These commentaries were created and developed many decades ago, after I spent some time on a sabbatical away from my law school teaching duties. My mission was to address the increasing issues surrounding our national security. It was during my time as an American Scholar-in-Residence at the EastWest Institute that it began to be clear to a small number of us on a national scale that there were indications that the future held the probability of increased violence due to international terrorism. Upon returning to my law school faculty, my focus became, first, the international terrorist and then, years later the domestic terrorist as a new “innovation” in that type of violence. What became very clear was that the interdiction of such criminal behavior required a different approach that also maintained and protected our civil rights.
From time to time I have deviated off my chosen path and ventured, gingerly, into the political ramifications of the actions of some of our political leaders and their effect on our national security.
National security has, over time, become an umbrella term to cover not only our well-being here at home but also the protection of our interests abroad. The interest “abroad” focus is not just on the individual American or U.S. corporate interest and facilities that happen to be beyond the lower48 states, but encompasses foreign countries. If the operations of a foreign country are disrupted or attacked, would there be a negative impact on our own domestic security interests and values? That issue is especially important when our nation is faced with an international crisis or war. For example: Military relations between the U.S. and Israel have been historically close. Israel has provided the U.S. with a decisive and strategic platform in that very hostile region. While being a major purchaser of our military equipment, Israel and the U.S. have engaged in regular joint military exercises. The two countries have maintained a high level of defense cooperation with joint military exercises, military and weapons research and development. I recall, some years ago, a Russian fighter pilot deflected from his squadron on an ordinary flight mission in the Mid-East who landed in Israel. The Israelis did their own research on the plane and then immediately turned the fighter jet over to the U.S.. This was an important coup for our own defense capabilities.
An attack on Israel would be an attack on our own national security interests. If that occasion should arise in the future, it is abundantly clear to me we would see the phenomena called “rally round the flag”. Most often, notwithstanding internal domestic political differences and the advent of a national crisis, U.S. citizens would rally around the flag, which means support for the president escalates. At times it is short run and at other times the effect lasts longer.
Our entry into direct conflict in WWII was less than stellar. The world was in flames for years prior to the attack on December 7th, and I was surprised to learn that even after we were attacked, there was a sizeable portion of the nation that did not want us to go to war and did not immediately rally round the flag. When Europe was in conflagration prior to December 7, 1941, there were Nazi bund meetings, with enormous banners embossed with the swastika, hanging over a crowed that filled every seat in Madison Square Garden in New York City. I would have thought that rally round the flag would have begun much earlier.
We don’t read much about the concept of “rallying round the flag” in world news, but it has crept into today’s pandemic reports. Thus far, “Trump has not gotten the expected bump that comes from national catastrophes, as Americans typically rally around the flag and the president”, says Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at The Economic Outlook Group.
• “These are times when the nation as a whole, the American people, will look to the president and the White House for policies that will get them out of this mess and all they’re seeing is rhetoric designed to get Trump re-elected,” he tells Axios.
• “He wants to see the economy be revived again but before it’s safe to do so. That I think is going to become somewhat catastrophic when the numbers start to pick up for that second wave” of infections.”
For years, the symbol employed by the press to identify our international enemy, was a standing Big Brown Bear with a hammer and sickle embossed on its massive stomach. That formative bear, the Soviet Union, has been reshaped by economics to a smaller Soviet Republic, and has been in semi-hibernation, hampered by economic woes at home.
Today, the United States has two decisive international enemies. Both are dangerous, and both are unpredictable. Both have a potential for impact on our political system; both the potential for manipulation to impact on our democratic process. In no particular order one is the Virus19, and the other is China.
The President is attempting to manipulate both issues, with an eye on the November election. There is nothing subtle about his maneuvers; there is nothing subtle with his goals.
The November election is likely to be a referendum on how Trump handles the pandemic and whether his push to restart the economy pushes the U.S. back on its economic track or drives a second wave of infections that does even greater damage than what we are experiencing.
While a majority of Americans believe that the virus “is a sign from God”, there is a second aspect to this goal and that comes in the form of his son-in-law Jared who floated the idea this week that if we are in a pandemic situation (as determined by whom? Trump?) that the national election should be postponed. Who, then, determines when the threat is over? Trump? What a marvelous invitation to a soft coup. The idea is so very simplistic, that even the least analytical person (a diehard Trump additive) would accept the idea without a second thought, let alone, any analysis. The claim that we should rally round the flag in this situation is very inviting. The fear of the virus is very personal, imminent and a daily remainder that it might be right next door…”stay at home and let the President do his great work.” What better slogan to upend our democratic institutions and way of life. My thought though about this scenario is that it the lesser of the two President Trump’s ploys to succeed in effecting the outcome of the November election.
The second scenario is the more likely to succeed, considering the parties involved: China and Trump. As I write this Commentary, China has alleged that the United States has escalated its cold war mentality, reminds us that it holds in excess of 1.11 trillion dollars of our national debt, that we owe millions of dollars to the UN peace keeping obligations, all the while the President has floated the idea that the U.S. “could cut off the whole (economic) relationship” with China in the aftermath of the virus attacks we are experiencing.
In a move that is sure to ramp up international pressure between China and the U.S., the Trump administration moved to block global chipmakers from shipping semiconductors to China’s Huawei. He also argued that the economic toll of the pandemic attack offered further proof that the United States needed to do more to disconnect and separate itself from global supply chains that included China as an essential move for our economy. This, in addition to Trump’s continued instance that the virus19 was manufactured in China, then released thru its negligence or that it began its global march in China, and they lied about its origin. Blame, blame, blame. Step one.
Step two: China’s aggression in the South China Sea: while the Department of Homeland Security will shorten the visa length for Chinese journalists working for non-American news organizations in the ongoing media war between the two nations, the pandemic crises can only play into the continued aggression of the Chinese in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. An internal Chinese report obtained by American intelligence has warned Chinese leaders over the possibility (not probability) of a military confrontation with the U.S. stemming from our allegations that the Chinese have mishandled and lied regarding the coronavirus outbreak in China. The New York Times has reported that the White House is putting pressure on American intelligence agencies to provide evidence in support of Trump’s claims that the deadly virus was laboratory construct although all indications is that this did not occur. It is my belief that any military confrontation with China will not erupt over the virus but a misstep by either party more than likely in the South China Sea than in the Indian Ocean, and used as an excuse by Trump to lead to hostilities. Let me explain.
Any hostiles sufficient to have the voting public rally round the flag and not want to change current administrations during a shooting confrontation has to strike at the heart of viable American interests and that we were not the aggressor. Within the last days on the 1200 mile border between India and China, both sides have for the first time in years, fired live ammunition at each other, causing some minor casualties. While this is a serious development, it would not be used by the current U.S. administration to become involved in that conflict. Too far afield to reap any popular support from the person in the street to “rally round the flag”. On the other hand, the continued very aggressive behavior by the Chinese in the South China Sea has only escalated the probability of a confrontation, that I believe Trump is looking for, to start a diversion from the horrendous handling of the virus and our abysmal economic situation. The South China Sea and their nearby closely connected Straits are home to what is probably the world’s busiest and most important commercial trade lifelines. It connects wide portions of the world’s trade, and it is considered one of the chief devices of global economic growth. Some 80% of China’s world trade, including vital oil imports, passes through its waters. At the same moment, surrounding Asian nations have territorial disputes with China which are increasingly hostile, as China attempts, thru its creation of fake armed islands, the sinking of foreign fishing vessels and the placement of surveying ships with armed escorts in the territorial waters of its smaller neighbors. Two issues are at stake: the free international movement thru the SCS and the mining and recovery of vital natural resources below the sea level. The United States has sent its fleet to that area to maintain the integratory of the freedom of the sea and the independence of the rights of China’s neighbors. What might happen can almost be anticipated.
A Chinese naval captain, with little or no experience, faced with a U.S. naval fleet might panic and shoot at an American warship. Little if any damage would occur. Instead of logging a complaint as is the customary diplomatic response (as when Russian fighter jets come dangerously close to our non-combat planes in international air space), Trump will once again claim the role of victim and will use that as an excuse to start a military confrontation with China. “Let’s Rally Round The Flag—can’t let those virus deceivers who are killing your love ones, along with those crooked financial manipulators in Beijing, ruin the world. Look how they have been ripping us off. You can’t change political ships in the middle of hostilities and give the reins to save us to those without my enormous experience and capabilities.”
Implausible? No. Improbable?