Friday, October 19, 2018

The Trump Era


A New Era for the China-Russia-US Triangle

By Victor Davis Hanson


Nearly a half-century ago, President Richard Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, established a successful U.S. strategy for dealing with America's two most dangerous rivals. He sought closer ties to both the Soviet Union, with its more than 7,000 nuclear weapons, and Communist China, with the world's largest population.

Kissinger's approach was sometimes called "triangulation." But distilled down to its essence, the phrase meant ensuring that China and Russia were not friendlier to each other than each was to the United States

Given that the Soviet Union was much stronger than China at the time, Kissinger especially courted Beijing.

The idea was similar to British and French policy in the mid-1930s of discouraging Adolf Hitler's Third Reich from becoming the partner of Josef Stalin's equally powerful and dangerous Soviet Union. Unfortunately, that effort failed, and Nazi-Soviet cooperation led to their joint invasion of Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II.

We forgot Kissinger's wisdom during the Obama administration's coddling of China and the schizophrenic Russian "reset."

The reset was initially a disastrous appeasement of Russian conventional and cyber aggressions. Its failure soon led to an about-face demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an anti-democratic authoritarian -- as if he had been, or would ever be, anything other than a tyrant.

Russia systematically reabsorbed Crimea, leveraged Eastern Europe, caused turmoil in Ukraine, terrified Western Europe, returned to the Middle East after a 40-year hiatus, and hacked into U.S. electoral and political institutions.

From 2009 to 2017, U.S. leadership rationalized that China would soon not just be an Asian and Pacific superpower, but eventually would eclipse America itself -- as if its eventual supremacy was destiny rather than being due to U.S. indifference.

What followed was systematic and unchecked Chinese commercial and intellectual-property cheating. Beijing stole U.S. technology, ran up huge trade surpluses and warped the entire world trading system. Such one-sided Chinese mercantilism was excused as "free trade."

China's military aggression in the South China Sea was also winked at by Washington. So the Chinese built artificial bases in the Spratly Islands to bully their neighbors and to manipulate Pacific trade routes.

The Obama administration again offered little pushback. As a result, Chinese President Xi Jinping openly bragged that by 2025, China would dominate the global high-tech industry, 10 years later would dominate the Pacific, and by mid-century would run the world.

For years, Putin and Xi have shared a contempt for the U.S. They have sought to use Syria, Iran and North Korea to check U.S. influence while waging cyberwar against U.S. companies and institutions.

America may be the strongest economic and military power in the world, but it had violated every one of Kissinger's principles. Russia and China both agreed that the willpower of the U.S. was weak, and despite their own existential differences, they found it mutually profitable to collude in reducing American stature.

Our allies noticed. From Scandinavia to the Middle East to Asia, they assumed that America either could not or would not regain its global prestige.

The Trump administration has sought to reverse that descent.

For all the specious charges of Russian "collusion," Trump has boxed in Putin with economic sanctions and military aid to Ukraine. He has beefed up defense spending, demanded greater NATO readiness and accelerated U.S. oil production -- but doing so while also reaching out rhetorically to Putin.

Being friendly with a big stick is far wiser than being obnoxious with a twig.

Now, the U.S is slapping China with tariffs to force it to reduce its nearly $400 billion trade surplus with the U.S., while also sending U.S. warships deeper into the South China Sea to let our allies know that China will no longer bully them.

Trump sought to negotiate directly with North Korea on denuclearization, and to forge new defense partnerships with Australia and Japan. He is also cutting bilateral trade deals with South Korea, Mexico and Canada that will exclude China.

China is worried. Trump's domestic opponents may write him off as a crude buffoon, but Beijing fears that he is a crafty Machiavelli or Sun Tzu, already downsizing Chinese power.

China's stock market is way down. Its economy is slowing and its currency declining. Average Chinese citizens wonder why, in tough times, their leaders are lavishing foreign aid on African countries and other Asian nations while China is mired in a trade war with the U.S.

Because Russia is far weaker than China, the U.S. should be reaching out to Moscow to find common interests in checking Chinese power. Russia could be useful in occasionally siding with an emerging common resistance to China that includes Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan.

Russia certainly has no interest in seeing in its neighborhood a nuclear Iran or an unhinged nuclear North Korea -- or having disputes with a Chinese colossus along its 2,600-mile shared border.

American appeasement, trade concessions and extraordinary Chinese wealth did not make China a better global citizen. Perhaps stronger U.S. pushback, supported by an array of Asian allies and a conniving Russia, might.




From Townhall (October 11, 2018)

An Honest Liar


Trump Could Be The Most Honest President In Modern History

By Marc Thiessen


Donald Trump may be remembered as the most honest president in modern American history.

Don't get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he "enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history" (actually they are the eighth largest) and that "our economy is the strongest it's ever been in the history of our country" (which may one day be true, but not yet). In part, it's a New York thing -- everything is the biggest and the best.

But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness -- keeping his promises -- Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would do.

Trump kept his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something his three immediate predecessors also promised yet failed to do. He promised to "crush and destroy ISIS," and two years later he is on the verge of eliminating the Islamic State's physical caliphate. He promised to impose a travel ban on countries that he saw as posing a terrorist threat, and after several false starts the final version of his ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. He promised to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons on its people, and, unlike his immediate predecessor, he followed through -- not once but twice.

Trump pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices "in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia," and now Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sit on the high court. Trump also pledged to fill the federal appellate courts with young, conservative judges, and so far the Senate has confirmed 26 -- more than any recent president at this point in his administration.

Trump vowed to pass historic tax reforms, and signed the first major overhaul of the tax code in three decades. He vowed an unprecedented regulatory rollback, with a strict policy to eliminate two existing regulations for every new regulation. Instead, in his first year he eliminated 22 existing regulations for every new rule, achieved $8.1 billion in lifetime regulatory savings and is on track to achieve an additional $9.8 billion this year.

During the campaign, he told African American voters, "What do you have to lose? ... I will straighten it out. I'll bring jobs back. We'll bring spirit back." On his watch, African American unemployment reached the lowest level ever recorded, and his tax reform included a little-noticed provision creating "Opportunity Zones" to try to revitalize struggling towns and inner-city communities.

Trump promised to cancel President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, withdraw from the Paris climate accord, approve the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration. He fulfilled all of those pledges.

On trade, he kept his promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. He also committed to renegotiating NAFTA and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement -- and recently signed new deals with Mexico, Canada and South Korea. He committed to imposing tariffs on China to force it to open its markets and stop its theft of intellectual property -- and is following through on that pledge. Whatever one thinks of Trump's trade policies, he is doing exactly what he said.

The president pledged historic increases in defense spending, and delivered. He pledged to bring back manufacturing jobs, and manufacturing jobs are growing at the fastest pace in more than two decades. He pledged to sign "Right to Try" legislation to give dying Americans access to experimental treatments, and did. He pledged to take on the opioid epidemic, and will soon sign a sweeping bipartisan opioids package into law.

Where Trump has failed to keep promises, such as building the wall or repealing Obamacare, it has not been for a lack of trying. Only in a few rare instances has he backtracked on a campaign pledge -- such as when he admitted that he was wrong to promise a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and reversed course. I'm glad he did.

But whether one agrees or disagrees is not the point. When Trump says he will do something, you can take it to the bank. Yes, he takes liberties with the truth. But unlike his predecessor, he did not pass his signature legislative achievement on the basis of a lie ("If you like your health care plan, you can keep it") -- which is clearly worse than falsely bragging that your tax cut is the biggest ever.

The fact is, in his first two years, Trump has compiled a remarkable record of presidential promise-keeping. He'd probably say it's the best in history -- which may or may not end up being true. It's too soon to tell.

[Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.]

From Fox News (October 12, 2018)