Donald Trump–The Reluctant Multilateralist (?)


February 21, 2017

Donald Trump–The Reluctant Multilateralist (?)

by Barry Eichengreen

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Barry Eichengreen is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former senior policy adviser at the International Monetary Fund. His latest book is Hall of Mirrors:The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the Uses – and Misuses – of History.–www.project-syndicate.org

FLORENCE – Donald Trump did not assume the US presidency as a committed multilateralist. On that, partisans of all political persuasions can agree. Among his most controversial campaign statements were some suggesting that NATO was obsolete, a position that bodes ill for his attitude to other multilateral organizations and alliances.

Last week, however, Trump stepped back, reassuring an audience at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida (the headquarters for US forces that operate in the Middle East). “We strongly support NATO,” he declared, explaining that his “issue” with the Alliance was one of full and proper financial contributions from all members, not fundamental security arrangements.

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This more nuanced view presumably reflects a new appreciation, whether born of security briefings or the sobering fact of actually occupying the Oval Office, that the world is a dangerous place. Even a president committed to putting “America first” now seems to recognize that a framework through which countries can pursue shared goals is not a bad thing.

The question now is whether what is true for NATO is also true for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. Trump’s record on the campaign trail and Twitter is not heartening. Back in 2012, he tweeted criticism of the World Bank for “tying poverty to ‘climate change’” (his quotation marks). “And we wonder why international organizations are ineffective,” he complained.

Likewise, last July, he mooted the possibility that the United States might withdraw from the WTO if it constrained his ability to impose tariffs. And he vowed repeatedly during the presidential campaign to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. But the evolution of Trump’s position on NATO suggests that he may yet see merit to working through these organizations as he comes to recognize that the world economy, too, is a dangerous place.

Following the election, Trump acknowledged having an open mind on the Paris climate agreement. His position seemed less to deny the existence of global warming than to insist that policies mitigating climate change not impose an unreasonable burden on American companies.

The way to limit the competitive burden on US producers is, of course, by ensuring that other countries also require their companies to take steps to mitigate climate change, thereby keeping the playing field level. And this is precisely what the Paris agreement is about.

The real test of Trump’s stance on multilateralism will be how he approaches the WTO. Persuading the US Congress to agree on corporate and personal income-tax reform, a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative, and a replacement for Obama’s signature health-care reform won’t be easy, to say the least. Doing so will require patience, which is not Trump’s strong suit. This suggests that he will feel pressured to do what he can unilaterally.–Barry Eichengreen

The same can be said of the Basel Committee’s standards for capital adequacy. Holding more capital is not costless for US banks, as advisers like Gary Cohn, formerly of Goldman Sachs and now the head of Trump’s National Economic Council, presumably tell the president morning, noon, and night. Leveling the playing field in this area means requiring foreign banks also to hold more capital, which is precisely the point of the Basel process.

Trump may similarly come to appreciate the advantages of working through the IMF when a crisis erupts in Venezuela, or in Mexico as a result of his own policies. In 1995, the US Treasury extended financial assistance to Mexico through the Exchange Stabilization Fund. In 2008, the Federal Reserve provided Brazil with a $30 billion swap line to help it navigate the global financial crisis. But imagine the outrage with which Trump’s supporters would greet a “taxpayer bailout” of a foreign country or Mexican officials’ anger over having to secure assistance from the same Trump administration responsible for their country’s ills. Both sides would surely prefer working through the IMF.

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Jim Yong Kim–From Brown University to The World Bank

Trump can’t be pleased that the Obama administration rushed to push through the reappointment of its chosen World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim. But he clearly recognizes the benefits of development aid. While he has said that the US should “stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us,” he has also observed that failure to help poor countries can foment instability.

This would appear to be an area where Trump will favor bilateral action, which would enable him to assuage his conservative critics by insisting that no US funds go toward family planning, while taking credit for any and all assistance. At the same time, minimizing the role of the US in the World Bank would create a vacuum to be filled by China, Trump’s bête noire, both in that institution and through the activities of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

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The real test of Trump’s stance on multilateralism will be how he approaches the WTO. Persuading the US Congress to agree on corporate and personal income-tax reform, a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative, and a replacement for Obama’s signature health-care reform won’t be easy, to say the least. Doing so will require patience, which is not Trump’s strong suit. This suggests that he will feel pressured to do what he can unilaterally.

One thing he can do unilaterally is slap duties on imports, potentially in violation of WTO rules. We’ll soon find out whether those rules will deter him.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-nato-reluctant-mulitlateralist-by-barry-eichengreen-2017-02

Is Trump giving Americans “bread and circus”to keep them happy?


February 20, 2017

Dr.Fareed is back with his latest take on Trump

Is Trump giving Americans “bread and circus”to keep them happy?

by Dr Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trump-circus/2017/02/16/d1bc4a86-f48c-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.04404ea201e8

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Let’s say you are a Trump voter, the kind we often hear about — an honest, hard-working American who put up with Donald Trump’s unusual behavior because you wanted a president who would stop playing Washington’s political games, bring a businessman’s obsession with action and results, and focus on the economy. How is that working out for you?

The first few weeks of President Trump’s administration have been an illustration of writer Alfred Montapert’s adage, “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” We are witnessing a rocking-horse Presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.

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Image result for Combative TrumpBoth Trump and Nixon: Taking on the Media

Since winning the election, Trump has dominated the news nearly every day. He has picked fights with the media, making a series of bizarre, mostly false claims — about the magnitude of his victory, the size of his inauguration crowd, the weather that day, the numbers of illegally cast ballots, among many others. He has had photo ops with everyone from Kanye West and Jack Ma to Shinzo Abe and Justin Trudeau. Now he is embroiled in a controversy about ties to Russia. But in the midst of it all, what has he actually done? Hardly anything.

 

President Donald Trump–Doing what he does Best


February 19, 2017

President Donald J. Trump–Doing what he does Best: Electioneering in stead of Governing

Listen to President of the United States at Melbourne, Florida and tell me what you think. His speech resonates with his supporters  no doubt, but it raises more concerns for the rest of us around the world. America, the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, is not an Island onto itself. Under the 45th President, it is  also a fading City on a Hill.

As a  friend of America, I am disappointed at what is happening in America today. In less than a month in office, Mr Trump, you are not acting presidential, but more like a demagogue.

What America is in 2017 reminds me of 1968. To me, you are like the coming of another Richard Milhous Nixon. A divided, polarized, paranoiac, and inward looking America led by another toxic President is not good for a distracted America, and the world which depends on sanity and order in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC.

Taking on the Press is not the solution. It is time for you, Mr. President, to tap the power of the  Press to support and promote your agenda for change. Antagonism towards the Media is, therefore, counterproductive.

So please get out of  your campaign mode, and start governing and making friends with the Media and the rest of the world. It has to be “I am Okay, You are Okay”(Eric Berne) paradigm for global peace and stability. You need, Mr. Trump, friends to keep America and the world safe from terrorism, racism and other forms of extremism, not just ISIS/Dash.–Din Merican.

De-coding New Yorker Trump in The White House


February 18, 2017

De-coding New Yorker Trump in The White House

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

On Wednesday, February 8, a US Navy spy plane and its Chinese counterpart each tempted fate, flying within 300m of each other over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

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Both were quad-prop surveillance aircraft on airborne patrol. The near-miss, the first this year after two incidents last year, showed the high-risk “great game” of the two major powers in this region.

US-China relations were already strained after President Donald Trump questioned Washington’s One China policy and wanted China to quit the disputed islands it already occupies ( he subsequently reaffirmed that his administration  would abide by the existing US 1-China Policy would remain much to the relief of China) .

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There was also speculation on a “trade war”. An aerial collision between their military aircraft over disputed territory would have sharpened prospects of conflict.

Within hours, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson persuaded Trump to go easy on China rather than flirt with reviewing the One China policy. The result: a long and “very cordial” phone conversation between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping, the first after Trump’s inauguration and the second since his election. Warm mutual greetings were exchanged with mutual invitations to visit each other’s country.

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President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson–Go  Easy on 1China Policy

Trump had his moment as the master of brinkmanship. Now it is Xi’s turn to shine, if he does, as a master strategist – if he is one.

China’s chances here are uncertain. It has been slow and flat-footed in the diplomatic stakes with Washington so far. In contrast, Japan and Israel moved quickly to engage Trump early. When it did not seem clear if Trump would favour Japan or Israel in any way, their leaders sought to engage him first.

Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Benjamin Netanyahu correctly read Trump, when reasonably managed, as a highly impressionable person with very impressionistic views. Whoever engages him first gets a head start in good relations.

Now Trump may be better disposed to Japan and Israel than he might otherwise have been. Diplomatic engagements are basically a political investment.

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Towards Better Relations with China?

But the media focus on US-China ties has obscured the poor state of US-Japan relations. Abe needs to invest in the Trump presidency.Trump had swiftly dumped the TPP that Japan was counting on. He has also accused Japan of suppressing the value of the yen and not paying enough for its own defence, while threatening Toyota with high taxes on vehicles from new Mexican plants rather than US ones.

Japanese manufacturers, including Toyota, then pledged more production, and jobs, at US plants. Abe may also want to “position” Japan favourably over China in strategic terms to Trump.

Last September, Netanyahu met Trump and Hillary Clinton separately in New York. He reportedly spent a long 90 minutes at Trump Tower.

When Trump received flak for wanting a wall on the border with Mexico, Netanyahu signalled approval by referencing his own fence projects on the borders with Egypt and Palestine. Trump duly reciprocated.

Now Israel’s barrier builder, Magal Security Systems, wants to build Trump’s wall with Mexico. Beyond just a business deal, it would be a political investment to cement Israel’s controversial schemes.

Israel’s right-wing now wants Netanyahu to drop the two-state solution altogether. But Netanyahu will not have it easy, since just days before his arrival, Trump openly opposed his settlements policy.

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Reaffirming US -Israel Relations

In September, candidate Trump used the meeting to project his image as a prospective world leader. Now Netanyahu is using Friday’s meeting with President Trump to draw dividends as Israel receives flak for illegal settlements in Palestine.

Yet, compared to other countries, the US and China have more to talk about: from economics to diplomacy to security. As two hulking, intertwined economies, and as permanent members of the UN Security Council, their range of interests and concerns is global.

Enter the low-profile second track diplomacy China has been pursuing with the US since late last year. This is led by State Councillor Yang Jiechi, an ambassador to the US before serving as Foreign Minister when Secretary of State Clinton announced the US “pivot” to Asia.

An alumnus of the London School of Economics, Yang is fluent in English and understands the US better than his contemporaries in Beijing. He is often described as China’s “top diplomat” who outranks Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This second track is vital and befits “ChinAmerica”, ties between the two major powers that make for the world’s most important bilateral relations today. However, how far Xi or Beijing ultimately listens to Yang remains to be seen. A lacklustre first track diplomacy remains very much in evidence.

The hesitancy and passivity of Track One, notwithstanding standard shrill reactions to issues like Taiwan, seem to be a timid international response to the Trump era.

There are vocal Trump opponents, there are visible Trump supporters, and there are others like China gingerly treading water and keeping their distance. But there are also others like Japan and Israel who seize the moment without hesitation.

Much of the hesitancy seems to be caused by internal US politics rejecting someone who is wilfully politically incorrect. This sense is consistently projected by Western mainstream media, as if the issues they cover are necessarily universal.

They include Trump’s decision to scrap Obamacare, state-sponsored abortions and special toilets for transgender people. Given the extreme views at both ends, the middle way Trump prefers begins to look like moderation.

Meanwhile, an opposition-fuelled media has been tweaking news about Trump policies in an unfavourable light, carrying negative emotions with it.

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Case in point: travel restrictions into the US, pending new measures to screen out potential terrorists. What Christiane Amanpour on CNN (pic above) and some others call a “Muslim ban” is nothing of the kind.

The restrictions comprise three components suspending entry regardless of race and religion: by all refugees for four months, by Syrian passport holders indefinitely, and by passport holders of six other countries for three months.

If the restrictions are defined as a Muslim ban, they have to be definitively a ban on Muslims which they are not. Protesters argue that since the seven are Muslim-majority countries, there is a Muslim ban.

But if a majority count determines definition, then since the majority of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries (2010 data) are unaffected, there is no Muslim ban. How effective such restrictions can be in keeping out potential terrorists is another matter.

Protesters forget that Barack Obama had earlier listed these seven countries as being “of concern”. Trump only used the list for restrictions for a limited period.

The US has had several immigrant and citizenship restrictions going back a century. Some of these came together in the Immigration and Nationality Act (1952), parts of which remain today.

These restrictions survived Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Yet they were not controversial before, or the media did not make them appear so controversial.

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A real concern, however, is Trump’s intention to scrap the Iran nuclear deal. He and his advisers fail to realise that it is more than a nuclear deal, being also a face-saving measure for all eight signatories, including Iran.

Nobody can know if Iran ever wants to develop nuclear weapons. The only possible agreement is the present deal that puts any such plan on hold.

Undoing the deal will open a can of worms, starting with emboldening Iran’s hardliners over its moderates. Learning superpower politics on the job can be so hazardous.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

What is Up in Trump’s Washington


February 15, 2017

What is Up in Trump’s Washington after 2 weeks of the 45th Presidency

by Thomas L. Friedman

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The Parting of the Ways–“Mr. Patriotism” and his National Security Adviser, Lt- Gen (rtd) Michael Flynn

Thank God for the resignation in shame by Mike Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Adviser. And not just because he misled the vice president and engaged in deeply malignant behavior with Russia, but, more important, because maybe it will finally get the United States government, Congress and the news media to demand a proper answer to what is still the biggest national security question staring us in the face today: What is going on between Donald Trump and the Russians?

Sorry, Kellyanne Conway, I am not ready to just “move on.”

Every action, tweet and declaration by Trump throughout this campaign, his transition and his early presidency screams that he is compromised when it comes to the Russians.

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Who owns this Make America Great Again Guy?

I don’t know whether Russian oligarchs own him financially or whether Russian spies own him personally because of alleged indiscreet behavior during his trips to Moscow. But Trump’s willingness to attack allies like Australia, bluster at rivals like China, threaten enemies like Iran and North Korea and bully neighbors like Mexico — while consistently blowing kisses to Russian President Vladimir Putin — cannot be explained away by his mere desire to improve relations with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State. And the Flynn ouster gives our government another, desperately needed opportunity to demand the answers to these questions, starting with seeing the President’s tax returns.

We need to know whom Trump owes and who might own him, and we need to know it now. Save for a few patriotic Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the entire Republican Party is complicit in a shameful act of looking away at Trump’s inexplicable behavior toward Russia.

If Republicans want to know how they should be behaving on this issue, they should ask themselves what they would be saying and doing right now if a President Hillary Clinton had behaved toward Russia the way Trump has, and had her national security adviser been found hinting to the Russian ambassador to hold tight because a softer United States policy toward Russia was on its way.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–Both should consider impeaching Trump when there is inscrutable evidence to do so, instead of looking away from this traversty. Loyalty has its limits.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, what are you thinking by looking away from this travesty? You both know that if the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. had concluded that the Russians had intervened to help Hillary Clinton get elected you would have closed the government and demanded a new election. Now it’s all O.K.? So you can get some tax cuts? Gens. Jim Mattis and John Kelly, our new secretaries of defense and homeland security, you are great patriots who both put your lives on the line in uniform to defend American values from precisely the kind of attack Putin perpetrated. Are you O.K. with what’s going on?

We need to rerun the tape. Ladies and gentlemen, we were attacked on December  7, 1941, we were attacked on September 11, 2001, and we were attacked on November 8, 2016. That most recent attack didn’t involve a horrible loss of lives, but it was devastating in its own way. Our entire intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked our election by deliberately breaking into Democratic National Committee computers and then drip-by-drip funneling embarrassing emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And what have we done about it? Other than a wrist slap against Moscow, we’ve moved on.

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Turmoil beneath  the beautiful and calm Washington DC

I am not arguing that Trump is not the legitimate President; he won for many reasons. But I am arguing that he is not behaving like one. Trump presents himself as “Mr. Patriotism,” wrapped in the American flag. And yet he has used his Twitter account to attack BMW for building an auto plant in Mexico, Boeing for over charging for a government airplane, the cast of “Hamilton” for appealing to the vice president to reaffirm American pluralism, American newspapers for undercounting the size of his inauguration crowd and the actress Meryl Streep for calling him out for bullying a handicapped reporter. And yet “Mr. Patriotism” has barely uttered a word of criticism on Twitter or off about a Russian President who has intervened in our democratic process.

That’s not O.K. The Russians did not just hack into some emails or break into some banks in America. They attacked the very things that make America what it is — that makes it so special: “its rule of law and its democratic form of choosing and changing leaders,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who was a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.

I am not looking to go to war with Russia over this. Back in the 1990s, this column was among the loudest voices warning against NATO expansion — that it would one day come back to haunt us, which it has, by making Russia feel threatened. I don’t care about Putin. His regime will fail because he is forever looking for dignity in all the wrong places, by drilling for oil and gas instead of unleashing the creativity of his people. But I am not willing to settle for evicting a few Russian agents and then moving on. We need to get to the truth, look it squarely in the eye and then act proportionately.

Trump and his senior aides have spent their first weeks in power doing nothing more than telling us how afraid we should be of Muslim immigrants who have not been properly vetted by our intelligence and immigration authorities. Well, Putin was vetted by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., and they concluded that he attacked our country’s most important institution — and Trump has acted as if he could not care less.

If the rest of us do the same, we’ll get the country we deserve, and it will not be great.


 

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ Revisited


February 14, 2017

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ After 50 Years: It’s an Even Heavier Responsibility Now

Written amid rising opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky’s greatest essay has added resonance in the age of Trump.
By Jay Parini

http://www.alternet.org/visions/noam-chomskys-responsibility-intellectuals-after-50-years-its-even-heavier-responsibility

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I’ve reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I’ve not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

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The main point of Chomsky’s essay is beautifully framed after a personal introduction in which he alludes to his early admiration for Dwight Macdonald, an influential writer and editor from the generation before him:

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology, and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us.

For those who think of Chomsky as tediously anti-American, I would note that here and countless times in the course of his voluminous writing he says that it is only within a relatively free society that intellectuals have the elbow room to work. In a kind of totalizing line shortly after the above quotation, he writes: “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

This imposes a heavy burden on those of us who think of ourselves as “intellectuals,” a term rarely used now, as it sounds like something Lenin or Trotsky would have used and does, indeed, smack of self-satisfaction, even smugness; but (at least in my own head) it remains useful, embracing anyone who has access to good information, who can read this material critically, analyze data logically, and respond frankly in clear and persuasive language to what is discovered.

Chomsky’s essay appeared at the height of the Vietnam War, and was written mainly in response to that conflict, which ultimately left a poor and rural country in a state of complete disarray, with more than 2 million dead, millions more wounded, and the population’s basic infrastructure decimated. I recall flying over the northern parts of Vietnam some years after the war had ended, and seeing unimaginably vast stretches of denuded forest, the result of herbicidal dumps – 20 million tons of the stuff, including Agent Orange, which has had ongoing health consequences for the Vietnamese.

The complete picture of this devastation was unavailable to Chomsky, or anyone, at the time; but he saw clearly that the so-called experts who defended this ill-conceived and immoral war before congressional committees had evaded their responsibility to speak the truth.

In his usual systematic way, Chomsky seems to delight in citing any number of obsequious authorities, who repeatedly imply that the spread of American-style democracy abroad by force is justified, even if it means destroying this or that particular country in the effort to make them appreciate the benefits of our system. He quotes one expert from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies who tells Congress blithely that the North Vietnamese “would be perfectly happy to be bombed to be free.”

“In no small measure,” Chomsky writes in the penultimate paragraph of his essay, “it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we had better face up to them with candor, or we will find our government leading us towards a ‘final solution’ in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead.”

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Chomsky, of course, was right to say this, anticipating American military interventions in such places as Lebanon (1982-1984), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf (1990-1991) and, most disastrously, Iraq (2003-2011), the folly of which led to the creation of ISIS and the catastrophe of Syria.

Needless to say, he has remained a striking commentator on these and countless other American interventions over the past half century, a writer with an astonishing command of modern history. For me, his writing has been consistently cogent, if marred by occasional exaggeration and an ironic tone (fueled by anger or frustration) that occasionally gets out of hand, making him an easy target for opponents who wish to dismiss him as a crackpot or somebody so blinded by anti-American sentiment that he can’t ever give the U.S. government a break.

I like “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and other essays from this period by Chomsky, because one feels him discovering his voice and forging a method: that relentlessly logical drive, the use of memorable and shocking quotations by authorities, the effortless placing of the argument within historical boundaries and the furious moral edge, which — even in this early essay — sometimes tips over from irony into sarcasm (a swerve that will not serve him well in later years).

Here, however, even the sarcasm seems well-positioned. He begins one paragraph, for instance, by saying: “It is the responsibility of the intellectuals to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” He then refers to the 1938 Munich Agreement, wherein Britain and other European nations allowed the Nazis to annex the Sudetenland — one of the great errors of appeasement in modern times. He goes on to quote Adlai Stevenson on this error, where the former presidential candidate notes how “expansive powers push at more and more doors” until they break open, one by one, and finally resistance becomes necessary, whereupon “major war breaks out.” Chomsky comments: “Of course, the aggressiveness of liberal imperialism is not that of Nazi Germany, though the distinction may seem rather academic to a Vietnamese peasant who is being gassed or incinerated.”

What he says about the gassed, incinerated victims of American military violence plucks our attention. It’s good polemical writing that forces us to confront the realities at hand.

What really got to me when I first read this essay was the astonishing idea that Americans didn’t always act out of purity of motives, wishing the best for everyone. That was what I had been taught by a generation of teachers who had served in World War II, but the Vietnam War forced many in my generation to begin the painful quest to understand American motives in a more complex way. Chomsky writes that it’s “an article of faith that American motives are pure and not subject to analysis.” He goes on to say with almost mock reticence: “We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests, great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and misery of the lower orders.”

The sardonic tone, as in “the lower orders,” disfigures the writing; but at the time this sentence hit me hard. I hadn’t thought about American imperialism until then, and I assumed that Americans worked with benign intent, using our spectacular power to further democratic ends. In fact, American power is utilized almost exclusively to protect American economic interests abroad and to parry blows that come when our behavior creates a huge kickback, as with radical Islamic terrorism.

One of the features of this early essay that will play out expansively in Chomsky’s voluminous later writing is the manner in which he sets up “experts,” quickly to deride them. Famously the Kennedy and Johnson administrations surrounded themselves with the “best and the brightest,” and this continued through the Nixon years, with Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, becoming secretary of state. Chomsky skewers a range of these technocrats in this essay, people who in theory are “intellectuals,” from Walter Robinson through Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger, among many others, each of whom accepts a “fundamental axiom,” which is that “the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible.” The “responsible” critics, he says, don’t challenge this assumption but suggest that Americans probably can’t “get away with it,” whatever “it” is, at this or that particular time or place.

Chomsky cites a recent article on Vietnam by Irving Kristol in Encounter (which was soon to be exposed as a recipient of CIA funding) where the “teach-in movement” is criticized: Professors and students would sit together and talk about the war outside of class times and classrooms. (I had myself attended several of these events, so I sat to attention while reading.) Kristol was an early neocon, a proponent of realpolitik contrasted college professor-intellectuals against the war as “unreasonable, ideological types” motived by “simple, virtuous ‘anti-imperialism’” with sober experts like himself.

Chomsky dives in: “I am not interested here in whether Kristol’s characterization of protest and dissent is accurate, but rather in the assumptions that it expresses with respect to such questions as these: Is the purity of American motives a matter that is beyond discussion, or that is irrelevant to discussion? Should decisions be left to ‘experts’ with Washington contacts?” He questions the whole notion of “expertise” here, the assumption that these men (there were almost no women “experts” in the mid-’60s) possessed relevant information that was “not in the public domain,” and that they would make the “best” decisions on matters of policy.

Chomsky was, and remains, a lay analyst of foreign affairs, with no academic degrees in the field. He was not an “expert” on Southeast Asia at the time, just a highly informed and very smart person who could access the relevant data and make judgments. He would go on, over the next five decades, to apply his relentless form of criticism to a dizzying array of domestic and foreign policy issues — at times making sweeping statements and severe judgments that would challenge and inspire many but also create a minor cottage industry devoted to debunking Chomsky.

This is not the place to defend Chomsky against his critics, as this ground has been endlessly rehashed. It’s enough to say that many intelligent critics over the years would find Chomsky self-righteous and splenetic, quick to accuse American power brokers of evil motives, too easy to grant a pass to mass murderers like Pol Pot or, during the period before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein.

I take it for granted, as I suspect Chomsky does, that in foreign affairs there are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to pin blame anywhere. One may see George W. Bush, for instance, as the propelling force behind the catastrophe of the Iraq War, but surely even that blunder was a complex matter, with a mix of oil interests (represented by Dick Cheney) and perhaps naive political motives as well. One recalls “experts” like Paul Wolfowitz, who told a congressional committee on February. 27, 2003, that he was “reasonably certain” that the Iraqi people would “greet us as liberators.”

Fifty years after writing “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and — in the dawning age of President Donald Trump — one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump “placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Chomsky acknowledged that the “last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous,” but went on to explain that he believes that the denial of global warming means “racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life.” As he would, he laid out in some detail the threat of climate change, pointing to the tens of millions in Bangladesh who will soon have to flee from “low-lying plains … because of sea level rise and more severe weather, creating a migrant crisis that will make today’s pale in significance.”

I don’t know that, in fact, the Republican Party of today is really more dangerous than, say, the Nazi or Stalinist or Maoist dictatorships that left tens of millions dead. But, as ever, Chomsky makes his point memorably, and forces us to confront an uncomfortable situation.

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Intellectuals need to  take on this “dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House”and Malaysia’s most corrupt and intellectually challenged Prime Minister Najib Razak and other kleptocrats. Speak the Truth to Power–Din Merican

As I reread Chomsky’s essay on the responsibility of intellectuals, it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now. Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015.”

Recommended Read:

https://www.pdx.edu/challenge-program/sites/www.pdx.edu.challenge-program/files/KRANE-TheResponsibilityofIntellectuals.pdf