Reports by and about Cleo Paskal: Associate Fellow Chatham House, London, UK; Trudeau Fellow, CÉRIUM, Canada; Adjunct Faculty Manipal University, India. Author Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, And Political Crises Will Redraw The World Map.
United States President Donald Trump gestures as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) stands next to him during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
As Ann Coulter wrote, ‘Every time I try to be mad at Trump, the media reel me back in by launching some ridiculous, unprovoked attack.’
OK, so we know what the Western mainstream media think of US President Donald Trump. Look at CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post or, for that matter, the BBC, the Canadian media, the French media, the Australian media, and so on. The negative adjectives, invectives and allegations fly fast and furious—and if distilled would probably sound something like “lock him up”. But they never liked him. And they certainly weren’t the ones who voted for him.
So the question is, what does Trump’s base think? From a legislative point of view, that’s the key question at the moment. The Republicans hold both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Any vote for impeachment, etc., would have to pass the Houses. While there are certainly many Republican Congress members who would happily vote against Trump, if they think he still has enough support in their home ridings to affect their re-elections, they’ll think twice. The midterm elections are in 2018.
So what does his base think? The majority of Trump’s base has a completely different set of parameters from the mainstream media by which they judge his performance.
The first one, on which he wins every time, is that he is not Hilary Clinton. As long as the memory of her campaign lingers, it reinvigorates his support. Which is why, if the Democrats are serious about winning over some of his voters, they need to be a lot more “Sanders” (Remember him? The mainstream media and the Democratic Party don’t seem to.) and a lot less Clinton.
Other priorities depend on the sub-group of supporters.
So far, to those who supported him based on getting a conservative a seat on the Supreme Court, he can say he delivered the perfect Justice. For those with concerns about terrorism, he can say that he’s trying, but is being stymied by the courts. For those who backed him on his anti-Obamacare platform, he can say he is trying, but is being slowed down by Congress. For those who want the wall—physical metaphor for secure borders—he can say the design competition has begun.
But after that, it gets complicated. And his current trip to the Middle East may muddy the waters even more.
Meanwhile, many supported him based on the perceived economic warfare of China. Conveniently for China, North Korea flared up, and Trump seems to be holding back on all he promised about China (declaring it a trade manipulator, imposing tariffs, etc.) in the hope that China will rein in the monster it helped create. If there continues to be no action by the time of the midterms, he may lose a lot of the people who voted for him the first time, because their factories had closed and moved to China, killing their towns and breaking their families. Some of them were potential Sanders voters.
The mainstream media in the US have already locked down the anti-Trump vote. If they really want to beat him, they need to win over some of his supporters. But the constant attacks just rally his troops even more.
Other supporters prioritised getting the US out of the Middle East in general (while supporting Israel) and Syria in particular. Which was why Trump’s strike on Syria over the alleged chemical attack shook so many of his supporters. It was exactly the sort of thing he said he wouldn’t do, and which set him apart from other candidates. It didn’t help Trump with his base that the mainstream media lauded his strike, with even CNN calling the action “Presidential”.
Luckily for Trump’s poll numbers, the mainstream media was soon attacking him again. Which is something those against him have yet to understand. And which is really the key to understanding his near term prospects. The mainstream media in the US have already locked down the anti-Trump vote. If they really want to beat him, they need to win over some of his supporters. But the constant attacks just rally his troops even more.
One of Trump’s most vocal supporters during the campaign was Ann Coulter, author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome! She was among those who began to be concerned he was straying from his campaign promises. However, as she wrote in Breitbart: “Every time I try to be mad at Trump, the media reel me back in by launching some ridiculous, unprovoked attack.”
Similarly, AP reported that New York State Assemblyman Ron Castorina, who represents a district in “Trump Country”, blames Trump’s problems on mainstream media coverage that’s “damaging the country as a whole. Not only have I not heard of anyone turning their backs, I’ve seen people become more in solidarity with the president because they feel he’s getting a raw deal.”
The media attacks also seem to be hardening general Republican Party member support for Trump’s policy moves. In one recent Politico poll, 62% of Republicans said Trump was right to remove FBI director James Comey, compared with 16% of Democrats.
As it looks now, it seems the louder the Western mainstream media voices are against Trump, the better it is for his numbers. Another side-product of the onslaught is that many in the middle are simply starting to tune out.
On a very small scale I personally saw that phenomenon in action. Yesterday, I got into a taxi. The news was on the radio. The first item was a broadside, more editorial than news, about Trump and Russia. The driver changed to a music station. I asked him:
“Are you sick of Trump?”
He said, “No, it’s just always one-sided. These are complicated things. They aren’t really telling me anything…”
And for the rest of the drive he kept the radio on the music station.
Currently, it seems the constant media attacks are causing Trump’s support to harden, even though there are reasons for his base to be concerned by its own parameters. At the same time, the vitriol seems to be causing many on the fence to put the news on mute. So, if you hear endless anti-Trump pieces coming out of the US, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is losing support. At the moment, it could mean just the opposite.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.
One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most insightful, if low key, foreign policy initiatives was to work to deepen relations with more than a dozen island nations of Oceania.
One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most insightful, if low key, foreign policy initiatives was to work to deepen relations with more than a dozen island nations of Oceania. He met with regional leaders in Fiji soon after he was elected, and invited regional leaders to India the following year.
There are many reasons for the engagement. Oceania has age-old ties to India, covers about 1/6th of the planet’s surface, is increasingly strategic, has a lot of votes in international platform, substantial resources, a largely educated population, and is culturally and economically compatible with India. However, ever since the colonial period, Australia and New Zealand have considered much of the region to be “theirs”. Even India has bowed to their lead. During the most recent coup in Fiji, they told India to stay out of it, and India did. It was like India taking Spain’s advice on how to deal with South America.
China, of course, followed its own path. As a result, it has become highly influential in the region, including in Australia and New Zealand themselves. As others, including India, started to realise that perhaps Australia and New Zealand were advancing their own agenda, they started to try to develop direct relations with the region. Modi was a leader in this area.
In turn, as Australia and New Zealand saw their primary position threatened, they began to tighten their grip. The most prominent form that has emerged is the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) trade agreement. Australia and New Zealand have been pushing for PACER Plus for over a decade. There was little appetite for it in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs). Most already have duty free and quota free access to Australia and New Zealand for their goods, and the only labour mobility they are likely to get (and have already anyway) is to work seasonally for low wages, in difficult conditions, on Australian and New Zealand farms.
The PICs on the other hand will have to open up their fragile economies to Australia and New Zealand, dropping tariffs, rewriting their regulations, getting rid of policies that protect domestic innovation, and potentially undermining their possibilities of creating new bilateral relationships with, for example, India. PACER Plus, for example, might make it very difficult for the PICs to buy much needed, low cost Indian pharmaceuticals. What the PICs get in exchange for opening themselves up to what amounts to economic regime change is very unclear.
So why did the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Kiribati, Niue, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, agree to sign PACER Plus in June? One reason is that, while Australia and New Zealand have large dedicated teams (including from their own business sectors) to negotiate PACER Plus, most PICs have very few trade negotiators. To “resolve” that problem, Australia, New Zealand, and a few others funded an organisation to negotiate on behalf of Pacific Island Countries. The organisation’s Chief Trade Advisor, the man supposed to be advising Pacific Island countries, is not from the Pacific. He is from Ghana. Pacific Island Countries are socially and economically complex. It is difficult to know how someone who hasn’t lived the intricate social capital constructs of the region can, even with the best of intension, design a trade system that will protect food security, social stability and healthy family life in Oceania. The Australians were clear about their goals from the start. In 2002 an Australian official said: “A practical or economic interest of ours was to ensure that, whatever trade liberalisation occurred between the island countries, if it were extended to other states such as the United States, Japan or the EU, it did not disadvantage our trading position.”
Since then, Australia and New Zealand have used what Pacific Network on Globalisation has called “bullying and cheque-book diplomacy” to push through what is essentially an old style neo-liberal agreement they probably think will enhance their own position in the region, but is more likely to open the door to Chinese companies registered in Australia and New Zealand. The process of the negotiations has been problematic. Qualified, honest senior civil servants in at least one PIC were moved out of their jobs at the insistence of the larger countries due to their objections to the deal. While Australia and New Zealand regularly extol the virtues of accountability and transparency in the region, they have negotiated the agreement in secret and even now, a month before the signing, are not releasing the official text.
The two countries in the region self-confident enough to stand up to Canberra and Wellington are not signing. Papua New Guinea pulled out early on, saying the deal was completely in Australia and New Zealand’s favour. And Fiji claims it was excluded from the final meeting in part because of its objections over the “very restrictive” third party most favoured nation clause (MFN), a clause that seriously risks affecting Indian engagement in the region.
New Zealand Member of Parliament Barry Coates says of PACER Plus: “Typically trade rules have been preferential for developing countries but in this case Australia and New Zealand, as developed countries are requiring treatment at least as favourable. The MFN clause also sits uncomfortably with the “look North” approach adopted by PNG and Fiji. This will restrict the scope for future trade agreements with India and others.”
Now is the time for Indian trade negotiators to take a close look at PACER Plus not only to see what it might mean for India but also, in conjunction with their colleagues in the PICs, to help make sure this agreement will actually help the region to become stronger, not weaker, in the difficult times ahead.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s Special Correspondent.
Though perhaps overlooked, France has long been an Asian power and intends to remain so in the 21st century.
By Cleo Paskal
May 01, 2017
“France is everywhere in the world. And when we say we are going to the ends of the earth, I say ‘no, we are going to the ends of France.’ Vive la Polynésie française! Vive la République et vive la France!” – President François Hollande, French Polynesia, February 22, 2016
France is a lot bigger than most people think. There are pieces of France in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean, North America, and the Pacific. Many of those French islands are in critical locations convenient for monitoring and strategic positioning. Also, each of its scattered island territories is allocated up to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). As a result, France has the second largest EEZ in the world. Its approximate 11 million square kilometers are second only to the slightly larger EEZ of the United States.
Since the end of the Cold War, and with attempts at forging a European foreign policy, Paris has kept the profile of “overseas France” fairly low. However, major changes over the last year in France’s two main territories in the Pacific, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, may shake up the whole region, and beyond. The new engagements even raise questions about the development of a possible “fourth island chain” that could fundamentally alter the strategic map of the Pacific.