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Trump's foreign policy approach with Syria, Russia is a 'blunt tool'

Donald Trump tapped out a pair of tweets about Syria on Wednesday morning, proving to his critics that when it comes to his foreign policy consistency on Twitter, the president is all thumbs.

The morning missives promised an imminent launch of missiles against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for unleashing a suspected chemical attack on its own citizens. To observers, the aggressive message was a head-scratcher from a president who once underscored the importance of never telegraphing military strategy.

“How stupid is our country?” he asked lamented the lack of “sneak attacks” in response to a question about his plan for Syria during a debate with Hillary Clinton in October 2016.

Just two weeks ago, the president announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria, only to now promise military action similar to last year’s U.S. launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting Assad’s Shayrat Airbase.

This unstrategic inconsistency is not a doctrine.– Jim Arkevis, former U.S. Department of Defence analyst

What’s lacking is any discernible plan or defined end goal, said Jim Arkevis, a former Department of Defence counterterrorism analyst.

“There is no Trump Doctrine. Because to have a doctrine, that implies there’s some consistency,” Arkevis said. “This unstrategic inconsistency is not a doctrine if you can have thousands of bureaucrats contributing to a national security strategy that can be thrown out the window based on what a very unstable man wakes up and thinks in the morning.”

‘Bluster first’

Wednesday’s tweet informing the world that missiles “will be coming,” and that Russia ought to “get ready” for a U.S. onslaught against its Syrian allies was just the kind of strategic giveaway Trump has condemned from his predecessors.

Its hardline tone also brought to mind the aggressive negotiating tactics he seems to be trying to repeat, said Russia expert David Szakonyi.

A man walks with his bicycle past damaged buildings in the besieged town of Douma, eastern Ghouta, on March 30.(Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

“For these delicate international conflicts, Trump has deigned himself to intervene because of the U.S. position in global affairs, and it’s like we have to take this very strong position,” he said. “He approaches these bargaining decisions, these relationships, with this bluster first to force the other side to the negotiating table in order to exact concessions.”

There was Trump’s “fire and fury” warning of nuclear annihilation for North Korea, for example, and his “trade wars are good” taunt when he imposed U.S. tariffs against China.

Trump could argue it works. The White House confirmed the hermit kingdom’s leader Kim Jong-un is willing to meet with Trump in the coming months. And Chinese President Xi Jinping announced he would ease tariffs on automobiles in a conciliatory gesture.

It seems to Szakonyi that Trump is drawing bargaining-table tactics for statecraft from his business instincts.

He hesitates to call it a pattern, but it does seem to be “evidence of Trump’s negotiating strategy” of applying pressure then trying to acquire leverage.

‘Blunt tool’

For his part, Arkedis isn’t against military force against Syria.

“It’s just that last year, the use of military force was completely detached from any sense of strategy,” he said.

He sees the same situation playing out again.

“If you’re going to use military force, make sure you know why you’re doing it.”

Szakonyi warns that Trump would be wrong to presume antagonizing the Syrians or Russians won’t have potentially dire consequences, as Russia has backed Assad’s regime and threatened to down U.S. missiles and launch sites, which could include ships and aircraft.

​”There’s a lack of research into trying to predict how the other side will react to this being wielded as a blunt tool to compel the other side to back down without a full realization of the risks of escalation,” Szakonyi said. The potential for miscommunication and mishap is immense, with U.S. and Russian forces already having come near to contact in Syria.

Trump’s second tweet of the morning regarding Russia also struck some as alarmist, referencing the Cold War, a time when the Soviet Union and the U.S. were on the brink of nuclear war.

It’s certainly not as scary as it was during the Cold War, said Henri Barkey, former director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. But he noted Trump’s change in tone criticizing the Kremlin and, in recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“All of a sudden in the last two weeks he’s becoming anti-Putin,” Barkey said. “He seems to have changed. The question is why? We don’t know.”

Analysts widely agree the U.S. has an obligation to strike Syria again, possibly with a coalition of partners. Left unanswered, though, is what the U.S. does next in terms of a Syria game plan, Barkey said.

One thing that appears certain is that a U.S. attack on Syria is imminent.

“If Trump talks aggressively and does nothing, he would look like a paper tiger,” Barkey said. “And that’s exactly what he doesn’t want to look like.”

Attack kills dozens in Douma, but government denies involvement1:11

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CBC | World News

Sports hype of platelet-rich plasma 'powerful marketing tool' but distorts the science

When injured elite athletes talk about using platelet-rich plasma (PRP), the coverage fuels hype that makes it harder for average consumers to see the limitations of the potential treatment, a new study suggests.

Athletes ranging from golfer Tiger Woods to quarterback Tom Brady to basketball player Kobe Bryant have reportedly used the decades-old approach.

When PRP is used in sports medicine circles, the person’s blood is collected and spun to concentrate the platelet component of the fluid, which is then injected back into an injured area, such as a torn tendon.

Tim Caufield, who holds the Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, and his co-authors reviewed newspaper coverage of PRP use between 2009 and 2015 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States. It was part of their ongoing research into what he calls “bunk” or “science hype” — exaggeration of the benefits of science and understatement of any risks or other concerns, including in stem cell treatments

“When PRP is covered in the sports pages, it’s talked about in a way that if you were just a casual observer of the science, you would assume that this works and that, we think, is a very powerful marketing tool,” said Caufield.

“If you see a story about a pitcher, a football player or track and field star getting PRP and you have an injury and you know of a clinic near you that’s offering PRP, I think it does make it seem like it’s more legitimate and perhaps that the science is further along than it really is.”

‘I think that evidence is starting to become less clear [on] when to use it and what regimen because even the way it’s been studied has been a bit murky.’– Dr. Mark Leung

In last week’s issue of the journal PLOS One, Caufield and his co-authors reported that a large majority of PRP articles from Australia (97.1 per cent), the U.S. (87.1 per cent) and Canada (79.4 per cent) were sports-related stories. 

The exception was in New Zealand, where less than 10 per cent were sports-related. The researchers found that 81.8 per cent of the articles analyzed were cosmetic stories.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian first promoted PRP as an anti-aging treatment through the vampire facials she underwent on her show in 2013 to avoid wrinkles.

Caufield said he sympathizes with sports reporters but he wants the public to recognize how elite athletes are willing to try just about anything, even unproven, because they’re desperate to return to play. That doesn’t necessarily mean the treatment works.

“To date, the science [for PRP] is far from definitive,” he said.

The researchers said their findings raise questions about why there have been so few well-conducted, large clinical trials into PRP to truly judge how much it helps.

Dr. Ryan Degen, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at Western University in London, Ont., is seeking funding to conduct a clinical trial on PRP.

“The trial that we’re going to try to get off the ground is to look at knee arthritis to see if [PRP is] warranted to treat the arthritis or if we should just be sticking with the conventional injections that we’ve been using,” Degen said.

Degen advises athletes to tread cautiously.

‘Win at whatever cost’ may include your health

Degen tells his patients there are a few possible indications to use PRP in sports medicine, but other times, it’s not worthwhile, particularly given that the expense can range from $ 250 to several thousand dollars.

Many people look up to elite and professional athletes. But the study’s findings suggest part of the cautionary message around PRP use is lost when athletes are the source of the message, said Dr. Mark Leung, program director for primary care at the sports medicine program at the University of Toronto.

For “elite athletes, one of the names of the game is you start to try and compete and win at whatever cost and that may include your health, and so I don’t think many individuals [in] the general population may understand that aspect.”

The reality is, PRP injections don’t replace an accurate diagnosis and reliable treatments such as exercise, weight management and rehabilitation, Leung said.

“There was some evidence for its use in tennis elbow or in partial tendon tears,” said Leung. “I think that evidence is starting to become less clear [on] when to use it and what regimen, because even the way it’s been studied has been a bit murky.”

For non-elite athletes, Leung suggested a more moderate approach to diet, workouts and recovery from injuries.

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CBC | Health News