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McConnell Revises History on Syria

By Robert Farley. This article was first published no fackcheck.org.

Sen. Mitch McConnell revised history when explaining why he supported President Trump’s missile strike on Syria but opposed President Obama’s call for a targeted strike against Syria after a chemical weapons incident in 2013.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said Trump’s strike was “well-executed, went right to the heart of the matter, which is using chemical weapons. So, had I seen that — that kind of approach by President Obama, I’m sure I would’ve signed up.” By contrast, McConnell recalled then-Secretary of State John Kerry describing Obama’s proposed military strike as “like a pinprick” that would not have “any great consequence.”

In fact, what Obama proposed to Congress back in 2013 was very similar in scope to the attack on Syria undertaken by Trump. In a televised address, Obama called for “a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.” Obama said, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”

McConnell isn’t the only Republican who has changed his tune, as Politico documented in its story on Trump’s own change of heart. As we wrote recently, President Trump repeatedly tweeted in 2013 that Obama should not launch a military strike against Syria.

McConnell argued several times in a press conference on April 7 that what was proposed back in 2013 was a “pinprick,” as opposed to the strike Trump ordered on April 6.

Reporter, April 7: Senator, you have opposed military intervention in Syria in the past, as recently as 2013. What — what makes last night different and why do you support this?

McConnell: Yeah, let me tell you the difference.

Secretary Kerry, I guess in order to reassure the left-leaning members of his own party, said it would sort of be like a pinprick. You know, really would not be of any great consequence. I don’t know whether he had in mind knocking out a tent and a couple of camels or what.

But this — this was a strike that was well-planned, well- executed, went right to the heart of the matter, which is using chemical weapons.

So, had I seen that — that kind of approach by President Obama, I’m sure I would’ve signed up.

McConnell used the term “pinprick” twice more in the press conference to contrast Trump’s strike to what was proposed by the Obama administration in 2013.

McConnell:  I think the strike [ordered by Trump] was well-planned, well-executed, was certainly more than a pinprick and sends a message not only to Assad that using chemical weapons again is something he cannot do with impunity, but I think it also reassures our Sunni Arab allies that America is back in terms of playing a leadership role and trying to be constructive in a variety of different places around the world, as well as a message to Iran and North Korea and the Russians that America intends to lead again. So I commend the president for this decision. I think it’s entirely correct.

… The vice president called me last night … explained the rationale, how they were doing it and I thought it made a lot of sense and would be a strike that would be noticed, not some kind of pinprick and be directly related to the reason the tomahawks were sent in the first place, the use of chemical weapons.

Let’s revisit how things unfolded in 2013. In August of that year, a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs killed more than 1,400 people, an act the U.S. determined with “high confidence” was conducted by the Assad government.

Obama considered a unilateral strike against Syria but ultimately decided to seek approval from Congress.

McConnell was among those who voiced opposition to a military strike.

“The president’s delayed response was to call for a show of force, for targeted, limited strikes against the regime,” McConnell said then. “We have been told that the purpose of these strikes is to deter and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons … But let’s be very clear about something. These attacks, monstrous as they are, were not a direct attack against the United States or one of its treaty allies.”

McConnell said such a strike would not deter Assad from using conventional weapons against his own people. He expressed a concern that “degrading Assad’s control of these weapons” might make it easier for groups like al Qaeda to get hold of them. McConnell further warned that “the unintended consequences of this strike could very well be a new cycle of escalation, which then drags us into a larger war that we’re all seeking to avoid.”

So what exactly was Obama proposing? At his press conference, McConnell said he recalled Kerry assuring wary Democrats that “it would sort of be like a pinprick.” That’s not exactly accurate.

During a press conference in London on Sept. 9, 2013, Kerry did outline what he called an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort” that would “hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort.”

Kerry, Sept. 9, 2013: We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.

Obama specifically assured that a strike would not be a “pinprick.”

“The U.S. does not do pinpricks,” Obama said in a Sept. 9, 2013, interview with NBC News. “Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”

That sentiment was echoed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sept. 4, 2013. “The president has said … this would not be a pinprick. Those were his words. This would be a significant strike that would, in fact, degrade his [Assad’s] capability.”

When it appeared the measure seeking military authorization did not have enough votes to pass, Obama asked then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone the vote. The following day, in televised remarks to the nation, Obama reiterated his case for a “limited strike” that would not include ground troops nor “a prolonged air campaign.”

Obama, Sept. 10, 2013: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

But Obama said he had decided to postpone the vote to pursue — with assistance from Syria’s ally, Russia — a “diplomatic path.” That later resulted in an agreement between the United States and Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international inspectors.

So what’s different about what Obama was proposing to Congress — and McConnell opposed — and the strike that Trump authorized?

“I don’t think it was much different at all,” Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert in the use of military force, told us via email. “The war however is at a much different place. I think both U.S. presidents have found reasonable ways to address the chemical threat — and, gradually, the ISIS threat — and, to date, no good way to address the broader challenge of the war.”

At a United Nations Security Council meeting on April 7, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador  to the U.N., said the U.S. took what she called “a very measured step ” in the airstrike. “We are prepared to do more,” Haley said. “but we hope that will not be necessary.”

At his press conference on April 7, McConnell was asked whether he anticipated there would be further military action “or did you get the sense that this was a one-time event?”

“No, I think this … strike was related to the use of chemical weapons only,” McConnell said. “So I don’t — I don’t interpret this as a first step toward anything else in particular other than trying to eliminate or at least to make sure there are — that he knows there are consequences for doing this again.”

Later, McConnell reiterated that he thought the intent and scope of the strike was clear, to send the message.

“You don’t use chemical weapons without consequences,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty clear message and I don’t necessarily read into that a larger strategy in the area, but they certainly want to try to prevent the mass killing of innocent people by the use of chemical weapons.”

In other words, McConnell was praising a strike that was limited, did not commit ground troops, and with the expectation that further military action would not be necessary. McConnell now says he didn’t support Obama’s plan for a military strike in 2013 because Kerry said it “would sort of be like a pinprick.” But what Kerry and Obama were proposing was similar to the kind of limited strike that Trump ordered, and that McConnell now supports.

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Europe Is Still a Superpower

And it's going to remain one for decades to come.

By Andrew Moravcsik. This article was first published on Foreign Policy.

Sixty years after the Treaty of Rome, many view Europe as a spent force in global politics.

Conventional wisdom states that world politics today is unipolar, with the United States as the sole superpower. Or perhaps it is multipolar, with China, India, and the rest rising to challenge Western powers. Either way, Europe’s role is secondary — and declining. The European Union, it is said, is too weak to avoid withering away in the face of Russian subversion, mass migration, right-wing revolt, British plans to leave, slow growth, and anemic defense spending.

Of course, it’s easy to spot signs of disarray. Modern Europe is messy, and its institutions and policies are imperfect. Some of the threats facing the EU are real: slow growth and austerity, for instance, within the eurozone. Others, like rising right-wing nationalism and migration, are less so, for reasons I will discuss at the conclusion.

Yet amid all the hyperbole and hysteria, a basic point gets missed. Europe today is a genuine superpower and will likely remain one for decades to come. By most objective measures, it either rivals or surpasses the United States and China in its ability to project a full spectrum of global military, economic, and soft power. Europe consistently deploys military troops within and beyond its immediate neighborhood. It manipulates economic power with a skill and success unmatched by any other country or region. And its ability to employ “soft power” to persuade other countries to change their behavior is unique.

If a superpower is a political entity that can consistently project military, economic, and soft power transcontinentally with a reasonable chance of success, Europe surely qualifies. Its power, moreover, is likely to remain entrenched for at least another generation, regardless of the outcome of current European crises. In sum, Europe is the “invisible superpower” in contemporary world politics. Here’s why.

Flags of EU member states hang inside the Council of the European Union's Lex building on Feb. 18, 2016 in Brussels. (Photo credit: DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images)

Why Europe should be viewed as a single actor

Before turning to Europe’s specific military, economic, and soft power assets, let’s dismiss the nearly universal belief that Europe is too decentralized to act as a superpower. Europe is not a sovereign state. Yet in practice, it generally acts as a single force in world politics.

We ignore European unity at our peril. Most observers analyze Europe as 28 separate countries — even though doing so generates geopolitical nonsense. To see why, consider one recent example: Russia’s foreign-policy options after its invasion of Ukraine triggered Western sanctions. Many predicted that China’s rising economic weight meant the Kremlin would surely turn to Beijing. In July 2015, leading newspapers across Eurasia ran the same story (originally from Agence France-Presse) reporting that “China has emerged as Russia’s largest trading partner as Moscow turns east, seeking markets in Asia in the face of Western sanctions.”

Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly discovered the futility of a Russian pivot to Asia. While the premise is, strictly speaking, true — China is Russia’s top trading partner — it accounts for only 14 percent of Russia’s trade. Just three European countries combined — Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands — account for more than 20 percent, and Europe as a whole for over half. No realistic increase in trade with China could offset European dominance.

migration across the Mediterranean

Treating Europe as disunited was geopolitically naive. Even though EU law imposes no legal obligation to implement sanctions, Europe acted — and paid more than 90 percent of the costs of the Western policy response to Russia. European power and unity are the glue that has held together this Western policy for the past two years.

This is only one example of how, despite its fragmentation, Europe effectively projects power in those areas that count most for global influence. Certainly, European governments often disagree among themselves, sometimes vociferously and in public. Yet policy coordination, both formal and informal, permits European governments to act as a unit to influence the outside world. Three modes of European coordination are critical: common EU policies, coordination, and tacit policy convergence.

First, EU member states often share a formal mandate to cooperate. Governments are generally obligated legally to act together in the name of the European Union on trade, regulatory, environmental, monetary, neighborhood policy, development, EU enlargement, the free movement of people, and border controls. When serious disagreements arise, countries often resolve them through constructive abstention, in which some governments set aside their own concerns and permit the EU to exercise its collective power in areas of greatest importance to others.

Second, even when EU law does not formally mandate uniformity, European governments often form “coalitions of the willing.” After 60 years, Europe has entrenched a continental network of informal norms, procedures, and institutions that quietly encourage policy coordination. European foreign and defense policies illustrate how this system of voluntary solidarity works. Member states take foreign-policy positions in common, which can be implemented by the EU high representative and common diplomatic service, or by coalitions of national governments acting on their own. EU governments coordinate national positions in international organizations, including the United Nations. Not all governments need to participate for these actions to be successful. Again, constructive abstention permits governments to signal disagreement in principle with decisions that nonetheless go forward in practice — as occurred, for example, in recent decisions involving the former Yugoslavia and Libya, or recent efforts to dampen migration across the Mediterranean.

This coordination extends to collective European military operations. While no formal mandate exists, missions often lack a formal EU imprimatur and involvement limited to those who wish to participate. Yet, in one form or another, European governments have launched dozens of joint military operations since the end of the Cold War. Impasses like the 2003 Iraq War, when European governments so strongly disagree that they pursue opposing policies on a prominent global issue, are extremely rare.

Third, even when the EU neither mandates nor coordinates a policy response, the convergent national laws, strategies, and interests of European states more often than not generate compatible and mutually reinforcing policies. European governments have overlapping international institutional memberships and legal obligations. Almost all are NATO members, which means they conduct common planning and training and accept collective defense obligations. They adhere to the same treaties governing asylum, human rights, the environment, development, and many forms of U.N. cooperation. All are friendly with the United States. They share national embassies. In the soft-power realm, the ability of Europeans to educate foreign students, set global constitutional norms, and garner a worldwide following for athletic achievements contribute to a common European influence in the world — even if the EU explicitly coordinates little of it.

At a more fundamental level, all European countries are democratic and economically interdependent, and they share largely uncontested (indeed, often invisible) borders. Hence they coexist without posing any mortal threat to one another. With the highly unlikely exception of a Russian attack on NATO, they face no such immediate security threats from other great powers, either. This relatively benign environment affords Europeans the luxury of focusing their geopolitical influence on other, more distant matters. This differs strikingly from the situation of, say, China, which must prepare for potential military conflict with almost all of its regional neighbors — Korea, Japan, Taiwan, India, Russia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other South and Southeast Asian states, not to mention the United States — and keep its army in reserve to maintain domestic order.

For these reasons, we should recognize Europe as a single superpower in projecting military, economic, or soft power — whether or not it acts formally as one.

British soldiers are silhouetted against the sky as they provide security for a meeting with the Afghan National Police in Lashkar Gah on May 17, 2006. (Photo credit: JOHN D MCHUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Europe’s military might

Let’s begin with “hard” military power. While Europe’s ability to project coercive force to compel others to acquiesce to political demands does not match that of the United States, it is more active and capable than any other global power. The oft-repeated phrase that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus” is a great sound bite but a misleading policy analysis.

The conventional starting point for measuring military capability is the money each country spends on defense. On this score, the United States, which accounts for more than 40 percent of global military spending, heads the list. After that, most analysts list China, with the second-highest national spending and more than 2 million active duty soldiers, followed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, France, Germany, and South Korea.

Here again the failure to aggregate Europe clouds our geopolitical vision. If we unify European military activities, it comes in second. European military spending accounts for 15 to 16 percent of the global total. China runs third, with under 10 percent, and Russia spends less than 7 percent, less than half as much as Europe.

At current growth rates, China’s annual military spending (or perhaps that of other rising powers) will not surpass that of Europe for at least a few decades, and the United States for one or two generations — even on the optimistic assumption that Chinese growth continues.

To be sure, this isn’t quite a one-to-one comparison, since Europe’s militaries make their spending decisions separately. Some inefficiencies result when, say, France and Italy separately purchase and maintain their own aircraft carriers. Yet studies suggest that efficiency losses due to decentralized production and procurement — a problem that also bedevils the United States and China, with their domestic interservice rivalries and political pork-barreling — is much smaller than one might think. The most promising area for reform (consolidation of national defense industries) generates no more than 7 percent (about 14 billion euros) savings. This is real money, but too small a number to significantly alter Europe’s relative international standing. Moreover, the “bang for the buck” of the weapons Europe procures remains competitive, as evidenced by the fact that it consistently ranks as the world’s No. 1 arms exporter, outstripping even the United States and Russia.

Yet even Europe’s advantage in annual defense spending understates the entrenched military advantages that it (like the United States) enjoys over any rising power. Usable military capability is not a simple function of defense spending in a given year, but investment in stocks of defense technology, materiel, training, and experience sustained over generations. The average age of equipment in the U.S. military varies from 10 to 25 years, and the life cycle of a fighter like the F-18, introduced just after the Vietnam War, will be nearly a century.

For China to challenge Europe or the United States on an equal basis, Beijing would need to outspend the West not for one year, but for decades — something that delays the projected point where (at current trends) it would surpass the West close to the end of the 21st century. All scenarios whereby China (or another rising power) advances more quickly require increases in military spending of at least 15 percent per year. That in turn means that China must either triple its economic growth rate (unlikely) or increase military spending tenfold as a percentage of the gross domestic product (a strategy that, Chinese leaders are well aware, bankrupted the Soviet Union).

A final reason for Euro-optimism is that Europe maintains enduring alliances. The United States and Europe are irrevocably — yes, even in the age of President Donald Trump, as recent reassuring words to NATO partners by Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet officers demonstrate — allied with one another and with 28 other NATO countries. This bloc commands almost 60 percent of global military spending. Europe, like the United States, maintains security partnerships and bases across the globe, as well as close relations with dozens of countries around the world.

By contrast, Russia and China can call on few allies. Beijing offers modest military training and some assistance to Cambodia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Syria, and a few African countries; maintains a security partnership with Pakistan; and has only one ally: North Korea.

These advantages are not just theoretical. European militaries actually do more in the world than those of any country except the United States. Only Europe and the United States have deployed tens of thousands of combat troops outside of home countries almost continuously since the end of the Cold War. During the past decade, European deployments have averaged 107,000 soldiers per year on land, plus a considerable naval presence. By contrast, China has deployed almost no combat soldiers abroad, and India has done so only within U.N. missions. Recent Russian activities have been limited to brief forays in neighboring parts of the former Soviet Union and air and naval support for its sole remaining Middle Eastern ally.

Europeans do not just participate; they lead. They have headed military operations in Macedonia, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Somalia, and Mali. They have led naval operations off the Horn of Africa and in the Mediterranean. They have conducted support or monitoring missions in Sudan, South Sudan, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Indonesia, Iraq, Moldova, Kosovo, Georgia, Niger, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. They have led U.N. missions, including in Lebanon. They have participated in a vital way to U.S.-led missions, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter, more than 25 percent of the fatalities suffered by Western forces were Europeans from 23 countries. The world, and the burden on the United States, would be quite different without all this European activity.

Despite their powerful military, many claim that Europeans could do more in the world if only their governments would spend more on defense — perhaps the 2 percent of the GDP that NATO leaders promised a few years ago. Yet little evidence suggests that more men and materiel — or greater centralization in EU institutions — would generate much more or better European military activity. While Europe did suffer the indignity of asking the United States to resupply it in Libya, it is difficult to see why, as many argue, the Europeans should develop more military capacity across the board. The need for resupply did not affect the outcome of Libya, and it is unlikely to do so elsewhere either, since the United States and Europe have agreed on every military intervention but one since the early 1990s. (The second Iraq War was a lonely exception.) One is hard-pressed to think of any recent case in which a significant group of European states (let alone a majority) desired to launch a strong military or diplomatic mission, but failed to do so for lack of military might.

Workers assemble cars at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Feb. 25, 2011. (Photo credit: SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images)

Europe’s preeminent economic clout

Europe possesses impressive military assets, yet the main drivers of its global influence lie elsewhere. Europeans tend to be skeptical about using military force in wars of choice, and have therefore chosen to specialize in nonmilitary tools of statecraft. Their capacities here often exceed those of the United States.

Europe’s comparative advantage in civilian power is as vital to global peace and security as U.S. military might. To be sure, a century ago military might was widely viewed as the most essential of global power resources. Yet today it is rarely decisive. It is simply too expensive and uncertain, relative to the potential gains. No direct conflict has occurred among “great powers” since the Korean War. Smaller wars are also steadily becoming both less common and less costly. When they get involved, great powers tend to lose more than they win. Syria is troubling, but it is an exception to a much larger trend away from interstate war.

Countries now typically find nonmilitary means to manage the most important global problems: not just territorial issues, but economic interdependence, development, environmental degradation, global health, human rights, migration, and even terrorism and crime. Among the most important nonmilitary capabilities is economic power. It is hard to see military power playing much of a role in dealing with most such problems. Though Europe maintains a robust military, it makes sense for it to specialize in a type of power that the United States cannot project.

One European specialty is economic power projection. To induce political concessions, European countries manipulate access to their markets, condition economic assistance and exchange, and exploit regulatory and institutional dominance. Thus, a basic source of European economic power is the raw size of its economy.

The conventional wisdom again misleads us. According to a recent poll of citizens in 40 countries, almost everyone in the world believes either that China is already the world’s dominant economy, or that the United States still maintains primacy. Only 5 percent think of the EU as a “leading economic power.” Yet those 5 percent have a point. By the simplest measure of economic power, nominal GDP, the EU is nearly the same size as the United States and 63 percent larger than China.

This may surprise those who have read widespread reports that China now has the world’s largest GDP. Such analyses are deceptive because they employ “purchasing power parity” (PPP), a statistical measure developed by international development agencies to measure individual poverty and wealth in poorer economies where services and labor are cheap. PPP-based gross national product statistics deliberately inflate developing country income in ways that exaggerate the international value of exports and imports, high technology, modern weapons systems, foreign aid, and most other elements of international economic influence. The more appropriate standard for measuring a country’s aggregate economic clout is its nominal GDP. By this measure, China will not surpass the EU or the United States for decades.

Recent newspaper headlines about the dominance of China and the United States are misleading because they, again, disaggregate Europe into 28 individual countries, rather than treating it as unified. The EU is, in fact, the world’s second-largest economy. Even more importantly, it is the world’s largest trader of goods and services.

Since exports can be a source of vulnerability as well as strength, a more focused measure of trade power is dependence on foreign markets. The more trade dependent a country is, the less powerful it is. Europe is slightly more trade dependent than the United States but far less than China.

What about recent increases in Chinese foreign direct investment that have triggered so much media attention? As it turns out, Europe remains the world’s leading foreign investor.

To be sure, if you sell natural resources in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Australia, Chinese investment is a big deal. Otherwise, we should remember that most global investment still takes place among developed countries, where China’s role remains modest.

Yet even this underestimates Europe, because effective economic power depends not just on the relative size of its economy but on average per capita income. The poorer its citizens, the fewer resources governments can extract from them. In poorer countries, development is often the primary imperative, foreign-policy spending a luxury, and the overall level of autonomous technological sophistication low. While the aggregate income of China ranks in the top three, its per capita income ranks 74th (between Saint Lucia and Gabon). Azar Gat, an Israeli scholar, estimates that developed governments like those in Europe extract three or four times as much for foreign-policy purposes as the governments of developing countries like China. One example is the ability to tax. Revenue as a percentage of GDP is almost twice as high in the EU as in China.

Europe does not hesitate to exploit its preeminent economic position. EU enlargement —driven largely by perceptions of economic advantage — has been in recent decades the most cost-effective political tool of influence in the hands of any Western country. Over 60 years, the EU has expanded from six to 28 members, encouraging countries to adopt democratic, legal, and market reforms along the way. Though enlargement is now more difficult politically, it continues in the western Balkans.

Europe further leverages its regional market power through a “neighborhood policy” of bilateral agreements with nearby countries from Morocco to Moldova. It supports the World Trade Organization and imposes conditionality on its preferential trade agreements. Inward visa-free travel and migration are important quid pro quos in negotiations with neighbors. To the chagrin of U.S. and Chinese companies, Europe dominates global regulation, forcing its trading partners to adopt relatively high European product standards — a phenomenon Columbia Law professor Anu Bradford calls a hegemonic “Brussels effect.”

Other European economic instruments are less visible but no less important. One example is foreign aid. Europe provides 69 percent of global official development assistance (ODA), compared with 21 percent for the United States and far less for China. Europe, like the United States, offers the bulk of its total aid in the form of grants, whereas China tends to provide not ODA but export credits and government loans — financial flows that must be repaid and are thus less valuable to recipients. Yet even if you include both, Europe’s financial presence dominates that of the United States and China.

European foreign aid has played a decisive role in promoting Western strategic objectives. For example, Europe’s 10 billion to 15 billion euros of annual economic aid and the promise of freer trade and energy arrangements constitute 90 percent of Western aid and trade with Ukraine. Ukraine remains troubled, yet without Europe’s economic commitment the government in Kiev would have surely gone bankrupt and fallen back into the Russian geopolitical sphere.

Another example of a uniquely effective instrument of European economic power is the imposition of economic sanctions. Ukraine again illustrates the point. As with aid and trade policies, 90 percent of the cost of recent Western sanctions against Russia falls on Europe. This reflects Europe’s unique clout as the largest trading partner not just of many countries in the former Soviet Union, but nearly every country in the Middle East and Africa. It is hard to imagine sanctions working anywhere in the world without Europe’s active participation. The United States, by contrast, hardly trades with most of these countries, and thus it lacks the capacity to levy effective sanctions on its own. For example, Washington sanctioned Tehran continuously for 35 years with little effect. After Europe signed on to tough sanctions in 2013, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal within two years.

Tourists snap a selfie in Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain, on July 11, 2014. (Photo credit: DAVID RAMOS/Getty Images)

Europe’s surprising soft power

“Soft power” measures the ability to advance foreign-policy goals by disseminating and manipulating ideas, information, and institutions that help persuade other countries to act in particular ways. Soft power is employed by various means, and the EU belongs among the world’s most effective manipulators of many of them.

One important type of soft power is the construction of multilateral institutions that are attractive to join. Today, Europeans are the world’s leading supporters of global and regional institutions. Their commitment begins with the EU itself and its ring of agreements with regional neighbors, but Europe also has a decisive influence in managing economic interdependence, human rights, the environment, development, and health at a global level. Typical is the United Nations: Though the United States generally takes credit for being the largest contributor to the international body, once we aggregate Europe’s contribution, it is far more influential. Without European pressure, institutions like the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, and other global institutions would not exist in their current form. By imposing conditionality in exchange for membership or collectively rewarding compliance, other governments become committed to institutional rules Europe has designed, thereby influencing the policies of individual states.

Europe also employs subtler modes of exercising soft power. One is through education. Europe is one of the two educational superpowers. Twenty-seven of the world’s top 100 universities are in Europe, compared with 55 in the United States, one in Russia, and none in China. Europe exceeds the United States in educating foreign students, hosting almost twice as many students from outside the EU as non-Americans at U.S. universities, and over 10 times more students than non-Chinese studying in China.

There are signs that opening up European institutions of higher learning to outsiders has been influential. For example, legal scholars have observed that the values and institutions found in most newly drafted national constitutions do not reflect American or Chinese practices, but distinctively European ones. These include social welfare rights, internationally recognized human rights, parliamentary government, and restrictions on money in politics.

Beyond purely political values, Europe garners broad global admiration for its social, cultural, and lifestyle values. Among the top two dozen global tourist destinations, more than half are European. More profound is European dominance of almost all polls of global respect. Last year, for example, Forbes magazine asked 40,000 people worldwide which countries were the most “reputable”: a composite measure of happiness, cleanliness, lack of corruption, tolerance, and other qualities. Of the top 20 countries, 15 are European. By contrast, the United States ranks 28th and China 57th.

Language? Here too, Europeans enjoy enduring advantages, since the world’s second languages are mostly European. English, of course, is a dominant second language across the globe, while French and Spanish also play important roles. The languages of other great powers, notably Mandarin and Russian, have quite limited sway.

Even in Southeast Asia, Chinese ranks low as a second language, outside of diaspora Chinese communities.

Pop culture? To be sure, the United States has one great advantage. Every one of the top 20 worldwide grossing films ever made came from Hollywood. Yet sports is a similar form of popular mass entertainment with comparable global cachet — and Europe is the world’s dominant sports superpower. Five of the top seven most-watched professional sports in the world — soccer, basketball, cricket, field hockey, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball — are played at the most prominent and intensive professional level in Europe rather than in the United States or China. The most prestigious European professional soccer generates more income and enjoys more worldwide visibility than any other sports franchises anywhere. European soccer grosses almost twice as much as the NFL and college football together in the United States. One also sees the breadth of Europe’s dominance of sports at the Olympics.

r 35 years with little effect. After Europe signed on to tough sanctions in 2013, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal within two years.

In the Summer Games, Europe takes home more medals than the United States, Russia, and China together; in the Winter Games, Europe has always won more medals than the entire rest of the world combined.

People wave EU and Polish flags during a demonstration in Warsaw to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 2017. (Photo credit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Why European power is crisis-proof

The underlying determinants of global influence — military capabilities, nominal and per capita income, trade and investment competitiveness, the intrinsic attractiveness of symbolic ideas and institutions — are changing far more slowly than headlines suggest. Europe today is the world’s invisible superpower — rivaling and, in many cases, surpassing the United States and China. It has the resources to retain this status for decades and generations to come.

Today formal and tacit cooperation among European states functions so reliably that only in the rare cases that it fails to occur does the wider world take note. Europe, like other superpowers, is often distracted by seemingly intractable internal disputes and crises. Today they include migration, right-wing radicalism, Brexit, Russian resurgence, and slow growth under the euro. Yet these threats to the European project are less dire than they appear at first glance.

Far-right parties are unlikely to triumph in any continental political system, let alone spark a mass withdrawal from the EU. In these political systems, government is by coalition and referendums are rare. In the Netherlands, euroskeptic parties are set to be excluded from government. In France, Marine Le Pen has little chance of prevailing in the decisive second round of the upcoming presidential election and her party sends only two representatives to the Assemblée Nationale. Euroskeptic parties rule Hungary and Poland, yet have shied away from the suicidal step of withdrawing from the EU.

British leaders resolutely claim to be moving forward with a “hard Brexit.” However, Prime Minister Theresa May’s public negotiating plan proposes to retain (under another name) almost all existing types of cooperation with the EU except future free movement of people. (External trade policy remains in limbo, perhaps as a bargaining chip.) One important example is NATO. Britain intends to maintain its defense alliances, so there is little reason to expect its active participation in military “coalitions of the willing” to change.

The migrant crisis is receding. EU and national policies have successfully reduced migration to a third of its 2015 peak. That would be impossible without leadership from Brussels, and a further round of common EU policies appears to be in the works. In Ukraine, where 10,000 people died in 18 months just a few years ago, a resolute Europe-led Western policy of aid, sanctions, military preparedness, and diplomatic engagement has helped reduce the death toll to a trickle.

Perhaps the most troubling future threat comes from slow growth and austerity within the eurozone. An EU without the euro as we currently know it might well be more popular and stable than it is today. Yet even the euro appears stable for the moment, and growth rates are trending up. As with the other crises, Europe may well muddle through.

Whatever the outcome, these crises seem to have had surprisingly little impact on Europe’s status as a global superpower. Most of Europe’s core formal institutions — including the single market, environmental and other public regulation, the common trade policy, agricultural policy, foreign aid, common border controls — remain essentially untouched. They are not major targets of euroskeptic criticism. Other European superpower policies — including those in foreign, defense, anti-terrorism, anti-crime, foreign aid, sanctions, diplomatic, and development policies — require only informal coordination, “coalitions of the willing,” or tacit cooperation. Recent sanctions on Russia and Iran show that European governments are acting decisively even when diverted by crisis. All these policies will endure whether or not European governments reform their economies, further centralize or decentralize policymaking, increase defense spending, or adopt any other of the various policy prescriptions floating around Europe.

We should not be distracted by sensationalist headlines. Sixty years ago, when European leaders met to sign the Treaty of Rome, one of their shared goals was to strengthen Europe’s global position. They have succeeded and, looking forward, there is little reason to doubt they will continue to do so.

Top photo credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Moravcsik is professor of politics and director of the European Union Program at Princeton University.

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By the numbers: Barack Obama’s contribution to the decline of US democracy

By John Weeks. This article was first published on Open Democracy.

How neoliberal doctrine undermined the Obama administration and ushered in the age of Trump.

Obama meets Trump. Press Association/Pablo Martinez Monsivais. All rights reserved.

Yes, we can!

The iconic slogan “Yes, we can!” inspired the wave of enthusiasm that swept up millions of Americans during the presidential election of 2008 and carried Barack Obama to the White House. If that slogan epitomized the beginning of the Obama presidency, he had an equally iconic ending: the first African-American president shaking hands with the first president-elect in at least 100 years endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In November 2008 Barack Obama won the presidency with almost 53% on a voter turnout of 58%. The winning percentage was the highest since 1988 and the turnout the largest for 50 years. The first non-white president took office on a surge of enthusiasm exceeding any since Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 (by comparison John Kennedy went to the presidency with less than half of total votes and a winning margin of 0.2 percentage points).

The enthusiasm for Obama arose from fervent hope for specific changes: 1) a universal, affordable health system; 2) the end of two disastrous wars (Afghanistan and Iraq); 3) economic recovery from the worst collapse in 80 years; and 4) action against banks and bankers to prevent a recurrence of the collapse.

To fulfil these hopes, Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress, 58 of 100 Senators (largest majority of any party in 30 years) and 257 seats in the House (most since 1992). By any measure the new president enjoyed an overwhelming majority.  Under some circumstances the Republican minority in the Senate could prevent voting, but a determined and bold president could force votes within the arcane Senate rules.

No he didn’t!

It quickly became obvious that Obama would be anything but determined and bold; on the contrary, avoiding conflict through compromise would guide his presidency. In face of a solidly right wing Republican opposition, attempting to compromise was recipe for failure, a disaster foretold and fulfilled.

Despite the large House and Senate majorities a litany of failure dogged the first two Obama years, some partial and others presented as success. Extension of the popular Medicare programme offered the obvious method of achieving a national health system (confusingly dubbed “single payer” by its adherents). Obama yielded before opposition from private “health care” corporations and drug companies.

The result was an extremely complicated, expensive and inefficient system acceptable to private interests. To make a bad outcome worse, seeking a non-existent compromise, the president delayed passage of the “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” for so long that no one enjoyed the limited benefits before the mid-term election in 2010 (it became law in March 2010). The Republicans would use attacks on the president’s dubious triumph to regain control of the House of Representatives and almost seize the Senate.

The quickly enacted fiscal stimulus (February 2009), American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, brought the closest thing to success. Because the president failed to challenge the Republican hysteria over the fiscal deficit that the stimulus necessarily increased, the mildly successful recovery package would also serve Republican election propaganda.

Having lost the propaganda battle on health care and recovery, Obama scored a third own goal by declining to prosecute any financial executive for the illegal dealings that helped provoke the Great Recession of 2008-2010. This failure combined with massive capital replenishment of banks handed the right wing Republicans a slogan more natural to progressives, “bailout Main Street, not Wall Street”.

Finally, far from ending the two wars began by his predecessor, Obama continued to wage them, even expanding US military operations to other countries with extensive use of military drones as the preferred killing agent. The specific promise to close the brutal detention camp on Cuban soil is unfulfilled.

Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama remained popular despite his failures. Like Clinton his eight years as president would after the initial hope decline deeper and deeper into failure.  Perhaps the most shocking of these was the failure to mount serious opposition to the Republican gutting of the law protecting the right to vote, a savage blow to his fellow African-Americans. Weakening of the Voting Rights Act was de facto endorsement of state laws throughout the country restricting the rights of citizenship.

Had Obama ended two unpopular wars, supported an effective recovery programme, quickly forced through a Medicare-based health system for all, and aggressively reformed the US financial sector, he would be hailed as the greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt. Instead, he leaves condemned, yet another Democratic president whose neoliberal economic policies fed a rising of inequalities and shrinking of the well-being of the vast majority.

New Deal to neoliberalism

Wars, a flawed health care law and high unemployment did not give Donald Trump the key to the White House. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will swear in the most dangerous president in American history for a different reason. Beginning with Jimmy Carter in the 1970s the leadership of the Democratic Party enthusiastically worked to make neoliberal ideology mainstream consensus and Donald Trump is the outcome.

An equitable sharing of the benefits of economic growth is the necessary condition to sustain democracy in a capitalist society.  This condition was the basis for the so-called New Deal coalition forged by Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It would serve as the guiding principle of the Democratic Party through the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

The policies to achieve this equitable sharing had a common theme, restrictions on the functioning of markets, with the purpose of preventing the anti-social consequences of capitalist competition. Concretely these restrictions were 1) trade unions to limit labour market competition, 2) anti-monopoly laws and strict regulations to prevent concentration of corporate power, and 3) severe constraints on financial capital.

Neoliberalism was and remains the antithesis of the New Deal political economy. In contrast to preventing the anti-social consequences of market competition, neoliberalism celebrates that competition, attributing its excesses to public regulation. With this inversion of logic, apologists for financial capital blamed the infamous “sub-prime crisis” on public regulation not fraud and deception by bankers.

From labour to capital

As America entered the twenty-first century, four decades of increasing inequality caused falling working class incomes and stagnation for the middle classes. Loss of hope in fulfilling “the American dream” increasingly undermined faith in US democracy. In 1932 an analogous crisis brought Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency to execute economic and social reforms that arrested the growth of inequality and, facilitated working class power through trade unions. In doing so Roosevelt “saved US capitalism”.

In 2008 a similar task fell to Barack Obama, to propose and implement the reforms that would preserve popular support for globalization capitalism. America’s first African-American president chose instead to intensify the economic forces undermining that support.

When Roosevelt became president in 1933, US income inequality as measured by the most commonly used index, the “Gini coefficient”, was over 50, and dropped to 44 by the beginning of this third term in 1941 (down to 37 by his death in 1945 and not above 40 again until 1982). The chart below shows changes in that index of inequality during the George W Bush and Barack Obama presidencies, calculated compared to 2001 when the Bush was inaugurated.

During the Bush years inequality fluctuated, slightly higher at the end of the eight years than at the beginning (up to 45.0 from 44.6). In every year of the Obama presidency through 2015 inequality was greater than in every year that George W Bush occupied the White House.

Changes in the “Gini coefficient” measure of inequality compared to 2001, 2002-2015

Note: A coefficient of 100 means one person has all income, 0 is an equal distribution across population. Source: US Bureau of the Census

A second chart shows rising inequality with more familiar numbers. By the end of the Bush years the share of income going to the richest 20% rose by a modest 0.4 percentage point compared to 2001, with the share of the bottom 60% down by less than a percentage point (-0.7). Except for 2009, the share of the richest 20% during the Obama period was higher than in any year Bush was president. The bottom 60% had a lower share in every year Obama was president.

Percentage point change in incomes compared to 2001, shares of lowest 60% (red) and richest 20% (blue), 2001-2015

Source: US Bureau of the Census

The final chart, taken directly from the Monthly Labour Review of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the inequality story for all US wage earners from 2007 to 2014. The vertical axis measures percentage changes in constant dollars, while the horizontal axis shows wage earners from the lowest paid to the highest.

Only the employees in the top 15% of the distribution gained an increase in real pay. The red line that includes all wage and non-wage benefits shows less concentrated gains, but even by that measure over sixty percent of earners suffered declining income. These statistics demonstrate not only the decline of working class incomes, but also the famous “hollowing out” of the American middle class.

Percentage change in real compensation & wages, US civilian workers, 2007-14

Compensation & wages vertical axis, position in distribution horizontal axis. Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Compensation” includes all non-wage benefits.

Ushering in Trump

Fifty years of democratic capitalism was the historic accomplishment of the New Deal. Relatively low and stable inequality provided the basis for what some call the “Golden Age” of US capitalism. In 1974 under a Republican presidency (Richard Nixon, replaced in mid-year by Gerald Ford) US income inequality dropped to its lowest as measured by the Gini coefficient.

Subsequently, under presidents both Democrat (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) and Republican (Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, George W Bush) inequality rose inexorably. Rising inequality revived social divisions subsumed by prosperity during the “Golden Age.” Donald Trump encouraging and exploiting those divisions is the vehicle for a transition to authoritarian capitalism.

With Donald Trump neoliberalism fulfils its logic, destroying even the illusion of a just society.

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How Donald Trump Kingmaker-Billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer Have Poured Millions Into Climate Science Denial

By Graham Readfearn. This article was first published on Desmoblog.

Headlines about Mercer family

When it comes to climate science denial, some names come easily and deservingly to mind.

There’s oil giant ExxonMobil — a company that contributed millions of dollars to organizations that told the public there was no risk from burning fossil fuels.

There are the oil billionaire Koch brothers — Charles and David — and their ideological zeal against government regulations that drove them to pour vast amounts into groups spreading doubt on the realities of human-caused global warming.

But a name that has not yet reached those heights of climate science denial infamy — but likely should — is the Mercer family.

Who Are the Mercers?

A DeSmog analysis of Federal Electoral Commission returns shows Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund manager, has donated $30.1 million to politics since January 2015 (a further $2.3 million has come from daughter Rebekah and wife Diana).

Some $15 million of Robert Mercer’s money went into the Make America Number 1 super-PAC that was headed by Rebekah Mercer and that bankrolled the final months of Donald Trump’s campaign. One source told The Hill: “The Mercers basically own this campaign.”

But DeSmog has found the Mercers have also pumped at least $22 million into organizations that push climate science denial while blocking moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump too refuses to accept the evidence that climate change is caused by humans and has consistently called the issue a hoax.

Before diverting to Trump, the Mercers' cash was backing Senator Ted Cruz, who made climate science denial a main feature of his speeches.

Those positions on climate change, challenged by every major scientific institution in the world, are identical to those of the groups and individuals the Mercers have been handsomely funding through their own family foundation.

Climate science denial also fits well with Robert Mercer’s reported investment in Breitbart — the hyper partisan media outfit that calls climate change a hoax. Many see Breitbart as Trump’s very own propaganda vehicle — the Trump Pravda.

Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chief, was picked by Trump (or, more likely, by the Mercers) to lead his campaign. The controversial figure will be Trump’s chief strategist.

Climate Denial Funded

Very little is known about what the Mercers think about climate change or, for that matter, anything else.  Both father and daughter avoid media interviews.

But Rebekah has been described as the most powerful woman in GOP politics and is a pivotal member of the Trump team. Rebekah also runs her father’s charitable foundation.

So, the best way to get a handle on what the Mercers think, is to see where they spend their millions.

DeSmog has analyzed the Mercer Family Foundation’s tax returns since 2005 and finds some $22 million has gone to groups pushing climate science denial.

Across the board, the groups funded by the Mercers have misrepresented climate science, promoted fossil fuels, denigrated renewable energy, and pushed to strip powers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Chicago-based Heartland Institute has received $4,988,000 from the Mercers, cashing its first $1 million check in 2008.

The Heartland Institute holds regular “international climate change conferences” where denialists, fossil fuel-funded scientists, and politicians come together to talk tactics.

In 2012, the institute famously started a billboard campaign that used a picture of terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski next to the phrase: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

Despite the generosity of the Mercers, the Heartland Institute does not publicly acknowledge the funding, perhaps indicative of the Mercers' desire to stay below the radar.

The Mercer name was even left out of internal Heartland budget documents leaked in 2012. If the Mercers had asked for anonymity, then Heartland’s coyness is not unusual.

Another organization shy about getting cash from the Mercer Family Foundation is the George W. Bush Foundation, the organization set up in 2006 to look after the official archive of the George W. Bush presidency.

The George W. Bush Foundation publishes a lengthy list of its financial supporters and the Mercers are not on it. But tax records show the Mercers have given the Bush Foundation $4.1 million since 2010.

Oregon Petition

Alongside funding for Breitbart and the Heartland Institute, Robert Mercer has also spent $1.25 million supporting an obscure group known as the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, led by Art Robinson.

Robinson was behind a long-debunked “survey” of university graduates, known as the Oregon petition. First published in 1998, the petition claimed that 30,000 “scientists” had declared humans were not to blame for global warming.

Robinson also thinks climate change is a hoax.  His institute sells nuclear survival manuals, is currently stockpiling human urine for testing, and sells home schooling kits for parents worried about their children being exposed to socialism.

Robert Mercer also supported Art Robinson’s failed 2010 Republican run for Congress.

As well as Robert and his family donating to Robinson’s campaign committee, Robert Mercer personally gave $643,750 to a super-PAC that ran attack ads against Robinson’s Democratic opponent (that opponent, Peter DeFazio, has noted that he had co-sponsored legislation to tax hedge fund transactions).

The biggest beneficiary of Mercer Family Foundation cash is the Media Research Center (MRC), a group which claims credit for convincing Americans that most of the media has a “liberal” bias.

The MRC’s outlets regularly give favorable coverage to climate science denialism, while ridiculing credentialed climate scientists and others who place a priority on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

MRC alumnus Marc Morano, communications manager at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, recruited his former employer to help him produce the climate science denial documentary Climate Hustle. Rebekah Mercer is an MRC director.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is another group on the receiving end of the Mercers' generosity, to the tune of more than $1 million since 2011.

The institute’s researchers tend to argue against renewable energy while promoting fossil fuels and underplaying or ignoring the impacts of climate change.

Rebekah Mercer recently joined the institute’s board of trustees.

The Heritage Foundation is a relative newcomer to the Mercer family’s giving, but the think tank’s positions on energy, political ideology, and climate science fit the pattern perfectly — underplay and misrepresent the science, promote fossil fuels, and push for low government regulations.

Predictably, Rebekah Mercer is a trustee at Heritage, a think tank seen as influential in the Trump camp. The Trump team is drawing heavily from Heritage Foundation staff for its transition teams.

On the EPA “landing team” is Heritage’s David Kreutzer, who claims the recent run of record-breaking hot years globally is nothing unusual.

Rebekah Mercer is also on the board of the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), a group that helps finance and distribute movies which, according to its website, “make an impact on people's understanding of individual rights, limited government, and free markets.”

MPI even has a program to support stand-up comedians who promote this “freedom” ideology in their stand-up routines.

Climate Denial’s Most Powerful Ally?

Until now, the Mercer family’s funding of climate science denial groups has gone relatively unnoticed.

Most of the attention of investigative journalists had fallen on three overlapping groups that have either influenced or funded the climate science denial movement across the United States.

The first was the network of groups funded and orchestrated by the Koch brothers, who have invested millions into creating and sustaining conservative “think tanks” that take positions protecting the Koch brothers' fossil fuel interests.

Groups like the Cato Institute (which cashed a $300,000 Mercer check last year) and Americans for Prosperity have attacked the science of human-caused climate change while challenging the legitimacy of solutions, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles.

The second key funding stream for climate science denial organizations are two linked organizations called Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are “donor-advised funds” and are used by rich conservatives to funnel money to “libertarian” causes while hiding the identity of the donors.

A third major supporter of the climate science denial industry are those who stand to lose most from the public fully understanding the implications of climate change — the fossil fuel industry itself.

Companies including ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, alongside trade groups representing the fossil fuel industry, have helped fund the machinery of doubt for decades.

Now, Robert Mercer’s fortune and the political prowess of daughter Rebekah have created another wealthy and powerful ally for the climate science denial industry.

President-elect Donald Trump is the most powerful vehicle yet for those billionaires willing to spend big to misrepresent climate science and gamble on society’s future.

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Huge Climate March Crowds Protest Trump's Anti-Environment Actions

By John H. Cushman Jr.

The People’s Climate March, timed to Trump’s 100th day as president, came amid a flurry of pro-fossil-fuel policy actions from the White House.

Climate marchers in front of a wall engraved with the First Amendment

The People's Climate March continued a drumbeat of calls to protect the environment for today's and future generations. “We live on a farm, and we have been seeing changes already,” said Celeste DiLeo, 13. Credit: John H. Cushman Jr./InsideClimate News

It might not be the largest crowd ever assembled on the National Mall, or the hottest spring day ever recorded in the nation's capital, but the heat was oppressive enough, and the People's Climate March impressive enough in scale to send a message.

Climate change is here, and it's real, their banners declared. And we are not going to give up in confronting its causes and holding the powerful to account.

The Donald Trump administration all week long has been serving up the policy equivalent of red meat for this green crowd. It's the Trump agenda, after all, that drove the turnout for the march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, April 29.

Organizers estimated that 200,000 people were on hand, and given the distance and duration of the parade, filling the main thoroughfares from curb to curb, the tally did not seem exaggerated. People continued to join the march mid-afternoon, even as some early participants headed home.

Jane Eller of Kentucky lobbied her Congressional delegation ahead of the march but said she hit a wall of denial.

Jane Eller of Kentucky lobbied her Congressional delegation ahead of the march but said she was met with climate denial. Credit: John H. Cushman Jr./InsideClimate News

Jane Eller of Lexington, Kentucky, who worked for an environmental education agency there before retiring, walked across the mall with a sign declaring herself a coal miner's granddaughter and a grandmother of the solar generation. She said she had spent days trying to influence the state's Congressional delegation, urging aides to bring in scientists for briefings, to no avail: "They're all deniers," she said.

Her delegation asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "to become a leader in all this," she said. "We asked him, 'Who should we hold accountable when the climate damage becomes intolerable?"

This march, timed to coincide with Trump's 100th day as president, resembled others since the election—the giant, all-inclusive Women's March in January, the rain-drenched March for Science last weekend. Like the others, it was mirrored in cities around the nation.

The day was glorious, bright and breezy, even if the pavement was becoming a griddle. The temperature reached 91 degrees, tying the record for this date. That was enough to bring out vendors in full summertime force: the T-shirt peddlers and ice cream trucks were doing brisk business.

Nothing energized the crowd, it seemed, more than passing in front of the Trump hotel at the site of the landmark old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. They slowed down to boo, chant "Shame! Shame! Shame!", wave their banners and take selfies, the viral currency of their social media campaign.

As the march drew closer to the White House, there was a brief sit-in stretching for several blocks. The sitting marchers chanted: "This is what democracy looks like." Other chants heard across the march included: "We will not go away, welcome to the 100th day" and "The oceans are rising and so are we."

Climate marchers pass the National Archives

The march organizers estimated that 200,000 people turned out on Saturday, filling the streets as they waved signs in their march toward the White House. Credit: John H. Cushman Jr./InsideClimate News

In conversations with dozens of marchers before the formal parade began, the protesters were universally aware of the relentless stream of anti-environmental policy decisions pouring from the White House. In the past week alone, the administration has taken actions to try to end protections against offshore drilling in the Arctic, review the conservation status of large national monuments, dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency's climate web pages, and figure out how to retreat from Paris climate treaty obligations.

Climate justice was also a running theme for many members of indigenous groups and young people in the crowd. "This is a critical time to learn from the mistakes of the past and include front-line communities in resilience planning for climate change and sea level rise," said Kilan Ashad-Bishop, a graduate student at the University of Miami, in a press-conference before the march. "What does that mean? Well, as a black woman, if you don't have someone that looks like me at the table, you are doing it wrong."

Celeste DiLeo, a 13-year-old from Plainfield, Massachusetts, stood next to her father along Pennsylvania Avenue, where the march was just getting under way. Above her, etched in marble on the edifice of the Newseum, were the words of the First Amendment protecting people's right "peaceably to assemble and to petition their government for redress of grievances." Her sign read: "Earth doesn't have 4 years."

"We live on a farm," she said, "and we have been seeing changes already."

United by shared concerns over climate change, 21 youth from across the nation are taking the federal government to court. They allege in a lawsuit that the government, in supporting policies and actions that exacerbate climate change, have put their lives at risk. About a half of the plaintiffs came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the march; the other half attended the March for Science last weekend.

"Today is great," plaintiff Isaac Vergun, 15, told InsideClimate News, while holding the end of a large banner about the lawsuit. "There's a lot of people here—more than where I'm from." Vergun's hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, has a population of about 95,000.

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