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When Both Parties are Right: U.S. President Trump & U.S. DOD Secretary Mattis

by John Brian Shannon

Each member of the U.S. president’s cabinet serves at the pleasure of the president and the same is true in the case of the United States Secretary of Defense which position is in the top tier of the Executive Office serving the country’s leader. The other two top tier cabinet positions are, of course, the Secretary of State and the Chief of Staff. All of whom serve at the president’s discretion.

That said, General Jim Mattis has done an excellent job as the U.S. Defense Secretary and there are questions as to why such a capable individual should find it necessary to retire from a position to which he was obviously well-suited. Also, the question exists whether the president influenced that decision or whether General Mattis was fired and the term “retiring” was used to convey proper respect to a long-serving military member who earned every honour he ever received.

Obviously, the president and the secretary had a difference on policy, that goes without saying. But under the U.S. Constitution, a U.S. president can pursue any foreign or domestic policy he chooses and he or she doesn’t need the approval of his cabinet.

(Of course, it’s better if they do approve)

U.S. cabinet officers serve the president, not the other way around. Therefore, in case of a difference of opinion the president wins, every time, and it must always be that way.

Even such notable soldiers as General Douglas MacArthur who tried to bully U.S. president Harry S. Truman into militarily attacking China — thereby dramatically enlarging the Korean War — was finally forced to step down famously saying, Old soldiers never die; they just fade away” find themselves subject to the U.S. president’s discretion by virtue of the laws of the United States and its Constitution.

Still, it could be instructive in some way to examine the reasons behind such events to ascertain whether a systemic problem exists that must be dealt with, or to find whether these events occurred due to some other reason.

Let’s look at the Syrian situation in the context of American military involvement, because in the case of president Trump and secretary Mattis it’s almost surely the issue that divided them:

  1. Syria has been involved in a civil war since 2011 and was the last country in the region to feel the effects of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’.
  2. No country is allowed under international law to intervene militarily in another country’s civil war without being invited by the lawful government of that country. Countries can’t unilaterally insert themselves into the midst of civil wars. That’s black letter international law. It’s 100% non-negotiable.
  3. Which the Americans did. As did their allies (some European countries).
  4. Russia and Iran on the other hand were invited by the lawful government of Syria and that invitation was made publicly. It’s a matter of public record.
  5. The legal exception to involvement by non-invited parties occurs if the UN Security Council approves military actions; Where the UN Security Council votes to apply sanctions or approve military force, military intervention becomes legal under international law. However, the UN Security Council didn’t approve military force by the U.S. and its allies against Syrian government forces or non-government forces (terrorists). Yet, the U.S. and its allies militarily attacked targets in Syria without the proper and legal authorizations required by international law.
  6. Though such actions clearly broke international law, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad didn’t seem to mind. Yes, he did complain at first, but as soon as the Americans and their European allies lessened their attacks on terrorist targets in Syria, Bashar Al-Assad suddenly stopped complaining. To many people (and it might even hold up in international court if it ever comes to that) this clearly registered as tacit approval for America and her allies to conduct military operations against ISIS inside Syria for the duration of the Syrian civil war.

With me so far? Few people would dispute points 1 through 6 above.

No doubt that U.S. president Trump and U.S. secretary of defense Mattis were 100% aligned in regards to U.S. policy in Syria since the confirmation of General Jim Mattis on January 20, 2017.

Any difference of opinion between the two is therefore recent and easy to discern.


American Involvement in Syria: Part II

Since about November of 2018 it appears that the battle against ISIS is largely won in Syria.

From now on, it’s going to be a mopping-up operation with exponentially increasing chances for American and Russian forces to clash (accidentally or otherwise) in the ever-smaller areas formerly controlled by terrorist groups.

Not only American and Russian of course, many countries operate inside Syria fighting terrorists and thereby assist the Syrian government (even if assisting the Syrian regime isn’t one of their objectives) and some terrorists might decide to meddle with the foreign forces fighting them.

Any individual who feels they have something against America or Europe who happens to have access to a rifle, a rocket launcher, or other weapons system may feel entitled under Jihadi rules to shoot down an American fighter or bomber jet, helicopter, or perhaps take out a number of U.S. soldiers who may be sleeping in a tent or non-hardened building.

For a terrorist, the opportunity to create a war between Russia and America, or between Russia and Europe (however unlikely that may, or may not be) might prove too tempting and numbers of them on multiple occasions might soon decide to employ themselves on suicide missions to accomplish that objective.

‘Targets of Opportunity’ are what every American and European military person will now represent to Jihadis at this stage — whereas prior to November 2018 they were too busy trying to stay alive to get involved in planning traps so that (nominal allies, in Syria, at least) America and Russia might find themselves in a ground or air fight against the other. Such danger that represents!


American Involvement in Syria: Part III

Even after the American troops (numbering only 2000 personnel) leave Syria there are still a number of ways to influence events in that country.

a) Soft Power
b) Hard Power

Soft power is the application of diplomacy. The UN is the most likely place for this to happen and America has a strong presence at the United Nations. At this point in the Syrian civil war, America’s best option is UN-backed diplomacy and its 2nd-best option remains direct diplomacy between the nations that are in some way involved with Syria.

Hard power is the application of military force. The U.S. military is the most powerful on Earth but that doesn’t mean the United States should be bombing just for the sake of bombing.

If there are better options than that, those should take precedence over military actions that could result in the unwanted and unnecessary problems of military conflict happening by accident between the U.S. and Russia, or between the U.S. and Iran (or between the U.S. and any other countries operating in Syria) or between the Americans and the Syrians.

None of that is going to help bring peace in Syria.

A final thought about U.S. Hard Power being applied in Syria following the pullout of America’s 2000-strong ground and air force is that the US Navy can deliver as many missiles as the president chooses to targets in Syria from the Mediterranean Sea, anytime the president wants. This has been done in the past with regards to purported chemical attacks that occurred in Syria and is something the Navy trains for every day of the year. Likewise with the U.S. Air Force, which can deliver as many bombs or missiles to terrorist targets inside Syria as the president chooses.

And none of them are going to accidentally bomb Russian or Syrian government positions due to the prior notification protocols common among the world’s major military forces that operate in conflict zones.

Conducting military operations inside Syria is still against international law (therefore I’m not advocating for such operations!) unless Bashir Al-Assad approves of it in advance (and it’s possible he might need help if he gets surrounded by terrorists again) and it’s still in America’s interests to have the democratically elected Bashir Al-Assad government in charge of Syria vs. any number of shady terrorist groups — but at least the lives of 2000 American troops won’t be unnecessarily at risk.

They don’t mind necessary risk, but they hate unnecessary risk. Wouldn’t you?


“Two Men Look Out Through the Same Bars – One Sees Mud, the Other, Stars”

In the final stage of the Syrian Civil War, U.S. president Trump likely sees a case of diminishing returns in Syria, with a growing threat of accidental conflict with America’s nominal allies (Russia, Syria and even Iran — as far as the Syrian conflict is concerned) He sees the potential for a sudden Jihadi attack comparable to the Marine barracks attack in Beirut (1983) that killed 241 U.S. Marines that could undo the good work done by U.S forces in the country especially if a large number of U.S. troops were to be killed in such an attack whether by design or accident; He sees that Syria’s allies are poised and able to complete the task at their cost in both lives and treasure, and he sees that America isn’t going to gain anything further by staying.

ISIS will be defeated in Syria due in large part due to American involvement and no matter how long America stays it isn’t likely to get more recognition for its work fighting terrorism there than it’s already gotten.

In short, for all the right reasons, president Trump decided that U.S. forces should leave Syria — and U.S. Navy aircraft carriers or U.S. Air Force bombers could still deliver a message to terrorist groups operating inside Syria at a moment’s notice.

And from the perspective of Jim Mattis, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, he has resigned for all the right reasons. If you can’t agree on policy (and it is the job of the president to decide policy, not the SecDef) then it’s right to leave. No doubt that General Mattis felt there was more good that American forces could still do inside Syria (even though they weren’t invited and aren’t there legally) and that having U.S. forces on the ground was a stabilizing force in the country. It was that for certain.

But now that Bashar Al-Assad’s tacit approval of unasked-for American ‘assistance’ is almost certainly about to come to an end president Trump has made the right policy move on Syria.

And the president still retains the option of US Navy or Air Force attacks on terrorist targets inside Syria — while removing only the increasingly imperilled ground force option.

‘Timing is everything’ they say.


Related Articles:

  • A look back at the deadly 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut (abc.com)

Unelected Operatives Attempt to Take Over the American Presidency

by John Brian Shannon

It’s happened in previous decades and it’s happening again. Unelected Americans working within a U.S. Administration are (apparently) circumventing the will of a democratically elected U.S. president.

It happened to president Reagan, to president Carter, to president Nixon, to president Kennedy (ushering in the loss of innocence in America, and destroying a noble family in the process) and it happened to Ike Eisenhower who was America’s five-star general and Supreme Allied Commander in WWII before becoming the president of the United States. And all these U.S. presidents were legally voted into office by American citizens via a rigorous democratic process.

America has a problem.


Were the Unnamed Operatives Elected to be President, or Was the President Elected to be the President?

Of course Donald Trump was elected to lead the American people, to have the privileges of the highest executive office in the land, and to hold the most powerful keys of the country’s armed forces.

In defense of the unnamed operatives; There’s no doubt that such people interfere in the proper operation of the White House for the most altruistic of reasons and believe wholeheartedly that they’re doing the right thing for the United States and feel very patriotic about the actions they take. Certainly they’re risking their careers to stand up for what they believe is ‘right’ for America.

Therefore, I sincerely and profoundly admire the motivations of such operatives, but the simple fact is they’re wrong to subvert the will of American voters who voted — not for political operatives to run the country — but for Donald Trump to run the country.

Whether I like or hate President Donald Trump as a person (or like or hate his policies) or whether I’m his biggest backer on both counts (I’m not) this discussion must be about democracy in America and who is, and who isn’t, allowed to tamper with the process.


Maybe Trump Is All The Anonymous Operatives Say He Is: Regardless, He’s Still the President

What if President Donald Trump really is everything his detractors say; “Amoral, Impetuous, Adversarial, Petty, Half-Baked, Ill-Informed, and Occasionally Reckless” or his worst sin I suspect, not being under their control as they would like?

These operatives want him under some kind of control — not because he is bad for the country — but because he’s big, powerful, and scary, and such people need to be kept under control! (Don’t they?)

In an anonymous Op/Ed posted at the New York Times today the operative or operatives wrote, “It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.”

Shocking that any unelected official would say it in any country about any leader — let alone in the United States of America — one of the best democratic nations in the world.

In some countries, writing or speaking such words might get you arbitrarily imprisoned for a number of years, it might get you dead, or it might be the reason you hideout in another country for the next 25-years.

Yes, I ‘get’ that he is big, powerful, and scary, and he doesn’t negotiate using the same tried and true methods as previous American presidents. And to some people that means they must step in to control the situation — because to them — it means the president is out of control.

Or is it they just don’t recognize that the guy really is some kind of weird genius who, using the weirdest methods possible (to them) gets his way (which to Donald Trump, means getting America’s way) and is a breath of fresh air to American politics.

He isn’t like the last holder of that office, nor will Donald Trump be like his successor whomever that may be. He’s a one-off, unique communicator, and definitely an agent of change for the country.

But in their own way, so were Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and many others. Such a disparate and talented group of individuals American presidents are — and each one in his own way cut across boundaries to do great things for the country they love. You have to admire them as individuals regardless of which side of politics you’re on.

Whether you like Trump’s style or not, he is accomplishing things for the country. Bombastic, irreverent, loud and in charge, or however you want to term his style, he gets results and bad press — although I’ve seen harsher media coverage of a U.S. president.

All administrations have their chaotic moments. Most however, have plenty of experienced politicians working for them who know how to cover it with the White House press corps. But such is not the case with the Trump White House. Many people who work there are ultra-patriotic Americans who would take a bullet for their country, yet they might not have decades of beltway experience to guide them around Washington’s invisible traps.

But as long as Trump feels he is accomplishing good things for the country, he’ll stay on as the country’s leader. But he’s the kind of person who would resign if he ever felt he wasn’t contributing to America’s success. Such is his love for the country.


He’s the President for as Long as ‘We The People’ Say He Is

Barring ill health or accident, Trump is the President for the next 2 1/2 years.

The position of the American president is, by careful design, the person elected to carry out the will of the people and is the person most responsible for, and the most responsive to, United States citizens. It goes with the office.

The president of the United States works for the American people and his loyalty must be to them, and ultimately is accountable only to them. But those who work for the president, work for the president and are accountable to the president, not to voters.

Therefore, if these operatives feel they can do a better job as president, they should submit their resignation (and, if they feel the need) post a copy in the New York Times outlining the reasons they worked to subvert the decisions of the elected president, and at the next election run for the top job themselves.

It’s an honourable way to register their disappointment with the nation’s chief executive.

How President Trump Could Win the Tariff War

by John Brian Shannon

As we launch into the 2018 summer season of punishing tariffs and counter-tariffs and with the present bad feelings between the global powerhouses, perhaps a second look at what we are *actually* trying to accomplish is in order — and if a better way of accomplishing our goals appears — would today’s leaders be bold enough to employ such a change-up?

Taking the American position as an example; U.S. President Trump feels that American steel and aluminum are at a competitive disadvantage to countries like, well, every other country in the world, which is why he has instituted import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. Different tariffs have been levied by Trump on other imported items. All of which is supposed to help American steel and aluminum companies compete in the international marketplace and overcome decades of less-than-stellar reinvestment in U.S. rust belt industries such as steel and aluminum mining and smelting.

The pushback from exporting countries has been considerable and is expected to be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Trade war, much?


The First Rule in Every Crisis: Don’t Make it Worse!

While there is plenty of angst to go around, President Trump must remember that the entire situation was created by every U.S. president since President Carter, and that countries were never told to stop or slow the exports to the United States, nor told to lower their exports to other Western nations.

That means it’s time for President Trump to ‘play nice’ with exporting countries — which have done nothing more than play by the rules that America itself had set.

The problems of the $862.2 billion balance of trade deficit that America is trying to draw-down can be made worse via bad communications, additional tariffs, or clumsy handling of the situation. Let’s not do that.

Rather, let’s try to improve on trade deficit elimination as time rolls forward.


How to Make it Better

Apart from not making it worse, the present uncomfortable situation could be solved to every party’s satisfaction by designing a tariff regime to solve the fundamental problem instead of trying to address each good or service individually — creating a pathway, not only to solve immediate concerns — but to provide additional revenue to assist the above-noted and other American industries stung by poor vision, poor leadership, and poor management of U.S. trade policy from the 1980’s onward.

Instead of piecemeal (and high) tariffs that are seen as exorbitant in some quarters, President Trump should institute a standardized 5% across-the-board tariff on every single good imported into the United States.

The gross total revenue of that 5% tariff would far exceed the revenue that would be collected by the present bric-a-brac collection of deeply unpopular tariffs.

With an annual tariff revenue pool that would far exceed that of the present tariff regime, the United States could allocate generous and proactive funding to several of America’s poorly-performing economic segments, which spending would be completely at the discretion of the Trump Administration and its successors.

That’s an extra $120 billion (approx) for America annually.


Invite America’s Trade Partners to Drop Their Existing Tariffs and Match the New 5% Standardized Tariff

And then, pour yourself a nice cool drink Mr. President because you’ve won.

End of the trade war, the beginning of accumulating billions of dollars that can be directed to American industries that have suffered as a result of heretofore unrestricted imports from economies that benefit from low-cost labour and lower environmental standards.

Be part of the solution.

Nothing would put a salve on the present air of hurt feelings like a major signing ceremony between the U.S. and China where both countries see it’s in their best interests to drop the existing punitive tariffs and support and abide by a standardized 5% tariff regime.

No doubt that the EU, The Commonwealth of Nations, Russia, and other global exporters would enthusiastically sign a matching and standardized 5% tariff agreement with the Trump Administration.

Problem solved. And everyone makes more money!

That’s how to employ the ‘Art of the Deal’ to turn a negative into a positive.