Letter to U.S. Rep. Pocan, re: His bill to Abolish ICE

A letter I’ve just mailed [I cling to the old hard copy approach 🙂 ] to Mr. Pocan, the U.S.  Representative for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District:

Dear Representative Pocan:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at your ill-considered introduction of a bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).  While I abhor both the policy under which we separated parents and children at the border and our apparent treatment of many of those reaching our border as rabble rather than human beings, the fact remains that we need enforcement of our immigration laws.  I’m confident that ICE agents undertake dangerous and difficult responsibilities on a daily basis that those of us in our ivory towers prefer not to think about.  Your meat-axe approach seems to lack any substantive solution to the immigration enforcement challenges we face.  I assume that you are feeling suitable embarrassment if, as The Wall Street Journal reports, you intend to vote against your own bill if the House Republican leadership submits it for a vote.

On a less important level, liberals seem determined to be their own worst political enemies.  Our state and a number of other states and districts are closely divided.  Judging by the President’s polling numbers, he’s lost support during his time in office.  Today, it seems likely that few of those that voted for Secretary Clinton would vote Republican, while a significantly higher number of the more centrist voters that ultimately voted for the President rue their vote.  Right now, Democrats are on the Republican side of the 50-yard line.  While it may be exhilarating to strike a gesture for a party’s most ardent supporters by taking actions like you did, it’s not the way to win elections.  There’s no need to stoke the enthusiasm of Democratic loyalists; their fervor against the President and Republican policies is so strong that they’ll come out and vote.  What you and other Democratic office holders should do – if you wish to win, and not simply feel exhilaration — is focus on earning the confidence of those 2016 Republican voters that have developed misgivings about the Republican actions over the last 18 months.  Many of these voters fear that their values no longer have a place in our country, have the impression that our immigration policies are too lax, fear crime, etc., etc.  To vote for Democrats, they must be assured that their justifiable concerns will be taken seriously by Democratic office holders.  If Democratic Party strategists advise that providing these sorts of assurances will require the party to renounce the societal openness it also champions … then the party needs new strategists.

In an early chapter in his book, The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam wrote the following about John F. Kennedy’s assessment of his chances for winning the Democratic Party nomination in 1960:

“[The liberal intellectual wing of the party was] not only dubious of [Kennedy] but staunchly loyal to Adlai Stevenson after those two gallant and exhilarating defeats.  That very exhilaration had left the Kennedys, particularly Robert Kennedy, with a vague suspicion that liberals would rather lose gallantly than win pragmatically, that they valued the irony and charm of Stevenson’s election-night concessions more than they valued the power and patronage of victory.  [My emphasis].”

Although it is unusual for me to align with House Speaker Paul Ryan on domestic issues, I agree with his comment quoted in this weekend’s Journal:  “[Democrats advocating abolishing ICE] are tripping over themselves to move too far to the left.”

Will it be exhilaration or pragmatism?  Has the party learned anything over the last 60 years?

A Postscript to Yesterday’s Post ;)

Almost as I was sending yesterday’s entry about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s July 3 finding upholding the Intelligence Community’s Assessment of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and expressing dismay at what I consider to be the counter-productive nature of a delegation of Republican Senators’ current trip to Russia, President Trump was hosting a campaign rally in Montana.  In addition to his customary .. er .. inaccuracies, the President said this (I’ve seen the tapes):

“Putin’s fine.  He’s fine.  We’re all fine.  We’re people.”

Such a grotesque denial of reality by our President in the area of most critical importance to the lifeblood and safety of our nation is, frankly, terrifying.  The fact that the crowd cheered as he spouted this and other nonsense was disquieting.  (That said, I do have more than a bit of hope that some Montanans were merely being polite; yesterday, the Wall Street Journal quoted a Montana Trump supporter as saying, “… if Trump … asked me to vote for [Republican Senate candidate Matt] Rosendale, I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure.’  But then I’d go out and still vote for [current Democratic Senator Jon] Tester.”)

In commenting yesterday on the Republican Senate junket to Russia, I suggested that the Senators’ conduct, in the light of the ICA findings as upheld by the Senate Select Committee, was, although seemingly unwise, perhaps merely well-meaning blundering rather than dereliction of duty; I can’t make the same allowance for the President of the United States …

Chatting in the Face of Cyber War

Two related items that shouldn’t be lost in the flurry of the holiday:  The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s issuance of findings on the Intelligence Community’s January, 2017, Assessment of Russian interference in our election process (the ICA) and … a trip currently being taken to Russia by a U.S. Senate delegation.

On July 3, the bipartisan Senate Committee issued a set of its findings on the reliability of the ICA.  The findings are worth reading in their entirety — only 7 pages and readily found through an internet search.  Although many are aware, it’s worth noting that this Committee contains one more Republican than Democrat, and that at least three of the Republicans on the Committee – Sens. Lankford, Cotton, and Cornyn – have been strong supporters of President Trump in other contexts.

First a recap of some of the ICA referred to in the Committee’s report:

  • That Russia executed a “significant escalation” in its attempt to interfere in U.S. domestic politics in the run-up to the 2016 elections through multi-faceted cyber espionage and cyber-driven messaging via Russian-controlled propaganda platforms.
  • That Russia’s activities were in furtherance of its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.
  • That Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, intended to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for then-candidate Donald Trump.
  • That President Putin and the Russian Government aspired when possible to help Candidate Trump win by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.

The Senate Committee’s findings regarding the reliability of the ICA include the following:

  • That the ICA was a “sound intelligence product.”
  • That the ICA was supported by evidence reviewed by the Senate Committee.
  • That the intelligence analysts that prepared the ICA were under no politically-motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.
  • That the disagreement among intelligence analysts was reasonable, transparent, and openly debated, with analysts on both sides of the confidence level articulately justifying their positions.
  • That the [Steele] [D]ossier did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA.

Meanwhile, during the same days that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was issuing these findings, we have a Senate delegation visiting Russia and conferring with President Putin and Russian officials.  This group – entirely Republican – apparently includes Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), and … Wisconsin’s own Ron Johnson.  Sen. Shelby has been quoted as saying during the trip, “[The United States and Russia] have a strained relationship, but we could have a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia because there’s some common interests around the world that we could hopefully work together on.”

While Sen. Shelby – for whom, along with Sen. Kennedy, I had a fair measure of respect before this episode – is literally correct – there are indeed areas in which we have common interests with Russia (e.g., the ISIS conflict) — his comment is largely akin to saying that you have a common interest in weed control with a neighbor trying to burn your house down.

I remain an unabashed Richard Nixon – Ronald Reagan follower in the foreign policy sphere.  It is inconceivable that either of those Presidents, given the clear evidence of Russia’s interference in our election process – which Dick Cheney noted last year some would consider “an act of war” — would believe cozy conversations with the Russians at this time to be in America’s best interest.  Both Presidents made clear, publicly and privately, that they understood that the Russians of their day – and Mr. Putin, cut from the cloth of the Cold War, is of their day — respond to strength and resolve, not amiable chatting.  I would suggest that this delegation’s activities are at best well-intended blundering, and arguably a disappointing dereliction of their sworn duty to “… defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic …”

ZTE … Annotated

It generally serves little purpose to regurgitate information available via a brief internet search, but since many people are living their lives without delving into the gory details of every policy disagreement in Washington, it’s worth calling out the current dispute between the White House and just about everybody else in Washington (Democrats, Republicans, and our U.S. security apparatus) over whether to continue sanctions imposed on Chinese telecommunications manufacturer ZTE by – ironically — the Trump Administration.

ZTE has been involved in our telecom industry for years.  It both supplies equipment to some of our small (mostly rural) telecom companies and buys parts (including fiber) from American companies to make its equipment.  These companies are obviously adversely impacted by governmental limitation on their ability to transact with ZTE.  Additionally, ZTE issues have a potential impact on (1) our agriculture industry and (2) Chinese approval of an acquisition by U.S. company Qualcomm deemed critical to Qualcomm’s growth.

ZTE is also reportedly one of China’s key players in the battle for future strategic telecommunications dominance being waged between the U.S. and China.  I understand that 5G is the new horizon; ZTE is one of the companies striving for a foothold in the technology.

Our government has considered ZTE to be a security threat for some time, and banned purchase of its equipment by NASA, the Justice and Commerce Departments in 2013.  In February, our security agencies warned consumers about buying Chinese-manufactured phones.  In early May, the Pentagon banned the purchase of ZTE and Huawei (another Chinese telecom manufacturer) phones near military bases.  The overall concern is that China could utilize the equipment to conduct electronic spying on Americans.  ZTE denies that the equipment could be so utilized, and both China and ZTE deny that the government places any pressure on ZTE.  (Given what even we lay people know about telecommunications technology, it’s hard to believe that ZTE equipment couldn’t be so utilized, or that China, even if it places no pressure on ZTE today, couldn’t start doing so tomorrow.)

If the e-surveillance issue wasn’t enough, ZTE is a bad actor; the Trump Commerce Department placed its ban on American companies’ sales of parts to ZTE because it determined (and is apparently undisputed) that ZTE skirted sanctions in selling equipment to North Korea and Iran.

Our ban has apparently crippled ZTE, a matter of sufficient import to China that President Xi personally raised the ban with President Trump, prompting this tweet by the President:

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done! [My emphasis]”

Despite almost unanimous bipartisan concern, the Administration is now seeking to lift its sanctions on ZTE – allowing it to remain in business – provided that it pay a fine in excess of $1 billion, submit to U.S. inspectors, and make changes to its management team.   China would agree to remove billions of dollars of tariffs on our agricultural products as part of the deal.

Aside from the obvious – that neither the President’s supporters nor detractors in this country care about protecting Chinese jobs – I would submit that the President’s actions in trying to resuscitate ZTE are troubling from two perspectives:

  • Defective strategic thinking. Acknowledging that the impact to certain of our companies could be severe if we hold fast on the ZTE sanctions, the President (as noted most articulately by Sen. Marco Rubio) is mixing trade with national security.  The two don’t mix.  I fear that the President is exhibiting the attitude sometimes evident among people with business backgrounds:  believing dollars justify means.  Even putting aside potential security issues and what should be our goal of limiting China’s strategic technological advancement, letting ZTE off the sanctions sends the message that no matter how bad an actor performs, we can be bought off.  I would rather see us temporarily assist the telecoms and farmers adversely impacted by the sanctions than let ZTE off the hook.  (Qualcomm might just be out of luck.)

 

  • The appearance of self-enrichment. I assume that even the President’s most fervent supporters will concede that his sudden reversal on his own administration’s sanctions on ZTE – with a tweet expressing concern for Chinese jobs – was bizarre.  Coming at about the same time as the Chinese government approved a number of trademarks for Ivanka Trump and the Chinese government  granted a $500 million loan to a Chinese construction company for work on an Indonesian theme park (the loan is reportedly the majority of the entire park project’s funding) featuring Trump properties (called park “flagships” by National Review), there is the obvious suspicion that the President’s reversal on ZTE is a quid pro quo for China’s assistance to his family business.

Right now, there are a number of bipartisan moves in Congress to bar the Administration from lifting its bans on ZTE.  Although I generally believe that a President needs to have a fairly free hand in conducting foreign policy – nothing can be achieved when s/he has to deal with 535 Congressional kibitzers – since his discussion with President Xi, he has been – at the very least — sufficiently tone deaf to the ramifications and appearances of his approach that that Congressional interjection is not only warranted – it’s vital.

Jerusalem Embassy Afterthoughts

I got up this morning thinking about yesterday’s post regarding the Administration’s move of our Embassy to Jerusalem.  Keeping in mind the first Principle of this site – that anything I enter may well be all haywire – I see nothing conceptually amiss with what I posted … but woke up realizing that it was too antiseptic, too clinical an analysis of the foreign policy factors in play.  The piece failed to address the physical suffering and emotional anguish being visited every day on people in the Mideast – the overwhelming majority of whom simply want to live their lives and raise their families in peace and without want.  It’s hard not to believe that many of those that actively engage in conflicts are guided by many of the same reactions Americans would have if placed in similar circumstances.

While it is likely, regardless of the opening of our Embassy in Jerusalem, that there would have been disturbances along the Gaza Strip on what the Palestinians call “Nakba Day” (the “Day of Catastrophe”), and that these disturbances would have resulted in some number of deaths and injuries, it seems almost certain that the Embassy move exacerbated the Palestinian anger and frustration already existing.  Although – as noted in the earlier post — I don’t see what strategic foreign policy objectives we advanced by moving the Embassy, I most sincerely hope that I’ve grossly misunderstood the situation.  While some reports indicate that a good number of the Palestinian casualties were members of Hamas, others were not.  I want to hope that we are not responsible for additional innocent lives lost or forever marred because of a move made primarily for U.S. domestic political purposes.

Reactions to Moving our Embassy to Jerusalem

I was asked today for reactions to the Trump Administration’s opening of our Embassy in Jerusalem.  Here we go …

One can find statements by Presidents Clinton, G. W. Bush, and Obama, obviously predating the Trump Administration, all expressing a preference for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.  Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, calling for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem by 1999 (this hasn’t been done due to a series of authorized Presidential waivers based on security concerns).  The Senate passed a resolution 90 – 0 last June, affirming the Act and calling upon the President to abide by its provisions.  The Obama Administration’s ambassador to Israel said tonight on PBS that moving the embassy was “appropriate.”  President Trump had pledged during his campaign to make the move.  Sen. Chuck Schumer supports the move.  The President can rightly point out that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has traditionally had bipartisan support.

Even so, I think it was a strategic mistake.  Despite the Administration’s claim that moving the embassy will help the peace process, given the general reaction to the move throughout the international community, I’m having trouble seeing how it fulfills any strategic foreign policy objectives:

  • It’s added more gas to the raging fire that is the Middle East. To boot, having the opening on the anniversary of Israel’s establishment unnecessarily added insult to injury for many in the Muslim world.
  • It’s a chip we didn’t need to play. Israel is already absolutely ecstatic about the support it is receiving from the Trump Administration; it’s difficult to see how we can get any warmer support from Israel for our objectives than the Administration has already garnered.
  • A criticism that resonates with me is that we took the action without getting anything for it – such as Israeli acquiescence in a two-state solution with the Palestinians, or Israeli collaboration in providing humanitarian aid for the Palestinians under terrible duress in Gaza.
  • The Wall Street Journal has reported that the move has drawn “repeated condemnation” from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt – three allies that form a primary part of our ballast in maintaining Middle East stability against Iran. (The Obama Administration’s Israel Ambassador also indicated tonight that although these three nations will continue to cooperate with us and Israel because they have greater concern about Iranian aggression than they have care for the Palestinians, the optics of the last few days will make it difficult for these nations to cooperate openly with Israel.)
  • The U.K. and France also oppose the move – adding more tension to a relationship already coarsened by our withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
  • If that wasn’t sufficient, my own pet peeve is that the move has given President Erdogan of Turkey – a de facto dictator who has sufficiently cozied up to Russia and Iran lately that I consider Turkey an uncertain NATO ally at best — a chance to condemn Israel and side with U.K. and France against us.

Suffice it to say, it’s not an action I would have taken.  One would have to be pretty dewy-eyed not to believe that domestic political motivations played a large part in the decision, helping the President to both reinforce the allegiance of parts of his base committed to the move while perhaps softening the opposition of some of those confronting him; but those musings are best kept for Noise about his political prospects that we’ll undoubtedly be making in the coming months …