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Editorial Roundup: US

Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:


Jan. 8

The Miami Herald on providing Puerto Rico with aid after the commonwealth experienced an 5.8 earthquake:

Puerto Rico is now dealing with the aftermath of a powerful 5.8 earthquake and equally powerful aftershocks. Casualties are low, and electrical power is slowly returning. But the quakes are just the latest natural disasters to cripple the U.S. commonwealth.

Puerto Rico still is healing from the hit it took two years ago from Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced has declared a state of emergency. President Trump has done the same. That’s the very least the Trump administration should do. It would be unconscionable for it to repeat its appalling response to Hurricane Maria’s destruction in 2017, when Trump practically mocked islanders’ pain and suffering, and recovery efforts became a political football between island leadership and Trump.

Vázquez said that she expects more quakes, and called up the National Guard.

Republican Florida lawmakers Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are facilitators for Puerto Rican aid. In a letter to the administration, Rubio, Scott and Puerto Rican officials urged the president to declare a state of emergency, which guarantees that federal resources are quickly disbursed.

“We have distribution centers around the island and four warehouses stocked with items such as water, ready-to-eat meals, generators and other supplies” FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow said.

Declaring a state of emergency is a no-brainer. This is also an election year, to be cynical, and Florida, whose population of Puerto Ricans soared after Hurricane Maria, is in play, as Rubio and Scott likely reminded Trump. But more than a year and a half after Maria hit, the president was still talking trash about Puerto Rican leaders, saying in 2019 that they “only take from the USA,” while a spokesperson referred to it as “that country.”

No, Puerto Ricans are Americans. They vote in U.S. elections.

The administration, which has yet to be held accountable for its ham-handed response to the Hurricane destruction, should also expedite the overdue release of unused funding for hurricane recovery.

In December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said it was withholding an additional $8 billion in unmet-needs disaster relief from Puerto Rico.

But in total, HUD is delaying the release of two tranches of aid, roughly $18 billion that Congress appropriated for the U.S. territory.

The money is a combination of mitigation and the unmet-needs funds designed to upgrade infrastructure, hardening electrical grids, for instance, and rebuilding homes, businesses and bridges to better withstand natural disasters.

But HUD fears the funds could fall victim to corruption. That’s a legitimate concern no matter what country needs our aid. The Trump administration was not alone in its bungled response to Maria — his throwing rolls of paper towels at people during a press conference was only the most absurd manifestation. Puerto Rico’s leaders come in for blame, too, unable to get an accurate casualty count, for example, for months after the storm.

However, that fear should not stop progress in its tracks. Rather it should propel both administrations to establish rigorous checks and balances to ensure money does not go into grifters’ pockets.



Jan. 8

The Khaleej Times on tensions between Iran and the United States:

The UAE has plenty of goodwill and soft power at its disposal to calm tensions between the United States and Iran, thanks to its historical, strategic and cultural ties with both countries. A little nudge towards talks between the two arch-foes could go a long way in restoring what is broken in the Arabian Gulf region and the wider Middle East. But how to open channels for talks is the question? Pulling back from the brink of war is one thing, staying back for discussions and negotiations is another issue. Trouble is Iran continues to wage (a losing battle) despite economic woes for the sake of what it calls a resistance economy built on conflict and confrontation. The two have fought several proxy wars in the region for four decades.

Sectarianism stoked by Iran has spread and militias backed by Tehran have inflicted much damage in countries like Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. What was once a limited, stand-offish conflict now threatens to turn deadly following the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Wednesday's Iranian missile attack on Iraqi military bases housing US troops. In this scenario, it is important for both sides to take a step back and carefully consider the dangers that a full-blown conflict could cause in the region.

Is such a war worth it for the people who inhabit the region? The challenges to dialogue are many, the path is strewn with thorns, but engagement comes from persistence. Forty years after the Iranian Revolution during which a theocracy took charge in Tehran, a new ruling elite was created. Sectarianism was written all over it as the Iranian military and the clergy got into a cosy arrangement to share power at the expense of peace with its neighbours. In their bid to export the revolution, the regime in Tehran managed to destabilise and polarise the region. Iran always had an eye on Iraq even before the ouster and death of Saddam Hussein by US forces.

It played on divisions and created a resistance militia to the US occupation using sectarian tools at its command. Soleimani was the man behind Iran's sectarian plots in the region and Iran has been shown its limitations. The regime should make a new start and break free from the revolutionary mindset that has done it great disservice and made it a pariah nation. Perhaps it should simply look to the UAE, a model nation, one that looks to the future. Iran, on the other hand, is bogged down by the past, and a revolution that didn't travel far.



Jan. 7

The New York Times on the Democratic primary race for president after the death of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani:

President Trump’s assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s intelligence and security services, has pushed foreign policy to center stage in the Democratic primary race for president.

Soon after the attack, former Vice President Joe Biden, the national front-runner, issued a statement charging that Mr. Trump had “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.” Mr. Biden has continued to offer increasingly harsh critiques from the campaign trail, warning that Iran is now in “the driver’s seat” in the region and predicting that General Suleimani’s death will strengthen support for the regime in Tehran. “This is a crisis totally of Donald Trump’s making,” he said at an event Sunday in Iowa.

Among other top candidates, Pete Buttigieg has expressed his dismay at the president’s recklessness, while Senator Elizabeth Warren has issued a series of escalating denunciations. Befitting his longtime opposition to military intervention, Senator Bernie Sanders is promoting a broad antiwar message. “Maybe what we should be doing is figuring out how as a planet we work together instead of going to war with each other,” he said at a campaign rally on Friday (Jan. 3).

This heightened attention on the White House trail is an important shift. Up to now, foreign policy has been largely ignored, with the candidates focused on domestic topics, such as health care and economic inequality.

This has suited the backgrounds of the contenders. Aside from Mr. Biden, most of the pack — including the mayors, governors and businessmen — have more experience in the areas of job creation and crime prevention than in maintaining global order.

But the imbalance is also a reflection of what voters care deeply about, and that tends to be not foreign affairs. In a September poll, FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos asked Democratic voters what issue was most important to them. Foreign policy ranked 15th, behind such domestic concerns as gun control, jobs, immigration, the makeup of the Supreme Court, racism and education.

This is not unusual.

“Short of a war or other violent attacks on American installations, foreign policy rarely takes center stage during presidential elections,” Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, lamented in The Times late in the 2012 presidential race. “Presidential candidates almost always campaign on how they intend to jump-start the economy.”

He noted that in poll after poll, foreign policy and national security issues were typically cited as the top priority for only 3 to 5 percent of voters.

The paradox, as Mr. Drezner pointed out, is that presidents have far more leeway to influence global affairs than, for instance, the economy, where Congress has more of a say. And while lawmakers can be more than happy to derail a president’s domestic agenda, they are more hesitant to cross the White House on international affairs.

The growing tension with Iran is merely the latest, most acute example of Mr. Trump’s impulse toward global destabilization. Whether it’s his abandonment of the Kurds in Syria, his antagonism of America’s allies, his coddling of hostile autocrats, his disdain for multilateral agreements or his manipulation of America’s Ukraine policy for his own political gain — a move that led to his becoming the third president ever impeached — this president has given Americans reason to abandon their complacency on foreign affairs and increase their concern about Mr. Trump’s frightening style of leadership.

In just a few weeks, the voting in the Democratic contest for president will begin. Voters must now decide whom they trust not only to work with Congress on cutting health care costs and cleaning up the political system but also to navigate a world that Mr. Trump has helped make increasingly unsettled and unsettling.

Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is making the case that this calls for a candidate with extensive foreign policy experience.

Mr. Sanders, in turn, is touting his antimilitarist credentials as part of his populist platform. “I know that it is rarely the children of the billionaire class who face the agony of reckless foreign policy — it is the children of working families,” he told supporters Friday at an event in Iowa. Mr. Sanders’s campaign is also reminding voters that, unlike Mr. Biden, he did not support the Iraq war in 2003.

Mr. Buttigieg is playing up his military background. “As a military intelligence officer on the ground in Afghanistan,” he said Friday at a campaign event in New Hampshire, “I was trained to ask these questions before a decision is made.”

Experience matters. But perhaps more important are temperament and judgment and the candidates’ philosophies on the use of American power, both hard and soft. Also, the people a president turns to for advice can be as important as his or her own expertise — yet another lesson that past presidents have provided by their failures.

To aid voters, the moderators for next Tuesday’s Democratic debate should set aside time to drill down on everything from what type of advisers candidates would seek out to how they would adjust our relationship with Saudi Arabia to how they would have handled the situation in Syria differently from Mr. Trump — or President Barack Obama.

Foreign policy can no longer be an afterthought in this election. The president wields enormous power on the global stage. Voters should feel confident that the next one is up to the task.



Jan. 7

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on former national security adviser John Bolton stating he would testify at the impeachment trial if subpoenaed:

A major hiccup has been introduced into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans for a speedy acquittal of President Donald Trump at his impending impeachment trial. Former national security adviser John Bolton says he is prepared to testify if subpoenaed. McConnell, with a big assist by Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, was all but prepared to declare the impeachment process dead.

Until Bolton’s announcement Monday, GOP leaders had convinced themselves that weeks of House testimony by former and current administration officials — describing multiple ways in which Trump abused his presidential power — really amounted to nothing. Senate Republicans had been hoping and praying that no new testimony or evidence would surface to derail their plans to acquit Trump and be done with this entire impeachment mess.

Nothing would sway them from their drive to declare Trump innocent — not even an official White House transcript that made clear Trump pressured Ukraine’s president into digging up dirt against Trump’s likely 2020 Democratic presidential opponent. They wouldn’t be swayed by a batch of unredacted emails uncovered last week in which defense and budget officials discussed the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, with one key official stating that there was “clear direction from POTUS (Trump) to continue to hold.”

The last thing Senate Republicans wanted was the prospect of testimony from someone with undeniable credibility. Bolton was in the room when many of the Ukraine discussions occurred between Trump and other top administration officials. Former aides described Bolton as harshly critical of the pressure being applied on Ukraine. Bolton has not denied witness testimony quoting him referring to the Ukraine affair and ridiculing Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as “a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

Bolton’s conservative credentials are impeccable. He resigned abruptly on Sept. 10 as details of the Ukraine aid suspension were surfacing publicly. Bolton’s public dispute with Trump over the reasons for his White House departure accented the possibility that Bolton would not offer flattering versions of Trump’s involvement in the Ukraine affair if subpoenaed to testify.

That’s exactly why McConnell is likely to do anything he can to circumvent the possibility. Hawley offered help Monday by introducing a resolution allowing the Senate to dispense with the trial altogether if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to delay delivery of the articles of impeachment.

And why is she delaying? Because Pelosi says she wants to ensure that the Senate will hear testimony and conduct a fair trial instead of railroading this proceeding to acquittal, as McConnell has indicated he plans to do.

Despite McConnell’s and Hawley’s antics, the American people deserve to hear what Bolton has to say. Anything short of that would expose these Republican ploys for what they are: a cowardly bid, at all costs, to hide the truth from the American public.



Jan. 6

The Washington Post on the the wildfires in Australia:

If a Hollywood producer ordered up these images, they might be dismissed as too dramatic: orange skies; ash-filled rain; fire tornadoes; flames jumping as high as 230 feet; people huddling for shelter on the beach. Australia’s wildfires are a disaster on a scale hard to fathom, charring an area roughly the size of West Virginia. California’s massive 2018 blazes hit a sixth as much land as Australia’s have so far this fire season. Government officials report that a third of the koalas in New South Wales might be gone. The nation’s eucalyptus forests may be damaged for good.

This is the future humanity is writing for itself, right now, every day world governments waste failing to respond to climate change. Yes, not every natural disaster has a climate-change link. And, yes, there are forces at work around Australia that preexisted climate change. But the context in which every natural variation in temperature or precipitation now plays out is hotter, making dangerous conditions and deadly results more likely.

Specifically, southern Australia’s temperatures have risen about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. Conditions over the past 20 years have been hotter and drier than in the 20 years before that, and the 20 years before that, and the 20 years before that, and so forth. December saw the nation’s hottest day on record, an average of more than 107 degrees Fahrenheit — a threshold surpassed just the next day. Heat and drought have toasted the land, turning Australia’s countryside into a tinderbox.

A major factor worsening Australia’s fire season is a natural cycle known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, which can make water in the western Indian Ocean warmer and in the eastern Indian Ocean cooler. This results in less rainfall over Australia. This phenomenon has dried out the nation for two years. Though it is too early to quantify any link between climate change and the dipole’s recent behavior, scientists have warned that global warming is shifting the cycle, making extended Australian drought more likely.

Australia has become a poster child for the ill-effects of breakneck fossil-fuel burning. Its iconic Great Barrier Reef is in peril as ocean temperatures rise and atmospheric carbon-dioxide emissions acidify the seas. Its sky-high temperatures and raging fires are a warning that land and sea are vulnerable to climate disruptions. And yet it is the world’s largest coal exporter, and its government has dragged its feet on curbing planet-warming emissions.

Even without human help, Earth can be at times inhospitable. All the more reason to avoid priming the planet for worse — extreme weather, intense heat waves, more drought, more flooding, rising seas, species die-offs, disease proliferation, and more foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. Australia, which has profited off fossil fuel extraction and use, has a responsibility to help lead the world. So does the United States, which under the Trump administration is every bit as complicit.



Jan. 6

The Wall Street Journal on what's next for President Donald Trump after the death of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani:

It may be true that no good deed goes unpunished, but only the ever-active Donald Trump could take it upon himself to punish his own good deed.

The good deed was ordering the elimination of Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, who as head of Iran’s Quds Force spent his years deploying one strategy: Export the 1979 revolution by killing people. The dead included Americans, Iraqis, Iranians, Europeans, Syrians and others across the Middle East. In the days before a drone hit his car, Soleimani was planning more death.

President Trump had a good couple of days after the strike. His statement on the action was measured and direct. Despite criticism, Mr. Trump kept quiet, letting the action speak for itself. Still, it was a major decision by the President involving the nation’s interests, and naturally his supporters across the country wondered what would come next. What came next was something familiar: a Trumpian crackback at his critics—in Iraq.

Though Mr. Trump kept the lid on Sunday as pundits and Democrats howled across social media and the morning shows, he apparently couldn’t abide a largely symbolic vote in Iraq’s parliament—most Sunnis and Kurds didn’t show up—to expel U.S. troops from the country. Aboard Air Force One Sunday evening, Mr. Trump threatened to “put very big sanctions on Iraq.” His twin threat to bomb Iran’s “cultural sites” quickly devolved into a debate about the Geneva Conventions, with some Republicans separating themselves from the remarks.

We think the President’s strike against Soleimani was justified on the merits, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent Sunday morning explaining on TV. A concurrent reality, however, is that we are starting a presidential election. To win, the Democrats desperately need to be able to run against Mr. Trump personally, as Mike Bloomberg’s ad blitz is making clear.

If the President allows his Soleimani decision to look like a one-and-done event, with no follow-up beyond tweets and rhetorical barrages against the Iranian and Iraqi people, he’ll give his opponents an opening.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren may be on the dismissable fringe of Democratic foreign policy, but moderates such as Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Mr. Bloomberg will seek to buttress their “return to normalcy” argument by saying Mr. Trump’s post-Soleimani behavior shows he is too impetuous and volatile to entrust with national security. They know their best chance lies with driving voter unease about Mr. Trump as Commander in Chief.

Mr. Trump’s obligation is to prove them wrong. Isolationists in his party will counsel Mr. Trump to wash his hands of the post-Soleimani world, but that isn’t possible now. With that decision, President Trump has put powerful forces in play in the Middle East and beyond. If events now spin in dangerous ways, such as if the U.S. leaves Iraq in a huff, Mr. Trump will not be able to blame everyone else. He should be reassuring Iraq that the U.S. is there to help preserve its sovereignty, not to exploit it.

The Iranian mullahs’ threats against U.S. citizens may or may not be bluster. Their announced intention to abandon limits on uranium enrichment under the Obama nuclear deal isn’t much more than they were already doing. But it is meant to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Europe while they wait for Mr. Trump’s successor in 2021.

Since pulling out of that pact in 2018, Mr. Trump has developed an increasingly strong hand with a “maximum pressure” campaign built around severe economic sanctions on Iran. The mullahs are unloved at home and have few real outside allies. Their cat’s paw, Qasem Soleimani, is gone.

The opportunity now exists to shape a coalition of allies, and perhaps even a few serious Democrats, in support of additional policy initiatives on Iran. We would not rule out proposing talks with the Iranian regime about negotiating an end game to its self-depleting 40-year struggle with the West.

Targeting Soleimani was a bold act that other Presidents probably would not have attempted to restore a measure of deterrence against an enemy state. Most Americans appreciated its show of strength. But now Mr. Trump has to show he can manage the consequences in a way that proves it was a wise decision in America’s interests.