Beltway Briefing

1. The House of Representatives is set to vote against a bill authorising the US action in Libya in a further blow to Barack Obama's authority. Republicans and Democrats are furious that the US President failed to seek congressional authorisation before the start of the mission as required under the 1973 War Powers Resolution. "The war in Libya is illegal, unconstitutional and unwarranted. It must end," Democratic representative Dennis Kucinich said.

The House will also vote on a bill to cut off funding for US military attacks in Libya. "The president has ignored the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, but he cannot ignore a lack of funding," said Republican Tom Rooney, the sponsor of the bill. "Only Congress has the power to declare war and the power of the purse, and my bill exercises both of those powers by blocking funds for the war in Libya unless the president receives congressional authorisation."

The measure would allow US forces to remain engaged in non-hostile actions in Libya such as search and rescue efforts, intelligence, surveillance and refueling. The bill is expected to pass in the House but it is almost certain to fail in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

2. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney has released a new video entitled "Obama's Misery Index: Ryan's Story". In the video, Ryan King of Midland, Michigan, reflects on the woes of unemployment: "I buy bologna and bread, commonly, because it's cheap - what I eat."

The Misery Index, an unofficial chart totalling unemployment and inflation rates, is at one of its highest levels in 28 years. In a sign of how fragile the US economic recovery is, the Index is set to register at 12.7 for May - 9.1 per cent for unemployment and 3.6 per cent for inflation.

3. A new Sarah Palin documentary will premiere in Iowa next week, according to reports. The Undefeated , directed by conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, chronicles Palin's rise from Alaska governor to vice presidential candidate.

Palin, who has yet to announce whether she will enter the 2012 presidential race, has been invited to attend the premiere. A preview of the film can be seen below.

4. Republican hopeful John Huntsman has opened his campaign office in the bellweather state of Florida. Huntsman, who officially entered the presidential race on Tuesday, said he chose Orlando for his campaign's headquarters because his wife, Mary Kaye, grew up in the area.

In an address to staff and volunteers, he pledged to avoid personal attacks on his opponents. "I want people who work in this office to remember that civility means something," Huntsman said. "I believe that you don't have to run down another human being to run for president of the United States."

5. Barack Obama is to visit Iowa on Monday as part of his "Winning the Future" tour of companies and manufacturing plants. The US President will tour a Davenport Alcoa plan to highlight the role of advanced manufacturing in American job creation and exports. Obama's visit will follow that of Republican hopeful Michele Bachmann, who is due to officially launch her presidential bid in Waterloo, Iowa, on Monday. Obama won the state in 2008 by 54 per cent to John McCain's 45 per cent.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump's cartoon nuclear rhetoric draws on a culture of American jingoism

Senior Republicans avoided condemning Trump's incendiary speech, and some endorsed it. 

From recent headlines, it seems as though Donald Trump isn't content with his Emmy-by-proxy. The US president told the United Nations General Assembly this week: “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Trump’s speech raised eyebrows for its bellicose tone, especially when contrasted with his predecessor’s endorsement of a war-averse approach. 

A widely circulated image of Trump's chief of staff John Kelly with his head in his hand might suggest that most listeners loathed the speech. But Trump said many outrageous things on the campaign trail and voters - at least a critical number of them - agreed. So how did his words go down at home? 

My contacts in international security were unwilling to go on the record condemning it. They were mainly Americans in their twenties, hoping for a government job one day, and fearful of saying anything that could be interpreted as "un-American".

The one person who would speak to me asked for their name to withheld. A former military analyst in the US Department of Defence, they told me that “the US has the military capability and legal responsibility to address threats to itself or allies". What Trump said, they suggested, should be seen in the context of the wider US institutions. "While Trump may have advocated for isolation in the past, the political and military forces he leads are built to enforce the adherence to international law and regional security," the former analyst said. "They provide a real counterweight to the bombast in Pyongyang.”

Trump's speech may have been colourful - his nickname for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, "Rocket Man", is a reference to Elton John’s mid-Cold War musical hit – but the speech should be seen as yet another reassertion of US military dominance. North Korea may boast of its Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) development,  but its arsenal is simply not well-equipped enough to present the same existential threat to the US that the USSR did at its peak. 

Rather than lacking comprehension, the analyst said of the speech: “Trump's rhetoric is intended to galvanise recognition that the current rules based order is threatened by North Korea's actions”.

Trump’s jingoism is not unique amongst the current American elite. Back in 1983, in his book, The Wizards of Armageddon, the liberal journalist Fred Kaplan characterised the hawkish US military strategy as simply ejaculating combative statements without a long-term plan. Kaplan quoted Herman Kahn, one of the early nuclear strategists, who called one proposal targeting the USSR a “war orgasm”. 

The US Senate recently passed a defence policy bill to increase military spending to $700bn, which includes $8.5bn for missile defence purposes. Overtly catastrophic language, meanwhile, has long been a staple of US foreign policy debates. In 2015, Trump's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz, made headlines when he vowed to carpet-bomb Isis until he found out "if sand can glow in the dark". While most leading Republicans chose to stay silent after Trump's speech, a few, such as Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, publicly endorsed the message. Cruz, despite the rivalry, was among them. 

On social media, the American public are vocally divided. Some called for Trump to be denounced for his inflammatory speech, but others tweeted #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Even some Trump sceptics agreed that the North Korea “nuclear summer” needed to be kept in check.

By contrast, overseas listeners have perceived the speech, and this administration’s foreign policy, as unnecessarily incendiary. Matt Korda, a Canadian research assistant on strategic stability at the UK-based Centre for Science and Security Studies,  told me: “Kim Jong-un perceives his nuclear weapons to be the only thing guaranteeing his regime's survival”.

“He will never give them up, no matter how much Trump threatens him," Korda added. “On the contrary: Trump's threat to ‘totally destroy’ the entire country (including millions of innocent and oppressed civilians) will only tighten Kim's grip on his nuclear weapons”.

The effects of Trump’s speech are yet to fully play out, but it is clear that his words have rallied at least a section of American society, and rankled everyone else. The Donald may seem to be mirroring the culture of nuclear recklessness his North Korean opponent helped to create, but this is also the kind of hostile and hyperbolic rhetoric which fuelled his rise to power. In reality, once Trump’s unpleasant vernacular is decoded, he can be seen to be echoing the same global view that has long pervaded the collective American consciousness. Trump's speech was not addressed at his UN doubters, but rather at his domestic fan base and his allies in the South Pacific. This is not a shift in US foreign policy - it is tradition with a spray-tan.

 

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman