OurWeek in Politics (9/25-10/1/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. In Explosive UN Speech, President Donald Trump Denounces Globalism, Praises Nationalism

President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

In his September 25 speech at the UN General Assembly, US President Donald Trump urged all the other nations to reject globalism and embrace nationalism while he was interrupted by derisive laughter from other world leaders. Over the course of the bombastic address, Trump highlighted the (imaginary) achievements of his presidency, lashed out at enemies, Iran foremost among them, and railed against multilateralism in its spiritual home, the UN general assembly. In one of the more remarkable moments in the history of the annual UN summit, the chamber broke out in spontaneous laughter at Trump’s claim that “in less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” Clearly taken aback, Trump said: “I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”

President Donald Trump arrived late for the summit, only coming an hour before he was due to speak. When he arrived at the green marble podium, Trump expounded on his visceral dislike of multilateral institutions, which he portrayed as significant threats to US sovereignty. “Americans govern America,” Trump said. “We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.” With regards to its emphasis on sovereignty and nationalism, the 34-minute speech echoed much of his first UN General Assembly speech last year.

Foreign policy observers note that the main contrast with the earlier statement was the countries that he targeted as enemies of the US. In contrast to last year’s speech (when President Trump infamously denounced North Korea and hits President Kim Jong-un), President Donald Trump used this year’s address as an opportunity to condemn the Iranian government and call for regime change. “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations. Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond,” said Trump. In contrast to his strident criticism of the Iranian government throughout the speech, President Donald Trump praised the governments of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, stating that they have pledged “billions of dollars to aid the people of Yemen and Syria.” He made no mention of the role of Saudi and UAE forces in the Yemeni conflict, where they have been accused of war crimes because of the civilian death toll from their coalition’s bombing campaign. They are also accused of dragging their heels over efforts to find a peace settlement. Trump, however, claimed his Gulf allies were “pursuing multiple avenues to ending Yemen’s horrible, horrific civil war.”

Overall the international community has reacted negatively to President Donald Trump’s speech, noting that its tone and theme of the address are in direct contradiction to the core values that the United Nations had promoted since its founding nearly 75 years ago. In response to the speech, UN secretary general António Guterres said President Trump’s fiery rhetoric shows that “democratic principles are under siege” throughout the world. Additionally, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the spread of global lawlessness, “in which everyone pursues their interest,” and noted that the policies of President Trump are partially to blame for this troubling trend. On the other hand, the governments of Russia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have praised President Trump, arguing that his speech was a “very welcoming statement.”

2. Senate Judiciary Committee Votes to Send Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination to the Full Senate for Final Vote

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week to advnace Bett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Senate for a final vote.

On September 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Brett Kavanaugh for a lifetime appointment for the US Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault but says it will request that an FBI investigation is conducted to determine the extent of Judge Kavanaugh’s misconduct. The FBI investigation is a caveat put forth by retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who said he wants the FBI to investigate the claims of sexual misconduct before he will vote to confirm or not confirm Kavanaugh in the Senate, even though he voted in favor of Kavanaugh during the meeting Friday. In a statement following the vote, the committee explained in a statement: “The supplemental FBI background investigation would be limited to current, credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today.” The committee vote came after a day of emotional testimony from both Judge Kavanaugh as well as Christine Ford, one of the women accusing him of sexual misconduct. During the hearings, Judge Kavanaugh was criticized for his poor performance, erratic behavior, an inability to answer even the most simple questions. These actions have led some critics to conclude that Judge Kavanaugh is not fit for the Supreme Court even if the investigation clears him of any serious wrong-doing.

Senator Jeff Flake was the deciding vote and did not commit to either side until early in the morning of September 28. In a written statement, Flake said: “I left the hearing yesterday with as much doubt as I had certainty.” “What I do know is that our system of justice affords a presumption of innocence to the accused, absent corroborating evidence.” But before the vote was expected to take place at 1:30 p.m., senators met behind closed doors. They reconvened around 2 p.m. Flake said he asked to delay the vote before the full Senate by one week to allow an FBI investigation. That is when Flake explained he needed more information before he could promise to vote for Kavanaugh in the Senate.

The Judiciary committee vote was on party lines; 11 Republicans voted in favor of recommending Kavanaugh, 10 Democrats voted against. Majority leader Mitch McConnell will now call for a vote in the Senate to confirm him. The Republicans control the Senate with a narrow 51-49 majority, but as the midterms are approaching, it may not stay that way for long (estimates show that the Republicans will likely have a net gain of three seats, giving them a 54-46 majority, at the same time as they lose control of the House of Representatives). Three senators have not taken firm positions on Kavanaugh: Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Commenting on the vote, President Donald Trump said he did not yet pick an alternative if the Senate doesn’t confirm Kavanaugh. He also said he would not interfere in the process. “I’m going to let the Senate handle that. They’ll make their decisions,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday afternoon. Based on the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee gave him a preliminary endorsement, as well as the fact that his testimony seemed to at least partially persuade the three undecided Senators, it is likely that Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed by a 52-48 margin. Despite his confirmation, Brett Kavanaugh will likely develop a reputation as a mediocre and ethically-challenged Supreme Court Justice appointed by one of the worst Presidents in US history.

3. US, Mexico, and Canada Agree To New Trade Agreement

The US, Mexico, and Canada agreed on a new trade deal this week meant to replace the 25-year-old NAFTA agreement.

On September 30, the United States, Canada, and Mexico reached an agreement to update the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 pact that governs more than $1.2 trillion worth of trade among the three nations, after nearly one year of tense negotiations. The new deal (known as the United States-Mexico Canada Free Trade Agreement) will not go into effect right away. Most of the key provisions do not commence until 2020 because leaders from the three countries have to sign it and then Congress and the legislatures in Canada and Mexico have to approve it, a process that is expected to take months.

Overall, the treaty itself includes many new provisions governing trade between all three countries. One such area of change is in the automotive production industry. To qualify for zero tariffs beginning in 2020, a car or truck made in any of the three countries must have 75 percent of its components manufactured in Canada, Mexico or the United States, a substantial boost from the current 62.5 percent requirement. Additionally, a new rule in the agreement stipulates that a significant percentage of the work done on the car must be completed by workers earning at least $16 an hour. While many economists think these new rules will help some North American workers, they also warn that both new and used car prices may rise and that some small cars may no longer be made in North America because they would be too expensive under the new requirements. There are also concerns that automakers might not make as many cars in North America to export to China and elsewhere overseas because costs would be higher in the USMCA region than making the vehicles in Asia.

In addition to the changes regarding the automotive industries in all three countries, the treaty includes several other provisions. The agreement stipulates that Canada must open up to US dairy products, potentially benefitting American dairy farmers (a reliably Republican group that will credit President Trump for boosting their economic fortunes), increased environmental and labor rights, increased intellectual property protection, and an improved dispute resolution process. Moreover, the new treaty gives American pharmaceutical corporations and increased market share in both Canada and Mexico.

Overall, the leadership of all three countries praised the new trade agreement as a positive step and an example of constructive dialogue between different countries. In a Twitter post, President Trump praised the agreement as a “great deal for all three countries” that goes a “long way to solving the many deficiencies and mistakes in NAFTA.” Despite much praise for the agreement, some observers argue that it does not address the underlying issues of worker exploitation and environmental degradation. Additionally, it is also claimed that the main purpose of the new trade agreement is to improve President Trump’s already strong popularity in the industrial Midwest and ultimately will have a negative impact on the US economy.

4. China Postpones Military Talks with US Over Sanctions

China cancelled its annual military talks with the US this week due to new US sanctions.

China has postponed joint military talks with the United States in protest against Washington’s move to impose sanctions on the Chinese military for buying Russian fighter jets and surface-to-air missile systems. The Defense Ministry said in a statement on September 29 that it had recalled Navy Chief Commander Shen Jinlong from a visit to the US and postponed talks between Chinese and US military officials in Beijing planned for next week. The statement added that China’s military reserved the right to take further countermeasures against the latest US-imposed sanctions, without giving further details. Earlier in the day, China’s Foreign Ministry had summoned US Ambassador to Beijing Terry Branstad and “lodged solemn representations over US sanctions against (the) Chinese military.”

The US State Department imposed the sanctions on September 27 on the Equipment Development Department (EED), a branch of the Chinese military responsible for weapons procurement, for engaging in “significant transactions” with Russia’s major weapons exporter Rosoboronexport. The sanctions are aimed at blocking the EED and its director, Li Shangfu, from the possibility of applying for export licenses and participating in the US financial system. According to the US State Department, the sanctions on Beijing are linked to its decision to purchase 10 Russian SU-35 fighter jets in 2017 as well as S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018.

Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said that China’s decision to buy fighter jets and missile systems from Russia was a typical act of cooperation between two sovereign countries and Washington had “no right to interfere.” The ministry spokesman also warned that the United States would face “consequences” if it did not immediately revoke the bans. The Trump Administration views China’s purchases from Russia as a breach of a sweeping US sanctions bill enacted in 2017 titled Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

The S-400 system, whose full name is the Triumph Mobile Multiple Anti-Aircraft Missile System (AAMS), is an advanced Russian missile system designed to detect, track, and destroy planes, drones, or missiles as far as 402 kilometers away. The defense system is capable of downing US F-35 stealth fighters. China became the first international buyer of Russia’s S-400 Triumph in 2015 as part of a 3-billion-dollar deal and received the first batch of the missile systems in April. China will reportedly receive a total of two S-400 regiments, and the second regimental set is expected to be delivered by the end of 2018.

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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