- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

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June 2

Tampa Bay Times on the possibility of sending more troops to Afghanistan:

Even by the grim markers of the 16-year war, last week’s car-bomb attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul, which killed at least 90 people, was a grave and stunning setback in the fight against global terror. Coming as strains are appearing in the Trump administration’s relations with America’s NATO partners, the attack underscores the west has few good options in improving Afghan security over even the short-term, raising the stakes for continuing a military presence that helps feed the insurgency. The Trump administration needs to consider carefully what could reasonably be accomplished by sending up to 5,000 additional U.S. troops to the country, because a compelling case has yet to be made that the return on the investment of money and American lives would be worth the risk.

The explosion occurred Wednesday morning at the peak of Kabul’s rush hour in a highly secure area of the capital that is home to many embassies and Afghanistan’s presidential palace. The blast wounded more than 460 people, including at least 11 Americans and several foreign diplomats. It also damaged the embassies of Germany, China, France and at least three other countries.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and the Taliban initially insisted it was not behind the attack. Still, the sheer size of the explosion and the bombers’ ability to move freely in one of the most heavily guarded areas of the capital underscores the militants’ organization and the inability of the security forces to control the territorial heart of the Afghan central government.

The United States already provides the bulk of the international force assisting the Afghan army, about 8,400 of the 13,000 troops. The White House is considering a Pentagon request to send 3,000 to 5,000 additional personnel, including special operations forces, to further train and assist the Afghans, putting U.S. troops closer to the fighting in an effort U.S. commanders say is aimed at breaking the military stalemate and bringing the militants to the negotiating table. But that seems optimistic, given that the U.S. could not accomplish that same goal when it had a vastly larger military presence in the country. Trump has yet to offer a comprehensive strategy, and as he underscored Thursday in announcing the U.S. exit from the Paris climate deal, his administration would focus on “America first.” That calls into question whether any approach exists for ending this prolonged military mission.

Trump overplayed his hand with the allies on his European visit, and he further alienated them on the climate decision. That puts him in a weaker place to rally NATO around any game-changing strategy to end the Afghan war. The bombing attack has also left in tatters a planned peace conference scheduled in the Afghan capital Tuesday. On Friday, several demonstrators were killed in downtown Kabul during a huge public protest by nearly 1,000 people demanding better security. Trump needs to explain how sending more U.S. troops would change the course of the war, what the time line would be and what expectations exist of the Afghan government. The Pentagon’s request for troops smacks of more of the same old approach with no assurance the outcome would be different.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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June 6

The Augusta Chronicle on the decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord:

One observer wryly noted that if leaving the Paris Climate Accord is such a planet-killing doomsday disaster, then why was it ever voluntary? Why no enforcement mechanisms, if the planet depends on it?

The fact is, with China, India and other developing nations pretty much given the all-clear to do as they please for the next 20 years or so, America’s tying its economic hands behind its back won’t make much of a difference.

Except that it will tie America’s economic hands behind its back.

The Paris agreement was never a treaty, because no rational U.S. Senate would’ve ratified it and President Obama never asked. It promised to be an American jobs killer that let some of the world’s biggest polluters off the hook and, even if every country met its goals, might have reduced the global temperature by less than 0.05 degrees Celsius in 100 years.

We also agree with those making the point that no one on Earth can predict global temperatures a century from now.

Thank goodness President Trump pulled us out of this lopsided, anti-West, anti-American boondoggle of a political pact.

“The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries,” President Trump said, “leaving American workers … and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.”

And while it’s supposedly nonbinding on governments, not so for citizens: Any federal implementation of Paris certainly would’ve bound American citizens and business owners.

“The agreement says we need to reduce our carbon output by 20 percent,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., “but China doesn’t have to do anything for the next 20 years. How in the world could that possibly be fair?”

Proponents of the accord claim it’s all about science. Not true. It’s also about politics and religion - giving some nations political advantage over the United States, and what commentator Charles Krauthammer calls the left’s “almost religious belief” in climate change.

“You could shut down every coal mine in America,” Krauthammer adds, and “the effect on the climate, on temperature, would be negligible. You couldn’t even measure it.”

“You want treaties to have substance and permanence. So you go to the Senate, you get a consensus in the country, expressed by a two-thirds majority rather than some executive agreement .”

Instead, former President Obama is paying now for his arrogant unilateralism: Because Paris was an agreement, rather than a treaty, it’s easily swept away by a succeeding president.

Moreover, there was more than a little smell of scam about all this. As the Heritage Foundation reported, Paris participants called for a $100 billion “Green Climate Fund” for use by poorer nations - many of whom, as you know, sport blatantly corrupt governments.

“The Obama administration ended up shipping $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to this fund without authorization from Congress,” Heritage says.

Don’t believe the current end-of-times frenzy. These periodic hysterias - and claims of climate doom - have never borne out.

Besides, as President Trump indicated, we can always negotiate a better deal. But it needs to be one fair to the U.S., and one that has a ghost of a chance of actually doing something.

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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June 1

The Denver Post on the proposed change to contraception coverage:

The Trump administration’s recently proposed rule change to make it easier for businesses to get out of providing insurance coverage for contraception for religious reasons is so wrongheaded it would be laughable if not for the harm it would do to women and families. The rule questions the very premise that access to contraception is an important preventative health care service that the government has a compelling interest to mandate.

Yes, you read that correctly. Trump’s proposed rule regarding the Affordable Health Care Act’s requirement that insurance plans cover contraception spends an unbelievable amount of time questioning whether the government has a compelling interest in policies that help women time and plan their pregnancies to optimize maternal and infant health. The draft memo, in essence, concludes pregnancy doesn’t have enough to do with a woman’s health for the government to mandate insurance companies pay for contraception.

Trump’s administration could be forgiven had it launched a legitimate debate about First Amendment rights and tried to create a clear, bright-line rule defining who can be granted a religious exemption from the requirement that insurance cover contraception.

Instead, in its justifications, the administration unforgivably questions whether pregnancy has enough to do with a woman’s health to warrant a government interest.

The maternal fatality rate in the U.S. is higher than any other developed nation in the world, according to a joint investigation done by NPR and ProPublica. Every year 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes. Another 65,000 suffer serious health complications. According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who live in poverty or who are minorities have a higher maternal death rate.

Birthing babies isn’t straightforward for all women. Far better for women with illnesses and other complications to work with doctors to time pregnancies with the goal of healthy deliveries.

The order is supposed to take up the question of whether the government is infringing on religious liberties with its current rule directing when an entity can opt out of paying for insurance that covers contraception. There is a legitimate debate about where that threshold stands, and whether a publicly traded company with no purpose other than profit can claim religious beliefs. This board is dubious that such an entity should be able to refuse health insurance policies to female employees that cover contraception, given the government’s inherent interest in protecting maternal health.

The draft rule calls into question the Institute of Medicine’s determination that contraception is an important part of preventive health care, quoting a dissenting opinion written by a single man on the 16-member committee: “Troublingly, the process tended to result in a mix of objective and subjective determinations filtered through a lens of advocacy.”

Yes, doctors tend to be advocates for a woman’s health, unlike Trump’s administration, which appears to be advocating in this rule that not only is access to contraception not important for women, covering contraception doesn’t really work to prevent unintended pregnancies. The draft rule even says that contraception has the unintended consequence of making unwed teens more promiscuous.

This draft rule should have focused on when to allow religious groups to be exempted from the mandate. Instead, the proposed change insults every woman in this nation who has ever made a medically driven decision about whether or not the time is right to conceive.

Online: http://www.denverpost.com/

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June 6

Toronto Star on pushing back on Trump’s isolationism:

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t mention Donald Trump by name as she set out the Trudeau government’s foreign policy priorities on Tuesday.

She didn’t have to. Canada, like the rest of the world, is scrambling to figure out how to deal with Trump’s relentless “America First” agenda, and Freeland gave a strong, positive answer. The response, she said, must be to reaffirm our long-standing commitment to upholding the international order. If the United States steps back, we and others must step up.

This is right as far as it goes, and it will resonate both with Canadians and others worried to see the United States, in Freeland’s words, “shrug off the burden of world leadership,” most recently in Trump’s misguided decision to pull out of the Paris Accord on climate change.

The risk for a so-called “middle power” like Canada, as Freeland pointed out, is that the rule-based system constructed in the aftermath of the Second World War will fray if its traditional champion turns inward. Other, less scrupulous powers, like China and Russia, will rush to fill the vacuum of leadership. In a might-makes-right world, the smaller fry (including Canada) will inevitably be more vulnerable.

So Freeland is unquestionably right to underline the often-overlooked benefits for Canada of an “international order based on rules” (including global trade organizations, the United Nations, NATO and the rest). The United States under Trump may be turning its back, but it’s to Canada’s advantage to encourage others to join in upholding our shared values. Trump, after all, won’t be there forever.

Talk, however, is cheap. And Canada’s commitment will be measured not just in words but also in deeds and dollars.

We’ll start to find out how the Trudeau government will back up Freeland’s words on Wednesday when it issues the results of a review of defense policy. The minister promised the government intends to make a “substantial investment” in Canada’s military, something that is badly overdue after years of embarrassing delays in procuring big-ticket items like modern naval ships and fighter aircraft.

That type of equipment allows Canada to back up its soft power talk with hard power action, at the right times and in the right places. Trump has been badgering Washington’s NATO allies to increase their military spending, and there is some truth in what he says. Others should not be perpetual free riders on the American dime. If that’s all we do, Freeland noted, we risk becoming a mere “client state” of the United States. Independence in world affairs doesn’t come for free.

On a shorter-term note, the government should finally spell out what it intends to do in the area of peace operations. It put a potential mission to Africa on hold after the Trump victory, and it’s high time to clarify those plans.

Just as important, Canada needs to step up its game in foreign aid.

The government is about to announce what Freeland calls Canada’s “first feminist international assistance policy,” focusing on women’s rights and gender equality. A focus on women would not be a first for Canada; the Harper government funded programs for maternal and child health, and fighting sexual violence and forced marriages (even though it was criticized for not funding abortion services).

But the Conservatives allowed Canada’s overall foreign aid effort to wither. It now accounts for just 0.24 per cent of GDP, below the average for developed countries and far short of the UN ideal of 0.7 per cent. Even as it shifts the focus to women’s rights, the Trudeau government must do better on total spending if it wants to show true leadership in this area.

Freeland also defended free trade at a time when the concept is under attack from both right and left. Canada has always been a trading nation and it stands to be a big loser if the rest of the world follows Trump’s lead and retreats behind their borders.

But she also made the vital point that the real issue is domestic policy. It’s up to each country to make sure that the prosperity generated by trade and growth is widely shared.

If it isn’t, as we have seen too many times in the recent past, ordinary people will justifiably turn against the international system itself and back politicians like Trump who play on their worst instincts. The Trudeau government is absolutely right to push back against this destructive trend.

Online: https://www.thestar.com/

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June 5

The New York Times on the United States’ relations with Cuba under Trump:

To the long list of Barack Obama’s major initiatives that President Trump is obsessed with reversing, we may soon be able to add Cuba. In 2014, Mr. Obama opened a dialogue with Cuba after more than a half-century of unyielding hostility, leading to an easing of sanctions. Mr. Trump promised in his campaign to return to a more hard-line approach. If he does, as seems likely, he will further isolate America, hurt American business interests and, quite possibly, impede the push for greater democracy on the Caribbean island.

Soon after his election, Mr. Trump declared, vaguely but ominously, that if Cuba did not “make a better deal” he would “terminate deal.” He gave no specifics and no decisions have been announced. But details of what a policy reversal could look like are emerging.

The aim generally would be to reimpose limits on travel and commerce, supposedly to punish Cuba’s despotic government, now led by Raúl Castro, brother of the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Among the measures being considered are blocking transactions by American companies with firms that have ties to the Cuban military, which is deeply enmeshed in the economy, and tightening restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba that Mr. Obama eased last year before his historic trip to Havana.

This hard-line sanctions-based approach was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result, the ouster of Cuba’s Communist government in favor of democracy. Isolating Cuba has become increasingly indefensible.

Mr. Obama’s opening to Havana has enabled the freer flow of people, goods and information between the two countries, even as significant differences remain over human rights. It has produced bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing. In April, Google’s servers went live in Cuba and thus it became the first foreign internet company to host content in one of the most unplugged nations on earth. Mr. Obama’s approach also encouraged Latin American countries to be more receptive to the United States as a partner in regional problem-solving.

A large pro-engagement coalition that includes lawmakers from both parties, businesses and young Cuban-Americans is pushing the White House to build on the foundation of engagement it inherited from Mr. Obama, not tear it down. Engage Cuba, representing business groups, economists and leading Cuba experts, has estimated that a reversal of Mr. Obama’s policies would cost the American economy $6.6 billion and affect more than 12,000 American jobs.

The group predicts that the hardest-hit areas will be rural communities that rely on agriculture, manufacturing and shipping industries, as well as Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, all of which supported Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. Among the deals that could be squashed is one struck by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba; future ones would effectively be frozen.

The White House and its allies argue that the Cuban government remains despotic and must be pressured to reform. But pressure has had a minimal impact and the human rights concerns are disingenuous, given Mr. Trump’s effusive embrace of authoritarian leaders from President Vladimir Putin in Russia to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. He also pointedly told Sunni Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia last month that he has no intention of lecturing them on their repressive behavior toward their citizens.

As with his decision to withdraw from the global climate agreement, Mr. Trump’s approach to Cuba reflects a craven desire to curry favor with his political base, in this case conservative Republicans from Florida who are viscerally anti-Castro. That might help him get re-elected in 2020, but it would help no one else.

Strengthening ties with Cuba cannot guarantee Cuban reforms, but it is the best bet.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

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June 6

The Washington Post on Trump’s appointments:

President Trump sounded a bit like other newly arrived presidents on Monday when he complained on Twitter that Congress is holding up his appointments. “Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals,” he wrote. But if Mr. Trump really wants to understand the problem, he does not need to look all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.

The fact is that while the Republican-controlled Senate is lagging, the main problem is that Mr. Trump is not nominating candidates for positions and has fallen seriously behind in staffing the government’s top ranks. According to the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, which has studied historical trends and uses several different metrics, Mr. Trump’s performance is the slowest in four decades on nominations, confirmations and standing up the critical leadership needed to run the country. At this point, the project reported, most administrations would have filled about 38 percent of the most critical positions in the government, but Mr. Trump has completed only about 14 percent. To see where the problem lies, look at the tracker maintained by The Post and the Partnership for Public Service, which shows that of 559 key positions requiring Senate confirmation, Mr. Trump has provided no nominee for 441, while 15 are awaiting nomination, 63 are formally nominated and 40 are confirmed. The biggest obstructionist is Mr. Trump.

For the relative few he has nominated, if Mr. Trump is so impatient with the Senate confirmation process, he should take it up with the members of his party who control the chamber. The White House Transition Project says the Senate has confirmed slightly less than half of Mr. Trump’s nominees. If there is dysfunction or delay, it is disingenuous to always point the finger at “Dems.”

Politics aside, the U.S. government today is hollowed out in the executive service, and this could prove a serious disadvantage in a crisis. Mr. Trump fired the director of the FBI but hasn’t come up with a replacement for James B. Comey. There is currently no presidentially appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a bulwark against pandemic, nor a nominee for the assistant secretary of health and human services for preparedness and response, a key position to manage something such as another influenza outbreak. There are no U.S. attorneys to replace those forced out by Mr. Trump. Also alarming, Mr. Trump has yet to nominate a single assistant secretary of state for any region around the world, leaving in place acting officials who don’t have the sway of presidential appointees.

By placing a premium on loyalty, Mr. Trump from the start excluded many skilled and talented people from serving. He clearly has not made it a priority to catch up.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

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