Monday, March 19, 2018

Bannon Takes Ethno-National Message to Europe

Steve Bannon, the self-styled, right-wing thought leader and propagandist who lost much of his base in the U.S. after being pushed out of the White House and Breitbart, has taken his road show to the populist and nationalist movements of Europe.

National Front party leader Marine Le Pen applauds Steve Bannon after his
speech at the party congress in Lilles, France, March 10, 2018 | AFP/Getty
He provided fans and detractors a rousing speech at France’s National Front conference on the stage with Marine Le Pen. Bannon, who argued vociferously in the U.S. that he was an economic not ethno nationalist, provide a full-throated defense the National Front ethno agenda.

“Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honor.” In the midst of applause, he said: “Because every day, we get stronger, and they get weaker.”

Bannon believes the nationalist and populist movement is worldwide and that there is a role for him in channeling and guiding it. Indeed, his knowledge of the black arts of online new right propaganda and election targeting probably has a market, especially in Europe. Unfortunately, Mr. Bannon’s penchant for the edgy speeches and candid interviews, which gave him worldwide notoriety, also helped destroy his marketability. It’s not clear that his high-profile “Let them call you racist” slogan is going to be a winner, even in some of the darker corners of Europe.

Breitbart: Stephen K. Bannon declares Marine Le Pen leader of Europe’s populist movement
CBS: Steve Bannon to French far-right: Wear racism allegations “as a badge of honor”
New York Magazine: Bannon tells France’s National Front: “Let them call you racist”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Xi: “Paramount” and “Permanent” Leader

The China Communist Party, which often titles Xi Jinping China’s “paramount” leader, amended its party constitution last fall and added his name and his thoughts on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era.” The nation’s People’s Congress just amended the national constitution with the same language (Xi Jinping thought) and made him the “permanent” leader. The term limits and collective leadership reforms of Deng Xiaoping have been ruled outdated to the circumstances and needs of the new global China.

Xi’s vision of an aggressive China with global aspirations now dominates all aspects of China.

Xi Wants to be Leader of the Unfree World
  • One person, one party rule. A party reinvigorated and expanded in reach. He believes it’s a model for others to follow.
  • Xi’s version of state-controlled economy and state industries with markets in specific areas, some but limited reform. Barrier to foreign entry and protectionist policies remain.
  • New technologies of surveillance and digital repression. Little civic space, narrow room to criticize, no ability to communicate to like-minded.
  • Marginalize, isolate and purge opponents, often in the name of corruption
  • Project on aggressive, intimidating regional foreign policy with carrots and sticks, such as Belt and Road and South China Sea Islands.
  • Claim to be ready for center stage of the world as a globalist, environmentalist advocate
  • Believes Western democracies are dispirited, divided, distracted and withdrawing

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) with other
delegates at the opening of the first Plenary Session of the 13th National
People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People (GHOP) in Beijing,
 March 5, 2018 | EPA-EFE

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tillerson Out

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired by a Tweet on March 13, 2018. Although he made it one year from his confirmation (February 1), the firing was not communicated to him in advance. He thought he’d make it through 2018.

Tillerson never appeared comfortable with Trump, in terms of style, tone and basic outlook toward America’s foreign policy objectives. But, Tillerson never mastered Washington politics nor got comfortable at the agency.

The Buzz asked, “Tillerson Gone?” on December 5 during the last wave of speculation about his replacement (Pompeo). Trump said the main reason for firing Tillerson was that they did not see eye-to-eye on issues like the Iran agreement. There were, in fact, a host of issues Tillerson had a different slant on.

America First

Tillerson’s challenge. The administration is:
  • Hostile to alliances and multilateral agreements, TPP
  • Skeptical of NATO, it’s a burden
  • Anti-Iranian Agreement
  • Moving embassy to Jerusalem
  • Anti-climate agreement
  • Hostile toward NAFTA, Mexico
  • Hostile toward Russian sanctions
  • Pro-Saudi Arabia vs. Qatar
  • Removing 2,000 employees

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

European Elections: Germany and Italy, Fragmentation and a Surging Right

Acting Chancellor Angela Merkel required nearly six months from September 24, 2017 to March 3, 2018 to form a government. Merkel was 109 votes short of a majority in the Bundestag after a weak September election result and forced to renegotiate a partnership with the also diminished Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The partnership brought many new faces forward in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, her associate party, Christian Social Union (Bavarian wing) and the SPD. This will no doubt be Merkel’s last term. The stability of the new coalition remains to be seen, but polls made clear the result of the fragmentation of the last election has empowered a new right party, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD). It is now the largest opposition force, equal in support to the SPD.

The Italian election of March 4 has also left a fragmented landscape with an empowered populist party, Five Star Movement, gaining the most votes as a single party (33%). It is led by 31-year-old Luigi De Maio. A consortium of center-right to far-right parties received the most total votes (36%) (Forza Italia, Northern League, Brothers of Italy, Us with Italy). One surprise was Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia with only 14 percent of the vote, making it the junior partner with the League (18%) led be Matteo Salvini, a more anti-immigrant, anti-EU leader. Both the populist and right wing parties are more pro-Russian than the Italian establishment parties.

The center-left ruling party’s support collapsed to 19 percent. Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will not be a part of the new government.

Hence, the forces of fragmentation and collapse of center parties continues. Although the European establishment bought some time in Germany, Italy will now be a new southern European challenge for the EU.

Monday, March 12, 2018

This is a Weird Picture

The “Rocket man” who promised to kill millions with nuclear weapons to maintain his dynasty and dictatorship is now the gracious host, family in tow, for a formal dinner.

Gathered around Kim Jong-un is his wife Ri Sol-ju and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, fresh from a diplomatic mission at the South Korean Olympics. Partially due to domestic political conditions, South Korean President Moon Jae-in sent his top spy, Suh Hoon, and South Korea’s H.R. McMaster, Chung Eui-yong. Moon, as a new president from the Korean left, is especially sensitive to appearing weak as he pursues his preference for negotiations and calmer relations with the North.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center right) sits with a visiting South Korean
delegation in Pyongyang and other high-level North Koreans, March 5, 2018 | KCNA

Clearly, North Korea has decided on a meeting and negotiation track. His invitation to President Trump is bold. His immediate goal is sanction relief, and he believes appearing reasonable will help. There have been long periods of negotiations before. The likelihood he will give up his nuclear weapons for “security guarantees” still seems implausible.

But, it’s his (and his family’s) long-term goal that is a deal killer – U.S. gone from the peninsula and the Koreas united under his direct rule, or at least like the Russian theory of the Ukraine – within his share of influence. Would China prefer that outcome too?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Trump: Base, But No Majority

After 400 days in office, Donald Trump still operates as if he is running a reality TV show. A 35 percent share of a national audience is huge. But, it is insufficient to command real political respect. And, it is likely to contribute to Republicans losing control of the House of Representatives. Like most recent surveys of his 35 percent approval rating (CNN poll), he has 80 percent of Republicans, few Democrats (5%) and approval from independent voters equal to the overall average (35%).

Also representative of most national samples, Republicans tend to be about a quarter of the sample, Democrats about 10 points higher and the rest claiming to be independents.

When you apply simple analysis to the distribution, it is clear the “base” is insufficient for building and retaining political power. In fact, the endless effort to reinforce the base is counterproductive; it drives off Democrats and independents.

It is not impossible for Trump to improve his position with Democrats and independents. His approval of the handling of the economy is 51 percent in a new Gallup poll. It includes the approval of 28 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Republicans and 47 percent of independents. Although only a slight majority, it is a significant improvement.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state
and local officials on school safety in the White House,
Feb. 22, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A major part of Trump’s problem is that his style and tone is not just distracting from the economic message, but is exhausting many swing voters. People view White House rhetoric as helping cause national division and increased violence in society.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Democrats and Republicans Split on Sympathy for Israel

Although Israel still receives considerable sympathy from Americans in its dispute with Palestinians (46% for Israel, 16% for Palestine), there is now a significant partisan gap in sympathy, with a 52-point difference between Republicans’ (79%) sympathy for Israel compared to Democrats’ (27%).

The gap began in earnest toward the end of President George W. Bush’s second term. Republicans had been consistently more supportive of Israel than Democrats since the start of the Pew Research measurement in the late 1970s. But, sympathy jumped from the 50 percent level to the 70s after 2006, especially among conservative Republicans. Support for Israel among Democrats, on the other hand, while somewhat lower, remained steady until the 2014 period, then it dropped 15 points to the current 27 percent.

The two shifts in sympathy are an example of domestic politics significantly affecting the public’s foreign policy viewpoint. Evangelical Republicans became increasingly committed to Israel’s security as the site of the biblical story during the Bush presidency. Israeli politics became much more conservative under Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli government hostility toward the Obama administration intensified based on settlement policies and the Iran agreement. Republican political leaders welcomed Netanyahu to speak to Congress on his opposition to the Iran government without the Obama administration’s involvement in May 2015.

The Trump administration has pledged its close support for Israel’s position in negotiations with Palestinians and announced it’s moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial position avoided by previous American presidents.

The new alignments are creating stress among American Jews who support Israel, but are domestic liberals and Democrats. Israel may find a much more conflicted and less supportive U.S. government when the Democrats regain control in D.C.

American Jews (7 million, depending on definition, voted 70 percent for Hillary Clinton.

See Pew Report: Republicans and Democrats grow even further apart in views of Israel, Palestinians