Observations of the U.S. Presidential race 2020: Democrat view

The purpose of this article is to examine the candidates in the Democratic nominee race for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

On the surface, the Democrat nominee race does little to excite this observer. There is a group of several serious candidates who have one or more of the following:

  1. Money – and the ability to raise money
  2. Political experience – they have been to political Washington and have an understanding of legislative processes and mechanism’s
  3. A political profile – if they walk down the street, they will be immediately recognizable as _______
  4. A campaign team

The major candidates of the Democratic Party nominee race are:

  • (Sen.) Bernie Sanders – a self confessed socialist; popular with those concerned about the long term well being of the world, but exposed to accusations of socialism
  • (Sen.) Elizabeth Warren – well known for having comprehensive policies, but listens intently to concerns about her approach; her clash with Mr Sanders might cost her
  • (Sen.) Amy Klobuchar – a pragmatic candidate, prolific sponsor and publisher of legislation; her biggest challenge might be her relative lack of profile
  • (Former V.P.) Joe Biden – his time as Obama’s Vice President will pay dividends; he has experience, knows foreign policy but might be seen as too neoliberal for many
  • Andrew Yang – potentially a winner among minority groups; appears to understand the need for in depth reform but his relatively low political profile might hinder him

But many those several candidates are let down by personal characteristics, some of their making and other more natural ones. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont for example is in his 80’s, and although he has all of the political assets I mentioned above, his age is a significant concern and as he gets older it is a valid concern that is only going to grow. At that age Mr Sanders has a real risk of dying in office like former Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt did in April 1945. Many American’s will think twice before they vote for him just because of that.

And then there are Democrat candidates such as Elizabeth Warren who have shot themselves in the foot proverbially. In the last Democrat debate she accused Mr Sanders of lying, which is a huge allegation to make against someone who might end up being ones running mate should they survive the nomination process. Others like Amy Klobuchar have been solid, but appear to be missing a break out moment where they seize control of the race.

Then there are several candidates who appear to be mounting semi-serious campaigns. None of them have significant political assets, and several have views that are philosophically out of kilter with the Democrat Party. Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Cory Brooker are just a few of the Democrat candidates who have walked away from the 2020 campaign because they either realised they were not ready for it or had bigger priorities. Some of them had political assets – Kamala Harris was Attorney General in California; Tulsi Gabbard is a military combat veteran. They might be Presidential candidates in the future, but 2020 was not that year.


Observations of the U.S. Presidential race 2020: Republican view

The purpose of this article is to briefly examine the Republican nominee race for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

At this moment only two obscure Republican candidates are confirmed to face off in a bid to become the Republican nominee. This is a challenge made all the more difficult by virtue of the fact that Mr Trump, despite the commencing of the impeachment trial, has a rock solid evangelical Christian core of support. This is especially so around thorny issues such as abortion, gun rights, freedom of speech.

One is Joe Walsh, a talk radio host from Illinois. Initially Mr Walsh was a Trump supporter, but gradually became more and more critical. Prior to going onto the radio waves he was a two year Senator, who was replaced by U.S. Army veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost the use of both legs in combat.

However he holds many of Mr Trump’s policy positions. And indeed some are even more right leaning than those of the incumbent President. Mr Walsh’s time holding electorate office might also count against him as  the voting American will not necessarily see that one of the curiosities of being a New Zealander

The other is a businessman named Bill Weld, a former Governor of Maryland. Mr Weld’s campaign thus far has amassed about U.S. $871,000. He appears to be pro choice on abortion, a fiscal conservative who will reduce spending on the military.

As Republican candidates go, this sounds pretty good to me, but there are a couple of fundamental issues that need to be cleared first. Whilst Mr Weld sounds promising, it has to be said that the vast majority of Americans probably do not remember him that well. And his policy platform is in its infancy.

I cannot see at this time Mr Trump being removed from office. Whilst conviction in his trial requires a simple 51-49 majority, and would only need 4 Republicans to cross the floor, the constitutional rules require a super majority of 66 sitting Senators to remove him from office. In this case that would require 22 Republican senators to cross the floor.

Unless the Democrats get their act together in the next few months, or the impeachment trial A) convicts Mr Trump and B) votes to remove him from office, Donald John Trump will be President on 21 January 2021.

New Zealand has no place in Iraq

With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. The  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.


U.S. assassination of Iranian commander further destabilizes entire Middle East

The explosion of the missile that killed Iranian Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani has done more than just kill America’s credibility in Iraq. In one truly daft move, it has set in motion a chain of events that could permanently undo America’s Middle East foreign policy, cause another major war and dial back the clock on international security by years – if not decades. And as the world reacts with shock, the primary players seem to be becoming increasingly bellicose.

The broad consensus among the general public is that Mr Trump really wants a war with Iran, undercutting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who insists no such outcome is sought. The extent to which Mr Pompeo is being undercut can be clearly seen in some of the language being used by Mr Trump. Immediately after the assassination of General Soleimani, Mr Trump started off warning of a severe response if Iran tried to retaliate. When Iran said that there would be consequences, the rhetoric changed to talking about 52 targets being shortlisted. And as the international alarm bells started ringing, the rhetoric changed again, to threatening a disproportionate response.

One potentially overlooked part of the matter is Iraq. It has been host – albeit in many ways an understandably unwilling one – to thousands of international military personnel, mainly from the United States, but more recently Germany, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and others with varying roles in helping Iraq rebuild its security and remove the last of the Daesh. As it has watched its towns getting ruthlessly fought over, first during the invasion of Iraq, then as the sectarian violence rocked the country between 2003 and 2011, and more recently the Daesh insurgency, millions of refugees have been generated. Towns, families, communities have been torn to shreds. And all for what, they justifiably ask. Thus no one should be surprised that after nearly 18 years of conflict, Iraq – still recovering from the bloody Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and the 1991 Gulf War – has told its Government to start working towards getting rid of these misery makers.

Although the New Zealand Defence Force has committed to staying put for the time being, that may change whether they are prepared to admit it or not. As a developing situation that has the potential to get considerably worse in the near future, it is possible that an escalation of attacks or a general deterioration in regional security may undercut the N.Z.D.F.’s commitment. In this case I expect that the Army personnel would be pulled out of Taji and probably brought home.

None of this condones what Qasem Soleimani and his Quds Force did. Many innocent people died in violence brought about by him and his forces. But assassinating him in a foreign land, without Congress being notified, never mind approving the operation, has shown a dangerous level of contempt for international law as well as U.S. Constitutional law.

The ripples extend further than just Iran and Iraq. They potentially affect the entire Middle East. Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and said it no longer abides by it. This will alarm those hoping for calm, but excite the hawks in both the Pentagon and Tel Aviv who might finally get the war that they have been longing for. Russia views Iran in much the same way as America views Israel, and in a national security sense, this has potentially massive implications for the region.

Western politics sink to a new low as New Zealand looks to 2020

In just over 2 weeks one of the most turbulent decades in generations around the world will come to an end. A decade of wars, filthy geopolitics and greed. A decade in which Western politics both in New Zealand and abroad sank to what might well be an all time low. But as we here look to 2020 and the up coming election, the world is taking stock of the massive victory of Boris Johnson and nervously starting to think about what impeachment could – or could not – mean for that former “arsenal of democracy”, the United States a year from its own election.

In New Zealand scandals and alleged scandals rocked the 2008 election (N.Z. First allegations over donations); 2011 election (the tea tape); 2014 election (Dirty Politics). Whilst much gratitude and respect has been shown towards incumbent Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over her handling of the Christchurch mosque shootings and more recently the lethal eruption of White Island, the A.C.T. and National parties will attack her economic record, her perceived softness on crime and gangs.

As New Zealand looks towards 2020 there are a number of potentially dirty elements that may come into play in terms of politicking and outside influences. The gun lobby, angered as it is by the change in the gun laws following the Christchurch mosque attacks will be likely to try to undermine Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, depicting her as anti-freedom and a Communist. The oil and gas lobby will be active in trying to portray the Government that Ms Ardern leads as anti-business, tree hugging greenies.

But compared with the firestorm likely to engulf the American political spectrum over the next 11 months, ours might not even be a beach bonfire. There are certainly worse political spectacles than the triennial New Zealand political mud slinging competition. The constant fundraising, the hugely partisan media, the degrading personal attacks and the outside influences are just a few things that the American politicians deserving – or not – of (re)election, must contend with.

Before then though, given the nature of the fallout from Boris Johnson’s massive victory in the U.K. elections, it seems probable that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom – Wales exempt – may have a go at breaking up the union. It just might be that we are seeing the first birth pangs of the U.K.’s dissolution into separate nations. Despite Mr Johnson’s call for unity, Scottish nationalism has enjoyed an almighty rev up in the past few days with the Scottish National Party taking 47 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Meanwhile Ireland, facing the prospect of a hard border with the United Kingdom may feel compelled to demand an independence vote with a view to merging with the Republic of Ireland.

But before even that happens, if Mr Johnson’s promise to be all done on Brexit by 31 January 2020 succeeds, Britain will be out of the European Union by the end of January. Then, with Scotland dominated by a party that explicitly wanted to stay in the E.U., and Ireland fearful of a hard border and a return of “The Troubles”, the disintegration of the United Kingdom and an deeper loathing, might get underway.

Watching on from two relatively small islands in the South Pacific might not be a bad thing after all.