Since last Friday, as seen from Tokyo, Washington seems to have gone crazy again. Mainstream media learned that special counsel Robert Mueller had finally completed his two-year investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump and the Russiagate scandal, and would send his report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who later said he might brief congressional leaders on the report “as soon as the weekend.”
That’s when the media frenzy resumed. Although no details were released, everybody knew by late Friday afternoon that there would be “no more indictments” by Mueller. Fox News triumphantly reported “The mainstream media seemed to suffer a collective shock.” Trump’s lawyers said, “We’re pleased that the Office of Special Counsel has delivered its report to the Attorney General.”
By contrast, CNN’s correspondents were apparently bewildered, reporting that the White House was “quietly celebrating,” reacting to Mueller’s report with “a fair amount of glee” and even anonymously said that “This was a great day for America, and we won!” Although Trump had not tweeted on this matter, his silence implied his sense of victory. This, however, was not the end of the two-year game.
On Saturday, Washington continued bracing for the contents of the classified report. The attorney general, having spent nine hours reviewing Mueller’s report inside the Department of Justice, did not even release a summary of the findings. Furious, CNN spent almost all Saturday reporting “breaking news” about whatever news, new and old, was related to Mueller’s probe.
Finally, on Sunday, Barr sent a letter to Congress and its conclusion was no surprise. While Mueller’s “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In a nutshell, the attorney general and his deputy do not believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant the president’s prosecution for obstruction of justice. Trump naturally declared victory, repeating his usual lines, “No collusions and no obstruction of justice! Complete and total exoneration!” This may be the end of the legal battle.
I am no fan of Trump, but this time, as seen from Tokyo, I wonder if Americans have lost their mind for the past few days. No matter how suspicious a group it may be, the Trump team rightly considered suspects as “presumed innocent.” Every law school in the world teaches its students that under the “due process of law,” suspects are presumed innocent until proved otherwise.
Some members of the American media, on the other hand, tend to consider a specific suspect as “presumed guilty.” They claim, “‘No more indictments by Mueller’ doesn’t preclude other legal measures” or “Mueller could not indict the sitting president simply because Justice Department guidelines so require,” and “the American people should be fully informed of all the findings in the Mueller’s report.”
Last week, I wrote about America being one country with two systems. This week I find the situation getting worse, especially over the past few days. The problem now, I suppose, is not whether Trump might have ordered “collusion” or “obstruction of justice.” The real question is whether it is worth continuing this endless political battle, which is eclipsing other important national and international news.
Last Thursday, Trump tweeted a surprise announcement that “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later denied that Israel’s annexation violated United Nations Security Council resolutions. What? How could he claim that?
In Europe, the Brexit mess seems to be deteriorating. Hundreds of thousands of marchers (organizers claim one million) filled London streets on Saturday. They demanded a second Brexit referendum, while several members of the British media requested that Prime Minister Theresa May resign. Isn’t it crystal clear that an accidental no-deal Brexit could seriously undermine the American economy in the years to come?
In the meantime, ignoring warnings from its European and American allies, Italy officially joined China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome on Saturday. Western pundits consider this move to reflect “shifting geopolitical balances” and the Italian populist government’s “willingness to break with its traditional partners.” Can we tolerate Rome to embrace Chinese 5G?
In South America, Roberto Marrero, the chief of staff of Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaido, was detained in a raid. The intelligence agency had reportedly planted weapons in his home as grounds for the arrest. Defamed President Nicolas Maduro seems to have started to cross the red line. Will the United States ignore, react or over-react? Trump once said, “all options are open.”
Finally, last Saturday Trump surprised many of his staff and U.S. allies in Asia by suddenly ordering the Treasury Department to halt its plans for additional large scale sanctions against Pyongyang, while North Korea abruptly announced its withdrawal from a liaison office on the same day. Isn’t the denuclearization of North Korea like a candle in the wind?
As the deadline for the column arrived Monday morning Tokyo time, only a summary of the special counsel’s report has been made public and there remain too many issues to be clarified. Since 1974, unfortunately, attempts to impeach incumbent presidents have become a national pastime in the U.S. and Americans seem to be too accustomed to or even wary of such domestic political extravaganzas.
As former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local.” By the same token, I would say all international politics is domestic. Having said that, the global situation surrounding Trump’s America will not wait for his impeachment or survival. Americans can afford playing serious domestic political games, while the rest of the world has equally serious hegemonic games to play.
If Americans pay less attention and stay away from rest of the world, too bad. They will eventually be out of the loop. It’s time for America’s citizens and mainstream media to open their eyes and see the real world. Of course, the same can be said to Japan’s citizens and its mainstream media as well.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies.