‘Twas the Week Before Christmas, and all through the House, the White House that is, not a creature was stirring. Except for President Trump who had a busy, and for him successful few days.
He unwrapped his 68-page National Security Strategy saying it was based in ‘principled realism’. There was muted aggression. He said “China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests” and he even had a dig at Russia’s use of information tools to undermine democracies…. But it was hardly revolutionary – build a strong economy in order to build a strong defence. Most Presidents have said the same.
Another House was stirring – the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, it gave final approval to the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years thus sealing the President’s first major legislative victory. Trump said he’d promised a ‘big beautiful tax cut for Christmas and that this would mean ‘jobs jobs jobs jobs’. Yes, he really did say it 4 times. Well, the bill is certainly business friendly, the taxes big business will pay were slashed. Some companies have already responded saying they will invest more and pay workers more, but there’s debate about how much the measures are friendly to ordinary voters… and that will be an important factor in next year’s midterm elections. The bill also opens Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, a major defeat for environmentalists.
To another House – that of the United Nations. The USA had vetoed a Security Council resolution against his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but there was then a non-binding General Assembly resolution tabled. Ahead of that vote Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries which backed the motion. His UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, took the extraordinary measure of writing to all UN members saying “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us”. Well that would be 128 countries. Just 8 nations backed the USA’s position, there were 35 abstentions.
Down in South Africa another President watched as his power drained away. President Zuma has been ‘persuaded’ to step down from the leadership of the African National Congress. He called for the next leader to continue his valiant fight against corruption, a fight so valiant that over his career Zuma has faced almost 800 official charges of …corruption. Anyway, Cyril Ramaphosa takes over, and that means he’ll probably be President of south Africa after the 2019 elections. Possibly he’ll get there earlier, he may well pressure Zuma to stand down in which case the hundreds of corruption allegations might just go away again…
To Europe where bits keep falling of the house of the EU. The Austrian Chancellor, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz brought the far-right Freedom Party into his coalition government. In the past, the FP has been openly anti-Semitic and made excuses for the Nazis. 17 years ago, when the FP joined a coalition government the EU imposed sanctions on Austria. Now? Well, “I have reasonable confidence that this will be a pro-European government,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. This could be translated as ‘This is not time to be upsetting member states…
Speaking of which… Poland is pushing ahead with reforms which allow the government to “interfere significantly” in the courts system. So, the EU invoked Article 7 of its treaty, opening debate on whether Poland should be punished for not acting within the spirit of EU law… that’ll show em…. In theory Poland’s voting rights in the EU could, eventually, be suspended, but that requires other member states to approve, which is far from certain.
And finally, to the House of Saud. Another week, another rocket fired at Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen. This one, said the Houthis, was aimed at the al-Yamama palace during a meeting of Saudi leaders in Riyadh but was intercepted south of the capital. The Saudis, and Americans, believe the missiles are supplied by Iran which leads to the question, how many can be fired before Riyadh reacts to what it says is the source of the problem?
Saudi Arabia also unveiled its budget for next year and it’s the biggest in their history. Spending levels will be at record levels as the Finance Ministry tries to drag the country out of recession partially caused by relatively low oil prices. The move should be seen within the prism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman trying to modernize the kingdom via the Vision 2030 plan preparing for life after oil.
Speaking of modernization….Belgium is to become the first country to send a female ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Dominique Mineur, currently ambassador to the UAE, is expected to take up the post next summer…by which time she may be allowed to drive there.