President Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, wasted no time asserting his authority on his first day in the job, say Michael Shear, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. On Monday, the four-star marine general announced his aim to “impose military discipline on a free-for-all West Wing” and promptly fired Anthony Scaramucci, the “bombastic communications director” who had been hired just ten days earlier. “The Mooch”, as the ex-financier likes to be known, is the latest of more than a dozen prominent staff to have been ousted or forced to resign or switch jobs in the first six months of the Trump administration, says David Smith in The Guardian.
Scaramucci was pushed out after a vicious tirade against other members of the president’s staff. He described Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, as a “f***ing paranoid schizophrenic”, and likened their mutual feud to that of the fratricidal relationship between Cain and Abel in an interview with The New Yorker. The ousting of Priebus last week was also a victory for Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, says Elizabeth Williamson in the same paper. They had suspected Priebus of leaks and had been “looking to knife him in the back for some time”. In the Mooch, a self-described “front-stabbing person”, they found their man.
But at what price? Last week’s “fight-to-the-death” between Scaramucci and Priebus was a lowlight in one of the most chaotic weeks of the administration to date; one which included tweeted attacks by Trump on his own attorney-general, exposing the “divisions wracking the senior levels of his team and reinforcing concerns about the trajectory of his presidency”, say David Lynch and
Sam Fleming in the Financial Times.
It’s not just the infighting. Few presidents have suffered so many “challenges to their authority” in such a short period. Trump’s dream of repealing Obamacare has failed, his promised “biggest tax cut in history” is months behind schedule, and how any cuts will be paid for remains a mystery following the abandonment of a border-adjusted tax that would have raised $1trn over ten years. Partly, it’s a clash of style. Trump disdains Washington’s traditions, demands “wins” and browbeats his allies. Six months in, however, the “out-of-towner is finding that what worked in New York is not a winning strategy in Washington”. Yet it seems unlikely that Trump will change.
Thank goodness for the generals, says Con Coughlin in The Daily Telegraph. Kelly’s appointment “couldn’t have come soon enough”. The interminable battles between professional administrators such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and administration ideologues like Steve Bannon, the “alt-right” media executive, risk “severely undermining Washington’s global standing at a time when the world can least afford it”.
Take Trump’s failure to reassert Washington’s commitment to Article 5, the so-called collective defence clause, at the Nato summit in May, which caused such disquiet among European leaders. Had it not been for a reported last-minute deletion by Bannon, Trump would have declared “unwavering support” for the clause. Such “diplomatic missteps” send a “mixed message” to America’s foes, particularly Russia. Meanwhile, North Korea is likely to have been emboldened by the belief that, with all the squabbling in Washington, it can continue with its “provocative ballistic missile tests” without fear of reprisal. Trump tweeted that Monday had been a “great day” for the White House. Let’s hope he’s right.
America slaps sanctions on Venezuela
On Monday, the US imposed sanctions against Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, and senior officials took the rare step of publicly branding him a dictator, the day after a rigged election for a so-called constituent assembly, say Katrina Manson and Gideon Long in the FT. The new legislative body is designed to sidestep the democratically elected parliament, which is controlled by the opposition. It will have the power to shut down Congress, rewrite the Constitution, draft new laws and “scrap all future elections”. The opposition, which urged Venezuelans to boycott the election, said the government’s claim of an 8.1 million turnout was “farcical” – only two million of Venezuela’s 19.5 million voters turned up.
Venezuelans are not the only people to struggle with corrupt, authoritarian regimes, but Maduro’s rule is “distinguished by its failure to satisfy even the basic needs of its citizens” despite its vast oil wealth, says The Times. Inflation is expected to exceed 1,000% by the end of this year, and its “unfortunate” people now struggle to find affordable food and medicine. Last week the US imposed personal sanctions on 13 members of Venezuela’s elite. These should extend to armed forces officials profiting from the black market.
American “scolding” of Venezuela is nothing new. Nor is the sight of a Venezuelan president insulting his US counterpart, says Andrew Buncombe in The Independent. Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez denounced George W Bush as “the devil”. But Chavez at least used his country’s oil wealth to invest in education and social welfare programmes for the poor. The “new dynamic could be especially perilous”, warns regional expert Mark Weisbrot, and needs to be handled with care. Fresh oil sanctions (the US still imports 700,000 a day) could be disastrous for ordinary Venezuelans. With an army of 100,000 troops at Maduro’s disposal, in addition to armed militias, the “prospect for bloody conflict is all too real”.
Negotiation is the best option. The US, the European Union, and Latin American nations, which widely condemned the election, must offer Venezuelans a “vision of a better future” too, says Bloomberg. Promises of humanitarian aid and financial assistance could “help a democratic Venezuela recover from a spiralling economic crisis”. Helping a “country with the world’s biggest proven oil reserves may seem absurd. But such are the depths to which Venezuela has sunk under Maduro’s inept and brutal leadership.”