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Battle Begins Over Details Of Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal

By Sean Cockerham and Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has revealed its trade pact with Pacific nations, a sweeping and controversial deal igniting fierce opposition from President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement published on Thursday has been a long-time coming, and with a brutal political fight on the horizon it could be longer still before states ever reap its touted benefits. From agriculture to intellectual property, the pact among the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan and eight other Pacific nations affects a huge array of commodities and concerns.

It promises new markets and millions of new consumers for, say, cotton from Texas, wine from California and pork from North Carolina as tariffs and trade barriers are lowered for nations around the Pacific Rim. And it offers assurances about jobs, labor protections and the environment.

Yet the agreement has to run a gauntlet of congressional skepticism and protectionist presidential politics going into the 2016 elections, as well as the sluggishness of a political system where personality and deep ideological division have been a legislative roadblock.

“It eliminates 18,000 taxes that various countries put on American goods,” Obama wrote in a blog post on Medium. “When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement — if America doesn’t write those rules — then countries like China will.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership pits Obama against Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who supported the negotiations as secretary of State but has since turned against the deal. Sanders asserts it would expose American workers to competition with low-wage foreign labor, saying in a tweet Thursday that “I will do everything I can to defeat the TPP. We need trade policies in this country that work for working families, not just CEOs.”

The deal puts congressional Republicans, who have supported the negotiations, in the position of voting to give a victory to a president they loathe or going against business allies who want a trade pact.

“I continue to reserve judgment on the path ahead,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a written statement. “But I remain hopeful that our negotiators reached an agreement that the House can support because a successful TPP would mean more good jobs for American workers and greater U.S. influence in the world.”

Obama has to wait 60 days before signing the agreement and sending it to Congress for a review, which would last another month at least. That pushes the contentious issue into a point next year where the presidential campaigns will be in full swing — Republican Donald Trump has joined Democrats Sanders and Clinton in expressing opposition to the Pacific trade deal.

It’s questionable whether Congress would act on the trade deal in such a hothouse election year, particularly with congressional campaigns ramping up. So the issue could be pushed off until the next president is in office. A Senate Republican who will be particularly influential in the debate, Orrin Hatch of Utah, is voicing skepticism about the final deal, a bad sign for Obama given the lack of enthusiasm among members of his own Democratic Party.

(Michael Doyle of the Washington Bureau contributed.)

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Map of the U.S. trade balance with TPP countries. Tribune News Service 2015

Election Setbacks For Obama May Embolden Foreign Adversaries

By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton have turned to foreign policy in their final months in office when their domestic agendas have been stymied. For Barack Obama, that overseas pivot may offer little relief.

As he headed out Sunday on a weeklong trip to China, Myanmar and Australia, the stinging repudiation Obama suffered in last week’s midterm elections is likely to dishearten friends and embolden foreign adversaries, analysts say.

Come January, he will face a Republican-dominated Congress whose leaders appear determined to take foreign policy in a more hawkish, more interventionist direction.

“The pummeling he’s taking is creating the perception abroad that a president who was headed for lame-duck status is even less relevant,” said Aaron David Miller, a U.S. diplomat from 1978 to 2003, and author of “The End of Greatness,” a book about the limits of presidential power.

White House aides, in internal meetings, are mapping out plans to expand Obama’s efforts abroad in his final two years in office. They say his authority as chief executive allows him to act without a specific congressional mandate in several sensitive areas, such as easing some sanctions on Iran.

The White House has set challenging policy goals: sealing a nuclear deal with Iran, strengthening an unproven government in Afghanistan, mobilizing an international coalition against Islamic State militants, reaching regional trade deals in Asia and Europe, and turning Russia from adversary to ally.

Foreign leaders, always keenly sensitive to the political strength of U.S. presidents, took note of the White House losses last week.

Obama has evolved “from the president of hope to the president of disappointment,” Alexei Pushkov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the State Duma, or lower house of the parliament, told the Tass news agency.

Putin, angry that the United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, has shown no sign of backing down. In recent weeks, Moscow has sent a series of provocative military flights into European airspace.

The Kremlin also said last week that it won’t take part in the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, which seeks to strengthen international controls to prevent terrorists from gaining access to nuclear materials. Obama initiated the summits in 2010.

Because Russia is one of the largest potential sources of such material, Moscow’s boycott is a blow to the nonproliferation effort Obama hoped would be an important part of his legacy.

The election setback also did not go unnoticed in Beijing, where Obama will meet this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders have sparred over cybersecurity, trade and China’s growing military assertiveness in the South China Sea, and China has criticized Obama’s efforts to boost America’s military presence in the western Pacific in a “rebalance” of U.S. forces.

The GOP success means “the lame-duck president will be further crippled,” wrote the pro-government Global Times newspaper in Beijing. “U.S. public opinion has downgraded Obama.”

The Republican sweep also could bolster Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has clashed with Obama over White House efforts to ease Israeli-Palestinian tension.

Robert Danin, a former U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, said that domestic American politics isn’t the crucial factor in Netanyahu’s calculations, but the shift in Washington’s political landscape “could embolden him.”

Republican control of the Senate also could complicate Obama’s efforts to complete a nuclear deal with Iran this month, a foreign policy goal his aides consider as important to his White House legacy as his 2010 health care initiative.

Obama has considerable leeway to work around Congress in implementing a nuclear deal, which would ease economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for systems to ensure that Iran cannot build a nuclear bomb.

But if Congress believes the deal is a poor one, it could mobilize to block it.

Republican skeptics, including Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, already are planning legislation that could threaten the negotiating effort by adding new sanctions on Iran or giving Congress more leverage over the deal.

Republican hawks also will be ascendant. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is expected to lead the Senate Armed Services Committee, is likely to push the White House to step up the military campaign against Islamic State, and to begin providing arms and ammunition to the government in Ukraine, among other issues.

Obama may still have the upper hand in those disputes.

But there’s likely to be an ugly fight over Obama’s request, which he announced at a news conference Wednesday, to seek congressional authorization for the bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

As a result, he may find it harder to persuade Turkey, Qatar and other members of the coalition battling the Sunni militants to provide money or military help.

And he doesn’t have some of the assets of previous presidents, such as strong personal relationships with world leaders, analysts say.

“The problem is with him (is) he’s just not strong on that,” said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official who has written extensively on the National Security Council.
Still, Obama will have it easier in some areas.

One is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free trade agreement, another White House priority. The accord, which is still being negotiated, faces Democratic opposition in Congress. Republican leaders say they will give the deal a major push if negotiations succeed.

And analysts note that Obama’s fortunes could shift abruptly if he successfully manages a sudden terrorist danger, or manages to seal a good nuclear deal with Iran, thus neutralizing a major security threat.

That “would make a real difference for him,” said Miller, the former U.S. diplomat, who is a vice president with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a think tank in Washington.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

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U.S. Struggles To Turn The Tide In War Against IS

Washington (AFP) — After more than two months of air strikes, a U.S.-led coalition has prevented the fall of a northern Syrian town to Islamic State jihadists but is still struggling to halt the group’s advances on other fronts, experts say.

Since the air war on the IS militants began on August 8, the United States and its allies have few concrete successes to point to as the IS group has continued to roll ahead in western Iraq and tighten its grip elsewhere.

But U.S. officials insist it is too early to draw conclusions, and that a methodical effort will eventually bear fruit, as Iraqi and Kurdish forces build in strength.

“We’re in the first couple of minutes of the ball game,” said one senior officer at U.S. Central Command, which oversees the air campaign.

Senior U.S. administration officials and military commanders acknowledged in recent days the Iraqi army is months away from any sustained counter-offensive that could roll back the IS from its strongholds in Iraq’s western and northern provinces.

And despite ambitious plans for Iraq’s Sunni tribes to join the fight, most of the tribal leaders are sitting on the fence, waiting to see if the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi will break with the sectarian politics of his predecessor, officials said.

In the Syrian border town of Kobane, U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that Kurdish fighters — backed by U.S. air raids — have fended off a relentless push by the IS militants to seize control of the area.

By keeping the town from falling — at least for the moment — the Americans avoided handing the IS a potential propaganda coup in a battle that has drawn intense media attention.

But the fight remains a stalemate and the Kurds’ desperate appeals for help — and Turkey’s cool response — have highlighted the deep divisions that plague the anti-IS coalition, experts said.

— Tenuous Coalition —

The U.S. strategy’s goals “cannot be realized because the interests of the different partners are diametrically opposed,” said French General Vincent Desportes, professor of strategy at Sciences-PO in Paris.

The fragile coalition offers a contrast to the 1991 Gulf War, when the United States was able to forge common ground with Arab and European allies, he said.

“In 1991 something was achieved because the Americans succeeded in aligning with the Gulf States,” he told AFP.

Turkey’s role has been a constant source of tension. And the United States has underestimated Ankara’s determination to avoid any action that would empower the Kurds, analysts say.

At the same time, Turkey and Arab governments are frustrated with Washington’s reluctance to directly confront the Syrian regime.

European allies have treaded cautiously as well, signing up for air strikes in Iraq while abstaining from bombing the IS in Syria.

The goals of the war are still only vaguely defined and coalition members cannot agree on them, said a French official.

“There are a series of political problems that have repercussions for the military plan,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The initial objective of the war effort was to use air strikes to build a “firewall” that would stop the IS militants’ progress, buying the coalition time to rebuild the Iraqi army and eventually launch counter-attacks.

– Ground gained, after strikes –

But after more than 630 air raids in Syria and Iraq, the IS has continued to gain ground — particularly in western Anbar province — and threaten other key fronts in the north.

The United States “has found that the Iraqi military forces are even weaker than it is original assessments indicated …,” according to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

The scale of the air war has paled compared to the NATO intervention in Libya and some other campaigns, sparking accusations of a half-hearted effort.

Retired U.S. Air Force commander David Deptula complained the air campaign is nothing more than a “drizzle” and that only a “thunderstorm” will suffice.

To strike a genuine blow at the IS group, analysts say President Barack Obama will have to ramp up the air raids and send U.S. military advisers with local forces into combat, to ensure bombs hit their mark and that operations succeed.

U.S. officers say the pace of the strikes has been limited in partly because commanders want to avoid civilian casualties and because Iraqi forces are not yet able to stage large-scale assaults.

They cite a successful operation in August when a mostly Kurdish force took back control of Mosul dam as an encouraging sign, proving local troops were capable of complicated missions.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby insisted there will be more successes like the one at Mosul dam: “What I can tell you is we believe the strategy is working; that the policy is sound, the coalition continues to gain both momentum and strength.”

AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic

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Obama’s Decision To Aid Kobani Puts Him Squarely At Odds With Turkey’s Erdogan

By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Washington Bureau

ISTANBUL — In air-dropping weapons and ammunition to Kurdish defenders of a Syrian town, President Barack Obama has embroiled the United States all the more deeply in two very different confrontations — one with the Islamic State extremists and the other with NATO ally Turkey.
That combination complicates Obama’s prospect for success at Kobani, even with a coalition of more than 60 countries behind him.
The main clash is with the Islamic State, which has been pouring reinforcements into the Kobani area and shows no sign of letting up. The U.S. response, 135 airstrikes through Sunday, hasn’t secured the nearly-empty town, and indeed on Sunday, the Islamic extremists stepped up their battle, raining rockets and mortars on the Kurdish defenders.
Kobani desperately needs troop reinforcements, but because the Islamic State controls the Syrian territory between Iraqi Kurdistan, which might be willing to provide them, and Kobani, there’s almost no way to send in additional forces except via Turkey.
And this is where Obama’s second confrontation comes in–with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two now are in flat disagreement over the fate of the enclave, which lies directly on the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara is willing to let it fall, and Washington clearly isn’t.
The rulers of Kobani, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, are affiliated with the separatist Kurdistan Worker’s Party or PKK, which has waged a 30-year guerrilla war against the Turkish state. Turkey, the United States and the European Union all have labeled the PKK as a terrorist organization.
So Erdogan has strong domestic political reasons for not coming to Kobani’s rescue.
“As far as we are concerned the PKK is the equivalent of ISIS. Therefore it is wrong to consider them separately,” Erdogan said early this month, referring to the Islamic State by one of its alternative names. His remarks made clear that so long as the PKK affiliate controls Kobani, Turkey would provide no military assistance.
Ten days ago, Erdogan said it was likely to fall, a statement that enraged Turkey’s Kurdish population and may have given the signal to the Islamic State to go for the kill by sending more fighters and heavy weaponry. U.S.-led airstrikes stepped up dramatically, turning Kobani into the single biggest battle of the U.S.-led war with the Islamic State.
Shortly before the U.S. began its weapons drops from C-130 cargo aircraft, Erdogan said he would have no part of it.
“At the moment, the PYD is equal with the PKK for us. It is also a terrorist organization. It would be very wrong for America — with whom we are allies and who we are together with in NATO–to expect us to say ‘yes’ after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organization,” Erdogan told reporters on board his plane returning from a visit to Afghanistan.
The United States, he said, “cannot expect such a thing from us and we cannot say ‘yes’ to such a thing either.”
Erdogan, a self-confident leader, is unlikely to back down, and now that Obama has doubled his bets by air-dropping weapons to Kobani, seems equally unlikely to retreat.
Erdogan has been a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, charging that the U.S. has no strategy in Syria for removing President Bashar Assad, whom it views as the major reason for the rise of the Islamic State.
Bordering Iraq and Syria and with a major U.S. air base at Incirlik, Turkey is ideally located to provide military facilities and every other sort of assistance in the battle against the Islamic State.
But on Sunday, Erdogan made it clear that he still is holding out on the use of Incirlik in the air war against the Islamic State — the Obama administration’s foremost request.
“The Incirlik issue is a separate issue,” he told reporters on his plane. “What are they asking for with regard to Incirlik? That’s not clear yet. If there is something we deem appropriate, we would discuss it with our security forces, and we would say ‘yes.’ But if it is not appropriate, then saying ‘yes’ is not possible for us either.”
Erdogan’s defiance of his U.S. ally may have a limit. Obama’s move to save Kobani is bound to be welcomed by Kurds, who comprise at least 12 million of Turkey’s 78 million population.
Erdogan has to be careful not to touch off another round of demonstrations that could turn into riots as they did two weeks ago, when at least 35 people died in protests against his failure to help save Kobani.

AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic

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