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After Alienating Allies, Trump Faces Crises In Iraq And North Korea Alone

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Two separate crises roiled President Donald Trump on the first day of the year of his re-election campaign.

The U.S embassy in Baghdad is recovering from an assault that grew out of a pro-Iran protest. Some protesters stormed the grounds and set fires. Hundreds came to the facility over two days to protest American airstrikes on the Iran-supported militia group, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 people. That strike came in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor, according to the U.S.

And now, the Pentagon has announced it is sending 750 troops to Iraq in response to the embassy assault, and thousands more a reportedly preparing to be deployed. It is, apparently, a classic case of escalating tension, and it’s not clear where it will lead.

At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has uncorked a new round of aggressive rhetoric of his own. Kim has said he is ready to take “shocking actual action.” He has promised the release of a “new strategic weapon” in response to unproductive talks with the United States, undermining Trump’s claims that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated.

“If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Kim said, USA Today reported.

It’s never clear how seriously to take North Korea’s rhetoric — it’s often overblown and purposefully provocative. But it is a genuine signal that, as experts have argued since the beginning, Trump’s attempts at diplomacy with the rogue nation have amounted to very little and have done nothing to alter Kim’s strategic interests.

Likewise in Iran, Trump’s failure is also on display. He tore up the Iran deal President Barack Obama had established with no good justification, insisting that being tough on the country could induce it to accept even more punishing terms. But the international community largely rejected Trump’s abandonment of the deal, leaving the United States isolated on the issue. And Trump seems no closer to a new deal with the country than he ever was.

Now we find ourselves in yet another series of escalating punches and counter-punches with Iran, and the body count is rising. When tensions rose with Iran earlier in 2019 over attacks on an oil tanker and a U.S. drone, I feared that then-National Security Adviser could use the situation to engineer a full-scale conflict with Iran. That fate was avoided, and Bolton has since been ousted, but the ratcheting up of violence and provocation on both sides could lead Trump on the path to war even if he genuinely wants to avoid it.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed:

Some noted that “diplomacy” is too generous to describe Trump’s treatment of North Korea. Laura Rosenberger, the director of Secure Democracy, said that the term “pageantry” is more apt.

But another point in Haass’s tweet is worth paying attention to. He noted that, in Trump’s North Korea and Iran foreign policy, he largely alienated American allies and the interagency staffers who typically shape U.S. diplomacy. As is readily apparent, going his own way hasn’t proved to be a successful method. But it also means it will be much hard to turn to these partners and tested strategies for diplomatic help now because he cut them out at the beginning. Trump has also dramatically undercut his own credibility by prematurely declaring victory in both North Korea and Iran.

“A very predictable consequence of the lack of Trump’s showmanship in place of any policy or strategy on North Korea,” noted Rosenberger of Kim’s aggressive talk. “Buckle up.”

The twin crises, of course, are arising when Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

“The timing of these new challenges is critical,” wrote David Sanger in the New York Times. “Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.

Why A New York Times Columnist Says 2019 Was ‘Best Year Ever’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

2019 will be remembered for developments in a long list of disturbing events and trends, including climate change, white nationalist terrorism in the United States, and far-right authoritarianism embodied by Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

Regardless, New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof remains an optimist, asserting in his column that 2019 had a lot of positive trends and developments to go with the bad. He provocatively titled the op-ed, unironically, “This Has Been the Best Year Ever.”

Those who are “depressed by the state of the world,” Kristof asserts, should consider that “2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.”

Moreover, Kristof adds, “Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.”

In 1950, Kristof notes, “27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now, that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.”

Kristof goes on to cite some troubling events, writing, “But … but … but President Trump! But climate change! War in Yemen! Starvation in Venezuela! Risk of nuclear war with North Korea. All those are important concerns, and that’s why I write about them regularly. Yet I fear that the news media and the humanitarian world focus so relentlessly on the bad news that we leave the public believing that every trend is going in the wrong direction.”

Other positive trends, according to Kristof: more literacy around the world, and diseases that claimed countless victims in the past have been declining.

“Diseases like polio, leprosy, river blindness and elephantiasis are on the decline, and global efforts have turned the tide on AIDS,” Kristof explains. “A half century ago, a majority of the world’s people had always been illiterate; now, we are approaching 90 percent adult literacy.”

Being optimistic, Kristof stresses, doesn’t mean ignoring major problems like climate change, but too much emphasis on the negative can become self-defeating.

“I worry that deep pessimism about the state of the world is paralyzing rather than empowering,” Kristof warns. “Excessive pessimism can leave people feeling not just hopeless, but also, helpless.”

At NATO Summit, Trump Indulges His Weird Obsessions

Donald Trump is a volatile personality with a penchant for creating chaos and uncertainty. His impulsive, irascible nature often makes it appear that the only logic to his presidency is whatever event or TV clip happens to grab his attention.

But it would be a mistake to regard his presidency as a disorganized mess. It’s an organized mess that follows a trio of consistent themes.

The first is protectionism. The second is racial and religious bigotry. The third is appeasement of Russia. Almost everything significant he does stems from one of more of these impulses. Mercurial though he is, he rarely deviates from them.

If you assume that Trump would like the U.S. to import nothing, regards nonwhites and non-Christians as dangerous or inferior, and desperately wants to please Vladimir Putin, you will not be puzzled by much that he does.

His abrupt decision to impose aluminum and steel tariffs on Brazil and Argentina and his threat to put 100% duties on some French products seemingly came out of nowhere. But given his deep aversion to imports, none of our trading partners can ever feel safe.

They are all potential targets, and to his mind, one is just as deserving as another. Which one “Tariff Man” decides to lash out at on any given day is impossible to guess. What matters is that someone be punished for the crime of selling goods to our people.

Hardly noticed in the impeachment furor is a revelation that would have been a major scandal in any other administration. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently obtained and released hundreds of emails from Trump’s chief immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, who recommended articles from the white nationalist website VDARE and praised “The Camp of the Saints,” a dystopian potboiler about Europe being overwhelmed by dark-skinned foreigners.

That this president would employ someone with a voluminous record of hostility toward any immigrants who are not Christian Caucasians is a virulent symptom of Trump’s deep-seated prejudices. From his vicious 1989 rant against the Central Park Five to his slander of a Mexican American judge to his Muslim travel ban, Trump has been a tireless peddler of hate.

His craven subservience to Putin has also been a central pillar of his administration. His presence at NATO’s 70th anniversary celebration was a reminder that he would like to be done with the alliance, an option he has often raised with advisers.

NBC News reported that in a private speech last month, his former national security adviser John Bolton “said Trump could go full isolationist” and “withdraw the U.S. from NATO and other international alliances.”

When Trump demands that our European allies spend more on defense, his motive is not to strengthen deterrence of Russia. It’s a way to undermine Americans’ support for the alliance. It’s a pretext for him to do less to protect Europeans from their aggressive neighbor. He resents German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron because they resist his pandering to Putin.

This week, his antics exhibited all the elements of his toxic trifecta. Shortly before the NATO summit, the White House threatened to impose tariffs as high as 100% on $2.4 billion worth of French goods. Trump berated his allies, with a torrent of lies, over their contributions to NATO.

And when Macron stood up to him, Trump found a way to invoke the fear of brown alien hordes taking over Europe. “Would you like some nice ISIS fighters?” he sneered. “I can give them to you.” Macron, let’s not forget, opposed Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, which was a favor to the Kremlin.

Trump invoked Muslim terrorists from the Middle East because he finds them far scarier than, say, the right-wing version. In September, acting secretary of homeland security Kevin McAleenan gave a speech warning of the burgeoning threat of “racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy.” McAleenan soon left the administration.

A possible clue to why lies in an August CNN report that “White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority.” These dangers are not something Trump can candidly admit — or sincerely condemn.

In London, as in most places, Trump looked like the ringmaster in his own circus of confusion. But in the weird, undying obsessions that drive him, he is not at all confused.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

UN Report: Immediate Emission Reductions Needed To Avert Climate Disaster

Publish with permission from American Independent

Countries need to begin making steep cuts to their greenhouse gas emissions immediately or risk missing the targets they’ve agreed for limiting global warming, with potentially dire consequences, senior United Nations officials said Tuesday.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program, published days before governments gather in Madrid for an annual meeting on climate change, showed the amount of planet-heating gases being pumped into the atmosphere hitting a new high last year, despite a near-global pledge to reduce them.

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2018 to 55.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the U.N.’s annual “emissions gap” report. While much of the increase came from emerging economies such as China and India, some of those emissions are the result of manufacturing outsourced from developed countries.

“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020,” said the agency’s chief, Inger Andersen. “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

To stop average global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) this century compared with pre-industrial times, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases will have to drop by 7.6 percent each year in the coming decade, the agency said. Scientists say the 1.5C target — contained in the 2015 Paris climate accord — would avert some of the more extreme changes in global weather patterns predicted if temperatures rise further.

“What we are looking at is really that emissions need to go down by 55 percent by 2030,” said John Christensen, lead author and director of the UNEP-Danish Technology Institute Partnership.

Even the less ambitious goal of capping global warming at 2C (3.6 F) would require annual emissions cuts of 2.7 percent between 2020 and 2030, UNEP said.

That currently seems unlikely.

At present, national pledges would leave the world 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 Fahrenheit) warmer by 2100 than pre-industrial times, with dramatic consequences for life on Earth, the U.N. agency said. Getting the world back on track to 1.5C would require a fivefold increase in measures pledged so far, it calculated.

Last week, UNEP published a separate report, which found that countries are planning to extract more than twice the amount of fossil fuels from the ground than can be burned in 2030 if the 1.5C target is to be met.

This includes countries such as Norway, which touts its green credentials while it continues to drill for oil in the North Sea.

Officials appealed to governments that have already laid out targets for reducing their emissions to see if they can do more, and insisted that industries like power, transport, building and shipping can find opportunities to lower their emissions too.

“As individuals, we have a choice about how we live, what we eat and how we go about our business … and opportunities to live a lower-carbon life,” said Andersen.

Governments’ plans to reduce emissions haven’t been universally welcomed, however.

A $60-billion package of measures agreed by the German government recently has been criticized as a further burden on businesses, while environmentalists say it is too little, too late. Presenting a study Tuesday showing average surface air temperatures in the country have already risen by 1.5C since 1881, German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze insisted that Europe’s industrial powerhouse “is one of the countries that is doing a lot.”

“There are other countries which are quitting climate accords,” she added, without explicitly naming the United States, which under Donald Trump announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Experts agree that the longer countries continue burning fossil fuels, the more warming will be “locked in” as emissions stay in the atmosphere for years or even decades.

Conversely, the sooner countries take steps to wean themselves off gas, coal and oil — such as by ending government subsidies for fossil fuels — the more warming will be prevented in the long term.

“There has never been a more important time to listen to the science,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of the UNEP report. “Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heatwaves, storms and pollution.”