30 May 2017   Leave a comment

The information that presidential advisor Jared Kushner tried to open a “back channel” to Russia before Mr. Trump was inaugurated as president has elicited a wide range of responses.  General Kelley of Homeland Security and General McMaster of the National Security Council have defended the overture as “normal”.  There have been times when back channels have served useful purposes, but there are a number of questions about what Kushner was trying to do.  I do not wish to assess these questions, but there is an historical back channel which has not yet been mentioned in the press which provides an example of how a back channel can be abused.  In 1968 US President Lyndon Johnson ordered a halt to aerial bombardment in Vietnam and tried to initiate peace negotiations with North Vietnam.  Johnson had also declared that he would not run for re-election in 1968 which meant that the presidential election in November 1968 was wide open.  The Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, ordered one of his aides, H.R. Haldeman, to throw a “monkey wrench” into the process for initiating the negotiations.

The effort led to meetings between Anna Chennault and high-ranking officials of the South Vietnamese government.   The intent of the intervention through the back channel was clear:  Chennault told the government that if Nixon were elected in 1968, he would make sure that South Vietnam received better terms in any negotiations.  According to Ken Hughes, a research specialist with the Presidential Recordings Program of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center:

“Three days before the election, the bureau sent the White House this wiretap report: ‘Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem and advised him that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified) which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are gonna win’ and that her boss also said, ‘Hold on, he understands all of it.’ That day, President Thieu had announced that the South would not send a delegation to Paris, rendering any settlement of the war impossible for the time being and stalling Humphrey’s surge in the polls.

“A furious president telephoned the highest elected Republican in the land, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois, and declared, ‘This is treason.’ He wasn’t exaggerating. The Logan Act of 1799 prohibits private citizens (including presidential candidates) from interfering with negotiations between the U.S. and foreign governments.”

Nixon was paranoid about this information ultimately becoming public and it was part of the impetus for the Watergate crimes that led to his impeachment.


US President Trump has raised questions about his commitment to NATO.   The Pew Research Center has conducted a poll on how Europeans regard NATO and the evidence indicates that support for NATO is getting stronger as Europeans have concerns about Russian behavior.  President Trump believes that many NATO countries, most particularly Germany, have not met the alliance target of military spending at levels corresponding to 2% of GDP.  NATO released data about military spending that confirms the shortfall from the target for all NATO countries except for the US, Greece, Estonia, Great Britain, and Poland (the NATO press release has a great deal of information–I recommend the site).    The US spends about 5.3% of its GDP on the military while Germany spends 1.2%.  In absolute terms, the ranking of countries in constant US dollars (2016) is as follows:

  1.  The US:    $664,058,000
  2.  Great Britain:   $56,790,000
  3.  France:   $44,222,000
  4.  Germany:  $41,676,000

In thinking about this information, one should take into account that the US has considerable commitments outside of Europe.  Americans tend to have a very favorable view of NATO, although there have been some shifts between Republicans and Democrats in recent years:

“Today, there are no partisan differences on living up to America’s Article 5 commitment. But in 2015, the last time Pew Research Center asked this question, Republicans (69%) were far more likely than Democrats (47%) to back aiding allies in a confrontation with Russia. Since then, such Republican sentiment, now at 65%, has not changed much. Democrats’ willingness to offer military support (63%) has increased 26 points. A separate Pew Research Center survey in January 2017 also found that for the first time since 2005, more Democrats than Republicans saw Russia’s power and influence as a major threat to the U.S. And Democrats’ concern about Russia rose 30 points from 2016 to 2017.”

There are also differences among the European polities:


President Trump has also singled out Germany for its trade policies, accusing it of trade practices that contribute to the US Balance of Payments deficits.  Germany does account for about 14% of the US payments deficit, but one would be hard-pressed to accuse it of unfair policies.  German wages are considerably higher than American wages and its environmental regulations are stricter than those in the US.  The US trade deficit with Germany ($67.8 billion) is roughly comparable with its deficits with Mexico ($61.7 billion) and Japan ($56.3 billion).  But none of these countries compare with China with which the US runs a $310 billion deficit.



Posted May 30, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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