Several opinion-editorial columns

Staff Reports

Our Nuclear Folly

By Winslow Myers

Guest Columnist

The well-established assumption that North Korea is our most difficult and dangerous foreign policy challenge is worth a little dispassionate examination.

North Korea is not a fun place. If ever a nation had earned the right to be labeled collectively psychotic, it would be the Democratic Republic of North Korea under Kim Jung-un, who apparently just outsourced the bizarre assassination of his own brother. The country possesses neither a viable judiciary nor any kind of religious freedom. Famine has been a cyclical presence. Electrical power is intermittent. In 2015 North Korea ranked 115th in the world in the size of its GDP according to U.N. statistics.

Yet nothing the United States has tried to do, including decades of diplomatic negotiations and the application of severe sanctions, has stopped this isolated conundrum of a country from strutting proudly through the exclusive doors of the nuclear club.

But let’s get real. As odd and alienated as North Korea may be, their leaders know perfectly well that even if the United States had not a single nuclear warhead at its disposal, if provoked we could bomb North Korea until there was nothing left but bouncing rubble. The idea that they would be so irrationally unwise as to use their nuclear weapons to launch an unprovoked first-strike attack upon the United States, or South Korea for that matter, seems utterly remote from reality.

Instead, they are pursuing a policy—the policy of deterrence—which is a mirror image of our own. But by a collective trick of the mind, our use of weapons of mass destruction to deter is rationalized and justified by the fact that our intentions are good, while from our perspective both their intentions and their weapons are perceived to be evil—as if there were such a thing as good nuclear weapons and bad nuclear weapons. In this particular sense, there is not a whit of difference between our otherwise two very different countries. North Korea took careful note of what happened to Libya when they agreed unilaterally to give up their nuclear program. Their motive is self-protection, not aggression.

It is one thing to say that deterrence was a temporary (now nearly three-quarters of a century) strategy to prevent planet-destroying war. But can we go on this way forever, with all nine nuclear powers committed to never making a single error of interpretation, never having a single equipment failure, never succumbing to a single computer hack? If we think we can, we’re just as out of it as Kim Jung-un. Our bowing to the false idol of nuclear deterrence as the ultimate and permanent bedrock of international security is in its own way as delusional as the way the brainwashed citizens of North Korea give absolute obeisance to their dear leader.

If the United States, as a responsible world player, does not move beyond the obsolete paradigm of endless paranoid cycles of we-build-they build; if it does not begin to think in terms of setting an example; if it does not begin to participate authentically in international conferences to ban these weapons, there is going to be a nuclear war in our future.

We’re uneasy with Mr. Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger, but this is a bigger problem than who specifically is commander in chief. When the moment comes and we begin to slide down the slippery slope of deterrence breakdown because of some completely unanticipated dissolution of “fail-safeness,” it won’t matter how experienced the human parties to the disaster might be.

Whoever is left on this small, no longer so beautiful planet, freezing under the ash clouds of nuclear winter, uselessly nursing their boils and pustules from radiation poisoning, will hate and despise us for what we didn’t do for decades, and they will be quite right.

Because we know. We know and yet we do not act on our solemn obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In fact the United States actively undermines legitimate efforts to outlaw nuclear weapons. We just boycotted a recent one.

North Korea is a pariah nation led by a greedy Stalinist family. No one can say with any certainty whether they could be brought to the table to discuss abolition. Why can’t we admit that we ourselves harbor a similar reluctance? The process of building trust, agreement and verification among the nine nuclear powers would be the most difficult diplomatic challenge ever undertaken. The only thing more difficult is the unthinkable agony of the alternative.

Winslow Myers, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He also serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

Trump’s Shortsighted Intervention in Syria: Realism and Idealism Before April 6

By Mel Gurtov

The reaction of the Trump administration to the Syrian government’s use of sarin against innocent civilians raises important, and never resolved, questions about the role of moral issues and democratic values in US foreign policy. Every US administration has, to one extent or another, embraced both realism and idealism in the conduct of foreign policy, both elements accounting for Condoleezza Rice’s statement years ago that “great powers don’t just mind their own business.” By the same token, every administration—including Jimmy Carter’s, famous for giving human rights priority—has put realpolitik ahead of values when a choice had to be made. Donald Trump is no exception, even if the sight of the women and children who were victims of the sarin attack really did have a “big impact” on him.

To some analysts, Trump’s arrival heralds a very different foreign policy path: transactional nationalism. In plain English, that means looking to “America first”: dealing with other countries on the sole basis of what they concretely offer the US, especially economic advantages such business opportunities and better terms of trade, but also counter-terrorism support. On the other hand, transactional nationalism means ending US moralizing about freedom, human rights, international law, and other liberal principles. I’m not “president of the world,” Trump has said. By extension, the nationalism of others—underpinned by their claimed spheres of influence—must also be accepted. That leaves the field open to autocrats who attach little importance to human rights, civil society, and democracy. Governments are led to expect little criticism from Washington as they impose their will on others in the name of their national interest. Russia is free to retain Crimea and support separatists in eastern Ukraine. China can crack down on ethnic groups, limit democracy in Hong Kong, and expand its hold on the South China Sea islands without concern about US interference. Israel can maintain its settlements in the West Bank and continue to infringe on the rights of Palestinians.

Bashar al-Assad in Syria surely read what Trump and his foreign policy team said about not seeking regime change. “The long-term status of Assad will be determined by the Syrian people,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In other words, they’re on their own. If ever there was a green light for aggressive action, that was it. Nevertheless, Trump authorized a large cruise missile strike, perhaps not coincidentally just as he and Xi Jinping were sitting down to dinner. Why? Has Trump abandoned “America first,” as some right-wingers now worry?

Limited Vision

Trump’s statement that the sight of the victims of the chemical attack “changed very much” his thinking about Syria is not persuasive. As Stephen Zunes points out, his thinking didn’t change earlier when chemical attacks occurred, and certainly hasn’t changed when faced with the substantial casualties caused by US air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

More likely, Trump’s action was an impulsive feel-good move—a chance to proclaim that he was doing what Obama would not, but in a “limited” way that would punish Assad, convey toughness, yet not unduly arouse Russia. The best that can be said of the US missile strike is that it may give Assad and his Russian allies pause on future use of chemical weapons. But the US action amounts to a symbolic slap on the wrist. It does not remove Assad from office or loosen his hold on power, does not change Russia’s support of him, and does not alter the balance of power on the ground in the civil war. And Assad, with Russian jets behind him, may respond—in fact, may already have responded with renewed air strikes—forcing the US either to deepen its involvement or stand aside while more civilians are slaughtered. Trump may soon have to decide whether to ascend the ladder of escalation.

Trump’s announced justifications for the strike raise other questions. One is US interests in Syria: Trump said the missile strike fulfilled a “vital national security interest” in “preventing and deterring” use of chemical weapons, addressing the refugee crisis, and (shades of George W. Bush after 9/11) defending “civilization.” Those reasons, too, fail to stand up. Is use of chemical weapons now as vital an interest as, say, defending European and Asian treaty allies, responding to a threat to the US homeland, or stopping nuclear proliferation? And the refugees: Trump wants us to forget all those Syrians he has tried to keep from US shores, and his criticism of Germany for letting so many in.

Legal problems also arise with the US strike. Though members of Congress were apparently consulted, it neither authorized nor was asked to authorize the strike—a longstanding problem in presidential use of force abroad without Congressional assent. Nor did Trump take the matter before the UN Security Council, if for no other reason than to make the case before the international community and put the Russians in the position of having to defend a war criminal.

On the ground, the chief problem with the missile strike is that it does nothing to save Syrian lives. To the contrary, the strike is likely to lead to further loss of life as Assad reacts by attacking rebel positions with conventional weapons. Nor does the US action alter the fundamental reality that Assad’s dictatorship remains in charge and has no credible opposition.

Finally, we have to consider the “wag the dog” phenomenon, namely, that a president whose popularity is plummeting in the polls and whose team is under multiple investigations for ties to Russia sees an opportunity to reverse the tide and look like a strong leader. Nothing like showing the flag to boost one’s fortunes. That motive seems much more credible than the notion that Trump was truly moved by humanitarian concerns.

Beyond Syria

There is no easy answer to the conundrum of dealing with oppression abroad. Speaking up for human rights, freedom, and the rule of law is one thing; using force on behalf of high-minded principles is another. There are extraordinary circumstances that would justify use of force, such as a direct attack on the US homeland or on treaty allies, a UN-authorized multilateral mission in response to a major act of aggression, or a collective action under the UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) resolution in the case of a failed state in which crimes against humanity are being committed. None of those circumstances describes Syria, and the Trump administration does not claim otherwise. Even when military force is “justified,” however, it is to be hoped that wiser, transformative responses will be developed instead of bombs and guns.

Syria is a humanitarian crisis; over 400,000 people have been killed in the civil war, and millions of people have become refugees. The chemical attack, with its 80 deaths and many wounded, is just the latest event in a long-running disaster. The Trump administration, and the international community, ought to be asking: Is there an effective humanitarian response, meaning one that stops the killing? One option might be, as in the Bosnia war, to declare (and protect) safe zones for civilians. Another would be for the US and the European Union to recommit to welcoming Syrian refugees and working to ensure their safe passage. Striking an airport may satisfy some who seek to punish the Assad regime, but it does nothing for the millions of Syrians who have suffered and the tens of thousands more who will suffer.

We still await the leader who will speak credibly on behalf of the oppressed, the impoverished, the victims of aggression of one sort of another—and who will oppose the dictator, the torturer, the corrupt official. Donald Trump is not that leader.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

Fuel the American Economy with Offshore Energy

By Andrew Langer

Some parting gift: On his way out the White House door, President Barack Obama banned seismic surveying in the Atlantic Ocean from New England south to Virginia.

It was a fitting end to eight years of an administration dedicated to frustrating the development of domestic energy resources at every turn. Fortunately, indications are that President Donald Trump will take a more welcoming view of U.S. oil and gas production.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management handed down the ban in response to six applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic. These surveys locate and create images of rock formations, a key step in the search for oil and gas reserves below the ocean floor.

BOEM claimed that the surveys would be disruptive and could harm marine life. This is part of a pattern of flimsy excuse-making for decisions that are really all about politics.

Last year, after the federal government spent months contemplating opening up areas of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas leasing, the Obama administration decided to block all exploration in these areas for five years.

In December, President Obama announced a permanent ban on offshore drilling in federal waters along the Atlantic Coast and in the ArcticThis was done, characteristically, by executive order, itself justified by the dubious application of a dated law.

Obama hoped for a successor who agrees with his anti-energy policies. When he didn’t get one, he moved to lock his preferences in past the expiration of his term.

His executive orders and rules banning drilling and surveying will require a pronounced effort to overturn. The outgoing administration even boasted about how difficult, if not impossible, its anti-energy policies would be to undo.

But President Trump has repeatedly expressed his intention to rev up American energy production. The new president will have the facts on his side.

First, the flimsy excuses: seismic surveys are not harmful to marine life. They have been safely conducted along the U.S. coast for years. That’s because such surveys proceed only after extensive studies to determine what impact they will have. As an additional safeguard, survey sound levels increase gradually, allowing marine life to get clear of the area.

The BOEM itself has admitted “there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from… seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.”

So, offshore development would do nothing to harm marine life. But it would unleash a wave of economic benefits. Currently, nearly 90 billion barrels of oil and 405 trillion cubic feet of gas are untapped. Leasing these areas for development would create 840,000 jobs, put $200 billion into the federal treasury, and ramp up domestic energy production by 3.5 billion barrels of oil a day.

What’s more, the need for new surveys is now acute. The last seismic survey conducted in the Atlantic Outer Continental shelf was three decades ago. New surveys using advanced technology will likely reveal large additional reserves of oil.

Shortly after taking office, the Trump administration declared itself “committed to energy policies that lower costs for hardworking Americans and maximize the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil.”

To make good on its commitment, President Trump will have to end his predecessor’s war against American energy production. A good place to start is to allow seismic surveys in potentially rich oil and gas areas off America’s coast.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.

“They’ll Never Learn” Department: Trump and North Korea

By Mel Gurtov

As Donald Trump prepares to meet Xi Jinping (in early April), his administration is going down the old road of believing it can pressure China to solve the North Korea nuclear weapons problem—or face a US-initiated trade war. “Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will,” he said. As usual, he wouldn’t say how, but he said he was hopeful that China, for which he has “great respect,” would help. “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.” Asked what might motivate China to help, Trump said: “I think trade is the incentive. It is all about trade.” And if China refused? Trump said he was “totally” prepared to take unilateral action against Pyongyang.

As was also true under Barack Obama, Trump refuses to understand that as much as North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles rankle the Chinese, they are not going to try to force the North to disarm. Not that China lacks leverage to pressure Pyongyang. But the competing pressures are greater. First, Beijing is just as fearful as all the other parties about how North Korea might react if its back is to the wall. Second, Beijing doesn’t want to be seen as engaging in regime change. Third, helping destabilize North Korea may create an unmanageable refugee crisis. Fourth, North Korea is a strategic buffer for China, which cannot risk having it replaced someday by a US ally.

Fifth, no one knows what Kim Jong-un and his military leaders might do—which weapons they might launch, for starters—if pushed to the wall. I do not consider credible the report concerning a North Korean defector who was deputy ambassador to Great Britain, and who told Lester Holt of NBC that once Kim Jong-un sees “any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM.” Still, it would be rather imprudent to push Kim to the point where he might take drastic action to save his regime.

Sixth, what was true of Sino-North Vietnamese relations during the Vietnam War may also be true of Sino-North Korean relations: leverage is not the same as control. Thus, the Chinese will only go so far with UN sanctions, knowing they cannot force Pyongyang to do its bidding.

How will Trump react? In a blistering critique of Trump, the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote on April 2: “He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation.” Among the imponderables the editorial raised was this one: “Will he provoke a confrontation with Iran, North Korea or China?” The Bill Clinton administration struck a deal with Kim Il-sung that led to the Agreed Framework of 1994. Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” failed to prevent North Korea from significantly increasing its inventory of nuclear weapons and missiles. But the tense relationship did not lead to open conflict because everyone in the administration feared the costs and risks. Under Donald Trump, however, we hear nothing about patience or prudence.

US threat options are limited. A US attack on North Korean nuclear and missile facilities, military specialists have long agreed, would not be able to eliminate all of them. But it would bring on a North Korean counterattack, resulting in incalculable human and physical damage to North and South Korea alike even if only conventional weapons were employed. Further squeezing North Korea with sanctions has never worked. Sanctioning additional Chinese firms and banks that do business with North Korea, or providing Japan with new weapons (such as cruise missiles) to deter a North Korean attack, would anger Beijing and further reduce Chinese incentives to distance themselves from Pyongyang.

So that leaves diplomacy, which I have frequently argued is the only realistic option. China will say “no” to Trump on full-court pressure on North Korea, though with an ambiguous promise to “do more” with North Korea. But if Trump is smart, he’ll realize that he has a better chance of solving the North Korea puzzle by nurturing US-China relations. That means returning to the negotiating table, where positive US-China relations can make a difference–specifically, in crafting a deal, “action for action” (such as happened at the Six Party Talks in 2005), that might be palatable to North Korea and put the nuclear and missile issue on ice for so long as the deal works. North Korea’s nuclear weapons probably cannot be eliminated now, but they can be warehoused under international inspection if its security and economic needs are addressed. Time is running out, and it is very doubtful that Trump’s inexperienced team is capable of crafting a creative diplomatic strategy to head off another nuclear crisis with North Korea.

DACA supports small town main streets

By Jordan Feyerherm

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has provided hard-working young people and their families with a measure of stability. This policy protects foreign born individuals who came to this country as children from deportation and allows them to apply for employment authorization.

After DACA was passed, recipients’ hourly wages increased by 42 percent. 6 percent started their own business (compared to a national average of 3.1 percent), 21 percent purchased their first car, and 12 percent purchased their first home. They are a critical part of our country’s social and economic fabric.

Schuyler, Neb., population 6,196, has long struggled to attract new residents. Now, the town is more than 70 percent Latino. For this small town and others like it in the U.S., immigrants are keeping shops open and breathing fresh life into main streets.

Now, their future is uncertain.

Nearly 750,000 young people fear losing everything they have worked for. The majority came to this country at the age of 10 or younger. Today, the average DACA recipient is 22 years old, employed, in pursuit of higher education, and makes $17 an hour.

To enact a law that would impair these individuals’ capacity to learn, earn and live would be counterproductive and harmful to the country as a whole.

Legislation promoting safety, well-being and welcoming will continue to uplift the many young people who want to put their talents to use and give back to the only country they have ever known as home.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

Bill O’Reilly’s Alleged Escapades, Hmmm

By Dr. Glenn Mollette

Bill O’Reilly most likely can afford to retire and he probably should be thinking about it before he spends all of his life savings on settling sexual harassment lawsuits. At least $13 million have been paid so far that we know about.

O’Reilly has a deep financial well making close to $20 million dollars a year from hosting his number one rated nightly show plus about $30 a million a year in book sales making him the number one nonfiction author on the planet. Such a deep well makes him a very attractive target to those who have a barb against him.

You most likely have heard the gory details from all the other television news channels. You have heard about the alleged escapades of O’Reilly’s sexual advances toward women at the Fox network whose careers he might encourage or advance if they had sex with him. Of course, you haven’t heard much about it on Fox. They don’t have to talk much about it yet because all the other networks are covering the story intensely. So far Fox News has stood with him and has paid three of the settlements of the five women. O’Reilly has paid two settlements. One involved $9 million paid in 2004 to a producer, and the other was agreed on last year with a former on air personality.

All of this comes after the Roger Ailes Fiasco, which led to his departure from Fox News and a $40 million departure package last year. Disturbing allegations were made by women personalities against Ailes that resulted in multi-million dollar settlements and Ailes’ demise.

O’Reilly’s show for the last twenty years has been a lucrative cash cow for Fox earning the network hundreds of millions of dollars. Sponsors such as Mercedes Benz, BMW and dozens of others have filled the pockets of the network. However, by the last count, 21 of the sponsors have withdrawn from advertising on The O’Reilly Factor. “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” reported a representative of Mercedes-Benz.

It’s always hard to know exactly for sure what he said and she said and what he did and how she responded or vice versa. Even with audio recordings and videos there is a lot of room for tampering. A picture may tell a story but it doesn’t always tell the whole story. I haven’t heard of any pictures or videos that incriminate O’Reilly but there is always the possibility of something surfacing.

The fact that O’Reilly and Fox have already settled for so much money with at least five different women in order to try to spare O’Reilly’s children and others from embarrassment and other suffering lends strong support there is a lot of fire behind all of this smoke. Also, the $13 million paid out isn’t saving anybody too much embarrassment it would seem to me.

The big question that someone else will have to uncover the answer to, is how many unreported affairs and sexual escapades has Bill O’Reilly managed to have over the years? I’m not saying that he has. I’m saying if there is truth to the alleged harassment then there is always a chance there are women who will never talk because they don’t want to embarrass their families or because they actually were enriched or promoted in their careers by having sex with O’Reilly or Ailes. This would be extremely embarrassing that their careers were actually advanced by their willingness to do anything – anything.

Are there women with jobs at Fox who had sex with O’Reilly in order to advance at the network? Did they have sex with Roger Ailes? Did they have sex with Ailes and O’Reilly? Who would dare to think we are only hearing from the alleged harassed people? There is always the possibility that O’Reilly and Ailes had numbers of successful trysts before and after and all around the other women who claimed foul. How many women have been on O’Reilly’s show or worked with him because they were willing to have sex with him in order to be there? There is also the possibility that all of the accusations have been made up for financial gain. Will anybody really know for sure?

This is all conjecture and stuff that makes people go hmmm. There will be much more said about all of this in the weeks ahead. The media will not let this one rest.

Glenn Mollette is a syndicated columnist and author of eleven books. He is read in all fifty states.

Staff Reports