Book Review: War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft.


September 18, 2016

http://www.thestrategybridge.com/the-bridge/2016/8/17/reviewing-war-by-other-means


There isn’t much grand about America’s post-Cold War grand strategy. Such is the consensus among the academic scholars, think-tankers, pundits, and many former national security officials who have chastised U.S. foreign policymakers for lacking strategic sophistication, or worse, failing to craft a coherent grand strategy at all.[1] For the last twenty five years, these critics claim, Washington has sought the wrong goals, under-resourced its efforts, and failed to anticipate the likely second-order effects of its policies.[2] In the main, these critical assessments have understandably focused on the military-security dimension of grand strategy. America’s national security policies since the mid-1990s cost much blood and treasure, degraded regional security environments, and inspired hostile reactions by other powers.[3]

In their well-crafted and important new book, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris join this discussion orthogonally, arguing that the United States has altogether abandoned the economic dimension of grand strategy. Since the mid-1960s, Washington has been gripped by a debilitating neoliberal (or, neoclassical economic) dogma that works as an ideological firewall separating the operation of markets from the pursuit of international political objectives. As a result, America’s substantial and diversified economic resources have been woefully underutilized as tools of grand strategy. At the same time, the United States’ most formidable challengers (China, Russia, and Iran) are all effective practitioners of economic statecraft. To secure its national interest in the years to come, Washington must relearn how to employ economic resources in the service of its geopolitical objectives. To do otherwise would cede the contest to states whose interests and actions will continue to undermine American security and prosperity.

War by Other Means is structured around three main themes. In the first three chapters, Blackwill and Harris examine economic statecraft generally, defining “geoeconomics” as “the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests and to produce beneficial geopolitical results; and the effects of other nations’ economic actions on a country’s geopolitical goals.”[4]  The authors argue that rising powers now turn first to economic statecraft because it effectively buttresses their geopolitical objectives while mitigating the risk of armed conflict.  Unlike past eras, state-capitalist challengers to the prevailing liberal order have many more economic instruments at the ready. Due to the expansion of global markets and their structural transformations over time, economic factors now impinge substantially on states’ geopolitical choices. By way of example, the authors note that “the fate of the European Union—perhaps the West’s greatest foreign policy achievement of the twentieth century and the closest U.S. foreign policy partner—for several years rested at least as much in the hands of bond markets as in European political capitals.”[5]  In sum, the current international system entails new economic and financial challenges and opportunities, offering states many powerful geoeconomic assets to employ against targets large and small.

Among the most insightful sections in these early chapters is Blackwill and Harris’s in-depth examination of the geoeconomic instruments available to states, including: trade policy, investment policy, economic sanctions, cyber, foreign aid, monetary policy, and energy and commodity policies. Not content merely to catalog these policy tools, the authors offer a valuable discussion of the interrelations among them—noting where synergies can be found and where tensions may lie. Most important is the authors’ argument pertaining to the sources of geoeconomic effectiveness. Blackwill and Harris maintain that effectiveness is in part a function of four “geoeconomic endowments”: the ability to control outbound investments, the particular features of domestic markets, the influence over commodity and energy flows, and the centrality of the state in the global financial system. Beyond these structural attributes are the contextual features that must factor into a state’s decision making process: the number and types of geoeconomic targets, the goals sought, and the selection of the proper economic tools that can deliver those goals.

China’s geoeconomic approach to statecraft is the second general theme taken up by Blackwill and Harris. The PRC has demonstrated remarkable capacities to employ explicit and implicit economic coercion to orient weaker states’ foreign policies in ways that support Beijing’s geopolitical objectives, to hedge against the actions of other regional competitors (namely, India and Russia), and to mount a challenge to American preeminence in the global economy. Blackwill and Harris maintain that China’s approach is a soft strategy of economic domination through its investment, natural resource extraction, development, and monetary policies. Not only does this approach pose a direct challenge to the U.S., but the indirect economic and security threats are substantial. China has “… locked up significant quantities of global energy resources, grown the coffers of dictators unfriendly to the United States; lent new momentum to domestic proponents of China’s own military buildup, and arguably have increased the odds of resource-based conflict.”[6] All of this while staying out of other states’ wars.

Compounding these challenges to the U.S. are self-imposed constraints on America’s practice of geoeconomics, the subject of the book’s third theme. Despite their overall dissatisfaction with American geoeconomic performance, Blackwill and Harris’s account of America’s dismal track record can be read as cautiously optimistic. The U.S. is, after all, the largest of the world’s economies, centrally positioned in global markets, and of monumental importance, the beneficiary of technological and geological endowments that are spurring a revolution in its energy portfolio (their chapter “The Geoeconomics of North America’s Energy Revolution” is alone worth the book’s sticker price). Moreover, the United States has a rich history of successfully practicing geoeconomics. The purpose of the Marshall Plan, for example, was quintessentially geoeconomic. As George Kennan argued in 1947, American aid to the war-ravaged states in Western Europe should attempt to redress “the economic maladjustment which makes European Society vulnerable to exploitation by any and all totalitarian movements and which Russian communism is now exploiting.”[7] Despite this and many other examples from its past, Blackwill and Harris maintain that the American foreign policy establishment has long since forgotten that the U.S. was once an avid and successful practitioner of geoeconomics.

The authors point to two causes of this strategic amnesia: the presumption that military-security affairs constitutes the most important component of grand strategy, and the “…widely held world view that markets are somehow apolitical, to be kept free from geopolitical encroachments, and in any case not a proper arena for state power politics.”[8] These assumptions, Blackwill and Harris argue, were not held for most of America’s history (becoming prominent only at the time of the Vietnam War), are rejected by the states that are posing the most salient challenges to America’s position in the world, and undermine the United States’ ability to forge an effective grand strategy in response. To properly rebalance its grand strategy, the U.S. must redress a number of challenges: a bipartisan deficit in presidential leadership, the reflexive overuse of economic sanctions, and the transfer of bureaucratic authority of geoeconomic policymaking out of the State Department. Most importantly, the U.S. must cultivate the intellectual capacities within the foreign policy establishment necessary to reincorporate economics into grand strategy.

Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris discuss War by Other Means (Council on Foreign Relations)

Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris discuss War by Other Means (Council on Foreign Relations)

War by Other Means is a well-reasoned and important book that offers useful alternatives to stale nostrums that have long dominated American statecraft. Notwithstanding its strengths, the book’s analysis suffers at times by not engaging fully with the literature it challenges. For example, Blackwill and Harris contend that the economic dimension of statecraft has been largely buried by an overriding focus on military-security considerations since the 1960s. This view is not universally shared, however. According to both Christopher Layne and Andrew Bacevich, American foreign policy has long sought to keep “economic open doors” ajar, a policy objective requiring the conjoined use of military and economic resources to make states and regions amenable to American economic and geopolitical influence.[9] Economic open door logic was evident in America’s Cold War grand strategies and was later manifest in Washington’s response to the crises in the Balkans in the 1990s. Further, as Richard Haass points out, “The U.S. interest in the [Middle East] region’s oil is strategic, one of ensuring American and world access to adequate supplies, not tied in any way to gaining financial advantage.”[10] This strategic imperative informed the first Bush administration’s decision to wage war against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In sum, economic instruments and objectives are seen, in this line of reasoning, as mainstays of U.S. statecraft, working hand in glove with military power.

Further, Blackwill and Harris lament the removal of American economic instruments from its grand strategic toolbox. Not only has this contributed to the winnowing of the range of responses the U.S. can make in response to geopolitical challenges, but the widespread belief that economic logic is fundamentally apolitical has done real strategic damage. The authors are on solid ground in diagnosing the current problems confronting the U.S. Still, a case can be made that by giving markets a freer hand (liberal trade and financial policies), the American economy benefitted both absolutely and relatively vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in Cold War’s final years. In particular, liberal economic policies championed by the U.S. fostered globalized inter- and intra-firm alliances that enhanced the efficiency of supply chains, allowed for greater access to capital, distributed risk, and fostered innovation. The results were profound: a decrepit and uncompetitive Soviet economy forced the Kremlin into retrenchment and strategic reorientation toward the West. As Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth pithily note, “globalization was not global: it took sides in the Cold War.”[11] Geoeconomics, as Blackwill and Harris understand it, was not explicitly practiced in this case.  But in light of the international economic determinants of Soviet behavior in the late 1980s, it is difficult to argue that a wiser approach was on offer.

However one may quibble with its historical analysis, War by Other Means is fundamentally a book about present challenges and future responses. According to the authors, American policymakers must come to terms with a stark reality, that the “rules-based system… is delivering less and less in the way of strategic returns as rising powers (often through geoeconomic attempts of their own) undercut it.”[12] Furthermore, the present order does little to enhance U.S. strategic interests because it is flimsy and disproportionately advantages a growing China.

G. John Ikenberry on illiberal alternatives to the present order: “…on a global scale, such a system would not advance the interests of any of the major states, including China.”

Yet to effectively make the case that an explicit and assertive brand of geoeconomic statecraft is necessary because the American-led liberal order is failing to deliver, that global architecture needed to be thoroughly analyzed and shown to be wanting. Specifically, Blackwill and Harris needed to tackle the arguments which understand the liberal international order to be both durable and powerful in its socializing effects on rising challengers. According to this view, the order fashioned by the United States and its allies in the aftermath of World War II is loosely rules-based, nondiscriminatory, and densely institutionalized. Within this order, rising powers can gain substantially—but in ways that powerfully shape their interests and limit their revisionist tendencies. In other words, because it has grown within the order, China can neither abandon it without substantial penalty nor induce others join an alternative Sino-centric order. As G. John Ikenberry notes, there is no illiberal alternative to the present order, “…on a global scale, such a system would not advance the interests of any of the major states, including China.”[13] While the terms of ownership of the order may need renegotiation, the underlying logic is stable and mutually beneficial.[14]

Furthermore, the existence of the liberal order adds to China’s current strategic dilemmas.  As Edward Luttwak posited, the PRC’s simultaneous pursuit of economic growth, military expansion, and international political influence, will ultimately be met with a forceful geoeconomic reaction.[15] Should Beijing’s case of “great state autism” not be mitigated over time, other states will find intolerable Beijing’s selectively coercive and discriminatory brand of economic statecraft, and the existing liberal order more attractive. The upshot is that China’s economic statecraft may prove successful, but only for a time. Far better for the U.S. to demonstrate to China’s geoeconomic targets that the prevailing order offers them more benefits and less costs over the long term. The point is not to say that Blackwill and Harris are wrong in their descriptions of how China is using geoeconomics to challenge the U.S. Rather, that there are good reasons to believe that China is hemmed in by broad normative, institutional, and strategic features. In short, a more thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the prevailing liberal order would have benefited the authors’ arguments in a number of ways.

Spencer Bakich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Virginia Military Institute and the author of Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars.

NOTES:

[1] For a sampling of the debate, see contributors to “Obama’s World,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 94, no. 5 (September/October 2015), 2-78; contributors to “Obama’s World: Judging His Foreign Policy Record,” H-Diplo/ISSF Forum, no. 14 (2016); Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014; and Colin Dueck, The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[2] Richard K. Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).; Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Knopf, 2014); and Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat(New York: Doubleday, 2013).

[3] Martin Indyk, “The End of the U.S.-Dominated Order in the Middle East,” The Atlantic(March 13, 2016).

[4] Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 9.

[5] Ibid., 37-38.

[6] Ibid., 151.

[7] Ibid., 163.

[8] Ibid, 153.

[9] Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006); Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

[10] Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 75.

[11] Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, “Power, Globalization, and the End of the Cold War: Reevaluating a Landmark Case for Ideas,” International Security, vol. 25, no. 3 (Winter, 2000-2001), pp. 5-53.

[12] Blackwill and Harris, 186.

[13] G. John Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order: Internationalism After America,”Foreign Affairs, vol. 90, no. 3 (May/June 2011).

[14] G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[15] Edward N. Luttwak, The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Joseph Stiglitz: ‘The EU’s monetary union was the mistake’


September 17, 2016

Joseph Stiglitz: ‘The EU’s monetary union was the mistake’

by Jeremy Warner

I’m on my way to interview Joseph Stiglitz, economic guru of the political left, about his latest book, The Euro and its Threat to The Future of Europe.

Waiting in the reception of Penguin Books, I notice on display an early, Penguin “classic” edition of George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell is one of those authors who is claimed as their own by both right and left – the left because of his writings on social deprivation, but the right too because of his deep aversion, depicted in Animal Farm and 1984, to totalitarian communism.

I’m not sure Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winning economist who has advised the Scottish government on independence, the Far Left Syriza government in Greece, and very briefly sat on Jeremy Corbyn’s now disbanded economic advisory panel, crosses the boundaries in quite the same way, but there is no doubt that as a critique of the euro, his new book will appeal as much to a right as to the left.

I put this point to Stiglitz at the start of our interview.

It is the absence of any proper economic adjustment mechanism which is the over-riding failure in Europe–Joseph Stiglitz.

“Yes, it’s a fair summary”, he says, “except for one thing. One of the arguments I make for the failure of the euro is that at the time it was being constructed there was a “neo-liberal” ideology which said that all we need to do to make this thing work is to get deficits low, keep inflation low and take down barriers and then everything would be fine.

“That was a very conservative ideology,  that if you did those things the markets would on their own adjust and everything else would come right. Not all right wing conservatives thought that, but a lot of what I call ‘market fundamentalism’ did go into the thinking on the euro.”

 

But most of those in Britain who thought the euro a mad idea were on the political right, I point out.

Stiglitz says that he is not really talking about the issues of national sovereignty raised by the euro. “I was thinking more in terms of the macro-economic adjustment. It is the absence of any proper economic adjustment mechanism which is the over-riding failure in Europe. Where the left and right would agree – and this speaks to the whole Brexit debate – is that Europe needs economic arrangement that work well for a very diverse group of countries.

“This requires a balance between flexibility and harmonisation, and in opting for monetary union they didn’t get that balance right. We see the lack of it particularly in the rigidity that Germany imposes on the eurozone’s crisis hit countries”.

The theme of Stiglitz’s book is that monetary union was basically where it all went wrong for the European Union. A project that was meant to bring countries together has succeeded only in tearing them apart in a manner which now threatens wider European economic and social stability.

“There have been other things that Europe got wrong, but monetary union was the overarching macro economic mistake. We can see this most clearly in the fact that some countries not in the euro but with the same regulatory framework, such as the UK and Sweden, did much better.”

EU flag

So what, fundamentally, is the problem with the euro?

“For the first nine years up until 2008 there were no symptoms, or no obvious ones, of how dysfunctional things really were. But actually the euro was already creating its own problems.

“When the financial crisis hit, it was roundly blamed on the US, but in fact a very large part of Europe’s crisis was created by the euro.

“The single currency gave markets this excessive confidence. They began to confuse the absence of exchange rate risk with the absence of risk per se. Monetary union had taken away the ability of individual governments to curb domestic inflationary pressures, which led to an increase in price levels relative to Germany. Real exchange rates became out of line.

“One of the key points of the book is that it is easy to create these imbalances, made possible by the easy flow of money between countries under  the euro, but with a rigid exchange rate it is very hard to undo them.

“There are only two ways of doing it. Have Germany inflate, or have the others deflate. Germany was unwilling to inflate. But deflation doesn’t work easily either because your debts are still owed, and that means that in forcing countries to deflate you make them even more fragile”.

We move onto the issue that most puzzles Anglo-Saxon commentators such as myself; if the euro is so bad, how come it has lasted so long?

“Well, you have to take account of the eight or nine years before the problem became apparent. Then there was ‘oh it has worked for nine years’ – even though it hadn’t – ‘so the crisis will be over quickly and we can make it work again’. When you have already invested heavily in something, it is very difficult to cut your losses. There is always a tendency to think that with just a little more investment, it can be made to work.

“So the politicians said, just accept a little bit of temporary pain and everything will be OK again. After two years that wasn’t true. And time and again it turns out not to be true. Good money is constantly thrown after bad.

“Imagine yourself in the position of a Greek politician, with 25pc unemployment and an escalating financial commitment as a result of the fight to stay in the euro. As things go more and more wrong, you become ever more committed to the policy that got you there because to admit you are wrong is to say we have suffered all this pain for nothing”.

Joseph Stiglitz

Does this mean Europe is essentially damned, I ask?

“The most likely scenario is a continued muddling through, which is what they have been doing to date. But neither Frankfurt nor Brussels controls events, as the Brexit referendum vote shows, so what you see – and this is not for sure but almost predictable – is growing alienation.

“This is already apparent in electoral outcomes. More than 60pc of people in Spain, Greece and Portugal voted against austerity parties. The same thing with Brexit, which was also a rebellion against the political centre.

“The only thing that saves the centre ground is that the anti-establishment movement is divided between left and right. So you get a stalemate which is also not at all good for anyone, and out of that who knows what happens.

“Getting a political coalition in any country large enough to leave the euro is therefore difficult. What’s so troubling is that it is also proving impossible for Europe to agree on policies to fix the euro, so you have neither one thing or the other. Despite his apparent pessimism, Stiglitz is not short on suggested solutions.

“If you had a group of people sitting around a table rationally discussing the future of Europe, these are the sort of things they might come up with.

“One is to say let’s finish the job. The US shares a common currency among 50 diverse states, so what are the institutions and rules needed to make the single currency work.

“As a bare minimum, you need common deposit insurance, a banking union, Eurobonds, maybe industrial policies to allow those at the bottom to catch up, you need to move away from just inflation targeting, and you need some way of adjusting real exchange rate that doesn’t involve internal devaluation.

“Germany has to perform its role of allowing its economy to inflate relative to others. So those are the minimum to make a euro that works.

“But Germany takes the view that we are not a transfer union and we won’t even take the risk of a banking union or of common deposit insurance. This is like New York saying we don’t want to have federal deposit insurance because there is a bank in Alabama which might go bankrupt.”

If completing the job proves impossible, says Stiglitz, that leaves the alternative of an “amicable divorce”.

“In the book I use the example of marriage councillors. In the past, the job of the marriage councillor was to keep the marriage together, but modern ones sometimes say you should never have got married in the first place.

“Once you have accepted the marriage can’t be made to work, then the only issue is how to make splitting up go as smoothly as possible.

“In the book, I describe some novel ways of doing this. The core of the idea is that you are going to have to allow redenomination of debt, and allow some form of bankruptcy.

“A third way is the flexible euro where you say lets try and consolidate the institutional advances we have made but recognise that we are not anywhere near a single currency yet. And then I describe some mechanisms that would allow the exchange rate to be operated flexibly and allow economic adjustment”.

So what are the chances of any of these “solutions” being adopted, I ask.“I’m hopeful”, Stiglitz says with a grin, which somewhat suggests he’s not.

Book Review: Kurt Campbell’s The Pivot


September 16, 2016

Book Review: Kurt Campbell’s The Pivot

by Francis P Sempa

http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/pages/?ID=2673

A frequent reader of the American foreign policy journal Foreign Affairs will feel right at home reading Kurt Campbell’s The Pivot. The author was the Obama administration’s principal architect of the US pivot or “rebalance” to Asia, and beyond the abundance of conventional wisdom, offers some important insights into the emergence of what many are calling the “Asian Century”.

Campbell, currently Chairman and CEO of the Asia Group, a strategy and capital advisory firm based in Washington with an office in Hong Kong, served as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 2009 to 2013, and he draws upon that experience, which included many visits to the region, in explaining the need for the United States to “reorient its foreign policy to a rising Asia even in the midst of punishing and inescapable challenges” in other parts of the world.

The meaning of the pivot or rebalance is simple. “Asia,” he writes, “should be placed more centrally in the formulation and execution of American foreign policy.” It is the details, however, that are difficult. The United States has limited resources (including declining defense budgets) and worldwide commitments, is exhausted by two seemingly endless wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and continues to battle Islamic jihadists at home and in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, America’s foreign policy bureaucracies remain largely Eurocentric, a legacy of shared culture, World War II (“Europe first”) and the long Cold War.

Campbell reviews the history of US interaction with Asia, and contends that the region was long considered a “secondary theater” in American foreign policy. One reason was geography: the United States was Atlantic-oriented until it completed its Manifest Destiny by expanding across the North American continent in the late 19th century. It was only after the swift victory in the Spanish-American War (1898) that the US became an Asian power with the appropriation of the Philippines, Guam and other previously Spanish possessions.

Another reason was cultural: early Americans were of European origin and this reinforced an Atlanticist worldview. To be sure, Campbell notes, there were “moments of concentrated focus on Asia,” but these were “rare and transient.”

Interestingly, Campbell is highly critical of FDR’s neglect of Asian affairs in the early-to-mid 1930s, and President Truman’s early postwar disengagement from Asia, especially with respect to China. America stood-by, he notes, as its Nationalist Chinese allies were defeated in a civil war. “Even Mao,” he writes, “was shocked by the lack of American reaction to events in China.” Campbell approvingly references President Eisenhower’s remark that “the loss of China was the greatest diplomatic defeat in [US] history.”

The author praises President Obama’s efforts to begin implementation of the pivot to Asia (even grudgingly assigning a modicum of credit to President George W Bush), and has extravagant, indeed excessive, praise for his former boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (The book begins and concludes with fawning praise for the current Democratic candidate for President). But, he counsels, more needs to be done.

He proposes a plan for the pivot that has ten core elements: “clear and authoritative declarations of US Asia strategy”; “a focus on strengthening ties to our Asian allies”; “embedding China policy within a larger Asia policy framework”; “increasing ties with long-standing partners like Taiwan and New Zealand, as well as new partners including India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Pacific island states”; “integrate the Asia-Pacific both regionally and internationally through the expansion of free trade agreements and economic interaction”; “helping build trans-Pacific institutions and capacities over pan-Asian groupings”; “update and modernize its military capabilities in the region”; “support Asia’s transitional states on their democratic journeys”; “strengthen people-to-people ties”; and  “more integrated transatlantic approach to the region’s challenges”.

There is nothing controversial or provocative there. But his approach to the pivot is largely based on a progressive outlook that emphasizes multilateral solutions and views nationalism as a tragic holdover from the 19th century.

For example, throughout the book Campbell urges US policymakers to persuade Asia’s leaders to abide by “twenty-first-century rules”, to adopt “twenty-first-century values”, and to conduct themselves according to “twenty-first-century principles”, in spite of the evident fact that state-based politics are, if anything, strengthening in East Asia. He writes about the need to include Asian states in “global governance”, and time and again identifies climate change as the greatest security threat to America and the world in the twenty-first-century.

He recognizes the tension inherent in China’s challenge to US predominance in Asia and the world, and notes the potential flashpoints in East Asia and the Pacific Rim that could lead to open conflict. But he believes that a more “subtle” and “nuanced” US policy can persuade China to compete according to twenty-first-century rules, values and principles. Yet subtlety and nuance would not have stopped Russia in the Crimea, and it is unlikely to affect China’s actions in the South China Sea. As Henry Kissinger once wrote about Asia’s rise in this century, “despite the mantra of globalization, there are geopolitical realities that overwhelm fashionable reveries about universality.”

 Francis P Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War. His writings appear in The Diplomat, Joint Force Quarterly, the University Bookman and other publications. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.


The Pivot The Future of American Statecraft in Asia, Kurt Campbell (Twelve, June 2016)

The Guardian Book Review: Nick Clegg’s Politics


September 11, 2016

The Guardian Book Review

Politics by Nick Clegg – A painful read

by David Runchiman

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/08/politics-by-nick-clegg-review

Clegg Politics and Cameron rose garden

How long does it take to decompress from the extraordinary pressures of holding high political office, especially when it ends really badly? Bereavement takes at least two years. Nick Clegg suffered a kind ofpolitical death last May, with the added misery of having it played out in the full glare of the cameras. Yet here he is, barely 16 months on, with a book reflecting on his experiences, most of it written presumably in the still raw aftermath of his humiliation. Of the five stages of grief, Clegg seems to have got beyond denial, but he is a long way from acceptance. This is the work of someone stuck between anger and bargaining. The result is a pretty painful read.

In his introduction he promises us something different: a step back to reflect on what’s gone wrong with politics and how to rescue rational, liberal discourse in an age of populist anger run amok. But as such a visible victim of that anger, he keeps scratching away at his personal wounds. Take tuition fees: he fronts up about what a disaster it was to renege on the Lib Dem promise not to raise them, and in particular to be bullied by the NUS into having every Lib Dem MP (Clegg included) sign a pledge promising to vote against future rises. He also admits to being too easily swayed by the demands of leading universities to solve their funding problems. Vice-chancellors were going “nuts”. “If only I had dug in my heels and let them go nuts,” Clegg writes with the benefit of hindsight. So why didn’t he? Partly, he says, because he had too much else on his plate. But it still sounds weak. Getting outmanoeuvred by bolshy students and antsy academics was not a good omen for dealing with far tougher opponents, including those he faced inside the coalition government.

Clegg insists that the Lib Dems were caught between a rock and a hard place on tuition fees and the final policy was the fairest compromise they could muster, with safeguards built in to protect less advantaged students. He says the anger the issue aroused was “totemic”. And though he tries hard to take his medicine, he can’t resist a few whines of self-pity. The two main parties are hardly “paragons of consistency”, so why is this the U-turn everyone remembers? He blames himself for not having at least tried to delay the decision so that it didn’t overshadow everything that followed. But he also blames the British political system for making everything so tribal, with the decent people in the middle getting squeezed.

As a result, he ends up sounding like just another politician. It wasn’t the policy that was wrong, it was the way we communicated it: that’s the fallback of every failing government. His complaints about the unfairness of the system also betray a more basic problem. Throughout, Clegg expresses his surprise and regret that voters were not prepared to credit the Lib Dems for their willingness to compromise for the sake of good government. He says they had no choice but to join the coalition after the 2010 election: anything else would have revealed the party to be fundamentally unserious about power. It would also have let the country down at a perilous economic moment, with the public finances in desperate need of stability. Yet the Lib Dems got no reward for this seriousness of purpose, nor for all the hard work they put in over the next five years to moderate Tory extremism and deliver sensible policies in testing circumstances. Clegg can’t really have been surprised. As he also admits, this has been the fate of junior coalition partners almost everywhere: they get punished for their compromises by voters who see it as evidence of weakness. What’s so special about the Lib Dems that they should have been viewed differently?

Clegg’s bemusement that the British electorate could not see how much good his party had done is either disingenuous or startlingly arrogant. And for all its self-flagellating moments, there is a streak of arrogance running through this book. Clegg keeps telling us that he took decisions on their merits, having done his homework, unlike his Tory partners in government who were more often looking for party political advantage. But why should we think that the deputy PM – especially one as overworked, understaffed and strung out as Clegg tells us he was during his time in government – has some special insight into “the right thing to do”? He would have been better off focusing more on party political advantage for his own side. The absolute priority for the Lib Dems from the coalition agreement was constitutional reform, above all a change to the first-past-the-post voting system. But they got hammered in the 2011 AV referendum, after the Tories did everything in their power to undermine Clegg personally (even using the tuition fees fiasco against him), and Labour saw it as a chance to get in a few cheap shots. Clegg calls all this depressingly short-sighted by the other parties. But given where focusing on the long-term interests of the country has left him and his party, who looks short-sighted now?

The best way for minor parties to survive coalition government is to find some means of maintaining a sharply distinct identity. Clegg thought the Lib Dems should muck in where they were needed, which was fatal. He tells us of his many behind-the-scenes triumphs facing down Cameron and Osborne when they went too far. He wants us to know he’s a lot tougher than he looks. But he never attempted to humiliate them publicly, in the way they repeatedly humiliated him. Nor did he try to peel them off from each other or simply cause trouble for its own sake. It’s hard to think of any occasion when Clegg managed to embarrass the coalition deliberately rather than inadvertently. He was above that sort of thing. So he got crushed in the end.

A further sadness hanging over this book is the result of the EU referendum, which is referenced in a few last-minute tweaks to the text. The causes Clegg has stood for all his life – Europeanism, cosmopolitanism, liberal compromise – are in disarray. At the end of Politics he tries to take stock of what’s brought us to this point – economic stresses, cultural shifts, technological changes – and though he has no real solutions, he refuses to give up on liberal optimism. He hopes we will sooner rather than later rediscover how “to behave in a less tribal way, be civil to one another, be supportive of each other’s efforts to hold the government to account”.

But he knows this is easier said than done – especially since he is not immune to some tribalism of his own. In describing his political formation during the Blair years, it’s clear that a dislike of the Labour party – or the “Labour machine” as he calls it – runs in Clegg’s DNA. He would have found it incredibly hard to enter government with Labour; the Tories were always his preference. To call Clegg himself a secret Tory is unfair. He was his own man, liberal in his instincts, serious-minded, earnest, level-headed. He is totally plausible when he says that he never got caught up with “Cleggmania” following his performance in the first leaders’ debate during the 2010 general election campaign. His “Dutch blood” has made him “immune to great rushes to the head”. Still, given the ultimate failure of his time in government, he might have been better trying to access a bit more of his inner Tory bastard.

Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power


August 30, 2016

Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian,: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship.

Singapore: NUS Press, 2011. Pp. xxiv, 472; map, tables, figures, photographs, list of abbreviations and acronyms, glossary, notes, bibliography, index.

Reviewed by Greg Lopez.

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On 6 February 2009, approximately 3,000 Malays protested in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, demanding that the Perak ruler, Sultan Azlan Shah, dismiss the state’s legislative assembly to pave the way for new state elections. Earlier, Malaysia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had extra-constitutionally toppled the popularly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government with the complicity of Perak’s royals. Never in Malaysian history had there been such a popular uprising against Malay royals as the ensuing protests. This video provides a hint of the likelihood that in a new Malaysia the most significant threat to the Malay rulers’ fetish for power will come not from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) but from ordinary Malays.

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian serves as professor of history and senior fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. She ranks among the most renowned and respected historians of modern Thailand. The latest of her many books, Palace, Political Party and Power: A story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship, sees her turn her attention to the history of modern Malaysia to provide a cogent analysis of the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers in their common quest for power. The book’s timing is opportune, as it comes at a moment at which each of these institutions, UMNO and Malay kingship, confronts a decline in its legitimacy within a seriously divided Malay community. Palace, Political Party and Power represents a valuable addition to the literature not only on the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO, but also on that between the Malay rulers and UMNO on the one hand and their “subjects” – the Malays of Peninsular Malaysia – on the other. Even more significantly, it treats an important and neglected dimension of Malaysian politics – the impact of the Malay rulers on the country’s affairs.

Palace, Political Party and Power traces the socio-political development of the institution of Malay rulership, from the beginning of colonial times, when the Malay rulers lost power but not prestige; through the Japanese Occupation, when they lost both; to the restoration of the rulers’ prestige – thanks to the new Malay elites – at independence; and in the ebbs and flows since. In narrating this story, the book achieves three principal ends. First, it reaffirms conventional analysis holding that the British residential system in colonial Malaya had great significance in modernising the institution of Malay rulership towards the constitutional monarchy of today’s Malaysia. Second, it argues persuasively that it was the Japanese Occupation of Malaya that provided the platform for new Malay elites – whose members would become the leading lights of UMNO – to take the leadership of the Malay masses away from the Malay rulers but in the process also to restore the prestige of those rulers. Third, and most important, almost seventy percent of Palace, Political Party and Power focuses on the complex relationship – one of competition for and cooperation in power – between the country’s two leading Malay institutions, UMNO and the rulers.

Pian’s central argument is that the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Japanese policies towards the Malay rulers, the new Malay elites, and the Malay community had, more than any other factor, the effect of stripping the Malay royal institution of its “aura”, “mystique”, “grandeur” and “authority.” In consequence, Malay rulership no longer commanded the fear or undisputed reverence of members of the post-1945 Malay elite. Malaya’s Japanese occupiers, through their treatment of the Malay rulers, revealed those rulers’ impotence, their inability to defend themselves, and also their lack of the capacity to defend the interests of their subjects – the rakyat. This reality made clear to the burgeoning new Malay elite, which the Japanese also developed, that the existence of Malay royal institutions depended very much on the good will of those in power. It provided that new elite with a valuable lesson for dealing with difficult members of the royalty during the post-1945 period.

Furthermore, the book argues, Japan’s policy of inculcating Malay society with a certain variant of Japanese values through education had the unintended effect of strengthening the Malays as one community, sharing one language and one religion. Many Malay youths were sent to schools – ordinary schools, teacher training schools, and leadership schools (kurenjo). In the leadership schools, Malay students were taught by means of an exhausting daily routine to appreciate and to live by Nippon seishin, or the Japanese spirit. This exposure to Japanese values had the profound effect of changing some Malays’ outlook on life, and above all of exorcising the narrow socio-political parochialism that had previously divided the Malays into subjects of different rulers owing allegiance to different sultanates. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya also toughened members of the new Malay elite, as both the British and the Malay rulers would learn so dramatically after Imperial Japan’s defeat.

 Pian develops her arguments over nine chapters, in essence covering two periods: that before the establishment of UMNO in 1946 and that after the party’s establishment. The first chapter provides a brief introduction to the concept of monarchy and locates the Malay rulers within the history and among the fortunes of monarchs in post-colonial developing nations. While many monarchs lost their titles, the monarchs of the newly minted Federated States of Malaya gained a new title in 1957. With the addition of the elected Supreme Head of State or Yang DiPertuan Agung to the nine existing rulers of Malay states, Malaya became the country with the greatest number of constitutional rulers in the world, ten in all. The second and the third chapters of the book discuss the abject state of the Malay rulers as of the middle of the last century. They narrate the story of the social-political decline that the rulers suffered first under British colonial rule and then under the Japanese Occupation. Chapters Four through Eight discuss the tug of war between the Malay rulers and UMNO to define the de facto and de jure roles of constitutional monarchs in independent Malaya/Malaysia, and Chapter Nine concludes the book.

In its research, Palace, Political Party and Power is all that one would expect from Pian. She has scoured archives and other holdings at the Public Record Office and the library of School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the Rhodes House library at Oxford, and the National Library of Singapore and the library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), as well as archival holdings in Malaysia itself. She demonstrates real courage in writing about Malay monarchy and UMNO in a true academic fashion; she proves herself objective in the context of a public university in Malaysia. Unlike the general brood of academicians that fill Malaysia’s public university system, Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian is no UMNO or royalist sycophant.

Palace, Political Party and Power suggests that, if the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers were a boxing match, then UMNO would be leading after four rounds but facing uncertainty in the remaining rounds and the serious possibility of losing the bout. For UMNO’s legitimacy as the protector of the Malays is declining faster than that of the Malay rulers. We may divide the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers up to now into four clear chronological rounds. Round One, circa 1946, centred on the issue of Malayan Union. It was a draw, as the Malay rulers, UMNO and Malay subjects rallied together in the common cause of protecting the rights of the rulers. Round Two, roughly 1948 – 1951, was focused on the powers of the new Malay elite, represented by UMNO. Throttling the ascendancy of UMNO, the monarchs clearly won that round. Round Three was the 1951 – 1955 Merdeka negotiations, and it went to UMNO. And Round Four brought UMNO victory in 1983/84 and 1993/94. It left UMNO the supreme power in the land. This bout’s fifth round is currently being fought. There is no clear winner yet, but the Malay rulers have come back very strong.

In discussing the factors that explain the success of the constitutional relationship between the Malay rulers and the executive leadership of the country, Palace, Political Party and Power suggests three: the strong political power of the chief executive, the personal prestige of the chief executive vis-├а-vis the rulers, and personal attributes of the men who have occupied these positions. Adding to these three factors was of course the legitimacy of the Malay rulers and UMNO’s leaders, respectively, in the eyes of the rakyat.

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His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia

At a theoretical level, this book frames the analyses of the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO as a contest between two ideas of constitutional monarchy. These two ideas are best captured in quotations from Tunku Abdul Rahman and Sultan Azlan Shah that appear in Palace, Political Party and Power:

The Constitution implies without room for contradiction that though the Sultans are sovereign heads of states, they have no power to rule. The power lies in the hands of the people who through their representatives run the government of the nation and the states…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 408

What the Agung can do and what he cannot do is clearly defined by the Constitution. One fact is certain, the royal prerogative is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as representing the electorate, hence the people have a lot to say…It can be assumed that while the Rulers enjoy their rights and privileges, they must live within these rights…The Menteri Besar and the State Executive Councillors are supposed to be the ‘watchdogs’…Their duties are to see the Rulers do not commit excess…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 330

A King is a King, whether he is an absolute or constitutional monarch. The only difference between the two is that whereas one has unlimited powers, the other’s powers are defined by the Constitution. But it is a mistake to think that the role of the King, likethat of a President, is confined to what is laid down by the Constitution. His role far exceeds those constitutional provisions.

Sultan Azlan Shah, page 330

Another example of the way in which Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian frames her analysis is the comparison of Westminster-style constitutional monarchy, which emphasis the non-political nature of the monarchy, with the “Southeast Asian” model of constitutional monarchy, best represented by the current Thai king. The Southeast Asian model follows in form the Westminster-type model, whereby the monarch delegates all powers to the people’s representatives. However, in practise, the modern Southeast Asian monarch reserves the ultimate extra-constitutional power to interpret, intervene, reject or direct a course of action in affairs of state.

This line of analysis is, however, very narrow in its usefulness. It misses the central feature of Malaysia’s system of government. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy only in name. The wording of the country’s constitution has been amended more than 650 times; 42 amendment bills have been passed. In fact, Malaysia is a dysfunctional democracy, in which the ruling UMNO enjoys disproportionate power relative to all other institutions. In the political science literature, Malaysia is conceptualised not as a democracy but as a semi-democracy, neither democratic nor authoritarian, a syncretistic, repressive-responsive and electoral one-party state. In this context, the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers takes on a different meaning. It is not a contest over interpretation of the constitution so much as one over UMNO’s ability to hold hegemonic power. Furthermore, a Westminster model works best in a non-feudal society, whereas Malaysian society remains feudal. These realities notwithstanding, it would nevertheless be interesting to know if Malay rulers like Sultan Azlan Shah indeed see themselves operating according to Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian’s Southeast Asian model of kingship.

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To frame the relationship between UMNO and the rulers in terms of a quest for power turns the focus to legitimacy: first, the legitimacy of the actions of UMNO and the Malay rulers in the eyes of the rakyat and, second, UMNO’s legitimation of its actions through the use and abuse of the Malay rulers as the party made itself Malaysia’s most powerful institution. In this context, Palace, Political Party and Power overlooks an important event in Malaysian history, one that solidified UMNO’s position as the pinnacle organisation in Malaysian society. This event was the 1988 sacking of Malaysia’s Lord President, Tun Salleh Abbas; the subsequent emasculation of the country’s judiciary; and the complicity in these events of the then Agung, Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Shah of Johor. A more recent example of the power of UMNO, one not treated in detail in the book but described in the opening paragraph of this review, was its toppling of a popularly elected state government with the support of the Malay ruler. The book also neglects numerous cases of UMNO’s use of the Malay rulers to curtail the civil liberties of Malaysians.

An analytical framework centered on UMNO’s quest for ultimate power makes possible also a coherent explanation for the increasingly common appeal of various political organisations and civil society movements to the Malay rulers – namely the Yang Di-Pertuan Agung – in such causes as free and fair elections, protection of the rights of Malaysian Indians or of Malay language rights, and others. These appeals have come despite the Malaysian monarchy’s limited de jure and de facto powers and its blemished track record. The reason for them is that, when virtually all other institutions in Malaysia are either weak or UMNO proxies or both, only the Malay rulers, with their interest in protecting and furthering their own interests, offer a glimmer of hope against the excess of Malaysia’s true monarchs – the UMNOputras.

Palace, Political Party and Power notes that, by the end of 2008, the Malay rulers’ stature was definitely on the rise. That would seem to remain the case as long as UMNO’s political leadership continued to be ineffective. The events of 6 February 2009 showed, however, just how vulnerable the Malay rulers are. Sultan Azlan Shah and the Perak regent Raja Nazrin (now Sultan) heralded in this book as examples of a new breed of monarchs who are competent and have the interest of the rakyat at heart, are now treated as outcasts by a significant number of people in their own state of Perak and by Malaysians in general. The Malay rulers’ long-term challenge is not besting UMNO but rather winning the hearts of Malays, Malays who are increasingly shedding their feudalistic mindset.

Greg Lopez is New Mandala’s Malaysia editor, and a PhD scholar at the Crawford School of Economics and Government of the Australian National University.

References

Martin Jalleh, 2011. “Of Raja Nazrin, Real Stories & Regal Rhetoric,” Malaysia Today, 27 July (http://malaysia-today.net/mtcolumns/guest-columnists/42378-of-raja-nazrin-real-stories-a-regal-rhetoric , accessed 27 July 2011).

Zainon Ahmand and Liew-Ann Phang, “The all powerful executive”, The Sun, 8 April (http://www.perdana.org.my/emagazine/2011/04/the-sun-the-all-powerful-executive/, accessed 1 August 2011).

In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist


August 27, 2017

by Michiko Kakutani

http://www.nytimes.com

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Over the last year, we’ve been plunged into the alternate reality of Trumpland, as though we were caught in the maze of his old board game, “Trump: The Game,” with no exit in sight. It’s a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog, zero-sum world where greed is good, insults are the lingua franca, and winning is everything (or, in tangled Trumpian syntax, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!”).

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

That the subject of these books is not a fictional character but the Republican nominee for president can only remind the reader of Philip Roth’s observation, made more than 50 years ago, that American reality is so stupefying, “so weird and astonishing,” that it poses an embarrassment to the novelist’s “meager imagination.”

Books about Mr. Trump tend to fall into two categories. There are funny ones that focus on Trump the Celebrity of the 1980s and ’90s — a cartoony avatar of greed and wretched excess and what Garry Trudeau (“Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump”) calls “big, honking hubris.” And there are serious biographies that try to shed light on Mr. Trump’s life and complex, highly opaque business dealings as a real estate magnate, which are vital to understanding the judgment, decision-making abilities and financial entanglements he would bring to the Oval Office.

Because of Mr. Trump’s lack of transparency surrounding his business interests (he has even declined to disclose his tax returns) and because of his loose handling of facts and love of hyperbole, serious books are obligated to spend a lot of time sifting through business and court documents. (USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.”) And they must also fact-check his assertions (PolitiFact rates 35 percent of his statements False, and 18 percent “Pants on Fire” Lies).

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Perhaps because they were written rapidly as Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy gained traction, the latest of these books rarely step back to analyze in detail the larger implications and repercussions of the Trump phenomenon. Nor do they really map the landscape in which he has risen to popularity and is himself reshaping through his carelessness with facts, polarizing remarks and disregard for political rules.

For that matter, these books shed little new light on controversial stands taken by Mr. Trump which, many legal scholars and historians note, threaten constitutional guarantees and American democratic traditions. Those include his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and the “extreme vetting” of immigrants; his talk of revising libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations over critical coverage; an ethnic-tinged attack on a federal judge that raises questions about his commitment to an independent judiciary; and his incendiary use of nativist and bigoted language that is fueling racial tensions and helping to mainstream far-right views on race.

Some of these books touch fleetingly on Mr. Trump’s use of inflammatory language and emotional appeal to feelings of fear and anger, but they do not delve deeply into the consequences of his nativist rhetoric or his contempt for the rules of civil discourse. They do, however, provide some sense of history, reminding us that while Mr. Trump’s craving for attention and use of controversy as an instrument of publicity have remained the same over the years, the surreal switch of venues — from the New York tabloid universe and the world of reality TV to the real-life arena of national and global politics — has turned formerly “small-potatoes stakes,” as one writer put it, into something profoundly more troubling. From WrestleMania-like insults aimed at fellow celebrities, Mr. Trump now denigrates whole racial and religious groups and questions the legitimacy of the electoral system.

A “semi-harmless buffoon” in Manhattan in the waning decades of the 20th century — as the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, terms the businessman in a foreword to Mark Singer’s book “Trump and Me” — has metamorphosed into a political candidate whom 50 senior Republican national security officials recently said “would be the most reckless president in American history,” putting “at risk our country’s national security and well being.”

Two new books provide useful, vigorously reported overviews of Mr. Trump’s life and career. “Trump Revealed,” by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, draws heavily on work by reporters of The Post and more than 20 hours of interviews with the candidate. Much of its material will be familiar to readers — thanks to newspaper articles and Michael D’Antonio’s 2015 biography (“Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success”) — but “Trump Revealed” deftly charts his single-minded building of his gaudy brand and his often masterful manipulation of the media.

It provides a succinct account of Mr. Trump’s childhood, when he says he punched a teacher, giving him a black eye. It also recounts his apprenticeship to a demanding father, who told him he needed to become a “killer” in anything he did, and how he learned the art of the counterattack from Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom Mr. Trump hired to countersue the federal government after the Justice Department brought a case against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act.

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Donald is not Ronald Reagan

“The Making of Donald Trump” by David Cay Johnston — a former reporter for The New York Times who has written extensively about Mr. Trump — zeros in on Mr. Trump’s business practices, arguing that while he presents himself as “a modern Midas,” much “of what he touches” has often turned “to dross.” Mr. Johnston, who has followed the real estate impresario for nearly three decades, offers a searing indictment of his business practices and creative accounting. He examines Mr. Trump’s taste for debt, what associates have described as his startling capacity for recklessness, multiple corporate bankruptcies, dealings with reputed mobsters and accusations of fraud.

The portrait of Mr. Trump that emerges from these books, old or new, serious or satirical, is remarkably consistent: a high-decibel narcissist, almost comically self-obsessed; a “hyperbole addict who prevaricates for fun and profit,” as Mr. Singer wrote in The New Yorker in 1997.

Mr. Singer also describes Mr. Trump as an “insatiable publicity hound who courts the press on a daily basis and, when he doesn’t like what he reads, attacks the messengers as ‘human garbage,’” “a fellow both slippery and naïve, artfully calculating and recklessly heedless of consequences.”

At the same time, Mr. Singer and other writers discern an emptiness underneath the gold-plated armor. In “Trump and Me,” Mr. Singer describes his subject as a man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” Mr. Kranish and Mr. Fisher likewise suggest that Mr. Trump “had walled off” any pain he experienced growing up and “hid it behind a never-ending show about himself.” When they ask him about friends, they write, he gives them — off the record — the names of three men “he had had business dealings with two or more decades before, men he had only rarely seen in recent years.”

Mr. Trump likes to boast about going it alone — an impulse that helps explain the rapid turnover among advisers in his campaign, and that has raised serious concerns among national security experts and foreign policy observers, who note that his extreme self-reliance and certainty (“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain”) come coupled with a startling ignorance about global affairs and an impatience with policy and details.

Passages in his books help illuminate Mr. Trump’s admiration for the strongman style of autocratic leaders like Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin, and his own astonishing “I alone can fix it” moment during his Republican convention speech. In his 2004 book, “Think Like a Billionaire,” Mr. Trump wrote: “You must plan and execute your plan alone.”

He also advised: “Have a short attention span,” adding “quite often, I’ll be talking to someone and I’ll know what they’re going to say before they say it. After the first three words are out of their mouth, I can tell what the next 40 are going to be, so I try to pick up the pace and move it along. You can get more done faster that way.”

In many respects, Mr. Trump’s own quotes and writings provide the most vivid and alarming picture of his values, modus operandi and relentlessly dark outlook focused on revenge. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one book. And in another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The grim, dystopian view of America, articulated in Mr. Trump’s Republican convention speech, is previewed in his 2015 book, “Crippled America” (republished with the cheerier title of “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”), in which he contends that “everyone is eating” America’s lunch. And a similarly nihilistic vision surfaces in other remarks he’s made over the years: “I always get even”; “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”; and: “The world is a horrible place. Lions kill for food, but people kill for sport.”

Once upon a time, such remarks made Mr. Trump perfect fodder for comedians. Though some writers noted that he was already a caricature of a caricature — difficult to parody or satirize — Mr. Trudeau recalled that he provided cartoonists with “an embarrassment of follies.” And the businessman, who seems to live by the conviction that any publicity is good publicity, apparently embraced this celebrity, writing: “My cartoon is real. I am the creator of my own comic book.”

In a 1990 cartoon, Doonesbury characters argued over what they disliked more about Mr. Trump: “the boasting, the piggish consumption” or “the hideous décor of his casinos.” Sadly, the stakes today are infinitely so much huger.

A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2016, on page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: A Tower of Trump Books, at High Volume