If the Pollsters are Correct, what will the impact be of the Democrats taking the House and the Republicans holding the Senate?
For almost all of 2018, the polls have consistently shown that the Democrats are on course to reclaim the House of Representatives but will not be able to take control of the Senate as they are mostly in a defensive position in the 35 out of the 100 seats that will be voted on.
I won’t really write a preview for this election as it is very complex with three different “types” of elections and a massive variation of electoral battles.
For detailed analysis on polling and predictions, I recommend 538, CrossTab and the Economist sites.
I am going to assume for now they are correct and that this is the result we are faced with on Wednesday morning.
I will be watching the results and come in and looking at reactions and quotes from the Democratic side. What will be the narrative be in the immediate aftermath of their House of Representatives victory?
Will it purely be about “stopping Trump” or will a theme emerge that the party agree on as to why they won and how they can win in 2020?
Will many new Democratic Congressmen come out in support of Nancy Pelosi or call for a new Leader in the House?
I don’t have any of the answers yet but will keep a close eye on events and articles in the days following the results.
I will then write a “fuller” preview of the direction and strategy the Democratic Party will go in for 2020. Furthermore, what this means for the potential candidates, of whom the bookies currently place Kamala Harris as favourite, closely followed by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders...
Of course, the pollsters were spectacularly wrong in 2016 and it is possible there will be a shock again and either the Democrats take the Senate or Republicans fend off the challenge in the House of representatives…
If President Trump manages to hold on to the House, it would be both a vindication of his policies and a crushing blow to the Democrats and the in party fall out could get very vicious.
Even without one of the two major shocks above, with over 500 individual races there will be plenty of upsets on the night and I will be watching all of it...
The last special election before the November 6th Congressional Election takes places tonight. I’ve covered a number of these special elections this year and while each has its own unique narrative and characteristics, the overall direction has been positive for the Democratic Party.
They have managed to win several Republican seats and some of these victories point towards them potentially re-taking the House in November.
The seat has been held by a Republican since 1983. According to The Crosstab, it leans fourteen points to the right of the nation and would be a major gain for the Democrats.
What must be very worrying for the Republican Party is that they currently hold 72 seats that are less Republican leaning than Ohio 12th.
The Democrats need to take 23 seats to reclaim the House, so a win today would illustrate just how possible this is with a strong turnout of their base.
The polls have it very close with a point advantage to either side in the last two polls while the betting markets also have it going down to the wire with the Republican candidate Troy Balderson the slight favourite.
The Democrats’ candidate, Danny O’Connor, is a moderate who will try and reclaim the middle political ground from the Republicans.
In his views, he is quite similar to Conor Lamb, who took the Pennsylvania 18th from a Republican in a March special election that I covered here.
He doesn’t support Nancy Peloisi as the Democratic Leader of the House and he is not been backed by (or endorsed) a specific 2020 Presidential hopeful.
If O’Connor can win today, and take another strong Republican seat running on a moderate, centrist ticket, I will be closely following what type of Presidential candidate he Is drawn towards.
A victory in November for the Democrats may contain a number of seat wins in the rust belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 2020, the Democrats will need to field a candidate that can potentially beat Trump in all three.
If O’ Connor wins today I am confident the Democrats will win in November and, for reasons I will elaborate on further later, I am very close to predicting the Democrats will go with a male candidate in 2020…
I am keeping a keen eye on the November US midterms. I wrote a few blog posts on the last few “by-elections” that took place to try and get an indication of where the American electorate are ahead of the voting on November 6th.
We are now into the Primaries phase where incumbents are often challenged by more than one candidate from their own party, ahead of facing off against their counterpart candidate in November.
Like in the UK first past the post electoral system, many races are very uncompetitive in the United States Congress. This can often lead to the primary contest being much more dramatic and exciting.
This was not meant to be the case in the 14th Congressional District in New York where the incumbent Joe Crowley was a 10 term Congressmen who had not even faced a challenger since 2004.
However, he faced a challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York native, of Puerto Rican descent and a self-confessed socialist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
She had previously volunteered for Bernie Sanders campaigns and is in the far left of the Democratic Party.
Nobody saw this win coming and, in the end, it was a convincing margin of victory 57.5% to 42.5%. She campaigned on a progressive platform with Medicare, gun control and the abolishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
The results so far have been too mixed so far to create a narrative of whether the Democratic campaign will have an establishment or more leftwing feel.
Ocasio-Cortez ran a great campaign and stayed close to the ground. Even her campaign video is inspiring for the more sentimental among us.
I’ll continue to post sporadically on the build up to the elections. It still seems quite likely that the Republicans will retain the Senate but that the Democrats are slight favourites to retake the House.
If this is the case, it is also crucial to observe what type of Democratic Congress emerges. Will it be one that wants to push the progressive side of the party and potentially support another Presidential bid by Bernie Sanders or will the establishment be emboldened and believe a more mainstream Democratic candidate will still be able to take on and defeat Donald Trump…
Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by Iran, the US, the UK, China, Russia, France and Germany in July 2015, is a major setback to the Middle East and potentially even to global stability.
Trump had threatened to cancel the deal on numerous occasions in the past but refrained. He was previously either distracted by other events or felt that the timing was wrong.
I ultimately didn’t believe he would follow through with it as it is such a dangerous step. Trump and the United States do not enjoy the support of any of the other signatories in this decision.
The logic behind the decision is not at all clear as, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Iran has kept to its side of the deal and has passed every quarterly compliance test.
The two questions for me are what caused him to make this decision now and what potential impact it may have.
There have been several voices calling for the US to pull out of this deal. The writing was on the wall for deal when John Bolton was appointed Trump’s National Security Advisor in March. He has been a long-time critic of the Iranian regime and the deal and in a statement made hours after the announcement, he welcomed Trump’s decision;
“Well, I don’t really have much to add to the President’s speech. I think the decision is very clear. I think it’s a firm statement of American resolve to prevent not only Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but a ballistic missile delivery capability. It limits its continuing support of terrorism and its causing instability and turmoil in the Middle East.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has also shown in recent times that he has major influence with Trump and I initially thought the US decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem had been Netanyahu’s piece de resistance.
In hindsight Netanyahu’s “Iran Lied” presentation last Monday was an ominous sign that there were major discussions and lobbying going on behind the scenes but the presentation itself actually fell quite flat according to many observers and this allowed it to fly slightly under the political media’s radar.
There may be a case that domestic issues have also motivated Trump to try and create a major foreign policy news story. The Stormy Daniels scandal continues to rumble on and Trump’s approval ratings, while rising slightly in recent months, are still lingering around the 40% mark. This clearly irritates Trump who references them regularly.
Trump is now at risk at isolating the US in the Middle East. While all the other signatories have continued to back the deal, it is unlikely there will be much co-ordinated action between them to the exclusion of the United States, as tensions are still running high between the UK, France and Germany and Russia over the Salisbury attack and its political fallout.
In the Middle East itself, the move may embolden both Israel and Saudi Arabia (allies in all but name) , to act more aggressively against Iranian interests, including potential further strikes in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
The Iranian response will be interesting. While I believe they have legitimate reasons to be incensed, they need to be careful not to have any context for missile strikes on their nuclear bases as it does seem quite apparent that many in Trump’s inner circle (at the behest of Israel) would welcome military action on Iran.
While this is still less than likely, the chances of it have increased significantly after yesterday’s announcement. The worlds other leaders now need to take heed and ensure peace and pragmatism are the paths taken…
In the run up to the US Congressional elections in November I will be write a post every so often with an update on the situation and any thoughts I have on the direction the House and Senate are heading in.
I have punted on the Democrats reclaiming control of the Congress after the election. At the moment, the polls and bookies also see this happening, but I am not taking this as a definite as there have been many electoral shocks recently.
Today is the special election for the 8th Arizona Congressional District.
The background to this “by election” was caused by one of the most bizarre political scandals I have come across when the incumbent Republican Congressman, Trent Franks, asked two female members of his staff if they would bear his children. Franks resigned in early December after the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into his behaviour. His quotes below are almost unbelievable;
“I have recently learned that the ethics committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable,”……“I deeply regret that my discussion of this option and process in the workplace caused distress.”……. “I want to make one thing completely clear. I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff.”
This election should be a straightforward win for the Republican candidate, Debbie Leisko, over her Democratic competitor, Hiral Tipirneni.
Donald Trump won this district by 21% in the 2016 Presidential Election and it should be a clear Republican Hold. However, the recent victory of Conor Lamb in the 18th District of Pennsylvania (which Trump won by 19%) has left many believing that many previously uncompetitive seats have become battlegrounds.
This is almost certainly not the case here. There are a number of inherent, structural advantages for the Republians here that mean a shock is a lot less likely (Republicans make up 41% of registered voters v Democrats 24% plus an older demography).
There have been major questions marks about three of the major polls released but I have included the numbers below for reference;
The margin of victory here is important though. For this to be a successful election for Republicans and a positive indicator for November they need to win by at least 15%.
For the Democrats a margin of less than 10% would be a major boost and could lead to a re-assessment of the political landscape ahead of November. A win here is almost impossible and would be a major shock despite some polling calling it quite close.
The result will not decide November but may be another piece of contextual evidence on the potential chance of the Democrats reclaiming the House of Congress…
I started to write an article last night on why the UK shouldn’t bomb Syria. I fell asleep before I had completed it and when I woke up this morning it was obsolete. The UK had crossed it’s Syrian Rubicon and another Middle Eastern country had been added to the list of UK targets of military action.
I will not pontificate on the legitimacy of the missile strikes last night by the US, UK and France. There is plenty of coverage and articles out there already doing so.
The thrust of this short piece is a hope that the hawks in all three governments are now satiated and that there will be no further escalation in violence or warfare. It is a hope that could be crushed as early as tonight if the three nations decide to embark on further sorties or if Syria’s key allies, Russia and Iran, decide to launch retaliatory strikes.
The former seems slightly more likely than the latter. Despite the bombastic rhetoric of the Russian government this week, it seems unlikely that would really escalate this to the next level by targeting “allied” sites or infrastructure.
It would be counterproductive and could ultimately dislodge Russian’s position of (albeit challenged) supremacy in Syria now.
It is a little too early to fully analyze what impact these strikes have had on Syria’s military capability, but it seems unlikely it will serious hinder their slow but steady path to ultimate victory they have pursued since Russia’s major interjection into the Syrian Civil War.
Approximately one year, Trump also launched missile strikes against the Syrian regime after another alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime on its own people. At the time Trump was quoted as saying;
“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,”
There was an initial fear then that the strikes would escalate into American troops on the ground and an overthrow of the Syrian regime. Essentially, back then the “Trump factor” was so unknown that this seemed a possibility despite all the obvious challenges and dangers.
However, when this did not occur, and Trump refrained from further action it appeared the window for the possibility of serious military intervention by the West had passed.
We are unfortunately again at a similar crossroads. The difference this time is that both the UK and France have entered on the side of the US. Apart from the obvious aims of preventing further chemical attacks on innocent civilians, both European nations may also have more nefarious motives for intervening.
Emmanuel Macron has been cozying up to the Saudi Royal family in recent times and it may be more than a coincidence that Macron’s strong actions have taken place less than a week since the Crown Prince visited Paris.
Theresa May has had a bump in her approval ratings in the last month since her strong reaction to the Skripal attack in Salisbury. She may identify this as a further opportunity to bolster her reputation as strong on foreign policy.
This is major gamble by May as only 22% of Britons supported cruise missile strikes against Syria in a poll they published on Thursday.
There will be parliamentary debate on Monday in the UK and hopefully both the opposition and members of her own Conservative party will speak up against further military action.
We are now in a dangerous lull where the first strikes have taken place, but we cannot know for certain that there will be no further action. In my view these initial strikes have been in vain and will produce very little on the ground without engagement with Russia and Iran.
Unfortunately, with the recent appointment of John R. Bolton as Trump’s National Security Advisor there is another hawk in his inner circle who is not afraid to advocate military action against Iran. Whether this would extend to direct action against Russia is unknown for now.
Over the next few days it will become a lot clearer whether this was another one-off strike/warning to the Syrian regime against the use of chemical weapons or we have reached a new level of tension and conflict between the US and its allies against the Syrian regime backed up by Russia and Iran.
The terrifying difference on this occasion would be that the conflict could potentially bit e solely between proxy forces on both sides but directly between military superpowers.
Let’s hope that common sense prevails and we see a de-escalation of threatening rhetoric and a return to dialogue in the coming days…
There is a very interesting election taking places in the US today that could have major ramifications for both the next mid term and presidential election cycles. It’s a by-election for a seat in Congress, specifically Pennsylvania's 18th congressional districts.
I’ll be honest I don’t normally focus this much on the US congressional elections (though I have punted on Democrats reclaiming the Congress in November here). This election though is really intriguing for several reasons.
It’s a district that should be a clear win for the Republican candidate. Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton here by nineteen percentage points in the presidential election. It also falls into the infamous Rust Belt, that area of the United States that is suffering from continued post-industrial decline.
If that wasn’t enough, Trump visited personally on Saturday to endorse the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, who himself is a major Trump proponent.
Despite these inherent advantages, the Democratic candidate Conor Lamb is slightly favourite after making gains in the polls in the last few weeks.
While only thirty-three, he has a strong pedigree as a former Marine and federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh.
He’s a right leaning Democrat who has already stated he does not support the Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Peloisi.
In my view he has identified that Trump has pulled American politics, at least temporarily, into a new paradigm and to regain power in November in the House and then in the next Presidential race the Democrats need to attack the republicans in different ways.
He has stayed quiet on gun control and abortion, two areas that have often been championed by Democrats but that would not necessarily be popular in his district.
He has focused on jobs and combating the drug crisis, which is a major epidemic in many parts of the Rust Belt. The Democrats were seen by many here as out of touch with the working man and part of “the swamp” and he is doing his utmost to portray himself as fighting for the people.
The view among many political analysts has been that a win for Conor Lamb or even a narrow defeat would be a major boost for the Democrats and show that they are on course for major wins in November.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this but I would look at it from a different angle. If Lamb wins, I think it could be the start of a new approach to beating Trump in many political regions of the US.
The Democrats may decide that a jobs-focused candidate who is viewed as in touch with the working classes may be a better match up than a socially liberal, progressive candidate in 2020. If this does end up being the case, Trump’s legacy will live on past 2021, regardless of victory or defeat.
Last Thursday, Israeli police announced they had recommended the Attorney General that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases.
Then on Sunday, numerous Israeli media outlets linked him to a case where seven Israelis have been arrested for allegedly helping the Bezeq Group, a communications group, in exchange for favourable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife.
Over the weekend Netanyahu was in Munich, speaking at the same security event as Theresa May. He gave a bellicose speech where he threatened that Israel would take action directly against Iran if any of its redlines were crossed;
“And we will act, if necessary, not just against Iran's proxies that are attacking us, but against Iran itself.”
The speech was incredibly aggressive and what made it even more noteworthy was the he directed these threats at the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Zarif, who was in the audience.
However, the pièce de résistance came when he displayed a piece of the drone that Israel shot down which he claimed came from Iran (see title pictures).
In the nine years Netanyahu has spent as Israeli Prime Minister in this current run (he was also Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999) he has been one of the most pugnacious leaders in the democratic world, both in words and deeds.
He has led two military campaigns in this time against the Palestinians, Operation Pillar Defence in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Despite the defensive titles, these claimed over 2,250 Palestinian lives, a large proportion of which were civilians.
He has also continually focused on Iran and has threatened pre-emptive strikes on multiple occasions. He also famously displayed a diagram with a bomb during a speech in 2012 (see title pictures again) saying Iran were 90% there to getting a nuclear weapon. Thankfully, his calls for a strike were ignored by most leaders who went on to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.
Since the election of Donald Trump, Netanyahu has displayed considerable influence over the US President. He pulled off a major diplomatic coup by convincing the US to relocate its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and he has improved relations with Saudi Arabia in a bid to further isolate Iran.
I won’t speculate on what would come next for Israel and the Middle East if he is forced to resign, though hopefully a more sensible leader will emerge. It would be hard to imagine a more belligerent Israeli Prime Minister taking the mantle from Netanyahu but it is possible. Fortunately, they will almost certainly not have the same influence over the US President and this may lead to a more nuanced Middle East policy from the United States…
“It’s the economy stupid” – I’ve heard this quote dozens of times over the years in political parlance. I had attributed it incorrectly to Ronald Reagan and not James Carville, part of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign team.
The central tenet of this claim was that the electorate vote with their pockets. Their perception of the economy has a major bearing on the way they vote. Incumbents can point to a strong economy, while candidates will offer an alternative solution that they believe will improve the economy.
This is not an American phenomenon and can often be the case in any election across the globe. What is a little different with President Trump is that he has repeatedly boasted about how much the stock market has risen in his time as president as opposed to the overall performance of the economy.
At Davos in January, he spuriously claimed that the stock market had increased 50% since he was elected and that it would have dropped 50% if Hillary Clinton had been elected. This was met with a mixture of gasps and derision from the audience. The market has undoubtedly increased under his tenure but this is a continuation of an exceptionally long bull run (I won’t delve into the details here as this run has been covered extensively).
However, what we have seen over the past few days is that the stock market is a volatile beast that can’t be controlled or tamed. On Monday, the Dow Jones dropped 1,175 points (4.6%) which was its largest fall in absolute terms ever.
There are numerous theories as to this occurred, ranging from the beginning of a major correction to profit taking by savvy investors.
Regardless of whether it heralds the beginning of something major or not, Trump should heed the warning it offers. The economy consists of a lot more than the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
If Trump stakes his presidential performance to a simple and crude metric measure like this he could swiftly find himself out of touch with an electorate that had become frustrated with the lack of tangible economic progress felt under earlier part of the same bull run under Barack Obama.
To be fair to Trump, he has also focused on job creation as well, although according to some economists that may soon suffer from supply constraints. Equally, his tax reforms have been met with a lot of cynicism from the Democrats who see them as tax cuts for the rich while not offering enough benefits across the spectrum of the labour force.
It’s a long way until the next US presidential election. The current bull run would have to break a lot more records for it to still be going by the time campaign season swings around.
Trump speaks a lot about fake news and how his positions and events are misconstrued. In many ways this has been successful to an extent. However, he will find it a lot more difficult to dismiss a plummet in share prices or a major market correction as simply not true.
By not diversifying his offering and thinking in greater terms than an equity index, Trump may lose the election before the first ballot in the Democratic presidential nominee campaign is even cast.
I am not going to go into why it’s wrong for President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel this week. Furthermore, I will leave the analysis of what the fallout will be from this to others or for another day.
Jerusalem is a city that has captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world for millennia. This decision will be comprehensively scrutinised and analysis will be mostly filled with passionate and long held views.
What I want to focus on is how Prime Minister Netanyahu was an early innovator in manipulating President Trump and why that success has now helped him land a major victory for him and his party.
Benjamin Netanyahu has many faults but I believe he was very quick to identify that the best way to get what you want from Donald Trump is to flatter him. In light of Trump’s trip to Asia where almost every Asian leader followed this strategy, this may seem obvious.
However, this was not as obvious back in February when Netanyahu visited Trump at the White House. Netanyahu waxed lyrical about how great a tried to Israel Donald Trump is;
“I deeply value your friendship. To me, to the state of Israel, it was so clearly evident in the words you just spoke -- Israel has no better ally than the United States.”
This would have been music to Trump’s ears. However, he went further than that. He then suggested that there were new avenues towards peace that they can explore and that the United States would back Israel in these aims.
“And I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace. Let us seize this moment together. Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace. And let us bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights.”
There are allegations that one of Trump’s major benefactors, Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas fame, had sought a commitment from Trump on moving the embassy to Jerusalem and recognising it as Israel’s capital. Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner, has also been a vocal supporter of Israel in the past. He was recently recorded saying “there may be no solution” to the Middle East peace process.
Netanyahu quickly realised that it is important to have allies in Trump’s inner circle as mentioned above. This, along with flattery and allowing Trump to believe Netanyahu’s aims were his own ideas, have given him incredible leverage in the White House.
Other foreign leaders will now take note of this success for Israel and may look to identify ‘courtiers’ who can help them achieve their aims, while at the same time praising Trump publicly.
This will be more difficult for leaders of Western, democratic nations who will face pressure form their electorate in a scenario where they perceived as sycophantic to Trump, given his often misogynist and potentially racist views and statements.
Russia is an obvious example of a country that has tried this approach. Unfortunately for Putin, they were a little too obvious in their attempts at disparaging Hillary Clinton and placing Trump on the throne.
Now it appears likely that other countries, like Israel already, will bear the fruits of Russia’s toil. The world is now in a position where the most powerful can be manipulated and his strategy moulded by flattery and scheming. The results of this could be unexpected, widespread and potentially catastrophic…
Donald Trump's first trip to Asia was an eventful, colourful affair that encompassed visits to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. There were a few excellent pictures, including Trump massacring Japanese Carp (see picture directly above) and Abe Shinzo taking a tumble on a golf course.
The trip was met with mixed reviews both domestically and across Asia. My personal view is that Trump managed to not cause any major diplomatic embarrassment to the United States but achieved very little from a strategic perspective. The inflective moment when China openly overtakes the US is accelerating towards us, as I discussed recently. This trip reinforced the view held by many that America, while a crucial partner for many future projects and plans in Asia, will not be the driver and leader of this region.
This is best captured in recent events concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The overarching aim of American foreign policy over the past decade has been a strategic pivot away from the Middle East towards Asia, with a key objective being the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This would have been a free trade agreement between the United States and eleven different Pacific Rim states. The talks began in 2010. Trump withdrew the US from the discussion earlier this year, stating that individual trade agreements with each state would be of greater benefit to the US. The remaining eleven states agreed to the framework this weekend. While Trump will not see this as a failure, China may see it as a success. It is not currently a part of the agreement but may in time seek to join on its own terms and eventually dominate it.
The 19TH Chinese Communist Party Congress that took place in the weeks preceding Trump’s visit was a powerful demonstration of the political unity of the Chinese leadership under the President, Xi Jinping. There was no apparent heir to the throne announced and I think this shows that Xi Jinping is now the most powerful man in the world. The checks and balances of the US political system are increasingly limiting Trump’s preferred course of action on many of his campaign pledges.
However Trump’s hardline rhetoric on North Korea would have been welcomed by both South Korea and Japan.
"NoKo has interpreted America's past restraint as weakness. This would be a fatal miscalculation. Do not underestimate us. AND DO NOT TRY US."
To be honest, at this stage all this appears as is bluster by both sides. Petty squabbling between two insecure leaders who see potential enemies everywhere. The pettiness was surmised by Trump himself in this tweet;
"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?'"
Since the escalations in the summer I have always been of the view that it will not come to violence and that China is pulling the strings and using the situation to gain maximum leverage in future Sino-US talks…
One thing that has become obvious is that Trump is quite easy to manipulate. Sycophanyc and public displays of affection and loyalty will earn his trust, irrespective of the true underlying intentions. . A notable example of this was Trump’s behaviour in the Philippines. Despite some aggressive back and forth comments between Presidents Duterte and Trump in the past, Duterte put on a bit of a show and Trump loved it, summing up the relationship between them as ;
"We've had a great relationship. This has been very successful."
In summary, Asian leaders learned a lot about Donald Trump over the last twelve or so days. Despite his often-bullish rhetoric and strongman image at home, I think they have finally realized what Putin figured before the US presidential election had even finished. He is a man that has a very limited attention span, cannot focus on an issue over a period of months and years so is always acting reactively and not strategically and that through some grand gestures and displays can be easily manipulated…
There is speculation from a few news sources that China will “compel” Saudi Arabia to pay for oil in Yuan. This would change the face of the global economy and could potentially be looked back on in years to come as one of the first examples of Beijing emerging as the lynchpin of the global economy.
Currently the global oil industry is run through dollars. If you want to buy oil from an OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) member you pay in dollars. This has been the case since the agreements of the early 1970s. It gives the US a lot of influence and leads to many oil-exporting nations currently pegging their currency to the dollar (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are two examples).
This has been a strategic objective for China for many years now. As their percentage of global demand grows, and exceeds that of the US, they are increasingly dissatisfied with having to manage their outgoing in dollars. I think a number of factors have convinced them that now is the time to up the ante on this bid.
The US has hugely expanded its oil production over the last ten years. In 2006, according to the BP Oil Review 2016, the US was producing 6.8 million barrels of oil daily. By 2016 this figure was 12.4 million. China wants the clout that comes with being the world’s largest oil importer. The US production looks set to continue to rise as Trump is a big advocate in deregulation, which should lead to increased production from fracking.
Trump’s presidency is a factor in other ways as well. His scatter gun approach to diplomacy, and his lack of focus and clear strategic aims have not gone unnoticed in Beijing. A key doctrine of Obama’s foreign policy was a pivot away from the Middle East to Asia Pacific. This hasn’t been fully executed and I think China believes it is possible to increase its influence in the Middle East (commercially for now) while defending its own interests in the Pacific.
There have been other moves afoot recently which seem to indicate that a lot of talks and jockeying for position is happening in global diplomacy behind the scenes. King Salman of Saudi Arabia visited Moscow last week. Must of the global press fixated on the malfunction of his solid gold elevator as he descended from his plane. However, a Saudi King visiting Russia was almost unbelievable until recently.
Russia and Saudi Arabia have been on opposing sides of almost every conflict over the last thirty years, the most recent example of which is the Syrian War. Saudi Arabia now looks to be carving a new niche in the world, under the indirect leadership of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. It evidently sees good relations with China as the future cornerstone of this policy.
China has prudently decided to test this non- dollar trading with a key ally initially, Russia. Last Monday, China established its first payment versus payment system for Chinese Yuan and Russian Rouble transactions. This is an early test for further PVP systems with key trading partners on its Belt and Road Initiative.
Moving the global oil economy to Yuan will not be a simple task. The US will not take this lightly and may see it as an act of economic war. There is already a lot of tension simmering between the US and China over claims of “unfair trade practice” by the Chinese. I genuinely believe China has allowed the US/North Korea spat to simmer to distract Trump from this issue.
Attempts to trade oil in Euros by other nations in the past have met with thinly veiled threats (Iran) and perhaps may even have been one of the causes of violent action (Libya).
Ultimately though, China is a completely different beast. The US will not be able to intimidate or threaten them into backing down if China believes now is the time to openly challenge US hegemony in such a direct way. The “if” here is crucial. China may continue to discreetly conduct trade agreements, projects and further PVP systems until their power is further consolidated.
Currently, with the US being pulled in a hundred directions by an aimless President, China’s power relative to its great rival grows every day without having to do anything. China’s ascent has been built on a singular vision fuelled by trade agreements and discreet investment. They will not reveal their hand until they are certain their position and economic power is unassailable. They only thing certain is that China’s hegemony of the global economy is getting closer every day…
Trump piles Pressure on N Korea and Iran at Inaugural UN Address but fails to deliver a coherent Message
Trump’s first speech to the UN was like a typical campaign speech we saw at his rallies across the US in the run-up to his election. It was full of rhetoric about the greatness of America, while sending threats to “rogue states” around the world.
After some self praise for the buoyant state of the American economy, Trump honed in on North Korea. If possible, the language was even more aggressive than we have previously heard.
“forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
One interesting addition to the North Korea part of the speech was his expressed gratitude for China and Russia for backing the sanctions.
“the United Nations Security Council recently held two unanimous 15-0 votes adopting hard-hitting resolutions against North Korea, and I want to thank China and Russia for joining the vote to impose sanctions”
I think Trump has finally woken up to the fact that any agreement or deal with Kim Jong Un will need to have at least some input from the Chinese, if not their outright approval. This is a point I have made since the spat erupted, back in July.
It is also interesting to note that this was the only direct reference to Russia in the speech. There was a veiled threat to Russia when he spoke of the
“threats to sovereignty from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
However in general it seemed evident to me that the US-Russian relationship isn’t a topic Trump wants to broach right now.
Trump transitioned from North to Iran without any differentiation between the regimes. It was a bit of a throwback to George W Bush and his “axis of evil”. His criticism of the Iranian regime was quite predictable and nothing that hasn’t really been said before
“It has turned a wealthy country, with a rich history and culture, into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.”
His quotes on the Iranian deal would be quite worrying to all those who have invested time and effort into it;
“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Fortunately, Trump has already had opportunities to cancel the "deal" as the agreement must be renewed every quarter, most recently on July 18th. The bombastic language was probably at least partly influenced by his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the day before. I still think Iran may benefit from Trump’s inability to focus and tackle an issue on a consistent basis, as I laid out here previously.
The last part that was noteworthy was Trump’s discourse on refugees and where they should be located. He explicitly thanked Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey though he made it clear he believes refugees should stay in their ‘home region’ until they can return to their country
“For the cost of resettling one refugee in the United States, we can assist more than 10 in their home region.”
Ultimately, we learnt little from Trump’s speech. The jingoistic sentiment would have appealed to his base back in the US while his “enemies” would certainly have gotten the message that he at least talks a tough game.
For the rest of us, we learnt more from what He didn’t say. No reference to the Paris agreement , the Palestinian question or his plans for the trade imbalance with China. Trump failed to lay out his grand vision for his administration’s foreign policy. It was little more than nationalist, sabre rattling that leaves me with little confidence that Trump’s views on America’s role in world affairs has evolved since his first campaign speeches back in the AUtumn of 2015.
Ireland is increasingly being viewed as one of the most open, tolerant societies in the world, or at least we like telling ourselves so. There is no doubt that the Marriage Equality referendum in May 2015 was a watershed moment for our society. A chance to shake off some of the shackles of our Catholic past. A past which was often cold, brutal and closed off. This feeling that we have joined the upper echelon of socially liberal nations has been further magnified in the minds of many by two factors, one internal and one external.
Leo Varadkar’s ascent to become the Taoiseach of Ireland is undoubtedly an historic occasion in Ireland’s history. The fact that an openly gay man, who is the son of an Indian doctor can become the leader of the country is unquestionably a sign of progress. Irishness is no longer as monolithic as it once was. This trend has been taking place for a long time now and while Leo Varadkar is the current personification of this, there are plenty of other positive, grassroots examples of this throughout the country. A topic I would like to explore at a future date is that while the glass ceiling has been smashed for many with this appointment. We ,as a country, are still not doing enough to lessen inequality between the haves and have nots -if he was the son of an Indian factory worker or construction worker and not a doctor with a less polished South Dublin accent would this still have been possible?.
The decisions of our American and British neighbours to elect Donald Trump as President and vote for Brexit do seem to stand in stark contrast to our Yes result in the Marriage Equality Act. Both have been deemed by many in the mainstream media as backwards steps. Decisions underpinned by angry, old white men who yearn for the glory days of the past. Accusations of racism against supporters of both have been frequently levelled. Many social and political commentators have linked these two decisions as results of similar trends. Rapid changes in society, as well as the collapse of many industries and institutions that were formerly seen as the bedrock of the respective societies and national identities.
I think there is a certain truth to this. I also believe that these results were in part the responsibility of many of those who espouse views on the left of the political spectrum. Those who simply labelled trump supporters or pro- Brexiteers as ignorant, backwards, stupid or a combination of all three. There was so much dismissal of differing views and arrogance on the left. So little attempt at empathising with those whose views were different. I genuinely believe many people who were on the fence in both decisions could have been convinced with more conversation and less condescension.
This brings me to the upcoming abortion referendum in Ireland. The Repeal the 8th movement is already quite strong in Ireland and an all likelihood the referendum will be passed. However, there are many who believe in the right to life from the moment of conception. There is every chance that there plenty more who are uncertain and still on the fence. Many on the left and in the media see the result as a foregone conclusion. The recent government Public Assembly voted 79-12 in favour of abortion. Many on the pro life side believe this is not an accurate reflection of current public opinion.
There is a certain amount of hubris in Ireland at the moment. The economy is undoubtedly in the best place it has been in the last seven years. I have heard a lot of talk that we are “different to the British and Americans”. We would never make decisions as stupid as they have. While the referendum on abortion is a moral issue and not purely political like the other two shocks, many of the voting dynamics also exist in Ireland. Don’t be surprised if the day after the referendum in Ireland we wake to read that maybe we’re not so different after all. Maybe Ireland isn't quite the bastion of liberalism we’ve come to believe...
The violent scenes in Charlottesville this weekend served as an ugly reminder to us all that there is still a lot of racial tension simmering under the surface in the US. To many in Europe, myself included, it was horrifying to see so many men march under Nazi banners, armed with machine guns and other high calibre assault rifles. Even saying out loud is surreal, there were Nazi supporting, white supremacists with machine guns on parade this weekend.
There has been a lot written on the far right in the US recently. The regularly used line is that the Trump election has emboldened far right groups to be more confident and outspoken in their views. The First and Second amendment of the US Constitution currently mean it is legal in many parts of America to openly espouse racist ideology while visibly carrying a gun. These rights have led to the formation of many armed groups who seek to ‘defend” the civil rights of free speech etc. The challenge is that there is effectively nothing in the US that is deemed hate speech, as this is often seen as a transgression of the First Amendment.
This could potentially be all well and good in a peaceful, united society. Unfortunately, the United States is not currently in that state of existence. There have been many riots over the last three years in the US, many of which came before the election of Donald Trump. It would be naïve to simply point the finger at his election as the sole contributor for the re-emergence of the far right. Many of these groups had already started to re-brand online (google “Kekistan” and “Pepe the Frog”) and publicly in the last number of years under the overall banner of the “alt-right”.
So far, these groups have used small, mostly localized events as rally calls for protests and shows of strength. The initial protest this week was against the removal of a status of a Confederate General from the US Civil War. The fear would be that any removal of President Trump could be the catalyst for outright civil war or, at the very least, serious civil unrest. While I do not see, this happening under current circumstances, if there are further flashpoints of violence and larger crowds attending it could potentially become a reality. Especially if the investigation of collusion with Russian continues and is perceived as partisan or biased against President Trump.
Monday morning dictates that this can only be a short thought piece and I do not want it to be sensationalist. The unfortunate reality however is that events across the globe are moving faster than ever and mutating in ways that seem impossible. Fortunately, the great shocks in the Western World in recent times have been electoral results. We need to be prepared for the next one not being so democratic…
The July 2015 Nuclear agreement between the Iran, the US and five other nations (JCPOA) was meant to herald a new period of diplomacy and openness for US/Iranian relations. Many saw it as President Obama’s finest foreign policy achievement. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t long before Donald Trump claimed he would tear it up on his first day in office on his election campaign trail. Furthermore, towards the end of Obama’s presidency there was almost a complete breakdown in relations between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, who views Iran as Israel’s existential enemy.
So, when Donald Trump became President in January 2017 the signs were ominous. However, he did not immediately tear up the agreement, despite earlier threats. What he has done is intermittently threaten Iran and recently added additional sanctions in July, claiming Iran has broken the “spirit” of the deal by building ballistic missiles and funding terrorists. There is little doubt in my mind that Trump wants to focus on the Iranian deal at some point and may still try to reverse it.
The Iranian administration realise this but also, they cannot completely submit to the US or they will alienate the more hawkish elements of the Iranian political spectrum. The Qatari diplomatic crisis is a good example of how they have used soft power to defy the US and add to their regional prestige without giving Trump a rallying call to tear up the accord. Fortunately for Iran, Trump does not seem to be as heavily invested in an eventual overthrow of the Syrian regime as the previous administration and continued Iranian involvement will probably not be enough to force further action from the Americans.
Even if Trump really wanted to force the Iranian hand through further sanctions and the threat of armed action, there is nothing so far in his seven months of presidency to suggest that he has the focus or mental fortitude to do so. He seems to be bouncing from one arena to the next and so far, all his moves seem reactionary. The current standoff with North Korea (which I still see ending peacefully) has come from nowhere as Trump had given very little previous indication that North Korea was at the top of his agenda. His rhetoric of responding with “fire and fury” is language not normally associated with a US president.
Iran can benefit from this lack of strategic vision and unclear foreign policy. They can continue to discreetly push their agenda in the Middle East without creating a crisis that leads to direct confrontation like Kim Jong Un has just done. Their biggest concern would be Israeli sabre rattling like in 2013 when a pre-emptive strike seemed potentially imminent.
However, the US and Israel would no longer have the support of the major European powers; Germany, France and the United Kingdom, who signed the JCPOA. Germany and France have recently agreed to a large number of trade deals. They both view the Iranian domestic market (80 million strong) as a potentially lucrative source of new trade. Just last week Renault signed a joint venture agreement with the IDRO (an Iranian semi-state body) to produce 150,000 vehicles a year in Iran. Total, the French oil company, also recently signed a $4.8B agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company.
When you combine these expanding trade ties with Trump’s lack of focus and easily distracted foreign policy approach you can see why every month the potential for Iran to return to being an economic and political pariah state diminishes. While I can see Trump or Israel leading one final push for this, they will fail to achieve this aim without the support of the major European nations.
North Korea has featured a lot recently in global media outlets. Their testing of an inter-continental ballistic missile on Friday prompted strong condemnation across the globe. I recently remarked how after every major terrorist attack there is a similar pattern of condemnation followed ultimately by a shrug of the shoulders.
In the past, that has often been the case with US approach to North Korea. Strongly worded messages delivered through the United Nations or even by the President themselves. Economic sanctions often followed. China typically have a more measured response and seek to mitigate the economic fallout. There was a comfortable familiarity to this process. A mini cold war where all sides knew when they could poke and prod and when to back down. However, this changed in 2011 when Kim Jong-un came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
News and reports from North Korea will always be hazy and unreliable but if even twenty percent of the reports are true then Kim Jong-un has little of the political nous of his father, a wily survivor who ruled for seventeen years. He does seem to have excelled in violence against potential rivals. The 2013 arrest and execution of his uncle-in-law by flamethrower was a grisly announcement to the world of his modus operandi. There have been reports of moves against him in recent times but as of today the latest view of most intelligence agencies is that Kim Jong-un is still the boss. His announcement after the missile test on Friday that North Korea can strike the US “at any place and any time” seems brash at best and suicidal at worst.
President Trump's tweet yesterday that China is doing nothing to curb North Korea will invariably draw focus on the Chinese-North Korean relationship and probably leading to a stinging rebuke from China.
Where do China stand here? This is arguably the most challenging aspect of this escalating crisis to speculate on. China is North Korea’s largest trade partner and accounts for approximately 90% of its exports. China has more leverage with North Korea than any other country. Across the globe, particularly in Africa, China has major trade links with a host of countries that have questionable foreign policies etc. China says little about their policies, builds their infrastructure and extracts their resources. However this is different, this is their neighbour openly telling the world's military superpower that they can hit them with a nuclear weapon at any time.
There are a few points to speculate on here. Firstly does China really have the influence to curtail the North Korea regime or is Kim Jong-un so unhinged and disconnected from reality that he doesn’t see the potential results of his words and actions. Secondly does China want this to stop immediately?
On the first point it is hard to believe that China does not have the necessary clout with numerous senior members of the regime. There is a Chinese economic zone just inside North Korea where China uses cheap North Korean labour to import coal and other basic goods. This a valuable source of foreign currency for North Korea. Furthermore many members of both regimes clandestinely benefit from this arrangement financially.
In many ways it is in China’s interest to keep maintain the status quo. I believe they may even have secretly given the North Koreans covert approval to test the foreign policy resolve of Donald Trump. The timing couldn’t be more opportune. Trump is struggling to generate any momentum with his domestic policies and is currently under investigation for illicit ties with Russia. China may want to gain some further leverage with the US and seek some guarantees on the South Pacific and/or trade before reining in the North Koreans. If this is the case they are playing a very dangerous game. Kim Jong-un is a very unpredictable and dangerous character. The more slack he is given now, the more challenging it will eventually be to rein in.
So if this failed to work and things escalate any further we could be facing a very serious situation. The last thing China wants or could tolerate is US airstrikes in North Korea. However before anyone suggest I am predicting WW3, I see another scenario playing out.
With these trade links there must be numerous channels of communication between the Chinese and senior North Korean officials without the knowledge of Kim Jong-un. If things get much more serious I can envisage a Chinese-led coup displacing the Korean leader with a military council who are willing to tone down the missile tests while continuing to publicly condemn the US.
The US will not want this situation to escalate and Trump has so many matters on his mind I believe he will pay a lot for a deal, despite his numerous boasts about his negotiating power. While I believe claims of the US decline are overblown, at this moment the US is a state of limited turmoil and Trump strikes me as a very exacerbated character who can’t comprehend how he is suffering so many setbacks domestically.
Finally I want to mention that if this is the case this is a very, very dangerous game to play. Recent history is littered with examples of major powers initially using regimes for their own aims only to ultimately suffer in the fallout. The US arming the taliban springs to mind. The Chinese obviously believe that they can both rein in North Korean nuclear tests when they want and that that the US will get involved militarily. However if they have miscalculated either factor we could be in a for a very tense and potentially dangerous few years...
Finding out about the British Brexit referendum result was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I was following the Irish football team around France and we had taken a small detour to Ghent. We had found a barge to rent on AirBnb and when we arrived there it was huge. It was soon turned into the flagship of the joint Irish/Lebanese Naval Force (there was a Sean, Cathal, Abdallah, Jad and Maher aboard). When Abdallah announced first thing in the morning they had voted to leave I literally couldn’t believe it. We had drunkenly gone to sleep pretty early the night before, after a long day’s drive, confident that the polls were all correct in suggesting a Remain win. I immediately viewed it as a watershed moment for Western politic and have maintained a healthy distrust of polls since.
Trump being elected was a lot less shocking. I do concur with the view that there was a similar pattern of middle class voters disillusioned with mainstream politics who viewed drastic change as a positive. I didn’t believe he would ultimately win but I advised my brother (who enjoys a punt) to back him at 3/1 a few days before the election ( this was before James Comey came out and said that Hillary Clinton was still under investigation by the FBI - a moment many think had a major impact on the final result).
These two results could have marked the beginning of epochs of change in their respective countries. Brexit, in particular, was seen as a dramatic departure that would change the face of the European Union forever. I may be guilty of engaging in a little hyperbole here, but not more so than the British press in the days following the election.
However in recents months both Trump and Brexit momentum have definitely stalled. The key question in this article is which will collapse first. There is still a major chance that Trump will successfully complete his term as President and may even get re-elected if he chooses not to return to the simpler task of selling golf holidays to wealthy pensioners. Similarly Brexit may turn out to be unheralded success that Nigel Farage has crowed about for a number of years. I don’t think this is likely.
Trump came to power on a wave of radical promises, including the memorable ‘drain the swamp’. However the swamp is fighting back. It looks to me like Trump has sent the last twenty years surrounding himself with sycophants and yes men. He seems to have a very binary view of the world and has so far proven himself to be very incapable of subtlety and nuance. These are two qualities that are crucial when you are the leader in a democratic country. The emphasis here is definitely on democratic. He is a self professed admirer of Putin and seems to wonder why he can’t simply sign off on laws the way Vladimir can.
The allegations of collusion with a foreign government are mounting. Every day it seems a new accusation or piece of evidence comes to the attention of the public (and the potential prosecutors). His supporters scream ‘fake news’ any time there is a major story from a broad variety of media outlets. They saying goes there is no smoke without fire and currently the Trump administration, in particular a number of his key clientele, are suffocating. I predict Trump will ultimately survive these allegations after lengthy, multiple investigations but his administration will suffer greatly. To be a little bolder I predict he will not get the backing of the Republican party (and will either announce his intention not to run again before this goes public) or run as the first ever incumbent, Independent Presidential candidate (someone may correct me if this isn’t legally possible).
Brexit is stumbling on without a clear mandate. I have no doubt that if the Referendum was re-run Remain would win. The Conservatives, and Theresa May in particular, are living on borrowed time. There may even be an early election called if the DUP pull the plug. This could result in a Labour minority government or the Brexit doves gaining the upperhand in the Conservative party. I think a very diluted Brexit will take place with the freedom of movement and access to the market intact albeit with a different title and an added layer of political spin. There may be a few caveats to please the hawks and this will be gained through some sort of divorce bill that is a lot lower than the sixty billion pounds that has been bandied about.
Events are moving so swiftly on both sides of the Atlantic that predictions can’t remain static but in the end I see Trump and Brexit being constrained by Realpolitik to the extent that little changes substantially. This would be quite appropriate for two campaigns that were distinctly lacking in substance. Maybe the real lesson we can take from the last year is that vision and bringing people together leads to lasting change, not divisive soundbites...
ps if anyone is interested I’ve posted a picture of the finest Irish/Lebanese vessel the world has ever seen….