Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy Part IV: The American Civil War on Globalism

Bob Woodward (2018) Fear: Trump and the White House, New York: Simon & Schuster

Fear and anger! Fear and anger! Fear and anger! Fear is personified and ethnicized. Intellect is demoted to offering just opinions. Fear-mongering and anti-intellectualism are then packaged together in sex and pomposity. The troops have been indoctrinated for war. Nation states are not the primary enemy. Globalists are, both domestically and internationally. The U.S. has already entered the early stages of a civil war.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday, Timothy Perry Shriver, chair of Special Olympics, opined, “The question isn’t whether we are a nation divided by anger and fear. The question is what we’re going to do about it.” The opening was a tease because he wrote about integrating handicapped and regular individuals involved in sports.

“The news and social media obsessively detail how we all hate one another, presenting a fresh new hell each week…Young people have found an antidote to divisiveness. They are uniting around a new idea, drawing closer, jump-starting social barriers and bringing outsiders in.”

As Americans pursue physical integration in sports, large swaths of Americans advocate divisiveness based on ethnicity and religion. The enemies are globalists, liberals, integrationists and pluralists. In its traditional antisemitic trope, “It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” The global power brokers are almost always Jews.

Donald Trump is not an antisemite. His own daughter is Jewish. However, when he was running for president and was campaigning against globalists, whom he held responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the American heartland and the loss of manufacturing to foreign states, in the ads called “Donald Trump’s America” that appeared with his voice over were Janet Yellen, then the Federal Reserve chair, Lloyd Blankfein CEO of Goldman Sachs and, of course, the ubiquitous liberal and globalist, George Soros. All just happen to be Jews.

A deranged antisemite, anti-globalist and anti-liberal nut case, Robert D. Bowers, shouting “All Jews must die,” killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue on shabat, the very shabat when the weekly portion begins with teaching respect for strangers and the importance of empathy for others. The deranged killer armed with an assault rifle and Glock handguns insisted that Trump himself had sold out to the globalists and the Jewish world conspiracy. Mr. Wooden Spoon, Vice-President Mike Pence, in all his pompous certitude, intoned in his tone-deaf voice that the divisive attacks on Muslims and Mexicans and liberals and globalists were inconsequential to such violent events, “People on both sides of the aisle use strong language about their political differences, but I just don’t think you can connect it to threats or acts of violence.”

Trump insisted that that the racist protesters at Charlottesville who were shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” consisted of many good people, but this had nothing to do with the worst antisemitic incident in American history. Donald Trump did not instruct Cesar Sayoc to send 14 pipe bombs to Democrats and liberals or tell Robert D. Bowers to murder Jews on shabat at their house of worship. Trump did insist that the caravan of Central American trudging up the spine of Mexico was promoted and financed by Democrats. Donald Trump had nothing to do with a white supremacist killing two worshippers in a Black church.

Donald Trump, of course, is opposed to such random acts of violence. At his rally in Indianapolis of Saturday, Trump insisted that, “With what happened early today, that horrible, horrible attack in Pittsburgh, I was saying maybe I should cancel both this and that. And then I said to myself, I remembered Dick Russell, a friend of mine, great guy, he headed up the New York Stock Exchange on September 11th, and the New York Stock Exchange was open the following day. He said — and what they had to do to open it you wouldn’t believe, we won’t even talk to you about it. But he got that exchange open. We can’t make these sick, demented, evil people important.”

Except Peter Dick Russell was not the president of the NYSE. Dick Grasso was. Perhaps it was Freudian slip that Peter Dick Russel happened to be a racist senator from Georgia. Perhaps it was just a slip of the memory when Trump said that the NYSE did not close, when it did close, not just for a day, but for more than a week. Facts! Shmacks! Correlations are not causal. But they also may not be coincidental.

Was it a coincidence that Cesar Sayoc, the would-be pipe bomber, cozied up to his “Russian brothers” at the very time in 2015 that Trump was expressing a very favourable view of the Russians and insisting that they had not interfered in American elections? Did Bower’s claims that Jews were the children of Satan and his use of the code “1488” – 14 signifying a white supremacist slogan with 14 words and 88 the Nazi-symbol for Heil Hitler – have nothing to do with the Charlottesville racist demonstrations that Donald Trump minimized?

Correlations are not causes. The extraordinary rise in racist and antisemitic incidents have evidently nothing to do with the fact that Bowers explicitly cited HIAS, the American Jewish immigration society, for helping potential refugee claimants. “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?…HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Just that weekend, on a shabat about welcoming strangers, the Tree of Life, etz or aitz chaim, Synagogue was celebrating the work of HIAS on behalf of refugees. When the Torah is put back in its place, Jewish congregations across the world sing, “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17-18)”

Last November, a white supremacist anti-gay gunman killed 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Another racist gunman killed 26 worshippers in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in Texas. Three years ago, another with supremacist killer murdered nine African Americans in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But the main enemies to be feared by Americans are Latino would-be Convention refugees. And Muslims. And…And… But never white supremacist antisemitic and racist right-wing Americans.

Jews are behind all the problems. Jews. Liberals. Globalists. Pluralists. Antisemitic incidents in 2017 in the U.S. rose by 57%.

However, Trump does not want to raise the importance of white supremacists by cancelling a rally or even insisting on two minutes of silence for the victims. After all, raising their importance might diminish his, and even associate their acts with his words. Donald Trump denounces such acts, condemns them as the work of deranged souls, and insists that something must be done to stop such hate crimes, but that something will have nothing to do with changing the language he uses, the objects of his attacks, the lies he tells, the degrading of others. “We need to apply the death penalty with greater speed.”

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing, what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world.” Donald Trump, you are correct. Are you even capable of stopping for just a moment, reflecting for just 30 seconds and asking yourself whether the hatred and anger you stir up, the false objects of your attacks, have anything to do with these mass murders? Of course not! Donald Trump ordered that the American flag be flown at half-staff until Wednesday, sunset, out of “respect” for the victims.

Do they not know, as Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch observed, that, “Words are like sparks to the gasoline of disturbed minds. These words can kill.” Trump at his rallies often goads people to unjust actions and even vigilante violence. But, of course, Trump could not be an inciter, an abetter, of racist murder in a country that worships in idolatry at the shrine of automatic rifles.

Antisemitic vitriol has exploded over the last two years. Neo-Nazis spout Hitler-era propaganda. Jews and Blacks and Mexicans are caricatured with hateful images. “George Soros” has become a name identified with being Jewish, being a liberal, being a globalist so it is no surprise that he was sent a pipe-bomb. As Alexandra Schwartz – I urge you to read her – wrote, “Anti-Semitism has burrowed into the American mainstream in a way not seen since the late nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, when it also fed easily with conservative isolationist fervor and racism.”

Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, the Jewish lab for sustainability currently in Israel, wrote that, “The fault line now is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or Democrats and Republicans. It’s between those who strive to use language with honesty and empathy and a desire to make things better; and those who use language to inflame, incite, exaggerate and demonize. That is what our tree of life has taught us these two millennia – that language, and respectful discourse and truth are utterly central to being Jewish.”

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy Part IV: The American Civil War on Globalism

Bob Woodward (2018) Fear: Trump and the White House, New York: Simon & Schuster

Fear and anger! Fear and anger! Fear and anger! Fear is personified and ethnicized. Intellect is demoted to offering just opinions. Fear-mongering and anti-intellectualism are then packaged together in sex and pomposity. The troops have been indoctrinated for war. Nation states are not the primary enemy. Globalists are, both domestically and internationally. The U.S. has already entered the early stages of a civil war.

In an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday, Timothy Perry Shriver, chair of Special Olympics, opined, “The question isn’t whether we are a nation divided by anger and fear. The question is what we’re going to do about it.” The opening was a tease because he wrote about integrating handicapped and regular individuals involved in sports.

“The news and social media obsessively detail how we all hate one another, presenting a fresh new hell each week…Young people have found an antidote to divisiveness. They are uniting around a new idea, drawing closer, jump-starting social barriers and bringing outsiders in.”

As Americans pursue physical integration in sports, large swaths of Americans advocate divisiveness based on ethnicity and religion. The enemies are globalists, liberals, integrationists and pluralists. In its traditional antisemitic trope, “It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” The global power brokers are almost always Jews.

Donald Trump is not an antisemite. His own daughter is Jewish. However, when he was running for president and was campaigning against globalists, whom he held responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the American heartland and the loss of manufacturing to foreign states, in the ads called “Donald Trump’s America” that appeared with his voice over were Janet Yellen, then the Federal Reserve chair, Lloyd Blankfein CEO of Goldman Sachs and, of course, the ubiquitous liberal and globalist, George Soros. All just happen to be Jews.

A deranged antisemite, anti-globalist and anti-liberal nut case, Robert D. Bowers, shouting “All Jews must die,” killed 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue on shabat, the very shabat when the weekly portion begins with teaching respect for strangers and the importance of empathy for others. The deranged killer armed with an assault rifle and Glock handguns insisted that Trump himself had sold out to the globalists and the Jewish world conspiracy. Mr. Wooden Spoon, Vice-President Mike Pence, in all his pompous certitude, intoned in his tone-deaf voice that the divisive attacks on Muslims and Mexicans and liberals and globalists were inconsequential to such violent events, “People on both sides of the aisle use strong language about their political differences, but I just don’t think you can connect it to threats or acts of violence.”

Trump insisted that that the racist protesters at Charlottesville who were shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” consisted of many good people, but this had nothing to do with the worst antisemitic incident in American history. Donald Trump did not instruct Cesar Sayoc to send 14 pipe bombs to Democrats and liberals or tell Robert D. Bowers to murder Jews on shabat at their house of worship. Trump did insist that the caravan of Central American trudging up the spine of Mexico was promoted and financed by Democrats. Donald Trump had nothing to do with a white supremacist killing two worshippers in a Black church.

Donald Trump, of course, is opposed to such random acts of violence. At his rally in Indianapolis of Saturday, Trump insisted that, “With what happened early today, that horrible, horrible attack in Pittsburgh, I was saying maybe I should cancel both this and that. And then I said to myself, I remembered Dick Russell, a friend of mine, great guy, he headed up the New York Stock Exchange on September 11th, and the New York Stock Exchange was open the following day. He said — and what they had to do to open it you wouldn’t believe, we won’t even talk to you about it. But he got that exchange open. We can’t make these sick, demented, evil people important.”

Except Peter Dick Russell was not the president of the NYSE. Dick Grasso was. Perhaps it was Freudian slip that Peter Dick Russel happened to be a racist senator from Georgia. Perhaps it was just a slip of the memory when Trump said that the NYSE did not close, when it did close, not just for a day, but for more than a week. Facts! Shmacks! Correlations are not causal. But they also may not be coincidental.

Was it a coincidence that Cesar Sayoc, the would-be pipe bomber, cozied up to his “Russian brothers” at the very time in 2015 that Trump was expressing a very favourable view of the Russians and insisting that they had not interfered in American elections? Did Bower’s claims that Jews were the children of Satan and his use of the code “1488” – 14 signifying a white supremacist slogan with 14 words and 88 the Nazi-symbol for Heil Hitler – have nothing to do with the Charlottesville racist demonstrations that Donald Trump minimized?

Correlations are not causes. The extraordinary rise in racist and antisemitic incidents have evidently nothing to do with the fact that Bowers explicitly cited HIAS, the American Jewish immigration society, for helping potential refugee claimants. “Why hello there HIAS! You like to bring in hostile invaders to dwell among us?…HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Just that weekend, on a shabat about welcoming strangers, the Tree of Life, etz or aitz chaim, Synagogue was celebrating the work of HIAS on behalf of refugees. When the Torah is put back in its place, Jewish congregations across the world sing, “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace. (Proverbs 3:17-18)”

Last November, a white supremacist anti-gay gunman killed 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Another racist gunman killed 26 worshippers in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in Texas. Three years ago, another with supremacist killer murdered nine African Americans in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. But the main enemies to be feared by Americans are Latino would-be Convention refugees. And Muslims. And…And… But never white supremacist antisemitic and racist right-wing Americans.

Jews are behind all the problems. Jews. Liberals. Globalists. Pluralists. Antisemitic incidents in 2017 in the U.S. rose by 57%.

However, Trump does not want to raise the importance of white supremacists by cancelling a rally or even insisting on two minutes of silence for the victims. After all, raising their importance might diminish his, and even associate their acts with his words. Donald Trump denounces such acts, condemns them as the work of deranged souls, and insists that something must be done to stop such hate crimes, but that something will have nothing to do with changing the language he uses, the objects of his attacks, the lies he tells, the degrading of others. “We need to apply the death penalty with greater speed.”

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing, what’s going on with hate in our country and frankly all over the world.” Donald Trump, you are correct. Are you even capable of stopping for just a moment, reflecting for just 30 seconds and asking yourself whether the hatred and anger you stir up, the false objects of your attacks, have anything to do with these mass murders? Of course not! Donald Trump ordered that the American flag be flown at half-staff until Wednesday, sunset, out of “respect” for the victims.

Do they not know, as Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch observed, that, “Words are like sparks to the gasoline of disturbed minds. These words can kill.” Trump at his rallies often goads people to unjust actions and even vigilante violence. But, of course, Trump could not be an inciter, an abetter, of racist murder in a country that worships in idolatry at the shrine of automatic rifles.

Antisemitic vitriol has exploded over the last two years. Neo-Nazis spout Hitler-era propaganda. Jews and Blacks and Mexicans are caricatured with hateful images. “George Soros” has become a name identified with being Jewish, being a liberal, being a globalist so it is no surprise that he was sent a pipe-bomb. As Alexandra Schwartz – I urge you to read her – wrote, “Anti-Semitism has burrowed into the American mainstream in a way not seen since the late nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, when it also fed easily with conservative isolationist fervor and racism.”

Nigel Savage, founder of Hazon, the Jewish lab for sustainability currently in Israel, wrote that, “The fault line now is not between Israelis and Palestinians, or Democrats and Republicans. It’s between those who strive to use language with honesty and empathy and a desire to make things better; and those who use language to inflame, incite, exaggerate and demonize. That is what our tree of life has taught us these two millennia – that language, and respectful discourse and truth are utterly central to being Jewish.”

Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy Part III: Fowling One’s Nest: Getting There and Governing

Bob Woodward (2018) Fear: Trump and the White House, New York: Simon & Schuster

It is not enough to have fear and anger as your basic emotional tropes governing both how you get elected and how you will govern. These basic appeals have to be applied in a way that makes the attraction effective. Before I move on to indicate how they were applied in individual cases of foreign policy, I want to offer the frame in which they were used. Below, I suggest four elements that set the frame that were used by Donald Trump, but only after indicating that Donald Trump ignored all standard advice on how to get elected in a democratic polity. These are the techniques he eschewed.

Donald Trump is a formidable campaigner. He is also a lousy governor. His political campaigning, whether for president or in the mid-terms, inverts and upends every bit of advice of the U.S. government-supported National Democratic Institute for International Development (NDI) in its National Campaign Planning Manual written by Brian O’Day. The Manual is subtitled, “A Step by Step Guide to Winning Elections.” If Trump had read it and followed its advice, he would certainly not have won the presidency.

NDI  

Trump and the Republicans

 

Establish, strengthen & advance democratic institutions

 

Undermine and weaken democratic institutions

 

Build political & civic organizations  

Take over a political non-civic organization

 

Establish best practices re democratic citizen participation  

Gerrymander and restrict voting access to maximize one party’s advantage

 

Deepen democracy  

Weaken democracy

 

Ensure an informed citizenry  

Use lies to misinform citizens

 

Encourage active individual participation  

Hold rallies to reinforce group think

 

Hold public officials accountable  

Do not publish your income taxes or disclose conflicts of interest

 

Enhance voter and civic education

 

Emphasize propaganda and the repetition of lies
Promote electoral integrity  

Deny Russian interference in the presidential vote

 

Establish codes of conduct  

Engage and even promote mis-conduct

 

Mitigate political conflict  

Enhance divisiveness

 

Ensure public access to information  

Deny, delay and obfuscate to prevent or, at least, inhibit, citizen access

 

Engage constructively with an opposition  

Label an opposition as traitors and enemies

 

Donald Trump certainly did not follow the NDI guideline. Instead he focused primarily on the following recipe:

  1. Personify fear
  2. Politicize intelligence
  3. Package sex
  4. Most surprising of all, promote pomposity.

The latter two may seem surprising, especially when applied to foreign policy and, in particular, making economic transactionalism the foundation for foreign policy in specific cases. However, let me deal with the first two that at least seem self-evident.

Trump’s main object of fear has been migrants, overwhelmingly from Mexico and Central America. In the presidential election, it was Mexicans.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” (15.06.2015 announcing his intention to seek the Republican nomination).

“I would build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Fear is married to economic advantage and packaged in a sphere in which Trump is believed to have some expertise. In the mid-term campaign in 2018, it is the turn of Central Americans. Trump has threatened to completely close the southern border to Central American asylum seekers even though, in accordance with American law, they have every right to seek convention refugee status in the U.S. Trump is considering an executive order under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that, “would suspend that provision and bar Central Americans as a matter of national security,” “contrary to the national interest” and “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” He threatened to send 1,000 troops to enforce the order even though American law prohibits the use of the military for such purposes.

Why the threat? Why the hyperbolic stimulation of a totally unwarranted fear? Because a caravan of 2,500 Central Americans is making its way up Mexico towards the American border! According to journalists who have interviewed participants, they could find no miscreants, let alone terrorists and criminals as claimed, among those en route. The contingent is largely made up of destitute families and their children. The caravan is 900 miles away when the threat of a ban on the basis of security was stated to be under consideration. Progress has been slow as could be expected of a group trudging by foot, though the band has been dwindling as it moves north, as was the case with the previous caravan. There are no circumstances under which, even if the caravan remains at full strength, it could be regarded as a security threat. Illegal crossing has decreased in recent years. Outright lies and hyperbole are used to manufacture and stimulate fear.

The lies get worse. Democrats have orchestrated the caravan, even though it is self-evident that it would be against any self-interest of Democrats to do so. Democrats want open borders – a demonstrably enormous lie. Democrats want more Latinos to add to their electoral base in the U.S. Perhaps. But otherwise, lie after lie after lie.

The migrants are a menace as were Muslims in a previous campaign. Xenophobia, demagoguery and lies are used to heighten fears and rally Trump’s base. As one op-ed put it, Trump’s latest exercise in fear-mongering has been the most shameless ever. Not satisfied with manufacturing the fear, not satisfied with pinning the source of the fear on Democrats, Trump personifies the alleged culprit. In the presidential campaign it was “crooked Hilary’ as Trump led his mob with shouts of “Lock her up.” In this campaign, Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, has become the prime target.

Targeting Warren began in June 2016 with, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be a Native in order to advance her career. Very racist!” The ante increased as Warren became Trump’s most trenchant critic for his migrant family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.

If Donald Trump manufactures and personifies fear, he also politicizes intelligence. Hence, his repeated attacks on the FBI, the CIA, and other sources of intelligence in the U.S. The fact-finding of the Mueller probe is dubbed a “witch hunt” in spite of the large number of indictments (32 individuals and 3 corporations); many were Trump associates, among whom five pleaded guilty. Hence, his attacks on the media of record in the U.S., the “failing” New York Times, The Washington Post depicted as an “expensive lobbyist” for online retailer Amazon (the Post is owned by Jeff Bezos who founded Amazon), with not a shred of evidence that the Post has supported reduced postal rates to benefit Amazon.

The media are “totally dishonest,” filled with “fake news” and Bob Woodward’s “fake book.” NBC News edits interviews with him to misrepresent what he says. Google online services and their allied tech oligarchs are all “dishonest, terrible people.” Trump tells the crowd, “When you get good ratings, you can say anything.” Yet, the media are decried as the “enemy of the people.”

When knowledge is degraded, when fear is manufactured and lifted up as a prime motive for policy, wannabe authoritarians like Trump can emerge as the sole arbiter of “truth,” especially in a time when many users of media occupy their own echo chamber and silos for news sources.

But why include in the above list the “packaging of sex”? Did Trump not say that he was sorry for the old Hollywood tape of his insisting he could grope women’s pussies with impunity? It was only “locker room” talk. Of course, that is its appeal. For locker room talk objectifies women. And a large majority of American men indulge in such locker room talk. While other candidates for various positions resigned when charges of sexual peccadilloes were aimed at them, Trump follows the Bill Clinton path, but in a far more vicious way, and denounces those who “tell on him” by, for example, dubbing adult-film star Stormy Daniels as “Horseface.” If women resist him, if women do not fall under his spell, or after they escape it, they are called fat, ugly or disgusting.

Sex packaging is intended to essentialize sex as a well-designed experience, not a real one. How does insulting women advance such a program? By dividing women into three categories: 1) those who are beautiful but inaccessible to ordinary mortal men – Melania Trump; 2) those who are repulsive to ordinary mortal men, and 3) those who are both desirable and accessible, but only if you have the power and position to take advantage of such women. The latter is the widespread fantasy that the packaging and commodification of sex addresses.

Bracket cognition and critical analysis. Promote fear and desire rooted deep in the human brain and in animal instincts. All of these seem to be reasonable claims, whether valid or not. Even package sex, an American pastime. But promoting pomposity? On first appearance, such a claim appears to have no validity whatsoever.

But ask yourself, why does Donald Trump include an unsmiling and wooden Mike Pence with his own version of neurotically-combed hair in the backdrop of a photo-op? Why does Donald Trump trot out the schlump, Rudy Giuliani, who, incidentally, suffers from verbal diarrhea, to defend him on “fake media’ and then, afterwards, degrades him as an apologetic wimp? (32-38) Why does Trump appoint a fat sycophant like Chris Christie to head his transition team and then take away his responsibilities and subsequently deny him a cabinet post? (32-37)

Pence is the most pompous with his ostentatious display of dignity in contrast to the foul-mothed and loose-lipped Donald Trump. If Trump’s speeches are down-to-earth, Pence’s are high-flown, but in a rigid compartmentalized evangelical frame. Pence may perhaps be pompous. But Giuliani pompous? Christie pompous? The latter two appear as anything but. However, if pomposity is understood as characterizing someone full of self-importance, a self-importance that they need to put on display, then both Giuliani and Christie display their own respective brands of pomposity.

Jeff Toobin in the 18 September issue of The New Yorker argued that Giuliani, as Trump’s brawling special counsel in the Mueller probe, was Trump’s clown with his seedy theatrics on display in his countless television appearances with his false or misleading claims. Giuliani, craving publicity, labels the prosecutors in the Mueller probe as “thugs.”  Nevertheless, Rudy has a very high regard for his own performances and combative bombastic style. He combines naked aggression and a thirst for attention, seeming to be a mirror of Donald Trump.

If Pence is a study in contrast that makes the Donald look good, the politically incorrect provocateur, Giuliani, is indeed a study in imitation, but also in a way that makes Donald Trump look good. As Donald stands tall, Rudy slumps. Trump holds his chin high. Rudy’s disappears into his thickening neck. Trump hides his expanding girth in his tailored suits; Rudy’s expanding girth is on full display.

If Pence is an example of constrained and disciplined pomposity and Giuliani an example of unrestrained and undisciplined pomposity, Chris Christie is the shabby sycophant without any backbone. When Trump had dropped in his ratings following the release of the Hollywood tapes, Christie advised dropping out, for the sake of his brand, for the sake of his children. Trump ignored the advice, accepted Bannon’s and said, “Fuck ‘em!”

Pence had distanced himself from the pussy remarks. Giuliani had squirmed but went out to battle. Christie folded. All in different ways were pompous men. But Donald Trump had what they did not have. He wolfed down hotdogs. He did not, like Giuliani, smoke $40 stogies. Lust after women, certainly, but never cringe in the face of an attack. Battle back. Not only was his base fed with fear, but taught to love him, not in spite of his foibles, but because of them. Trump may have had gold-plated toilets, but, in the end, he was a regular guy. Surrounding himself with pompous fools only made him look better to those that counted.

In his swashbuckling tale of intrigue and betrayal, Trump as d’Artagnan needed his own Athos, Porthos and Aramis, his own three Mouseketeers, to make himself appear as a man of unsurpassed guts with an embarrassing sense of his own high intelligence and certainly with the greatest political skill set, though he was the outsider compared to these three polished politicians. Foils have a role. Foils closest to you have the most important role. They can make even a fool look good.

Trump, the supreme paranoid narcissist, had to appear as if he could beat Steve Bannon and John Bolton, both far more intelligent than he was and is, at the fear-mongering game, beat James Clapper and James Comey at the intelligence game, and John Dowd and General Joseph Dunford at the defense game, whether in the legal or military field.

The frame and packaging were then applied to particular foreign policy issues.

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

To be continued.

Parashat VaYera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24)

Is there any weekly portion of the Torah that is packed as much as this section? Perhaps the Garden of Eden story in Bereishit. However, look at all the memorable tales crowded into this single portion:

  • God’s appearance to Abraham
  • The visiting strangers
  • The promise of a late life birth
  • Sarah’s laugh
  • Sarah’s redemption
  • Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Lot and his wife
  • Ishmael, his birth and expulsion with his mother
  • The most famous part of all, the Akeidu, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac

I am going to focus only on the first three topics, God’s appearance to Abraham, the visiting strangers and the promise of a late-life child for Abraham and Sarah. They are covered in the first three verses of the parasha.

The scene opens with Abraham resting and sunning himself at the entrance of his tent. He had pitched his tent on the plains of Mamre. Perhaps he is grimacing. He has just circumcised himself. Presumably, he is in terrible pain. The day was very hot. Suddenly God appears.

If the parasha is crowded with stories, what about this opening verse which offers the setting for the story? The reference to Mamre occurs elsewhere in Genesis.

  • Genesis 13:18 – near Hebron where Abraham pitched his tent and built an altar
  • Genesis 14:13 – an escapee arrived, an Amorite, a tribe allied with Abraham
  • Genesis 23:17 – a description of the Cave of Machpelah before Mamre
  • Chapter 23:19 – Abraham buried Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah
  • Chapter 25:9 – Isaac and Ishmael buried their father in the Cave of Machpelah
  • Genesis 35:27 – where Jacob came before his father, Isaac
  • Genesis 49:30 – the Cave of Machpelah purchased by Abraham for a burial place
  • Genesis 50:13 – where Jacob’s sons buried him

Mamre is a holy site, a place of refuge and located near an even more famous Cave of Machpelah, the burial site of Sarah and the forefathers of the Israelites. It is no surprise that God appears to Abraham at that place. What is surprising is what happens next.

2 And he [Abraham] lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground. (my italics)

Look at the surprises.

Abraham takes no notice of God. Did he not see Him? Did he ignore God? Or was Abraham simply distracted by the three men suddenly standing beside him? And why does the verse say twice that Abraham “saw” them? Further, if they were standing beside him, why did Abraham have to get up and run towards them? If Abraham was in great pain from circumcising himself, how could he get up so quickly? How could he run? Then there is the real kicker; God appeared and Abraham did not even seem to notice. Instead, three strange men appear, and Abraham prostrates himself. He bows down before them. What in the world is going on?

The puzzles continue.

3 And he said, “My lords, if only I have found favour in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant.”

Abraham addresses them as “my lords.” Is this an appellation of respect? Or were they dressed to the nines like royalty? Why does Abraham make the conditional request, “if only I have found favour in your eyes?” Was that an expression of customary respect or did the query have a deeper meaning? And why not just say if you find favour in me or favour me? Why the addition of “in your eyes”? And what about the request not to pass on or pass by?

The puzzles continue.

4 Please let a little water be taken, and bathe your feet, and recline under the tree.

5 And I will take a morsel of bread, and sustain your hearts; after[wards] you shall pass on, because you have passed by your servant.” And they said, “So shall you do, as you have spoken.”

Abraham offers them water, offers to bathe their feet and invites them to recline under a tree. He then promises them bread, not to fill their stomachs but to sustain their hearts. Only after he has carried out all four of these mitzvah, does Abraham say then, and only then shall they pass on. Then and only then, should they pass by. Once again there is the shift from passing on to passing by.

The Lords instruct Abraham to do as he offered. But Abraham immediately does far more. Scene 2 takes place inside the tent and outside in the animal pen before Abraham returns to them and offers them food to eat. Perhaps the offer of bread was just a euphemism for offering to feed them.

6 And Abraham hastened to the tent to Sarah, and he said, “Hasten three seahs of meal [and] fine flour; knead and make cakes.”

7 And to the cattle did Abraham run, and he took a calf, tender and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hastened to prepare it.

8 And he took cream and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and he placed [them] before them [there were no laws of kashrut at the time], and he was standing over them under the tree, and they ate.

Had Abraham already given them water to drink and bathed their feet? Had he then gone into the tent when they reclined and rested under the tree? Is this presumed?

Then the third and climactic scene of Act 1 of the parasha.

9 And they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold in the tent.”

10 And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold, your wife Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah heard from the entrance of the tent, and it was behind him.

By now it has become really creepy. Still no notice has been given to God. What about giving God your undivided and uninterrupted attention? The Lords eat and ask after Abraham’s wife and do so by name? How did they know he had a wife? The woman cooking could have been a maidservant. How did they know her name? And if they knew the woman cooking was his wife and named Sarah, why did they ask where she was? Then the most surprising turn of events. Up until then, all three of the lords spoke as one. Now it is “he said” and not “they.” The “I”, not the “we” promises to return at the same time next year and promises that Sarah will have a son. Not a daughter, but a son. Does it mean she will give birth during the next twelve months or in nine months; on the anniversary she will already have had a son?

Let me try to clear up some of the puzzles. When Abraham notices the three strangers, they do not intimidate him; he does not act in fear. He does not seem to regard the world as a dark and evil place with danger lurking behind every corner. The very opposite. He not only shows his respect, but demonstrates that he honours these strangers. This goes beyond the call of duty in treating strangers. Are these three strangers not ordinary men but angels disguised as humans? If so, Abraham seems to see through the disguise.

Whether they are angels whom Abraham recognizes as such could clear up some puzzles, but what about another, Abraham’s ignoring God. One answer rabbis offer is that Abraham does not ignore God. Abraham sees that there are two angels and the third figure, is God. And Abraham even sees through that disguise. In verse 9, God comes out as a singular to promise that Sarah will have a baby son. Well before then, Abraham saw through the game, but went along with it nonetheless just as he would later go along with the commandment to sacrifice his son.

As many or even most rabbis interpret the message of the text, it is a lesson about how to treat strangers. You should not regard them as threats. They may turn out to be monsters, but they should initially be given the same respect and honour with which you would welcome God. For the stranger is thirsty. The stranger has sore feet. The stranger is tired. God does not suffer from any of these problems.

Further, some suggest that this was an act of reciprocity. God appeared to Abraham when he was in pain and ailing. Abraham, even when in pain, must pay forward and do what he can for the strangers. God acts with loving kindness and so must Abraham. The three strangers are not the advance guard of an allegedly threatening caravan travelling up the spine of Mexico. Taking care of their needs is how we honour God, how we express empathy and not fear. God expects kindness from those who would be human.

Hence the reference to feeding the heart. Hence the repetition of “to see” in the sense of seeing what first appears and then seeing and understanding the message beneath the appearance. This is what it means to know God in all His ways and in all His guises.

This interpretation clears up many of the other more minor puzzles. The strangers or angels or God plus two angels stand beside Abraham but also at some distance. They are beside Abraham and are there to support his gracious offering. They are distant from Abraham because he must exert energy and effort to reach out to them. As guides, they are near. As recipients, they are distant.

When it comes to the dual phrases “passing on” and “going by,” the latter is a reference to what happens in space. Strangers pass one another in the night. But strangers may “pass on” in time. The phrase we now use is “passing forward.” We give so the other may also give. In that way, we perform a double mitzvot. By acting with loving kindness we pass on the value of loving kindness. We become witnesses to the joy of giving.

Finally, though Abraham appears to ignore God, when he says “if I find favour in your sight,” we have a clear indication that the narrative, both here and in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, and contrary to Sőren Kierkegaard, is not about whether Abraham has faith in God but about whether God has faith in Abraham. God is testing the waters to see whether Abraham is a man worthy of setting a standard for all of mankind. If God finds favour in Abraham, if God sees in the double sense of noticing what appears before Him and, second, understanding its deeper meaning, He will perform a miracle and allow Sarah in her old age to become pregnant.

Pregnant with whom? Another forefather who will have to demonstrate that he too is the embodiment of loving kindness, the embodiment of empathy, for how else can these patriarchs give birth to a nation that, in its heart, must give witness to a people that will be the embodiment of empathy, the embodiment of loving kindness.

Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy Part II: Anger: The Connecting Paste Between Objective and Subjective Fear The Oreo of Trump’s Political Appeal

Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy

Bob Woodward (2018) Fear: Trump and the White House, New York: Simon & Schuster

I received an interesting response to my blog on falcons. It read:

Hope you are having fun with the kids and stuffing your face with gourmet food. I assume the Vancouver earthquake was far enough for your family to feel it, and so you are safe and sound and not even a hair got ruffled on your head.

I was thinking about your fascinating Raptor story: Currently I am dealing with some German mothers whose mothers-in-law, like many other people from that generation, torment the 30-something mothers with being Rabenmutter (Raven mother – a typical slur against mothers around here – never against fathers…) for daring to bring their little children into a nursery or a daycare, instead of being with the kids 24/7. So, we were talking about early and gradual exposure to society outside the home with the unconditionally loving parents, so the kids can get slowly used to strange other people who do not always love them the way their parents do: the predator kids (and adults), bullies, self-centered monsters, who take away their toys, call them names, and make fun of them, etc. A child who lived in total isolation from birth to age 5/6 and then is thrown cold turkey into the real society of kindergarten or grade 1, might have some problems accepting that he is not the apple of the eye of everyone, so maybe it is better to let them experience the real human society and some of its predatory actions bit by bit.

From there we moved to your Raptor story and were asking ourselves, why it is that traditional children’s stories contain only cute, furry, adorable animals that tend to act in a saintly manner, better than any normal human ever would. This is children’s first encounter with fake news, I’d say. In reality, there are a lot of scary, ugly, angry ‘big birds’ that feast on dead bodies…as you told us. So why cannot we have some balance and tell stories to children both about bad and good people so they are prepared (age-appropriately) to deal with both…? From the saintly unicorns we then abruptly switch to violent computer games…How can a child remain sane with that arrangement of tales? How can he be prepared to take on society with its trumps and MBS’s and other jerks? What do your grandchildren’s parents think about all this?  Maybe on a farm it is easier when they deal with actual animals, not just anthropomorphic creatures…And how does one explain god’s incredible unfairness prone to devastating revenge to a 4-year-old in the shul? You cannot put a candy on god to make him sweeter for learning.

Perhaps I can make a stab at answering the question by dealing with the relationship of fear and anger. Small animals fear larger predators. That is natural. When those predator birds flew rights over us, I crouched in fear, considerably modified because I trusted that the experts on birds of prey would never intentionally put us in harm’s way. An emotion like fear generally originates from observing a threatening external stimulus, as when we see a predator approach, a reaction linked deep down in the brain to the limbic system. But why do we fear some objects and events when virtually all the cognitive information indicates we have no need to be fearful? Why is there such a cognitive dissonance between the evidence and the emotion aroused?

Let me begin by discussing anger rather than fear. Of the three paired emotions evidently in all of us, including many animals, fear and anger, rather than disgust and surprise or happiness and sadness, is arguably the most basic duality. My claim is that mean politics, Trumpian politics, works like an Oreo cookie. Anger is not red hot, but serves as the white cream in the middle that allows fear of false sources to be linked to our inner fears. And the greatest inner fear is not of biological death, of existential death, but of death of one’s identity, of phenomenological death.

This, I believe, may explain why resourcefulness yields to helplessness and optimism yields to pessimism instead of fight or flight in response to a real objective fear. For these responses are indicators of phenomenological rather than existential fears. The relationship of the stimulus and the response is not given but constructed. Neither we, nor animals, behave simply as Pavlovian dogs. If an objective source is used to stimulate fear, it only can do so if it connects with an inner wiring. Though it is alleged that an external situation arouses fear, it can only work if there is a connection between an outer and an inner state. When the outer state is in actuality a fiction, I suggest the inner fear is one of identity loss rather than the loss of one’s life or fear of harm to oneself.

Cognitive dissonance results when the objective situation is totally out of synch with how it is perceived. It is unclear whether a cognitive bias should be regarded as the product of such a discrepancy or its cause. I believe it is the latter. Situations are depicted in an illogical fashion when individuals and groups create a subjective social reality from the perception of the external world. But it is not the external world that leads to the distortion, but the inner wiring and a bad connection.

A person whom I know very well, but shall remain unmentioned, resorts to verbal road rage if another driver behaves dangerously, such as cutting off another driver. There is the apprehension of fear and real fear. The latter easily leads to intense rage. The former leads to a performance – such as cursing the other driver who cannot even hear what is said. If the rage is justified by externalities, the trepidation is connected to the fear as if the wiring was rooted in a solid-state system rather than a hard drive – it takes place almost immediately. However, when the external danger is not very great and when it has already passed, the anger is a performance. It is not instantaneous. It is cultivated and practiced. The anger is a cover-up to an even more serious threat to one’s ego or sense of identity and not just one’s existence. It is not just our personal safety that is at stake, but who we are rather than that we are.

This secondary rather than primary anger masks or disguises what we really fear. As a cover-up, there is no unconscious let alone conscious evaluation of the event or situation to ascertain whether the response accords with the stimulus. Further, against the very self-interest of the individual, that constructed emotion, which will glue together the alleged object stimulating the rage and the inner fear of identity loss, is given a higher urgency than any real threat; it competes with and even interrupts and suppresses the perception of a real threat. The facial expressions, the verbal articulations and the behavioural responses imitate real ones produced in the face of real frightening situations, but they are produced by acting, by a performance art rather than as an authentic expression of who we are and what we experience. The behaviour is cultivated.

How can we tell? What is the clue that allows us to differentiate between this cultivated emotion used to cover-up a deep-seated fear and genuine anger aimed at countering a real threat? The absence of empathy, that emotion that links humans and whales, elephants and great apes, and ravens such as magpies. In that absence, it is not the pain or death of the other, but the anticipated pain and death of the self that is the focus. Often, as in a verbal performance of road rage, the acting is innocent and without effect on another or oneself. It is simply an acting out. However, in the political arena, the absence of empathy and acting out in anger can be the greatest danger to a humane society, especially when it plays off an alleged danger to self.

Anger in response to a danger to oneself and those close to you is natural when much empathy is expressed towards those familiar to us rather than those who are more distant and even unfamiliar. It is not natural to express complete indifference or even disdain for the suffering of others; that has to be cultivated. On the other hand, if someone has really made you angry, those with greater empathy will remember the source for a considerable period. Real and justified anger is deeply felt, especially in those with a great range of empathy. As the attendant at the Raptor show told me, and ravens are very empathetic birds, if you annoy the raven, it will remember your face and exact revenge even years later. Not only that, the bird can communicate and inform other birds in his flock about the culprit. Other crows can then identify the dangerous one. In other words, don’t mess with crows. Retribution may be meted out years later. More immediately, ravens may constitute a mob and dive down at you in successive flights that miss you only be a few feet.

However, when humans form a mob and act out in performative anger, they do not produce the degree of serotonin and testosterone produced by anger stimulated by a genuine external cause. Further, the spindle neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex, the frontoinsular cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are not activated nearly to the same degree as when stimulated in situations in which genuine fear is the appropriate response.

Ishaan Tharoor, who writes on foreign policy for The Washington Post, in an op-ed this past Friday wrote that, “Jair Bolsonaro is the clear favorite to become Brazil’s next president. Polls place the far-right candidate comfortably in front of his challenger, Fernando Haddad, ahead of their Oct. 28 run-off vote. Stirred by a government corruption scandal and rising crime rates, voters are so angry (my italics) that most of them are willing to look past Bolsonaro’s record of homophobia, misogyny, racism and apologia for dictatorship — those voters, at least, who weren’t already enticed by Bolsonaro’s ultranationalist agenda.”

Anger in such situations is just the vanilla cream paste between the head of a two-sided coin of performative fear, but where the underlying face, the tail, so to speak, is fear, but fear of subjective dislocation and an identity threat rather than an existential threat. When you feel impotent, that use of anger lets you feel in control. Anger may be the acting-out of fear when society is experiencing an intolerable level of anxiety. Anger protects the individual from feeling his or her fear. Anger, then, is not primary, but secondary to fear, but usually of manufactured fear. Anger is a reactive expression of fear, but in this case of cognitive dissonance, a fear in which there is an enormous discrepancy between the supposed stimulus of the fear and the response. When that anger becomes a far more potent rage at a threat to one’s self worth or a society’s status in the international arena, the world is at great risk.

Thus, there is a connection between a domestic political regime dependent on anger and an international regime where fear becomes predominant. Further, there is even a more intimate connection when a domestic politics of fear is enhanced because of the threat of losing one’s economic and social status and when an international regime emerges based primarily on economic threats and fears. The brilliance of Bob Woodward’s book is that he connects the two scenarios. He connects the dots.

In other words, a feeling of helplessness or impotence becomes anger and then even rage which is transformed into the energy of resistance. But at the base is fear, fear of the implications of that impotence, fear at the loss of sense of who we are and of ourselves as in control. In that profound sense, Bob Woodward, not overtly, but in the very succession of the dramatic replays of situations he depicts in his docudrama in the form of a work of political analysis, gets at the heart of what connects the mistreatment of women and the anger behind it, the fear behind that of a loss of economic and social security and status, into projecting that anger onto the international stage to arouse the economic fears of other states and other nations.

Trump funneled popular anger to both construct and disarm, denigrate and intimidate real and imagined enemies, for, in the end, everyone but family was a potential enemy – including friends and allies. For if not tied by blood, those friends can turn on you – and they did. Hence the deep need and the result – imagining omnipotence, invulnerability and invincibility. Hence the connection between emotional detachment in intimate relations and the huge weight placed on the attachment to blood relations, to relations acquired through marriage as I depicted in portraits of gang culture.

Anger is then used to disengage, to deny interdependence and reassert an imaginary and solitary independence, independence as power, independence in being great, independence in being great again. The latter is merely an unself-conscious confessional form of expressing the myth, the all-powerful myth, that you are made in the image of a god and that you must act to regain that lost self-confidence of this mythical self, a mythical self that disguises and re-channels the fear and loathing into anger and even rage. The question is not only about the fear, but about how anger is used both to disguise and enable that fear to define international politics primarily in terms of self-protection. Trump is a hot-head, Trump is irascible, Trump is unpredictable, but it is always to cover his fear that he will be caught out as an interloper, as a fraud. The anger is a cover for that fear that needs to be projected outwards by stirring up fears in others.

About forty years ago, I read an article in Foreign Affairs (then I was a regular subscriber so I can date my memory approximately), that described the corruption of foreign policy when it was energized by domestic anger promoted by underlying feelings of reduced social status and fears of decline. In that analysis, this was the main trope that ran through American foreign relations. Trump is merely the most acute, the most astute agent, who has risen to the political pinnacle and expression of this fear of impotence, expressed in the politics of anger and resentment in foreign policy.

To be continued.

Implementing Economic Transactionalism in Foreign Policy Part I: Fear

Bob Woodward (2018) Fear: Trump and the White House, New York: Simon & Schuster

On the back cover of his latest tome, Bob Woodward quotes candidate Donald Trump: “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — fear.” In a very important article in The Atlantic (2 September 2016), Molly Ball, a Time magazine correspondent, wrote a very important and informative article entitled, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear.” Ball wrote this when Trump’s candidacy was at its lowest ebb in August of 2016, when Trump’s poll numbers were so bad that a desperate Trump in mid-August brought a totally inexperienced and not yet widely known far-right populist pundit, Steve Bannon, on board to run his campaign. Paul Manafort was dumped. Kelly-Anne Conway, another neophyte in campaigning, joined Bannon to bring into the equation her polling knowledge and her sensitivity to voter desires and fears. (See Chapter 2)

The above changes to the campaign took place at a time when, as Woodward writes, Time writers were describing Trump as “bewildered, exhausted, sullen gaffe prone and in trouble with donors.” (8-9) The last two depicters were objectively accurate; the first three subjective descriptors were only partially true of Trump’s emotional state. Bewildered, exhausted, sullen? Except in comparison to Bannon, Trump was the epitome of certainty, even the certainty that he was going to lose. Further, Trump exhibited more energy than all his minions. And rather than sullen, he was enraged, enraged at his staff and at the campaign situation in which he found himself. Two-and-a-half months before the election, Trump was running as much as 20 points behind Hilary Clinton. Even the Republican National Committee chaired by Reince Priebus seemed to be about to jettison their organizational and economic support for the president.

Except for his deep-seated passion to win, to win at all costs and at any cost. Donald Trump is a fatalist, a Marcus Aurelius in the making. What position does he hold? “It doesn’t matter.” What are the risks of open diplomacy with the leader of the very repressive North Korean regime? “It doesn’t matter.” Did he regret saying he could do anything to women as a TV star, even grasp them by the pussy? To a small extent – only because it might throw his chase for victory off course for the moment. But, in the end, Donald Trump is a stoic. “It doesn’t matter. Shit happens.” “We’ll see.”

The result: Donald Trump is fearless. He can play on fear but not really experience it. Not for Trump, “to strive, to fight, to overcome, to succeed.” Rather, to strive and fight and ignore whether you will win or lose, for that is the magic formula for winning, for destroying your opponent and emerging victorious, for taking in stride financial, psychological, political and personal setbacks. Trump, in the end, just doesn’t give a damn. Trump is a mystic who deep down believes that it will all work out to his advantage. Though very gaff prone and time and again facing desertion by his most loyal associates, never mind the Republican National Committee, though he will become enraged, he does not wallow in despair. And he has a deep-seated well of energy that makes him relatively inexhaustible.

Because he is ultimately so fearless himself, he can use fear to manipulate others. He has no inhibitions. No one can get to him like he can get to them. Though campaigning to becoming the Republican candidate was founded on fear. Trump, now reinforced by Steve and Kelly-Anne, successfully turned his campaign around by throwing overboard the ballast of presidential respectability and instead once again restored fear as the foundation of the campaign. On the basis of appealing to fear, to cultural fears, to economic fears, Trump won the presidency.

He was right. We would see what we all along failed to see. We’ll see what happens. We will see what happens in the Khashoggi affair as Trump twists and turns inside out. We’ll see what happens as the caravan of Central Americans moves north through Mexico. For, as Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker and Josh Dawsey reported for The Washington Post this morning (22 October 2018), “President Trump has settled on a strategy of fear — laced with falsehoods and racially tinged rhetoric — to help lift his party to victory in the coming midterms, part of a broader effort to energize Republican voters with two weeks left until the Nov. 6 elections.”

Trump’s messaging — on display in his regular campaign rallies, tweets and press statements — largely avoids much talk of his achievements and instead offers an apocalyptic vision of the country, which he warns will only get worse if Democrats retake control of Congress. The president has been especially focused in recent days on a caravan of about 5,000 migrants traveling north to cross the U.S. border, a group he has darkly characterized as gang members, violent criminals and “unknown Middle Easterner” — a claim for which his administration has so far no concrete evidence.

For we who fear Trump, it is crucial that we see and understand what is happening and what happened in the past.

Trump stoked the fears of others. As Bannon summed it up when he presented the radically revised thrust of the presidential campaign in August 2016: “Number one, we’re going to stop mass illegal immigration and start to limit legal immigration to get our sovereignty back. Number two, you are going to bring manufacturing jobs back to the country. And number three, we’re going to get out of these pointless foreign wars.” (15) Fear of foreigners, fear of financial ruin and fear of the furies of war all combined to energize the Trump campaign.

On the surface level, Ball was correct and prescient. “Fear pervades Americans’ lives—and American politics. Trump is a master of fear, invoking it in concrete and abstract ways, summoning and validating it…And if Trump still stands a chance to win in November, fear could be the key.” And it could work again in November 2018 as it did in 2016.

Certainly, this was the case in the race for the Republican nomination. Serendipity helped. Terror attacks in Paris in November and in San Bernadino in December were used to reinforce his mantra that Muslims were scary. In the aftermath of the attacks, Trump’s polling rose seven points. (See Shana Gadarian, “The Politics of Threat: How Terrorism News Shapes Foreign Policy Attitudes”)

What is the source of those fears? The outer situation? Trump said that real power is fear. But fear of what? Fear, in no uncertain words, of the wrath of God or of your teacher or your parent bringing his or her rage as an authority figure down on your forehead? Or is it fear of physical blows – a slap across the head – or military might in which the prospect of missiles, especially ones with hydrogen warheads, raining on your head terrifies you? Or is it fear of economic ruin and the corresponding loss of status – of effectively being reduced to a homeless panhandler on the street, in the cases covered in this blog, the boulevard of international relations? Or is it a combination of two or three of the above, or, God forbid, apocalyptic destruction, such as the havoc expected if climate change is not brought under control, an apocalyptic possibility buried under an apocalyptic vision of what will happen if 5,000 Central Americans marching through Mexico eventually reach the U.S. border?drock fear of stasis, an individual’s stall or even fall in income and a corresponding decline in status. These economic fears are not only shared by a vast swath of Democrats, but so are military fears of increased involvement in foreign wars. What distinguishes Trump’s base is its cultural fears. No leader in America has spread and heightened these fears to the degree and with such repetition and emphasis as Trump. For the sociologist, Barry Glassner (The Culture of Fear), Trump is the greatest master in this satanic art.

Is the source of fear objective circumstances or an inner state of mind and heart that frames the world out there to reinforce one’s inner fears? Trump supporters disproportionately fear external violence – crime and terror allegedly enhanced by immigrants, particularly Muslims. Contrary to many claims, Trumps supporters are no more anxious about the economy than Democrats, though the source of their cultural fear focuses on foreigners. Unlike Democrats, the source of their economic fear focuses on foreign states rather than foreign people.

Cultural fears rest on a bedrock fear of change. Economic fears rest on a bedrock fear of stasis, an individual’s stall or even fall in income and a corresponding decline in status. These economic fears are not only shared by a vast swath of Democrats, but so are military fears of increased involvement in foreign wars. What distinguishes Trump’s base is its cultural fears. No leader in America has spread and heightened these fears to the degree and with such repetition and emphasis as Trump. For the sociologist, Barry Glassner (The Culture of Fear), Trump is the greatest master in this satanic art.

Two-thirds of Americans, a significantly higher percentage of Republicans than Americans in general (65:50 on crime, and 75:63 on terror), fear rising crime and terrorism respectively, roughly double the percentage that used to have such fears fifteen years ago. A remarkable body of evidence, however, all reinforce the reality that such fears are unjustified. Nevertheless, those running Trump’s past campaigns and his current one, and, more importantly, Trump himself, pinned the source of that fear, first on migrants and foreigners, and behind that, the Democrats who were the source of that alleged crime and terror for they supported immigration and immigrants. Trump woke up the fear of pain, the fear of uncertainty in those who would become his Kell followers.

Why? Because Trump promised them: “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.” “I will protect you.”

But from what? Though a majority of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, though a significantly higher percentage among Republicans, believe that the crime rate is higher than ever before and so is the threat of a terrorist attack. The reality is the opposite. Crime is at its lowest level in fifteen years. Since 9/11, far more terror attacks come from the American right than foreign Muslims. The source of the fear is not what exists in the objective world. It resides in your fundamental basic emotional state. Conservatives are more fearful than liberals, specifically from believed cultural threats. They want more certainty in their lives. They fear ambiguity. They fear nuance. They fear a loss of control. Trump promises the restoration of order in the face of alleged chaos and of control in a world experienced as out-of-control.

Immigrants are invading. Trump stirs up fears as a caravan of future refugee claimants from Central America cross into and wend their way up the length of Mexico. The fact that as many as there are in the caravan – perhaps as many as 5,000 – and despite past experience that most will not reach the border with the U.S. to make a claim, despite the fact that on any two days running, more migrants than are in that caravan arrive at the Mexican-American border every two days to make a claim, despite the fact that Trump’s deploying 6,000 National Guardsman to the Mexican border has not made an iota of difference and sending army troops as threatened would be even more useless, despite the fact that his open aggression against Central American children by separating them from their immigrant families did not deter as intended and, in fact, more not fewer families arrived, the appeal to those fears remains central to the Trump appeal.

Chief of Staff John Kelly may get into a verbal shouting match with Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who was supported by Stephen Miller, the young greybeard White House aide behind Trump’s anti-immigrant stance and rhetoric, and even walk out in a rage at the gross discrepancy between the alleged basis of the fears of immigrants and actual reality, Trump himself remained unmoved. He denounced Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s suggestion that UNHCR be invited to process asylum claimants in Mexico.

Trump ignored advice from his own State Department that what was needed was increased aid to those Central American countries. The numbers of families and children that arrived at America’s southern border is the highest since 2014. Trump’s response? Cut off foreign aid to the Central American countries from which the refugee asylum claimants are coming.

The reproduction rate in the U.S. has dropped dramatically among almost all ethnic groups and economic sectors. America is entering the future with fewer and fewer workers to support an increasingly aged population. American women marry later to pursue education, careers and pleasure. The inadequacy of social benefits for pregnant women (parental pay and leave for pregnant women) in the U.S. does not help. This long-term prediction concerning the effects of falling fertility rates – from 2.15 on average ten years ago (barely sufficient for a population to maintain itself) to about 1.75– should be a real source of fear, of economic fear. Trump is a political performance artist creating a totally fictional world even though the reality is that America now needs more immigrants than ever before as pregnancy rates have dropped significantly below that needed to maintain a country’s population levels. Trump knew what worked politically in 2016. In 2018, he claims again to know what is needed to bring out his base to the polls in the midterm election. Facts! Shmacks!

The reality is that President Trump is a bumbler and serial liar, but he is also a political performance artist. Like many other real artists, Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso, Trump is walleyed, but in the political rather than creative sphere. He has political strabismus. One eye sees the world as 2-dimensional. There is fear and there are objects that arouse fear. This may not be the world as it really is, but it is a world that can be represented easily on a 2-D canvas.

On the other hand, the other eye sees the world in 3-D, detached and with a cold and acute eye indifferent to any emotional distractions. He is a political performance artist because, in the interplay of his 2-D and his 3-D vision, he can both see the world with a clarity and perspective most lack who have 3-D vision in both eyes. The latter recognize subtlety and ambiguity. Trump creates a 2-D world of fear based on his insight into the reality of the 3-D world he views. He sees clearer because that eyesight is unencumbered by facts and analyses, in comparison to the 2-D world he favours. Trump suffers from an acute case of exotopia and favours the vision of his 2-D eye.

The combination of 3-D acute vision in one eye and 2-D vision in the other eye that he greatly favours makes him a formidable political opponent and an objective source of real fear. When 2-dimensional portraits are favoured over 3-D in the political world, however helpful they can be in the artistic one, we should be fearful.

Several readers of my first draft asked me to explain the analogy and one challenged my use of the term “artist” to characterize Donald Trump. I will elaborate and clarify.

I distinguish between a political performance artist and a creative one. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a creative performance artist. On Sunday, she was presented with the Mark Twain Prize for lifetime achievement in comedy. She had previously earned six consecutive Emmy Awards for her roles as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld and as Vice-President Selina Meyer on Veep. I would contend that Louis-Dreyfus is a creative performance artist, often about politics, while Trump is a political performance artist who turns politics into farce.

Like Donald Trump, I suggest that she possesses 3-D acute vision in one eye and 2-D vision in the other eye. Unlike Donald Trump who converts a 3-D image into a 2-D one to create a totally fictional world, Louis-Dreyfus inverts that process and takes 2-D characters in the real world and develops 3-D characters on stage or on the TV screen. Instead of relying on repetition of the same theme to exhort laughs, she possesses comic precision and variation. The character she creates may be selfish and petty. The Donald is self-centred and petty. While she has a deep sense of irony and a brilliant ability to be sarcastic, Trump has no sense of irony whatsoever. While Louis-Dreyfus uses her wit without any intention to hurt anyone’s feelings, Trump intentionally does the opposite. He is a bully.

If Louis-Dreyfus can be described as acerbic, Donald Trump’s comments are usually acrid. If Louis-Dreyfus insights are dead-on, Trump’s are wide off the mark and gets laughs through hyperbole only. Louis-Dreyfus’ wit can be both scalding and scathing, but the target of her jokes is immediately a character she creates or even her own self or the folly of others. Trump always and only targets others, not to expose vices but to use irrelevant characteristics to suffocate virtues.

Trump’s comments are sadistic rather than cutting and mordant. His caustic commentary corrodes the social landscape. Her sharp-tongued jokes on the follies and foibles of humans enhance and enrich society. Trump’s remarks are mean and defamatory; hers are gentle and aim at raising our consciousness. They are not demeaning, derisive or divisive and intended to abuse and offend.

At one of his never-ending rallies, Trump performed to a crowd that laughed and clapped in approval as the Donald mocked Dr. Christine Blasé Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“I had one beer. Well, do you think it was — nope, it was one beer. How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs — where was it? I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.” When critically questioned by reporters about someone whom he said appeared very credible in her testimony when she described the attempted rape, Trump responded, “It doesn’t matter. We won.”

While Trump derided and denounced Dr. Christine Blasey Ford for not remembering how she got home from an attempted rape, Julia Louis—Dreyfus, who attended the same Maryland college prep school as Blasey Ford, the elite Holton-Arms School, Louis-Dreyfus recalled her high school performance in a play called Serendipity. “I can remember every single aspect of that play that night so much so that I would testify under oath about it. But I cannot remember who drove me there or who drove me home.”

Her comments on the Kavanaugh Senate hearings were barbed; Trump tried to wallop Blasey Ford with a spiked club, the simplest and most primitive of weapons intended to bludgeon rather than enlighten the target or anyone else.

Trump’s comments are rooted in bitter acrimony and insecurity; Louis-Dreyfus is the embodiment of compassion even for the most flawed and foul-mouthed characters she plays. Whereas she is good-natured and good-humoured in her sarcasm, Trump is bilious and totally indifferent to whom he hurts.  His derision and taunting are intended to inflict pain and not relieve it through a comic art.

Donald Trump and Julia Louis-Dreyfus may both be walleyed and suffer from strabismus, but Trump converts politics into farce and the 3-D real world into a 2-D caricature. Louis-Dreyfus inverts the process and takes a real world reduced to two dimensions and re-presents it with creativity and acute timing and insight to convert it into a 3-D representation so that one can understand that our world has been diminished.

The differences are best observed when you watch Trump and Louis-Dreyfus satirizing the President as Selina.

Donald Trump Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Selina Meyer)
   
Contempt for democracy and voters Ditto
Politics as response to crises Ditto
Rotating appointments Ditto
Dissing of members of one’s own administration Ditto
Government only a venue for advancing personal positions & enrichment Ditto
Barging into something without thinking or reflection Ditto
Saying something totally inappropriate Ditto
Screwing up and then boasting of success Ditto
Lying and contradicting a previous claim Ditto
Incompetent, disloyal and competing aides Ditto
Venomous abuse Ditto
Restless, bored and impatient Ditto
Brazen lies, whether about trivia or issues of world importance Ditto
Shouting matches Ditto
Aides insulting each other to the press Ditto
Announces cancellation of trade deal before the press in the oval office but forgets to sign the document Ditto
Frozen faces of aides and Republicans always in the background of Trump’s formal announcements Ditto
Theft of documents from President’s desk Ditto
Shoves the President of Montenegro aside to be in a better position in a photo-op Ditto
Love of luxurious pageantry Ditto
With President Sisi of Egypt but distracted and touching a glowing orb Ditto
Engaging in macho handshake contest with President Emmanuel Macron of France Ditto

 

Cozying up to oligarchs Ditto
Primacy given to business deals Ditto
   

What begins as satire can end as docudrama.

Media and the Economization of Military Coercion: The Jamal Khashoggi Affair – Part III of III

Journalism in the past two decades has emerged as the most dangerous profession, not simply because Islamic terrorists beheaded Daniel Pearl, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, but because regimes all over the world have raped and murdered investigative reporters – the Mexicans, Javier Valdez and Carlos Dominguez Rodríguez, and Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta. 27 have been killed so far this year. And that is only the most prominent ones. Between 1992 and 2018, 1,323 journalists were killed intentionally to stop their investigations. (Committee to Protect Journalists)

Additional selected names killed in 2018 alone include:
Abadullah Hananzai                  Radio Free Europe                     Afghanistan
Abdul Manan Arghand              Kabul News                               Afghanistan
Abdul Rahman Ismael Yassin   Hammouriyeh Media                 Syria
Abdullah al-Qadry                     Belqees News                            Yemen
Ahmad Abu Hussein                 Voice of the People                   West Bank

Ahmed Azize                             Aleppo News Network              Syria
Aleksandr Rastorguyev             Investigations Mgt. Centre        CAR, Africa
Ali Sialeemi                               Mashal TV                                Afghanistan
Ángel Eduardo Gahona             El Meridiano                              Nicaragua
Bashar al-Attar                          Arbin Unifeied Media Office     Syria
Gerald Fischman                       Capital Gazette                           USA
Ghazi Rasooli                            1TV                                            Afghanistan

At the end of last year, there were 262 journalists in prison. Two in Myanmar, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were imprisoned for their honest reporting of the genocide of the Rohingya. However, not only journalists. The head of Interpol was even arrested and imprisoned in China at the same time as the Beijing government, intent on assimilation and uniformity in culture and language as well as obeisance to a nationalist “motherland,” confines up to 2 million Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region in “re-education” camps. Shohrat, an Uyghur himself, offers this apologetic for the detention: “the vocational education and training program” is “an effective measure that Xinjiang has explored to eliminate the conditions and soil nurturing terrorism and extremism and prevent violent terrorist crimes.”

Of course, it has not helped, to say the least, that the serial liar, Donald Trump, repeatedly lambastes “fake news.” Who believes him when he tries to pedal backwards and abscond from holding Saudi Arabia responsible by expressing his “concern” and his assertion that, “we cannot let this happen?” Be assured that this would-be autocrat will not only “continue to let it happen,” but will facilitate it by his combination of mendacity and undermining of those who pursue the truth, and, thereby, undermining the very first amendment of the United States Constitution, a constitution that goes out of its way to protect one and only one profession – journalists.

However, in the economization of diplomacy, public relations is used to trump journalism. Instead of the search for facts, instead of transparency and objectivity providing the norms and guidelines, instead of truth standing up to power, primacy is given to the promotion of the interest of one’s client using economic influence and other techniques of persuasion. Public relations is in the persuasion business, not the truth-seeking business. It uses strategic communications to advance the interests of clients.

In some cases, as in this one, the behaviour of the client becomes too toxic even for public relations. Public relations firms withdraw. Even the public relations giant, Qorvis, which has a $280,000 monthly contract with the Saudis, adopted a watching brief.  It may follow the lead of the other three firms (the Harbour Group, the Glover Park Group and BGR) that dropped the Saudi file. But Qorvis is not the only one left picking Saudi pockets. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Hogan Lovells, Squire Patton Boggs and the McKeon Group still have a total of about $400,000 a month in contracts.
However, the lead for public relations as a cover-up has been taken over by states directly – the alleged perpetrator of the sin and its allies and supporters.

The method used is standard. First, concoct an alternative narrative even if highly improbable. Line up your defenders and undermine your detractors. Use economic influence to bring your satraps and allies to speak on your behalf. You want publicity that will excuse you, not forgive you let alone present you in the best light. But the latter is an important preamble – present yourself as a stalwart proponent of peace and a bulwark against terrorism, as a key ingredient for order and stability in a threatening world.

When the highest officials of a state are behind the murder of a high-profile journalist in a foreign state and the regime is caught virtually red-handed, that is terribly difficult. It is not sufficient to repeat the slogan, “Advertising is what you pay for and publicity is what you pray for,” for prayer will be insufficient. One will have to pay through the nose to get rid of the fetid odour. But in this type of case, that may not be enough, especially if MsB cannot wash the blood off his hands. Then there are two alternatives. Either he washes his hands in more blood and clamps down on those who challenge him, including possibly his father, King Salman.

Alternatively, MsB is sacrificed. King Salman has already ordered the Saudi public prosecutor to head a probe to determine responsibility for who was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. Will that be used to shield MsB from any responsibility, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, or serve him up on a platter to his myriad of enemies? King Salman could fire his son and either reinstate Muhammad bin Nayef as crown prince or promote MbS’s younger brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, to the position of Crown Prince. After all, he has been recalled from Washington as the Saudi Arabian ambassador permanently. However, this may merely be a contingency move.

The public relations exercise will either be enhanced or buried in a blood bath wherein MbS, to keep his position, may murder his father and/or even his brother. Palace intrigue cannot become more akin to a Shakespearean tragedy than this. If MbS travels that route, will he betray his trusted men whom he sent to Istanbul and send them for a show trial? Or will he stand by them because they are needed for the bloody show down? After all, MbS and his fifteen henchmen can insist that they were only acting in accord with standing Saudi policy in which dissidents have been jailed and murdered. If MbS follows the well-travelled route strewn with blood, as Assad did in Syria, as Saudi’s enemies did in Iran, then persuasion will not count, just the instillation of fear and, where appropriate, economic pressure.

If MbS loses status or even his position as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, if he becomes deeply wounded because he is forced to surrender his henchmen, even if he is replaced, do not expect an independent transparent process, but rather a public relations exercise built on Trump cacophony rather than building trust. The latter requires the independent and professional media to offer third party validation. The former requires only a controlled or a supine press and television.

In other words, what we have witnessed is the murder of a journalist as part of a process of destroying the enlightenment whether the soft or hard path of a cover-up emerges victorious. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, travelled to Riyadh to help determine which path will be taken and it will be a measure of America’s declining clout in helping determine the outlook. The fact that Pompeo said nothing of substance about the Khashoggi affair in his initial press conference, though the White House later backpedaled under a storm of criticism later in the day, is a clear indication that the cover-up in well on its way. As MbS said at the press conference, “We are strong and old allies. We face our challenges together — the past, the day of, tomorrow.” Pompeo chimed in, “Absolutely.”

President Trump picked up the theme he had already set in motion. He tweeted that once again he had spoken with MbS at the Pompeo meeting. MbS “totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate.” Late Wednesday, Trump was repeating the line, “innocent until proven guilty” and told the Associated Press that the Saudis were being “treated unfairly.”

The message is unequivocal and will be repeated in much the same form in the ensuing days and weeks. The Trump administration will join in providing a cover for the murder of a journalist with an American green card. After all, SA is an oil-rich nation. It just paid the US $100 million as a contribution to the costs of the American military in Syria. The problem is simply to contain the damage. Donald Trump, of course, has his own self-interest at stake. In 2015, Trump boasted, “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

Trump and his family continue to benefit financially from the Saudis. Saudis all stay at Trump facilities when they visit the US. We do not know how deep Kushner and his father-in-law are in loans from the Saudis. In contrast, the Turks seem to be playing a much more sophisticated game, dripping out new revealing items daily. More are to come. The Turks have expanded their probe to include the consular residence and the vehicles used by the embassy. The more evidence they have, the more I expect they will charge the Saudis for cooperating in the cover-up. The latest item I read was that the Turks had found traces of blood that had been painted over.

In the much larger picture, the media giants that dominate international discourse currently are no longer our traditional media. And hatred rather than cooperation has become the life blood of our internet world. In the name of freedom, killers are allowed to spew vitriolic hatred. (See the trial scenes in 22 July.) Those who spew that hate use electronic platforms and podiums which internet companies are just catching up on. Facebook, Instagram, Google, all still insist they are neutral platforms and not content providers and take no responsibility for the content, though Facebook has recently stood up to the plate and removed millions of phony addresses that spew forth lies.

The companies are hypocrites. Google will cancel a contract with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence lest their employees participate in “dirty hands” work, but Google prostrates itself before Beijing and facilitates the government spying on its citizens. Social media, as distinct from newspapers, magazine, radio and television, have been largely complicit in the hurricane of hate blowing around the globe.

However, at the centre of it all is to be found the White House. We have travelled over the last decade from a president who was great, but was still castrated and turned into a eunuch. He was succeeded by a clown whom few believed would succeed in winning the Republican nomination and, in spite of his success, few believed he could win the presidency. The fool fooled us all. Trump has destroyed any sense of civility that governed public life. Boundaries were torn to pieces as the Donald campaigned to build a wall. Fringe ideas became mainstream and this was taking place all around the globe.

We stand on the precipice of a communications apocalypse as social media now seems to be as much in the business of allowing clever escape artists to work their magic and from being responsible for their actions.

Let me end where I began with this series, with Jamal Khashoggi and three paragraphs from his last op-ed, “What the Arab world needs most if dree expression,” published in The Washington Post on 17 October 2018.

“I was recently online looking at the 2018 Freedom in the Worldreport published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

“As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.”

“Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.”

The Economization of Protest and Defense: The Jamal Khashoggi Affair – Part II of III

Surprisingly, large segments of American business, beginning with the media,
were not buying into the attempted coverup of the Khashoggi affair. Democratic
(The Glover Park Group) and the Republican (BGR Group) public relations
firms canceled their very lucrative contracts to lobby for SA.  Cancellations to
the imminent economic conference in SA, “Davos in the Desert,” organized by
the Future Investment Initiative, a SA economic front organization, kept coming
in:

1. Andrew Ross Sorkin, the New York Times columnist and CNBC
anchor;
2. Patrick Soon-Shiong, publisher of The Los Angeles Times
3. CNN;
4. CNBC;
5. Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of The Economist;
6. Arianna Huffington;
7. Justin Smith, CEO of Bloomberg Media Group, with anchors Francine
Lacqua and Erik Schatzker;
8. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim;
9. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
10. Ford Motor Chairman Bill Ford;
11. Bob Bakish; CEO Viacom;
12. Larry Fink, chief executive of the world's largest fund manager,
BlackRock;
13. Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the huge private equity company
Blackstone;
14. Stephen Pagliuca of Bain Capital;
15.  Steve Case, chairman of venture capital firm Revolution;

16.  Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard;
17. Viacom CEO Bob Bakish;
18. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi;
19. Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator;
20. Ernest Moniz, energy secretary under President Barack Obama.

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, suspended his directorships in
two tourism projects backed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

It is highly ironic when we have to depend on a portion of the business sector of
civil society rather than governmental leaders to stand up and support
international norms. But this may be further proof of the economization of
diplomacy.

On the other hand, most invitees still plan to attend. Of the very many more still
to be heard from (estimated at 160), they include:
1. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son;
2. Colony Capital Executive Chairman Thomas Barrack;
3. Liontree CEO Aryeh Bourkoff;
4. Joe Kaeser, CEO Siemens;
5. Bill Winters, CEO Standard Chartered;
6. John Flint, CEO HSBC.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin still plans to attend. (by Friday he
withdrew.) Will Trump seize Saudi Arabian assets if the evidence
overwhelmingly points to the likely commission of a murder carried out by the
highest authorities of a country? Will Trump ban travel to America for his Saudi
Arabian friends? You have to be smoking something very strong to believe
even in such a possibility. Recall that Donald Trump made his first foreign visit
to Saudi Arabia of all countries.

Barack Obama may have signed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and
Accountability Act as one of his last acts of official business, but that is simply

another piece of legislation that Trump ignores and/or actively undermines. I
suspect that, even if the Democrats win a majority in the House of
Representatives in the November midterm elections, they will not be able to
rein in their President and they have certainly no capacity for independent
action without Trump’s support. The House can, however, hobble the President
by making it impossible to sell billions of dollars in arms to the Saudi regime
under agreements that Trump has vowed to uphold. The House can cut off
support for military training. Whether the House will do so is a very different
story. Further, only Trump could order a suspension of routine intelligence
cooperation with SA’s intelligence services. Given Trump’s negative attitude to
the UN, one could not expect the U.S. to sponsor a Security Council resolution
condemning SA for murder.

The problem is that Trump has led the world back to a Hobbesian one where it
is everyone against everyone else; he has been a major, if not the major,
contributor to the destruction of the liberal international order and replacing it
with states who must be a gang or in league with a gang that provides
protection, more economic than military. After the Holocaust, we said, “Never
Again.” After the genocide in Cambodia we said, “Never Again.” After its
repetition in 1994 in Rwanda, we said “Never Again.” Again and again, we say
never again, but again and again it recurs, the most recent to the Rohingya
from Myanmar.

With only token chastisement, Syria violated all the laws governing war and the
use of chemical weapons. We have international laws against nuclear
proliferation, but treaties to implement such laws are abrogated by Donald
Trump. The perpetrators are not the greatest danger to the international liberal
order. We used to believe that the bystanders who remain passive were the
greatest danger. But the threat now comes from states which use their coercive
clout to get domestic critics and satraps in line and economic clout to keep
other states passive.

All this has to be set within the geopolitics of the region as well. Qatar and
Saudi Arabia were at loggerheads; the latter instigated a blockade against the
very tiny but very rich envisioned satrap that refused to bow before SA’s
bullying. Turkey sent troops to Qatar and Qatar sent money to Turkey as well

as to Gaza, the latter with the cooperation of Israel. Saudi Arabia sent money to
prop up the Syrian Kurds who are holding back Turkey from xample that part of
Syria under the banner of defending the Assad regime. If the American
Congress tries to retaliate against the Saudis for its abuse of human rights,
Saudi Arabia will retaliate economically.

SA is not Iran that not only persecutes dissidents, but members of the Baha’i
faith and more recently Christians. (Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Isavi, Amin
Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari were all convicted and sent to prison simply for
insisting on practicing their faith.) Saudi Arabia is not Turkey. Saudi Arabia is
not even Russia. In the current international order, Saudi Arabia pulls more
international weight than all three together. Because SA uses the current
currency of the international regime, economic pressure.

When Trump reversed himself and suggested that he might adopt a program of
“severe punishment” of Saudi Arabia if the evidence is convincing that MbS
ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, after SA’s stock market plummeted,
on 14 October, SA very quickly replied. An official source proclaimed that SA
had played a prominent role in ensuring security, stability and prosperity, not
only in the Middle East but in the world more generally. It was a leading country
in combatting terrorism. It had used its economic clout to help pacify the region.
And it promised it would respond to its international critics with economic
measures and, if those failed, even with such shocking diplomatic measures as
reconciling with Iran. Further, America’s Middle East policy depends on Saudi
Arabia that finances the U.S. military presence in Syria.

What will happen to critics from abroad who do not submit to this apologetic for
SA? If they are individuals, they could be murdered. If they are states, they can
and will be subject to economic counter-measures if they even try to apply
diplomatic pressure, as the case with Canada demonstrated. Only this time it
might up the ante. SA could renege on its commitment to producing 7.5 million
barrels of oil per day and that would lead to a significant increase in the price of
gasoline and, consequently, the wrath of the citizens of those states. It could
even abandon using the American dollar for pricing that oil and recycling those
petro-dollars into the American economy in accordance with the economic deal
Kissinger forged with SA in 1974. SA could adopt, for example, the Chinese

currency. SA will cut off trade with its critics, sending students to its universities
and buying goods and services by the 20 th  largest economy in the world.

Alternatively, SA could pay Turkey a rumoured $5 billion to squash the
investigation, or, at the very least, produce a whitewash. The agreement to
conduct a joint investigation certainly points in such a direction. Because of the
ineptitude of the SA intelligence service, Recep Erdoğan could escape the most
dire effects of American economic pressures and seal a deal with the SA
envoy, Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud. The Europeans would obtain a double
victory – undermining American economic pressure and saving Erdoğan’s skin.
Erdoğan wins part of Turkey’s way back into the good graces of the Europeans.
The recent release of the U.S. pastor (and possibly CIA asset), Andrew
Brunson, bought Erdoğan some goodwill with the US.

Israel, in turn, a secret ally of SA, could enhance its progress towards
reconciliation with Turkey. Jared Kushner’s peace plan for the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict depends on Saudi endorsement. The vice-president of the
Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, a former Israeli deputy national
security council head, Eran Lerman, said: “It is certainly not in our interests to
see the status of the Saudi government diminished in Washington.” One might
expect the American Jewish Committee, the formidable Israeli lobby group, to
secretly act on behalf of the Saudis, particularly if a face-saving formula can be
agreed upon.

If states now resort to the instruments of terrorism to keep its dissidents in line
at the same time as right-wing extremists reply in kind with terrorist murders of
innocent civilians and suspected Palestinian nationalists kill Kim Levengrond-
Yehezkel and Ziv Hajbi in the joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial area of Barkan,
and if the rule of law is subverted by economic deals or even by liberal
procedural justice systems, the law and the rule of law begin to appear more
and more as an antiquated relic incapable of dealing with either the radical but
now mainstream right as well as the rogue actions of states. Instead of the
Responsibility to Protect we have irresponsibility and recidivism where each
citizen is thrust back to his or her own devices in protecting oneself.

To be continued

The Economization of Military Coercion: The Jamal Khashoggi Affair – Part I of III

Ronan Farrow wrote about the collapse of American diplomacy and of American leadership in creating a liberal global world order; diplomacy had been militarized. Ben Rhodes also wrote about the destruction of diplomacy, but about the replacement of professional diplomacy with personal transactional gestures. In the current case of Jamal Khashoggi, what we are witnessing is the economization of both military coercion and diplomatic persuasion. There remain a few foreign proxy wars, but economic pressure, wheeling and dealing, have become the way international relations are primarily conducted while autocrats blithely ignore all civilized norms of international conduct in their conduct of domestic wars on their enemies.

Jamal Khashoggi believed, as many do, that America is the world’s richest, most creative, most influential and most powerful country, even as it has lost its position as a moral leader of the world. However, whatever America’s failures, Khashoggi was convinced that it is in America that the heart beat of the world still pulses. That is where Khashoggi chose to live in exile from his homeland in Saudi Arabia, though he planned to move to Turkey and marry Hatice Cengiz, a doctoral student in Istanbul.

However, Khashoggi could not escape Saudi Arabia (SA). The world of international norms is in great disorder. Putin hacks into the businesses and elections of Western countries with virtual impunity. States like Russia go abroad to poison and murder their critics while Trump insists that it is not his business since the poisoning did not take place on American soil. Khashoggi, in addition, was not an American citizen.

The possible evidence for Khashoggi’s murder: intelligence intercepts of SA intentions; camera pictures of Khashoggi entering but not leaving the embassy; the arrival on two chartered flights and the movements of the alleged 15-man hit squad, including an autopsy specialist, into and out of Turkey; three of the Saudi operatives included a close friend of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the head of security for MbS and an intelligence operative close to MbS; the repainting within the Saudi embassy; Turkish audio and visual recordings; even a watch recording of what happened to Khashoggi with sounds of a bone-saw transmitted to his fiancée. Then, after two weeks, instead of an outright denial, we are served a concocted story of rogue elements, an interrogation gone wrong and possibly a botched abduction, echoed by Donald Trump and Saudi allies in the region and the Muslim world.

This evidence all points to Saudi Arabia following the same path as autocrats and would-be autocrats in other states. And Donald Trump, President of the USA, which provides the military equipment to enable Saudi Arabia to carry on its war in Yemen, mouths empty words while Donald insists that, in America’s economic interests, the country he leads will do nothing effective. In the meantime, twelve million Yemeni mouths face actual starvation as fighting intensifies around the port city of Hodeidah in what UN officials warn may be the worst famine in a century.

Khashoggi, it must be remembered, has not only been a critic of SA, but had been a forthright critic of Trump even after Trump became president. SA is a close ally and major purchaser of billions of dollars of American military equipment.

In Canada, we experienced the wildly disproportionate and bizarre response to our Foreign Minister’s very justified twitter comments on Saudi Arabian human rights abuses. Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations, cancelled business orders, stopped flights between the two countries and recalled the large number of Saudi students studying in Canada whose fees contributed significant income to Canadian universities. If states get out of line in the view of another state, if the latter state has the economic clout, it will avenge sleights seventy-seven fold. Following its domestic pattern of rounding up and jailing its critics and dissenters, has Saudi Arabia gone much further and taken one step too far in its widely believed initiative in using its consulate in Turkey and a 15-man hit squad to eliminate Khashoggi as a thorn in its side?

Though very knowledgeable, friendly and even devout, Jamal Khashoggi was not a saint. He was an accomplished journalist who once interviewed Osama bin Laden, an old friend whom he later lamented had “surrendered to hatred and passion.” More recently he covered Saudi Arabia. He used to be on the inside with the Saudi establishment, traveling with King Abdullah and enjoying a close friendship with the Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Khashoggi is rumoured to have not simply been employed as an “adviser,” but had been an intelligence officer working for Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, the head of Saudi intelligence. Except the Saudis had reservations about him. Khashoggi had once been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and, as NYT writers put it, had a “tangled mix of royal service and Islamist sympathies.”

Why he went into exile is unclear, though what is known is that, MbS, the new 33-year-old authoritarian reform-minded crown prince and close friend of an American “prince,” Jared Kushner, had Khashoggi’s column in a Saudi-owned newspaper canceled. Given the alleged murder of Khashoggi when he went to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to obtain some citizenship documents needed for his upcoming remarriage, the regime appeared willing to go far beyond the sanctions they had placed on his family in forbidding them to travel and the arrests of his associates. Khashoggi may have been more than just a critic of the regime who lived in exile; it is believed that he held many secrets.

Perhaps the reason for his believed murder was only that he was a very tenacious critic once he went into exile and had begun to set up a series of organizations – Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Tracking the media in SA and reporting on its economic situation were both part of his agenda. The Saudi government felt very threatened, especially if Khashoggi had substantive backing from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi Arabia may largely escape the embarrassing situation it now finds itself in by pointing to some of its operatives, characterizing them as rogue, and sentencing them to “prison.” That line of propaganda has already started as President Trump, after speaking to the Saudi King, stated that the “journalist may be a victim of rogue killers – who knows?” Instead of offering soldiers in combat, states offer up their intelligence officers, first as public relations gestures, and then, if pressed too hard, as sacrificial lambs.

In an era in which we have witnessed autocrats, whether elected or coming into power by other means, war against their critics, MbS has run to the forefront and locked up not only women who advocated for women’s rights, journalists who reported on the deeds and misdeeds of his government, but their relatives and associates as well. MbS has also imprisoned businessmen and clerics who did not fall in line with the government.

On an official visit, the Saudi regime even kidnapped a former recipient of Saudi patronage, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who held dual citizenship in both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. Hariri was only set free when he was forced to publicly resign and denounce Iran, SA’s rival in the region. The result: after protests by other states, particularly the US and Egypt, Hariri was released. Shortly afterwards, he was restored to his office with even greater popularity and, counterproductively, greater status for both Hezbollah and Iran. Saudi citizens were ordered to leave Lebanon.

Hariri fell into line to defend SA against the tsunami of a backlash against the regime in the aftermath of the Khashoggi affair. “The position occupied by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Arab and international societies puts it in the ranks of the central countries entrusted with the stability of the region and in support of Arab issues.” Harari reiterated that campaigns against SA constituted a breach of this stability. Lacking the in-depth knowledge of diplomacy conducted over a long period and the deep analysis of independent intellectuals, the whole quixotic episode rebounded and covered MbS with meringue pie.

Despotic one-man absolute rule is simply the most extreme version of the rise of autocrats. They operate in the realm of international politics through vendettas against their rivals and deal with others in the international arena, that is other states, as manipulatable by economic pressures as the regime uses coercion, through the military to crush its should-be satraps, and with imprisonment and murder to destroy its individual critics.

Mohammed bin Salman is not simply an “enlightened despot,” as Elliott Abrams dubbed him is his apologetic series on Saudi Arabia, even though MbS pushes through economic and social reforms to modernize his country. For the joining of “enlightened” with “despot” is an oxymoron. One cannot be a despot and be enlightened. The central tenet of the enlightenment is freedom – freedom to think and say, to associate and to advocate. That is why the alleged murder of Khashoggi is so depraved – it cuts to the heart of modernity. And it cuts out that heart when even the most central principles of the modern era are proven to be violable.

This is, of course, magnified a thousandfold when states and international Islamic organizations fall into line and follow the Hariri message of defending SA while characterizing attacks against SA as efforts to undermine the kingdom, and, hence, peace and security in the Middle East. (Cf. Arab News http://www.arabnews.com/node/1387726/saudi-arabia)

  1. The UAE: Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, after defending SA’s role in the region as a protector of stability and a beacon for peace, characterized the attacks on SA as political incitement against the kingdom;
  2. Bahrein: King Hamad bin Al-Khalifa accused SA’s critics of trying to undermine the policies and sovereignty of SA;
  3. Egypt: The foreign ministry dubbed the charges against SA in the Khashoggi affair as “arbitrary” and urged waiting for the results of the investigation;
  4. Oman: The foreign ministry dubbed any judgment at this time as “hasty” and “premature.”
  5. Jordan: Media Minister Jumana Ghunaimat attacked the targeted rumours.
  6. The Palestinian Authority: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his absolute confidence in the Kingdom, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Diplomacy now means rounding up economic dependents to defend the indefensible and outrageous. The Arab League chimed in, attacking threats to use economic sanctions against SA. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called the Turkish-SA joint investigation as an expression of good intentions, warned against premature conclusions and insisted that the international media ensure accuracy and professionalism in their publications. Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL) called the worldwide criticisms of SA a threat against SA and issued a categorical rejection of any threats against the Kingdom.

All of this backtracking and obfuscation following MbS’s adamant insistence that Khashoggi had left the embassy, subsequently amended to say that his security forces only intended to abduct the man, as if a forced disappearance was not a heinous crime under international law. In any case, this autocratic ruler and control freak professed that he knew nothing about the operation. Donald Trump bought it and insisted on the presumption of innocence, a serial liar who himself condemns others based on no evidence – the list is enormous – the New York five, eventually proved innocent, “crooked” Hilary.

Donald Trump had laid out the public relations escape plan – MbS told me flat out that they did not do it and I believe him – just as he had believed Putin’s denials, Paul Manafort’s insistence on his innocence, and the list goes on and on. In the meanwhile, Saudi authorities reminded its subjects that a 5-year jail sentence and a $3 million fine would be levied against “rumour mongers” lest public order be undermined.

Will the coverup work?

To be continued.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

From Is to Ought

Ben Rhodes The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, New York: Random House, 2018.

In the Prologue of Ben Rhodes memoir, he describes how, in his last meeting with any head of state, Barack Obama passed the torch onto Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. “You’re going to have to speak out when values are threatened.” Trudeau promised that he would “with a smile on my face. That is the only way to win.” Obama was an American, a liberal American, who believed that morality framed coercion and military might. “American leadership depended on our military, but was rooted not just in our strength but also in our goodness.” (25) And that goodness was built into institutions and laws but backed up, if need be, by force. (48)

A smile would not do the job. Yet Obama, flummoxed in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump and emergence of autocrats around the world, conscious that his best ally, Angela Merkel, had been severely wounded, could only reach out to a Canadian leader who led with a smile and not even a soft voice. Further, and more importantly, Canada did not carry a big stick.

The real mantle of leadership had been stolen by Donald Trump, a would-be autocrat. He was willing to meet with other autocrats around the world – without any preconditions – North Korean, Russian, Turkish, even Iranian. Trump was blasted in the liberal press for doing so. Yet, when Ben Rhodes joined the Obama presidential campaign, his Democratic contender also had promised to meet US adversaries without conditions. As Rhodes wrote, “[T]he reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is somehow punishment to them, which has been a guiding diplomatic principle of this [the Bush] administration, is ridiculous.” (12) Hillary Clinton, Obama’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, disagreed. She called Barack Obama naïve. Republicans, the same ones who as sycophants and toadies, defended Donald Trump when he did it, called Obama much worse.

Diplomacy without preconditions was not the only tactic Trump stole from Obama. “Turn defense into offense.” (18) “Restore America’s standing around the world.” (22) When Trump ran on a version of the latter, Obama made fun of the slogan, “Make America great again.” “America had always been great,” insisted Obama.

There is, of course, a difference between Obama and Trump. For the latter, such diplomatic meetings are simply transactional and the Donald believed that he was and is master of the deal. Obama believed, and his legacy – the Iran nuclear deal, the opening to Cuba, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris climate agreement for which leadership had been passed to China and Xi Jinping, the negotiations with the military junta in Myanmar – proved it, that diplomacy rather than inter-personal deals work. But a diplomacy capable of setting aside mindblinding and politically binding assumptions. In every single case, Donald Trump in his first two years in office proved that he was the master of and replacing professional diplomacy with personal transactional gestures.

The destruction of many of Obama’s overseas achievements had as much to do with personal animosity as Trump’s propensity for demolition, and both certainly more than the absence of any substance in his foreign policy. Donald Trump had been a leader in the blatantly racist “birther” movement, the false claim that Barack Obama had not been born in the US. Obama had folded before the media onslaught and finally acceded to releasing his longform birth certificate. That quieted but did not close down the flow of fake news. More importantly, a few days later after the birth certificate release, Barack Obama had his revenge at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In a series of spot-on jokes, he humiliated Donald Trump in the media and before the American public. “No one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter – like, did we fake the moon landing.” (132-133) Trump’s unwinding of Obama’s many successes was Trump’s revenge.

The Obama administration did have its own share of failures – dealing with Russia over Georgia (inherited from Bush), Crimea, the Ukraine and Syria, as well as Syria itself and, of course, the disastrous Libyan initiative, the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the incoherence of the US policy towards Egypt, and the fiasco of Afghanistan that I wrote about in the Farrow book review. What is worse, Obama and Rhodes knew that, “the Taliban could not be defeated so long as it had political support in Afghanistan and a safe haven in Pakistan.” (73)

Obama had kept Robert M. Gates on as Secretary of Defence and initially backed the failed strategy of counter-insurgency in an arena in which it could not and did not work. Vice-President Joe Biden was the only individual in the administration who consistently and persistently opposed a troop surge and argued that the US military was jamming Obama. (65-6) So what was Obama’s rationale if America was not going to defeat the Taliban? “We need to knock them back to give us space to go after al Qaeda.” (75) The troop surge was approved.

But perhaps Egypt was even more telling than Afghanistan. Obama and Rhodes knew that in a repressive society like Egypt’s, a democratic election would probably lead to the victory of an Islamist Party, the Muslim Brotherhood. (54) Yet the Obama administration backed the removal of Mubarak and fell back on the position that America would “judge any political movement by whether they choose to act and govern in a way that is consistent with democratic principles.” (55) But what if that political movement, though noisy in its demonstrations, was marginal in its political depth and the real choice was between two other movements – one rooted in the military and the other in the religious establishment? How should America act when faced with a Hobson’s choice when, in the end, military coercion was the real and only power? That same effort to achieve a balance between two incompatible political perspectives would prove to be the root of the Obama administration’s enormous but fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

It would also be at the root of Rhodes’s failure to comprehend the limitations of the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Rhodes expends few words on the doctrine and I cannot elaborate n it here, but it is clear that he aligned with Samantha Power (82) and, to some extent, Susan Rice, who believed that the R2P had to be a bedrock of American foreign policy – that is, liberal state had the right to intervene with force when a state persecuted its own citizens or could not protect them from other s bent on destruction. Obama never bought into it. Rhodes in his book never explains why except to suggest that Obama was more a realist than the small idealist cohort he had working for and with him.

However, R2P was fundamentally flawed. This doctrine had originated as a Canadian initiative. It advocated the right of any foreign power to intervene when the government of a state targeted its own people. Within a very short time after its formulation, it was adopted by a unanimous vote of the United Nations. Except the vote was only unanimous because the heart of the doctrine had been cut out. Humanitarian intervention would only be permitted with the approval of the state being targeted. Once again, sovereignty trumped moral principles.

Further, it could and never would be applied in the Chinese mistreatment of the Uyguars or even the military junta mistreatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Sanctions certainly. But not coercive intervention. In the easiest situation possible, with a UN peacekeeping force on location and the government perpetrators on the ropes in its fight with a Tutsi-led military force, the world had failed to intercede and stop the genocide in Rwanda. Diplomatic exhortation and lofty principles were no substitute for action on the ground.

Perhaps Obama’s greatest success in the domestic arena – not the Affordable Care Act, but the salvaging of the world economy – was also his greatest failure and paved the way for the rise of Trump. This was in the domestic arena and not foreign affairs to which Ben Rhodes had dedicated his talents. The 2008 economic crash was a direct product of President Bush and, to some degree, his predecessors. Obama inherited an economic mess.

Ben Rhodes wrote the following words for Barack Obama. “Jobs have disappeared, and people’s life savings have been put at risk. Millions of families face foreclosure, and millions more have seen their home values plummet…So let’s be clear: What we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.” (33) Ben made Obama sound like a Marxist. Talk about hyperbole! The 2008 economic crash, the greatest since the depression, was the final epitaph for capitalism, not just for a failure in banking regulation. Capitalism had completely failed. This is how the statement sounded.

However, the philosophy referred to was not capitalism but one version of it – trickle-down economics and deregulation. Further, even on that there was no final verdict. In fact, Barack Obama in part made possible the restoration of that capitalistic ideology to pre-eminence after two years of his presidency and totally cleared the road from any blockage to it by contributing to the election of Donald Trump. How? Precisely by overstating the failure and understating the consequences of the 2008 economic crash. Not just jobs, but hundreds of thoUSnds of them were wiped out. Millions of families not only faced foreclosure but were, in fact foreclosed upon when Obama bailed out the banks without helping those who bought homes that were now financially under water.

Ben Rhodes was a foreign policy speechwriter and adviser and was not up on domestic policy let alone economic policy. There is an enormous problem with trickle-down economics, but that was NOT the issue in the 2008 economic crash. Rhodes not only failed to hit the target, but grossly understated the effects on the average American just as he overstated the implications of the crash for capitalism. In his memoir, he never seemed to notice this oversight.

Unfortunately, the same disposition applied to foreign policy. When North Korea tested a ballistic missile in the very beginning of Obama’s presidency when he was in The Czech Republic, Ben Rhodes added a few sentences to Obama’s address to the Czech people. “I sat at my computer inserting a strongly worded warning to the North Koreans about the isolation they’d face for continued nuclear and missile tests.” (42)

When Trump was in the same position, he threatened fire and brimstone and then met with Kim and called him a wonderful guy who likes me. Greater isolation! North Korea had survived for years, though barely, against the greatest international deep freeze applied to any foreign state in the post-WWII period. And the country still persisted in its nuclear and missile development program. Rhodes’s and Obama’s threat rang totally hollow at the time. More significantly, eight years later, Ben Rhodes failed to notice let alone be self-critical of such a shortcoming. And this in spite of the deep faith of liberals, like Barack Obama, who held a progressive view of American history and “the capacity for self-correction” (43) to which Obama (and Rhodes) attributed America’s purported exceptionalism. But what if this purported exceptionalism rested as much on the failure of America to be deeply self-critical and to truly engage in self-correction at a fundamental level?

Louis Menard wrote a review of Rhodes’s book and claimed it traced the evolution of a political junky from an idealist to a realist. Unlike Farrow’s book, Rhode’s memoir is indeed a book in which observation and self-reflection are woven together by a fine writing style, but one which only records faces and clothes and settings when they are directly pertinent to the narrative. But Menard is wrong. The shock is that Rhodes never became disillusioned about his ideals. Tired, certainly. Sometimes depressed. At other times simply resigned. But he is indefatigable in holding onto his ideals. That is perhaps why Obama loved him. That is certainly why Rhodes worshipped Barack Obama.

As with his previous co-authored book with a former congressman, Lee Hamilton, (Without Precedent: Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission), Rhodes’s book is a very inside story, but of the day-to-day crises and pro-active stances of the Obama regime from the campaign through eight years in the White House. During that time, Ben Rhodes began working as a speechwriter and foreign policy advisor for Obama in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President and ended up serving for eight years as deputy national security advisor with oversight over speechwriting, public communications and relations as well as undertaking specific diplomatic missions himself.

During that time, according to Rhodes’s reflections on his service and the Obama administration, the arc of history did not move from idealism to realism but, rather, a realization that “the world (w)as (and is) a place that could – in some incremental way – change.” (421) As he ends his memoir, at “I was a man, no longer young, who – in the zigzag of history – still believed the end of his service to Obama, to the American nation and to his own ideals, in the truth within the stories of people around the world, a truth that compels me to see the world as it is, and to believe in the world as it ought to be.” The book is not about the decline of his ideals, but increasingly focuses on the actual challenges to those ideals and the efforts made to overcome those challenges.

Holbrooke, with his idiosyncratic personal characteristics for a diplomat and his pursuit of realism in the conduct of foreign relations, was Farrow’s flawed hero. Barack Obama is Rhodes’s idol, an idol he did not worship from afar, nor even merely up close to reveal the crevices that began to appear on Obama’s boyish good looks, but one whose mind and heart and guts Rhodes entered into wholly and without reservation, even in the odd moments when he disagreed with his leadership on a particular issue.  Rhodes learned to focus on a small portion of the grains of sand on the earth than on the even greater number of stars in the sky.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman