“Speak softly and carry a big stick” President Theodore Roosevelt, 1858 – 1919
Donald Trump was elected President because of his strong support from white blue-collar workers who feel left behind in the modern world of globalization and rapid technological change. While the President has to work with Congress to implement new economic and fiscal policies, he has almost free rein in conducting foreign policy.
There are major international issues that President Trump will have to deal with such as:
Rapid Chinese economic growth and assertion of power in Southeast Asia. Also currency manipulation and over-protection of domestic industry against foreign imports.
Russian assertion of power in Eastern Europe and the Middle East make it a dangerous adversary. All the more so since the Russian population is in decline and its economy is stalled under Putin.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions are only temporarily halted under the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015. Iran continues to support terrorism in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The defeat of ISIS and the containment of terrorism all around the world but especially in the Middle East.
Support of our democratic allies in hotspots around the world such as Japan and South Korea in Asia as well as our NATO allies in Europe.
Ever since WWII when the U.S. emerged as the sole superpower, the world has benefitted from overwhelming U.S. economic and military strength. The resulting “Pax Americana” has resulted in a long lasting period of relative peace and stability. But U.S. military strength is not automatic nor does it occur in a vacuum. It depends fundamentally on the underlying strength of the U.S. economy which has been growing at the very slow rate of 2% annually since the end of the Great Recession in June 2009.
Conclusion. If we want continued peace and stability around the world, then we need faster economic growth to better support the U.S. effort to project strength.
“I continue to enjoy your blog. A word of warning. Trump is not a normal person and he is extremely self-centered (narcissistic). He has never thought of anyone other than himself (& his family). I believe that will not change. He lies all the time so can only be judged by his actions, not his words. He admires Putin. I think he would like to be an autocrat who rules without any dissent. I do not think he cares about the constitution. Not for a minute.”
I understand that many people feel this way about Donald Trump and I can’t argue with such an analysis. But he is also a change agent and, now that he has been elected President, I am hopeful that he will make good choices for our country. For example:
The Economy. His appointments of Mnunchin for Treasury, Price for HHS, Pruit for EPA, for example, are excellent. People like these will work closely with the Republican Congress on the tax reform, regulatory reform, financial reform, etc. measures which are needed to get our economy growing faster. Boosting growth to 3% per annum as opposed to our current anemic 2% rate, which is entirely possible, will do wonders to create more jobs and better paying jobs, and therefore restore a stronger spirit of optimism to our national mood.
Education. DeVos for Education is also an excellent choice. Our K-12 public education system is not working for low-income, minority kids in big cities. We also need far more emphasis on career and vocational education for those unlikely to go to college. In other words, we need big changes in education policy and DeVos is a reformer.
National Security. Both terrorism and Russia’s Vladimir Putin represent huge threats to the western world. General Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis is highly qualified to lead our defense in such a dangerous environment. The big question remaining at this point is whether Trump will be able to stand up to and outfox Russia’s Putin.
Conclusion. Mr. Trump is making some very good appointments for the people who will lead major governmental agencies. In this respect his presidency is off to a good start.
My last post expressed my biggest worry about Donald Trump: that he won’t be sufficiently firm with Vladimir Putin to persuade him to stop his aggression in Eastern Europe. The American Enterprise Institute’s Leon Aron has an excellent analysis of the Putin problem, “Changing Putin’s Mind.” Says Mr. Aron:
Vladimir Putin has called the demise of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” The overarching objective of Putin’s policies, both domestic and external, is to recover and repossess the political, economic and geostrategic assets lost by the Soviet state when it fell apart in the 1990s.
In Putin’s first two terms as Russian President, from 2000 – 2008, he focused on restoring the economy. But by 2012, when Putin returned to power, the domestic investment climate had slowed to a crawl with low oil prices causing a severe recession. Putin shifted the foundation of his regime’s legitimacy from economic expansion to patriotic mobilization.
The reason for the annexation of Crimea, war on Ukraine and intervention in Syria is that restoring Russia’s superpower pride is essential to his regime’s legitimacy. This is the point of a classic Soviet poster (attached) with a Russian soldier admonishing Uncle Sam, “Don’t you fool around!”
In Syria, Putin’s goal is to help Bashar al Assad, not defeat ISIS, and so Assad must not be restored. This could be accomplished by grounding the Syrian air force, enforcing no-fly zones, etc. and forcing Putin to distance himself from Damascus.
In Ukraine, Putin will not stop unless battlefield dynamics begin to change by, for example, sending Ukraine defensive anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, radars to pinpoint Russian positions, etc. Putin must be forced to make a choice between increasing Russian deployment and thus casualties or seeking a genuine peace agreement.
Conclusion. The choice is between two admittedly risky and unpleasant options: confronting Putin now or see him emboldened to the point where he attempts to destabilize a member state on NATO’s eastern flank.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”
Ronald Reagan, 1911 – 2004
I am now cautiously optimistic about President-elect Donald Trump. He was not my first choice among the Republican Primary candidates nor did I even vote for him on November 8th. However he is a change agent and our country badly needs change. A big problem is that he praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and says that NATO is “obsolete.” I have learned not to take Mr. Trump literally but, nevertheless, I am still concerned. I have long been a fan of the Russian native and former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, who is now the Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in New York. He is the author recently of “Winter is Coming: why Vladimir Putin and the enemies of the free world must be stopped.”
Here is an outline of Mr. Kasparov’s recommendations for confronting Mr. Putin:
Isolate dictatorships that exploit engagement to support oppression of their own people.
Keep human rights and the value of human life as the backbone of foreign policy.
Defend Ukraine as if it shares a border with every free nation in the world. It is easier to take a stand now over Ukraine than to let it go and then have to worry constantly about our commitment to the Baltics and Poland who are NATO members.
Europe gets a third of its energy from Russia but Europe buys 80% of Russia’s energy exports. This provides the NATO Allies with great leverage especially considering the export potential for U.S. oil and gas.
Maintaining a robust American security umbrella is much safer than encouraging military proliferation by shrinking that umbrella.
Appeasement reflects the overall climate not just the personal weakness of specific leaders.
Conclusion. Russian aggression under Vladimir Putin is now the biggest threat to world peace. It is critical for incoming President Trump to act firmly with Mr. Putin.
“Ukraine is a wake-up call for what a post-American world would look like” declares the foreign affairs expert Walter Russell Mead in an article “Putin Did Americans a Favor” (http://online.wsj.com/articles/walter-russell-mead-putin-did-americans-a-favor-1401662270) in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
“For those willing to see, the signs of what a post-American world would look like are easy to discern. We can look at Bashar Assad’s murderous campaign in Syria to see how Iran thinks power should be used. To see what Saudi Arabia thinks about human rights and liberal values, follow events in Egypt and Pakistan. China would become more aggressive in a post American world, and the chances of Sino-Japanese conflict would increase. … In Europe, only power keeps or can keep Russia from rebuilding its old empire.”
“Those who think American decline is inevitable must face a tragic truth: The eclipse of American power will be a disaster for our economic interests, for the values we cherish and, in the end, for our security at home. What stability, peace and legality now exist in the international system are there because the U.S., with important help from allies and partners, made great sacrifices to build and secure them.” America’s decline is not inevitable but neither is our continued success. As much as anything else, it depends on the strength of our economic system. We need to give much more attention to making our economy grow faster. This will create more jobs and better jobs and thereby boost national morale. It will bring in more tax revenue for paying our bills. In addition, projecting national power is very expensive. We can and should continue to insist that our defense budget be lean and efficient. But there is a limit as to how far we can go in this direction. Ultimately defense spending will have to increase as a percentage of GNP. This can only be accomplished with a robust economy.
As I have repeated many times in my blog posts, the best strategy for making the economy grow faster is to encourage more consumer spending by lowering individual tax rates and to encourage more entrepreneurial activity by reducing tax rates on small business. Such tax changes can easily be paid for by closing loopholes and shrinking tax deductions for the wealthy. But there has to be a political will to do this.
Can this be accomplished? I don’t know but our future as a free and prosperous nation depends on it!