagon’s latest claims of fiscal probity should be “we won’t get fooled again.”

The post The Pentagon Is Pledging to Reform Itself. Again. It Won’t. appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 2:57pm

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Trump’s public appeal to China last week to help with uncovering dirt on the Biden family was both a brazen flouting of the law and (it pains me to say) an astute political tactic.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump announced to reporters only moments after saying, about trade talks with Beijing, that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Trump’s move coincides with two other critical revelations in the impeachment scandal.

The first is the release of texts that provide the proverbial smoking gun: the Trump administration was indeed promising a quid pro quo of a White House visit and/or the unfreezing of military aid for Ukraine’s assistance in digging up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Then came the announcement of a second whistleblower with direct knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Taken together — the appeal to China, the damning text messages, the second whistleblower — these developments add up to what I’d previously written was missing: a slam dunk in the impeachment of the president. He broke the law. He has tried to cover up the breaking of the law. He continues to break the law — and is defying the constitution by refusing to cooperate with Congress on its investigations.

But Trump, the Republican Party, and their captive media occupy a different reality, where the president is up against a vast conspiracy of corrupt officials, do-nothing Democrats, and biased mainstream journalists. This part of their story is obvious: it’s reiterated over and over in Trump’s tweets, Republican talking points, and Rush Limbaugh rants.

What’s not so obvious is that this conspiracy extends to the rule of law. According to this skewed version of reality, corruption has penetrated the bedrock institutions of American society: the political sphere, the intelligence agencies, the mainstream media. Corruption has transformed the very fabric of politics, culture, and law.

To root out corruption, then, it’s necessary to step outside the rule of law. Donald Trump hasn’t declared a state of emergency. But he is acting as if he has (which, by the way, is illegal). His decision not to cooperate with all the congressional inquiries, including the most recent impeachment inquiry, is also part of this unstated state of emergency.

The phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” not because it conformed with the conventional understanding of presidential conduct, but because it corresponded to Trump’s unstated state of emergency. His appeal to China was equally an attempt to normalize his acts according to this state of emergency.

Trump has tipped over the political chessboard because he believes that it’s warped. He is continuing to play nonetheless, but on his own board, with his own pieces, and according to his own rules.

What makes Trump’s move so fiendishly clever is that his paranoid style of governance has a grain of truth to it. The chessboard is warped.

A rule of law that permits a vice president’s son to benefit so blatantly from his father’s position, maintains a revolving door that transforms “corruption” into business as usual, and creates a state patronage system (the military-industrial complex) of astonishing size and influence is something of a contradiction in terms.

The rules are determined by law — except when they’re determined by power. American politicians have traded on their government connections with foreign leaders for private gain for a very long time indeed. That they did so only after leaving office, according to the dictates of the rule of law, only gives the corruption a veneer of respectability.

Trump, of course, doesn’t even respect this veneer. His violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. constitution indicate that he is so impatient to use his office for personal gain that he isn’t waiting to leave the White House to start his influence-peddling. Trump’s chessboard, in other words, is even more warped than the conventional one.

The astute reader might ask how Trump can simultaneously challenge and benefit from the corruptions of the status quo. You could have asked the same question of Nicolae Ceausescu, the leader of Romania, who purported to lead a workers’ state but lived in unbelievable opulence. Leaders who operate according to unstated states of emergency can get away with such contradictions through outright repression or extraordinary lies. Trump, so far, has relied on the latter.

Such a state doesn’t last forever. On December 21, 1989, Ceausescu was giving what he believed to be a routine speech in Bucharest. This time, however, behind the first row of supporters, the crowd began to boo. The look on the leader’s face when he understood what was happening was priceless. It was his last public appearance. The next day, he and his wife fled the city by helicopter. They didn’t get far. They were tried and executed on Christmas Day.

At what point will Trump have his Ceausescu moment, when he realizes that the base he’d always counted on has turned its back on him?

Why China?

Donald Trump has alleged that Hunter Biden made $1.5 billion in payoffs from Chinese businesses. As with pretty much everything that comes out Trump’s mouth, this allegation is false. Biden’s son served in an unpaid capacity on the board of a U.S.-China joint venture, BHR Partners. In October 2017, Hunter Biden invested somewhere around $420,000 to acquire a 10 percent stake in the company and reportedly hasn’t received any compensation from his involvement in BHR.

There was no kickback. There was no collusion (Joe Biden wasn’t in government in October 2017). So, it’s a non-story.

But again, it’s a non-story according to the finer points of the law. Let’s face it: Biden’s son was following in the time-honored tradition of trading on his political influence. Indeed, it’s what Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer all have done with China as well — receiving favored treatment from the country after paterfamilias Donald Trump had already taken office.

In other words, the public is primed to believe that if you lie down with the Chinese, you wake up with pay-offs. To quote only the most salient example, Henry Kissinger, who helped negotiate détente with Beijing in the 1970s, went on to make tens of millions of dollars in consulting fees from parlaying his contacts once he left government.

Even if Hunter Biden wasn’t making out like a bandit in China, there’s the huge monthly salary he was pulling down as a board member of the Ukrainian energy company. As David von Drehle points out in The Washington Post, sober working people making $50,000 a year may be skeptical of a system in which a vice president’s addicted son reportedly collected that sum every month.” It’s not corruption by the conventional definition, but it’s unseemly.

Corruption: that’s the word that Trump is trumpeting, over and over. It’s a tricky strategy. Trump knows corruption when he sees it because, well, he’s soaking in it. But as long as his base continues to see him as an anti-corruption fighter, a drainer of the swamp instead of a denizen of it, the president will continue to hold his party captive and fend off impeachment charges.

Perhaps this time Trump has overreached. The latest polling suggests that nearly 20 percent of registered Republicans now want the House to vote to remove the president from office.

Meanwhile, Trump is upsetting his party in other ways.

Phony Phone Calls

The phone calls that Trump has with foreign leaders read like something out of an absurdist play: Trump Ubu.

He congratulates Vladimir Putin on his election victory even though his advisors pleaded with him beforehand not to. He promises to help Saudi Arabia join the Group of Seven. He praises Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug policy. In his quest for a Nobel Peace Prize, he tries to enlist the help of Japan’s Shinzo Abe. He drones on about chocolate cake with China’s Xi Jinping.

But his most recent phone conversation with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has generated some bipartisan criticism — and all because Trump is defying the Pentagon and trying to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home,” Trump tweeted.

The problem is that Trump is also giving Turkey a green light to strike against the Kurds in northern Syria. Trump’s critics, including those in the Republican Party, are worried that the Islamic State will re-emerge and the abandonment of a steadfast Kurdish ally will make others around the world think twice about siding with a fickle United States. Trump’s close pal in the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), called the president’s move “a disaster in the making.”

It’s not clear if Trump will actually go ahead with this plan any more than he followed through on his earlier declaration of a U.S. withdrawal from Syria. But all it takes is one phony phone call for Republicans to realize that the commander-in-chief does whatever he wants without any consideration of the party’s stated goals.

The Republican Party is not going to get bent out of shape about Trump breaking the law. Or Trump’s involvement in corruption. Or even his obstruction of justice. He has been engaged in these activities since day one. Republicans will continue to blather on about how his peccadillos don’t rise to the level of the “high crimes” required for impeachment.

But the president, in his “great and unmatched wisdom,” may yet piss off his party on some other foreign policy issue. He might, for instance, make a deal with Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, or some other disreputable rival autocrat that the Republicans just can’t stomach. Perhaps he’ll impulsively pull the United States out of NATO. Or maybe he’ll start savaging a critical mass of Republican lawmakers out of sheer pique.

Then Republicans will be forced to acknowledge that Trump’s unstated state of emergency is an authentic emergency that requires — for the sake of the Constitution, democracy, and rule of law — the removal of the perpetrator. They won’t do so out of principle. They will do so only out of expediency: to save their party and their own skins.

That’s when Trump will appear in front of the crowds to give a speech — perhaps during the impeachment process, perhaps at the height of the 2020 election campaign — and hear nothing but crickets from Graham, Fox News, and his previously rock-solid base. Maybe there will be even some boos.

That’s when Trump will have his Ceausescu moment. And that will be the last moment of his inglorious political career.

The post Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and author of the dystopian novel Frostlands.