Opinion | What Tucker Carlson and Trumpist Republicans Get Wrong About Ukraine

But when it comes to Ukraine and Russia, neorealism is weak, contradictory, and ultimately useless.

In case you think I’m overstating the case, consider this: Most neorealists are not Russia or Ukraine specialists and almost no Russia and Ukraine specialists are neorealists. In other words, the theory is most appealing if one knows little about both countries and least appealing if one knows a lot.

This discrepancy matters because it means that neorealism has to rise or fall, not on the basis of what it has to say about Russia and Ukraine, as that is nothing, but on the basis of the theory alone.

So let’s give the neorealists their due and see where their theory leads us on Ukraine and Russia.

As one neorealist think tank explains it, the core of neorealist strategy consists of two parts: First, “distinguishing among goals that are critical, important, and secondary,” and second, increasing “the security and prosperity of American citizens.” Who can disagree with something this obvious?

Alas, as with all obvious statements, their obviousness dissipates upon closer inspection. Three questions reveal the flimsiness of these two claims: Who decides which goals are critical, important, and secondary? Which policies increase the security and prosperity of American citizens? And which criteria are to be used in making these decisions?

There are no simple answers to these questions, other than such trite claims that it’s better to live in affluence than to die in poverty. But policy rarely deals with the obvious. It deals with the vast area in between these two poles. One doesn’t have to be a neorealist to abjure nuclear war, but who decides and how whether or not country X is or is not critical, important, or secondary to U.S. interests? Vietnam seemed critical but proved not to be. Nazi Germany, like Wilhelmine Germany and imperial Japan, struck many as secondary, but proved to be critical.

Imagine the following counterfactual: Would critical American interests really be harmed, would U.S. security and prosperity really be undermined if Taiwan were to join China? Or if South Korea, Japan, Brazil, and Israel were to disappear? Surely, the United States would continue to exist, and no American soldiers would die defending these countries. Surely, the U.S. economy is flexible enough to adjust to the new reality. Just as surely, the American military would remain the strongest in the world. The United States is resilient and could easily sustain such “blows” to its interests. And yet, most policymakers and, I suspect, most neorealists would argue that just these very countries are at least important, if not critical, and definitely not secondary.

Which criteria should one use to determine whether an interest is critical, important, or secondary? Geographic propinquity? By that measure Honduras is more important than China. Physical or demographic size? That doesn’t seem to work either, as it would make Bangladesh more vital than Israel. Or the degree to which something impinges on the security and prosperity of American citizens? But that just brings us back to square one, as we would need to determine just what impinging entails and just what security and prosperity are. At that point we’re likely to seek refuge in the obvious — that it’s better to be affluent and alive than poor and dead.

The upshot is that, as much as they would resist, neorealists have no choice but to admit the obvious: that their assessments of interests, security, and prosperity are either trite or contentious. The whole neorealist theoretical edifice becomes merely one way of looking at the world, and not the way. As such, neorealism effectively cedes the high ground to those theorists who argue that such things as ideology, personality, culture, and regime type matter in determining whether or not some country is deemed critical, important, or secondary.

To take an obvious example: Russia’s perceptions of Ukraine. As even neorealists would have to admit, Ukraine posed absolutely no security threat to Russia after becoming independent in 1991. Indeed, Ukrainian attitudes toward Russians and Russia were overwhelmingly positive. Moreover, everyone — Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Ukrainians — understood that Ukraine had no chance of joining NATO for at least several decades. Russia’s threat perception vis-à-vis Ukraine had nothing to do with “objective” reality. It was purely a function of Russia’s imperial discourse, Putin’s demonization of Ukraine and Ukrainians, and the fascist regime he created which required muscle-flexing as part of its self-legitimation.

Now let’s turn neorealism on its head and argue why, even on the basis of its own criteria, Ukraine is actually a critical U.S. and European interest.

For starters, note that there is almost complete unanimity within the West on the importance of Ukraine. Now, it’s possible that the roughly three-score countries involved in the Ramstein process that coordinates aid for Ukraine are hallucinating, but it’s rather more likely that their policymakers and analysts engaged in a sober assessment and reached the same conclusion: that Ukraine isn’t secondary, but at least as critical or important to their interests as Russia. Comparison with Russia is imperative, since there is no absolute standard of criticality, and the best we can do is to say that some country is more or less important than another.

For the moment, disregard the proposition that the West might have an objective interest in stopping a genocide, protecting human rights and promoting democracy. Neorealists usually cringe at these terms, so we’ll oblige them and focus only on “hard” interests. That means demonstrating that Ukraine matters greatly to Western security and prosperity — or matters at least as much as South Korea, Japan, Brazil, and Israel.

Russia is generally said to matter a lot to the United States because it used to have what was once considered the second most powerful army in the world, because it still possesses thousands of nuclear warheads, because of its vast energy resources, and because it’s a potential ally of China. Needless to say, Russia’s army has proven to be inferior to Ukraine’s, so this dimension of criticality falls away. Its vast energy resources are proving to be of increasing uselessness as the Europeans develop alternative sources. Russia’s alliance with China, which was at its height before the invasion of Ukraine, has since shown China to be a fair-weather friend. That leaves nuclear weapons, where Russia is and will remain strong. Do nuclear weapons make Russia critical to U.S. interests? No more than they make any of the other members of the nuclear club critical. All in all, Russia’s importance to the U.S. leads Ukraine with respect to nukes, trails it with respect to the armed forces, and just barely leads it with respect to energy and China.

Now, let’s expand our list of things that matter to U.S. interests. Russia’s domestic politics are a function of a possibly unhinged dictator with crazy notions of Russia’s mission civilisatrice and divinely decreed historical destiny, a fascist regime that feeds on imperial expansion, and a thoroughly corrupt economy singularly dependent on resource extraction. Neorealists would be uncomfortable including these facets in their calculations as they are not as “objective” as interests supposedly are, but to do so in the case of Russia makes as much sense as to ignore Hitler and Nazi ideology in trying to understand what drove Nazi foreign policy. Poland didn’t provoke the Nazis, as Ukraine didn’t provoke the Russians. Both Hitler and Putin had their own agendas that led directly to invasion, war and genocide. Since neorealism has little to say about domestically generated programs of warmongering and mass murder, it’s no surprise that the more foreign policy experts know about Russia, the more they realize that Putin doesn’t act according to neorealist logic and that he must be contained.

When one considers the degree to which Putin’s fascist, imperialist Russia is a threat to peace and the international order, both in general and in Eurasia in particular, it makes perfect sense for the Ramstein countries to have pledged support for Ukraine. They’d be downright foolish not to do so, not because Ukraine is a lovely country in the throes of mass murder, but because Ukraine is a barrier between Putin’s Russia and the West.

Russia may or may not continue expanding in the event Ukraine falls, but there is no guarantee whatsoever that Putin and his regime would stop — and if it’s reasonable to fear a potential Western war with Russia in Ukraine then it’s even more reasonable to fear a potential Western war with a Russia that moves west of Ukraine. Seen in this light, Ukraine becomes absolutely critical to U.S. and Western interests. Indeed, had the West realized after Putin’s ascent in 1999 that his intentions were openly imperialist and fascist, and had the West realized the criticality of Ukraine to stopping Russia, it’s quite possible that Putin’s war-making capabilities would have been nipped in the bud and the ongoing war would not have occurred. Put another way, had NATO enlarged to include Ukraine 15 years ago, Russia would not have invaded then — or now.

Let’s conclude with another counterfactual: Russia destroys the Ukrainian state and nation. What then? A rational, democratic Russian leader would sue for peace and stop expanding. Putin, in contrast, emboldened by his total victory and prone to strategic miscalculations, would likely draw the same conclusion as Hitler did after invading Poland: His honor, his prestige, his legacy, and his regime would demand that he keep on going.

Ironically, treating Ukraine with the restraint that neorealists demand today would lead to a high probability of strategic catastrophe tomorrow. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki got it just right when he noted that restraint isn’t that different from passivity.

“If Ukraine becomes dependent [on Russia], we will need to do absolutely nothing to provoke a war,” Morawiecki said recently. “It’ll come to us. Putin won’t stop. The Kremlin will go farther. Passivity will be our suicide.”

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Opinion | Secret Agents Need Help Confronting Trauma, Too

In our line of work, being exposed to violent and traumatizing events all day is routine. And then we leave the office to go home to our family. It’s a life that we signed up for, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t real consequences. For too long, the intelligence community has ignored that reality, to the detriment of both its people and the country they serve. Fortunately, there’s still plenty that can be done.

Trauma is defined as actual or threatened death, injury or violence. But there is also secondary trauma — the repeated or extreme indirect exposure to adverse details of a traumatic event during the course of professional duties. The latter has been recognized as a problem in other professions, and in the narrow case of intelligence officers who operate drone aircraft, but is rarely talked about broadly in the intelligence community. When I came back from my deployments, I had one — admittedly pro forma and superficial — required meeting with a psychologist. But no one ever has checked in on me about my feelings on more than a decade of work immersed in violent topics.

The intelligence community doesn’t have a good understanding of how prominent these problems are — particularly the impact of indirect trauma — or how to shift to a more proactive approach to addressing trauma exposure. At RAND, where I now work, we’ve been looking at the risks of lasting trauma on those who do intelligence work. We interviewed middle- and senior-managers from multiple agencies and found that there are some mental health supports available for intelligence professionals, but they appear underutilized and may not be equipped to meet the true scale of the need.

More broadly, the intelligence community lacks a culture of mental wellness. We found there’s a poor understanding of the risks, particularly of secondary trauma, among all levels of staff. That means individuals may fail to recognize the effects of this stress, or they may lack the vocabulary needed to describe their feelings so as to effectively seek care.

Intelligence professionals adhere to a strict code of ethics, which includes remaining neutral when informing policymakers about issues. This makes them party to life-and-death decisions, but without the agency to determine their outcomes. They must defer to policymakers about whether, for example, the U.S. will act to prevent atrocities they anticipate. Missing something, too, can bring on a sense of guilt and blame.

Intelligence professionals can also experience moral injury, a less-understood form of trauma. Moral injury stems from failure to prevent, or bearing witness to, acts that violate their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. This can happen when intelligence programs overstep their authorities and violate civil freedoms, or even when those in a position of political power fail to protect secrets obtained through great risk and sacrifice.

The intensity of the job can compound damage from trauma exposure. Both deployed and at home, I worked long hours and on rotating shifts — factors that can be more detrimental to mental health than direct combat exposure. Poor management and toxic work environments, which are sadly too common in the intelligence community, can exacerbate the risk.

Stigma is a well-recognized hindrance to seeking mental health care, but intelligence officers may further worry that seeking help — even through official channels — could compromise their security clearance. They are often legally prohibited from talking about their professional experiences with their family and friends, which would typically be an important support network for someone experiencing trauma.

The effects ripple through these agencies, which are vital to U.S. national security. Employees suffer from depression and substance abuse, or reduced productivity and professional burnout. That can prompt unnecessarily high staff turnover, which has higher stakes in a sector where people require costly security clearances and depart with a head full of secrets.

One positive note is that the intelligence community isn’t the first to deal with these problems, it is simply late to doing so. There is a wealth of applicable literature on trauma risks for the military, first responders, journalists and other professionals. But intelligence leaders must be willing to dedicate attention and resources to the problem.

The intelligence community needs to communicate to its workforce about the varied forms of trauma, how it affects individuals and what resources exist to help. And employees won’t seek that help if they fear it will cost them their jobs, so intelligence officials need to ensure policies are clear, available and protect staff appropriately seeking care. Lastly, the community should research how to design and implement programming that will cultivate an environment of mental wellness.

I am luckier than most. My parents are social workers, and I grew up in an environment where feelings, even the dark ones, were seen as healthy. My husband has experienced war; I don’t feel I have to hide my emotional scars from him. As time has passed, I tell myself it has gotten easier. But, in truth, I am just less frequently confronted with reminders of my deployment. I continue to research some of the world’s ugliest problems, and resilience and hardiness are a requirement of the job. But even now I sometimes feel myself approach the fraying edges of my own emotional capacity.

That secret agent job you might have imagined? There are days it is adrenaline-filled and even glamorous. It is also isolating and relentless. It inflicts mental and emotional costs. The consequences of ignoring those can be tragic, either individually or to the nation. Protecting the intelligence workforce can help protect us all.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not imply endorsement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or any other U.S. Government department/agency.

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Suspended Florida prosecutor takes fight to DeSantis in opening day of federal trial

Keefe, who took the stand later in the day, however, provided some of the most illuminating testimony, saying he was the “primary driver” in getting Warren’s suspended. His inquiry started in the wake of DeSantis asking during a December 2021 meeting whether there were any Florida prosecutors not enforcing the law.

Keefe contended during his testimony that Warren was “crossing the line” for signing the statements on abortion — and another one saying he would not prosecute anyone for providing gender affirming care to transgender patients even though the state does not have any criminal laws dealing with that. Florida approved a rule banning gender-affirming treatment for minors several months after Warren was suspended.

“This wasn’t a one-off,” said Keefe, a former U.S. attorney who also directed the DeSantis administration’s contentious relocation of migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. He said this statements regarding Warren were part of a “very problematic” trend from the ousted prosecutor. “I absolutely believed he needed to be suspended.”

But Keefe acknowledged several times on the stand that he never called Warren directly or communicated with anyone in Warren’s office to ask about the prosecutor’s statements. Warren and two top officials still working in the state attorney’s office said there wasn’t a blanket policy against prosecuting abortion or gender-affirming cases and they have not handled any such prosecutions. Warren’s team even noted a written policy that tells prosecutors to evaluate individual cases.

Keefe, who said he conducted a review of Warren’s actions but not an actual “investigation,” brushed aside the written policies. Instead, he contended that Warren was a “state attorney whose approach to his job was harmful” and that he was antagonistic to law enforcement, an opinion based on conversations he held with several people, including the current Hillsborough sheriff and the former Tampa police chief.

Warren had adopted policies that recommend against the prosecution of low level crimes such as trespassing and disorderly intoxication or moving ahead with charges that stem from initial police encounters where a pedestrian or bicycle rider is stopped for a non-criminal violation.

Keefe went so far as to suggest that there were problems with “violent” and “rampant crime” in Tampa and that keeping Warren on the job would lead to “chaos.”

Florida’s Constitution gives the governor the power to suspend elected officials for various reasons, including neglect of duty and malfeasance or commission of a felony. Previous governors have primarily suspended local officials who have been arrested, but DeSantis has embraced a wider use of the suspension powers. He first used it to remove Scott Israel, the Broward County sheriff, over how his office responded to the Parkland shooting. Under the Constitution, a suspended official can ask to be reinstated by the Florida Senate.

Warren, however, opted to fight the governor in federal court, a move that caught DeSantis’ own legal team off guard, according to depositions that have been filed ahead of the lead up of the trial. Most of Warren’s time on the stand included going over the operations of his office — as well as his stance on abortion and gender-affirming care and why he chose to sign onto statements that were put out by an advocacy group called Fair and Just Prosecution. The organization bills itself as a group that brings together local prosecutors promoting changes to the criminal justice system, but it has come under fire from conservatives because it is linked to a group that receives funding from billionaire donor George Soros.

Warren defended the abortion statement by saying he was more concerned about all-out bans on abortion and said he backed the one on gender-affirming care as saying he was opposed to discrimination against trans youth.

Moments before he entered the federal courthouse Tuesday morning, Warren told reporters that “there’s so much more at stake than my job. We’re not just fighting for me to do the job that I was elected to do. We are fighting for the rights of voters across Florida to have the elected officials of their choice. We’re fighting for free speech, the integrity of our elections and the very values of our democracy.”

During opening statements, Warren’s attorneys cited documents and tweets by the governor’s staff, including one by then-press secretary Christina Pushaw, who posted the night before Warren was suspended that stated: “Prepare for the liberal meltdown of the year.” George Levesque, an attorney with a private law firm assisting the governor’s defense, responded during his opening statement that Pushaw was taken to the “proverbial woodshed” by DeSantis over her tweet.

Levesque argued that DeSantis had legitimate reasons to suspend Warren because he decisions to sigh the statements on abortion and gender affirming care were “tantamount to a functional veto” of state law.

The trial is expected to last at least two more days. Warren wants U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle to restore to his job and place a permanent injunction against DeSantis’ executive order that suspended him.

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Brexit Britain trapped in the middle as US and EU go to war on trade – POLITICO

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LONDON — Three years after leaving the EU to chart its own course, Britain finds itself caught between two economic behemoths in a brewing transatlantic trade war.

In one corner sits the United States, whose Congress in August passed the Biden administration’s much-vaunted $369 billion program of green subsidies, part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

In the opposing corner is the European Union, which fears Washington’s subsidy splurge will pull investment — particularly in electric vehicles — away from Europe, hitting carmakers hard.

The EU is preparing its own retaliatory package of subsidies; Washington shows little sign of changing course. Fears of a trade war are growing fast.

Now sitting squarely outside the ring, the U.K. can only look on with horror, and quietly ask Washington to soften the blow. But there are few signs the softly-softly approach is bearing fruit. Britain now risks being clobbered by both sides.

“It’s not in the U.K.’s interest for the U.S. and EU to go down this route,” said Sam Lowe, a partner at Flint Global and expert in U.K. and EU trade policy. “Given the U.K.’s current economic position, it can’t really afford to engage in a subsidy war with both.” The British government has just unleashed a round of fiscal belt-tightening after a market rout, following months of political turmoil.

For iconic British motor brands, the row over the Biden administration’s IRA comes with real costs.

The U.S. is the second-largest destination for British-made vehicles after the EU, and the automotive sector is one of Britain’s top goods exporters.

Manufacturers like Jaguar Land Rover have warned publicly about the “very serious challenges” posed by the new U.S. law and its plan for electric vehicle tax credits aimed at boosting American industry.

Kemi on the case

U.K. Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch has for months been privately urging top U.S. officials to soften the impact of the electric vehicle subsidies on Britain by carving out exemptions, U.K. officials said.

When Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo visited London in early October, Badenoch pushed her to rethink the strategy. The U.K. trade chief brought that same message to Washington in a series of private meetings earlier this month, including at a sit-down with Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo.

Badenoch has “raised this issue on many levels,” an official from the U.K.’s Department for International Trade said, citing conversations with U.S. Ambassador to Britain Jane Hartley, with Secretary Raimondo, “and with members of the Biden administration and senior representatives of both parties.”

The Cabinet minister has also spoken out in public, telling the pro-free market Cato Institute in Washington earlier this month that “the substantial new tax credits for electric cars not only bar vehicles made in the U.K. from the U.S. market, but also affect vehicles made in the U.S. by U.K. manufacturers.”

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo | Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Badenoch’s comments echo concerns raised by both British automotive lobby group the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), and by Jaguar Land Rover, in comments filed with the U.S. Treasury Department.

The SMMT warned that Biden’s green vehicle package has several “elements of concern that risk creating an uneven competitive environment, with U.K.-based manufacturers and suppliers potentially penalised.” The lobby group is taking aim at the credit scheme’s requirement for green vehicles to be built in North America, with significant subsidies available only if critical minerals are sourced from the U.S. or a U.S. ally.

In response to Washington’s plans, the EU is preparing what could amount to billions in subsidies for its own industries hit by the U.S. law, which also offers tax breaks to boost American green businesses such as solar panel manufacturers. Britain faces being squeezed in both markets, while lacking any say in whatever response Brussels decides.

Protectionism that impacts like-minded allies “isn’t the answer to the geopolitical challenges we face,” the British trade department official warned, adding “there is a serious risk” the law disrupts “vital” global supply chains of batteries and electric vehicles.

The conversations Badenoch had this month in Washington were “reassuring,” the official added. “But it’s for them to address and find solutions.”

‘Ton of work to do’

Yet others believe Badenoch will have a hard time getting her colleagues in the U.S. — now cooling on a much-touted bilateral trade deal — to take action. “The U.S. is minimally focused on how any of their policies are going to impact the U.K.,” admitted a U.S.-based representative of a major business group.

While Britain and the U.S. are “very close allies”, they added, those in Washington “just don’t really view the U.K. as an interesting trade partner and market right now.” The U.S. is more focused, they noted, on pushing back against China, meaning Badenoch has “a ton of work to do” getting the administration to soften the IRA.

Nevertheless the U.S. is still working out how its law will actually be implemented, the business figure said, and is assembling a working group on how the IRA impacts trade allies. This has the potential, they added, to “alleviate a lot of the concerns coming out of the U.K.”

Late Tuesday evening, the SMMT called on the British government to provide greater domestic support for the sector as it prepares to ramp up its own electric vehicle production. The group wants an extension past April on domestic support for firms’ energy costs; a boost to government investment in green energy sources; and a speedier national rollout of charging infrastructure and staff training.

In the meantime, Britain’s options appear limited.

Newly manufactured Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles parked waiting to loaded for export | Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

The U.K. “could consider legal action” and haul the U.S. before the World Trade Organization or challenge the EU through provisions in the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement, said Lowe of consultancy Flint. “But — to be blunt — neither of them care what we have to say.”

Anna Jerzewska, a trade advisor and associate fellow at the UK Trade Policy Observatory, suggested pressing ahead “with your own domestic policy and efforts to support strategic industries is perhaps more important” than complaining about foreign subsidy schemes. But she noted that after a “chaotic” political period, Britain is “likely to take longer to respond to external changes and challenges.”

And in truth, Britain “can’t afford to out-subsidize the U.S. and EU,” said David Henig, a trade expert with the European Centre For International Political Economy think tank.

Outside the EU, Britain could work to rally allies such as Japan and South Korea who are also unhappy with the Biden administration’s protectionist measures, he noted. “But I don’t think we’re in that position,” Henig said, as it would take a concerted diplomatic effort, and the U.K.’s automotive sector would “have to be well positioned” in the first place, not struggling as it is. He predicted London’s lobbying in Washington and Brussels is “not going to get anywhere.”

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Europe’s anti-American itch – POLITICO

BERLIN — It’s gotten cold in Europe, the economy is tanking and the natives are getting restless. There’s only one answer: Blame America.

Pointing across the Atlantic has long been a favorite diversionary tactic for Europe’s political elites when things start to get dicey on the Continent.

Whether it’s the war in Ukraine (Washington shouldn’t have expanded NATO), natural disasters (too many American SUVs fueling climate change) or the demise of French as a lingua franca (cultureless Hollywood), America is inevitably the culprit.

In the latest instalment of this tedious tradition, European officials are trying to blame the greedy Americans for the Continent’s current funk, accusing them of placing the mighty dollar über alles, stooping so low as to even take advantage of the war in Ukraine.   

“The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” a senior European official vented to my POLITICO colleagues last week.

Sobriety, however, is not a quality one could safely ascribe to the anonymous accuser.

Leaving aside the fact that Ukraine would have collapsed months ago if the U.S. hadn’t stepped in, the direct impact of Russia’s war on America’s $26 trillion economy from the sale of natural gas and arms is a droplet in a bucket.

For one thing, the U.S. exports less than 10 percent of its natural gas production. In 2021, the value of those exports was about $27 billion. While Europeans are understandably upset that their gas prices are four times what they are in the U.S., no one told them to make themselves dependent on Russian gas or to switch off perfectly functioning nuclear power plants (in fact, Washington told them for years not to).  

The accusation of supposed war profiteering from weapons is no less hollow. Of the roughly $30 billion in military assistance the U.S. has so far provided Ukraine, the bulk of the equipment has been donated.  

While American defense contractors stand to benefit from replacing stocks and from stronger demand for arms among NATO allies, so too should their European counterparts.

Yet therein lies the rub: European firms should benefit as much as Americans, but don’t. The main reason is that Europe has underinvested in its defense industry.

Germany’s recent decision to purchase American F-35 fighters, for example, was driven by the simple fact that there are no European alternatives. A plan by France, Germany and Spain to develop a “future combat air system” was hatched in 2001 but has yet to get off the ground amid persistent infighting.

A U.S. F-35 fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier | Cpl. Francisco J. Diaz Jr./U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images)

Political resistance in several European states over weapons exports has further stunted the region’s arms industry.

Take the Leopard 2 main battle tank, made by Germany’s Krauss-Maffei and considered by many to be the world’s best. Despite that reputation, the Germans lost out to South Korea when NATO ally Poland recently ordered nearly 1,000 new tanks. While price was one factor, political uncertainty was another, according to a person familiar with the decision, citing Berlin’s decision to block the sale of decommissioned infantry fighting vehicles and battle tanks to Ukraine.

Europe’s main bugaboo these days when it comes to the U.S. involves a set of green subsidies introduced by the Biden administration that benefit American companies.

One of French President Emmanuel Macron’s top priorities during his state visit to Washington this week will be to water down provisions in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), a sweeping legislative initiative covering everything from climate to health. European officials describe it as a reincarnation of the Smoot-Hawley act, a catalogue of tariffs in Washington introduced in 1930 that historians blame for worsening the Great Depression.  

The Europeans fear the generous “Made in the U.S.A.” subsidies will undermine their industry and are threatening a trade war.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that Europeans are having difficulty getting their own companies to invest at home because governments have placed more emphasis on subsidizing household gas bills than helping the region’s industry weather the crisis.  

“Europe is not cost-competitive in many areas, in particular, when it comes to the costs of electricity and gas,” Thomas Schäfer, who runs the Volkswagen brand, said in a post on social media slamming Europe’s industrial policy.

“If we don’t succeed in quickly lowering energy prices in Germany and Europe, then investments in energy-intensive production, or for new battery cell factories, in Germany and across the EU will no longer be feasible,” he said.

Still, ask around Berlin’s government quarter what’s really holding Germany’s economy back these days and the answer is clear.

“The U.S. is pursuing a massive industrial policy with protectionist tendencies,” Lars Klingbeil, co-leader of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, told Die Welt last week. “It shouldn’t be that U.S. economic policy is targeting us Europeans.”

The sad reality is that the Biden administration probably didn’t even consider Europe when it decided on the subsidies.

Europe has become more dependent on the U.S. than it has been since the Cold War | Hebestreit/Bundesregierung via Getty Images

That fact alone should give Europeans pause.

The issue isn’t that Europe doesn’t matter to the U.S., but rather that it doesn’t matter as much as Europeans would like to believe.

When it comes to innovation, Europe is a desert. There is no European Apple, Google or Tesla. Indeed, Tesla’s market value is four times higher than the entire German auto industry.

That’s why it’s difficult not to conclude that Europe’s blame game is really about something else — envy.

Despite America’s political divisions, the country has never been stronger in terms of its military might or its economic muscle.

Europe, meanwhile, has become more dependent on the U.S. than it has been since the Cold War, a circumstance that is fueling both resentment and the blame game.

In Germany,  a book titled “Ami, It’s Time to Go!” (Ami is German slang for Americans) has become a bestseller. The author is Oskar Lafontaine, a former finance minister who once led the Social Democrats before breaking with the party.

“We have to free ourselves from the tutelage of the U.S.A.,” Lafontaine writes, describing America as the root of most evill and arguing that Europe needs to blaze its own path.

Judging by the past century, Europeans would be wise to ignore him and accept that they only have themselves to blame for their current malaise.

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U.S. gun death rates hit highest levels in decades, study says

Among Black women, the rate of firearm-related homicides more than tripled since 2010, and the rate of gun-related suicides more than doubled since 2015, Fleegler and his co-authors wrote in the paper published by JAMA Network Open.

The research is one of the most comprehensive analyses of U.S. gun deaths in years, said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard University’s Injury Control Research Center.

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on U.S. firearm deaths last year, counting more than 47,000 — the most in at least 40 years.

The U.S. population is growing, but researchers say the rate of gun deaths has been getting worse, too. America’s gun-related homicide and suicide rates both rose 8% last year, each hitting levels not seen since the early 1990s.

In the new study, the researchers examined trends in firearm deaths since 1990. They found gun deaths began to steadily increase in 2005, but the rise accelerated recently, with a 20% jump from 2019 to 2021.

Why did gun deaths rise so dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic? That’s “a straightforward question with probably a complicated answer that no one really knows the answer to,” said Fleegler, an emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Factors could include disruption of people’s work and personal lives, higher gun sales, stress, and mental health issues, experts said.

The researchers counted more than 1.1 million gun deaths over those 32 years — about the same as the number of American deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the last three years.

About 14% of those killed by guns were women, but the rate increase among them is more pronounced. There were about 7 gun deaths per 100,000 women last year, up from about 4 per 100,000 in 2010 — an increase of 71%. The comparable increase for men was 45%, the rate rising to about 26 per 100,000 from about 18 per 100,000 in 2010.

For Black women, the firearm suicide rate rose from about 1.5 per 100,000 in 2015 to about 3 per 100,000 last year. Their homicide death rate last year was more than 18 per 100,000, compared with about 4 per 100,000 for Hispanic women and 2 per 100,000 for white women.

The highest homicide gun death rates continue to be in young Black men, at 142 per 100,000 for those in their early 20s. The highest gun suicide death rates are in white men in their early 80s, at 45 per 100,000, the researchers said.

In a commentary accompanying the study, three University of Michigan researchers said the paper confirmed racial and sexual differences in U.S. gun deaths and that homicide deaths are concentrated in cities and suicides are more common in rural areas.

“Firearm violence is a worsening problem in the United States,” and will require a range of efforts to control, they wrote.

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Target Crimea – POLITICO

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KYIV — In Crimea, the war is drawing ever closer, and nerves are on edge.

In conversations via secure communications, people in Crimea describe growing tension across the Black Sea peninsula as they increasingly expect the advent of direct hostilities. They say saboteur and partisan groups are now readying in the territory, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

Frustration and panic are surging, over everything from conscription to runaway prices. One person told of anger over an inability to secure hospital places thanks to the numbers of Russian wounded brought in from the fronts, while another said that the fretful Russian elite were trying to sell their glitzy holiday homes, but were finding no buyers.

When Vladimir Putin launched his all-out invasion of Ukraine in February, few people expected Ukrainian forces would nine months later be threatening to reclaim Crimea. That no longer feels like a military impossibility, however, after Kyiv’s well-organized troops showed that they could drive out Russian forces in offensive operations around Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine and Kherson in the south.

Tamila Tasheva, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s permanent representative in Crimea, has high hopes the peninsula will end up back in Ukrainian hands. “Yes, of course, it is entirely possible we will get Crimea back,” she told POLITICO.

“Our goal is the return of all our territory, which of course includes Crimea,” she said in her office in Kyiv. A 37-year-old Crimean Tatar, whose family lives on the peninsula, Tasheva is busy preparing plans for what happens after Crimea is “de-occupied” and is drafting a legal framework to cope with complex issues of transitional justice that will arise. She says while Kyiv would prefer the peninsula to be handed back without a fight, “a military way may be the only solution.”

“The situation is very different now from 2014. We have a lot of communication with people in Crimea and they’re increasingly angered by the high food prices and shortages in drugs and medicines,” she said. “And there’s been an increase in anti-war protests, especially since the start of conscription and partial mobilization.”

When asked about people forming anti-Russian partisan groups, she simply commented: “Of course they are.” The difference between 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and now comes down to the fact, she argues, that Ukraine has a strong army and a determined leadership and that is affecting and fortifying people’s thinking in Crimea. 

Against the occupiers

For Putin, Crimea has long been a sacred cause — he called it an “inseparable part of Russia” — and that led many in the West to fear it could be a strategic red line. That sense was hardly helped by nuclear saber-rattler-in-chief, former President Dmitry Medvedev, who issued ominous warnings about any attack on Crimea. “Judgment Day will come very fast and hard. It will be very difficult to take cover,” Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, said earlier this year in comments reported by the TASS news agency.

Undaunted, the Ukrainians have repeatedly gone after Russian targets in Crimea since August, including airbases and ships.

Tensions ratcheted up dramatically, however, after the explosion on October 8 that damaged the Kerch Bridge, a vital supply line between Russia and Crimea.

People pose in front of a postage stamp showing an artist’s impression of the Kerch bridge on fire | Ed Ram/Getty Images

People in Crimea say the Russians are jittery and on the hunt for pro-Ukrainian sympathizers, fearing more acts of sabotage. Kyiv has never formally claimed responsibility for what was most likely a truck bombing. The people POLITICO talked with can’t be named for their own safety, but they included businessmen, lawyers and IT workers.

“There was panic afterwards,” said one IT worker. “Since then, officers and soldiers have been moving their families back to Russia. And the rich have been trying to sell their properties worth $500,000 to a million, but the market is dead,” he added.

“Because of the sanctions, a lot of people have lost their jobs and prices for everything, food especially, have skyrocketed and there isn’t much choice available either. If you were making a $1,000 a month before February, now you need to be around $3,000 to be where you were, and how are you going to do that with the tourism industry dead,” he said. Locals are fuming that they can’t receive medical attention because the peninsula’s hospitals are full of Russian soldiers wounded in the fighting in Kherson and Donetsk.

With the situation worsening, more partisan cells are forming, they say. “My group of patriots know each other well: We studied and worked together for years and trust each other — we are preparing, and we understand secrecy will determine the effectiveness of our actions,” said a former banker, who claimed to be leading a seven-man cell.

Inspired by the Kerch Bridge blast, his cell is planning to sabotage military facilities using rudimentary explosives made from ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel.

“There are many provocateurs around and the Russians are anxious, so we’re vigilant. We know other partisan groups, but we don’t actively communicate for security reasons,” he said. “We’ve a deal with a police chief who understands Russia is losing and is worried — he’ll give us key to his arsenal when needed with our promise that we will put in a good word for him later,” he added.

Whether such cells represent any kind of serious threat remains to be seen and POLITICO can’t verify the claims of would-be saboteurs, but retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, a former commanding general of the United States Army Europe, says he had expected partisan cells to form, encouraged by Kyiv and otherwise.

“I would have assumed this. Both locals as well as saboteurs who have been infiltrated into Crimea. Remember the Ukrainians, of course, did this to the German Wehrmacht throughout World War II. There’s a tradition of sabotage and insurgency,” he said.

“I would hate to be a Russian truck driver on a convoy somewhere, anywhere in the area these days. I think when it does come time for decisive action, it will be a combination of local partisans and infiltrated saboteurs,” he added.

‘Crimea is Ukraine’

Ukraine’s recent victories in northeastern and southern Ukraine are fueling confident talk in Kyiv about Crimea, and since Russian forces retreated from Kherson city, 130 kilometers from the northernmost part of the peninsula, the chorus has only been growing louder, as more of the peninsula comes into rocket and missile range of the Ukrainians.

After seizing Crimea, the Kremlin harbored ambitions to turn it into another glittering seaside Sochi — or showcase it as a Black Sea rival to France’s Côte d’Azur. Construction of condos started apace with plans to make Sevastopol a major Russian cultural center. A new opera house, museum and ballet academy were to be completed next year. Around 800,000 Russians may have moved to the peninsula since 2014. The war has ruined construction schedules.

People take part in celebrations marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Simferopol on March 18, 2022 | Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

Top Ukrainian officials have been taunting Russia, saying Crimea will soon be under Ukrainian control — by year’s end even or early next year. Zelenskyy has returned repeatedly to the theme: in October telling European and American parliamentary leaders: “We will definitely liberate Crimea.” His top adviser, Andriy Yermak, told POLITICO during the Halifax International Security Forum earlier this month: “I am sure that the campaign to return Crimea will take place.”

Ukrainian officials told POLITICO that Western European leaders had been the most jittery about pushing on to Crimea. America’s top general, Mark Milley, chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has cast doubt about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim the peninsula militarily, suggesting it would be overreach. At a Pentagon press conference on November 16, he said: “The probability of a Ukrainian military victory, defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include what they defined, or what they claim as Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon, is not high, militarily.”

But the White House hasn’t walked back President Joe Biden’s February 26 remarks when he made Washington’s position clear: “We reaffirm a simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine.”

Raising the pressure

Ukrainian forces have been increasing the tempo of military activity in and near Crimea using both aerial and innovative marine drones to swarm and strike in October and last Tuesday Russian warships stationed at Sevastopol, the home base of the Russian navy in the Black Sea. The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhaev, said in a social media post after Tuesday’s attack that a couple of drones had been intercepted, later adding another three had been downed by Russian warships.

Kyiv has not commented on that attack, but last week, Ukraine’s top security official confirmed Israeli press reports that 10 Iranian military advisers in Crimea were killed by Ukrainian drones. “You shouldn’t be where you shouldn’t be,” said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s defense council, in an interview with the Guardian. The Ukrainians say Iranian technicians and operators have been assisting the Russians with the Shahed-136 armed drones supplied by Tehran.

The attacks appear to be unnerving the Russian military — especially those carried out by maritime drones. The October attack involved half a dozen radio-operated marine drones equipped with jet-ski engines. Some of the nearly six-meter-long drones are thought to have damaged two ships, a minesweeper and more importantly the Admiral Makarov, a frigate. On November 18, the Ukrainians repeated the exercise further afield with an attack on warships in the port at Novorossiysk, a Black Sea city in southern Russia.

One Crimea resident told POLITICO that the drone strikes appear to have forced Russian naval commanders to rethink the positioning of their ships. “A group of Russian warships were until recently regularly off the coast near my house. I used to watch them and if they fired missiles, I’d contact my family in various cities in Ukraine to warn them rockets were on their way. But now the warships have moved away, they were too vulnerable where they were.” he said.

The Russians are fortifying their defenses, especially in the Dzhankois’kyi district, the northern part of the Crimean steppe near Syvash Bay, according to Andrii Chernyak of the main intelligence directorate of the ministry of defense of Ukraine.

Hodges, the former general, disagrees with General Milley and says an offensive “is possible and I believe they will be working to be in place to begin this in a deliberate way as early as January.”

“Between now and then, they will continue to isolate Crimea by going after the Kerch Bridge again and also the land bridge that originates in Rostov and runs along the northern coast of the Sea of Azov down through Mariupol and Melitopol and on to the peninsula. The Ukrainians are going to be looking to pound away at the bridge and the land link, a form of eighteenth-century siege tactics,” he added.

Those siege tactics, he says, will be accompanied by daring use of high-tech weapons. “The U.S. navy has put a lot of development effort into unmanned maritime systems and to see what the Ukrainians have been doing with swarm attacks by drones has really impressed me,” he said.

The Ukrainians, he predicts, will attempt “to fight their way across the isthmus when the conditions are right,” adding: “This is going to come down to a test of will and a test of logistics.”

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Inside Biden’s decision to halt a rail strike

So Biden is pinning his hopes on the Democratic-led Congress resolving the impasse, something that appears likely to happen in the coming week despite grumbling by some lawmakers in both parties. It’s unclear whether they’ll do it before shipments of some critical supplies, such as chlorine for drinking water, begin to shut down this weekend.

Biden’s decision to request Congress’ intervention late Monday came after phone calls over recent days with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the trio of aides running point for the White House on the issue, three people familiar with the planning told POLITICO. In the end, they said, Biden figured that the blowback from unions and highly progressive members of Congress would be limited.

“We hit a spot where even if we could get the parties to agree at a table, the period to ratify would run past the shutdown date” of Dec. 9, one top Biden aide said of the agonizing decision process. The official, like the others, declined to be identified by name to speak freely about the final days before the decision. “So it just became impossible to get a deal agreed to and ratified before the key date.”

A rail strike could topple an already challenged economy at a cost of around $2 billion per day. But the deal Biden endorsed will leave a dozen unions representing more than 100,000 rail workers without concessions on issues such as paid sick leave, a bitter outcome for members of the pro-labor president’s most beloved constituency.

Anticipating those complaints, the White House crafted talking points noting that the deal will include worker-friendly provisions from a tentative agreement that Walsh had helped broker on Sept. 15, which temporarily averted a rail threat. Those include a 24 percent pay hike, along with language from recent legislation aimed at boosting domestic microchip manufacturing.

The official said the White House did not want to extend the rail talks into January. “If you don’t get a deal, you let the House GOP move the bill settling it?” the official said. “It would not be this bill.”

Anger from unions and progressives percolated nonetheless Tuesday, though so far it appears to fall short of the sweeping denunciations some labor activists demanded.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, one of the four unions whose members had rejected a proposed contract agreement with the railroads, said it was “deeply disappointed by” the president.

“A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the Railroad Workers’ concerns,” the union said in a statement. “It both denies Railroad Workers their right to strike while also denying them of the benefit they would likely otherwise obtain if they were not denied their right to strike.”

Still, the union reserved its fury for the “robber baron railroads” that had rebuffed its demands. So did labor supporters such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“At a time of record profits in the rail industry, it’s unacceptable that rail workers have ZERO guaranteed paid sick days,” Sanders said on Twitter. “It’s my intention to block consideration of the rail legislation until a roll call vote occurs on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to rail workers in America.”

Some in the GOP used the issue to attack Biden from the left, portraying the proposed congressional action as a betrayal of workers. “Asking Congress to meddle in this & turn its back on workers is insane,” tweeted Sen. Rick Scott, who like fellow Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the deal.

The White House could have asked Congress to extend the rail negotiations’ “cooling-off” period beyond Dec. 9 to buy more time for the parties to come together. But a second administration official said the parties in the talks — the biggest railroads, plus the rail unions that were still holding out against the September agreement — did not ask for an extension.

The unions also didn’t request further White House intervention to broker a deal, this official said.

“Why didn’t we ask for a cooling off extension?” the official said. “The simple answer is there was no request for it to be extended and there was acknowledgment from all parties involved that they were not making progress.”

So late Monday, Biden found himself forced to hold his nose and do something he hates: Limit the ability of labor unions to use all the tools at their disposal, including strikes, to force the best possible contract terms.

“As a proud pro-labor President, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement,” Biden explained in his statement Monday evening. “But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal.”

The first administration official said the bill will not strip out any of the additional side-agreements between unions and railroads that went into the Sept. 15 deal. The unions would also receive any other concessions that the railroads have made in individual contract discussions since then — but not everything that the unions wanted, especially on paid leave.

Congressional approval of a bill to impose the deal seems likely but far from assured. While the House is likely to pass a bill relatively smoothly, any single senator could slow down the process on the other side of the Capitol.

Ultimately, Biden and his top advisers made the calculation that the Sept. 15 deal enjoyed wide enough support among rail unions that the White House could ask Congress to use its unilateral power to enshrine the contract.

As a senator, Biden himself opposed using congressional authority to force labor deals on railroad workers. Congress has wielded that power more than a dozen times since passage of the Railway Labor Act in 1926, but it has not done so since 1991.

This time, the president resisted the congressional route for months. But with fertilizer companies making plans to stop shipments and rising threats to the movement of products needed for clean drinking water, Biden decided time was up.

And the last thing the president or White House wanted was a crippling strike stopping the movement of around 40 percent worth of freight, denying critical components, supplies and chemicals to a broad range of industries, from farmers to carmakers.

Any such disruption could also add further upward pressure on prices. Inflation is still running at 40-year highs after massive government stimulus during the Covid-19 pandemic and amidst a big gap in heavy consumer demand and limited supplies of both available workers and materials used for finished products.

The White House economic team spent many months of intense work to help repair Covid-related breakdowns in American supply chains. An extended rail strike threatened to at least partially undo much of that, while also potentially stranding passengers who rely on train lines — such as Amtrak’s long-distance routes — that run in part on freight lines.

A third administration official who also declined to be identified took issue with the idea that the White House had much choice but to turn to congressional powers to force a rail deal. “It just feels like we exhausted all the available routes,” the person said.

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.

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New York will involuntarily hospitalize more mentally ill people

Police officers, firefighters and Department of Health workers will be able to hold such individuals after the city workers undergo imminent training sessions — a plan that civil rights activists immediately took issue with.

The announcement, delivered from City Hall as Adams nears the end of his first year in office, is intended to tackle one of the Democratic mayor’s most persistent and complicated problems — which touches on public safety, human rights and the city’s appearance. But its success hinges on potentially costly solutions the city has not yet arrived at: A lack of mental health resources and affordable housing for those with severe financial needs.

During a press conference following his speech, Adams admitted the city needs more state-funded psychiatric beds as this initiative takes hold. In fact, the city has just 50 empty beds provided by Gov. Kathy Hochul at its disposal, he said.

“I want to talk to you about a crisis we see all around us: People with severe and untreated mental illness who live out in the open, on the streets, in our subways — in danger and in need,” the mayor said during his 19-minute address.

“We see them every day and our city workers are familiar with their stories: The man standing all day on the street across from the building he was evicted from 25 years ago, waiting to be let in. The shadow boxer on the street corner in Midtown, mumbling to himself as he jabs at an invisible adversary,” Adams added. “These New Yorkers and hundreds of others like them are in urgent need of treatment, yet often refuse it when offered.”

While his message was clear, supporting details were vague.

Adams and a team of deputy mayors, lawyers and press officials said they do not yet know how many people would be transported to hospitals, how many city workers would be tasked with this effort and exactly how much it would cost.

Adams said state law already allows the city to intervene when mental illness prevents New Yorkers from meeting basic needs, but “a common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance” unless a person presents immediate harm.

“This myth must be put to rest,” he added.

He’s asking the state to clarify the basic needs standard that was set in a 1980s court case.

The New York Civil Liberties Union accused Adams in a statement of “playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers” without “the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities.”

“The federal and state constitutions impose strict limits on the government’s ability to detain people experiencing mental illness — limits that the Mayor’s proposed expansion is likely to violate,” the organization’s executive director, Donna Lieberman, added in the statement. “The mayor’s attempt to police away homelessness and sweep individuals out of sight is a page from the failed Giuliani playbook. With no real plan for housing, services, or support, the administration is choosing handcuffs and coercion.”

City lawmakers were divided on the news.

“Who’s determining that they’re dangerous to anybody but themselves?” Democratic City Council Member Diana Ayala, who chairs the General Welfare Committee, said in a brief interview. “I don’t know that picking folks up and dragging them to the ER is even legal.”

“I don’t think it is the job of law enforcement to address a social service public health issue,” she added. “They’re not trained to do this, they’re not mental health providers and quite frankly — from what I hear from officers on the streets — it’s not something they want to do either.”

Adams said the existing law is clear, but police hesitated to apply the basic needs standard. Moving forward, the city will provide healthcare professionals who can advise responding officers via phone or video call on whether an individual qualifies.

Ayala, a Bronx representative whose brother suffers from psychiatric illness, said the city lacks mental health resources — particularly in low-income areas.

Council Member Bob Holden, a conservative Democrat representing Queens, issued a statement applauding the mayor’s announcement.

“There are ticking time bombs — who are a threat to themselves or others — riding our subways and walking our streets,” Holden said. “Serious mental illness, if left untreated, will only get worse. Let’s get these New Yorkers the help they desperately need and deserve and make our streets and subways safer for all.”

The Legal Aid Society, a frequent critic of Adams, issued a joint statement with several public defender organizations saying they are “heartened to hear that Mayor Adams acknowledges that community-based treatment and least-restrictive services must guide the path to rehabilitation and recovery.”

However, the groups said they are instead advocating for pending state legislation that provides voluntary methods to connect those people with services.

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Donald Trump’s turbulence-filled launch – POLITICO

“It’s been a disaster,” said a person close to the campaign.

Trump’s political operations have never been displays of calm efficiency. But the first two weeks of his third run for the White House have laid bare how Trump’s freewheeling approach — and the chaos that follows — remains a defining feature.

As word began emerging about the dinner with Ye, Trump’s own team was given conflicting information about whether or not Fuentes had joined the former president too. The scramble to get accurate information about who was with Trump was due to the fact that so few aides were with Trump over the holidays. And there were suspicions that Trump was being set up by Ye’s attention hungry advisers.

Trump has since put out several statements saying he did not know who Fuentes was. But he has not condemned the views Fuentes has repeatedly articulated. Fellow Republicans believe the entire episode has been damaging for him, with allies and Republican lawmakers being asked to respond to Trump’s dinner and offer their own condemnations of Fuentes’ hate speech.

“It’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it seems,” said a senior GOP campaign official. “But man, it’s pretty damn bad for him right now.”

Trump aides stress that the former president continues to dominate in 2024 primary polling and he is no stranger to controversial news cycles. They note millions tuned in for his announcement and he has continued to fundraise and now sells 2024 merchandise on his website. And they’re working to right the ship, with plans to formalize his surrogate operation, shift the focus to claims that the Biden administration has weaponized the justice system against Trump, and to accusations that Biden himself is not tough enough on China. They also plan to put Trump back in the spotlight with appearances and interviews — two things he has mostly avoided in the days since his campaign launch.

“The headlines matter less for him, because everything involved with Trump is already baked in,” said former Trump adviser Bryan Lanza. “Trump has universal name I.D. and there are no persuadable [voters]. And unlike a new candidate, he doesn’t have to go through building out a ground game or grassroots — he already has it. So the weekly campaign benchmarks are different. Who is he going to persuade days before Christmas?”

Trump is expected to appear at an “American Freedom Gala” on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago, and he and Melania Trump are expected to be special guests at a charity event on Sunday in Naples, Fla.

But even as those steps are taken, others remain, as Trump utilizes a small team and has yet to make the type of traditional investments that usually follow the announcement of a presidential bid.

Neither Trump’s campaign nor his main fundraising operation, the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee, are currently spending money on ads running on Meta platforms (the rebranded Facebook), and have not run any meaningful amount of ads since he launched his latest run on Nov. 15. His operation did not launch any new creative content on the advertising platform — which includes both Facebook and Instagram — looking to capitalize on him actually announcing his run.

“It’s way too early to be spending on that type of thing, we don’t even know the date of caucuses in each state. A lot of things are in flux with the scheduling, and we’re not just going to spend money for the sake of spending money. We’re going to be good stewards and maximize impact,” said a person with Trump’s campaign.

But his absence from Meta has surprised top digital operatives in both parties, who say it’s a lost opportunity to raise money and gather new contacts. “It’s shocking,” said one Democratic official in that space.

Trump himself remains banned from Meta — a decision the company is set to revisit in January. But his political operation has run fundraising ads and promoted his rallies since last summer. At the time, a spokesperson for Meta said that was permissible as long as the posts were not in the former president’s voice, a policy that is still in effect.

Trump was one of the rare Republicans who ran any sort of meaningful acquisition campaign — building the all-important email contact list that is central to any political organization — on Meta’s services since the 2020 election.

But his spending paled in comparison to when he was actively running for president the second time. Since Trump’s political operation started to again run ads on the platform in June 2021, the joint fundraising committee spent just $2.3 million on ads on Meta’s platform across nearly a dozen pages — compared to over $113 million on just his main page alone from May 2018 until he was banned from the platform in January 2021.

Trump is not entirely absent from digital advertising, however. His fundraising committee spent money on ads on Google, ponying up over $100,000 since the launch.

“Trump News: Donald J. Trump Is Running For President in 2024,” one such recent ad reads. “Donate To Show Your Support.”

Sam Stein contributed to this report.

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