– – – Tearline – – – Aug. 3, 2017

In this week's Tearline: Trump shouts at China over North Korea's latest ICBM launch, the yet-to-be-seen U.S. response to the South China Sea Dispute, and the possible depths of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

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Tearline noun | ‘ter ï lin
The portions of an intelligence report that provide the substance of a more highly classified or controlled report without identifying sensitive sources, methods, or other operational information.

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What was that?!

In an impressive show of bipartisanship, Congress overwhelmingly voted in favor of imposing additional economic sanctions against Russia last week. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by forcing the United States to reduce its diplomatic staff. U.S. President Donald Trump reluctantly signed the sanctions bill into law yesterday but has expressed concern that the bill is both unconstitutional and will hinder his ability to make “good deals.” After all, if there is anything Trump is an expert on, it’s the U.S. Constitution and huge deals. U.S.-Russia relations are clearly at a post-Cold War low point, but until the president does a major course correction in his approach to Russia, Congress is going to have to continue to ensure that Trump makes Russia pay a price for its destabilizing behavior.

What’s missing?

With the latest demonstration by North Korea of its ballistic missile capabilities over the weekend, the West Coast all the way in to Chicago—and possibly beyond—may be within reach. There is no easy response to the dilemma that is North Korea’s nuclear bullying, but President Trump’s response was to shout at China over Twitter. Instead of tweeting, the United States needs to work with China, strengthen alliances, put new pressure on North Korea, and develop a strategy for deterring and containing the threat from North Korea.

What’s on deck in the world for next week

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in the Philippines this week for the major annual meetings of Asia-Pacific foreign ministers. North Korea’s latest missile launches will likely draw lots of attention—especially since the North Korean foreign minister usually attends one of the meetings, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum—but many will be watching to see how the Trump administration approaches the South China Sea dispute. Perceived U.S. disinterest is already emboldening China, which just last week reportedly threatened Vietnam with military action in response to Vietnam exploring for oil and gas within its 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The long-term consequences of ignoring the South China Sea will be disastrous, as the Center for American Progress’ Michael Fuchs makes clear here.

Better ideas

The Trump administration hasn’t focused much on Africa, except when slashing the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which help combat national security challenges on the continent. Chair of the Center for American Progress’ board of directors and former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) spoke
recently about the need for the Trump administration to develop a strategy for engaging with the countries of Africa, arguing that the United States needs to “advance a shared vision for the future of its relations with a fast-growing African continent.”

Speaking of Africa, keep an eye on Kenya’s national elections on August 8. On Monday, a Kenyan election official was found dead, three days after he disappeared. In the past, elections have caused instability in the country, and this death is likely to cast a suspicious shadow over next week’s election.

Quote of the week

In response to the fraudulent election of a new constituent assembly to govern Venezuela, on Monday, the Trump administration imposed sanctions
on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. His response? “Impose all the sanctions that you want, but I’m a free president.” The Venezuelan opposition has acknowledged that U.S. sanctions and pressure from Latin American countries have fallen short, with some now calling to install a parallel government that will surely lead to a government crackdown and low-grade conflict. Yet to those in despair, escalating violence seems to be the only option, with one Venezuelan tweeting, “War will not bring us the best result, but it could put us in a better position in this game.”

Read of the week

To gain a little perspective on what humans are doing to the planet by burning fossil fuels that cause climate change, check out this piece from journalist Peter Brannen in The New York Times. During the “Great Dying” of the End-Permian mass extinction 252 million years ago, volcanoes released so much carbon dioxide into the air that “[i]t was as close as earth has ever come to being sterilized altogether, and would take 10 million years for the planet to fully recover.” Relating that near apocalypse to the burning of fossil fuels today, Brannen notes, “Today humanity plays the role of that primeval Siberian supervolcano.”

Weekly Trump-Russia Reminder

The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Max Bergmann released a damning report about the facts, depth, and legal ramifications of Trump’s collusion with Russia. As we all know, it’s not pretty.

Also, given the revolving door in the White House communications team, some might be left wondering who decided that lying about the nature of Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was a good idea. The Washington Post revealed that the real Donald J. Trump (please stand up, please stand up) himself dictated his son’s statement. That’s not a good look for a man who is trying to avoid collusion charges. But at least it’s nice to know that the president can speak in complete sentences when he chooses to do so.

195 days still violating the Constitution

President Trump has been violating the Constitution’s prohibition against corruption by foreign governments for 195 days, because his companies are receiving payments from foreign governments. For an in-depth look at Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, see this CAP interactive map and series of columns.

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Michael Fuchs

Senior Fellow

Meredith Leal

Program Coordinator

Abigail Bard

Former Policy Analyst, Asia