Hic Sunt Dracones

Author: Gary Hart

The Hunt-Lenox Globe, built in 1502, carried this phrase, “Here there be dragons”, in an area of uncharted maritime waters.  Since then what dragons there be, great whales, or who knows what, have been sighted and cataloged (that is unless you are among those still searching for the Loch Ness Monster.)

Where United States foreign policy is concerned, however, we may be entering an era described by that globe.  Based upon proclamations by the new President and some around him, there is reason for concern that post-World War II political, economic, and security alliances may be headed for the dust-bin and we are steering into seas whose dragons may be only vaguely visible.

The South China Sea.  Multiple Southeast Asian nations lay claim to maritime territories in the region.  They include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and most notably China, among others.  China is constructing makeshift islands on coral reefs to establish territorial claim.  We have protested these actions in international organizations and brought naval ships and patrol aircraft into the region.  In recent days the new President announced abrogation of the “one China” policy devised by Richard Nixon and followed by every American administration since then.  This was a formula for the return to the coldest of cold wars with China, with military confrontation not excluded.  In what is becoming a pattern, other officials have contradicted the President and reaffirmed commitment to the one China policy.  Nevertheless, this be a dragon requiring attention.

The Baltic States.  Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are members of NATO.  President Trump has declared NATO “obsolete”, thus exposing these small nations to the threat from its neighboring wolf to the East with whom the President has proclaimed unaccounted for friendship.  Once again, the new Secretary of Defense, who understands completely the importance of NATO to US and allied security, has walked back from the commander-in-chief’s dismissal of our most important security alliance.  Even if, as hoped, the Secretary prevails, members of NATO will wonder at our commitment to their security.  An explosive dragon to be watched.

NATO disintegration.  Depending on which day of the week, and which official is speaking, we are either going to continue as the central pillar of NATO or we are not.  If we are not, expect monumental increases in Defense Department expenditures as well as the rest of the alliance lining up outside the Kremlin to cut the best bargain they can against Russian domination of Europe.  The Baltic States represent the first, but not the only, test of whatever new arrangement is being devised in the White House where Russia is concerned.  If NATO is abandoned or weakened, we are indeed entering uncharted waters.

Trade Wars.  The new administration has abandoned the multi-national Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, thus opening the way for China, not the United States, to fashion trade rules for this vast region.  Thus, we have lost leverage to insist on labor and environmental rules required for fairness and climate protection.  Whatever collective trade arrangements these ten or so nations devise for themselves, we will not be part of.  One would have thought the author of The Art of the Deal would have welcomed the chance to demonstrate his superior negotiating skills in this historic and vast venue upon which we are deeply dependent to create jobs for American workers and lower costs to consumers.  What dragon will arise in our absence will hardly be friendly to us, our workers, or our consumers.

Deficits.  No authoritative institution has stepped forward to account for the negative impact on our national budgets caused by promised tax cuts, heavily tilted toward the wealthy, and unspecified major spending increases in military budgets.  Indeed, all calculations available show a very large, if not massive, increase in government deficits.  Whether the President is the last man standing to believe in the discredited “supply side” myth, one cannot know.  But, to date, no one in his Party, which has made so much of ending deficits, has stepped forward to explain how this looming gap will be closed, that is unless you believe the Speaker of the House may not be telling the truth about privatization of Social Security and Medicare.  The dragon-slayers of national deficits in the majority Congressional Party have gone strangely silent.  But the dragon remains.

Carbon emissions.  Lacking memory and a sense of history, at least over inconvenient subjects such as pollution, the Party of Richard Nixon has been trying to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency since he created it.  A great step in that direction was taken by the confirmation of a new director of the Agency who hates it.  Lacking the political courage to introduce legislation to eliminate the Agency, which would ignite a public fire-storm, this President simply appointed an assassin to attack it from within.  Look for career experts in air and water quality, toxic waste cleanup, regulation of toxic chemical production, and much else to resign rather than dismantle decades of progress or be re-assigned to the EPA office in Nome, Alaska.  The dragon of carbon in the atmosphere threatens to break out of its cage.

Iran.  There is daylight, once again, between the President and more sober members of the security agencies on the question of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the U.S. and Iran.  There is no evidence that the President has ever read the agreement or even been seriously briefed on the advantages to us, others in the Middle East, and the world to a major power agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons.  There is more at stake.  Iran is on our side where ISIS is concerned and is strongly supporting anti-Islamic State forces.  Iran’s reformers in government have indicated a desire for closer economic and political ties with the US and the West.  It will take no talent or imagination to destroy the basis for a better relationship.  Who would benefit from such a policy is totally mystifying.  It is the result, like the Affordable Care Act, of being a major accomplishment of the Obama Administration and therefore, by definition, something to be destroyed, cutting off our nose to spite our face.  This dragon must be kept in its cage.

North Korea.  In the world of dragons, this one is front and center.  Let’s forget (if possible) making policy in response to a North Korean missile launch over dinner at a country club.  There is possibly no greater test of the new Administration’s sobriety, maturity, and leadership command than this.  It is not going to become simpler and it is not going away.  Disarray, as at present, in the National Security Council and among senior intelligence officials and agencies, is an invitation to miscalculation with horrendous consequences.  Overnight, North Korea could become a greater threat to world stability than ISIS.  Rounding up immigrant children will not solve it or make us safer.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

This may not be 1502, but we are unquestionably sailing into unfamiliar seas without a compass, a clear idea where we are headed, or a captain with experience in steering the ship of state. It is not a good time for improvisation, intemperance, off the cuff decision making, or frivolous behavior.  Our ship requires navigators.  They are called statesmen.  We need to find them and quickly.

7 Responses to “Hic Sunt Dracones”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>> “One would have thought the author of The Art of the Deal would have welcomed the chance to demonstrate his superior negotiating skills in this historic and vast venue upon which we are deeply dependent to create jobs for American workers and lower costs to consumers.”

    PRECISELY!

    This, in and of itself, show President Trump for what he is … a little man who is afraid of sitting across the table from people who are his obvious superiors insofar as negotiating skills, among others, are concerned.

    A statesman president of the United States who believed the TPP was lacking in certain respects would have called and arranged a meeting of the parties in an effort to improve the agreement and make it better for everyone.

    It’s much easier to take the “strongman” approach and just say he’s going to tear up the despicable deal and negotiate a better one, knowing full well that should such a new negotiation ever occur he’d been in way over his head. Which is how he must be feeling most of the time, these days, evidenced by his juvenile reaction to every situation that confronts him.

    Can you even imagine how this president will handle the next major national security crisis?

    How long will it be, how many screw-ups will it take for there to be a serious effort to stop this man before we’re all in over our heads!?

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Every word I agree with but not the expression on the one China policy. As I have just said on previous discussion thread, being a member of a British party that has as a sister party the party of the new and excellent and liberal and democratic president of Taiwan, taking her call was the best and only good thing your , or I should say , the new president has done ! Reagan, for all the faults I disliked in his policies, was keen on trashing the worst of Nixon’s nonsense on one China, and that of Carter, who I otherwise admire more than any other politician in the States. China, as with Tibet, and Hong Kong, should no more be allowed carte blanche than Russia.

    If Trump makes no sense cosying up to Russia and demonising China, the reverse is as absurd at times !

  3. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    And as a P.S. Obama and others were expedient and even downright wrong to let such a stance decide the Dalai Lama had to be left by the wayside to accomodate this policy.

    I am active in defence online, of the liberal Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi , in jail for his blog ! I do not think we in democrtaic countries should put our relationships with Saudi Arabia or China ahead of human rights.

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo,

    I think you are right to say that democratic countries should not put their relationships with Saudi Arabia or with any other country ahead of human rights abuses. And, that is especially true in our post-9/11 world and in the context of the long war against violently deranged Islamist extremists who don’t care nor understand the first thing about Islam but how to use it to further their murderous power grab.

    I wonder if the time has finally come that western leaders will be incentivized to take human rights abuses seriously, abroad and within their own countries.

    This is one very strong argument, by the way, for the US to strongly renounce the use of torture by its own officials or by any of its proxies. It’s also another reason why President Trump is unfit for the office he holds.

  5. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Elizabeth

    Excellent commentary, you are so correct , and Trump defaces the landscape of democracy and humanitarianism as he excuses torture.

    The new female president of Tawain, Tsai Ing – Wen, being a woman, liberal and of the Democratic progressive party of her country , seems exactly the sort of leader to help make the world a safer place and someone whose phone call I think any of us would be keen to receive !

    If you want to visit the subject of Islam and fanaticism and hear terrific liberal democratic and Muslim voices , check out Maajid Nawaz,an English Muslim who was a fanatical Islamist and is now a staunch liberal and democrat, director of a think tank he started in the uk, a member of the political party I am a member of in Britain, the Liberal Democrats, much of him on You Tube, a very interesting and controversial and remarkable character , he was in prison in Egypt and now is on the air on the radio !

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Thanks very much, Lorenzo! I will check out Maajid Nawaz …

  7. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    “Deficits. No authoritative institution has stepped forward to account for the negative impact on our national budgets caused by promised tax cuts, heavily tilted toward the wealthy, and unspecified major spending increases in military budgets. Indeed, all calculations available show a very large, if not massive, increase in government deficits. Whether the President is the last man standing to believe in the discredited ‘supply side’ myth, one cannot know. But, to date, no one in his Party, which has made so much of ending deficits, has stepped forward to explain how this looming gap will be closed, that is unless you believe the Speaker of the House may not be telling the truth about privatization of Social Security and Medicare. The dragon-slayers of national deficits in the majority Congressional Party have gone strangely silent. But the dragon remains.”

    This is the major continuing concern, which is a mild term for the situation, of mine which has been looming ever larger over our country since the election of Ronald Reagan and has continued through every Republican administration since. I do not see it in any way being resolved, let alone addressed, by the current administration or Republican controlled Congress. I find it absolutely mystifying that there remains a large number of middle and working class voters in this country who knowingly vote for almost any Republican candidate against their own economic and political interests at the federal level, but especially at the state and local levels of government. Is it going to take, as I recently read, another financial/economic cataclysm of a magnitude greater than that of 2008 to make these voters see that the Republican Party in general, and far too many of its elected representative in particular, do not have the interests of the general American public in mind as they blithely go about the “business of the people” and destroy our great but slowly failing Republic.

    I am, however, gratified to see a modest improvement in the admonitions of the Republican members of Congress that they are no longer demanding an Amendment to the Constitution for a “balanced budget”, since not a single Republican administration starting with Reagan, who was the first to push for such an Amendment, has ever even proposed a balanced budget to Congress for its consideration.

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