The Real Trump Foreign Policy: Stoking the G.O.P. Base

Why else would he pursue so many policies in Latin America that do not serve the national interest?

Americans can be forgiven if they struggle to find any coherence in the Trump administration’s foreign policy. It zigs and zags, with senior administration officials saying one thing and President Trump contradicting them without warning the next day. It punishes our allies and coddles our adversaries; it privileges demagogy over democracy. Mr. Trump’s approach appears impulsive, improvisational and inchoate — devoid of clear purpose, values or even ideology.

Yet, upon closer examination, there is indeed a consistent logic staring us in the face. The unifying theme of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is simply to service his domestic politics.

Mr. Trump welcomes and encourages Russia, a hostile adversary, to interfere in our elections so long as the manipulations benefit him. He discards decades of bipartisan policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to curry favor with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and thus right-wing political support. The president follows a basic, if unorthodox, playbook: He and his party over our country.

Nowhere is this pattern more consistently apparent than in the administration’s dealings with Latin America. In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has taken a series of actions that are not tied to coherent strategies and will not deliver the desired results — if those results are to be measured in terms of achieving American foreign policy objectives. Rather, they may succeed only to the extent that they help Mr. Trump gain re-election by dishing up red meat to energize the Republican base.

Take Cuba. Last month, the Trump administration turned the clock back to the Cold War, imposing the harshest forms of sanctions against Cuba allowable under United States law. Mr. Trump reversed the policy of his Republican and Democratic predecessors by permitting Americans to sue foreign companies that use property confiscated without compensation by the Castro regime.

The administration also canceled a deal to allow Cuban baseball players to play in the United States, sharply constrained remittances and promised to end most forms of nonfamily travel, actions that will directly harm Cuba’s people and nascent private sector. In triumphantly announcing this policy shift before veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the national security adviser, John Bolton, repeatedly stressed the contrast with President Obama’s approach and pledged relentless pursuit of regime change.

Anyone familiar with the 60-plus years of failed United States policy toward Cuba before Mr. Obama’s opening in 2014 knows that the embargo only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on its long-suffering people. Instead of causing the collapse of the Cuban government or the abandonment of its ally Venezuela, Mr. Trump’s approach will again bolster hard-liners in Havana, entrench policies we oppose, drive Cuba closer to Russia and China, further isolate and impoverish the Cuban people and punish our European and Canadian allies, whose companies will now be sued.

Yet, this policy reversal surely pleases the old guard among Cuban émigrés, as it did the Bay of Pigs celebrants who cheered Bolton. Given the changing attitudes among younger Cuban-Americans who largely supported Mr. Obama’s engagement, it remains to be seen how much political sway the hard-liners still have in the crucial battleground state of Florida. Still, Mr. Trump is betting on firing up that faction.

Not content to bank only on the Cuban community in Florida, Mr. Trump is also courting the state’s many Venezuelan immigrants, who justifiably detest the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. To hasten Mr. Maduro’s exit, the Trump administration has rightly joined with regional and international partners to impose sanctions against Mr. Maduro, his government and cronies, and to recognize the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.

Migrant Caravan Moves North in Mexico as Trump Warns of Foreign-Aid Cuts

At the end of last week, the caravan arrived on the doorstep to Mexico. Under pressure from the U.S., Mexico offered the migrants asylum but said it would only let in groups of 150 to 200 people a day to process their requests. Anyone crossing the border illegally would be deported, Mexican officials warned.

The Honduran government estimates that 2,000 migrants returned home. Mexico says another 1,000 or so have applied for asylum. But the majority—about 5,000, according to the Mexican government—crossed the border illegally, mostly on rickety rafts run by human smugglers.

.. “We can’t get to the northern border all together” said Irineo Mujica, the head of People without Borders, a U.S.-Mexico nonprofit that has backed the caravan since its arrival in Guatemala. Such a huge group moving across Mexico days before the U.S. midterms, he added, would embolden Mr. Trump. “If this full caravan arrives to the U.S. border, it would be like a declaration of war,” Mr. Mujica said.

.. Most migrants say they want to get to the U.S. but generally don’t know what legal options they have ahead. Many said they were determined to abandon Honduras, which has among the world’s highest rates of violence. When they saw news on television that a caravan had left from San Pedro Sula heading north, many thought it was the right moment to leave.

.. She said a criminal gang extorted her family business and demanded a “war tax,” calling it that because “if you don’t pay the gang destroys your business and kills you.”

.. For many would-be migrants, leaving in a caravan is attractive because they can avoid paying some $5,000 in smugglers’ fees and are safer traveling in numbers.

.. On Oct. 5, Honduran social activist and leftist politician Bartolo Fuentes shared the information about the caravan on his Facebook account
.. “Most Mexicans are sympathetic to the migrants, so politically it becomes very difficult for the government to move against the caravan given it has such visibility,” he said. “On the other hand, you don’t want to anger the U.S. and be seen as just allowing migrants to cross through your country freely.”
.. On Sunday, Mr. Trump warned the migrants on Twitter that if they didn’t accept Mexico’s offer of asylum, they would be denied entry to the U.S. He said Monday the caravan included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners,” without offering evidence.
..  For fiscal year 2019, the U.S. plans to send about
  • $70 million in aid to Guatemala,
  • $66 million to Honduras and
  • $46 million to El Salvador,

according to the State Department. Most of the funds go to

  • violence prevention,
  • justice and rule-of-law programs, along with
  • funding for border and narcotics enforcement.

.. Cutting aid to Central American countries would be a mistake, since U.S. aid dollars fund programs that reduce violence, strengthen the justice system, and encourage investment that make them more attractive places for their citizens, said Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

.. Studies have shown that once a country’s GDP per capita reaches between $6,000 and $8,000, the gains from migrating somewhere become less attractive, who served under President Barack Obama as head of Latin America for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“We need to stop these countries from becoming failed states, because that’s what’s going to cause a tremendous exodus,” she said.

.. Immigrants asking for U.S. asylum either at a legal border crossing or upon being arrested by the Border Patrol for crossing illegally are subjected to a “credible fear” interview to decide if their request should be heard by an immigration judge. More than 75% of immigrants pass the so-called “credible fear bar,” according to U.S. government statistics. Those who don’t pass that initial interview are subject to deportation.

.. Immigration authorities can jail asylum seekers until their case is decided, but bed space is at a premium as the Trump administration steps up immigration enforcement both at the border and in the U.S. interior.

For those released into the U.S., a final decision could take years amid a backlog of more than 764,000 cases pending in federal immigration court. During that time, they can live in the U.S. and apply work permits, something Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized.

 

How the G.O.P. Built Donald Trump’s Cages

Republicans who spoke up this time should be asking themselves why a president of their party felt he was enforcing its principles by breaking apart families and caging children.

.. But many, many other party leaders have been venturing ever deeper into the dank jungles of nativist populism for quite some time, exploiting the politics of fear and resentment. Mr. Trump did not invent Republican demonization of “the other” — it came about in two ways: gradually, and then all at once.

.. From the early 1990s to 2000, the conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan kept the Republican Party on its toes, running for president three times with an explicitly isolationist message.

.. But it was during the George W. Bush years that anti-immigrant sentiment started to become more central to the party’s identity.

.. Mr. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a priority of his second term.

.. Conservative talk radio took up the cause, smacking Mr. Bush as squishy on immigration. The very concept of comprehensive reform became anathema to many on the right.

.. The Great Recession that Mr. Obama inherited did nothing to quell nativist resentment among working-class whites, and the rise of the Tea Party pulled the Republican Party further to the right

.. Just ask Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who saw his fledgling political career almost snuffed out by his flirtation with comprehensive reform

.. in the wake of Mitt Romney’s presidential loss in 2012, after which the Republican Party briefly decided that one of its principal goals was to improve its image with Hispanic voters.

.. The resulting plan would have done everything from beefing up border security to overhauling visa categories to promoting a merit-based immigration system.

It also provided for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, which meant conservatives hated it.

..  the bill cleared the Senate by an impressive 68-to-32 vote. But John Boehner, then the House speaker, refused to bring it up for a vote in the Republican-controlled lower chamber.

.. Mr. Rubio became a pariah to the Tea Party voters who had propelled him to office three years earlier. Soon, he was denying that he had ever really supported the bill.

.. Party leaders fanned those flames, accusing Mr. Obama of being imperious and “lawless.” In one bit of twisted logic, Mr. Boehner argued that the House couldn’t possibly take up reform legislation because it couldn’t trust Mr. Obama to carry out said legislation.

.. Along the way, Republican candidates continued to play to their base’s darker impulses. On the whole, the rhetoric was subtler than that of the current president

.. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, painting Dreamers as drug mules with “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

.. Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama: “I’ll do anything short of shooting them”

.. Nor was Mr. Trump the first Republican to promote the idea that within every immigrant lurks a murderer or terrorist.

.. Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, ran around warning of what came to be mocked as the great “terror baby” plot. As Mr. Gohmert told it, radical Islamists were plotting to impregnate droves of young women, who would infiltrate the United States to give birth here. The babies would be shipped back home for terrorist training, then return as adults to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting America.

.. Time and again, given the choice between soothing and stoking nativist animus, Republican lawmakers chose the low road.

.. And he has even less interest in addressing the root causes of migrant families flocking to the border.

.. In 2016, the Department of Homeland Security reported, “More individuals sought affirmative asylum from the Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) in the last three years than in the prior 15 years combined.”

.. Helping these nations stabilize themselves is key to reducing the flow of asylum seekers. But Mr.

Trump does not like complexity or long-term strategizing.

He prefers casting blame and making threats. 

.. In the administration’s budget proposals, it has sought deep cuts in aid to these countries — something Congress has wisely ignored. Removing a financial lifeline from nations already in chaos is hardly a recipe for progress.

.. Mr. Trump’s move to kick out as many people who are from these countries as possible threatens to overwhelm nations ill equipped for such an influx. And without the money that many of the immigrants living here regularly send back to their families, the economies of these countries would further crumble.

.. In 2016, 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product came from remittances from abroad.

.. America’s immigration mess is not going to be cleaned up anytime soon.

.. conservatives are terrified that the base will punish them if they concede even an inch. Speaker Paul Ryan, with one foot out the door, has no juice. And pretty much everyone assumes that nothing will move through the Senate anyway.

.. Trump is planning fresh crackdowns in the run-up to the midterms, to reassure his base that he has not lost his resolve. If anything, given the fragility of his ego, last week’s flip-flop will make him all the more desperate to prove his strength.

.. Mr. Trump is more a breaker than a fixer.

.. The question now is whether the conference will learn anything useful from this episode.

.. There is also his

  • politicization of law enforcement, his
  • attempts to undermine public faith in the democratic process, his
  • attacks on the press, his
  • family’s suspect business dealings and his
  • habitual lying

.. this is unlikely to be the last time the president puts members of his party in an uncomfortable, and perhaps untenable, position.

.. The weight of this moment should be recognized. Mr. Trump’s capitulation was not a given. With a little less media scrutiny, fewer heartbreaking photos and fewer calls from angry voters, tent cities could have kept on filling with traumatized children.

.. Having done so much to pave the way for Mr. Trump and his immigration policies, they now owe it to the American people to help keep him in check.

How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer

Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence.

This summer I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.

.. Honduras has dropped from first place to third among Central American countries sending unaccompanied children to the United States illegally.

.. most Americans think the United States should “deal with its own problems” while others deal with theirs “as best they can,” a sentiment that’s at the core of Donald J. Trump’s “America First” slogan and “build a wall” campaign. Many seem to have lost their faith in American power.

.. The funding for violence prevention in Honduras — which this year cost between $95 million and $110 million — has also come under attack from the left.

.. This summer, a bill was introduced in Congress to suspend security aid to Honduras because of corruption and human rights violations. These concerns are legitimate, but cutting our support would be a mistake.

.. What is working in Honduras may offer hope to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in crisis.

.. The gangs enforced a 6 p.m. curfew. Bodies littered the dirt streets in the morning. The 18th Street Gang set up a checkpoint

.. gangsters playing soccer with the decapitated head of someone they had executed.

.. In two years, homicides have plummeted 62 percent.

.. America’s support is “getting results,” said James D. Nealon, the United States ambassador to Honduras. We are, he said, reducing migration. But we are also repairing harms the United States inflicted — first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras. If the United States sustains its anti-violence work in Honduras, Ambassador Nealon says, “in five years they will get their country back.”

.. the Ponce gang grabbed 13-year-old Andrea Abigail Argeñal Martínez because her family couldn’t afford the “war tax” the gang imposed on its tiny store. They raped Andrea for several days in that house, and called her mother so she could hear the girl’s screams as they cut her to death.

.. When he hears about a gangster cornered by the police, he will stand in the line of fire yelling, “Stop shooting!” until the officers allow the gangster to surrender. In this way he has gained the trust of all six gangs. He does the same when he hears that someone is about to be murdered by one of the gangs

.. The United States modeled its prevention strategy on what had worked in Boston in the 1990s, and later in Los Angeles: Concentrate efforts on the most violent hot spots.

.. One of the most effective tactics is the creation of neighborhood outreach centers

.. “The U.S. government has been a bigger partner in change than the Honduran government.”

.. One stocky player wearing a No. 11 jersey told me he had killed 121 people, charging $220 or more per hit.
.. “If they play each other, they see each other less as the enemy.
.. focuses on children who are identified by trained counselors as having a number of risk factors for joining gangs, like substance abuse, unsupervised time and a “negative life event” — having been the victim of a violent crime, having a family member killed.
..  In recent years, 96 percent of homicides did not end in a conviction. Everyone in Rivera Hernández knew what happened to witnesses who stepped forward: Their bodies were dumped with a dead frog next to them. The message: Frogs talk too much.
.. The A.J.S. assigns teams of psychologists, investigators and lawyers to look into all homicides and to coax witnesses to give testimony. More than half of completed homicide cases in seven pilot neighborhoods now result in guilty verdicts.
.. “It’s not like before — kill someone and there are no consequences,”
.. Half the family members usually know the killer; one in four witnessed the murder. They say it takes four to 15 visits to persuade a witness to testify.

.. Witnesses can testify anonymously, as they do in Italian Mafia cases.

.. She had witnessed three murders, but this was the first time she had told anyone. Afterward, in the car, she beamed. “I feel liberated!”

.. One afternoon several months ago, a Mara Salvatrucha gangster was caught by the police in Rivera Hernández with a hacked up body in the front basket of his bicycle, casually on his way to dispose of it.

.. 174,000 Hondurans, 4 percent of the country’s households, had abandoned their homes because of violence.

.. Gangsters stripped their houses of anything they could sell — window frames, doors, roofs — leaving whole blocks in rubble.

.. It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.

.. A 2016 study commissioned by U.S.A.I.D. found that working with people within the gangs — those who are active participants and those who want to leave — produced the biggest drops in violence. And yet the United States does hardly any of this, for fear of being seen as working with or paying off gang members.

.. The next priority must be to clean up the police.

.. I asked if any would go to the police station to report a crime. Not one hand went up. “No one with their five senses would report a crime,”

.. up to one in five of his cops was dirty, but community leaders say the number is closer to half.

.. two families who reported a crime to the police. Officers ratted them out, and three family members were killed that very day.

.. Mara Salvatrucha gangsters in Rivera Hernández say they receive warnings from the police of impending sweeps and are handed captured rivals to execute

.. Police officers also engage in extrajudicial killings.

.. Community leaders say the United States must find a better way to punish bad cops without withholding programs that help children.

.. half of the funds Congress budgets for Honduras go to the State Department bureaucracy or American companies paid to administer programs, so-called beltway bandits, rather than directly to local nonprofits or Hondurans.

.. The United States will also need to pressure Honduras to ante up more of its own money for violence prevention;

.. Fourteen-year-old Carlos Manuel Escobar Gómez told me things were so bad two years ago that he was ready to hop freight trains through Mexico to the United States. Both his parents and a brother were dead, and he was sure he wouldn’t survive his 11th year

.. he said with awe, “I haven’t seen a dead body in a year.”