ZOMG! The COVID Numbers Changed! (Or did they?)

One of my major frustrations with the “news” media is how they treat numbers. In a situation like we are facing with the COVID-19 outbreak, the data is very fuzzy, and we are apparently seeing wild swings in the numbers.  Headlines like this one in the New York Times are facing folks as they wake up this morning: Cases and deaths surge in Italy as its north is locked down.  So we should panic, right?  Maybe not.  

As previously noted, I’m using data from the nCoV-2019 Data Working Group data base, Epidemiological Data from the nCoV-2019 Outbreak: Early Descriptions from Publicly Available Data as well as the current (9 March 2020) World Health Organization database. I’m also indirectly using other sources of information to cross check these data.

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Dissecting COVID19 Statistics: what they really mean.

Everybody in the media seems to have become experts in epidemiology and statistics, talking about cases, R0, and mortality rates.  Here’s what all these numbers mean to you: Not much. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, don’t freak out.  The best sources of practical information are at the CDC web site, and the DHS/FEMA “ready.gov” site. Essentially, these are common sense actions.  But, since a 100 word post just isn’t in my nature, here are a thousand or so more words on what we seem to know about COVID19 statistics from a public policy, economics, and emergency management perspective.

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COVID-19 Tuesday 3 March 2020 Update

I didn’t really plan to do daily updates on this (and probably won’t unless things change), but I did listen in on the CDC briefing that just wrapped up at a few minutes ago (1:30pm ET) as well as some earlier telcons.  All told, I didn’t hear anything that changed my view that:
a) Most people getting COVID19 have mild symptoms and many probably don’t even know it or confused the symptoms with a normal cold, flu, or (if you live in the south), allergies from the god-awful pollen coating everything in sight;
b) The usual vulnerable populations (over 65, anyone with health issues) need to be especially cautious and use good hygiene;  So does everyone else.
c) Panic is still a bigger threat than the virus.
d) The Medical Community needs to prepare for a spike in respiratory distress cases even if total case counts stay manageable and below normal influenza rates;
e) The economic and political impacts of COVID19 will be disproportionate to the medical impacts.

The bottom line is everyone needs to practice good “flu” season behavior, as much to protect the vulnerable since if we can limit the spread it limits the opportunity for vulnerable people to be exposed.  If you feel bad, stay home.  Don’t spread the joy.  If someone is sick, it’s safe to take care of them, just frequent hand washing, vigilant surface cleaning, etc.  There are some indications are this isn’t quite as communicable as thought, but be sensible.  You’ll hear the phrase “social distancing.”  That’s doing things like not shaking hands, touching people, etc.  Ditching Facebook might help – can’t hurt, and might make you more sane 😛 …

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Disasters, Gnosticism, and “Smellin’ a lot of ‘if’ coming off this plan.”

One of the major problems with disaster planning is that you have to strike a balance between “likely” scenarios, “bad case” scenarios, and “worst case” scenarios.  When I’ve taught emergency management classes, I always remind the attendees that there are rarely any “no risk” options: there will likely be lives disrupted and lost either way.  It’s depressing, but the idea is to minimize that and, like the Hippocratic Oath says, “First, do no harm.”   And that’s where it gets tricky.  Often the consequences of the “bad case” scenarios are drastic, but can be minimized with equally drastic measures.  When do you trigger  those plans?  And what and when do you tell the public to do something, knowing that those actions have consequences, and can easily create a disaster worse than if you had done nothing?

The health care community is rightfully worried about COVID-19, and are examining a lot of “what if” scenarios.  IF the “bad case” scenarios come to pass it COULD get bad.   IF the virus spreads (which is likely already happened).  IF lots of people get sick (less likely, but possible).  IF that is true quarantines and closures would be required to slow the spread (not that likely).  IF lots of people get sick to the point of needing medical care and overwhelm the medical system (that is even less likely, based on what we know). THEN it gets bad. Likewise, as discussed previously, there is the possibility of supply shortages, quarantines, school closures, etc. kick in during these scenarios.

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COVID-19, Syria/Turkey, and the Johari Window

In my first job I traveled a lot between world capitals, often spending weeks at a time on an airplane supporting senior government officials and their teams.  One of them was an especially interesting guy, extensive experience in business, politics, and government, and had a set of “rules” he would would give out.  They really weren’t rules per se, but a collection of quotations and reflections based on his experiences, some funny, some thoughtful, that covered working in the White House and government, business, and how to stay sane in life in general. As a young officer I found them very valuable – I still have my signed copy.  Later on he became (in)famous for saying ..

…because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

That is a restatement of something developed in the mid 1950’s known as the Johari Window.  As a concept it’s been around for a while, especially in the intelligence and aerospace communities.  The basic idea is that the things that you don’t know you don’t know are the ones that have the potential to cause you the most trouble. It’s a useful tool for assessing information and decision making.  Recently several sociologists have suggested adding another category: things we do know, but don’t believe for one reason or another.  And I think that is the most dangerous category of all, and what we are facing at this moment in several areas such as with this virus.  People are thinking and acting like some information is unknown, when it is in fact known – but for various reasons don’t want to believe it.

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The Democratic Primaries: Sanders is the best choice

Politics in the US has become so nasty and confrontational I hesitate to wade in to it.  But it is vital that reasonable people try to discuss these issues rationally and not be scared off by raving ideologues and mean spirited trolls. We face serious issues, have serious differences in how to solve them, and need to have serious discussions. So in that spirit … here goes.  I’m not by any means a Democrat or Republican, although historically (pre GW Bush) I had Republican connections and leanings. This year, barring an unforeseen issue, the election will be between President Trump and the winner of the Democratic Primary.  It is vital that the candidate of each party be the best possible candidate, and present a real choice, to avoid “lessor of two evils” choices such as we had in 2016, so I feel that I have to speak up on this.  That said, there is one candidate on the Democrat side I could actually vote “for” rather than making a purely defensive choice.  And that candidate is, surprisingly, Bernie Sanders.

The main reason is foreign policy, but first let’s get economics out of the way: Sanders isn’t a communist or radical socialist, not in any sense of those words from a political science standpoint.  Sanders is a Social Democrat of the “Nordic Model” such as those implemented in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.  Of course they aren’t perfect, but arguably those systems are better than ours in many respects, balancing capitalism, centralized government, and social programs.  These countries are all highly rated in terms of happiness, equality, opportunity, and quality of life.  I often hear folks who are on the Republican side say “who’s going to pay for all that free stuff?” and complain about the higher direct tax rate.  But of course that’s simplistic, and not how things works.  Take something like health care – arguably we pay far more than we should, with worse outcomes statistically than the Nordic nations.  Much of the ACTUAL cost of health care is hidden due to the complexity of the byzantine system the US has which is based on employment, private insurance, government programs, and  tax “incentives” (for businesses, not so much for consumers).  While hidden, a substantial part of your tax burden already goes directly and indirectly to health care.  So arguing costs is largely a specious argument if the system is redesigned. Instead of paying through multiple channels – taxes and your insurance company and your health care provider and through overhead as you do now – you’d only be paying higher taxes.  Your total actual out of pocket expenses would be the same or less and, if reasonably well designed and managed, have better outcomes on average with much greater transparency.

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The disconnect between Information and News (COVID-19 update, 26 Feb 20)

Yesterday morning the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave a media briefing, led by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.  The transcript still isn’t up, but you can listen to the audio here if you have 30 minutes.  After it was over, I was thinking “OK, nothing here to get excited over, not really any new data.”  Then the news reports started coming out and I started getting messages, headlines like this NBC article: “Americans should prepare for coronavirus crisis in U.S, CDC Says” and pull quotes like “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when,” an official said.   I thought “wow, did I miss something?”  so I listened again.  Nope.  So what’s going on?  Is it time to panic, get masks, and start drinking?

Maybe not.  Let’s start with the pull quote.  What Dr. Messonnier said in full was “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”   In my view that puts a  whole different spin on things – the “how many people will have severe illness” is the key.  Certainly we should prepare – especially health care providers need to dust off their pandemic response plans (and, recall that Pandemic doesn’t mean people dropping dead in the streets, all it means is widespread).  Schools and businesses should probably think about what they would do if – and at this point, it’s a very big if with decreasing probability – things get bad.  Check ready.gov for some good advice and checklists.  Most of these things are stuff you should have already done to prepare for earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.

This points up a huge problem with how complex, scientific topics are covered by the media.  The details matter.  You can’t just grab a pull quote (and especially cut off the quote halfway for a headline!) and covey the nuance people need.  It stokes fear and uncertainty – and that has consequences.  Just look at what the stock markets are doing (some of which is justified because of Chinese supply chain disruptions, but risk taking on a life of their own).

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Iran, Iraq, and the attack on Soleimani (Updated 6 Jan)

The news that the US conducted a “precision attack”, “preemptive strike”, “assassination”, “act of war”, whatever you want to call it, and killed not only the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and a PMF leader (perhaps legitimate targets), but a number of Iraqi government security personnel has roiled Near East Asia and put the world on edge for what will happen next. I won’t spend much time discussing whether or not it made any sense to conduct this attack because the reason why it was a bad idea is obvious from the analysis of what might happen next.  But I will say it was an irresponsible thing to do, especially in the where and when it was done.

My position is that overt, public attacks on the leadership of sovereign nations outside of war is highly questionable both from a legal and effectiveness standpoint, and causes more harm than good. There must be a bright line between war and judicial/legal enforcement.  Of course there is a third way – the covert op way – but that’s a different and complex discussion.  I certainly won’t argue that Soleimani wasn’t behind a lot of actions that the US views as terrorism (a term I dislike in this case – what we are seeing is asymmetric warfare conducted by a nation-state).  If it’s that bad (and and argument could be made it is), collect allies, take it to congress, declare war, follow international law, take action.  Here comes the angry rant: In my opinion, in this case any analyst that thought this was a good idea should be fired.  You could put the skull of anyone associated with this operation up to your ear, and you would hear the ocean.  This was next level dumb.  Yes, I’m angry about this because it puts a lot of lives at risk, it violates international law, and compromises the US moral and strategic position both in the region and globally.

My position isn’t based on domestic politics – that’s not an attack on the Trump Administration, because Iran policy has been stupid for a long time, and the concept of assassination by targeted strike in third countries with which we are not at war has been around a long time; in modern times, the Clinton administration used cruise missiles, the Bush II/Obama and now Trump admins use drones. It has distorted US foreign policy, and should stop.  OK, now that’s out of the way, lets gaze into the crystal ball and try to figure out what it means.

Some in the US are hoping on the Iranians “get the message” and back off their support for various proxies around the Middle East; but I think a lot of analysts (not just Republicans, but those on the neoconservative foreign policy wing of the Democrat Party a well) are actually hoping Iran will react directly and give the US an opportunity (excuse) to execute a “regime change” operation.  Only the second has much of any chance of happening – and given the “success” of the last three attempts at regime change operations (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria) it’s hard to see how an outright war with Iran could play out successfully.

How will Iran react, and when?  My guess is nothing happens until Monday (6 Jan) for several reasons.  First, they will want to exploit the mourning period (three days), and fire up the masses.  Second, they will need time to come up with a plan (or, more likely, decide which pre-planned response to trigger) and implement it.  Finally, they are watching developments in the world, especially Iraq.

I don’t think the Government of Iran will act until they see how the Government of Iraq reacts to the fact that the US violated our agreement on keeping troops in their country, not to mention quaint concepts like international norms and law.  Iran has the high ground diplomatically right now, and won’t want to squander it.  If the US is thrown out of Iraq, its position in Syria is utterly undermined, and much of US containment policy against Iran unravels.  If asked to leave and the US refuses, it will rapidly get bogged down in a major counter-insurgency operation in Iraq that will make actions against Iran difficult or impossible.  Even if, ultimately, Iraq decides not to take drastic action, it has soured the relationship and will make future operations much more difficult. Iraq is a very complex place.  Yes, some are cheering this attack, and others are plotting revenge for them.  But for those in the middle, who don’t really like either the US or Iran, it has placed them in a very difficult position and moved the balance towards Iran.   This is why it was utterly foolish for the US to attack Suleimani on Iraqi soil – especially killing Iraqi security forces in the process.  It totally undermines an already iffy presence and will lead to the US being forced out, or, more likely, bogged down and compromised.

At this point, neither side is in a position to back down unless there are no further incidents by either side, but that doesn’t seem likely, as the US has conducted additional strikes Saturday, and Iran feels it must respond.  Worse, the problem is that Iranian proxies, who have a long personal relationship with Soleimani, may not give Iran time to let things play out.  They may give the US the excuse it needs, and any attack by a proxy will be played as an attack by Iran, even if Iran didn’t want or ask for it.

Most media analysts are discussing this in primarily military terms.  The force structures and objectives are so different, it’s almost nonsensical.  Certainly the US could, at some cost, eliminate the Iranian military in a few days or weeks at most.  Only Russia or China could potentially stand up to an all out assault from the US, and those would be bloody for both sides with “victory” unlikely for anyone but the cockroaches.  But Iran just doesn’t have the technology or resources to stand up to a US conventional attack.  It won’t be as easy as some might think, but Iran has no conventional chance at all.

However,for the most part Iran won’t fight conventionally, even if attacked that way.  Iran could inflict harm on the US via asymmetric means (aka terrorism), but I think this is somewhat overplayed with respect to the “homeland”.  Europe and the Middle East are another matter, and regional disruptions are assured if this escalates.   Those analysts discussing the economic aspects seem to be focused on the impact on Iran, and the fact that the US has enough domestic energy (oil) production to ride out major disruptions in Persian Gulf Oil that would result from an all out conflict. Some would even argue the US would benefit – China is very dependent on Middle East energy, so some also argue it’s a win-win: take out Iran, disrupt China.  That’s probably correct from a narrow view, but this misses a vital point.  Despite stock market trends, the US economic situation is extremely fragile on a number of levels – it would take a very long post just to provide the background on that.

While it is true that US oil production is rather high, it is based on the rapidly diminishing returns from fracking and shale oil.  It might ride out a short crisis – and that may be part of the rush to war, since once the boom ends, the US will again be vulnerable to Middle East disruptions.  But the main problem is how intertwined global economies and credit markets are.  The view that a oil disruption induced financial crisis would remain confined to China or Europe is probably wishful thinking.  If Iran (or proxies) attack Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, disrupting supplies, it may cause the economic dominoes to start falling across Asia and Europe, ultimately impacting the US.  Interestingly Russia would likely be little impacted by all this, in part because of US and European sanctions, which has forced them to insulated themselves somewhat from the Western economic system.  And of course they have significant oil and gas supplies, and could profit from the situation.  A few are making the utterly ridiculous argument that Trump is Putin’s puppet, and because Russia might benefit directly from this conflict they are orchestrating it.  Any serious student of Russian foreign policy would know this is absurd.  Russia has been pushing for stability and stabilization in the region – on their terms, to be sure, but if they were given advance work of the strike (and there is absolutely zero evidence they did) they would have opposed it.

A further revelation came this Sunday, that Soleimani may have been involved in passing messages between Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran to de-escalate the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen (and the resulting attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure).    If so, that makes the US strike even more inflammatory and questionable.

So, while the reasons are complex, ultimately the risk isn’t war – bad as that might be for those involved – the risk is that conflict will trigger a major economic crisis.

 

Twenty Questions (and answers, sort of) on the House Report, Impeachment, Russia, and Ukraine

If you don’t want to wade through all 300 pages of the House “Intelligence” Committee Report (which, unless you take proper precautions, will shave 50 points off your IQ), read the Republican rebuttals (which will take care of any remaining points), and are unable to read thousands of pages of documents in multiple languages, research at least 30 years or so of complex and often obscure history to understand this in context here’s twenty questions and answers (sort of, with a dose of snark) to clear things up:

  1. Did Trump and his minions abuse their authority for personal gain with respect to Ukraine? Absolutely.
  2. Did they commit crimes? Almost certainly. Trump’s people seem to be amateurs at political crime.
  3. Did Biden and his minions abuse their authority for personal gain with respect to Ukraine? Absolutely.
  4. Did they commit crimes? Perhaps, but Biden is experienced at committing crimes legally so maybe not technically in violation of US law.  Ethically?  Oh, yeah …
  5. Did Russia attempt to influence the 2016 election? Absolutely.
  6. Did Ukraine attempt to influence the 2016 election? Absolutely.
  7. Wait – did any foreign country *not* attempt to influence the 2016 election? I doubt it. They’d be crazy not to, given the US is by far the world’s largest military power (and doesn’t hesitate to blow stuff up for “reasons”) as well as one of the top two economic powers depending on how you crunch the numbers, and there too it throws its weight around based more on domestic politics than sound foreign policy. US administrations of both ilks generally don’t follow international law they don’t like, freely abrogates treaties, and only participates in multilateral organizations when it can get its way. So about the only way to influence US foreign policy is to attempt to influence domestic US elections, and most countries do it, some far more overtly than Russia or Ukraine did (Israel, for example, or China.). And of course the US actively influences, interferes, and overthrows elections worldwide at will … so it sort of deserves it. I’ve seen nothing in what Russia did in 2016 that is technically different than what the US did in Ukraine in the lead up to the 2014 Maidan revolution.  And, again, many other countries have used similar techniques to influence US politicians, elections, and policy.
  8. Isn’t (pick something you don’t like from (1) through (7) above) just a conspiracy theory? More than likely, that thing you don’t like is at least partly if not mostly true with just enough uncertainty/fiction/error/bad reporting to allow you to discount it and keep believing the stuff you want to believe – which is also probably mostly true, but lacks context and your conclusions are just as wrong, without context, as the “conspiracy theory” you just dismissed.
  9. Is Russia our enemy? It’s not straightforward, but even though there are some problematic aspects and some serious issues, essentially No.
  10. Why do so many in the US Government hate Russia? It’s really complicated, mostly involving history, ego, bias, ignorance, and convenience. And money and resources. Lots and Lots of Money.
  11. Is Ukraine our friend? It’s not straightforward, but even though the majority of average people in Ukraine are great, and trapped in a horrible geopolitical trap, essentially No. Unless you don’t mind Nazis, or can be bribed (or better yet both). Then, yes, a lot of the current Ukrainian Government and Military is your friend.
  12. Why do so many in the US Government love Ukraine? Also really complicated, but mostly because they hate Russia for various reasons. But also money. Did I mention money?
  13. Is the Russia-Ukraine conflict a vital US concern? Really hard to see any vital US interests in it, in the great scheme of things, and a lot of the conflict is on various levels the fault of the US and NATO.
  14.  Did the US violate agreements and common sense to get involved? Yes. This is a result of 30 years of idiotic policies and greed with respect to the former Soviet Union.
  15. Why did it become so central to US Politics? Did I mention money? Follow the money. Also, hubris.
  16. Are the various career State and Military officials sincerely doing what they think is best for the United States? Sadly, they probably think they are.
  17. Are they doing what is best for the Country? Absolutely not. And there is nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks they are doing the right thing, and aren’t. They are sincere – sincerely delusional; and are blind to their own biases.
  18. What makes you so right and them so wrong? The main reason is I don’t have any overt conflicts of interest.  I also use multiple sources on all sides, and I don’t make assumptions unless I have to.  When I do, I try to constantly re-evaluate them. But the main reason is I don’t care about being wrong yesterday as long as I understand why, so I can do my best to be right today or tomorrow. Most analysts invest a lot of effort in proving they were right yesterday … and in the case of Russia/Ukraine, yesterday (Soviet times) was a different world from today.
  19. Where can I get unbiased information to understand this mess? Sadly, that’s hard. The few rational voices on this subject are marginalized and dismissed, and to understand the complex and overlapping issues of US, Russian, and Ukrainian domestic politics plus the multilateral treaty aspects you also you need to have access to Russian and Ukrainian sources. And then study international affairs ranging from bilateral agreements to international law. It’s nuanced – and nuance is an alien concept in modern American reporting. If you don’t agree with the “Putin owns tRump and is bad” narrative, or the “Our President is a saint, Biden, Ukraine, and Hillary’s Emails are Bad” extremes, it’s hard to be heard. Stephen F. Cohen, for example, is one of the few sane voices on the subject of Russia, and has been for 50 years, yet is dismissed as a “Putin Apologist” by both sides these days. There was a good background article in the otherwise establishment echo-chamber that is Foreign Affairs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” by John Mearsheimer (who is sort of a an idiot about nuclear weapons, but got this right).
  20. Are we doomed? Yeah, probably.

There, hope that clears things up …

The US and International Law and Conventions

A lot of people are incensed with the Trump administration’s announcement of the formal withdrawal of the US from the Paris Accords (the latest agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC).  These discussions are of course largely set within the internal domestic sound-bite wars that define modern US Politics. Republicans are applauding getting out of an agreement they contend would hobble the US economy and transfer wealth to foreign governments over the “fake” issue of climate change.  While some Democrats such Elizabeth Warren are noting the environmental and economic impacts, the response from other Democrats is emphasizing the disengagement from the treaty itself.  Bernie Sanders called  the President an “international embarrassment,”  and Biden tweeted “Trump continues to abandon science and our international leadership.”  Former Obama SECSTATE Kerry and SECDEF Hagel (technically Hagel is/was a Republican) have an op-ed in the Washington Post that emphasizes the disengagement from the international community as a central theme.

I won’t rant again about climate change and the UNFCCC, you can click here and read my views in another post.  In short, human impacts on the global climate system are increasingly serious and we’ve got to do something about it, but the present process and ideas on the table are utterly broken.  So while withdrawal is a bad idea, I don’t think the US pullout is going to make things worse because the Paris Accords and measures the Obama Administration committed to weren’t going to do much good anyway.  What concerns me here is how this is yet another example of the US undermining the entire framework of international law, norms, and conventions since the end of the Cold War.  This trend spans administrations and political parties.  At least the Trump Republicans are somewhat honest about it: they make their disdain for multilateral treaties clear, and have withdrawn from numerous agreements having much more direct consequences than the Paris Accords, such as the INF treaty, Iran Nuclear deal, TPP, NAFTA, and at least three other UN conventions/organizations (UNESCO, UNHRC, and UNRWA).  But Democratic Administrations (as well as prior Republican ones) have done tremendous damage to these organizations, and for individuals like Kerry and Hagel to whine about Trump’s actions is rank hypocrisy.

I have been involved with the technical operations of various international treaty organizations within the United Nations and Organization of American States for a bit over 25 years.  It’s a complex, frustrating, politically and technically complex world that at its worst is a monumental waste of time and money, but when it works (which is far more often than the critics would have you believe) it helps literally billions of people and makes the world a better place.  It requires a huge amount of patience and humility, and a willingness to compromise. Yes, you must keep America’s interests in mind, and there is nothing wrong with holding to reasonable lines that cannot be crossed, but one of those key interests is the long term stability of the complex system of international law, treaties, norms and conventions.  And that means sometimes you just can’t have everything your way, and you have to recognize that other countries also have legitimate concerns and interests.  But since the early 1990’s, the US has abandoned those concepts.  It views itself as “the Indispensable Nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future …” (per Madeleine Albright, the Clinton Administration Secretary of State from 1997-2001).  It feels “Principle is okay up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do any good if you lose.” (Dick Cheney, SECDEF in the 1990’s and VP under George W Bush). Time after time the US has not followed international law, intervening illegally in other countries, undermining treaty organizations, and acting as it likes simply because it has the military and economic power to get its way in matters great and small, pushing for its own position even in areas that are of little impact to vital US interests.  Compromise just isn’t in the US Diplomatic vocabulary any more.

After the GW Bush administration, many in the international community were hopeful that the US would re-engage the world on a more collaborative basis.  They were bitterly disappointed at subsequent Obama administration actions under Clinton and Kerry.  Given his pre-election rhetoric, there were no expectations of Trump.  He may be the last straw, but the loss of US prestige and influence in foreign affairs was a long time coming.  Eastern Europe and the Middle East are obvious failures, but in other areas less well known to the US public such as Central America, Africa, and Asia, the US has been playing a hypocritical game: flouting international law and treaties, all the while insisting other countries scrupulously comply with US interpretations.  You can’t have it both ways: to insist on rules, but violate it them when you don’t like having to follow them.

For the first 50 years after the Second World War, America was a leader in trying to create a stable framework of international relations. Over the last 25 years it has squandered that role. I hope the next Administration takes a long hard look at our Foreign Policy from first principles, and doesn’t just react to perceived flaws in the Trump administration’s term, because the problems run much deeper than that.

I close with a recent quote that sadly captures the current situation …

Washington’s daily display of contempt for other sovereign States has become the painstaking, mundane work of the U.S. state Department and the President. This policy has led to a virtual loss of competence in world decision-making, and the United States of America is perceived by fewer and fewer countries as a world leader, because the main feature of a leader is justice.

Washington has lost its bearings, who are friends and who are enemies … Washington is not able to reach a consensus, but uses blackmail and threats in its Arsenal of “diplomacy”.

It is impossible to build world politics and the future of our planet on the interests of only one state. I hope this will soon be understood by all the countries of our beautiful Earth.

— N. V. Poklonskaya