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Why did North Korea fire a missile over Japan Tuesday instead of at Guam, as it threatened three weeks ago?
Japan has long been its preferred military target, say analysts. This was the third missile test over Japan in recent years.
Guam was a bluff. And understanding Pyongyang’s likely intentions may help lower the fear – and risk of military escalation.
If North Korea believes the United States is going to attack in order to stop its nuclear weapons program, it needs a credible preemptive attack. Strategists say a first strike would likely target US bases in Japan, not the US mainland. Kim Jong-un’s big gamble, now that he has missiles that can reach the US, is that Washington will blink:
“Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles or Chicago in retaliation for an attack on a US military base [in Asia]?” one analyst asked in an interview with Eric Talmadge of The Associated Press. “Probably not.”
That’s probably why President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent 40 minutes on the phone Tuesday.
If you’re a weak nation trying to gain respect, as we reported Monday, unpredictability may help Mr. Kim sow fear. But for a strong nation, getting drawn into Kim’s wild war dance may not be in its interests. It may be smarter to work with allies to defuse the situation, following Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”:
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Now to our five stories for today.
How a president responds to a natural disaster – a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami – is often a key test of leadership. How’s President Trump doing with Harvey?
Donald Trump has earned qualified praise in his first major test as president, as southeast Texas grapples with its biggest natural disaster in recorded history. He has expressed compassion for those affected, and support for first responders and volunteers. But days before Harvey hit Texas, the president signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era flood standards for infrastructure projects. He also risks voter upset with efforts to roll back federal flood insurance. And for some, his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and pullback from environmental regulation signal an unwillingness to address the underlying causes of extreme weather events. Then there's the money question: Mr. Trump has promised to come through with billions of dollars for Harvey recovery and rebuilding. But he has also threatened a government shutdown if Congress does not include funding for a border wall in the budget, due next month. Funding for Harvey will make the math even trickier. “Hurricane relief complicates an already overcrowded legislative schedule.... It may be the best that can happen is he gets out of the way,” says presidential scholar Steven Schier.
Donald Trump faces his first major test as president, as southeast Texas grapples with record rainfall and flooding.
He has earned qualified kudos for his response so far. He has expressed compassion, support for first responders and volunteers, and observations on national unity.
But he also faces heated criticism on policy.
Days before hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the president signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era flood standards for infrastructure projects. He also risks voter upset with efforts to roll back federal flood insurance. And some say his compassion for those affected by Harvey rings hollow given his lack of support for addressing climate change, which many see as exacerbating such major disasters.
Trump’s biggest test may lie ahead: Can he secure the billions of dollars needed from Congress to fund recovery and rebuilding post-hurricane Harvey in the months and years to come?
Before Harvey, now a tropical storm, Trump’s antagonistic relationship with leaders of his own party on Capitol Hill was already challenging his ability to fund the government, address the debt ceiling, and launch tax reform when Congress returns next month. Now he faces demands to fund flood recovery in a way that satisfies his party’s fiscal conservatives.
“Hurricane relief complicates an already overcrowded legislative schedule, and makes even more important his ability to work with Republicans in the House and Senate,” says Steven Schier, a presidential scholar at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “It may be the best that can happen is he gets out of the way.”
In a telling sign, Trump’s legislative affairs director, Marc Short, accompanied him to Texas on Tuesday. Mr. Short and his team will be crucial players in the budget and debt-ceiling negotiations, and in addressing Harvey relief funds. Trump has threatened to allow a partial shutdown of the federal government if Congress does not include funding for a border wall in the budget. Funding for Harvey recovery, which Trump has promised, will make the math even trickier.
Even as he was already preparing for the legislative challenge awaiting him, it was clear Trump was also conscious of the optics. Ever since then-President George W. Bush was photographed inside Air Force One flying over a hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in 2005 – a photo op he later called a “huge mistake” – American presidents have avoided appearances during and after crises that could be deemed insensitive.
In visiting Texas on Tuesday, Trump’s goal was to engage with events but not interfere with rescue and relief. Presidential travel always entails massive security, including involvement of local law enforcement. He and his wife did not travel to Houston, but instead visited Corpus Christi, where Harvey made landfall last Friday, and the state capital, Austin, for briefings with state leaders.
Accompanying him were an entourage of Texas officials, including the state’s two senators and other members of its congressional delegation, and other White House staff.
Trump seemed mindful of Mr. Bush’s mistakes during Katrina when he made remarks at a hurricane briefing in Corpus Christi, thanking officials for their hard work but not suggesting the job was done.
“We don’t want to congratulate,” Trump said. “We'll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Next weekend, Trump will return to Texas and also visit Louisiana, reinforcing his hands-on approach to the storm.
Assessments of how Trump has handled Harvey depend very much on expectations going in. Those who already dislike him will find little to like in his hurricane response.
For some, there’s nothing Trump can do to redeem himself in Harvey’s wake. His decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, his pullback from environmental regulation, and expressions of doubt about man-made climate change all point to a president unwilling to address the underlying causes of extreme weather events, they say.
“While Donald Trump claims that ‘protecting lives’ is his highest priority, it is his own policies that will make recovery from superstorms like Hurricane Harvey much worse,” the director of the environmental group 350.org, Mae Boeve, said in a statement.
Before and after Harvey made landfall, Trump mixed tweets on the storm with political messages – an endorsement of a new book by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, an attack on Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri, and a boast about his electoral total in her state. Trump heads to the Show Me State on Wednesday to talk tax reform.
At a press conference Monday, Trump was unapologetic about the timing of his Aug. 25 pardon of the controversial former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The pardon came on a Friday night – a typical time for politicians to release controversial information, as they assume fewer people will be paying attention.
But Trump defended the move and denied criticism that he was trying to slip the pardon under the nation’s radar.
“A lot of people think it was the right thing to do,” Trump said. “And actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”
Disaster-management experts express concern about Trump’s effort to roll back flood mitigation.
“We know that spending money before a disaster is always more effective than spending it afterwards,” says Daniel Aldrich, director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University in Boston. “For every one dollar spent before a disaster, you save four to seven dollars after the disaster.”
But on one point there seems to be consensus: that Trump has put in place an effective Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Brock Long, who was confirmed by the Senate in June. Mr. Long brings to the table emergency management experience in both the public and private sectors.
Unlike former FEMA director Michael Brown, who had a background in horse-show judging and came to embody inept disaster management during hurricane Katrina, Long “was a good appointment,” says Mr. Aldrich.
Presidential pardons are often seen as an act of mercy. But some argue President Trump’s first pardon uniquely undermines the US justice system.
By their very nature, presidential pardons are a controversial business. Among those who have received them: hedge fund manager Marc Rich (which still steams Republicans), a Puerto Rican insurgent, Vietnam War draft-dodgers, and Richard Nixon. So what makes President Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio any different? Two things, experts say. First, the nature of the crime matters, and Mr. Arpaio’s crime was brazenly ignoring the orders of two federal judges. Second, the pardon once again raises questions about whether the Trump administration is willing to enforce judicial actions it doesn’t like. This brings the country back to a moment seen before and deeply uncomfortable to many on both the left and right: the president’s at times cavalier attitude toward the judiciary. To boot, the president pardoned a man seen as a racial lightning rod at a time of heightened racial tensions. “The judiciary plays a very important counterweight in our society,” says one expert on presidential pardons. “It’s what we do to ensure that we have a rule of law and not men.”
When President Trump defended his pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Monday, he was quick to put his use of this unique presidential power into historical context.
President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, the hedge fund manager who fled the country to evade prosecution for tax evasion and doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. (Mr. Rich’s wife had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic party.) President Obama commuted the sentences of Chelsea Manning, who leaked troves of military and diplomatic secrets, and Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican militant found guilty of planning acts of sedition.
The list goes on. Teamsters’ boss Jimmy Hoffa, Iran-contra defendants, Vietnam War draft-dodgers, and even President Nixon himself have received presidential pardons. The power of presidential pardon is “something quite extraordinary,” says Brent Wible, a former senior member of the Office of the White House Counsel in the Obama administration.
Yet Mr. Trump’s exercise of mercy towards Mr. Arpaio last week was even more extraordinary, many legal experts say.
First, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court, meaning that his crime was ignoring a judge's order. In offering a pardon for that crime, Trump risks undermining the authority of judges and integrity of rule of law. Moreover, in America's separation of powers, the executive branch is tasked with enforcing the rulings of the judiciary. The Arpaio pardon raises questions about whether the Trump administration is willing to do this.
“What’s different here is, this prosecution came from the judiciary as a way of maintaining its authority in compelling an individual to comply with their orders,” says Paul Charlton, a former United States attorney in Arizona. “A willful disregard of the judiciary’s orders has to have ramifications, they have to have some kind of deterrent effect so others will know, if they choose to violate the federal court, there’s a risk.”
“So what the president has done is diminish and trivialize the authority of the judiciary,” adds Mr. Charlton, now a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson in Phoenix. “The judiciary as a branch of governance does not have its own police force, it doesn’t have an army, it has no way of enforcing its order without relying on the executive branch.”
The charges against Arpaio came from federal judges appointed by President George W. Bush. In 2008, one found that Arpaio’s jails were unconstitutionally abusive. For example, Arpaio once publicly paraded undocumented inmates into a segregated area of his “Tent City” jail, which Arpaio once called his “concentration camp.”
Another Bush appointee ordered Arpaio to cease-and-desist his department’s racial profiling practices, and then referred him for criminal prosecution when he refused to obey. The sheriff was defiant, saying he would “never give in to control by the federal government.”
To supporters, Arpaio was a man who stood up to the left. “The President brought justice to a situation where the Obama administration had attempted to destroy a political opponent,” wrote Rep. Andy Biggs (R) of Arizona in a statement. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio made many enemies in the judicial system, the media, and the left because he enforced laws that the federal government ignored. He did right by the law – even as the political consequences continued to mount. America owes Sheriff Arpaio a debt of gratitude and not the injustice of a political witch hunt.”
Trump's pardon, however, also fits into a pattern of the president denigrating the judiciary in ways unprecedented in recent history.
During the campaign, Trump questioned the impartiality of US district Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an American citizen born in Indiana, who ruled against him in lawsuits brought against Trump University. “We are building a wall. He’s a Mexican,” then-candidate Trump said.
After a Seattle-based judge blocked his temporary travel ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries in February, Trump called him a “so-called judge” and portrayed him as a national security threat: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” he tweeted. “If something happens blame him and court system.”
“The president has been trying since the beginning of his administration to delegitimize the judiciary,” says Chiraag Bains, senior fellow at the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., and a former federal prosecutor in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “He tries to make them seem like mere political actors as well, and even tries to blame judges preemptively for setting any limits to his authority.”
Trump's pardon, coming so early in his administration and for a clear ally, raises questions about how he might handle similar situations during the next few years.
“I have no reasons to think he wouldn’t choose a similar path with the Russia investigation” by special counsel Robert Mueller, says Josh Blackman, professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Moreover, it sends a message to law enforcement.
“I worry ... that a pardon for this kind of action really says to law enforcement officials that they don’t have to worry about being prosecuted for violating the Constitution, or even a judge’s order not to violate the Constitution, so long as they’re doing President Trump’s bidding,” says Steven Schwinn, professor at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
Essentially, Trump is endorsing an officer who ignored the limits put on him by the judiciary.
“A contempt from someone who is charged through their oath of office with upholding the rule of law – in this case a sheriff who’s got his own obligations to uphold the law – for him to defy a federal judge’s order, I think that’s really a troubling aspect of both the conduct and the pardon here,” says Mr. Wible, the former Obama staffer now with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm in Washington, D.C. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the location of Mr. Wible's office.]
The timing of Trump’s pardon comes at a time when the issues of racism and discriminatory policing have been particularly explosive.
Recent events, such as the protests in Charlottesville, Va., “highlighted racial tensions in a way not seen in recent memory,” says James Goodnow, an attorney with Fennemore Craig in Phoenix, by email. “That political context thus makes the pardoning of someone who is known for racially-charged political controversy particularly ‘in your face’ and especially divisive in the eyes of many.”
Harold Krent, dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, says that Trump’s motives may be hard to understand in this case, but “it’s clear that the president is insensitive to the impact he makes, and to the need to heal the country.”
“I don’t think it’s a plan, or that the president is trying to undermine racial healing in the country,” says Professor Krent, author of the recent study “Presidential Powers.” “But this pardon can signal a lack of protection to the country’s most vulnerable groups.”
“The judiciary plays a very important counterweight in our society,” he continues. “It’s what we do to ensure that we have a rule of law and not men.”
Some see North Korea’s missile threat as the latest reason to accelerate defense efforts in outer space with the aim of more security and stability on Earth. How is that going?
Much of America’s military prowess depends upon a vast network of satellites orbiting the planet, and other nations have come to understand that dependence. Both Russia and China have reportedly tested anti-satellite missiles in recent years – which in turn has led to a growing clamor for the United States to improve its satellite warfare capabilities. More recently, concerns over the rapid development of North Korea’s ballistic missile program have boosted calls for all kinds of missile defenses – including those based in outer space. Even so, most analysts agree that the US is the dominant power in outer space, with an array of capabilities. At the same time, others are calling for the strengthening of international agreements that would constrain all countries from escalating the militarization of space. “Technology is developing rapidly,” says Laura Grego, a scientist with the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There are trends that might be stabilizing or might be destabilizing depending on how we create rules about how we use them.”
“I have to say,” said President Trump in an April video call with astronauts aboard the International Space Station that was broadcast to schoolchildren nationwide, “there’s tremendous military application in space.”
The United States has long worked on that assumption, to the extent that much of its military prowess now depends upon a vast network of satellites orbiting the planet.
Other nations have come to understand that dependence – both Russia and China have reportedly tested anti-satellite missiles in recent years – which in turn has led to a growing clamor from politicians and influential thinkers for the US to improve its satellite warfare capabilities.
Most recently, the rapid development of North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program has boosted calls for all kinds of missile defenses – including those based in outer space.
Yet there is another side to the debate, with some calling for the strengthening of international agreements that would constrain all countries from escalating the militarization of space.
“Technology is developing rapidly,” says Laura Grego, a scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program. “There are lots of changes happening. Many more actors are in space and many more people are interested in space. There are trends that might be stabilizing or might be destabilizing depending on how we create rules about how we use them.”
Ratified 50 years ago, the Outer Space Treaty binds its signatories to use ”celestial bodies” – the moon, asteroids, and planets, but not artificial satellites – for “peaceful purposes” and prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons in space.
But it does not enact a blanket prohibition on all space weapons, and it does not include rules for distances between satellites or for the appropriate use of military satellites. Nor does it specify protocols for how space-faring nations can interact with one another. This lack of clarity, say some observers, could leave the door open for increased militarization.
“There are members of the current Congress quite hawkish on space and who see it as the next battleground, and if the Outer Space Treaty could prevent that, I think it would be a very good thing,” says Philip Coyle, a science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington. “But this competes with people who want to do more, not less, in space, and industries that feel the same, that have systems they think would be useful in space.”
In 2016, Russia reportedly tested its first anti-satellite missile, and the country has long focused its energies on developing its space forces, with 150,000 troops in the Russian Aerospace Forces, compared with 38,000 troops in the US Air Force Command. China, too, has been steadily advancing its military capabilities in space, successfully testing an anti-satellite missile in 2007 and recently completing its own version of GPS.
Most analysts agree that the US still dominates with its array of capabilities in outer space. Back in 2008, it used a surface-launched missile to take out one of its own satellites that had malfunctioned.
According to Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Colorado-based Secure World Foundation, missiles of the type used in 2008 can reach an altitude of about 300 kilometers, or about 185 miles; but there are others, based in Alaska and California, capable of striking targets as high as 1,000 km – bringing the majority of satellites within range.
“None of this is any good if you don’t know where things are in space,” says Dr. Weeden, whose research areas include global space situational awareness and protection of space assets. Here again, the United States excels. Its Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program satellites, for example, sit 36,000 km above the planet’s surface and peer down toward the Earth, tracking other satellites that orbit far closer to home.
Then there’s the Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, whose mission statement talks of developing “reusable spacecraft technologies,” but which, according to some observers, likely has additional, more classified, purposes. The latest iteration – OTV-4 – just touched down again in May, after 718 days in orbit.
Despite these assets, pressure has been mounting in the US to take space even more seriously as a new frontier in any large-scale conflict. Only last month, a bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives ushered through a bill that would require the Pentagon to create a separate Space Corps within the Air Force – much as the Marine Corps is to the Navy. More recently, in the wake of North Korea’s rapid advancement in ICBM capabilities, dozens of Senate members are supporting a proposal to blanket outer space with a system of sensors to detect and track missile launches; Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas takes it further, having voiced his support for space-based missile interceptors.
Indeed, the Department of Defense is already undertaking “a comprehensive ballistic missile defense review,” says Heather Babb, a department spokeswoman, “which will include looking at number and placement of interceptor options.”
For some – including Dr. Coyle of the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation – space-based sensors could be a reasonable proposition. Escalating to space-based interceptors raises a host of uncomfortable questions, however.
“If we ever have ICBMs actually flying in space and space-based interceptors trying to shoot them down, there could be collateral damage to space-based assets that had nothing to do with that particular engagement,” says Coyle, who was formerly associate director for national security and international affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Moreover, he adds, “Would they be just [defensive], or would they be anti-satellite weapons, too?”
In an October 2016 op-ed for Space News, a trade publication for the global space industry, Trump policy advisers Robert Walker and Peter Navarro called for the United States to step up its military-focused space initiatives. “The future military necessity of using smaller force projection into hostile arenas will demand the speed and agility that only space-based assets can supply,” they wrote, adding that “both China and Russia are aggressively moving forward with a range of hypersonic weapons that are very difficult to defend against with traditional air-defense interceptors.”
In a Nov. 21, 2016 article in the Washington newspaper Roll Call, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) of New Jersey, now chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said he supported platforms for disabling another country’s satellites.
Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Roll Call that “we find ourselves in a grave deficit” against other countries. “In every area of warfare, within the Geneva Conventions, America should be second to none. That includes satellite warfare, if it’s necessary. We cannot be victims of our own decency here.”
But not all observers say the US should pursue another arms race; some argue that an element of diplomacy is needed. Indeed, Russia and China proposed a treaty in 2014 that would ban “any weapons in outer space,” but the terms were rejected by the United States as “fundamentally flawed,” in the words of Ambassador Robert Wood, the US representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
Yet if a new treaty is too much of a stretch, there may be another way – something less than a formal treaty, more like “norms of conduct, or rules of the road,” as Coyle puts it.
“It is within those parameters I see the best opportunity for keeping the space environment usable for all countries and companies,” says Joan Johnson-Freese, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
The United Nations, for one, has endeavored to construct such a framework ever since the inception of its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1959. The work of that body included the Outer Space Treaty, but over the past few years, says Dr. Johnson-Freese, it has also made strides toward bolstering such treaties with “ ‘best practices,’ voluntary guidelines for space activity.”
Such agreements, say observers, would serve the interests of every nation that aspires to participate in space activities. The debris from a satellite destroyed by a missile test, for example, can add hundreds of thousands of fragments to the cloud already encircling our planet, projectiles that threaten spacecraft and astronauts irrespective of their nationality.
“I think that there would be benefits to all spacefaring countries to agreed limits on behaviors and technologies,” says Dr. Grego. “There’s fertile ground where I think countries would find shared interests, and I think it’s way overdue that we talk about it in a serious way.”
Ever since 9/11, the US has tried to get Pakistan to stop harboring Islamist terrorists, including the Taliban. Now, the Trump administration is warning Islamabad. Why might that work this time?
When President Trump announced a new Afghanistan policy last week, signaling an open-ended commitment to America’s longest war, he had a message for India: “Help us more.” But it was also a message for Pakistan: If you won’t step up, maybe your archrival will. Relations with Islamabad have never been easy, and its harboring and use of regional terrorist groups as an element of national security posture toward Afghanistan and India have been a thorn in the US-Pakistan relationship since at least the George W. Bush administration, despite previous “get tough” warnings. “This open-ended commitment to Afghanistan is intended to send a message to the Taliban, but it also speaks loud and clear to Pakistan,” says a professor at Johns Hopkins University. “It says, ‘Your move – we’re committed to be here for a while.’ ” That could work, some analysts say. But it may face even more resistance from Pakistan than in the past. “If this is to be successful, it will mean getting the Pakistanis to recalculate their core national interests, and that’s going to be hard,” the professor says. “It’s a moment of opportunity, but that doesn’t mean this administration is well-placed to pull it off.”
A few billion dollars in US military and hearts-and-minds assistance over several decades never really succeeded in convincing Pakistan to change course and stop harboring terrorist groups that wreak havoc in neighboring Afghanistan.
So now President Trump is proposing something new to get Pakistan to sit up and take notice: a bigger role in Afghanistan for India.
As part of the new Afghanistan policy he announced last week – a plan that signals an open-ended commitment to America’s longest war and includes a modest rise in the number of US troops engaged in it – Mr. Trump is calling on India, Pakistan’s archrival and a growing power in South Asia, to do more to help stabilize Afghanistan and the region.
But rubbing a rising India in Pakistan’s nose is not risk-free and could have unintended consequences in an already volatile setting, some regional experts say. While it might move Pakistan off the dime and prompt some actions that the United States favors, they say, it could also push the Pakistanis deeper into their long obsession about a rising India and push off further any resolution of Afghanistan’s long conflict.
Also obscuring the diplomatic horizon is the increasingly influential role played by ever-more-powerful China as a strategic ally of Pakistan, making Islamabad less susceptible to US pressure.
“A larger role for India is definitely something Pakistan does not want to see, but that does not mean we can predict with certainty how it will respond to the US encouraging India in this way,” says Husain Haqqani, who formerly served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and is now director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington.
“Does the prospect of an expanding Indian role in Afghanistan make Pakistan change behavior? Possibly,” he says. “But it will also increase Pakistan’s paranoia about India, and that could actually prompt Pakistan to revert to behaviors” the US is not aiming to encourage.
The unpredictability of playing the India card gives some insight into the complexities of Washington’s never-easy relations with Pakistan, a country that has long mattered to the US because it is a nuclear power in a volatile region and because of its proximity to major powers China and Russia (and formerly the Soviet Union).
But Pakistan’s harboring and use of regional terrorist groups as an element of its national security posture toward both Afghanistan and India has been a thorn in US-Pakistan relations at least since President George W. Bush, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, told Pakistan that “either you are with us or against us.”
Pakistan has taken some steps against terrorist organizations at US urging and has largely turned a blind eye to US counterterrorist actions (such as drone strikes) against terrorist safe havens along the Afghan border. But it has never gone full bore against groups active in Afghanistan, like the Haqqani Network, believing those groups would give it leverage in Afghanistan (and against an encroaching India) when the US eventually pulled out.
Now Trump is signaling to Pakistan that in fact the US is not leaving any time soon – and that (for the umpteenth time) the US will get tough with Pakistan if it does not quickly alter its behavior and become a helpful instead of a disruptive regional player.
Some regional analysts say there are ways Trump’s “new strategy” could work. The combination of a US commitment to stay in Afghanistan with uncertainty about the tough measures it might take against an uncooperative Pakistan could cause some rethinking of policy in Islamabad, some experts say.
“This open-ended commitment to Afghanistan is intended to send a message to the Taliban, but it also speaks loud and clear to Pakistan,” says Daniel Markey, a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and a former South Asia director of the State Department’s policy planning staff. “It says, ‘Your move – we’re committed to be here for a while.’”
The Pakistanis have always based their Afghanistan policy on the view that “the US is going to fail, and leave, and to face what will be left we have to have friends,” Dr. Markey says. “This [renewed US commitment] at least gives them reason to recalculate their plans.”
And the Hudson Institute’s Mr. Haqqani, who was ambassador from 2008 to 2011, says that while the US has indeed spoken about upping its demands of Pakistan – like linking military and development assistance to actions against terrorist safe havens – it’s never really followed through.
“Yes, the US has spoken about getting tough, but when has that actually happened?” he says. “Instead, the pattern has been that the US demands and Pakistan does some little things,” he adds, “and that satisfies the bureaucrats in Washington.”
But some caution that there are reasons that a US “get tough” policy could face even more resistance from Pakistan than in the past.
For one thing, many officials in Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence structure still believe the US is basically asking Pakistan to go against its own national interests on America’s behalf. A president with an “America First” foreign policy, some analysts say, should understand that getting a country to alter what it sees as vital interests will at least take time.
Beyond that, others note that Trump is proposing his South Asia strategy with its “shape-up” ultimatum to Pakistan at a time when the US is no longer the unchallenged superpower it once was. China in particular is looking increasingly like a big-power buffer for Pakistan against US pressure.
In recent years China has supplanted the US as the major investor and financial backer in Pakistan, and Beijing’s strategic support of Islamabad has grown as China’s confrontations with a rising India (including border skirmishes) have multiplied.
Beijing was quick to at least rhetorically rush to Pakistan’s side after Trump announced his Afghanistan policy with its jabs at Pakistan. The Chinese government said Pakistan deserved only support for its efforts to battle terrorist elements within its borders.
On the other hand, Markey says China has no interest in seeing Afghanistan collapse and once again provide a haven for Islamist extremists, so he can imagine China at least tacitly teaming up with the US to pressure Pakistan to help make sure that doesn’t happen.
Perhaps the biggest virtue Markey sees in Trump’s new strategy is that it lays out elements, from India policy to US military status in Afghanistan, that will worry Pakistan and thus should prompt some tough diplomacy on a troubled relationship’s future.
“What this sets up is a serious conversation with the Pakistanis, and that’s good,” he says.
But both he and Haqqani say the dialogue is going to have to be tough and sustained, and Markey says he worries that a US with a shrinking diplomatic corps – and senior officials like the secretary of State distracted by other crises – may not have the capacity to build on a promising start.
“If this is to be successful, it will mean getting the Pakistanis to recalculate their core national interests, and that’s going to be hard, and it’s going to take a lot of effort,” Markey says. “It’s a moment of opportunity, but that doesn’t mean this administration is well-placed to pull it off.”
Our next story is about the compassion of one man and how a phone number on a Libyan prison wall led him to become a lifeline for thousands of refugees in distress.
The Rev. Mussie Zerai was thrown headfirst and unwarned into the drama of Europe’s migrant crisis when his phone rang at 3 o'clock one morning 14 years ago. “At first I didn’t understand,” the Eritrean Roman Catholic priest recalls, “but when I heard many people shouting ‘help us, we’re in danger,’ I realized that something had happened.” Someone on a packed refugee boat off the coast of Libya had Father Zerai’s number, and called him when the boat threatened to sink. Zerai passed along the emergency to the Italian Coast Guard. But the calls kept coming over the months and years, so many that he has lost count – he estimates that he’s aided in the rescue of some 150,000 people. Some Italians – including a public prosecutor in the Sicilian town of Trapani – accuse Zerai of colluding in people smuggling. But he denies it. “All I do, when I get a contact with people in the boats – not with the smugglers – is I tell the Coast Guard,” he says. “What I do, I do only to save lives … that is all.”
For tens of thousands of desperate migrants, their fragile boats in peril of sinking beneath the Mediterranean waves, his cellphone number has meant the difference between life and death.
Countless times over the past 14 years, refugees seeking a new life in Europe have placed their faith in the Rev. Mussie Zerai, calling him in distress. He, in turn, has informed the Italian Coast Guard of the emergencies, and they have arranged a rescue.
Father Zerai, an Eritrean Roman Catholic priest, has earned the nickname “guardian angel of the refugees.” He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015. But now, as the public mood in Italy turns against migrants from Africa and the Middle East, he finds himself under investigation by a public prosecutor looking into illegal people trafficking. In some people's eyes he is a devil.
Zerai, a heavyset man in a white soutane, a crucifix hanging from his neck, laughs at this new twist of fate. “I didn’t identify myself before as an angel and now I don’t accept that I’m a devil,” he chuckles. “I am just a normal person. When I know that a person’s life is in danger, my duty is to help save it.”
Zerai, also known as “Father Moses,” was thrown headfirst and unwarned into the drama of Europe’s migrant crisis when his phone rang at 3 one morning 14 years ago. “I was sleeping,” he recalls, “and at first I didn’t understand. I thought it was a joke. But when I heard many people shouting ‘Help us, we’re in danger’ I realized that something had happened.”
He was a seminarist at the time; he woke his rector and asked for advice. “If they are in danger at sea, ring the Coast Guard,” his mentor said. So that’s what he did.
How did someone with a satellite phone in a packed refugee boat off the coast of Libya have Zerai’s number? And how did it spread so far and wide among migrants? He figured that out only years later.
He had once helped translate for an Italian journalist writing about the fate of Eritrean refugees in Libyan detention centers. The journalist, it seemed, had given his phone number to the refugees.
Eight years later Zerai got a call from an American journalist reporting from Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. “He asked me if I knew that my number was written on a prison wall.”
Zerai has lost count of the number of distress calls he has fielded. But since he began sending emails to the Italian Coast Guard in 2011, formally forwarding the SOS messages he had received instead of just phoning them in, he estimates that “I’ve cooperated with the Coast Guard and [nongovernmental organizations] in the rescue of around 150,000 people.”
He takes the calls wherever he is, he says, though that is normally in bed, since migrants tend to phone him in the middle of the night. “The traffickers give them a satellite phone,” Zerai explains. “It’s their only life jacket.” Sometimes he doesn’t get much sleep, “but in the face of somebody’s life at risk, I can sacrifice some of my sleeping time.”
Zerai calls Rome his home, but for the past six years he has spent most of his time in Switzerland, where he is chaplain to the Eritrean Catholic community. “I would prefer to have stayed in Rome, but it was the decision of my bishop” in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, he says.
Zerai remembers wanting to become a priest when he was just 14; he was raised in Asmara by his Catholic grandmother, who he says “meant everything to me” after his mother died when he was five and his father fled Eritrea, then part of Ethiopia, for political exile in Italy. But the bishop said he needed parental permission to study for the priesthood, and his father told him he was too young.
When he was 16, Zerai flew to Rome to join his dad, but it had taken him five months to get an Italian visa; by the time the boy arrived, his father had moved to a new job in Nigeria.
“I was alone in Italy,” he recalls, an experience he says gives him particular sympathy for the migrant exiles now arriving by the tens of thousands on Italy’s southern shores. A British priest helped him get residence papers, and for nine years Zerai survived by doing odd jobs – selling fruit, hawking newspapers, and cleaning offices.
In 2000 he fulfilled his boyhood dream and began theological studies with the Scalabrinian congregation, a religious community dedicated to helping migrant and refugees. Ten years later he was ordained a priest.
Normally the summer months are Zerai’s busiest; good weather encourages Libyan smugglers to send more boats full of migrants to sea, and those boats often run into trouble even before they are out of Libyan territorial waters.
Strangely, he says, he has had only one distress call this month. The Libyan Coast Guard, he believes, is stepping up its activities to intercept boats while they are still close to shore, and local militias appear to have joined the effort to stop migrants leaving.
That is part of the Italian government’s new policy to work closely with the authorities in Libya to contain the migrant flood. The policy includes cracking down on NGOs that run search and rescue vessels off the Libyan coast and that sometimes act on Zerai’s information.
It is this link between Zerai and nongovernmental search-and-rescue ships that seems to be behind the decision by the public prosecutor in the Sicilian town of Trapani to include the priest in his investigation of international NGOs on suspicion that they are colluding with Libyan people smugglers in the transport of migrants.
Zerai denies the allegations vigorously. “I don’t have any contact with the smugglers so how can I collude with them?” he asks. “All I do, when I get a contact with people in the boats – not with the smugglers – is I tell the Coast Guard,” copying his emails to them to the UN refugee agency and to NGOs running rescue missions in the Mediterranean.
“What I do, I do only to save lives,” he insists. “I do my duty, that is all.”
Restraint against launching preemptive strikes is considered one reason for a decline in global violence. Such attacks retain a legal basis in international law; nations are entitled to self-defense if an attack is “imminent.” But today’s threats are less clear-cut. Rogue states and terrorist groups do not easily make known their intent. Extremist groups in the United States rely on individuals or small groups to initiate attacks. The world must be careful not to easily accept preemptive violence as it was in the past, when kings, tribes, or clans would strike an enemy for the slightest threat. Diplomacy and negotiation are preventing wars. The more people know of each other, the more they see their own good in the good of others. People’s “moral circles” have expanded. The global trend away from violence requires vigilance to maintain it. And one of the best ways is to keep questioning those who too easily justify preemptive violence.
One reason for a general decline in violence worldwide since World War II is that many nations and people no longer rely on preemptive violence, or attacking foes in anticipation of being attacked. The world is now bound closer by rules, trade, stable governments, and a greater knowledge of each other.
Yet this restraint against preemptive strikes is not assured. Just consider a few recent developments:
After North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Aug. 29, the Trump administration further raised the possibility of military action on the North’s nuclear facilities. “All options are on the table,” President Trump said. Even in pacifist Japan, nearly a third of people would favor a preemptive move.
Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was ready in 2013 to launch a preemptive strike against Syria to prevent further use of its chemical weapons on its citizens. In 2003, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq on the premise that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to build or export weapons of mass destruction. And since the 9/11 attacks, all presidents have relied on “target killings” of terrorists deemed to be plotting attacks on Americans or others.
Closer to home, many members of extremist groups have justified violence during protests. On Aug. 12, a neo-Nazi demonstrator rammed a car into a group of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Va., killing one. And in skirmishes in Berkeley, Calif., on Aug. 27, members of an anti-fascist movement (known as “antifa”) attacked right-wing demonstrators. Dartmouth College went so far as to issue a statement distancing the institution from the views of one of its lecturers, an expert on antifa, who supported violence by the “revolutionary left” movement against fascists during public protests.
The idea of preemptive attacks has a strong legal basis in international law. Nations are entitled to preemptive self-defense if an attack is considered “imminent.” But today’s threats are less clear-cut. Rogue states like North Korea or terrorist groups like Al Qaeda do not easily make known their intent or the exact whereabouts of their threat. And extremist groups in the United States rely on individuals or small groups to initiate attacks.
The world must be careful, however, not to easily accept preemptive violence as it once did. The days when kings, tribes, or clans would strike an enemy for the slightest threat have been replaced by a rise in organized governments granted a monopoly over the use of violence. And nations have steadily devised rules aimed at decreasing threats or they rely on international bodies, such as the United Nations, to justify a collective preemption attack.
As Harvard University professor Steven Pinker notes in his 2011 book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” humanity has grown in its understanding and use of empathy as a tool for peace. Diplomacy and negotiation are preventing wars. The more people know of each other, the more they see their own good in the good of others. People’s “moral circles” have expanded.
The global trend away from violence, whether it be the murder of individual or a government’s use of armed missiles, requires vigilance to maintain it. And one of the best ways is to keep questioning those who too easily justify preemptive violence.
Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.
Most of us have probably at one time or another cared for someone else, or for a household, or even a business. While this work can be very rewarding, there may be times when we give so much of ourselves that we wish someone were taking care of us. In fact, we are being cared for: God, divine Love, is the source of unlimited, spiritual care for all. The mother of a very active family, contributor Heidi Van Patten has seen many times that we are as uplifted and embraced in Love’s divine care as those for whom we are caring. As we understand more of God’s infinite love for us, His beloved children, we find not only strength and endurance, but also a release from the burden of feeling that our ability to care for others could ever be limited or inadequate.
Are you a caregiver? Most of us have probably at one time or another cared for someone else, or for a household, or even a business. While this work can be very rewarding, there may be times when we give so much of ourselves that we wish someone were taking care of us.
Well, we are being cared for, always! The care that we give to others is an expression of love, which has its source in God, and as Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, “God is infinite Love, which must be unlimited” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 312). So, rather than caregiving being limited to our own personal abilities, divine Love is the source of unlimited, spiritual care for all. Care, then, can’t be depleted or leave anyone feeling exhausted or left out. The caregiver is as uplifted and embraced in Love’s divine care as those for whom he or she is caring.
As the mother of a very active family, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see this all-embracing care in action. There was a week recently when each family member had to be in several different places throughout each day, and I felt responsible for making it all work out, as well as providing needed meals for everyone. I woke up early one morning not only reviewing schedules in my mind, but also feeling physically ill. I wondered how I was going to handle all the demands placed on me, especially if I wasn’t feeling well.
As I tried to get myself ready for the day, I received a call from someone who asked me to help her pray about the overwhelming work and family demands she was facing. I could have said, “Oh, boy! Tell me about it!” and commiserated with her. But I knew that wouldn’t have helped either of us. Instead, I reached out to God – the Love that I knew was truly caring for each one of us – and I found myself very naturally able to share with her ideas about how this all-encompassing, all-caring Love was meeting her need. The woman shared that she had been affirming that God is the true, spiritual Father and Mother of herself as well as of her family and co-workers, and this idea helped me as well.
Soon after we hung up, I felt free of all symptoms of illness as well as any sense of burden. And our family’s busy week continued joyfully and harmoniously.
As we understand more of God’s unlimited love for us, His beloved children, we find not only strength and endurance, but also a release from the burden of feeling that our ability to care for others could ever be limited or inadequate.
A version of this article aired on the Aug. 28, 2017, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.
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