Tag Archives: President Joe Biden

The United States is spiralling into either a Trump dictatorship or civil war

At the beginning of the year various BBC correspondents gave their predictions for the year ahead. Conspicuous by its absence was any prediction that Trump would get indicted this year and the monumental impact that would have on US and international politics. I for one wondered how they could miss something so obvious?

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Observations of an expat: Enemy of my enemy

The well-worn phrase “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has ancient roots.  It dates back 7,000 years to the Sanskrit literature of India’s Vedas. The Romans and the Koran adapted it to their political needs.

In Modern times it has been repeatedly applied. Possibly the most famous examples are Churchill and Stalin, and Mao and Nixon.

This weekend President Joe Biden will use the well-worn diplomatic axiom to try and persuade the leaders of South Korea and Japan that they should bury deep-rooted historical animosities to unite against the common enemies China, North Korea and Russia.

All three leaders will gather at Camp David on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They are expected to issue a communique agreeing to closer economic ties, intelligence sharing, a Tokyo-Seoul-Washington crisis hotline, a first ever joint statement of principles and trilateral military exercises.

What they will NOT do is agree to a formal treaty. Neither will Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida formally apologise for Japanese atrocities committed before and during World War two.

There are lots of good and obvious reasons for Japan and South Korea to be friends. Both of them are threatened by China and North Korea and, to a lesser extent Russia. From the US point of view there are 85,000 American troops costing an estimated $15 billion. Washington desperately wants Seoul and Tokyo to shoulder more of the burden.

The South Koreans and Japanese have the means to assume a bigger role but until recently have lacked the will. Japan is the world’s third largest economy and fourth largest military establishment. Fast-growing South Korea is not far behind, ranking 13th in the world GDP list and sixth on the size of its defense establishment.

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Don’t look to the USA mid-term elections for any light relief


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After a long lie-down in a darkened room, it’s very good to be back with the LDV team.

Such a crazy time in UK politics might tempt us to look to the USA mid-term elections for some light relief. Sadly, disappointment awaits us at the other side of the pond.

I doubt whether the US mid-term election results will provide any light. Indeed, a great deal of heat and frustration is likely to accompany the outcome.

I won’t, for a second, make any predictions, aside from advising all to adopt the brace position. Prepare for whatever you perceive as the worst outcome.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

A diplomatic truism is that some conflicts are insoluble. They are, however, manageable. Although the consequences of doing nothing or mismanagement can spell disaster. The Arab-Israeli conflict falls neatly into the above category.

President Joe Biden obviously came to this conclusion before stepping on the plane for his tour of the Middle East this week. A succession of American administrations – except Trump’s – has paid homage to the two-state solution. Biden reiterated the pre-Trump position, but not as forcefully as his predecessors. Part of the reason is that there was little point as his Israeli counterpart, Yasir Lapid, is merely a caretaker prime minister while the Jewish state struggles through another political crisis. As for the Palestinians, they are hopelessly divided between Hamas in Gaza who are a designated terrorist organisation and the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas who, at 86, makes Biden look like the proverbial spring chicken. The result is that the two-state solution has been moved from the backburner to refrigerator.

Instead the US administration is focusing on maintaining relations with Israel and trying to draw other allies – mainly Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – into closer relations with Israel. To help with the first point, Biden has toughened his stand on Iran and the threat of nuclear weapons. One thing that all Israeli parties agree on is that Iran represents an existential threat. Biden has agreed that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The second issue is more, problematic, especially as regards Saudi Arabia. There is no love lost between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Biden and the wider Democratic Party. Clearly a problem that needs managing.


Ukrainian military commanders are cock-a-hoop. The military equipment and training provided by the West are starting to work, especially the shoot and scoot American High Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The GPS-guided precision artillery have to date knocked out 19 forward-based Russian ammunition dumps.

The Ukrainians are now talking about a major counter-offensive involving hundreds of thousands of ground troops to retake territories lost in the Donbas Region. There are, however, problems. HIMARS rockets are accurate and effective, but they are also expensive and have to be used sparingly. So far the US has supplied eight launchers. Another four are on the way. The other problem is that their range is limited to 50 miles. As the Ukrainians advance, the Russians could simply stage a tactical retreat and still control a significant slice of Eastern Ukraine. Washington could supply Ukraine with precision weaponry with a range of 500 miles. These would be a war-winner but would mean that Ukraine could strike targets inside Russia which means escalation with disastrous consequences.


Meanwhile there appears to be the possibility of some movement on the movement of grain out of Ukraine. Between them, Russia and Ukraine account for 21-28 percent of the world’s grain supplies and 40 percent of this vital food for the inherently unstable North Africa and Middle East. A big chunk of that grain is – more than 20 million tonnes – trapped in Ukrainian siloes, unable to reach hungry world markets because of a Russian naval blockade. This week saw talks in Istanbul involving Ukrainian, UN, Russian and Turkish negotiators. They ended with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promising a signed deal next week. Moscow and Kyiv have said nothing.

There are several sticking points. For a start the Ukrainians have mined the approaches to their ports to prevent a Russian amphibious landing and the Russians have imposed a naval blockade to stop the import of weapons. Going into this week’s talks Moscow demanded the right to inspect incoming ships for weapons. The Ukrainians said no. The Ukrainians, for their part insisted on grain carriers being escorted by convoys of friendly ships. That is a possibility and Turkey may play a role here.

A further complication, however, is that the exports would include Russian grain which Ukrainians assert has been stolen from land occupied by the Russians since their 24 February invasion.  Not surprisingly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said: “There is still a way to go.”

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Observations of an Expat: Biden Pivots Back

President Joe Biden is attempting a pivot back to Asia. After months of being forced by Ukraine to re-focus on Europe, the American president is organising an Asian month and his first presidential trip to the region.

It starts next week with a US-hosted summit of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders on 12-13 May and ends with visits to South Korea and Japan on 20-24 May and finally, a “Quad” summit in Tokyo on 24 May.

The trips to Seoul and Tokyo are an opportunity for President Biden to hold his first face-to-face meetings with Asia’s new diplomatic kids on the block—South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio.

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Observations of an Expat: Crossing the Ukrainian Rubicon

America this week crossed its Ukrainian Rubicon.

It took a while. And with good reason. US foreign policy was badly burned by operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East. It could not afford another expensive failure.

That’s not to say that the Biden Administration failed to support Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion. It froze the oligarchs’ assets, imposed sanctions, dispatched 100,000 US troops to Europe and provided $14 billion in military and humanitarian aid.

But at the same time, President Biden, was ultra-careful not to prod the Russian bear into a World War Three. There were to be no NATO boots on Ukrainian soil and a close watch was kept on any weapons provided to the Ukrainian military.

NATO forces will still keep out of Ukraine, but the flow and type of weapons is being substantially upgraded. On Thursday the president announced that he wants Congressional approval for a further $33 billion for Ukraine. $20 billion in the form of military aid; $8.5 billion in economic aid and $3 billion in humanitarian aid. A pro-Ukraine Congress will almost certainly approve the package.

The president also wants to liquidate the $1 billion-plus in oligarchs’ frozen assets to help offset the cost of the Ukraine war. This may not be much in comparison to the global total, but if Europe follows suit they will add an estimated $30 billion to the pot.

Biden’s announcement followed a trip to Kyiv by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, which in turn was followed by a meeting at America’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany of more than 40 countries who pledged to support Ukraine. The usually soft-spoken low profile Lloyd Austin was loud in his condemnation of Vladimir Putin and his support for Volodomyr Zelensky.

“We will not allow Putin to win,” said Austin, and it was clear from his comments and those of Antony Blinken that in supporting Ukraine the US believed it was backing good against evil and was on the right side of history. “Russia,” said the American Defence Secretary, “is waging a war of choice to indulge the ambitions of one man. Ukraine is fighting a war of necessity to defend its democracy, its sovereignty and its citizens.”

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World Review: A president assassinated, a president suing, a president withdrawing and Covid soaring

In this weekend’s review, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms talks of events in Haiti, a basket case of a country whose presidents tend to come to an untimely end, including this week President Moise.

Joe Biden is continuing to withdraw from Afghanistan. Donald Trump is suing Facebook. Both difficult strategies.

The delta variant of Covid-19 is causing cases to rise rapidly around the world, especially in countries with low levels of vaccination. Vaccinating Africa must become a priority to save lives in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres.

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World Review: Biden bombing, lawyers circle Trump, trade deals, vaccination and Suma

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms looks at the dilemmas that faced Joe Biden as he ordered an attack on pro-Iranian militia in Iraq. In another dilemma, Biden could hold up any talk of a UK-US trade deal if he thinks that the Good Friday Agreement is threatened or damaged by Boris Johnson’s tactics on Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, prosecutors are getting closer to Donald Trump. The charging of a Trump Organisation employee could provide more information about Trump’s financial dealing. The organisations’ assets will also be frozen and banks are likely to call in their loans. former South African President Jacob Zuma has been jailed for contempt of court. And Israel is providing an object lesson in Covid complacency.

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Observations of an expat: Is Ukraine another Cuba?

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The conventional wisdom is that nuclear Armageddon was avoided in October 1962 by a plucky iron-willed young American President. Not quite. A new book by award-wining Russian author Serhii Plokhy reveals that the Cuban Missile Crisis was created by poor communication at every level in both countries and that it was more a matter of luck rather than pluck that saved the world.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding remains a Russian-American problem and is now coming to the fore again over Ukraine.

But back to October 27, 1962. The US naval blockade of Cuba had been in force for five days. To persuade the Soviet submarines to return home President Kennedy ordered US ships to launch a continuous barrage of depth charges on any members of the Soviet underwater fleet that they found. The purpose was to harass rather than destroy.

But Valentin Savitsky, captain of nuclear-armed B-59 was not privy to American thinking. By the 27th of October his crew had endured two days of tension, diminishing air supplies and increasing heat. Savitsky gave the order to surface. He was immediately subjected to a barrage of tracer bullets fired by trigger happy US fighter pilots circling the area.

Convinced that war had started and he was under full-scale attack, the Soviet captain gave the order to dive and fire a nuclear torpedo.

Fortunately lady luck intervened. The captain of the US destroyer Cony realised the danger and flashed an apology from his signal light. It was spotted by the sub’s signals officer just as the B-59 slipped beneath the waves, and was only seen because his searchlight became stuck. The apology was immediately relayed to Savitsky who, at the last minute, countermanded his attack order.

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US Presidential inauguration – potential meteorological impact of millions of simultaneous signs of relief

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If all 7.7 billion of people alive on earth jumped up at the same time, apparently (when they hit the ground afterwards) there would be a huge ear-piercing sound of 200 decibels and severe ground shaking which could cause 4-8 scale earthquakes and a tsumnami with 100-feet waves.

I wondered about that prospect when I read the words “Trump departs the White House” this morning. I certainly heaved a huge sigh of relief. I should imagine that millions of other people did the same thing at roughly the same time. So one speculates that all these sighs of relief may well have had some form of meteorological impact.

There was a lot of relief around as the Presidential inauguration proceeded today.

In the same place as rioters broke into the Capitol 14 days ago, we saw Joe and Dr Jill Biden serenely proceed up the steps flanked by military guards.

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