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Emperor Trump Now Stands Partially Naked

A child exposing the nakedness of the emperor by speaking truth to power?

Not these days.

More than half of the United States — not just liberals and the left but also the mainstream media and some Republicans — has been shouting at Emperor Trump for months on end that he has no clothes. These declarations have fallen on deaf ears, for Donald Trump is constitutionally incapable of acknowledging his own flaws.

Also, there are still plenty of people telling Trump what he wants to hear. The president is surrounded by family members, advisors, and careerists who have refused to acknowledge the simple truth that the White House has been occupied for more than three years by a person that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once called King Moron (oops, I misquote: he actually said a “f**king moron”).

In the last week, however, this picture has begun to change. Three important clothiers of the president have said that maybe the commander-in-chief has been experiencing a wardrobe malfunction all along.

Twitter, Justin Trudeau, and James Mattis all took their turns in the spotlight recently to challenge the American president. Representing three important constituencies — social media, the Pentagon, and the international community — all three in their own way have chipped away at Trump’s power.

True, they have all provided important cover for the naked leader in the past. Also, their statements could have been clearer calls to arms. But now, all three can help precipitate the “run for the exit” moment that will spell Trump’s downfall.

We’ll have to wait until November to be sure, but the president might have effectively lost his reelection bid this month, well before Election Day.

Social Media

Donald Trump once wooed the mainstream media. He chatted up gossip columnists. He pretended over the phone that he was his own publicist, singing the praises of his boss. He so desperately wanted to be on the cover of Time that he created dummy versions of the magazine proclaiming that “Trump is hitting on all fronts” and hung them in at least five of his golf clubs. Throughout, he groused that the media was not sufficiently flattering.

Twitter provided Trump with the ideal solution to his chronic need for attention. He no longer had to rely on the media and instead could communicate directly to his followers. He could simultaneously disparage the mainstream media as “fake news” and dispense his own fake news by tweet.

In the first three years of his presidency, Trump fired off more than 11,000 tweets. Many of them were rambling attacks on his opponents (somehow Trump manages to be rambling in under 280 characters). But some of them were actual policy announcements or served some other tactical purpose.

Twitter wasn’t simply a tool of the presidency. It became the presidency.

According to this New York Times analysis of this incessant Twitterstorm:

Early on, top aides wanted to restrain the president’s Twitter habit, even considering asking the company to impose a 15-minute delay on Mr. Trump’s messages. But 11,390 presidential tweets later, many administration officials and lawmakers embrace his Twitter obsession, flocking to his social media chief with suggestions. Policy meetings are hijacked when Mr. Trump gets an idea for a tweet, drawing in cabinet members and others for wordsmithing. And as a president often at war with his own bureaucracy, he deploys Twitter to break through logjams, overrule, or humiliate recalcitrant advisers and pre-empt his staff.

Twitter has helped Trump. And Trump has helped poison Twitter.

Although the social media giant has had no problem deleting praise for the Islamic State, it hasn’t shown comparable due diligence toward white nationalism. According to an account of a discussion at a Twitter staff meeting, a technical employee explained that “on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda.”

With the compliance of social media platforms, Trump and his coterie of Republican extremists have helped to mainstream otherwise marginal content.

But that tide might be turning. At the end of May, Twitter took the unprecedented step of labeling two of Trump’s tweets, directing readers to accurate sources of information on mail-in balloting and announcing that Trump had violated its policies on glorifying violence. Then, last week, Twitter took down an account that retweeted all of Trump’s utterances, again for violating its policies.

Trump, predictably, went ballistic. He lashed out on Twitter (the man is impervious to irony). He retaliated with an executive order to lift some of the liability protections on social media companies.

It’s not as if Trump is going to abandon his principle mode of communication. This last weekend, after all, he broke his own Twitter record by sending out 200 Tweets in a 24-hour period, including 74 in one hour. By increasing the outflow of his firehose, Trump seems to be daring Twitter to keep up with its labels.

Twitter hasn’t deplatformed Trump, as it has some other darlings of the alt-right. It let slide Trump’s latest Twitter outrage — promoting a conspiracy theory about a Buffalo protestor injured by the police — because the use of a question mark marked it as “speculative” (Really? Really??).

But with its labels, Twitter is finally saying that no one is above the law — the admittedly loose laws of the internet — not even the president of the United States.

Justin Trudeau

In the United States, we are still talking about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that a cop knelt on George Floyd’s neck, killing him.

In Canada, they’re talking about 21 seconds.

That’s the pause that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to answer a question on Trump’s threat to use the military against those protesting Floyd’s death. Trudeau could have used that time to criticize Trump directly. Instead, after his long pause, he chose to speak of the problems facing people of color in his own country. “There is systemic racism in Canada,” he said.

Trump has never hesitated to lambaste other heads of state. He called Trudeau “two-faced” as well as “very dishonest and weak.” He labeled comments by Emanuel Macron “very, very nasty.” He criticized comments of Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as “nasty and inappropriate.” With comments about friends like these, you can imagine how Trump tongue-lashes his enemies.

For the most part, the international community has quietly tolerated Trump. They’ve delivered tersely worded rebuttals. They’ve made fun of him behind his back. But they haven’t directly or personally criticized him.

Given the power of the United States, it’s unlikely that the leader of an allied country will take the president to task. So, perhaps the best we can hope for is 21 seconds of silence, during which the rest of us can voice the thoughts we think are going through Justin Trudeau’s mind.

Maybe it’s because I worked for a Quaker organization for many years, but I think that sometimes silence can speak volumes.

James Mattis

Former Pentagon chief Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis was one of the more prominent “adults in the room” who were supposed to rein in Trump. He failed. He resigned in December 2018 after disagreeing with Trump’s push to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. When he resigned and later when he published his memoir the following year, Mattis kept his thoughts on Trump to himself.

Last week, Mattis broke his silence with a remarkable statement in The Atlantic criticizing the president’s threatened use of the military against protesters. He said, in part:

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.

In all my years as a protester, I have never witnessed someone of Mattis’s background and standing actually side with folks on the street. “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values — our values as people and our values as a nation,” he said.

It wasn’t just Mattis. Former chair of the joint chiefs of staff Mike Mullen wrote a similar condemnation of Trump as did former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan John Allen. It was the journalistic equivalent of D-Day, with the generals landing their forces on Omaha Beach in the hopes of dethroning their adversary several months hence.

Yes, yes, I know: Mattis, Mullen, and Allen are no leftists. You can’t even call them liberals or moderates. Andy Kroll is right to point out in Rolling Stone that these are “the same military leaders who endorsed and defended a policy of forever war that has led to tens of thousands of American deaths, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and Afghans and Syrians and Yemenis and Pakistanis, hundreds of thousands of injuries physical and mental suffered by U.S. service members, and many billions of taxpayer dollars poured into endless conflict.”

Kroll is both right and spectacularly off the mark. After all, Donald Trump similarly dismissed Colin Powell’s endorsement of Joe Biden by linking him to America’s failed wars.

The fact that these old establishment figures have blood on their hands is precisely the point. Noam Chomsky denouncing Donald Trump is not news. Everyone expects the leaders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement to criticize the president. I’ve been slamming Trump from day one of his presidency (and many months before), but I doubt my preaching goes very far beyond the choir.

All the attacks on Trump from left and center are what journalists call “dog bites man.” It’s no surprise. But “Mad Dog bites man”? That’s a different story altogether.

The military has been the most trusted institution in U.S. society for decades. According to Gallup, it enjoyed a 73 percent approval rating in 2019 — compared to 38 percent for both the presidency and the Supreme Court, 36 percent for organized religion, and 11 percent for Congress.

People listen to the military. And by people, here I mean folks who voted for Donald Trump, continue to support the president, and are still thinking about voting for him in November.

As importantly, these generals are willing to take enemy fire — from Fox News, from crazy Internet trolls, from the president himself—so that other former Trump enablers might be more willing to stand up and speak their minds.

Immediately after Mattis waded into the debate, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) confessed her concerns about Trump and said that she hasn’t made up her mind about who to support in November. Francis Rooney, a Republican member of Congress from Florida, is now leaning toward Biden. A number of prominent Republicans won’t vote for Trump, but they also are reluctant to say so in public.

This doesn’t exactly constitute a surge. A solid core of the party remains firmly behind the president. The more telegenic version of Trump, Tom Cotton (R-AR), is enjoying a swell of support after The New York Times criticized its own handling of the senator’s incendiary and inaccurate piece, “Send in the Military.” So far, Mattis has not played the role of the journalist Edward R. Murrow taking down the demagogue Joe McCarthy.

But you have to believe that statements from Mattis and others are at least going to introduce an element of doubt into the minds of some true believers. Active duty soldiers and veterans who voted for Trump — he received 61 percent of the veteran vote compared to Hillary Clinton’s 34 percent — might just heed the generals. And the latest polls suggest that both older Americans and white Americans are starting to abandon Trump.

I don’t expect Mitch McConnell or Tom Cotton to denounce Trump. Much of the Republican Party will loyally follow the president into his White House bunker. But thanks to the truth-telling of Mattis and others, everyone else will be laughing all the way to the polls at the emperor stripped bare by his enablers.

June 10, 2020, Foreign Policy In Focus

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Trump Punts on Syria

Donald Trump wants to pull U.S. troops out of Syria as quickly as possible.

Well, it’s Wednesday, so that’s what the president wants now. Tomorrow, who knows, maybe he’ll insist that Syria pay for the pullout. Maybe Trump will decide to hold a summit with Bashar al-Assad after deciding that the Syrian leader’s not such a bad guy after all, since he also doesn’t like the Islamic State and owes his position to Russian support. Maybe Trump will team up with Turkey to build a wall around Syria because “if we stop them over there, we won’t fight them over here.”

With Trump, all options seem to be in play, and it all depends on what Fox News covers, what the last autocrat or three-star general whispered in his ear, and whether the president’s spleen is acting up or not. The opinions of his own advisors or the foreign-policy commissariat seem to matter little. If anything, Trump delights in confounding the experts. After all, he believes himself to be the expert-in-chief.

Foreign policy making in the Trump era is a lot like curling. Trump lets lose the stone and then the other members of the team start sweeping at the ice in an attempt to alter the trajectory. Sometimes Trump throws in the general direction of the target. Sometimes his aim is so errant that there’s nothing the sweepers can do.

So, after Trump tweeted his new Syria policy, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went into action to alter its trajectory. In an attempt to placate allies aghast at Trump’s decision, Bolton put so many conditions on the pull-out as to seem to render the announcement null and void. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly tried to assure Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and the Gulf States that U.S. policy remains steady: defeat the Islamic State, shut out Iran.

This cavalcade of caveats accomplished little more than to confuse allies and mystify observers. Bolton angered Recep Tayyip Erdogan so much with his remarks about continued U.S. support for Syrian Kurds that the Turkish president refused to meet with the national security advisor when he visited Ankara this month. A prominent pro-government newspaper decried Bolton’s “soft coup against Trump.”

Trump has subsequently changed his mind about Syria, somewhat, but it wasn’t at the behest of Bolton or Pompeo. The president was persuaded to go slow on the withdrawal when he received a briefing in Iraq from a lieutenant general who explained that the military needed more time to wrap up operations in Syria. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had probably said the same thing to Trump. He resigned when the president ignored his advice. Mattis had disagreed one too many times with the president and thus undermined his authority. With Trump, proximity breeds contempt.

Trump originally demanded that troops withdraw in 30 days. Now, the Pentagon has four months to redeploy the couple thousand troops. The rush to the exit will be more like a covert crawl. And they won’t likely be going very far. The latest reports suggest that the redeployed soldiers are heading for Iraq — to bases in Kirkuk and Anbar.

A History of Ambivalence

Trump has been roundly criticized for the incoherence of his policy toward Syria. But let’s face it, Washington has never figured out how to deal with the country — its ruthless leader, its fragmented opposition, its breakaway Kurds, its covetous neighbors — since the Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011.

At the very outset, the Obama administration hesitated to throw its support behind pro-democracy demonstrators and was even more ambivalent about intervening militarily when the demonstrators chose to take up arms.

This was not surprising. Obama had been slow to withdraw support from Hosni Mubarak in Egypt earlier that year when crowds gathered in Tahrir Square. When civil strife broke out in Libya, Obama was equally reluctant to get involved, finally opting to “lead from behind” in the international effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi. The situation in Syria promised to be even more complicated and volatile.

Eventually, the Obama administration dipped its toe in the water with two principal programs, one run by the Pentagon, the other covertly by the CIA. The Pentagon’s program was a spectacular failure, with graduates of the training program either exiting the program to fight for radical groups the United States disdained or going on to ignominious defeat on the battlefield. This initiative ended in 2015.

The CIA program, Timber Sycamore, funneled billions of dollars of arms and equipment to fighters on the ground in Syria, thanks to Saudi financing and Turkish logistics. This program, too, encountered many difficulties. For instance, arms ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda sympathizers. The United States was also reluctant to go all in for fear of provoking Russia. In 2017, Trump canceled this program.

Trump or no Trump, the United States faces myriad problems in Syria. Assad has consolidated his position, with the help of Russia and Iran. The Islamic State has been reduced to a beleaguered fiefdom, but religious extremism hasn’t disappeared and a pretty unsavory group remains in control of Idlib province. The Kurds in the north have established an autonomous region, with U.S. assistance, but the Turkish government considers them a mere extension of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that it’s fighting within its own borders.

The United States can’t expect to influence this state of play in Syria, and certainly not with only 2,000 troops. So, it makes a lot of sense to pull them out. Let the Israelis and Saudis get angry, and let the Russians, Iranians, and Turks rejoice. U.S. involvement in Syria — hesitant, misguided, quixotic — has been benighted from the beginning.

Trump recently tweeted in support of his action that the United States must “stop the endless wars.” That makes eminent sense.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that Trump actually believes what he tweets. Even as he was making his withdrawal announcement, the president was directing the Pentagon to increase its air strikes on targets in Syria.

More War, Not Less

It’s ludicrous to paint Donald Trump as a peace president. The man is only selectively anti-war. He just doesn’t like the wars that other presidents started.

Trump threatened to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. He considered military options in Venezuela and discussed the potential of a coup with dissident army officers.

But it’s Iran that’s served as the focus of Trump’s most hawkish ambitions. The president hasn’t been content just to unravel the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement that the Obama administration, alongside representatives of several other countries, negotiated with Iran. Nor does Trump want to stop at simply applying another round of economic sanctions against the country.

In September, John Bolton asked the Pentagon for military options to strike Iran. “It definitely rattled people,” a former senior White House official said. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

But Trump’s confrontational approach to Iran preceded the brashness of Bolton, who has openly advocated regime change in Iran. Shortly after entering the White House, Trump began pushing for the Pentagon to blow up Iranian boats in the Persian Gulf. Mattis, who’d been fired from the Obama administration for his anti-Iranian obsession, thought the plan was ludicrous and never provided the plans Trump wanted.

Countering Iran has been an organizing principle of the administration’s foreign policy, from helping the Saudis in Yemen to pressuring countries worldwide not to trade with Tehran. In his recent speech in Cairo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that even with the Syria pullout the administration remains focused on countering Iran, which “has spread its cancerous influence to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria, and further into Lebanon.”

With Bolton and Pompeo by his side and Mattis departed, Trump may well go with his gut and attack Iran militarily. He’ll be encouraged in this delusion by Israel and Saudi Arabia. He’ll be looking for some way to distract the media and the American public from his disastrous record as president and the multiple investigations into his affairs and policies. He won’t care about the consequences.

The forever war in the Middle East is far from over.

World Beat, Foreign Policy In Focus, January 16, 2019

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The Collaborationists

In the middle of September, Harvard University announced that it was inviting two controversial new fellows to the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School: former Trump administration spokesman Sean Spicer and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. At the august institution, they would be joining Corey Lewandowski, one of Trump’s campaign managers, along with several Democratic Party operatives.

But it was not to be. Within a day of the announcement, Harvard rescinded Chelsea Manning’s invitation because of “controversy” attending the offer. Dean of the Kennedy School Douglas Elmendorf had this to say: “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.”

Strangely, the invitation to the thoroughly dishonorable Lewandowski did not seem affected by this rationale.

Harvard snubbed Manning in part because people like Mike Pompeo, current head of the CIA, cancelled an appearance at a Harvard forum, saying that “I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions.”

I’m not a big fan of WikiLeaks — even before its conduct in the 2016 elections — but I’d still be interested in hearing Chelsea Manning interact with other folks at the Kennedy School on questions of public service and morality. So, I’m upset at Harvard’s retraction of the invitation.

But what really bugs me is Harvard’s pandering to the Trump crowd as if they were legitimate political actors. They’re not. They’re collaborationists. They may or may not have collaborated with a foreign power against the United States (let the various investigating committees determine that). But I’m expanding the term here to mean that they are collaborating with a political figure — Donald Trump — whose behavior is inimical to American democracy.

Even if they aren’t ultimately thrown into jail for a variety of improprieties, the Trump collaborationists should be frozen out of the mainstream. Obviously I’m thinking about the future, since places like Harvard are always kowtowing to those in power in the present. But I’m looking forward to a day after, say, 2020, when America goes through its own de-Baathification process, and the leading lights of the Trump administration are purged from public life.

Okay, maybe you don’t want to go that far. De-Baathfication, after all, had lousy consequences for Iraq. Then let’s just use Harvard’s language but apply it more appropriately. “Many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations,” Elmendorf said. Those who collaborated with the Trump administration — those who served in high positions and profited materially and professionally from those positions — should simply not be honored. Even if a departing Trump pardons all his cronies, they should feel the sting of public exclusion.

Call it an anti-Trump blacklist, a political boycott comparable to the economic boycott of Trump products. Perhaps, you’re wondering, why I’m focusing on Trump. Many of his policies resemble those of previous administrations like those of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. Why not expand the boycott to include all the neoconservatives responsible for the Iraq War, among other catastrophes? It’s equally galling to see a war criminal like Elliott Abrams still accepted in polite company (and the Council on Foreign Relations).

I certainly disagreed with those figures and their policies. But this administration is different. Donald Trump has crossed the line on so many fronts. To ensure that his “innovations” in the realms of racism, misogyny, militarism, deception, secrecy, and the “deconstruction of the administrative state” do not become institutionalized in U.S. society requires not only broad-based condemnation but, eventually, public exclusion as well.

Adults in the Room

Shortly after the 2016 election, I was on an NPR program making my case for non-engagement with the Trump administration. The host was aghast: Didn’t I acknowledge the important of “adult supervision” in the White House? Wouldn’t it be better to have some sensible people near Trump to prevent him from flying off the nuclear handle?

And who would these adults be exactly, I retorted? Steve Bannon? Michael Flynn? I doubted that anyone who made it through the vetting process would necessarily qualify as an adult — at least in the sense that the NPR host meant — and even if such a grey eminence managed to get into the administration, he or she would likely be brought down to Trump’s level, not the other way around.

In a recent article in The New York Review of Books, James Mann traces the origins of the phrase “adults in the room” and its associated phrase of “adult supervision.” “Before Trump, this Washington lingo was usually a cover for policy differences,” Mann writes.

The “adults” were usually those who didn’t stray too far from the political center, however that was defined at the moment. Bernie Sanders has never qualified as an “adult” in the Washington usage of the word, although he is old enough to collect Social Security; nor did Ralph Nader; nor did Rand Paul, though he is old enough to perform eye surgery. What made them deficient was not their character or their immaturity, but their views.

Now, however, the phrase refers less to ideology and more to behavior. “For the first time, America has a president who does not act like an adult,” Mann continues. “He is emotionally immature: he lies, taunts, insults, bullies, rages, seeks vengeance, exalts violence, boasts, refuses to accept criticism, all in ways that most parents would seek to prevent in their own children.”

And thus, America is supposed to breathe easier because a trio of military men (John Kelly, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster) and an oil company executive (Rex Tillerson) are in place to rein in Trump’s more infantile impulses.

Moreover, a rogue’s gallery of non-adults have already departed the administration as a result of scandal or sheer incompetence: the aforementioned Sean Spicer, his almost replacement Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Tom Price, Reince Priebus, Mike Flynn. Some, like Trump’s pick to head the Drug Enforcement Agency, withdrew from considerationeven before he had to face withering questions about his support for the pharmaceutical industry. Surely the process works if it ejects such ridiculous figures as if they were tainted food in the political digestive tract.

Poking fun at this list of not-so-dearly-departed administration officials is too easy. More important is to demonstrate that the so-called adults are doing as much if not more damage to this country than the people who didn’t spend enough time in their jobs to screw things up royally.

So, before assigning blame on specific issues, let’s take a look at exactly how “adult” U.S. foreign policy has been over the last ten months. The United States has come close to tearing up the most important arms control deal of the last 25 years and edging closer to war with Iran. It has escalated the conflict with North Korea, which has raised the risk of a nuclear exchange. It has extended the longest American war by sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan. It has continued a misguided “war on terrorism” by supporting the Saudi devastation of Yemen, expanding the CIA’s capacity for conducting drone strikes, and helping to create the next generation of anti-Western jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

Beyond war and peace issues, it has pulled out of the Paris climate accord, withdrew from UNESCO, and reinstituted the “global gag rule” on abortion that will affect nearly $9 billion in U.S. funding of health initiatives around the world. It has continued to push for the building of the infamous wall on the border with Mexico, implemented several travel bans that disproportionately target Muslims, and gone after the Dreamers. It has proposed slashing foreign aid and State Department funding more generally. It has driven a stake through the heart of multilateralism.

What exactly is “adult” about this rash and destructive foreign policy? Yes, the world hasn’t been destroyed (yet) by nuclear war. But that’s a pretty low bar for the administration’s accomplishments.

Nor is it possible to argue that Trump himself is solely responsible for this foreign policy. Trump has only a vague grasp of foreign policy to begin with. His impulse is to oppose whatever the Obama administration put together — the Iran deal, participation in the Paris accords, various trade deals — even where there might be bipartisan support. To get any of these concrete policies implemented, Trump needs foreign policy professionals who can, at the very least, spell words correctly and use the proper names of foreign leaders. Trump relies on these “adults” not to restrain him but to implement his craziest ideas.

So, the only conclusion is that Tillerson, Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly have at least some, if not sole, responsibility for Trump’s foreign policy. Tillerson has presided over the destruction of the State Department — its personnel cuts, its circumscribed influence. Mattis has facilitated the significant budget increases for the Pentagon. McMaster has called the president’s tweets on North Korea “completely appropriate” and shares the president’s distaste for the Iran nuclear deal. John Kelly, in his former role as head of Homeland Security, was a big booster of the travel ban.

The evidence is in. Engagement at the very highest levels with the Trump administration has not tempered its worst qualities. If anything, these “adults” have been the chief enablers of this most reckless of presidents. They’ve given him the thinnest frosting of legitimacy. Moreover, even these so-called adults don’t rescue the Trump administration from being outside the norms of democratic discourse in this country.

The Politics of Lustration

In Eastern Europe, after the changes of 1989, the successor governments considered laws that would prevent those who collaborated with the Communist apparatus from serving in public office. These were controversial laws. It was often difficult to determine who had collaborated (as opposed to simply been accused of collaborating), and the process was quickly politicized by various political parties. Also, what constituted collaboration: membership in the Communist Party, working in the secret police, or just communicating with the secret police?

Still, lustration served as a way of distinguishing one era from another, of drawing what the Poles called a “thick line” between unacceptable collaboration and legitimate politics.

Lustration, like de-Baathification, was a deeply flawed process. But I’m attracted to the idea of eventually drawing a thick line between acceptable democratic practice and what the Trump administration has attempted to do in this country. I’m not talking about going after civil servants or low-level appointees. I’m certainly not talking about Trump voters. No, only the topmost officials in the administration, including his Cabinet of Horrors, should be subjected, post-2020, to an informal ban on further public service or the receipt of anything that might be construed an honor at a major institution.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about Republicans. Many Republicans have already taken strong stands against Trump’s excesses, and many more will do so over the next three years. No, this campaign against collaborationists must be bipartisan. And the targets should certainly include registered Democrats like chief economic advisor Gary Cohn.

It won’t be a witch hunt. These people are extraordinarily rich and powerful. Their wealth and power will survive public shaming. But such a process will be absolutely important to discredit Trumpism not just as a belief system but as an ideology of power in which all methods of achieving wealth and position are legitimate.

We can’t put Trump and his claque into the stockade like in Puritan America. We can’t ostracize them — send them into foreign exile for 10 years, as the ancient Athenians did. But we can declare the collaborationists, including the “adults in the room,” an affront to human dignity and threaten to resign from, boycott, or malign any institution that dares to hire them, honor them, or work with them.

It’s something to look forward to during the long political winter ahead.

Foreign Policy In Focus, October 18, 2017

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Will Trump Complete the Pivot to Asia?

James Mattis visited Asia this month on his first foreign trip as the new head of the Pentagon. It was less a get-acquainted visit than a damage control tour. His boss, President Donald Trump, had threatened to escalate tensions with China and prevent North Korea from launching a nuclear-capable ICBM. He’d accused Japan of currency manipulation. He wanted both Tokyo and Seoul to pay more for their alliance with America. He’d unceremoniously pulled out of a free-trade agreement – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) – that the United States had previously gone all out to promote.

Like the good cop who comes in to soften up a suspect that’s been abused by the bad cop, Mattis made many reassuring statements on his trip and even directly contradicted his administration. Allies were paying their share, he said. The U.S. military would stand firm behind Japan and South Korea. And diplomacy not military force was the way to solve disputes like those in the South China Sea.

The question is not which cop is in charge of U.S. foreign policy (answer: both are in charge). The underlying question is what the administration ultimately wants for Asia. It can stick, more or less, with the status quo. Or it can finish what the Obama administration tried and failed to do: shift the emphasis of U.S. military and economic policy away from the Middle East and toward Asia.

During its two terms, the Obama administration managed to shift some of the emphasis of U.S. foreign policy toward Asia, the wealthiest and most heavily militarized region of the world. The United States continued to encourage Japan to break out of the restraints of the “peace constitution.” It relocated some Marines from the controversial Futenma military base on Okinawa to other places in the region. It solidified U.S. relations with Vietnam on the basis of mutual fear of China. It persuaded the Philippines to welcome back U.S. military forces at five permanent installations on the island chain. It overcame initial South Korean reluctance to deploy the THAAD missile defense system.

These developments, which certainly reinforced the status quo, did not add up to a pivot. Like its two predecessors, the Obama administration was not able to “solve” the Okinawa problem by having a replacement facility built for the Futenma Marine Air Force base. It was not able to redirect a substantial portion of U.S. military forces from the Middle East and Europe to the Pacific. It could not ultimately conclude the TTP and compete more effectively with China in the regional economy. Despite its explicit desire to do cut its losses in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration was still pinned down in both countries. The fight against the Islamic State had replaced al-Qaeda and the Taliban as the chief focus of U.S. military attention.

According to some of his campaign rhetoric, Donald Trump was interested not in a Pacific pivot but rather a Homeland pivot. He emphasized “America first,” which suggested that he might reduce U.S. military footprint overseas in order to direct resources into rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and industry. But even before he took office, Trump moved quickly to dispel those illusions. He took a phone call from the Taiwanese president, a break with tradition that indicated a new toughness toward Beijing. He began to prepare the groundwork for a major increase in military spending, as much as $1 trillion over ten years, which the Republican Congress is eager to support.

The Trump administration views China as the only serious threat to American power in the world. Although previous U.S. governments have eventually settled on a congagement approach to Beijing – a mixture of military containment and economic engagement – the Trump administration seems interested only in confrontation. For his part, Xi seems to be positioning China as the country that will guide the global economy in the absence of a newly protectionist United States.

It’s possible that Trump, ever the businessman, will come to realize like all recent U.S. presidents that China is too big to ignore and too powerful to antagonize. Even George W. Bush found common ground with Beijing, particularly on counter-terrorism. But others in the Trump administration, like strategic advisor Steve Bannon, see China as a civilizational threat – officially atheist, non-white, committed to a cross between centralized economic control and crony capitalism. Bannon has no problem partnering with authoritarian governments. But China falls outside the conservative, Christian, Caucasian coalition that Bannon wants to build worldwide.

With a larger military, a Republican-controlled Congress, and a willingness to use all the power concentrated in the executive branch, Trump will likely try to complete the Pacific pivot even as he bombs the Islamic State, builds a wall along the border with Mexico, and antagonizes European allies. This attempt at full-spectrum dominance may bankrupt the American economy and irreparably damage the global economy.

But Trump guided his business empire into bankruptcy an extraordinary six times in the past. Asians should obviously think twice about linking arms with such a volatile political ally and such an unreliable business partner.

Hankyoreh, February 15, 2017