Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 1/20/20 | WAMC

Bill Owens: Confounding And Confusing Events 1/20/20

Jan 20, 2020

The US trade deficit is tumbling, the obvious cause being a decline in Chinese exports to the US as a result of the tariffs, rather than an increase in US exports narrowing the gap. Are our trade strategies working; it would appear not if our exports are not increasing.

This past week the Press Republican in Plattsburgh ran a political cartoon that showed one Iranian launching a missile into the Afghan jet liner and the second turning to POTUS and saying, in effect, “It was an accident, why won’t you trust us with nuclear weapons?” It is a comic that is worthy of contemplation as I think all the administrations from 2000 forward have all been concerned about the Iranians securing a nuclear weapon for a wide variety of reasons, and they only differ in methodology.

It appears now that President Trump signed-off on the killing of General Soleimani seven months before the actual act subject to certain conditions. The primary condition was that an Iranian attack had to kill an American. We know that an American contractor was, in fact, killed immediately prior to the assassination. The Trump administration, however, has offered as the rational that the intelligence community found an imminent threat to our embassies. This, again, just points out confusion in the Trump administration when, in fact, if they had come forward and said we had a standing order in place that if Iranian aggression kills an American, we will act. I think fewer people would have argued with that rational, but to make things up just perpetuates distrust.

A headline in the news this week said that an ex-DOJ official (Neal Katyal) dares President Trump to “testify under oath with impeachment testimony”, making it sound as if some official pronouncement had come out. In fact, the individual making the statement has also written a book about the impeachment which was prominently discussed in the article, was employed in the Department of Justice of the Obama administration. This is the kind of hype that causes the media to lose face. That headline could have been crafted in such a way to give the reader fair warning that it was likely a partisan statement, and not an objective one.

In the world of science, it appears that scorpions may have been the first creatures to breathe air on dry land about 400 million years ago. It’s hard to believe that scorpions are prehistoric creatures. I also learned this week that the commonly used phrase “a poisonous snake” is an incorrect statement, as a snake is venomous, not poisonous. The difference, venom is injected by a fang or stinger and poison is delivered by touch or consumption.

The US- China Phase 1 trade deal leaves in place most of the US tariffs against Chinese goods. This has an impact on our Canadian neighbors as many goods exported to the US by Canada originate in China. Those goods will continue to cost more in the US and continue to be a source of irritation to both Canadian businesses and US customers.

The attack by the Arabian pilot on the Pensacola Naval Air Station has brought to the fore the old dispute between Apple and the US Government relative to access to I-phones. The government seeks to break the encryption, and to gain access to the contents of the phone in order to discover evidence which they legitimately could use in their investigation. Apple has taken its consistent position that it will not create a backdoor into the phone because that could be accessed by others who may have less legitimate reasons than exist in this particular case. Unfortunately, the tension that exists between the right to privacy and legitimate government investigative activity is a difficult one to resolve. The recent report by the FBI Inspector General does not create an environment of confidence in law enforcement’s ability to restrain itself if it had access to such a tool. Mr. Barr himself has been very critical of the investigative techniques of the FBI, and of course, President Trump has criticized the FBI, CIA and other national security agencies with vitriol that we have not seen from a President previously. We also should not forget J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon in terms of their use of government agencies, and the information that they gathered. This is a weighty question, and one that will be difficult to resolve.

Also, on the China trade war front, the administration announced in a tweet, that it was removing China from the currency manipulation list. The clear implication was that China was demanding this in order to move forward with the Phase I deal. This is one of the major issues that Mr. Trump went into the trade war based upon, and in fact, is one of the most critical issues in our trade relationship with China. Currency manipulation is difficult to establish, but China has been doing it so long and is so sophisticated at it, that it has a real impact on American jobs, the balance of trade and our trading relationships with other nations. It is truly hard to understand what the strategy is.

Iran remains constantly in the news with substantial discord within Iran, the European union imposing new sanctions as a result of the Iranian decision to essentially withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement, and the US contemplating more sanctions against Iran. There is no doubt that sanctions are having a dramatic impact on the Iranian economy, although China continues to purchase between $250-$300 million in oil on a monthly basis, so they are not completely shutout of the world marketplace. This is another strategic gamble by POTUS and by a series of events his gamble, in fact, might payoff and the US and Iran may not wind up at war. It is fairly clear that the Iranian government is destabilized by internal protests, the death of General Soleimani, and economic sanctions. The question is – will this be enough to either cause the Iranians to withdraw from the world terrorism stage, or a regime change? Always big risk, but if it works, we could see a different middle east.

Bill Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.