Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost


July 23, 2018

Foreign Policy: Russia might have been lost

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/7/19/russia-might-have-been-lost-from-the-start

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“So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.”–Fareed Zakaria

President Trump’s news conference Monday in Helsinki was the most embarrassing performance by an American President I can think of. And his preposterous efforts to talk his way out of his troubles made him seem even more absurd. But what has been obscured by this disastrous and humiliating display is the other strain in Trump’s Russia narrative. As he recently tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity.” This notion is now firmly lodged in Trump’s mind and informs his view of Russia and Putin. And it is an issue worth taking seriously.

The idea that Washington “lost” Russia has been around since the mid-1990s. I know because I was one of the people who made that case. In a New York Times Magazine article in 1998, I argued that “central to any transformation of the post-Cold-War world was the transformation of Russia. As with Germany and Japan in 1945, an enduring peace required that Moscow be integrated into the Western world. Otherwise a politically and economically troubled great power . . . would remain bitter and resentful about the post-Cold-War order.”

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The Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 16 boosted the Russian president’s international standing – mainly because he managed to pull Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu over to his court. While Putin basks in the afterglow of the summit and the successful World Cup, both Trump and Netanyahu must face the music at home.–https://www.debka.com

This never happened, I argued, because Washington was not ambitious enough in the aid it offered. Nor was it understanding enough of Russia’s security concerns — in the Balkans, for example, where the United States launched military interventions that ran roughshod over Russian sensibilities.

I continue to believe Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton missed an opportunity to attempt a fundamental reset with Russia. But it has also become clear that there were many powerful reasons U.S.-Russian relations might have been destined to deteriorate.

Russia in the early 1990s was in a period of unusual weakness. It had lost not just its Soviet-era sphere of influence but also its 300-year-old czarist empire. Its economy was in free fall; its society was collapsing. In this context, it watched as the United States expanded NATO, intervened against Russia’s allies in the Balkans and criticized its efforts to stop Chechnya from seceding.

From America’s vantage point, locking in the security of the newly liberated countries of Eastern Europe was an urgent matter. Washington worried that war in Yugoslavia was destabilizing Europe and producing a humanitarian nightmare. And the United States could not condone Russia’s brutal wars in Chechnya, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and much of the region was destroyed. The United States and Russia were simply on opposite sides of these issues.

In addition, by the late 1990s, Russia was moving away from a democratic path. Even under President Boris Yeltsin, the bypassing of democratic institutions and rule by presidential decree became common. Democratic forces in the country were always weak. Scholar Daniel Treisman has shown that by the mid-’90s, the combined tally for all liberal democratic reformers in Russia’s Duma elections never went above 20 percent. The “extreme opposition” forces, by contrast — communist, hypernationalist — received on average about 35 percent. And once Putin came to power, the move toward illiberal democracy and then outright authoritarianism became unstoppable. Putin has never faced a serious liberal opposition.

An authoritarian Russia had even more areas of contention with the United States. It panicked over the “color revolutions,” in which countries such as Georgia and Ukraine became more democratic. It looked with consternation at the establishment of democracy in Iraq. These forces, by contrast, were being cheered on by the United States. And to Putin, President George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” might have seemed designed to dislodge his regime.

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The New Russian Tsar–Vladimir Putin

Perhaps most crucially, by the mid-2000s, steadily rising oil prices had resulted in a doubling of Russia’s per capita gross domestic product, and cash was flowing into the Kremlin’s coffers. A newly enriched Russia looked at its region with a much more assertive and ambitious gaze. And Putin, sitting atop the “vertical of power” he had created, began a serious effort to restore Russian influence and undermine the West and its democratic values. What has followed — the interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, the alliance with President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the cyber attacks against Western countries — has all been in service of that strategy.

So yes, the West might have missed an opportunity to transform Russia in the early ’90s. We will never know whether it would have been successful. But what we do know is that there were darker forces growing in Russia from the beginning, that those forces took over the country almost two decades ago and that Russia has chosen to become the principal foe of America and the American-created world order.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times


July 21, 2018

American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times

“…freedoms must be defended, which is possible only when the threats are seen clearly. The moment people stop believing that the demagogues can be prevented from doing their worst is the moment we can be sure that it is already too late.–Ian Buruma
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Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018
www.project-syndicate.org

 

The Trump-Putin Summit and the Death of American Foreign Policy


July 21, 2018

The Trump-Putin Summit and the Death of American Foreign Policy

by Susan Glasser

https://www.newyorker.com

Days after Helsinki, the Russians claim big “agreements” were reached, and Washington is silent.Photograph by Win McNamee / Getty

 

In the days since the Monday meeting in Helsinki, there’s been an understandable frenzy over President Trump’s post-summit press conference, given that he sided with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, over his own intelligence agencies on the subject of Russia’s 2016 election interference, ranted about his Electoral College victory, blamed the United States for bad relations with Russia, and called the special prosecutor investigating his alleged collusion a “disgrace to our country” as a smirking Putin looked on. But the real scandal of Helsinki may be only just emerging.

On Thursday, Putin gave a public address to Russian diplomats in which he claimed that specific “useful agreements” were reached with Trump in their one-on-one meeting at the summit, a private meeting that Trump himself insisted on. Putin’s announcement came a day after his Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said that Trump had made “important verbal agreements” with Putin on arms control and other matters. The Russians, Antonov said, were ready to get moving on implementing them. The White House, meanwhile, has said nothing about what the two men may have agreed to in private, although Trump tweeted Thursday morning that he and Putin had discussed everything from nuclear proliferation to Syria, Ukraine, and trade, and that he looked forward to a second meeting with the Russian President soon, to follow up. On Thursday afternoon, the White House confirmed that Trump plans to invite Putin to Washington in the fall for another summit.

Days after the Helsinki summit, Trump’s advisers have offered no information—literally zero—about any such agreements. His own government apparently remains unaware of any deals that Trump made with Putin, or any plans for a second meeting, and public briefings from the State Department and Pentagon have offered no elaboration except to make clear that they are embarrassingly uninformed days after the summit.

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America’s Embarrassment–State Department is kept out of the loop of  Trump-Putin private discussions in Helsinki

Unlike Putin, Trump did not brief his own diplomats on the Helsinki meeting. The American Secretary of State, national-security adviser, and Ambassador to Moscow, who attended the lunch after Trump and Putin’s private session, have been publicly silent on the substance of the meetings, leaving it to the Russians, for now, to make claims about what was actually said and done behind closed doors between the two Presidents. Even as Putin was publicly talking of “agreements” in Moscow on Thursday, the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, gave a radio interview to the conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. The bulk of their conversation concerned a meeting that Pompeo is hosting next week to promote “religious freedom” internationally.

The Secretary of State was neither asked about nor chose to elaborate on what happened in Helsinki, and the only question about Russia concerned whether Pompeo had been alerted, before the Helsinki summit, to the Justice Department indictments of a dozen Russian military-intelligence officers in connection with the 2016 Russian hacking on Trump’s behalf. “I can’t talk about that, Hugh,” Pompeo said.

The information provided to America’s top diplomats, those whose job it is to deal with Russia, was just as sparse and potentially incomplete. The Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Russia, Wess Mitchell, on Tuesday briefed the State Department group that has been pulled together to discuss Russia policy before and after the summit. There was no mention of any agreements. “There is no word on agreements,” a senior U.S. official told me. “There is no information on the U.S. side about any agreements.” So was Putin lying? Was Trump? Was it possible there was a misunderstanding, and that Trump thinks he made no commitments and Putin thinks he did? “It is terribly disturbing,” the senior official said. “The point is that we don’t know.”

A U.S. Ambassador in Europe, who has extensive experience dealing with Russia, told me that he and other State Department officials who would need to know have received no post-summit briefings, or even talking points about what happened, both of which would be standard practice after such an important encounter. “Nothing,” he told me. “We are completely in the dark. Completely.”

At the same time, the fragmentary evidence that has emerged, from the Russian comments and Trump’s various interviews, suggests there is reason for serious concern. In an interview on Fox, Trump questioned America’s commitment to the NATO alliance’s Article 5 mutual-defense provision, disparaging the new NATO member Montenegro as an “aggressive” little country that just might provoke us into “World War Three.” The criticism seemed to parrot Putin’s thinking on NATO and Montenegro—where Russia mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt last year in an effort to block the country’s NATO accession. The exchange left observers justifiably wondering if this was part of the agenda in the private Trump-Putin talks.

Trump has also, in his tweets and other interviews, alluded to substantive discussions with Putin on issues such as Syria, where Trump is already on record as saying he wants to withdraw U.S. troops. If Trump, in fact, struck a secret deal with Putin in Helsinki to pull back U.S. troops from Syria, or otherwise limit the American presence, that would prove deeply controversial among many in his own party.

While Trump’s comments gave cause for concern, another public uproar emerged over Trump’s suggestion that he was taking seriously Putin’s demand to interrogate the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and a number of congressional staffers. McFaul and the staffers were involved in imposing sanctions on corrupt Russian officials after successful lobbying by the U.S.-born businessman Bill Browder, who has emerged as one of Putin’s chief international foes. Was the handing over of a former American Ambassador to Moscow and congressional staffers to Russian officials also discussed—or even agreed to by Trump—in the private session? The White House said it was “considering” Putin’s proposal, while the State Department called demands on McFaul and others “absurd” and a non-starter. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, the White House said Trump “disagrees” with the proposal, which, it nonetheless insisted, had been made by Putin “in sincerity.”

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The bewildered White House  Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a tough job defending her POTUS

I spoke with McFaul a few minutes after the White House statement from the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was released. “This is hardly a defense of us,” McFaul told me, pointing out that neither he nor the other ten current and former U.S. government officials apparently sought by Putin had anything to do with Browder, and yet were somehow accused of being implicated in a spurious Russian criminal case against the businessman. “The disturbing thing is, this is just one part of the private conversation we know about, and think about how cockamamie it was,” McFaul added. “So that’s the one thing we know about the private talks, and it has this incredibly bad consequence for the American interest. So why wouldn’t we assume the rest of the conversation was like that as well?”

 

We are witnessing nothing less than the breakdown of American foreign policy. This week’s extraordinary confusion over even the basic details of the Helsinki summit shows that all too clearly. We may not yet know what exactly Trump agreed to with Putin, or even if they agreed to anything at all; perhaps, it will turn out, Putin and his advisers have sprung another clever disinformation trap on Trump, misleading the world about their private meeting because a novice American President gave them an opening to do so. But, even if we don’t know the full extent of what was said and done behind closed doors in Helsinki, here’s what we already do know as a result of the summit: America’s government is divided from its President on Russia; its process for orderly decision-making, or even basic communication, has disintegrated; and its ability to lead an alliance in Europe whose main mission in recent years has been to counter and contain renewed Russian aggression has been seriously called into question.

On Thursday, not long after Putin’s remarks, I spoke with a former senior National Security Council official who has remained in close contact with Trump’s Russia advisers. The official described a bleak scene: the utter lack of process; the failure of the U.S. government to clarify what was even discussed, never mind agreed to, at the meeting; the deep concerns of NATO allies who had spent the previous week believing they had secured Trump’s commitment to their shared agenda of pushing back against Russian aggression. It all seemed almost incomprehensible to anyone with the vaguest sense of how the United States has conducted its foreign policy for generations. “This is no way to run a superpower,” he told me. It’s hard to imagine anyone, Republican or Democrat, who could seriously disagree.

 

  • Susan B. Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on life in Trump’s Washington.

Conversation with Charles Krauthammer


July 20, 2018

Conversation with Charles Krauthammer

 

The Reagan Doctrine

“We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth . . . Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.”

–President Reagan, in the State of the Union, February 1985

Ronald Reagan is the master of the new idea, and has built the most successful political career in a half-century launching one after another. His list of credits includes small government (Barry Goldwater having tried, and failed, with it first), supply-side economics and strategic defense (Star Wars). These radically changed the terms of debate on the welfare state, economic theory and nuclear strategy. All that was left for him to turn on its head was accepted thinking on geopolitics. Now he has done that too. He has produced the Reagan Doctrine.

You may not have noticed. Doctrines, like submarines, tend to be launched with fanfare. The Monroe Doctrine was instantly recognized, on both sides of the Atlantic, as a historic declaration; the Truman Doctrine was unveiled in a dramatic address to a joint session of Congress; and when President Carter announced a new aggressive Persian Gulf policy on Jan. 23, 1980, by the next morning the New York Times had dubbed it “the Carter Doctrine.” President Reagan saw fit to bury his doctrine in his 1985 State of the Union address beneath the balanced budget amendment, school prayer and the line-item veto. That he decided to make his a footnote is as much a tribute to Mr. Reagan’s prudence as to his modesty. Truly new ideas–what Democrats lie awake at night dreaming of–are as risky as they are rare. This one has already precipitated a storm.

The Reagan Doctrine proclaims overt and unashamed American support for anti- Communist revolution. The grounds are justice, necessity and democratic tradition. Justice, said the President in his Feb. 16 radio address, because these revolutionaries are “fighting for an end to tyranny.” Necessity, said Secretary of State George Shultz in a subsequent address in San Francisco, because if these “freedom fighters” are defeated, their countries will be irrevocably lost behind an Iron Curtain of Soviet domination. And democratic tradition, said the President, because to support “our brothers” in revolution is to continue–“in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Angola . . . (and) Nicaragua”–200 years of American support for “Simon Bolivar . . . the Polish patriots, the French Resistance and others seeking freedom.”

That tradition ended abruptly with Viet Nam. It is true that President Carter sent arms to the Afghan rebels and that Congress concurred. Congress has also gone along with economic aid to the non-Communist resistance in Cambodia. However, since the Clark Amendment of 1976 prohibiting aid to anti-Marxist fighters in Angola, Congress has refused to support war against indigenous Communist dictatorships, no matter how heavily supported by the Soviet Union or its proxies. President Reagan’s program of CIA support for the Nicaraguan contras, who are not fighting foreign occupation, broke post-Viet Nam precedent. At first, and for three long years, that new policy was given the flimsiest of justifications: interdicting supplies to the Salvadoran guerrillas. The Reagan Doctrine drops the fig leaf. It is intended to establish a new, firmer–a doctrinal–foundation for such support by declaring equally worthy all armed resistance to Communism, whether foreign or indigenously imposed.

To interpret the Reagan Doctrine as merely a puffed-up rationale for Nicaraguan policy is like calling the Truman Doctrine a cover for a new Greek and Turkish policy. In both cases, the principles established have a much more profound implication.

The Truman Doctrine set out the basic foreign policy axiom of the postwar era: containment. With J.F.K.’s pledge to “bear any burden . . . to assure . . . the success of liberty,” the idea of containment reached its most expansive and consensually accepted stage. With Viet Nam, the consensus and the expansiveness collapsed. Since then the U.S. has oscillated, at times erratically, between different approaches–different doctrines–for defending its ideals and its interests.

The Reagan Doctrine is the third such attempt since Viet Nam. The first was the Nixon Doctrine: relying on friendly regimes to police their regions. Unfortunately, the jewel in the crown of this theory was the Shah of Iran. Like him, it was retired in 1979 to a small Panamanian island. Next came the Carter Doctrine, declaring a return to unilateral American action, if necessary, in defense of Western interests. That doctrine rested on the emergence of a rapid deployment force. Unfortunately, the force turned out neither rapid nor deployable. It enjoys a vigorous theoretical existence in southern Florida, whence it is poorly situated to repel the Red Army.

If regional powers prove unstable, and projected American power unreliable, what then? It is a precious irony that the answer to that question has been suggested to Americans by a band of fanatical Islamic warriors in Afghanistan. Unaware of their historic contribution to the theory of containment, they took on the Soviet army, made it bleed and slowed its march to the more coveted goal, the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.

This insurgency, and those in Cambodia, Angola and Nicaragua, pointed to a new form of containment, a kind of ex post facto containment: harassment of Soviet expansionism at the limits of empire. There is an echo here of the old 1950s right-wing idea of “rolling back” Communism. But with a difference. This is not the reckless–and toothless–call for reclaiming the core Soviet possessions in Eastern Europe, which the Soviets claim for self-defense and, more important, which they are prepared to use the most extreme means to retain. This is a challenge to the peripheral acquisitions of empire.

The Brezhnev Doctrine proclaimed in 1968 that the Soviet sphere only expands. The Reagan Doctrine is meant as its antithesis. It declares that the U.S. will work at the periphery to reverse that expansion. How? Like the Nixon Doctrine, it turns to proxies. Unlike the Nixon Doctrine, it supports not the status quo but revolution.

And that makes it so hard for both left and right to digest. For the left it seems all quite paradoxical, and hypocritical: the Administration denounces Salvadoran guerrillas for blowing up power stations and attacking villages, while at the same time it supports Nicaraguan guerrillas who are doing the same thing only a few miles away. But the idea that intellectual honesty requires one to be for or against all revolution is absurd. You judge a revolution, as you do any other political phenomenon, by what it stands for. Suppose you believe that justice was on the side of the central government in the American Civil War. Does that commit you to oppose the Paris Commune of 1870 or the Hungarian revolution of 1956? In Salvador, the rebels want to overthrow the President, a Christian Democrat. In Nicaragua, the rebels want to overthrow the President, a Marxist-Leninist. To judge rebels by who they are and what they fight for, and against, is not a political morality of convenience. It is simple logic.

On the right, the idea of supporting revolution is equally hard to accept, though for different reasons. Conservatives may find it easier to support revolution in practice than in theory. This is already obvious from their choice of words. Reagan finds it hard to call the good guys rebels. Instead, he insists on calling them “freedom fighters,” a heavy, inconvenient term, with an unmistakable socialist-realist ring. “Freedom fighters” practically announces itself as a term of bias. Rebels, Mr. President. With practice, it will get easier to say.

Language, however, is the easier problem facing the Reagan Doctrine. Morality poses thornier ones. By what right does the U.S. take sides in foreign civil wars? What about sovereignty? What about international law?

The President may be revolutionary, but he is not reckless. To ensure that he does not stray too far from current thinking, he appends a reference to international law: “Support for freedom fighters is self-defense and totally consistent with the OAS and U.N. charters.”

This, it must be admitted, is stretching things. There are two difficulties. How can one plausibly argue that the success of Islamic rebels in Afghanistan is a form of self-defense of the U.S.? The Nicaraguan contras, perhaps, might qualify under a generous interpretation of collective security. But Cambodian rebels? Angolans? Eritreans?

The second problem is that if international law stands for anything, it stands for the idea that sovereignty is sacred. Rebels, by definition, do not have it. The governments they fight, no matter how tyrannous, do. How, ask congressional critics, can one justify violating the sovereignty of other countries by helping overthrow the legitimate government?

The answer must begin with cases. Consider Uganda under Idi Amin. Amin was the legitimate ruler when Tanzania invaded and overthrew him. The Tanzanians might say that this was in response to Ugandan border incursions, but Amin had ordered his troops withdrawn more than a month before Tanzania’s action. In any case, if repelling a trespass at the border was the problem, Tanzania should have stopped there. It hardly had to drive to Kampala and install the leader of its choice. Tanzania’s action, ridding the world of Amin, was a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. It is hard to see how it can be said to be wrong.

Morally speaking–and congressional critics of the Reagan Doctrine are speaking morally, above all–sovereignty cannot be absolute. Indeed, it is not a moral category at all. Why must it be accorded respect, moral respect, in cases where it protects truly awful regimes? The Nazis were the legitimate government of Germany. That does not mean that one is justified in overthrowing any government one does not like. It does mean that one has to face the crucial question: How awful must a government be before it forfeits the moral protection of sovereignty and before justice permits its violent removal?

In Congress today there is almost no opposition to supporting Afghan and (non-Communist) Cambodian rebels. There is a consensus that resistance to invasion warrants support. But by what logic should support be denied to those fighting indigenous tyranny? It seems curious to decide the morality of a cause on the basis of the address of its chief oppressors.

There are more relevant criteria. First, the nature of the oppression and the purposes of those fighting it. The difference between El Salvador and Nicaragua is that in Salvador, a fledgling democracy is under attack from avowed Marxist-Leninists. In Nicaragua, a fledgling totalitarianism is under attack by a mixture of forces, most of which not only are pledged to democracy and pluralism but fought for just those goals in the original revolution against Somoza.

A second important distinction is whether the insurgency is an authentic popular movement or a proxy force cobbled together by a great power for reasons of realpolitik. In both Salvador and Nicaragua, the governments say their opponents are puppets of different imperialisms. In neither case does the charge stick. Consider Nicaragua. As no less a democrat than Arturo Cruz, leader of the (nonviolent) opposition, writes, the contras–“the revolt of Nicaraguans against oppression by other Nicaraguans”–now represent an authentic “social movement.” Indeed, they are more than 12,000 strong and growing, even after the cutoff of American aid.

If a revolution is both popular and democratic, it is hard to see the moral objection to extending it support. But there is a practical objection: if every country decided for itself which revolutions to support, there would be chaos. What about the prudential reasons for respecting sovereignty and international law?

This argument has the virtue of recognizing that international law is not moral law but an arrangement of convenience: like the social contract in civil society, it is a way to keep the peace. This argument has the vice, however, of ignoring the fact that unlike the domestic social contract, international law lacks an enforcer. It depends on reciprocal observance. If one country breaks the rules at will, then later claims its protection, what–apart from habit and cowardice–can possibly oblige other countries to honor that claim?

The idea that international law must be a reciprocal arrangement or none at all is not new. As Churchill said to Parliament in 1940, “Germany is to gain one set of advantages by breaking all the (neutrality) rules (upon the seas) . . . and then go on and gain another set of advantages through insisting, whenever it suits her, upon the strictest interpretation of the international code she has torn to pieces.” He added, “It is not at all odd that His Majesty’s government are getting rather tired of it. I am getting rather tired of it myself.”

So is today’s American Government. There is something faintly comical about Nicaragua going to the World Court to accuse the U.S. of fomenting revolution and interfering in its affairs, when for years the Salvadoran revolution was quite openly headquartered in Managua–and not for a shortage of housing in the Salvadoran jungles. The Reagan Doctrine is more radical than it pretends to be. It pretends that support for democratic rebels is “self-defense” and sanctioned by international law. That case is weak. The real case rests instead on other premises: that to be constrained from supporting freedom by an excessive concern for sovereignty (and a unilateral concern, at that) is neither especially moral nor prudent. The West, of late, has taken to hiding behind parchment barriers as an excuse for inaction when oppressed democrats beg for help. The Reagan Doctrine, while still hiding a bit, announces an end to inaction.

Only a few months ago, a Nicaraguan friend, an exSandinista who still speaks their language, said in near despair that the struggle of democrats around the world was doomed by the absence in the West of what he called “democratic militance.” The Reagan Doctrine represents a first step toward its restoration.

American Foreign Policy: Trump’s Helsinki Debacle


July 19, 2018

American Foreign Policy: Trump’s Helsinki Debacle

The case for censuring Trump

Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC analyst and columnist for the Daily Beast.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-case-for-censuring-trump/2018/07/18/13f226ce-8acc-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?utm_term=.283b2ed56636&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

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“In Trump’s case, censure would not be a substitute for impeachment but a possible precursor to it. At a minimum, advocating censure would be a movement-building effort that would bring tone and focus to the amorphous “Check Trump” themes that Democratic candidates will use before the midterms. It would embed Helsinki in the campaign and help keep that ghastly episode fresh even after attention shifts elsewhere.”–Jonathan Alter

Sixty-four years ago, the U.S. Senate censured the bullying demagogue Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin for conduct that “tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute.” McCarthy lingered in the Senate for another 2 ½ years., but the censure essentially ended his early-1950s “Red Scare” reign of intimidation and character assassination.

Now President Trump, with his craven performance opposite Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, has brought his office into dishonor and disrepute. In doing so, Trump has presented a gift to congressional Democrats who dread campaigning on impeachment for the midterm election in the fall. The promise to censure Trump if Democrats retake the House would likely appeal more to voters than vowing to undo the 2016 election through impeachment.

For all the bipartisan condemnation of what has been called the “Helsinki humiliation,” censure isn’t part of the discussion. It should be.

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The Senate will not be a fruitful place to look for it. Timid Senate Republicans remain too frightened of their constituents to sanction their president. Under the most common reading of the rules, censure in the Senate would take 60 votes — a high bar unless special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation turns up five-alarm evidence involving the president.

The House, by contrast, requires only a simple majority to approve a motion of censure. If Democrats take that chamber this fall, they could censure Trump as early as January. He would obviously use it to try to rally his base. But even if the vote were largely symbolic, a resolution officially condemning Trump on national security and other grounds would be worth the trouble.

Censure would provide at least some measure of accountability for Trump, and it would be a repudiation-by-proxy of Putin. Along with strengthened sanctions against Russia, censure would send a strong message to the world that the U.S. president’s assault on NATO and capitulation to the Kremlin do not reflect the policy of the full U.S. government.

Last year, a small band of House liberals tried, with little notice, to censure Trump for blaming “both sides” after white supremacists sparked violence in Charlottesville. He deserved censure then, but today’s grounds are even stronger.

Censure, by either the Senate or the House, is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, and it has no legal force. But its rare use — only two dozen or so times in the nation’s history — makes it an especially stinging reprimand. Among presidents, only Andrew Jackson has been censured (for withholding key documents about the Bank of the United States), though his censure was later expunged. In 1998, when President Clinton was embroiled in a sex scandal involving a White House intern, many Senate Democrats favored voting for censure and moving on. But the Republican-controlled House was hellbent on impeaching him, instead. Republicans paid a price for that overreach, as today’s Democrats may well note.

In Trump’s case, censure would not be a substitute for impeachment but a possible precursor to it. At a minimum, advocating censure would be a movement-building effort that would bring tone and focus to the amorphous “Check Trump” themes that Democratic candidates will use before the midterms. It would embed Helsinki in the campaign and help keep that ghastly episode fresh even after attention shifts elsewhere.

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Some liberals may insist that impeachment must be part of Democratic campaigns in the fall. But most candidates know that moderate voters in flippable states and districts would prefer to see Mueller’s evidence first. Pushing impeachment now — without rock-solid evidence of the “treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors” necessary to win a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate — plays right into Trump’s hands.

Pushing censure doesn’t do that. An official reprimand of the President requires no evidence of collusion — beyond the sickening sight of two heads of state colluding on the world stage. Helsinki might become a useful wedge issue for Democrats. When asked what to do about Trump, they can say they favor censure now on national security grounds and want to wait for Mueller’s findings before considering what to do next. That answer would put Republican opponents on the spot. If GOP candidates oppose censure, they would be essentially saying they think the Helsinki humiliation was no big deal.

As Democrats prepare for possible control of one or both houses of Congress, they must develop their long-atrophied parliamentary muscles. That means planning hearings, investigations and bills to fix a multitude of Trump administration abuses. But they shouldn’t neglect the power of public shame, even for the most shameless man on the planet.

 

Ronald’s Out, Donald’s in


July 18, 2018

Ronald’s Out, Donald’s in

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/7/13/ronalds-out-donalds-in

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President Trump’s trip to Europe is being portrayed by both him and his critics as revolutionary. He tells us that he single-handedly and miraculously got members of NATO to increase their defense spending sharply. His critics claim that he single-handedly wrecked the Western alliance by sowing doubt and discord among America’s closest partners.

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Neither assertion is really true. Trump’s demands are, in fact, familiar American demands. President Barack Obama routinely asked the same of NATO allies. His first defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, chose to deliver his “farewell” speech in Europe — weeks before leaving office — on precisely this subject. He predicted a “dwindling appetite . . . in the American body politic . . . to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling . . . to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” And he warned that “future U.S. political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me, may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.”

Trump’s loud charge against Germany this week — that it has become too dependent on Russian natural gas — does have considerable merit. The Germans have eagerly signed up for an energy relationship with Russia that is strategically dangerous. Trump gets some of the dynamics wrong. It is not so much that by importing large amounts of natural gas from Russia, Berlin can be blackmailed. The Russians are equally dependent on German cash. But the new pipelines being built could allow Russia to threaten Eastern European countries by withholding energy supplies or jacking up prices, and Moscow has used and abused this energy card in the past.

Again, however, Trump’s complaint was often voiced by the Obama administration. And in neither of these cases is there any indication that Trump’s crude and aggressive approach has produced any results. If anything, it has made some Europeans feel that they have to push back. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reminded Trump that Germany is a vassal neither of Russia nor of the United States.

The real revolution, however, is in what Trump is doing with his foreign policy at home. He is continuing with his project, by intent or instinct, to remake the Republican Party. His approach abroad appears to be designed to create a new Republican foreign policy that is much closer to the party’s historical roots — distrustful of foreigners, alliances and treaties — and, in many senses, flatly isolationist. In his rallies, Trump describes America’s closest allies as “our worst enemies” and says they “kill us” on both security and trade. “We’re the schmucks,” he bemoans about America in its dealings with NATO and the European Union.

Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine that “Trump is training his base to hate NATO and like Putin.” Indeed, Trump has been remarkably successful: Fifty-one percent of Republicans now believe the United States shouldn’t defend NATO allies unless they increase defense spending. Even more astonishingly, Trump seems to have reversed Republican attitudes toward Russia and its dictator, Vladimir Putin. At a recent rally, Trump said, “You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people.” Republicans are now twice as likely as Democrats to express a favorable opinion of Putin, and 56 percent of Republicans want to cooperate and engage more with Russia.

The Republican Party has proved remarkably malleable ideologically. The party of law and order now has deep distrust of the FBI. The party of free trade is now far more solidly behind protectionism than the Democrats. The party that celebrated President Ronald Reagan’s optimism about immigrants now contains a majority that supports separating families at the border and criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants.

Trump’s political genius continues to be that he recognizes that the base of the party is ripe for this ideological revolution — that while the old Reaganite formula may still be subscribed to by Republican elites in Washington and New York, it’s not embraced out there in the grass roots.

Five years ago, one establishment Republican wrote that “the specter of isolationism is stalking the Republican Party. . . . It is hardly certain that isolationist sentiment will prevail. But it is critical . . . that national-security Republicans can answer the questions being raised, restore a coherent party platform and thereby thwart the new isolationism.”

Those words were written by John Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser. It seems even the most stalwart national-security Republicans have accommodated themselves to the Trump revolution.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group