Trump’s Simplistic Strategy on Jihadism


May 23, 2017

Trump’s Simplistic Strategy on Jihadism

by Robin Wright

http://www.newyorker.com

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Trying to appease Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World and isolate Iran

Six days after the 9/11 attacks, in 2001, President George W. Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington to dampen fears of a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the West. “The face of terror is not the true face of Islam,” he said. “Islam is peace.” Three days later, at a joint session of Congress, Bush defined the challenge from Al Qaeda in political rather than religious or cultural terms. “This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom,” he told Congress. “This will not be an age of terror. This will be an age of liberty here and across the world.” A central theme of Bush’s Presidency was fostering democracy through nation-building.

President Barack Obama’s main speech to the Islamic world, in 2009, called for a “new beginning” between Muslim and Western nations, noting “civilization’s debt to Islam.” Declaring to Cairo University students that “we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems,” he, too, envisioned political and economic solutions to countering extremism.

“All people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose,” Obama said. “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” He also outlined plans to spend billions in U.S. aid to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and to help those displaced by conflicts in the Islamic world.

Donald Trump took a starkly different tack during the campaign. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump told Anderson Cooper, on CNN, fourteen months ago. He told both MSNBC and Fox News that he’d be willing to close mosques in the United States.  At the Presidential debate last October, in Las Vegas, he was particularly critical of Saudi Arabia. “These are people that push gays off buildings,” he said. “These are people that kill women and treat women horribly, and yet you take their money.” He continued the theme in his first days in office, with an executive order that banned travel from seven countries (later downgraded to six) with predominantly Muslim populations. It was ruled unlawful by U.S. courts, but the Trump Administration is still appealing the decision.

On Sunday(May 21), on his first trip abroad as President, Trump tried to hit the reset button in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. He heralded Islam as “one of the world’s great faiths,” and his visit as the beginning of “a new chapter” between the United States and the Islamic world. In a palace of dazzling opulence, he spoke to dozens of leaders assembled by the Saudis from the Arab and Muslim world. In turn, the oil-rich kingdom, which is weathering its own political and military turmoil, treated him like royalty, with billboards across the Saudi capital covered with Trump’s face.

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Trump does not the know the difference between Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabish and Iran’s Shiaism

Trump’s main message was  that Muslims must do more—much more—to fight militants who have proliferated from North Africa to South Asia since 9/11. “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” he said. Reading slowly off a teleprompter, Trump urged, even demanded, “Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship! Drive them out of your communities! Drive them out of your holy land! And drive them out of this earth!”

Some of Trump’s language about Islam was right out of the Bush-Obama playbook. “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” he said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion.” He declared it “a battle between good and evil.”

Trump notably did not use one of his favorite terms—“radical Islamic terrorism.” His national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has tried to get the President to avoid using the term, at least in public. During the campaign, Trump railed against Obama for not using it—and even charged that “anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.” In Riyadh, Trump’s original speech called for him, instead, to talk about “Islamist extremism.” He veered off script, however, and talked about “confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.” Many Muslims are sensitive to the implication that Islam and extremism are synonymous.

Trump’s strategy differed most strikingly from Bush’s and Obama’s in its largely military approach to extremism. One of the top objectives of his maiden foreign tour is to create a coalition of Arab and Muslim countries to tackle extremism, confront Iran, and foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The coalition has been informally dubbed an “Arab NATO“.

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First Lady Melania Trump watches as President Donald Trump poses for photographs with leaders at Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The President seems to have largely abandoned notions of promoting political openings or addressing economic grievances that have fuelled so much of the dissent and militancy, especially among Arab youth. Even oil-rich Saudi Arabia has high youth unemployment, estimated to exceed thirty per cent. The kingdom has produced thousands of jihadis who have joined both ISIS and Al Qaeda.

“We are not here to lecture,” Trump told the Muslim leaders, who were seated on throne-like leather chairs under enormous crystal chandeliers. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.”

Trump framed his counterterrorism policy in Let’s-Make-a-Deal terms: Washington will sell weaponry to the Arabs, which will in turn create defense-industry jobs in the United States. In his speech, the President digressed from the main theme to claim that his Administration has created almost a million new jobs—adding that the kingdom’s pledge to invest billions more in the United States would create thousands more new jobs.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly complained that the United States got very little from its relationship with the kingdom. “Tell Saudi Arabia and others that we want (demand!) free oil for the next ten years or we will not protect their private Boeing 747s. Pay up!” Trump tweeted, in 2014.

That year, he also tweeted, “I just want to know how much is Saudi Arabia and others who we are helping willing to pay for our saving from total extinction. Pay up now!” In 2015, he tweeted that Saudi Arabia “must pay dearly! NO FREEBIES.”

In Riyadh, however, he bragged about the low prices his Administration was offering the Saudis. “We will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies.” His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly intervened personally with Lockheed to negotiate a better deal for the Saudis.

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Nepotism in 1600 Penn. Avenue, Washington DC

In one of his more astonishing comments, the President expressed optimism about the future of the Middle East, despite wars in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria that have killed hundreds of thousands; the greatest humanitarian and refugee crises since the Second World War; and the return of authoritarian rule—disasters which have dashed the hopes sparked by the Arab Spring.

“The potential of this region has never been greater,” Trump told the Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh. Maybe it was the brilliant glare of the chandeliers that blinded his vision.

Robin Wright is a contributing writer for newyorker.com, and has written for the magazine since 1988. She is the author of “Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World.”

The George Washington University 2017 Commencement


May 23, 2017

The George Washington University 2017 Commencement

https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/us-sen-tammy-duckworth-urges-graduates-‘-get-arena

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth Urges Graduates ‘to Get in the Arena’

Sen. Duckworth, Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West and The Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron received honorary degrees as 6,000 students graduated from GW.

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), M.A. ’92, delivers the university’s 2017 Commencement speech on Sunday. One of Sen. Duckworth’s themes was embracing failure. (William Atkins/GW Today)
 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) described Nov. 12, 2004, as her “alive day” during her George Washington University Commencement address Sunday on the National Mall.

“It was the day I almost died, but didn’t,” she said. “It was a good day for me.”

Flying over Iraq, Sen. Duckworth’s Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The explosion vaporized one of her legs, she said, and blew off the back of her right arm. The aircraft instrumental panel amputated her other leg.

“I was quite literally in pieces,” Sen. Duckworth said. Yet, her crew refused to leave her behind, she said, and helped to save her life.

“I knew from that moment on I would spend every single day of the rest of my life trying to honor the courage and sacrifice of my buddies who saved me,” Sen. Duckworth told an estimated crowd of 25,000, including roughly 6,000 graduates, as the university celebrated the end of its 196th academic year.

The senator shared her personal story as part of her themes of embracing failure, taking advantage of opportunity and maintaining humility in which she referenced the words of President Theodore Roosevelt and rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar.

“Every time I got knocked down, I got back up. I dusted myself off, and I got back in the arena—when my face had literally been marred with dust and sweat and blood. And I am so glad that I did,” she said.

 

Resilience is increasingly important, said Sen. Duckworth, M.A. ’92. Especially with today’s challenges at home and abroad, the stakes are higher for students embarking on their post-university lives. She quoted President Roosevelt, who said, “There is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

“It’s really just an eloquent way of saying, don’t be afraid of failure,” she said. “Successful people didn’t make it because they never failed. They made it because they never gave up.”

She encouraged her soon-to-be fellow alumni to “step up.”

“You can be our nation’s next generation of leaders,” she said. “Luckily, as GW grads, you already have a head start on many of your peers. Over and over the students of GW have proven to be some of the most civically engaged students in the nation, showing leadership in and out of the political arena.”

But doing so, Sen. Duckworth said, requires trying, doing, putting yourself out there and—yes—sometimes failing.

“Don’t be afraid of failure,” she said. “Be afraid of never tasting it.”

And she urged graduates to remember the “good fortune and luck” they had that enabled them to experience the opportunities and take advantage of the resources at GW.

“Some of you have been lucky enough to afford tuition here without help, but even if you worked three jobs … there are people out there who aren’t as lucky,” she said. “I guess what I am saying is—to reference Kendrick Lamar—be humble.”

Sen. Duckworth urged students not to lose sight of what lays ahead, what remains to be accomplished.

“Don’t be a timid soul that knows neither victory nor defeat,” she said. “It is time to get in the arena.”

Congratulatory Remarks

Remarks from university leaders preceded Sen. Duckworth’s Commencement address.

Provost Forrest Maltzman welcomed graduates, highlighting the “one-of-a-kind” opportunity to celebrate Commencement on the National Mall. GW is the only university that holds its graduation ceremony on the Mall.

Dr. Maltzman recognized the achievements of GW’s graduates and those who supported them—family, friends and fellow alumni alike—and said Sunday’s setting at the foot of the Washington Monument, which was dedicated to the nation’s first president and GW’s namesake, was a “fitting tribute to your achievement.”

Introducing George Washington President Steven Knapp, Dr. Maltzman thanked Dr. Knapp, whose tenure as president ends July 31 after 10 years of service to the university. He noted how the university has advanced under his leadership.

“I know that what he is proudest of is the approximately 50,000 students who have graduated from this university during his tenure and who are each making their own contributions to the world,” Dr. Maltzman said.

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George Washington President Steven Knapp charged graduates to keep alive their spirit, energy, imagination, commitment to service and curiosity. (William Atkins/GW Today)


Dr. Knapp continued “an important Commencement tradition” by thanking the parents, families and friends of the graduates.

Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell, B.S. ’85, said his GW education and friends have stayed with him and “continue to enrich life.”

His charge to graduates: “Take what you have learned and the pride and respect you have gained for your alma mater into the world as citizen leaders. Remember, who you are has been shaped by your experiences here at the George Washington University.”

Mr. Carbonell also took a moment to recognize Dr. Knapp—not only for the institution’s growth under his leadership but also for his direct involvement in students’ success, from move-in day to Commencement.

“President Knapp wants all of you to succeed in your future endeavors,” Mr. Carbonell said.

Special Recognition
Angela Sako, B.A. ’15, M.P.P. ’17, was selected as this year’s student speaker.

Her remarks Sunday were framed around life’s “welcomes”—the “welcomes” that many receive to uncertainty, challenges, new friends or a new university.

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Angela Sako delivers her speech Sunday. Ms. Sako’s theme was “welcoming” the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. (William Atkins/GW Today)


Ms. Sako was just 14 years old, a recently arrived immigrant from Albania by way of Italy who spoke little English, when her father died unexpectedly. She said she felt “so low” she wondered “if I could ever be lifted.”

But with support from family and friends, she said she transformed grief into resilience. She eventually was welcomed to GW with a letter of acceptance and a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship.

She encouraged her fellow graduates to welcome the years ahead.

“Our journey ahead might hand us some bricks, but let us remember that if we welcome these challenges, and we encourage each other to open a window, a wide door will follow,” Ms. Sako said.

Dr. Maltzman also recognized this year’s recipients of the GW Awards, presented to students, faculty and staff who have made extraordinary contributions to the GW community. Richard Livingstone, B.A. ’12, M.P.A. ’17; C. Thomas Long, Ph.D. ’05, assistant professor of history and coordinator of undergraduate history advising; and Bridget Smith, B.A. ’17, were recognized with the awards Sunday.

Three other students—Howard Charles Goodison II, B.A. ’17; Antonia Keutzer, B.S. ’17; and Thomas Elms, B.A. ’17—assisted Dr. Knapp in conferring honorary degrees Sunday to Sen. Duckworth, Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, M.D. ’88, and The Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron.

Dr. Knapp highlighted the recipients’ many achievements and officially awarded each with an honorary degree of doctor of public service.

In his remarks, Mr. Baron talked about the importance of a free press as journalists face growing threats both around the world and in the United States. “The president has said that he is at war with the media,” he said. “We are not at war. We are at work.

“We are doing jobs inspired by the First Amendment, which was drafted by our nation’s founders with this fundamental idea: that the press—and all citizens—should hold government to account.”

Dr. West, the highest-ranking African-American woman in the history of the U.S. Army, said she was “truly honored, humbled and grateful” to receive the honorary degree, citing “the strong foundation that the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences provided in the art of being a compassionate healer.”

commencement 2017

Roughly 6,000 graduated from GW on Sunday. GW is the only university that holds its graduation ceremony on the Mall. (William Atkins/GW Today)


Main Event
Later, finally, GW’s most important degree recipients of the day got their turns.

The graduates joined a “lifelong and worldwide community” of GW alumni, now numbering more than 280,000, Dr. Knapp said.

Dr. Knapp charged them to keep alive their spirit, energy, imagination, commitment to service and curiosity.

“You are our future,” Dr. Knapp said. “We depend on you to repair what earlier generations have broken, to build what we have left un-built, to learn what we have not yet learned, to heal what we have so far left unhealed.

“And as you go forth to do these things, always know that, at the George Washington University, you have a home in the heart of this nation’s capital.”

 

America and China–Managing the Possible


May 21, 2017

America and China–Managing the Possible

by Tan Sri  Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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The  Go It Alone Eagle and The  Globalist Dragon

THE contrast could not be greater. While United States President Donald Trump raves and rants – and belts this or that person – China’s President Xi Jinping looks measured and assured as he offers an alternative global future to the world.

Xi is no angel of course, as his political opponents would know, but his system conserves and protects him, as Trump’s would not. If only Trump were the leader in a centrally controlled political order – but even then his temperament would blow it apart.

Leadership, like politics, is the art of managing the possible. Trump does not understand this, and does not know how. Xi does, knows why, and knows how.He has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic.

His plan to boost the American economy, based primarily on slashing corporate tax from 35 to 15%, is likely to flounder in an American Congress seriously concerned about its causing the fiscal deficit to balloon.

Already Trump has had to climb down from trying to secure funds from Congress for his dreaded border wall with Mexico in order to avoid budgetary shutdown in September.

The stock market has fallen back from the boost to the price of banks and industrial products following his election. Interest now has returned to what might be termed “American ingenuity stocks” such as Google, Apple and Microsoft on Nasdaq – a proxy for much that is great about America, which Trump’s immigration and closed-door policies threaten to destroy.

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Meanwhile Xi has been rolling out his “Belt and Road” plans – something he first envisaged at the end of 2013 – for greater world connectivity and development, committing funds from China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and engaging global financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Malaysia, for instance, will be an actual beneficiary with additional projects thrown in. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. But the US has not been a laggard, being Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner. And indeed the US remains the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, both new investments and total stock.

A staggering statistic not often recognised is that total American investment in ASEAN is more than its investment in China, Japan and India COMBINED!

The point, however, is that this position is being eroded. Trump’s policies are hastening this process. Abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) means there is no American strategic peaceful challenge to the Chinese economic juggernaut in Asia-Pacific.

Balance is important to afford choice. Absence of choice means serious exposure to risk. Price, quality and after-service standards are affected, not to mention a new geo-strategic economic underlining.

Over-dominance by China in the region is a price not only countries in the region will pay, something that most probably is on Trump’s mind. It is a price that America too will sooner or later have to pay.

China’s Belt and Road proposition is not without its challenges, of course. India is deeply suspicious of the connectivity with Pakistan which cuts across India-claimed Azad Kashmir, about 3000km of it.

The link to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in southwest Baluchistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea, is seen by India as a Chinese presence at the entrance to the Indian Ocean and a hawk eye on the Indian sub-continent. With the Chinese also in Sri Lanka, India is circumspect on China’s Belt and Road initiative.

There have also been commentaries on some uneconomic linkages which extend right across the English Channel.

All these reservations, however, do not take into account the benefit of connectivity to economies, the time it often takes to get those economic benefits and, most of all, the patience, persistence and long view of history of China and its leaders.

One of the most striking things about the Belt and Road map is that America is not there. Of course, Xi Jinping does not preclude America just as much as the US did not say that China was not permanently excluded from the TPP. And of course, in the Old Silk Routes and shipping lanes, the New World – America – had not been discovered.

But in their revival, led by now rising and then ancient China after 150 years of national humiliation to the present time, there is the irony that the last three quarters of a century of America world dominance is on course to be marginalised, if not supplanted, by the old Eurasian world centred in an ancient civilisation.

Trump does not seem to understand history. The art of the deal is purely transactional. Short-tempered and short-term gratification does not a strategy constitute.

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So we have leader, system and economic promise distinguishing the two leaders – and the two countries.

Instead of America first, what we are seeing is Trump hurrying America’s decline relative to a rising China. We are not seeing a world changed from people wanting to be like a kind of American to being people wanting to be a kind of Chinese. Actually, the Chinese people themselves want to be like a kind of American, with all that wealth, influence and power.

What we are seeing is China – not America – leading the way to that desired, if not always desirable, end. It is China that is driving the next phase in the evolution of world economic development.

Under Xi Jinping, China appears to be heroically moving towards an epochal point in its Peaceful Rise. With Donald Trump, America is being led backwards and inwards, with all the problems of its governance now all coming out. It is in grave danger of losing in the peaceful competition.

Not knowing how to play that game – certainly under its current President – there remains the danger of the status quo power lashing out against the rising one.

The Greek historian Thucydides observed: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” A Harvard professor has studied what is now called the Thucydides Trap and found in 12 out of 16 cases in which this occurred in the last 500 years, the outcome was war.

There are many potential flash points against the background of China’s rise – the North Korean Peninsula and the placement of THAAD missiles in the south, the South China Sea – where Trump may temperamentally find cause to lash out. This is the trapdoor he might take the world down because of failure to compete peacefully.

A Bit of History: What Kind of Loyalty Does a President Need?


May 20, 2017

A Bit of History: What Kind of Loyalty Does a President Need?

http://www.newyorker.com

U.S. Presidents throughout history have long defined loyalty differently. Lyndon B. Johnson’s definition was extreme; Trump’s definition has so far proved disastrous.

U.S. Presidents throughout history have long defined loyalty differently. Lyndon B. Johnson’s definition was extreme; Trump’s definition has so far proved disastrous.PHOTOGRAPH BY WALLY MCNAMEE / CORBIS / GETTY

On April, 1965, the leaders of India and Pakistan, nations then on the brink of war, cancelled meetings with President Lyndon Johnson, and L.B.J. thought he knew why. While flying to Texas aboard Air Force One, he huddled with his speechwriter, Dick Goodwin. “Do you know there are some disloyal Kennedy people over at the State Department who are trying to get me; that’s why they stirred things up?” Johnson asked. “I didn’t know that,” Goodwin replied. “Well, there are,” Johnson said, “They didn’t get me this time, but they’ll keep trying.” Johnson’s obsession with his political rival, Robert Kennedy, had, by that time, become so overpowering—and his insistence on “all-out loyalty” so pronounced—that it was bogging down the Presidential-appointments process and driving good men out of government. “We cannot afford to lose them,” Harry McPherson, the White House counsel, warned Johnson in a bravely blunt memo. “Neither, in my opinion, can we afford to give them a polygraph-loyalty test. . . . If the word gets around that one has to put on horse-blinders to work for you, you will probably come out with a bunch of clipped yes-men who are afraid of their own shadows and terrified of yours.”

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Jared Kushner–35-year Old Advisor to President Donald Trump

That advice would apply in today’s White House, too, though it’s unlikely that President Trump would welcome it any more than L.B.J. did. (He nearly fired McPherson.) Trump’s chief complaint about his own yes-men seems to be that they don’t say yes energetically enough. The people who serve at the pleasure of the current President are, according to numerous sources, causing him displeasure. Trump, in fact, is said to be enraged by the lot of them—even his adviser-in-law, Jared Kushner—for their “incompetence,” and for “tooting their own horns.” Reports say that Trump is considering a big shakeup. He has already, of course, shaken up the F.B.I., firing its director, James Comey, last Tuesday, for a multitude of asserted sins—disloyalty not least among them. A detailed account in the Times described a one-on-one dinner at the White House in January, shortly after the Inauguration, in which Trump, three times, asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him. Comey, according to the Times, dodged, and offered the President his honesty instead. (In light of the F.B.I.’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, honesty must be what Trump didn’t want from Comey.) In recent days, Trump and his staff have been insisting that if the subject of loyalty came up at that dinner—and, mind you, they’re not saying it did—it would only have concerned Comey’s loyalty to the U.S.A. “I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States, is important,” Trump said on Saturday, in an interview with Fox News. “You know, I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty.”

Putting aside (if one can) Trump and his purposes, every President needs his staff, his Cabinet, and—to a reasonable extent—his party to stand by and stick with him, for an obvious reason: without loyalty to the President and his agenda, an Administration lacks a center of gravity. But loyalty, as Trump suggests, means many things. How a President defines loyalty says a good deal about how he leads and who he is.

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Bobby Kennedy and JFK

John F. Kennedy, for example, selected his unquestionably loyal brother, Robert, as Attorney General and installed members of the so-called Irish Mafia across the government. But as he filled out the rest of his Administration he showed little interest in whether someone had voted for him. He wanted to build, he said, “a ministry of talent”; also, given the narrowness of his victory over Richard Nixon, in 1960, he wanted a few Republicans on his team. This caused Bobby Kennedy some distress, especially when J.F.K. looked to appoint Douglas Dillon—who had served in the Eisenhower Administration—as his Secretary of the Treasury. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., recalled in “A Thousand Days,” his account of those times, R.F.K. “kept asking what would happen if Dillon resigned in a few months with a blast against the administration’s financial policies. He warned his brother that they were putting themselves in the hands of a Republican who had no reason for loyalty to them and might well betray them.” The President-elect shrugged. “Oh, I don’t care about those things,” he said. “All I want to know is: is he able? and will he go along with the program?” In the end, he allowed Bobby to extract from Dillon a pledge (unnecessary, it turned out) that if Dillon ever felt compelled to resign, he would go quietly. But J.F.K.’s nonchalance was not a pose. He expected (and for the most part received) the devotion of his Cabinet and staff. But he knew that he needed, above all, their candor; he needed them to tell him the truth, to give dispassionate and sometimes divergent advice, and then, of course, to back his decisions. Honest debate, in Kennedy’s view, was an act of loyalty; mindless affirmation was not

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Nixon and Kissinger

Both L.B.J. and Nixon, by contrast, were obsessed with loyalty. They brooded about it, demanded it, doubted it, and never seemed to find enough of it. After Kennedy’s assassination, in November, 1963, L.B.J. tried hard to retain the Kennedy men, even though many had treated him cruelly when he was Vice-President. Swallowing his pride, Johnson told them, “I need you more than President Kennedy needed you.” Nearly all agreed to stay on, for a while; some came to respect Johnson’s boundless energy and his success in breathing new life into Kennedy’s legislative program, which had been stalled on Capitol Hill. But he did not win their loyalty. This accrued—without reservation—to Bobby Kennedy. Insecure and increasingly bitter, L.B.J. saw sedition everywhere; aides like Goodwin and Bill Moyers began to wonder whether he was clinically paranoid. Johnson’s definition of loyalty grew extreme, absolute: “I don’t want loyalty,” he told an adviser about a potential appointee. “I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.” Nixon, for his part, was so suspicious of his own aides—who were, he believed, hurting his reputation, undercutting his aims, and, in the case of Henry Kissinger, taking credit for his best ideas—that he installed a taping system in the White House so that he could, someday, hold them to account. Nixon wrote in his memoirs that the tapes “were my best insurance against the unforeseeable future. I was prepared to believe that others, even people close to me, would turn against me.” After his reëlection, Nixon told his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, to clean house and hire some new aides—they didn’t have to be brilliant or even all that competent, Nixon said, just loyal.

Donald Trump is, “like, this great loyalty freak,” by his own telling. “I put the people who are loyal to me on a high pedestal and take care of them very well,” he wrote in “Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life,” a sort of self-help book for budding blowhards that Trump produced with a co-author, Bill Zanker, in 2007. He has long identified loyalty as the paramount quality he looks for in employees. An article in Politico last July, examining Trump’s approach to management, found that he earned the allegiance of some employees through a combination of “praise, pay, and fear,” and by promoting “trusted loyalists” who often lacked “obvious qualifications.”

But this model, which may or may not have worked as advertised in Trump’s businesses, has proved a disaster in the Presidency. Across the executive branch, a truly staggering number of offices—at Homeland Security, at the Treasury, at the State Department—remain unoccupied, in part because Trump’s team cannot find enough “reliable” loyalists to fill the positions. Trump and his team have also pushed people out of jobs when their loyalty has come into question: in February, Shermichael Singleton, a senior aide to Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was fired and marched out of the building after a Trump adviser uncovered an op-ed, critical of Trump, that Singleton had written during the campaign. Aides who do pass the loyalty test know that their hold on Trump’s allegiance is and will remain tenuous. David Rennie of The Economist was one of four reporters who met with the President in the Oval Office on May 4th; the following week, Rennie described the atmosphere as “kind of like being in a royal palace several hundred years ago, with people coming in and out, trying to catch the ear of the king. . . . The role of some pretty senior figures, including Cabinet secretaries, was to chime in and agree with whatever the president had just said, rather than offering candid advice.”

On the continuum between with-the-program loyalty and pecker-in-my-pocket loyalty, Trump clearly wants the latter. The Comey dinner—a botched ring-kissing ceremony—is wholly consistent with Trump’s understanding of loyalty. Where it is not forthcoming, it must be coerced. What Trump demands is not, in fact, loyalty; it is fealty, servility, sycophancy. And he feels that this is owed him not only by his staff or Cabinet but by the director of the F.B.I., by Congress, by judges, even by journalists: in an interview with the Associated Press in April, Trump observed, “When I won, I said, ‘Well, the one thing good is now I’ll get good press.’ ” All are expected to fall into line. So far, the President’s aides are sticking with him—there have been no high-level defections from the Administration. Michael Flynn, who was dismissed from his job as national-security adviser earlier this year, is even defying a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has demanded documents concerning his interactions with Russian officials. Trump has encouraged him to “stand strong,” Flynn told a group of friends in April. But, with Republicans on the Hill growing restive in the face of every new day’s dramatic revelations, and with the Russia investigation now in the experienced hands of Robert Mueller, a former F.B.I. director, Trump may be about to find out how loyal his people are willing to be.

Donald Trump and The Art of Deceit


May 18, 2017

Donald Trump and The Art of Deceit

by David Remnick@www.newyorker.com

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The Master of Deceit

Donald Trump, who may well have attempted to obstruct justice within just a few weeks of taking his oath of office, came to the Presidency with a wealth of experience in the art of deceit. He may know little of domestic or foreign policy, he may be accustomed to running an office of satraps and cronies, and he may be unable to harness an institution as complex as the executive branch, but experience told him early on that he could dodge any accusation and deny any aggression against the truth

As Trump’s biographers Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish tell the story, Roy Cohn, who lived for decades under various indictments for bribery, extortion, and other sins, and yet always managed to escape conviction, first instructed Trump more than forty years ago in the dark arts of counterattack and an over-all “go to hell” philosophy. Cohn, as a devious young lawyer, had been the protégé of Joe McCarthy, during the anti-Communist witch hunts of the fifties. He met Trump at a club called—seriously—Le Club, and began to tutor this eager young scion of an outer-borough real-estate family in the art of what’s what. Nothing delighted Trump more than to learn that prosecution did not necessarily follow from wrongdoing.

“When Cohn boasted that he had spent much of his life under indictment, Trump asked whether Cohn had really done what was alleged,” Fisher and Kranish write. “ ‘What the hell do you think?’ Cohn responded with a smile. Trump said he ‘never really knew’ what that meant, but he liked Cohn’s toughness and loyalty.”

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Trump knew very well what Cohn was telling him, and he lived by that lesson. As a businessman, he distinguished himself as a disreputable con; he was spurned by the New York business community less for his cartoonish flamboyance than for his essential dishonesty, his meanness of character. He routinely stiffed contractors and workers. He screwed creditors. He violated casino regulations. He bragged of charitable contributions that he never made. He promoted scams such as Trump University. In the nineties, as his bankruptcies mounted, he lost the ability to obtain credit from the largest and most reputable American banks. In foreign deals, brandishing an inexplicably attractive marketing name, he ignored his legal obligations to carry out due diligence and did deals with flagrantly corrupt business partners. In Azerbaijan, he was party to a deal whose only real enterprise might have been the laundering of money. And yet he always avoided serious legal peril, not least because he played by the lessons imbibed from Roy Cohn. And all the while he lived it up, acquiring the life-style decorations of a third-world dictator or a second-world oligarch. His excess was his brand

As a politician, Trump has had little reason to discover the qualities of modesty, scrupulousness, or seriousness. Throughout the primary and Presidential campaigns, he succeeded in no small measure because of his defiance of convention. Emboldened by his astonishing early exposure on cable television and his first wins in the primaries, he came to see himself as invulnerable.

Nothing could hurt Trump. Even he seemed stunned by this stubborn fact. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said, while campaigning in early 2016. And he was, for a long time, right

Until now. In the past two weeks, a Presidency of ideological meanness and unsurpassing incompetence has moved into another, more recognizable realm. The usual comparison is with the Watergate era.

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I actually think the comparisons at this point obscure more than they reveal. Nixon was just so shrewd, so strategic: it’s simply inconceivable he would get caught with his pants down implicating himself on the record, like Trump now does almost daily,” Rick Perlstein, the author of “Nixonland,” told me. “My favorite Nixon maxim was ‘Never get mad unless it’s on purpose.’ But the words ‘on purpose’ and ‘Donald Trump’ now feel like matter and antimatter; with him, it’s all impulse. Nixon was so obsessed with preparation he used to memorize answers to likely press conference questions, questions he’d delegate to staffers like Pat Buchanan to dream up. Can you imagine!? And, look, when Nixon fired Archibald Cox, he was truly backed into a corner, his king in check: that was the only move he had before the world discovered, via the tapes, that everything he’d been saying about the scandal since June, 1972, was a lie. But, even then, he managed to keep moving pieces around the board for ten more months!

“Both, of course, were authors of their own predicaments,” Perlstein went on. “But Nixon was so much the smoother criminal: everything was buffered through intermediaries and cutouts. An example that comes to mind: on the famous meeting with John Dean of March 21, 1973, Nixon, realizing he’d said too much, maneuvering Dean near the microphones to say something along the lines of ‘. . . But that would be wrong.’ Can you imagine Trump with that kind of situational awareness?”

Despite the shrewdness gap, Nixon once paid Trump an encouraging compliment. In 1987, when Trump was thinking about politics for the first time, the disgraced ex-President heard from his wife, Pat, that Trump had put in an entertaining performance on “The Phil Donahue Show.” Nixon wrote to Trump, “Dear Donald, I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me you were great. As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!”

Nixon himself was never a political mentor to Trump, but one of his aides, the original dirty trickster Roger Stone, was. Stone was as instrumental in creating Trump’s political career as Roy Cohn had been in forming Trump’s moral behavior in business. (Watch the new documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” starring my colleagues Jeffrey Toobin and Jane Mayer, and you will understand the current craziness more deeply.) It was Roy Cohn who introduced Stone to Trump, and Stone was instantly enamored.

“I was like a jockey looking for a horse,” Stone says in the film. “And he’s a prime piece of political horse flesh in my view.”

Stone helped Trump see the political advantage in many sleazy tactics and alliances. He pushed him on birtherism (which was for Trump what the Southern strategy was for Nixon); he led him toward conspiracy mongers like Alex Jones and Infowars, and operatives like Paul Manafort, who led the campaign for a while and is now a source of intense investigation for his associations in Russia and Ukraine.

Over the years, Trump has been the focus of investigations on housing discrimination, bribery, corruption, dealings with the mob, misleading earnings reports, fraud, and improper campaign contributions. (Of his behavior with women we shall not speak.) But that was nothing compared to the hard light that is on him now from the F.B.I., Congress, the press, the public, and various other realms of civil society. Discussion of Trump’s Presidency ending before his four-year term is up is no longer an oppositional fantasy. The events of these recent days­­—the Comey firing; the opera-buffa intel giveaway with the Russian delegation to the Oval Office; and now the news of the Comey memos—just may be the point of no return for a Presidency that has been a kind of emergency of chaos, incompetence, injustice, and deception from its first days.

But it will be a complicated road, legally and politically. To prove obstruction of justice, the subject must know that there is an investigation against him and take an action to obstruct that investigation with corrupt purpose. The next step, clearly, will be for Congress to inspect James Comey’s memos regarding his meetings and conversations with the President, which were written about Tuesday in the Times. Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, has said that he is prepared to subpoena those memos if they exist.

We are likely to learn a great deal more about Trump’s behavior from those documents. Comey might have been grotesquely mistaken in his judgment regarding the Hillary Clinton e-mail case, but he has a reputation for righteousness and honesty. In Comey’s account, as relayed in the Times, the President, over dinner, demanded an oath of loyalty; Comey promised only his honesty. At the Valentine’s Day meeting in the Oval Office, Trump told the Vice-President and the Attorney General to leave the room before asking Comey to end the investigation into Mike Flynn’s relations with the Russian government. Trump even suggested to Comey that he consider prosecuting and jailing journalists for publishing classified material.

Is it conceivable that Trump made these requests with innocent purpose? Or was he attempting to obstruct justice? The same questions apply to the President’s insistence on firing Comey. First, he asked Comey to shut down the investigation, and, when he refused, the President fired him. Can one contrive an innocent motive in that? And if there are, indeed, tapes of White House conversations, what are the odds that Trump’s version is closer to the truth than Comey’s?

The point is that Trump has a long record of lying, shady business practices, public deception, and crossing legal lines. His instructors in this include Roy Cohn and Roger Stone and other base figures. Comey’s memos are far more likely to bury Trump than to exonerate him.

As Evan Osnos has pointed out, Trump will survive until he loses the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are not likely to act out of an attack of moral conscience. But at some point, and it may come soon, they will begin to feel political pressure—pressure from Republican constituents in swing states and districts; pressure on their own reputations—and their patience with Trump will run out.

The Criminal 45th POTUS?



May 17, 2017

The Criminal 45th POTUS?

http://www.nytimes.com

After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. Director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.

First, the facts. On January 26, Sally Yates, then the acting Attorney General, informed the White House that Mr. Flynn had apparently lied about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. The next day, President Trump hosted Mr. Comey for a private dinner, during which he allegedly asked Mr. Comey repeatedly whether he would pledge his “loyalty” to him, which Mr. Comey declined to do.

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Sally Yates–Acting Attorney-General

On February 14, the day after Mr. Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, President Trump allegedly held Mr. Comey back after a meeting to say that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong and that, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey declined to drop the investigation, going on in March to confirm before Congress that it was ongoing, and later requesting greater resources from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

Finally, on May 9, President Trump fired Mr. Comey. We were first told he did so because Mr. Comey bungled the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Two days later, President Trump changed his story: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” The day after that, President Trump threatened Mr. Comey on Twitter, warning him against leaking to the press.

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Any one of these facts or allegations, by itself, likely would not constitute obstruction of justice. After all, as the F.B.I. Director himself stated, the President has the undisputed power under the Constitution to hire and fire members of his administration in the normal course of government business.

But what he cannot do is exercise that power corruptly, to spare himself or those associated with him, like Mr. Flynn, from scrutiny and possible criminal liability. To do so would run afoul of a series of federal statutes that define the crime of obstruction of justice. They are variations on the theme that anyone who “corruptly” or by “any threatening letter or communication” tries “to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” will be subject to criminal penalties.

The operative word here is “corruptly.” It means “an improper purpose,” or one that is “evil” or “wicked.” There is no precise formula for defining it; those involved in the administration of justice must continually wrestle with its interpretation.

Here, the evidence strongly suggests that the president acted corruptly. That starts with the demand for loyalty from Mr. Comey, the account of which the White House disputes. That demand can reasonably be understood to mean that Mr. Comey should protect Trump and follow his bidding, rather than honoring his oath to follow the evidence. It is also an implicit threat: Be loyal, or you will be fired.

When Mr. Comey did not seem to take the hint, Mr. Trump made his meaning crystal-clear on February 14: Let the investigation go, and let Mr. Flynn go, too. The president denies this as well, of course, as he has denied so much else that has proven to be true. Who are we to believe: Mr. Comey, who would have no reason to accuse the President of obstruction of justice, and who has apparently preserved meticulous notes of his conversations? Or the President, who fact-checkers have demonstrated has told more lies in less time than any other modern occupant of the Oval Office?

While Mr. Trump might have been within his rights to fire Mr. Comey, this pattern of demands to protect himself and Mr. Flynn, followed by retaliation when the demands were not met, if proven, is a textbook case of wrongful conduct. Add to this the fact that Mr. Flynn was already offering testimony about the Russia connection in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt to dissemble the cause of the firing, and it is clear that a cover-up was afoot.

Finally, Mr. Trump topped things off with his tweeted threat to Mr. Comey; witness intimidation is both obstruction of justice in itself, and a free-standing statutory offense.

Taken together, this evidence is already more than sufficient to make out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — and there are likely many more shoes to drop. Mr. Comey reportedly took notes on all of his encounters with the president. If what has emerged so far is any indication, this is unlikely to offer much comfort to Mr. Trump.

And there remains the core question of the President’s motives. Is he withholding his taxes because they show evidence of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as his son once stated, or do they show no such thing, as his lawyers claim? Why is Mr. Trump so fervently protecting Mr. Flynn: out of loyalty to a friend, or because Mr. Trump fears what that friend would say if he received immunity?

We have previously called for Congress to set up an independent 9/11-style commission on the Russia and Flynn investigations, and for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. This appointment is necessary because Congress can’t actually prosecute anyone who may have committed crimes, including obstruction of justice, in connection with the Trump-Russia matter. This week’s revelations about the president, the most powerful man in the country, emphasize the need for these independent structures to be erected and to encompass these new allegations.

At least for now, we need not address the question, fully briefed to the Supreme Court during Watergate, but never resolved, of whether a special prosecutor could indict the President; as with Nixon, the question may again be obviated by other events, like the House initiating impeachment proceedings and the President resigning.

In the meantime, the House and Senate must continue their existing investigations and expand them, with the Judiciary Committees of both bodies immediately beginning hearings into the president’s abuse of power. Congress must be prepared to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Richard W. Painter, a Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, is the Vice Chairman and Norman L. Eisen is the Chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.