All posts by nealaponte

Neal Aponte, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York who has provided psychotherapy services for over 30 years. He has a master's degree in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. And a master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Reflections on An Endless War

How many Americans know that the war in Afghanistan has been the longest, deadliest and most costly war in our history?  American troops have fought there for 17 years.  Seven thousand soldiers, nearly eight thousand private contractors, more than thirty- five hundred coalition forces and well over one hundred thousand civilians have died during this conflict.  The current price weighs in at just under 6 trillion dollars, excluding interest due on this borrowed money. 

Of course, for nearly a generation our troops were sent to Iraq too.  The cost of this war is estimated at slightly over 1 trillion dollars and may eventually double.  Nearly five thousand troops and over one hundred thousand civilians have been killed in Iraq.  The human and financial sacrifice of these wars is staggering.  And due to our all-volunteer military, they never evoked the outrage that transformed the cultural and political landscape of the 1960’s.  But while the public remained mostly silent, our leaders presided over two political and military stalemates reminiscent of Vietnam, as the Taliban still control large portions of the countryside in Afghanistan and the foremost political figure in Iraq is a Shia cleric aligned with Iran.  

What went wrong?  To begin with, American policymakers neglected history’s lessons.  Or perhaps more to the point, they continued to believe those lessons remained irrelevant because our cause was “right” or “just”.  In Vietnam, American involvement came at the heels of a French military campaign that ended in humiliating defeat.  Our “enemy” there, the North Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies in the South, construed the conflict not as a revolutionary struggle to establish a communist regime, as Washington defined it, but as a war to liberate their country from foreign invaders and their domestic allies.  For the enemy, American troops behaved like supporters of King George who took up his cause after the British were defeated in our war of independence. 

In Afghanistan, the hunt for Bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure widened into a war against the Taliban.  Our attempt to establish an effective national regime in Kabul faced considerable opposition, previously encountered by the Soviets and the British, from powerful warlords controlling many areas of the country.  Our neglect of history in Afghanistan is particularly striking because during the 1980’s the U.S. supported Mujahideen fighers, including Bin Laden, against the Soviets.  In our effort to turn Afghanistan into “Russia’s Vietnam”, in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, we understood that Afghan warlords, determined to resist any central authority that threatened their tribal and regional dominance, entered into a strategic alliance with religious extremists against the Soviet puppet regime in Kabul.

The protracted war in Iraq ignited the chronic hatred simmering between a Shia majority and their minority Sunni rivals who dominated them for centuries.  And the ferocious violence between Sunni and Shia in Iraq reflected an expanding global civil war between these Muslim factions. 

As American policymakers remained poor historians, their political and military decisions spawned consequences they neither anticipated or controlled.  First and foremost, we never recognized, and even blithely dismissed, that military intervention would prompt the need to create national institutions to achieve our political objective, namely, the establishment of Western style democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

One of the important measures of our inept “nation building” in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq involved our inability to create a reliable army.  In each country, American advisors trained and equipped an enormous military force at great economic cost over many years.  Yet these national armies proved incapable of waging an effective war.  Widespread desertion by fully trained soldiers signaled that many conscripts remained unwilling to protect national governments deeply tied to the U.S.  Despite massive military and financial assistance, the South Vietnamese, Afghan and Iraqi armies were never willing to fight and die for our interests.  It is why the South Vietnamese army was easily overwhelmed by Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces even after being armed and trained for over a decade.  It is why the Afghan army continues to be incapable of turning the military tide against the Taliban despite nearly a generation of American assistance.  And it is why ISIS assumed control over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, without a shot ever being fired and were able to secure American weapons, captured from Iraqi troops who refused to fight against them, to kill American soldiers. 

If so many citizens remain unwilling to fight on behalf of national governments allied with our interests, then any victory achieved with American assistance on the battlefield will be reversible.  In this context, we win individual skirmishes but lose the war, because the latter is not simply about military prowess but the establishment of a government that inspires loyal citizens.  In all three countries, we failed to create political institutions and governments that enjoyed support from a majority of its citizens and a military capable of defending the nation’s territorial integrity. 

In Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam, American soldiers represented the interests of unpopular elites, political forces deemed illegitimate by significant elements of the population.  Moreover, the Vietcong and Taliban insurgencies used resentment against the presence of foreign fighters on their soil to bolster their cause, while in Iraq, we managed the remarkable feat of alienating both Sunni and Shia militias.  Is it any wonder we remained no closer to achieving a military victory or political stability in either Afghanistan or Iraq, even after many years of armed combat and massive financial investment?  

National lawmakers who advocate our continued involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq refuse to accept the sober truth:  despite the loss of so much life and treasure, if our troops left Afghanistan tomorrow, the regime in Kabul would collapse like the South Vietnamese regime. And in Iraq, the political center of gravity will remain allied with forces skeptical if not hostile to a continued American presence.  The current problems in Iraq were not the result of US troops leaving the country but were generated when they entered it.  And there is little or nothing we can do to alter this reality on the ground.

A remarkable bitter irony of our recent war effort involves the fact that the true beneficiary of our spilled blood and massive expenditure in Afghanistan and Iraq is Iran.  We vanquished Saddam Hussein, its political and military antagonist in Iraq, and overthrew the Taliban regime, its Sunni rival in Afghanistan.  This consequence stemmed from our inability to distinguish between destroying Al Qaeda’s terrorist infrastructure and waging all- out war against the Taliban or between the search for WMD and the overthrow of Saddam.  Our flawed strategic planning, premised on a willful neglect of history, parroted the egregious mistake made by the “best and the brightest” to ignore Vietnam’s struggle against the French.  So it will be important to foster a national conversation about why we went to war and what the wars accomplished.  Citizens deserve to understand what we were fighting for and on whose behalf. 

If we fail to establish this discussion, the legacy of these wars will haunt our nation just as our Vietnam experience does a half century later.  Meanwhile, we have condemned a whole new generation of American men and women to spend their lives hobbled with symptoms of trauma and  enriched a new extensive cohort of corrupt generals and officials at American taxpayer expense.  And then there is the nagging central question:  did our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq shield us from terrorist attack?  Do we even know how to address this issue?  The absence of a clear answer after nearly a generation of war and sacrifice, underscores the immensity of the tragedy experienced not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but here at home too.  

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.

Editor of Delano

Trump Agonistes

It was inevitable, like the movement of planets circling the sun. We knew with utter certainty that someone, sooner or later, would announce the obvious: the emperor has no clothes. But the identity of the messenger proved remarkable; not “someone” affiliated with the political opposition or the purveyors of “fake news”. Rather, it was someone up close and personal, who knew the man inside out. A senior administration official portrayed the president as an unruly, dangerous child, whose unpredictable and odious character rendered him a modern-day Caligula occupying the world’s most powerful political office. The message was clear and disturbing: those occupying the highest echelons of power were protecting the nation’s welfare from their elected leader.

For someone used to getting his way and doing whatever he pleases away from the glare of public awareness, living in the world’s largest fish bowl represents the ultimate nightmare, like a cruel and unusual punishment meted out on an hourly basis. One can almost hear the bellowing rage against the nameless accuser, who could be virtually anyone, as if he were a mafia boss betrayed by a highly trusted lieutenant.

The recent New York Times op-ed and the Bob Woodward book will prompt the president to channel his inner Roy Cohn. He will become an even more ferocious street fighter like a wounded and trapped animal. He will excoriate his opponents even more. But his hateful vitriol will not eclipse the truth of what was written. We must remember the underlying dilemma of all narcissists: to proclaim to be the center of the universe while believing they are worthless. Seen this way, the president’s desperate, even frenzied attempt to trumpet his brilliant achievements make sense, while his pathetic hyperbole renders each of us spectators to an unrelenting effort to prove his worthiness when he, like the rest of us, know otherwise.

The fallout from the recent op-ed accentuates what is already true: the president’s time in the White House is an exquisite torture. As this becomes increasingly intolerable, he will resign from office. But he will not leave as a humiliated victim because he remains incapable of feeling shame. Rather, he will leave as a self-proclaimed political martyr. Depicting himself to be the target of the greatest witch hunt in American history that drove him from office, he will detonate a political dirty bomb: inciting long-term paranoia and hatred in the alt right and its fellow travelers, anti-democratic forces who would vote for the man even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue, as he liked to boast.

This president understands his appeal is sustained not in spite of his awful behavior but because of it. As he revels in defining himself as a wrecking ball lashing out against elites, to score points with fervent supporters even as his behavior confirms his utter unworthiness, the tragedy of this presidency has not reached its climax. Rather, we are merely heading into a tumultuous second act. We should all shudder at the prospect of what lies ahead. This president is determined to destroy himself like Nixon. And the health of our democracy will become collateral damage in this American tragedy’s horrific denouement.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Trump and the Clintons: The Difference Between Teflon and Velcro

As our beleaguered nation lurches from one sensational episode to the next, each rife with corruption, scandal or innuendo, a compelling and disturbing question remains: how does Donald Trump get away with it? So many events during the course of his public life would have destroyed the careers of other politicians, from his racist slur questioning his predecessor’s birthplace that jumpstarted his candidacy, to defrauding enrollees of his eponymous university and boasting about sexually assaulting women, to recent allegations of marital infidelity and the payment of hush money, to say nothing about the continual stream of half-truth and outright falsehood he generates. Yet he remains relatively unscathed. What is it about Trump that confirms his boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and people would still vote for him?

First, let’s pay tribute again to Michael Moore, who called the presidential election during the summer and even named the states Trump would carry to secure his victory. This came at a time when no one, not even Republican guru Karl Rove, gave Trump any chance of winning. Moore was prescient: rage against both Republican and Democratic elites was simmering in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, where shuttered factories devastated individuals, families and entire communities. While many voters there believed both parties ignored them for several decades, this election featured a political maverick who appeared to raise his middle finger against existing elites when he threatened to “drain the swamp” in Washington and recognized the rage and trepidation of working men and women. His candidacy seemed to offer the chance for political payback or, as Moore put it, to hurl a Molotov cocktail at the political system and blow it up. Even as many supporters questioned the suitability of his temperament and/or his qualification to hold office, they wanted to deliver a clear message: the major parties could no longer afford to ignore them. When Trump scored a remarkable victory not even he anticipated, the message was received loud and clear.

Trump never ran an ordinary campaign. From the start, he became the leader of an insurgent movement that captured the Republican party and then the presidency. The dirty secret about Trump’s candidacy involved globalization and its discontents. The marketplace has always produced winners and losers. For most of its history, the US enjoyed being an ascendant and then a dominant global superpower. This changed dramatically with the emergence of Japan, Inc. and OPEC in the 1970’s, a derided yet pivotal decade. Suddenly, factories closed, industries faded and whole communities began to die. Suddenly, the American century was over after twenty-five years. But let us be clear: trade deals did not darken steel and auto plants. For the first time in our history, the chickens came home to roost. American industrial workers fell victim to the ceaseless and ruthless economic battle that defines the global market economy.

In this context, Trump’s crass behavior is viewed by those marginalized and left behind by globalization as a thumb in the eye of political and cultural elites who failed to address their suffering. Even as many believe his comments and actions are inappropriate, Trump receives a pass after being anointed to become a lightning rod to voice the pent-up frustration and anger of those who feel powerless to change an unresponsive political system. Trump maintains his relative strength not in spite of his outrageous behavior, but as a direct consequence of the discomfort he generates.

If Trump is the Teflon politician, to whom nothing awful ever seems to stick, Bill and Hillary Clinton are Velcro politicians, to whom every misstep sticks forever. It is my belief that our reactions to Trump and the Clintons are intimately connected.

When the history of the 1990’s gets written in the future, Bill Clinton will be remembered as the first Republican president who masqueraded as a Democrat. Remember his triumphant assertion that he ended “big government” as we knew it when he engineered welfare reform as part of his “triangulation” strategy, whereby he adopted Republican policy initiatives to outflank Newt Gingrich to secure reelection. Furthermore, Clinton unleashed a tidal wave of corporate profits and stock market gains with massive economic deregulation that devastated the economy a decade later. While there was some trickle-down benefit, the resentment of “losers” in the globalization battle continued to simmer.

The Clintons came to embody the hypocrisy of political elites because they branded themselves as “Third Way” Democrats while endorsing policies that smelled distinctly Republican. And as if he were the second coming of Herbert Hoover, Al Gore gushed during one of his presidential debates that he proposed to render the federal government debt free for the first time since the early 19th century, espousing a political goal anathema to liberal Democrats like Hubert Humphrey or FDR. This is not to deny that certain Clinton initiatives were progressive, like the attempted overhaul of health care. But this fell victim to personal arrogance and a penchant for secrecy that ultimately doomed any chance of adoption and increased political and personal resentment against Bill and Hillary.

In effect, the Clintons maneuvered themselves to become political scapegoats before there was any personal scandal. So it is quite instructive to note the very different response to Clinton’s affair with his intern and Trump’s sexual boasting. Bill Clinton was impeached while Trump’s disclosure failed to register with voters. In their non-response to the Access Hollywood tape, Americans were not sanctioning the sexual assault of women. But any judgment of his deplorable personal behavior was trumped by his role as political lightning rod. This has enabled him to remain relatively unscathed, even as the stench of corruption and scandal intensifies around him.

If Robert Mueller concludes Trump engaged in an obstruction of justice, or discovers evidence of money laundering in his private business, the teflon politician may have to face the music as his fate will no longer be determined by the court of public opinion alone. However, the more interesting and important issue is: what happens when Trump supporters realize he has sold them a bill of goods? Who will they turn to and how will their smoldering resentment, disillusionment and anger get expressed? We could find out sooner rather than later.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

How The President Will Leave Office: A Plausible Scenario

Given the unremitting barrage of angry tweets, vulgar language and outright lies, not to mention recent incendiary revelations from interviews with White House insiders, “Pin the Psychological Diagnosis on the President” has become a national parlor game. The president’s incessant need to boast, whether about the size of his genitals or inauguration day crowd, his intellectual acuity or achievements during the first year in office, and his volcanic eruption of temper and mean-spirited vindictiveness when confronted with critical or negative feedback, suggest someone who requires constant admiration from others as he labors to convince everyone, including or especially himself, that he is worthy of praise. But no affirmation is ever enough for someone who feels they are both the center of the universe and absolutely worthless. This is the narcissist’s central dilemma. No amount of positive regard is sufficient to extinguish the underlying fear about being unworthy, so any negative feedback evokes threatening and intolerable feelings of worthlessness that must be resisted at all costs.

It is difficult enough to be personally involved with such a person, say, a boss at work or an intimate partner. It is another thing entirely when that person is the president and the leader of the free world. There is no escaping his needy and volatile presence on a daily basis. As a result, many citizens feel physically and emotionally exhausted, both bullied and beleaguered, by our current president as we bide our time until he leaves office. Unfortunately, we should expect his petulant behavior, his brittle defensiveness and angry Twitter outbursts, to intensify as his approval ratings continue to dwindle.

But as the nation tires of the president, the president tires of his job. For someone who desperately needs continual approval for his performance, the experience of being challenged directly in the give and take of political life is infuriating. He takes everything personally and rails whenever he does not get his way or when anyone portrays him in a less than flattering light. So, of course, the president would interpret Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s attempt to meddle in our presidential election as an attack on the legitimacy of his election victory. If everything is about him, what other explanation could there be for Mueller’s persistence? And as it remains unthinkable to contemplate how he could have lost the popular vote without widespread fraud, the president would have to convene a commission to prove it.

Mueller’s ongoing investigation represents a clear political threat to the president. While it remains unclear if he will identify an impeachable offense, namely, the president’s attempt to obstruct justice, I believe his work poses an even more serious danger. I suspect, as many do, that the president’s tax filings reveal a long history of financial shenanigans, including laundering money for Russian friends. This is the reason why he vehemently opposes the release of his tax records. I believe Mueller will connect the dots. And when the president and his lawyers learn what Mueller has discovered, the political noose will tighten considerably.

When Mueller presents his findings to the White House, the president will portray himself as the victim of the greatest political witch hunt in American history. He will characterize this witch hunt as a partisan effort to overturn the last election, one that distracted his administration and the entire nation while undermining his effort to make America great again. And he will state that the nation’s health and well-being requires an end to this “partisan circus”. Therefore, for the greater good of the country, he will resign immediately so his vice president can pursue his policy agenda with alacrity. Upon assuming office, the new president will thank his predecessor for rendering a great service to the nation and pardon him, without any admission of guilt. Our current president will experience great relief when he leaves office and after a long vacation, will resume his life as a celebrity businessman, while the nation is spared the further indignity of his leadership. The president’s resignation will occur before the next election.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Terrorist Violence On The Streets of New York

All of us deplore the recent act of violence against cyclists and pedestrians on the streets of New York. How does a society prevent a lone wolf terrorist determined to use a rental truck or even a car as a lethal weapon? And how do we prevent people from becoming so radicalized that they commit acts of terrorist violence? There are no easy answers.

The latest lone wolf attacker is an Uzbek national who has lived in the US for several years with his family. He is a licensed truck driver and a former Uber driver. It seems obvious that there should be social service programs available to help recent immigrants from totalitarian states like Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic now ruled by a corrupt despot, make the cultural and psychological adjustment to life in an open society like the US and a difficult place like New York. But there aren’t any. One can readily understand how significant economic and financial stress, which this attacker may have experienced, generates emotional, psychological and even religious/spiritual turmoil. The ensuing vulnerability, involving a search for easy answers, that the world is black and white, and a way to imbue life with meaning and importance, provides fertile soil for extremist propaganda. Does this explain why someone would commit murder? Of course not. But It does indicate the enormity of the problem we face. The issue is not merely preventing would be terrorists from entering the country, but preventing people who are here from becoming terrorists.

Predictably, our president focuses on closing borders and attacking his political opponents. This response is not only a disgrace, it is narrow-minded and misguided. All of his empty rhetoric about keeping the country safe and moving beyond political correctness is cynical. If he meant what he said, he would acknowledge the war being waged on the streets of our towns and cities, the cold-blooded acts of terror being committed each and every day in our country. Americans are killing other Americans at an alarming rate. The number of gun related homicides from 2011 to 2015, the last year of reliable statistics, nearly equaled the total number of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam war.

If the president were serious about forsaking expediency to take effective measures to keep us safe, he would confront and defy the powerful gun lobby and support anti-gun legislation. Even if one concedes the right to own a handgun to promote the illusion of safety in one’s home or the right of hunters and sportsmen to purchase rifles, what is the rationale for anyone to have a semi-automatic rifle or hardware that converts such guns into fully automatic weapons? It is beyond shameful that we remain hostage to a powerful political lobby determined to undermine any meaningful anti-gun legislation.

Our president’s words are designed to score political points and fulfill campaign promises because he remains committed, no matter what the circumstance, to secure a personal advantage. That is who he is. He imagines that talking tough on immigration is going to solve the problem of terrorist violence, when the reality is far more complex. Meanwhile, the war on our streets continues unabated. All of us are vulnerable to acts of gun related violence while our president and the Republican party refuse to take, or even consider, any action to address the other source of terrorist violcence that claims the lives of so many Americans.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Donald Trump Wags the Dog

Recently we have been stunned and frightened by Trump’s hyperbolic rhetoric threatening to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea, a thinly veiled reference to using nuclear weapons. Coming several days after an important diplomatic victory, involving a rare unanimous UN Security Council vote to intensify sanctions against North Korea, there was no justification to escalate the public rhetoric at this particular moment. And given the fact that Trump unleashed his initial verbal assault at a scheduled event about the opioid epidemic, it appears his hostile remarks were improvised. Or were they?

While everyone agrees North Korea should not become a nuclear power, let’s remember why its regime expends precious economic resources to develop a nuclear arsenal at great sacrifice to its people, including widespread famine. The North Korean leadership believes the only way to stave off the existential threat of an American invasion is by developing nuclear weapons. In their view, history supports this claim. Both Iraq and Libya gave up nuclear weapons programs and Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi were eventually overthrown and killed. While regime change in Iraq and Libya was not linked to the termination of WMD programs, the North Koreans believe otherwise. Their leaders remain convinced that the only way to avoid a similar fate is by developing atomic weapons.

So how should we respond to North Korea’s provocative ballistic tests and aggressive statements? In the minds of many, all reasonable diplomatic efforts have reached an impasse, leaving us to contemplate taking military action against North Korea, even as most experts concluded long ago this would entail a catastrophic loss of life in both South and North Korea and perhaps elsewhere too. Given the unimaginable stakes, we must never conclude there are no diplomatic solutions. It is imperative that American and North Korean foreign ministers meet immediately to pave the way for direct contact between the leaders of these two countries. It is nothing short of remarkable that neither the foreign ministers nor the leaders of these two countries have ever met. Even at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union and the US pointed thousands of nuclear warheads at one another, we made an effort to maintain strong diplomatic contact and engaged in disarmament talks and ratified treaties reducing the nuclear arsenal of both sides.

What could a meeting between North Korea and the US achieve? First, the United States must unconditionally renounce any and all interest in launching a preemptive military strike against North Korea and/or engaging in regime change. Second, the US should pledge its support to modernize the North Korea economy. This would involve a detailed list of concrete proposals regarding international private and governmental investment. Its current leader, educated in Switzerland, appears willing to engage in some level of privatization to enhance his country’s economic prospects. If we believe in the superiority of capitalist markets, the only successful strategy to engineer regime change in North Korea involves transforming its economy to improve the standard of living of its citizens. In this way, we could gradually bring North Korea into the international community and alleviate its fear of American “imperialism”. Giving North Korean citizens a place in the world economy is the best enduring strategy to diffuse the current conflict over its nuclear weapons program.

Of course, this valuable assistance can only occur if North Korea agrees to freeze, rather than dismantle, their nuclear weapons program, with UN inspectors empowered to be the sole judge verifying they have honored their commitment. A freeze would allow the regime to save face with its people after decades of propaganda describing the importance of a nuclear weapons stockpile, while defusing current tensions. The ball would be in North Korea’s court: to seize the opportunity offered by American “capitalists” and the rest of the world or to remain an economically desperate and pariah nation. Concurrently, we must scale back the public hostility and redouble our effort to engage in behind the scenes diplomacy, like the US accomplished with China during the Nixon administration.

Donald Trump’s aggressive pronouncements validate the North Korean government’s fear of America’s intentions. It also indicates he is temperamentally ill suited, as widely assumed, to resolve a major international crisis. Finally, it suggests a powerful ulterior motive: to launch a preemptive strike against the scent of a major presidential scandal, embodied by Robert Mueller’s Trump/Russia investigation, and to bolster his beleaguered political leadership. Since the war of words between Donald Trump and the North Korean regime began, Mueller’s decision to convene a second grand jury to facilitate his investigation, the FBI’s decision to secure records from Mike Flynn, Mueller’s desire to interview White House staffers, including recently departed chief of staff Reince Priebus, and perhaps most remarkably, the unannounced predawn FBI raid of Paul Manafort’s home in July, has been shunted aside as the day’s major news story. In the Hollywood movie Wag the Dog, a trumped up war distracts attention away from a sex scandal. Donald Trump’s menacing rhetoric, a sobering example of life imitating art, represents a dangerous instance of wagging the dog.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Scariest Place on Earth

Ready for a pop quiz? Name the country with the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, now totaling over 100 weapons. Israel? Guess again. North Korea? Nope. Ok, here’s a disturbing hint. The country’s chronically unstable national government has been toppled several times by military coup while ethnic and religious strife generates frequent terrorist violence. Give up? Here’s another alarming clue. This country’s national intelligence service is filled with officers sympathetic to indigenous terrorist groups. In short, you have a virtual failed state with a nuclear arsenal, posing a clear and pronounced risk that terrorists could steal a nuclear warhead or enough radioactive material to build a dirty bomb. And to make matters worse, this nation has been at war with its neighbor, another country with nuclear weapons, over territory with no strategic value.

Care to hazard an educated guess? Well, how about another clue? Osama Bin Laden lived in this country for several years and many American officials believe members of its military and intelligence establishment knew his whereabouts while we engaged in a worldwide manhunt to track him down. Bin Laden resided within spitting distance from this country’s most prestigious military academy. Did I forget to mention that this nation, a major recipient of American foreign aid, is considered an important ally? No, this is not a fictional country taken from the plot of a B-grade thriller; it is the one known as Pakistan.

During America’s military effort to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and to destroy Al Qaeda’s infrastructure, the former found refuge in a region of Pakistan where power resides in the hands of local warlords and the national government has limited authority. The war against American troops was directed from Pakistan, whose government resisted taking decisive military action against the Taliban because its intelligence service believed they were useful to prevent India from developing a sphere of influence in Afghanistan. One must assume that under other circumstances, the US would have taken the fight to Pakistan, but its nuclear arsenal prevented that.

Even as a domestic Taliban movement terrorized Pakistan, the military and the notorious ISI, its Inter-Services Intelligence agency, remained reluctant to confront the militants. We must remember that the Taliban were educated in religious schools or madrassas in Pakistan, established by its leader Zia-al Huq to create anti-communist cadre to defeat the pro-Soviet Afghan government in the late 1970’s. The mujhadeen fighters who resisted the Soviet puppet regime went on to establish the Taliban.

The Pakistani military and intelligence agencies have played a dangerous double game, currying American favor to secure advanced weapons and much needed aid while sheltering and/or abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The response to the murder of Osama Bin Laden was revealing. Initially, the Pakistani government congratulated the U.S. before it condemned the attack on Bin Laden’s compound as a violation of its sovereignty. Afterwards, the Pakistani Taliban unleashed a retaliatory attack against American forces with the apparent tacit approval of the Pakistani military and intelligence community.

There is evidence Pakistan provided vital technical expertise to enable nuclear programs in both North Korea and Iran. Apparently, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was involved. Yet, the Pakistani government placed him under house arrest and refused to allow Americans to question him. Presumably, officials feared he would reveal the extent of governmental involvement in the export of nuclear technology around the world.

Conservatives condemn Obama for not doing enough to cripple or terminate Iran’s nuclear program. It is a supreme irony or hypocrisy that none of these critics recall how George H.W. Bush turned a blind eye towards Pakistan when it successfully developed and tested a nuclear weapon that made the world much more unstable and dangerous.

While Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, they are closely followed by India, whose total supply of weapons is roughly the same. There is a dangerous nuclear arms race on the subcontinent between countries whose armies have clashed more than once over Kashmir and whose relationship remains more volatile than that between the US and the USSR during the height of the cold war. A major foreign policy objective for any American president, indeed for the entire world, should involve nuclear disarmament talks in South Asia. In the meantime, India is a stable democracy, despite its own alarming sectarian violence, while Pakistan remains a chronically unstable nation with a large and growing nuclear stockpile. It is a nightmare waiting to happen and the scariest place on earth.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Capitalism and Its Discontents

Contemporary pundits discuss globalization as if it were a recent phenomenon. In reality, it is an old story. Moreover, the term globalization is a misnomer. Globalization refers to the global reach of the capitalist marketplace. When analysts examine the devastating effects of globalization, they are describing the impact of capitalism itself. In a thoroughly ruthless manner, private markets for goods and services, the hallmark of the capitalist system, produce winners and losers. In the early 19th century, English manufacturers used cutting edge technology and economies of scale to make cheaper textiles that ruined Indian producers. The Indian textile industry was a big loser in the capitalist marketplace, an early victim of globalization. While England remained the world’s preeminent industrial power throughout most of the 19th century, the economic center of gravity gradually shifted away to other nations like the U.S. and Germany.

By the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. became the world’s preeminent economic and financial power. But America’s dominance was challenged in the 1970’s. Many pundits feared “Japan, Inc.” would enact in the global marketplace what the Japanese failed to accomplish on the battlefield a few decades earlier. However, during the last few decades, another economic behemoth emerged in the east. As China became a central player in the global capitalist economy due to its very rapid and extensive industrialization, the economic center of gravity shifted once again. And the seismic transformation wrought by China’s industrial might generated new winners and losers in markets around the world.

In mid-century America, businesses expected to be decisive winners wherever and whenever they competed. And for a few decades this was largely true. The marketplace losers lived elsewhere, often in far-flung places. But the recent eastward shift in the economic center of gravity meant that key American businesses, like steel and auto producers, experienced what Indian manufacturers did in the early 19th century. The economic and social consequences of defeat in the global marketplace, characterized by declining industrial profits and, in turn, the threat of bankruptcy, shuttered factories, swollen rates of unemployment and the devastation of communities even whole regions of the country, came home to roost in our backyard. For some, the current gravitational shift in the world economy implied the American economy was in secular decline. But perhaps it remained more accurate to say that important sectors of American business became glaring casualties in the ceaseless struggle for competitiveness and profitability in the capitalist marketplace.

One of the important contemporary political consequences of this latest gravitational shift has been the emergence of nationalist populist movements across Europe and the U.S.. The Trump election and the emergence of the French National Front as a mainstream political power are the most important examples of this phenomenon. Fueled by rage expressed by those who feel ignored and dismissed by elites, a broad coalition including industrial workers, young people and those living in rural areas, these movements represent, in Michael Moore’s words about Trump, a “political Molotov cocktail” designed to blow up the existing political system.

Put another way, the Trump phenomenon, the surging popularity of the National Front, and the narrow defeat of populist demagogues in Austria and Holland, express the boiling frustration and anger of those who feel left behind, pushed aside or just crushed by the global capitalist marketplace. Le Pen expressed this quite well when she said French voters would choose between being globalists or patriots. The message was clear: a vote for the National Front represented an act of patriotic duty to protect France from the adverse affects of globalization. Le Pen promised to push for France’s withdrawal from the EU and the euro and to close national borders to immigrants. Her political opponent, Emmanuel Macron, ridiculed her by telling voters France could not withdraw from the global economy. Rather, he promised to render France more competitive.

While it remains important to link the emergence of nationalist populist movements with the economic and social devastation caused by a distribution of winners and losers in the world’s capitalist economy, we must raise some other critical questions: Why do workers in the US and to a lesser extent in Europe, where national unemployment has been stubbornly high for decades in countries like France and youth unemployment represents a ticking time bomb, choose to vent their political anger and frustration towards government and not private enterprises? Why are plant closings, resulting in job loss and declining incomes, understood to be the result of government policies, e.g., unwise trade deals, suffocating economic regulation and “excessive” taxation, rather than the result of corporate decision making? How do corporate decisions to relocate production abroad because of a ceaseless drive to maximize profits, or the fact that companies lose market share because of poor managerial decisions, for example, the refusal to invest in cutting edge plant and equipment in the steel industry or to meet changing consumer demand in the auto industry, remain outside our political debate?

Moreover, why haven’t progressive politicians channeled the palpable anger and frustration of those inhabiting the lowest rungs of the economic ladder? Given ever-expanding income inequality, why can’t progressives persuade the vast majority of the 99% that policies offered by Republicans deepen a profoundly unequal distribution of wealth and remain inimical to their interests? Why hasn’t a progressive analogue to the Tea Party emerged in the US? And here’s a final sobering question: what if Trump or Macron fail to address the concerns of those at the bottom? Will those brimming with passionate intensity choose a more potent Molotov cocktail, one designed to ensure the political center no longer holds?

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

The Revenge of the Bolsheviks: Vladimir Putin and the West

A century ago, Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik party began a Russian revolution that toppled its Tsarist regime and shook the world. The Bolsheviks construed their victory as the opening salvo in a global struggle to smash the economic and political power of capitalists everywhere. They organized and controlled an international revolutionary movement by cementing ties with sympathetic political parties and movements in advanced industrialized nations across Europe and the US.

Fast forward a hundred years later and Bolshevik ideology represents a great scourge of 20th century history, associated with a brutal dictatorship that killed millions and damaged the lives of countless others. Moreover, Russia today is a humiliated nation. A devastating military defeat in Afghanistan was followed by the demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of its empire. Equally important, Russia’s economic prospects have been greatly eclipsed over the last forty years by their erstwhile communist comrades in China. To compare Russia and China, say, in 1975 versus today represents an eye-opening humiliation for the Russian nation. As many have noted, Russia is like a mafia state characterized by a corrupt system of crony capitalism while the Chinese economy, firmly integrated with trading partners around the world, has become the second largest in the world.

Putin believes that after the collapse of the Soviet system, the West attempted to exploit their Cold War victory by pushing disastrous political and economic “reforms” that weakened the Russian state and impoverished many of its citizens. In Putin’s view, the West passed up a golden opportunity to partner with the Russian Federation to create a new international political order.  Instead Allied powers, in particular the United States, endeavored to transform Russia into a Western style liberal democracy.  Putin interpreted the reform efforts of the 1990’s in much the same way Hitler exploited the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War: as the betrayal of a proud and vanquished nation.

In Putin’s view, Russia’s descent into political and social disarray in the 1990’s expressed a fundamental conflict between the interests Western elites and a strong and resurgent Russian state. In response to the remarkable and terrifying chaos of the Yeltsin years, he sought to reestablish a formidable central authority designed to promote stability and prosperity at home and to project Russian political and military authority abroad.

Putin’s political goal is clear and simple: to reclaim greatness on the world’s political stage. Like many Russian leaders before him, he believes the West wants to surround Russia with hostile governments. So first and foremost, he wants to install friendly regimes in neighboring countries, e.g., that occurred in Moldova and Bulgaria in 2016. This “soft” version of Russia’s empire would reestablish its sphere of influence and prevent further NATO incursion in Eastern Europe.

But Putin has a larger ambition. Still resentful of the West’s attempt to weaken the Russian state after the end of the Cold War, he aspires to challenge the capitalist world order like the Bolsheviks a century ago. But instead of Marxist-Leninist ideology, Putin utilizes nationalist sentiment and traditional religious values to fashion himself as the de facto leader of an international movement to eclipse the power of “globalist” political and economic elites in the West.

Seen in this context, the curious political bromance between Putin and Trump makes more sense. Yes, we do not know about Trump’s business ties to Russian interests. Yes, there are unconfirmed reports about personal information the Russians have on Trump, in a plot twist summoned from the pages of a Cold War potboiler. But focusing on these issues ignores a more compelling truth: Trump represents a dream political partner for Putin. To the extent Trump assails the enduring relevance of NATO and the viability of the EU, and offers withering criticism of Angela Merkel, who now symbolizes the push for more European solidarity, he shakes the pillars of the Western alliance. Suddenly, the ideal of a united Europe and an ironclad relationship between Europe and the U.S. recedes before a rising populist and nationalist tide across the Western world. And Putin appears poised to exploit this trend by cultivating ties with both separatist movements of the far left and nationalist movements of the far right in Europe under the rubric of “anti-globalism”.

It is stunning to see Russia emerge as a force to be reckoned with in Europe and the Middle East and sobering to consider Putin as the preeminent geopolitical thinker on the world stage. As he construes Western political and economic elites as being anti-democratic, they pursue globalization to advance their own interests at the expense of “the people”, an important part of his grand strategy will be to welcome populists like Trump or Le Pen as comrades. In Putin’s eyes, Trump is a fellow traveler. The curious relationship between these leaders goes beyond a consideration of business ties or sordid personal revelations. We have avoided accepting the plain truth: Trump envies Putin’s ability to advance his country’s interests. He fashions himself to be a leader cut from Putin’s populist and nationalist cloth.

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano

Donald Trump and the Russians: An Evolving Story

The story involving Donald Trump’s associates and Russian intelligence officials keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. And it begins well before the 2016 presidential election. In December, 2015, Gen. Mike Flynn traveled to Russia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a television channel called Russia Today, an unabashed mouthpiece for the Kremlin. Flynn received money to be interviewed on air and to attend a gala dinner highlighted by a speech given by Vladimir Putin. But why would the ex-chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency accept money from a propaganda tool of the Russian government as tensions mounted between Russia and the US? Can you imagine a retired FSB director being paid to appear on Fox News?

American intelligence agencies established last year that the Russian government launched a concerted effort to interfere with our presidential campaign. The Obama administration responded by imposing new sanctions against Russia. Under ordinary circumstances, the Russians would have retaliated in kind. But Putin failed to do so. At the time, his reaction puzzled most observers. Now we know when sanctions were announced, Flynn discussed them with the Russian ambassador, perhaps conveying they would be rescinded by the Trump administration. This could explain why Putin dismissed Obama’s pronouncement.

Of course, Trump denied he instructed Flynn about what to say to the Russian ambassador. But Trump’s baffling comment at the time, that Russia’s mild response confirmed that Putin was “very, very smart”, suggests Flynn was not acting on his own, that a coordinated effort to disparage Obama’s course of action involved Trump himself. How else to explain why Trump praised Putin at the very moment Obama punished the Russian government for interfering in the election? At best, Trump allowed an underling to freelance on a sensitive issue of national security. At worst, he concealed his role in the whole affair. And a possible presidential cover-up might explain why Trump did not fire Flynn immediately when he lied to the vice-president.

Aside from the Flynn scandal and the possibility of a cover-up, the most astonishing part of this evolving story involves frequent and ongoing conversations between Trump campaign officials and/or other associates and Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign. And this begs a very simple and pivotal question: why would Trump associates have any contact with Russian officials during a presidential campaign, especially since it was reported Putin wanted to interfere with the election? During the campaign, they had frequent conversations with intelligence personnel working for a dangerous political adversary. What were they talking about? What did Trump associates want?

While American intelligence sources have not confirmed any outright collusion between Trump supporters and Russian officials to undermine the Clinton campaign, the fact these conversations occurred is mind-boggling. Do these contacts indicate a secret relationship or understanding between Trump and Putin and does this explain Trump’s reluctance to criticize Putin, even after his aggressive behavior in Crimea and Ukraine? Given events in Eastern Europe and developments in Russia over the last several years, it is surprising any major American politician would compliment Putin. But it is astounding when a presidential candidate and a standing president praise a political leader who remains committed to policies that threaten our national security. No wonder many in Eastern Europe and throughout NATO remain worried about Trump’s political resolve to contain Russian ambitions.

How are we to understand Trump’s behavior vis-à-vis Putin? Does he admire and envy the way Putin governs? Recall that in a remarkable tweet message during the campaign, he appreciated the way the Russian leader controlled his people. Some have suggested Trump views Putin as an important ally in the battle against Islamic extremists. But Russian policy in Syria, for instance, has bolstered Assad rather than target terrorists. Moreover, Russia’s air force committed war crimes against a civilian population in Aleppo. Why hasn’t Trump spoken out about Russia’s horrific role in Syria? The more sinister explanation for Trump’s reticence to confront Putin involves unconfirmed reports the Russians have compromising personal information. In this regard, the Russian general who supplied pivotal intelligence to Christopher Steele, who compiled the report indicating the Russians had “kompromat” against Trump, was found dead in a car on a Moscow street in January. Russian media reported his death as suspicious. That seems obvious. But why was he killed? For collaborating with Steele or because he knew too much?

How ironic that candidate Trump vilified Hillary Clinton and threatened to “lock her up” for using a private email server that never endangered the nation. Now there is real concern that a pivotal relationship with a menacing political adversary may be gravely compromised. There is more than a whiff of scandal here. So six weeks into Trump’s presidency, it is time to establish an independent prosecutor to get to the bottom of it. Will congressional Republicans, who spent millions to fund several investigations of Clinton’s e-mails, address a serious challenge to our national security? Or will they engage in partisan politics and refuse to allow Republicans to investigate Republicans, as Rand Paul recently put it?

Neal Aponte, Ph.D.
Editor of Delano