President Trump’s speech to the United Nations was well delivered. But it was a strange mishmash of topics and tones, in parts celebrating realpolitik but then also asserting the importance of freedom and democracy. There was, however, one overriding theme — the embrace of nationalism. And in striking that chord, Trump did something unusual, perhaps unique for a U.S. president: He encouraged, even embraced the rise of a post-American world.
President Donald Trump’s Speech @ UNGA –ENCORE
First, the mishmash. Early in his speech, Trump asserted, “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” But then, a few minutes later, Trump proceeded to castigate North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba for their undemocratic political systems, virtually demanding that they all become Western-style liberal democracies.
The danger of this kind of lofty rhetoric is that it has been selectively applied, so it is seen cynically by the rest of the world as a way to dress up American self-interest. Trump took this hypocrisy to a new level. He denounced Iran for its lack of freedoms and, almost in the same breath, made favorable mention of Saudi Arabia. By any yardstick — political rights, religious tolerance, free speech — Iran is a much more open society than Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute monarchy allied to the world’s most fanatical religious establishment, where churches and synagogues are prohibited.
The main thrust of Trump’s speech was about nationalism. He celebrated sovereignty and nationalism, choosing an odd example. Latching onto a few words by President Harry S. Truman in support of the Marshall Plan, Trump described that approach to international relations as “beautiful” and “noble.” But can anyone imagine Trump actually supporting the Marshall Plan? It was a massive foreign aid program, administered by government bureaucrats to help foreigners revive their industries — which became competitors to U.S. firms. Washington spent, as a percentage of gross domestic product, roughly five times what it spent during the combat phase of the war in Afghanistan, according to one estimate. To make the Marshall Plan work, Washington encouraged European nations to cede economic sovereignty and create the European Coal and Steel Community, which was the genesis of the European Union.
The most significant line in Trump’s speech was this one, delivered dramatically: “As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”
But this is what countries such as Russia and China have been saying for the past few decades. For the past 70 years, the great debate among nations has been between those who argued for narrow national interests and those who believed that lasting peace and prosperity depended on promoting broader common interests. The latter stance, conceived by FDR and supported by every U.S. president since, is what produced the United Nations and all the organizations that monitor and assist with trade, travel, disease, crime and weather issues, among a host of others, that spill over borders and can only be handled at a regional or global level.
But Trump is tired of being the world’s leader. He whined in his speech that other countries are unfair in their dealings with the United States, and that somehow the most powerful nation in the world, which dominates almost every international forum, is being had. His solution, a return to nationalism, would be warmly welcomed by most of the world’s major players — Russia and China, but also countries such as India and Turkey — which tend to act on the basis of their narrow self-interest. Of course, that will mean a dramatic acceleration of the post-American world, one in which these countries will shape policies and institutions, unashamedly to their own benefit rather than any broader one.
Trump grumbled about the fact that the United States pays 22 percent of the U.N.’s budget, which is actually appropriate because it’s roughly equivalent to America’s share of global GDP. Were he to scale back U.S. support, he might be surprised how fast a country like China will leap in to fill the gap. And once it does, China will dominate and shape the United Nations — and the global agenda — just as the United States has done for seven decades. Perhaps the Chinese will suggest that the organization’s headquarters be moved to Beijing. Come to think of it, it would free up acres of land on the East River where Trump could build a few more condominiums.
Steve Bannon, the former presidential confidante, was as apocalyptic as ever about China on the eve of his trip to Hong Kong. The man who had all but declared “economic war” with China in earlier interviews said to a Times reporter, “A hundred years from now, this is what they’ll remember — what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination.” On arrival, in a speech to a big investor conference, he seemed to have softened a bit, praising China’s leadership and offering hopes that a trade war could be averted.
Mr. Bannon reflects a basic tension in the Trump administration: whether to challenge China (and if so, where and when) or work with it. There is, on the one hand, huge resentment toward Beijing — which Mr. Bannon shares — among those who believe that China has grown its economy at the expense of the working and middle classes. (The focus of his speech was instructive: “American economic nationalism and the populist revolt and Asia,” the three intertwined in his mind.) And then there are those who believe that without China’s help there can be no serious deterrent to North Korea (which fired off another missile near Japan last week), no lasting stability in the South China Sea and the Asian rim as a whole.
This much is true: For the foreseeable future, no relationship is more crucial than that between these two nations. Together, they have a combined population of more than 1.7 billion people. Their economies dwarf all others, they both have nuclear weapons, they both have veto power in the United Nations Security Council. Their appetites and ambitions shape the globe: Together they can make for a more peaceful world; as adversaries, they can make a mess of things.
To some extent, President Trump seems to understand all that. He engaged early with President Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago resort, and has sought to regularly consult the Chinese leader, including a recent exchange that the president described as a “very strong phone call.” Yet, at the same time, he has failed to articulate a coherent strategy toward China or to achieve significant progress on the many consequential issues. He seems also to lump all China-related issues into one big, menacing ball — trade, tariffs, North Korea — rather than dealing with them separately, and this has added more complications.
Additionally, the administration has been slow to get China experts into senior posts at the White House and State Department; for good or ill, Mr. Bannon was one person with Mr. Trump’s ear who took a big interest in China. Now there is no senior person with close ties to the president to oversee China policy, which does little to foster a consistent policy or reflect well on American leadership.
Against Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness and his espousal of an America First agenda of isolationism and protectionism, Mr. Xi projects a steady hand as he tries to remake the global economic and political order and entice nations into Beijing’s orbit.
Chinese trade is undeniably a big draw for many countries. So is Mr. Xi’s promised, though perhaps quixotic, $1 trillion investment in his One Belt, One Road initiative, an ambitious network of trading routes and development projects — roads, ports, pipelines and the like from China to Africa and Europe — that seems also to have drawn Mr. Bannon’s admiration. Having long operated quietly in Russia’s shadow at the United Nations, the Chinese are also speaking out more forcefully and engaging more robustly across multiple regions, a trend that has accelerated under Mr. Trump.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump, unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who worked to expand American influence in Asia, has ceded significant ground to China, especially by withdrawing from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and thus allowing Beijing an opening to set trade rules in the region. The American president will share the world stage with Mr. Xi for the first time this week when both men address the annual United Nations General Assembly.
Can there be robust cooperation? In 2005, when President George W. Bush was in office, Robert Zoellick, then a deputy secretary of state, encouraged China to become a “responsible stakeholder” and help strengthen the Western-designed postwar international system from which it benefited. Yet today more officials and experts are putting China in the adversary category, or leaning toward doing so, not least because of Beijing’s decision to expand its military capability and project it further into the South China Sea.
Still, to anyone who steps back from the immediate conflicts over territory and trade, there is no alternative to cooperation on major challenges, even if interests aren’t always aligned. Mr. Trump is supposed to make his first presidential trip to Beijing in November, and Mr. Xi will certainly want to demonstrate that he can work with and manage the mercurial American president. The meeting is a natural forcing mechanism for getting some things done.
Here’s one thing that is not much talked about: counterterrorism. Mr. Trump worries about the Islamic State, Mr. Xi about Muslim Uighurs in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang. Beijing could benefit from American intelligence about militants returning from the Middle East to Xinjiang; Washington would be interested in China’s help in persuading Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban.
On trade, there may be an opportunity for progress on a bilateral investment treaty, with American investment offered in exchange for broader access to the Chinese market for American companies. On intellectual property, now that China is putting energy into developing its own technology instead of just stealing America’s, the two could work together on stronger protections.
And then, of course, there is North Korea. Mr. Trump has insisted far more strongly than Mr. Obama that China, as the North’s main supplier of food and fuel, could single-handedly resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis if it wanted to. China can do a lot, and it did support the United States in passing tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions last week. But it has no interest in seeing North Korea collapse, and doubts remain about whether it could force the North to negotiate.
There is a template for cooperation, and while it involves an issue in which Mr. Trump has no interest, it provides a glimpse of a way forward. The issue is climate change. A combination of arduous negotiation by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama White House, plus China’s own horrible air pollution problems, brought Beijing around to signing the Paris accord and making a major commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. Self-interest and patient diplomacy: a combination that could work to the benefit of the entire world.
The cover of the magazine’s post-election issue, had Clinton won. “I felt that I had let everyone down,” she recalls. “Because I had.”–Illustration by Malika Favre
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, as she puts it, won “more votes for President than any white man” in American history, is not the first candidate to capture the popular vote but lose the election. She is the fifth. The Founders, for varying reasons, distrusted popular democracy. Southerners were wary of a challenge to slavery; others feared the emergence of a national demagogue. The Electoral College, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 68, would block the rise of a leader with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” An extra layer of electoral deliberation, he thought, would also insulate the American system from a hostile hack from abroad—“the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”
Andrew Jackson was the first to suffer this constitutionally enabled result of losing-while-winning, when he conceded the 1824 race to John Quincy Adams. Jackson, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office, charged that he had been undone by a rigged ballot. In 1888, Grover Cleveland lost in much the same manner to Benjamin Harrison, but then avenged his humbling four years later. Samuel Tilden fell to Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1876; and yet, after the baroque, months-long struggle inside the Electoral College, Tilden seemed almost relieved. Now, he said, “I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
In the ballot of 2000, Albert Gore, Jr., Bill Clinton’s Vice-President for eight years, won half a million more votes than the governor of Texas, George W. Bush. After losing the final battle before the Supreme Court, Gore soon departed Washington to brood in Nashville. He grew a beard. He grew fat. He seemed, at first, quite lost. When I visited him there, a few years later, he said he would eventually get around to confronting that bitter experience, just not yet. He never fully did so, certainly not at book length. Instead, with time, he shaved his beard, traveled the world giving lectures and making a documentary about climate change, and, in 2007, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He made a fortune as an Apple director, a Google adviser, and a venture-capital partner. He found his way. And whenever someone brought up the election of 2000 he always remembered to lighten matters, saying, “You win some, you lose some, and then there’s that little-known third category.”
For all of Hillary Clinton’s skills of survival, she will have a hard time finding a similar peace or place in public affairs. For one thing, Gore was in his early fifties when he lost. Clinton is sixty-nine. For another, the circumstances surrounding her defeat are immensely more disturbing. Clinton lost a race that few thought possible to lose. Her opponent was not Mitt Romney or John McCain or Marco Rubio but Donald J. Trump, a demonstrably crooked businessman and reality-television star, an unsavory, if shrewd, demagogue whose rhetoric and policy proposals had long flouted the constitutional norms of the United States.
She lost because of the tactical blunders of her campaign. She lost because she could never find a language, a thematic focus, or a campaigning persona that could convince enough struggling working Americans that she, and not a cartoonish plutocrat, was their champion. She lost because of the forces of racism, misogyny, and nativism that Trump expertly aroused. And she lost because of external forces (Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, James Comey) that were beyond her control and are not yet fully understood.
“There are times when all I want to do is scream into a pillow,” Clinton admits in a raw memoir, both apologetic and apoplectic, called “What Happened.” Clinton describes the daily activity of working on the book with her collaborators, two former speechwriters and a researcher, as “cathartic.” They spent long sessions at her house talking through the details of the campaign, exchanging notes, suggestions, edits. But, as Clinton said when we met recently for a long conversation, the process of thinking about it all—Trump looming over her like a predator at the second debate, the incessant drumbeat of “e-mails, e-mails, e-mails,” awaking from a nap on Election Night and being told that Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and the election itself had all slipped away—was like willfully reënacting a hideous accident. “Literally, at times when I was writing it, I had to go lie down,” she said. “I just couldn’t bear to relive it.”
But, against the advice of some of those closest to her, she has relived it, for publication. Clinton’s memoir radiates with fury at the forces and the figures ranged against her, but it is also salted with self-searching, grief, bitterness, and fitful attempts to channel and contain that fury. At one point, she writes, “Breathe out. Scream later.” On the night of November 8th, Clinton expected to give a victory speech at the Javits Center, in Manhattan, as the first female President-elect. The stagecraft was in place: she would wear white—“the color of the suffragettes,” the fulfillment of Seneca Falls—and stand on a platform cut into the shape of the United States, under a vast glass ceiling. It was to be a triumph on a historic scale, an American breakthrough as consequential as Barack Obama’s Election Night speech in 2008, at Grant Park. Instead, the next morning, she wore purple, a symbol of the unity of red and blue states, and, before hundreds of shocked, weeping staffers, she made her way through a hastily drafted message of endurance and gratitude. Afterward, she and Bill Clinton climbed into their car and, as they were driven along the Hudson River, she was hollowed out, unable to speak, struggling to breathe: “At every step I felt that I had let everyone down. Because I had.”
When Clinton arrived home, she changed into yoga pants and a fleece and wandered outside. She lives on a cul-de-sac called Old House Lane, in Chappaqua, a wooded hamlet in Westchester County. The property is surrounded by a high white fence. Secret Service officers operate out of a red barn in the back yard. It was cold, rainy, quiet, and, she writes, “the question blaring in my head was, ‘How did this happen?’ ”
Before I went to see Clinton, I spoke with some of her top advisers in the campaign. Some still work with her; others stay in close touch, commiserating, exchanging links to stories about Trump-related outrages or malfeasances. They share a sense of colossal failure—of having failed Clinton, and, more, of having failed the country. They know that she, too, carries a sense of both victimhood and guilt. “There is an exponential quality to the pain she feels,” one of them told me. “It’s the pain of losing an election that you thought you were going to win. And it’s taken to the nth power. It’s squared by the fact that this is the second time she has fallen short, and cubed by the fact that the person who won is so deeply unworthy, in her view, and represents a mortal threat to American greatness. There is in her a depth of anguish about the outcome that there is no parallel for in modern memory.”
In the first months after Trump’s victory, Clinton kept mainly out of the public eye. She didn’t want to hear the theories about why her campaign had given America a Trump Presidency; she could not handle easily the gestures of sympathy. She listened with a tight, patient smile as people recommended Xanax and gave her the names of their marvellous therapists. Friends always hastened to praise Clinton for her determination to “keep going,” but they uniformly described her now as angry, confused, bitter, and sad. How did she get from day to day? “Chardonnay helped,” she told me. (It’s become a stock line for her book tour.) She also practiced a form of yoga that involves “alternate-nostril breathing.” That someone might leap on her prescription of white wine and yoga as a parody of blue-state self-care is, in her post-candidate life, irrelevant.
Clinton spent a lot of time around the house. She read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels of friendship, becoming, and abandonment. She returned to the work of Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born priest and theologian who wrote about his struggles with depression, spirituality, and loneliness. She consumed mystery novels: Louise Penny, Donna Leon, Charles Todd. She went to her granddaughter’s dance recital. She watched old episodes of “The Good Wife” and “Madam Secretary,” even if that seemed a little on the nose. She teared up watching Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (“I did my best, it wasn’t much . . .”) She went through scores of articles about Russian meddling, offshore “content farms,” Trump-family misadventures. “At times,” she writes, “I felt like C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison on the TV show Homeland, desperately trying to get her arms around a sinister conspiracy and appearing more than a little frantic in the process.” She also spent time thinking about what she might do in the future, “so that the rest of my life wouldn’t be spent like Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, rattling around my house obsessing over what might have been.” She has yet to settle on anything concrete, save for the conviction that she will never run for office again.
In her concession speech, Clinton had, like Gore before her, gestured to the need for national unity. She mouthed the requisite words of conciliation. (“Donald Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power.”) But as I sat down with her in a bare conference room in her office on West Forty-fifth Street—a room so drained of decoration that it seemed like a stage set for a production of “Endgame”—she made it plain that, after eight months of Trump’s Presidency, she was through with political politesse. Although her press person had told me that Clinton did not want to be photographed—she writes a long passage in the book about the trials of daily sessions with hairdressers and makeup artists, and all that is required of women in public office to achieve the gloss expected of them—she entered the room looking much as she had throughout the campaign. Still, there was a heaviness to her manner, a kind of grim determination to get a message across, one last time.
“I think the President and his Administration pose a clear and present danger to our democracy,” she said. “I hoped, back on the day after that election, that I wouldn’t be sitting here, all these months later, feeling compelled to say that with a sense of urgency. But I am, and I do.”
Trump, Clinton went on, “is immature, with poor impulse control; unqualified for the position that he holds; reactive, not proactive; not strategic, either at home or on the world stage. And I think he is unpredictable, which, at the end of the description one can give of him, makes him dangerous. The latest incident with North Korea? Going after our ally, South Korea, while North Korea is threatening the region, threatening us? Going after China, which we need, whether we like it or not, to help us try to resolve the aggressive behavior of Kim Jong Un? It puts a smile on Kim’s face. Just like him going after NATO and the Atlantic alliance puts a smile on Putin’s face. He admires authoritarians. In fact, before this crisis with North Korea, he was praising Kim Jong Un. He clearly has a bromance toward Putin, whom he lauds as a great leader. He’s being played by the Putins and the Kim Jong Uns of the world. I’m not even sure he’s aware of that. Because he has such a limited understanding of the world. Everything is in relation to how it makes him feel. And therefore he has little objective distance, which a leader must have. Making decisions in the Oval Office requires a level of dispassionate, reasoned analysis. We’ve seen no evidence he’s capable of that.”
Diplomacy in the Trump Administration, Clinton said, has become the work of generals, particularly James Mattis, who is “both Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, as far as I can tell.” She didn’t speak critically of Rex Tillerson, but the former Secretary of State said, “There are no diplomats at home. There are no China experts. I don’t know who is left in the government at any level of experience and seniority who could be brought into the kind of diplomatic effort that I would advocate for. You should have an envoy that carries the imprimatur of the President in Korea right now, shuttling between Tokyo and Seoul and Beijing, and trying to figure out what is the best way forward here.”
In all, with Putin behaving like “a Bond villain,” the country on alert against a nuclear North Korea, and the Oval Office occupied by a reality-TV personality, Clinton seemed to feel that a line had been crossed; the country had fallen into a perilous state of unreality.
“It’s like a bad movie,” she said. “You can’t believe anybody would ever green-light it, and all of a sudden it happens.”
“What Happened” was a No. 1 best-seller on Amazon well before its publication, on September 12. This is not surprising. Of the more than sixty-five million people who voted for Clinton, and who now feel miserable about the Trump Presidency, not a few want to hear from her again, and gain some consolation from her story, if only to speculate about a through-the-looking-glass world in which she is in the White House, Merrick Garland is on the Supreme Court, and Trump is ranting about “illegals” in a studio at Fox News. Clinton’s previous books—“It Takes a Village,” “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy,” “Living History,” “Hard Choices”—were more brand burnishment than human expression; they were performances of virtue or anecdotal enumerations of her travels and accomplishments before an upcoming campaign, everything rendered in cautious, sometimes disingenuous, market-tested prose. Such books belong to a well-established tradition. “Living History,” published during her first term in the U.S. Senate, is an evasive, soft-focus memoir. It attempts, for example, to portray her father—a frustrated, angry, and often frightening man—as an ultimately lovable curmudgeon. “Hard Choices,” her chronicle of her years at the State Department, possesses all the flavor and the nutritional value of a breakfast bowl of packing peanuts and warm water.
“What Happened,” though hardly an Augustinian confession, is much closer to the bone than anything Clinton has ever published. She knows that the voice of the vanquished isn’t always welcome, but she remains defiant: “There were plenty of people hoping that I, too, would just disappear,” she acknowledges. “But here I am.”
The wounds that the new book opens are not just Clinton’s. A few nights before meeting with her, I was at dinner with a political professional who worked on her 2008 campaign. I mentioned that I was going to interview Clinton, and sought his advice about what I should ask. He put down his fork and scowled. “Ask her why she blew the biggest slam dunk in the history of fucking American politics!” he said. A few diners at adjacent tables looked up. “Oh, and ask her if she is going to donate the millions of dollars she’s gonna make on this book to charity. Ask her: Why should you profit from this disaster?” There was more of this.
On the day I was to see Clinton, I read an article in Politico headlined “Democrats Dread Hillary’s Book Tour.” Unnamed “alums” from her Brooklyn campaign headquarters told the reporters that the promotion of “What Happened” was “the final torture.” Others joked about how many stops she’d make in Wisconsin in her campaign to sell books. A top Democratic donor said that Clinton “should just zip it, but she’s not going to.” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was asked about the book; she replied, “Beg your pardon?,” and walked away. Her colleague from Oregon, Ron Wyden, said, “I’ve always been a looking-forward kind of guy. I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Before publication day, a passage from the book leaked in which Clinton criticizes Bernie Sanders for giving Trump an opening by slashing away at her integrity during the primary campaign. When he was asked about the book by Stephen Colbert, on “The Late Show,” Sanders, who wrote of his own experiences in the 2016 race in a book he published last November, did not miss his cue. “Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost. She’s upset about that and I understand that,” he said. “But our job now is not to go backwards, it is to go forwards. . . . I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talkin’ about 2016.” The bitterness of that primary race will not soon fade. Sanders saw Clinton as a clueless, corrupt, temporizing, buckraking member of the neoliberal élite; she saw him as unserious about the details of policy, reckless, self-righteous, swept up in his own sense of ideological purity, and “not a Democrat.”
Even some of the people closest to Clinton are wary of the book and the inevitable blowback it will invite. “If she carried a cross and were bleeding on the street, that would not be enough apology for some people,” one adviser told me. According to a recent NBC News poll, Clinton’s favorability rating is now at thirty per cent, the nadir of her public life. This is not a country that countenances losers, it seems, no matter what the popular vote, no matter how badly the rules have been broken, no matter how pernicious the victor. To type “Hillary Clinton” and watch Twitter light up in an efflorescence of insult and wild accusation is an alarming experience. She has been a target of unholy abuse from the start. In 1980, her husband lost the Arkansas governorship after his first term in part because, many voters said, she had the temerity to go by Hillary Rodham. (She soon added Clinton.) Once the Clintons were in the White House, everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Pat Robertson, from Christopher Hitchens to the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, accused her of heinous crimes: drug running, financial fraud, shadowy doings around the death of Vince Foster. Trump was able to revive many of those old tropes and, through his speeches and tweets and the amplifying force of his incessantly televised rallies, once more cast Clinton as Lady Macbeth.
When I told Clinton that I had looked her up that morning on Twitter, she smiled knowingly and said, “A dangerous thing to do!” She knew all too well what was there, and it wasn’t merely the usual filth about her appearance or her marriage. It was the kind of material that allowed men like Trump, Michael Flynn, and Chris Christie to get in front of roaring crowds and inspire chants of “Lock her up!”
I’ve thought a lot about this,” Clinton told me. “And for whatever combination of reasons—some I think I understand, and others I don’t—I am viewed as a threat to powerful forces on both the right and the left. I am still one of the favorite subjects for Fox TV. With the return of [Steve] Bannon to Breitbart, we’ll see him utilizing that publication. It’s because I do speak out, and I do stand up. Sometimes, you know, what I say is not fully appreciated for years, to be honest. At least, it seems to me that way. But I’m going to continue to speak out. And on the left—there is a real manipulation of the left. In addition to those who are calling me names, we know that Russia has really targeted, through their trolls and bots, a lot of accounts—a lot of Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, of people on the left—feeding them a steady diet of nonsense.”
Such talk was not a matter of wishful conspiracy thinking. Scott Shane, of the Times, recently published an article in which he, with the help of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, detailed the Russian efforts against Clinton in the campaign, far beyond the hack of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta’s e-mail accounts. Shane reported that a “cyberarmy” of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bloggers and bots with fake American identities spread disinformation about Clinton on various platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
These tactics, Clinton told me, were “right out of the playbook of Putin and one of the generals whom he listens to, who talked about the kind of war planning and preparation that Russia needed to be engaged in. It was no longer just large, conventional forces and nuclear warheads—it was also cyberwar, covert and semi-covert, even overt, as we saw in Ukraine. This attack on our electoral system was at least publicly encouraged by Trump and his campaign. I hope the investigation in the Congress and by [Robert] Mueller, as well, will give us more information and understanding of what else they really did to us. It’s not going away.”
I asked Clinton if she thought Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians. “I don’t want to overstate what we already know publicly, but I think the compilation of coincidence adds up to something more than public support,” she said, referring to Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin (“Why should I tell Putin what to do?”) and his encouragement of Julian Assange (“I love WikiLeaks!”).
She went on, “The latest disclosure by Facebook about the targeting of attack ads, negative stories, dovetails with my concern that there had to be some information provided to the Russians by someone as to how best to weaponize the information that they stole, first from the Democratic Committee, then from John Podesta. And the refusal of the Trump Administration officials, both current and former, to admit to their involvements with Russians raises a lot of unanswered questions.” Putin’s motives, she said, went well beyond destabilizing a particular campaign. “Putin wants to undermine democracy, to undermine the Atlantic alliance, to undermine the E.U., to undermine NATO, and to resurrect Russian influence as much as possible beyond the borders,” she said. “So the stakes are huge here.”
If, as Clinton told me, the Russians had deployed a “new form of warfare” to upend American democratic processes, what should President Obama have done in the closing act of the campaign? At a summit in China, Obama told Putin to back off from any election tampering, and he talked about the issue at a press conference. But he did not raise the stakes. Figuring that Clinton would win, Obama was wary of being seen as tipping the election to her and confirming Trump’s constant assertions that the vote was rigged against him. When the C.I.A. first told Obama, in August, that the Russians had been meddling in the Presidential race, the agency shared the information with the Gang of Eight—the congressional leadership and the chairs and the ranking members of the intelligence committees. The Administration asked for a bipartisan statement of warning. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, adamantly refused, muffling for weeks any sense of national alarm.
“I feel we sort of choked,” one senior Obama Administration official told the Washington Post. Another former Administration official said that national-security people were feeling, “Wow, did we mishandle this.” Clinton, in her book, gingerly “wonders” what the effect might have been had Obama gone on national television in the fall of 2016 “warning that our democracy was under attack.” I asked her whether Obama had failed—whether the issue should have been treated less as a narrowcasted political problem and more as a grave national-security threat.
“Well, I think that I’m very understanding of the position he found himself in,” she said. “Because I’ve been in that Situation Room, I know how hard these calls can be. And I believe that they struggled with this, and they were facing some pretty difficult headwinds.” She was less restrained in her description of the Senate Majority Leader’s behavior. “Mitch McConnell, in what I think of as a not only unpatriotic but despicable act of partisan politics, made it clear that if the Obama Administration spoke publicly about what they knew, he would accuse them of partisan politics, of trying to tip the balance toward me,” she said. “McConnell basically threatened the White House, and I know that was on the President’s mind. It was a predicament for him.” She also lambasted James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who “refused to publicly acknowledge that there was an investigation, and, with the height of irony, said, ‘Well, you can’t do that so close to the election.’ ” (Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation had not progressed to the point where disclosure would have been appropriate.)
All the same, I asked, did President Obama blow it? Clinton paused, and spoke very carefully: “I would have, in retrospect now, wished that he had said something, because I think the American people deserved to know.”
In “What Happened,” Clinton, by way of demanding national resolve against a Russian threat, quotes a maxim attributed to Vladimir Lenin: “You take a bayonet and you push. If you hit mush, you keep going; if you hit steel, you stop.”
“Were we mush?” I asked about the Obama Administration’s response.
Now she did not hesitate. “I think we were mushy,” she said. “Partly because we couldn’t believe it. Richard Clarke, who is one of our nation’s experts on terrorism, has written a book about Cassandras,” unheeded predictors of calamity. “And there was a collective Cassandra out there—my campaign was part of that—saying, ‘The Russians are in our electoral system, the Russians are weaponizing information, look at it!’ And everybody in the press basically thought we were overstating, exaggerating, making it up. And Comey wouldn’t confirm an investigation, so there was nothing to hold on to. And I think that the point Clarke makes is when you have an initial occurrence that has never happened before, some people might see it and try to warn about it, but most people would find it unlikely, impossible. And what I fear is we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what the Russians did.”
Surprisingly, Clinton and her advisers believe that the most dramatic day of the campaign, October 7, the day of the “Access Hollywood” tape, was a disaster for them. Early that day, the director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Homeland Security released a statement concluding that the Russians had been attempting to interfere in the U.S. election process. But when, shortly afterward, the Washington Post released the tape—in which Donald Trump describes how he grabs women by the genitals and moves on them “like a bitch”—the D.H.S. statement was eclipsed. “My heart sank,” Jennifer Palmieri, a top Clinton adviser, recalled. “My first reaction was ‘No! Focus on the intelligence statement!’ The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was not good for Trump, obviously, but it was more likely to hurt him with the people who were already against him. His supporters had made their peace with his awful behavior.”
That evening, a third media vortex formed, as Julian Assange went to work. WikiLeaks began to dole out a new tranche of stolen e-mails. “It seemed clear to us that the Russians were again being guided by our politics,” Clinton said. “Someone was offering very astute political advice about how to weaponize information, how to convey it, how to use the existing Russian outlets, like RT or Sputnik, how to use existing American vehicles, like Facebook.”
Clinton has little doubt that Assange was working with the Russians. “I think he is part nihilist, part anarchist, part exhibitionist, part opportunist, who is either actually on the payroll of the Kremlin or in some way supporting their propaganda objectives, because of his resentment toward the United States, toward Europe,” she said. “He’s like a lot of the voices that we’re hearing now, which are expressing appreciation for the macho authoritarianism of a Putin. And they claim to be acting in furtherance of transparency, except they never go after the Kremlin or people on that side of the political ledger.” She said she put Assange and Edward Snowden, who leaked extensive details of N.S.A. surveillance programs, “in the same bucket—they both end up serving the strategic goals of Putin.” She said that, despite Snowden’s insistence that he remains an independent actor, it was “no accident he ended up in Moscow.”
In assessing all the reasons she was defeated last November, Clinton believes that the critical factor was not her failures of tactics or rhetoric, not her misreading of the national Zeitgeist, not her inability to put her e-mail-server blunder to rest, and not even the manipulations of foreign cyberwarriors. The critical factor, in her view, was “the Comey letter”—James Comey’s announcement, eleven days before the election, that the F.B.I. had, in the course of a criminal investigation of the former congressman Anthony Weiner, discovered a cache of e-mails from her that required further study. This revived the e-mail issue that had plagued the campaign from the day in March, 2015, when the Times broke the story that Clinton, while Secretary of State, had maintained a private server and merged her personal and professional accounts. The polling expert Nate Silver concluded, “Clinton would almost certainly be President-Elect if the election had been held on October 27,” the day before Comey released his letter. Silver’s analysis was that Comey’s announcement led to a three-point plunge for Clinton, reducing her chances of winning from eighty-one per cent to sixty-five. Moreover, Silver said, had it not been for the Comey letter and the WikiLeaks publication of stolen e-mails, Clinton would have taken Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida. In the end, she lost Florida by 1.2 points, and the others by less than a point
Clinton talked about the spike in Google searches about WikiLeaks which had been spurred by the Comey letter—particularly in Pennsylvania, “where maybe Obama had squeaked out a win in a town or a county.” “That’s when the bottom fell out,” she said. “Particularly with women in the suburbs of Philadelphia and elsewhere, who thought, Well, that’s it, I wanted to vote for her, I was fighting with my husband, with my son, with my employer, and I told them I was going to vote for her, but they’re right, she’s going to jail, we’re gonna lock her up, I can’t vote for her.”
Time and investigation will tell whether Donald Trump or his surrogates colluded in any foreign interference in the election; what is entirely clear is that he was, with his penchant for exploiting an enemy’s weakness, eager to add weight to the heavy baggage that Clinton, after thirty-five years in public life, carried into the campaign. Trump, who lives in gilded penthouses and palaces, who flies in planes and helicopters emblazoned with his name, who does business with mobsters, campaigned in 2016 by saying that he spoke for the working man, that he alone heard them and felt their anger, and by branding Hillary Clinton an “élitist,” out of touch with her country. The irony is as easy as it is enormous, and yet Clinton made it possible. She practically kicked off her campaign by telling Diane Sawyer that the reason she and her husband cashed in on the lecture circuit on such an epic scale was that, when they left the White House, in 2001, they were “dead broke.” As earnestly as she has worked on behalf of women, the disadvantaged, and many other constituencies, Clinton does not, for many people, radiate a sense of empathy. A resident of a bubble of power since her days in the Arkansas governor’s mansion, she makes it hard even for many supporters to imagine that her feet ever touch the ground. In “What Happened,” she describes how, when considering whether to run again in 2016, she had to consider all her negatives—“Clinton fatigue,” the dynastic question, her age, the accumulated distrust between her and the press—and then says that she completed the deliberative process by going to stay with Oscar and Annette de la Renta at Casa de Campo, their retreat in the Dominican Republic. “We swam, we ate good food, and thought about the future. By the time we got back, I was ready to run.” This is perhaps not a universally relatable anecdote. Nor did she see much wrong with giving twenty-odd million dollars’ worth of speeches, including to Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions, conceding only that it was, in hindsight, bad “optics.” (“I didn’t think many Americans would believe that I’d sell a lifetime of principle and advocacy for any price,” she writes. “That’s on me.”)
In 2012, Obama won over many working-class voters in the Midwest and elsewhere by reminding them that he had saved the automobile industry and, through strokes broad and subtle, by painting Mitt Romney as the heartless boss who would have handed out the pink slips. Despite Trump’s wealth and his televised role as a big shot who took glee in firing people, “Hillary somehow got portrayed the way Romney did,” a close adviser to Clinton told me. “Those people felt she was against them. It was super gendered and classist. It’s hugely complicated, but she was the uppity woman. . . . Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump drove the message that ‘she looks down on you.’ The ‘deplorable’ thing was awful, but she was losing those people hard by then.”
Clinton’s relation to the press has always been vexed. In the book, Clinton singles out the Times for hammering away at her e-mail issue in a way that she says overwhelmed any negative coverage of Trump. “The Times covered her like she was a Mafia figure,” one adviser said.
This dynamic has a long history. It was the Times that, during the 1992 Presidential campaign, initially broached the Whitewater story—a saga of relatively modest indiscretions and misdeeds. In the White House, the Clintons responded to further inquiries with defensiveness and stubborn resistance, which reinforced suspicion in the press, and the cycle led to conspiracy thinking all around. This cycle of mutual mistrust has continued on and off since then. It was not long before reporters, many of them broadly sympathetic to left-of-center politics, came to view the Clintons with weary skepticism. For other pundits, Hillary Clinton, in particular, came off as sanctimonious, with her New Age homilies about “the politics of meaning.” The Clintons, in turn, came to see the press as the enemy.
In 1993, I was invited to a White House dinner for about fifty people. The Clintons evidently wanted to reëstablish some rapport with the press. I was seated next to Hillary. For much of the dinner, she complained about “Saint Hillary,” a caustic profile, by Michael Kelly, published in the Times Magazine. Kelly saw Clinton as a self-righteous First Lady who thought she could help concoct a “unified-field theory of life” that encompassed the social gospel of the nineteenth century, the “temperance-minded Methodism” of the twentieth century, the liberation theology of the sixties and seventies, and “the pacifistic and multiculturally correct religious left of today.” Kelly sternly concluded that Clinton “clearly wants power” and had “amassed more of it than any First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt.”
From those days onward, Clinton has known that she inspired hostility. Twenty-one years ago, in an article for this magazine called “Hating Hillary,” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she admitted, “I apparently remind some people of their mother-in-law or their boss, or something.” In the same piece, Arianna Huffington remarks on Clinton’s “self-righteousness,” Peggy Noonan on her “apple-cheeked certitude.” Gates observed that Clinton was widely perceived as Mrs. Jellyby, the character in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House” who is as “intent on improving humanity as she is cavalier toward actual human beings . . . the zealous reformer with a heart as big as all Antarctica.”
Such ingrained habits of media antagonism proved to be another factor that allowed Trump, the biggest liar in the history of Presidential politics, to be seen by tens of millions of people as a figure of rude authenticity, their champion. In Clinton’s view, she could never win with people who had been trained to regard her as a high-minded phony. Her wariness and evasions drained their sympathy; her strained attempts to win people back too often fell flat. Why couldn’t she be admired for her intelligence, her competence, her experience?
In “What Happened,” she voices her sense of exasperation:
I’ll bet you know more about my private life than you do about some of your closest friends. You’ve read my e-mails, for heaven’s sake. What more do you need? What could I do to be “more real”? Dance on a table? Swear a blue streak? Break down sobbing? That’s not me. And if I had done any of those things, what would have happened? I’d have been ripped to pieces.
She acknowledges that her caution had sometimes made her seem guarded (and “prompted the question, ‘What is she hiding?’ ”), but she notes that many men in politics, though far less scrutinized, aren’t asked to “open up, reveal themselves, prove that they’re real.”
Clinton has come to believe that there is an overriding reason that she has aroused such resentment: her gender. In the book, she points out that both Bill Clinton, as the fatherless son from “a town called Hope,” and Barack Obama, as the son of a Kenyan father and a white idealist, had capsule life stories that helped them reach voters. Clinton was the first woman to have a serious chance to win the Presidency, but “I was unlikely to be seen as a transformative, revolutionary figure. I had been on the national stage too long for that and my temperament was too even-keeled.”
When I asked about this, I pointed out that her popularity was always high when she ran something—when she was Secretary of State, her approval rating was nearly seventy per cent—but suffered when she ran for things.
“I was running something in service to someone else,” she told me. “A man. Who I was honored to serve. And so I knew that if I did get into the Presidential race again I would face what women face when you are not serving someone, but you are seeking power yourself.”
Clinton said that she has learned from life, as well as from studies and from conversations with the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, that “the more successful a man becomes, the more likable he becomes; the more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likable she becomes.” Her situation, she said, “was Clinton-specific, plus sexism and misogyny.”
But why, when half the voters are female, should gender prove an even greater barrier in American electoral politics than race? I mentioned other countries that have female heads of state, including Great Britain and Germany.
“I think part of it is our system,” she said. “And we don’t yet have that audience. I hope it will change, especially for young women. We have a Presidential system. We have one person—head of state, head of government. Most of the places you mention have a different head of state, to carry on all of the symbolic continuity, whether it’s the crown or the nation, and the head of government is charged with the responsibility of being a political leader. . . . Parliamentary systems, historically, have proven more open to women. And why would that be? Because you have a party apparatus to support you. You can build relationships and a good sense of competence with your fellow party members. And they can see how effective you are and elect you leader. But you only have to run in your constituency, which is a much smaller and more defined—and, in many ways, open—opportunity to build personal relationships with those who are in your constituency. You know, when I ran for the Senate the first time, here in New York, I won, I think, fifteen counties. Next time I ran, I won all but three.” Close: all but four. “Because I could build that personal relationship, I could produce results, I could demonstrate that I was fighting for the people of New York.”
It’s true that, throughout the campaign, Clinton was described—by Trump, by his surrogates, and by countless people on social media—in the ugliest terms: weak, sickly, a criminal, physically repellent. Clinton, in her book, tells of how, during the second debate, just two days after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape, she wanted to wheel around at Trump, who was “breathing down my neck,” and say, “Back up, you creep, get away from me, I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.” Instead, she bit her tongue and kept going.
She castigates Trump for inflaming and giving “permission” to misogynists and racists. “Those attitudes have never gone away,” she told me. “But we had successfully—and this is part of the role of civilization—we had rendered them unacceptable: being an overt racist, being an overt misogynist, saying the terrible things that Trump said about immigrants or Muslims. All of that was not political correctness. It was respect. It was tolerance. It was acceptance. But there was a growing resentment, anger, that came to full flower in this election. . . . The Internet has given voice to, and a home for, so many more people. And so with Trump to light the match, from the first day of his campaign to the last, there was a sense of acceptance, liberation, empowerment for these forces.”
Did Clinton stand by her campaign line that a substantial number of Trump’s voters were “deplorables”? She shifted quickly from self-reflection to attack mode.
“I think Trump has behaved in a deplorable manner, both during his campaign and as President,” she said. “I think he has given permission to others to engage in deplorable behavior, as we did see in Charlottesville and elsewhere. So I don’t take back the description that I made of him and a number of his core supporters.”
In conversation and in the book, Clinton’s pain is manifest. When it comes to feminism and her role in the women’s movement, she says, she never figured out “how to tell the story right.” And the country, she believes, is not ready to hear it. Or, at least, not from her. “That’s not who we are,” she writes. “Not yet.”
Elsewhere in the book, she writes, “As the campaign went on, polls showed that a significant number of Americans questioned my authenticity and trustworthiness. A lot of people said they just didn’t like me. I write that matter-of-factly, but believe me, it’s devastating. Some of this is a direct result of my actions: I’ve made mistakes, been defensive about them, stubbornly resisted apologizing. But so have most men in politics. (In fact, one of them just became President with a strategy of ‘never apologize when you’re wrong, just attack harder.’)”
The women in her circle of friends and advisers are particularly outraged by the way that Trump was able to win so many votes among working-class white women. “Trump was, like, I am going to paint a picture of her as someone who will come steal your children and take your guns,” one said. “The million-dollar question will be: What will happen when it isn’t Hillary Clinton, when it’s another woman? For now, neither women nor men trust the ambition of women.”
A few hours after our conversation, I went uptown to Riverside Church, where Clinton was scheduled to hold a public conversation with Bill Shillady, a Methodist minister and a family friend who during the campaign had e-mailed Clinton hundreds of morning devotionals—Bible passages with accompanying short sermons—and who had helped officiate at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, in 2010, to Marc Mezvinsky. Now he was publishing those devotionals as a book called “Strong for a Moment Like This.”
Clinton was doing Shillady a kindness, but even in this she couldn’t catch a break. The day before the event, the publisher, Abingdon Press, announced that it was withdrawing the book because it was filled with passages plagiarized from other pastors and sources. Shillady issued an apology, but, naturally, Clinton took the hit in the press. In her fashion, Clinton soldiered through, holding the conversation with another Methodist minister, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli.
The pews were filled with New Yorkers, a majority of them women, who had come to hear Clinton, to shower her with praise, to soothe her and themselves. In the introduction, Amy Butler, the senior minister at Riverside and a friend of Clinton’s, referred to the Trump Administration as a source of anguish and confusion, and everyone nodded solemnly. One got the sense that there would be hundreds of such events in the coming years for Hillary Clinton, and one wondered if they would do anything to ease the sense of failure, the anger at all the forces she could not begin to control. “We praise God for who you are,” a bishop said from the podium. “And most of all, Sister Hillary, we love you.”
Clinton was greeted with a long ovation, which she met with her signature slow head-nodding and an expression at once pleased and pained. She talked about her Methodist church in Illinois, her youth minister, Don Jones, and her trip to Orchestra Hall, in downtown Chicago, to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver one of his most famous sermons, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Asked how she was managing, she made her joke about drinking “my fair share of Chardonnay.” She quoted from Galatians: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Her message was endurance, which has always been her watchword. And she made it plain what the election had unleashed.
“Where does that cruelty, that mean-spiritedness, come from?” she said. “It’s not from Christianity. It’s not from people of faith.” This was another source of confusion for her: the evangelical vote went not to the devout Methodist but, rather, to the guy who referred to “Two Corinthians.”
Again, the applause came, but it seemed not to lighten her at all. After the event was over, after the last handshakes, after the last selfie, Clinton climbed in the back seat of her car, the Secret Service all around, and headed back to her white house in the woods. ♦
For all the visible damage the President has done to the nation’s global standing, things are much worse below the surface.
Donald Trump was right. He inherited a mess. In January 2017, American foreign policy was, if not in crisis, in big trouble. Strong forces were putting stress on the old global political order: the rise of China to a power with more than half the productive capacity of the United States (and defense spending to match); the partial recovery of a resentful Russia under a skilled and thuggish autocrat; the discrediting of Western elites by the financial crash of 2008, followed by roiling populist waves, of which Trump himself was part; a turbulent Middle East; economic dislocations worldwide.
An American leadership that had partly discredited itself over the past generation compounded these problems. The Bush administration’s war against jihadist Islam had been undermined by reports of mistreatment and torture; its Afghan campaign had been inconclusive; its invasion of Iraq had been deeply compromised by what turned out to be a false premise and three years of initial mismanagement.
The Obama administration’s policy of retrenchment (described by a White House official as “leading from behind”) made matters worse. The United States was generally passive as a war that caused some half a million deaths raged in Syria. The ripples of the conflict reached far into Europe, as some 5 million Syrians fled the country. A red line about the use of chemical weapons turned pale pink and vanished, as Iran and Russia expanded their presence and influence in Syria ever more brazenly. A debilitating freeze in defense spending, meanwhile, left two-thirds of U.S. Army maneuver brigades unready to fight and Air Force pilots unready to fly in combat.
These circumstances would have caused severe headaches for a competent and sophisticated successor. Instead, the United States got a president who had unnervingly promised a wall on the southern border (paid for by Mexico), the dismantlement of long-standing trade deals with both competitors and partners, a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin, and a ban on Muslims coming into the United States.
Donald Trump is fascinated by autocrats like Malaysia’s Najib Razak (above), Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egpyt’s Abdel Fattah el Sisi
Some of these and Trump’s other wild pronouncements were quietly walked back or put on hold after his inauguration; one defense of Trump is that his deeds are less alarming than his words. But diplomacy is about words, and many of Trump’s words are profoundly toxic.
Foreign leaders have begun to reshape alliances, bypassing and diminishing the United States.
Trump seems incapable of restraining himself from insulting foreign leaders. His slogan “America First” harks back to the isolationists of 1940, and foreign leaders know it. He can read speeches written for him by others, as he did in Warsaw on July 6, but he cannot himself articulate a worldview that goes beyond a teenager’s bluster. He lays out his resentments, insecurities, and obsessions on Twitter for all to see, opening up a gold mine to foreign governments seeking to understand and manipulate the American president.
Foreign governments have adapted. They flatter Trump outrageously. Their emissaries stay at his hotels and offer the Trump Organization abundant concessions (39 trademarks approved by China alone since Trump took office, including one for an escort service). They take him to military parades; they talk tough-guy-to-tough-guy; they show him the kind of deference that only someone without a center can crave. And so he flip-flops: Paris was no longer “so, so out of control, so dangerous” once he’d had dinner in the Eiffel Tower; Xi Jinping, during an April visit to Mar-a-Lago, went from being the leader of a parasitic country intent on ripping off American workers to being “a gentleman” who “wants to do the right thing.” (By July, Trump was back to bashing China, for doing “NOTHING” to help us.)
In short, foreign leaders may consider Trump alarming, but they do not consider him serious. They may think they can use him, but they know they cannot rely on him. They look at his plans to slash the State Department’s ranks and its budget—the latter by about 30 percent—and draw conclusions about his interest in traditional diplomacy. And so, already, they have begun to reshape alliances and reconfigure the networks that make up the global economy, bypassing the United States and diminishing its standing. In January, at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Xi made a case for Chinese global leadership that was startlingly well received by the rich and powerful officials, business people, and experts in attendance. In March, Canada formally joined a Chinese-led regional development bank that the Obama administration had opposed as an instrument of broadened Chinese influence; Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France were among the founding members. In July, Japan and Europe agreed on a free-trade deal as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump had unceremoniously discarded.
In almost every region of the world, the administration has already left a mark, by blunder, inattention, miscomprehension, or willfulness. Trump’s first official visit abroad began in Saudi Arabia—a bizarre choice, when compared with established democratic allies—where he and his senior advisers offered unreserved praise for a kingdom that has close relations with the United States but has also been the heartland of Islamist fanaticism since well before 9/11. The president full-throatedly took its side in a dispute with Qatar, apparently ignorant of the vast American air base in the latter country. He has seemed unaware that he is feeding an inchoate but violent conflict between the Gulf kingdoms and a countervailing coalition of Iran, Russia, Syria, Hezbollah, and even Turkey—which now plans to deploy as many as 3,000 troops to Qatar, at its first base in the Arab world since the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I.
The administration obsesses about defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and yet intends to sharply reduce the kinds of advice and support that are needed to rebuild the areas devastated by war in those same countries—support that might help prevent a future recurrence of Islamist fanaticism. The President, entranced by the chimera of an Israeli–Palestinian peace, has put his inexperienced and overburdened son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of a process headed nowhere. Either ignorant or contemptuous of the deep-seated maladies that have long afflicted the Arab world, Trump embraces authoritarians like Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (“Love your shoes”) and seems to dismiss the larger problems of governance posed by the crises within Middle Eastern societies as internal issues irrelevant to the United States. A freedom agenda, in either its original Bush or subsequent Obama form, is dead.
Big foreign-policy failures are like heart attacks: They follow years of hidden malady.
In Europe, the administration has picked a fight with the Continent’s most important democratic state, Germany (“Bad, very bad”). Trump is sufficiently despised in Great Britain, America’s most enduring ally, that he will reportedly defer a trip there until his press improves (it will not). Paralyzed by scandal and internal division, the administration has no coherent Russia policy: no plan for getting Moscow back out of the Middle East; no counter to Russian political subversion in Europe or the United States; no response to reports of new Russian meddling in Afghanistan. Rather than pushing back when the Russians announced in July that 755 U.S. government employees would be expelled, Trump expressed his thanks for saving taxpayers 755 salaries.
America’s new circumstances in Asia were not much better as this story went to press, in mid-August—and with the world on edge, they could quickly get much worse. Though North Korea is on the verge of developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, Trump neglected to rally American allies to confront the problem during his two major trips abroad. His aides proclaimed that they had discovered the solution, Chinese intervention—apparently unaware of the repeated failure of that gambit in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Trump did, however, take a break from a golfing holiday to threaten North Korea with “fire and fury” in the event that Kim Jong Un failed to pipe down. To accommodate a president fixated on economic deals, an anxious Japan has pledged investments that would result in American jobs. A prickly Australia, whose prime minister Trump snarled at during their first courtesy phone call, has edged further from its traditional alliance with America—an alliance that has been the cornerstone of its security since World War II. (In a gesture that may seem trivial but signifies much, in July Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, slapped at Trump for his ogling of the French president’s wife, suggesting that his admiring looks had gone unreciprocated.)
On issues that are truly global in scope, Trump has abdicated leadership and the moral high ground. The United States has managed to isolate itself on the topic of climate change, by the tone of its pronouncements no less than by its precipitous exit from the Paris Agreement. As for human rights, the president has taken only cursory notice of the two arrests of the Russian dissident Alexei Navalny or the death of the Chinese Nobel Prize winner and prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo. Trump did not object after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail beat American protesters on American soil, in Washington, D.C. In April, he reportedly told Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who has used death squads to deal with offenders of local narcotics laws, that he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made it clear in his first substantive speech to State Department employees that American values are now of at best secondary importance to “American interests,” presumably economic, in the conduct of foreign policy. All this well before a year was out.
The Compounding Risk of Crisis
Matters will not improve. Trump will not learn, will not moderate, will not settle into normal patterns of behavior. And for all the rot that is visible in America’s standing and ability to influence global affairs, more is spreading beneath the surface. Even when Trump’s foreign policy looks shakily mediocre rather than downright crazy, it is afflicting the U.S. with a condition not unlike untreated high blood pressure. Enormous foreign-policy failures are like heart attacks: unexpected and dangerous discontinuities following years of neglect and hidden malady. The vertigo and throbbing pulse one feels today augur something much worse tomorrow.
To a degree rarely appreciated outside Washington, it is virtually impossible to conduct an effective foreign policy without political appointees at the assistant-secretary rank who share a president’s conceptions and will implement his agenda. As of mid-August, the administration had yet to even nominate a new undersecretary of state for political affairs; assistant secretaries for Near Eastern, East Asian and Pacific, or Western Hemisphere Affairs; or ambassadors to Germany, India, or Saudi Arabia. At lower levels, the State Department is being actively thinned out—2,300 jobs are slated for elimination—and is losing experience by the week as disaffected professionals quietly leave.
High-level diplomatic contact with allies and adversaries alike has withered. Meanwhile, for fear of contradicting him, Trump’s underlings avoid saying too much publicly. As a result, the administration’s foreign policy will continue to be as opaque externally as it is confused internally.
An assessment of how the administration has changed America Read more
One consequence will be a corresponding confusion on the part of foreign powers about the administration’s goals, commitments, and red lines—and the likely misinterpretation of stray signals. Even well-run administrations can fail to communicate their intentions clearly, with dire consequences. On July 25, 1990, the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein. Glaspie assured Saddam of President George H. W. Bush’s friendship and, although the administration was concerned about a possible Iraqi attack on Kuwait, blandly remarked that “we have no opinion on the Arab–Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” A week later, Saddam’s troops invaded Kuwait, and he was surprised when Bush did not take it well. Again, this happened in a competent administration. One shudders to think what the Trump equivalent might be with regard to, say, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
The first Bush administration recovered from the disaster of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait because it was an effective and cohesive team of highly experienced professionals—Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Dick Cheney—led by a prudent and disciplined president. They built a coalition, reassured and mobilized allies, placated neutrals, and planned and executed a war. They disagreed with one another in open and productive ways. They shrewdly used the career civil servants and able political appointees who served them energetically and well. Even so, the war’s ragged end and unexpected consequences are with us still.
Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Cuban missile crisis, the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, the collapse of communism, 9/11, the 2011 Arab Spring—all were surprises. So too were lesser episodes like the 2007 discovery of a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. Surprises are unavoidably what international politics is all about; what matters is how well an administration copes with them. Trump was lucky to avoid an external crisis in his first seven months. That luck will run out.
Add to this fractured foundation the erratic behavior of the president himself, who will be less and less likely to accede to (or even hear) contrary advice as he passes more time in the Oval Office. Septuagenarian tycoons do not change fundamental qualities of their personalities: They are who they are. Nor is someone who has spent a career in charge of a small, family-run corporation without shareholders likely to pay much attention to external views. These arguments have been well ventilated. But what many people have not weighed adequately is the effect of the White House itself, the trappings and the aura, on those who inhabit it. After an initial period of awe, presidents become more confident that they know what they’re doing. Particularly for someone whose ego knows few bounds, it can be a dangerously intoxicating place.
The longer someone is in high office and becomes accustomed to supreme power, the less opposition and disagreement he will encounter and the less disagreement he is likely to heed. This may explain Obama’s Syria failure throughout his second term. This process is already well advanced within Trump’s White House, as evidenced by the bizarre and deeply worrying spectacle orchestrated by the president on June 12, in which all members of his Cabinet, with the honorable exception of Defense Secretary James Mattis, offered up competitively obsequious compliments to the boss while on national television. As old advisers and officials fall by the wayside—exhausted, disgraced, or both—the new ones will be more likely to accommodate a man they have known chiefly as “Mr. President” and whose favor has required self-abasement.
Consider this contrast: In July 2005, I published in The Washington Post a searing critique of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq War. The besieged Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, did not fire me from the Defense Policy Board, a senior advisory committee to the Department of Defense, on which I served. Within months I was advising the National Security Council staff, and eventually Secretary Condoleezza Rice asked me to serve in one of the most senior positions in the Department of State without a murmur of disapproval from the White House. This reflected less my value to the administration than the large-spiritedness of President George W. Bush and those who worked for him, and their awareness that expressing criticism or dissent was an act of patriotism, not personal betrayal.
Trump lacks that spirit, and his advisers—one way or another—will find themselves sapped of it as well. Mattis and Tillerson have, by all accounts, raged at a White House obsessed with loyalty, which fired a junior staffer for unflattering retweets more than a year old and had trouble attracting first-tier or independent-minded experts to begin with. At some point these advisers will either give up in frustration or simply be replaced by more-pliable individuals.
Trump unrestrained is of course a frightening prospect. His instincts are not reliable—if they were, he and his campaign would have kept their distance from Russian operatives. A man who has presided over failed casinos, a collapsed airline, and a sham university is not someone who knows when to step back from the brink. His domestic political circumstances, already bad, seem likely to deteriorate further, which will only make him more angry, and perhaps more apt to take risks. In a fit of temper or in the grip of spectacular misjudgment—possibly influenced by what he’s just seen on TV—he could stumble into or launch an uncontrollable war.
In one of the worst scenarios, Trump, as a result of his alternating overtures to and belligerence toward China, might bring about a conflict with Xi Jinping, who is consolidating his own power in a way not seen since the days of Mao Zedong. Military conflict between rising and preeminent global powers is hardly anomalous, after all, and the Chinese are no longer in the mood to accept American hegemony. In 1990, when George H. W. Bush confronted Saddam, an isolated dictator, a paralyzed Russia and weak China were powerless to interfere. He had at his disposal the American military at the peak of its post–Cold War strength, and a ready set of allies. The United States has grown used to wars with limited risk against minor and isolated rivals. A conflict with China would be something altogether different.
Trump is, and is likely to be to the end, volatile, truculent, and impulsive. When he does face a crisis, whether or not it is of his own making, he will discover just how weak his hand is, because no one—friends or enemies, the American public or foreign leaders—will take anything that he promises or threatens at face value. At that point we may find another Donald Trump emerging: the Trump who paid $25 million to the victims of Trump University, who rages at The New York Times and then truckles to its reporters. Like most bullies, he can be stared down. But when he folds, American foreign policy will fold with him.
The Damage That Cannot Be Undone
This dangerous and dispiriting chapter in American history will end, in eight years or four—or perhaps in two or even one, if Trump is impeached or removed under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. But what will follow? Will the United States recover within a few years, as it did from the disgrace of Richard Nixon’s resignation and the fecklessness of Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis? Alas, that is unlikely. Even barring cataclysmic events, we will be living with the consequences of Trump’s tenure as chief executive and commander in chief for decades. Damage will continue to appear long after he departs the scene.
Americans, after trying every other alternative, can always be counted on to do the right thing, Winston Churchill supposedly said. But who will count on that now, after the victory of a man like Trump? Other countries interpret Trump’s election as America’s repudiation of its role as guarantor of world order. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland put it bluntly in a speech in June: “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.”
Indeed, that is what is happening. Trump is not entirely a historical fluke, and it is reasonable to see his foreign policy as reflecting some Americans’ attitudes toward the outside world. Our politicians and our foreign-policy establishment—the former consumed by domestic matters, the latter largely by technocratic concerns—have lost the ability to make the case to the country for prudent American management of an international system whose relative peace for 70 years owes so much to Washington’s leadership. Americans who oppose Trump may conclude (also reasonably) that the country’s internal problems, including the fundamentals of its civic culture, demand their attention. They too may turn inward, not least because they have lost confidence in the strength of political institutions and the competence of the political class.
But there is also a more structural development that will make the recovery of America’s global status difficult: Trump is accelerating the decomposition of the Republican foreign-policy and national-security establishment that began in the 2016 campaign. Two public letters signed by some 150 of its members during the spring and summer of last year denounced Trump not merely for bad judgment but also for bad character. (I co-organized one letter and assisted with the other.) Few who signed the letters cared to recant after the election. The administration clearly wanted nothing to do with any of them anyway, although it would have been wise to display magnanimity and recruit some of them. Magnanimity is not, however, part of the Trump playbook.
These would have been some of the leading candidates to serve in a normal Republican administration. Finding other candidates has been difficult, but eventually the jobs will be filled. If the administration lasts four years, and even more so if it lasts eight, those who fill them will be the GOP’s successor generation, much of the anti-Trump group being too old, or too compromised within a Republican Party that has dutifully rallied around its leader, to hold sway. Because the Trump administration prizes personal loyalty above all other qualities—most emphatically including competence, creativity, integrity, and even, in some measure, patriotism—this is a serious problem.
Establishments exist for a reason, and, within limits, they are good things. Despite what populists think, foreign policy is not, in fact, safely handed over to teams of ideologues or adventurous amateurs. Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s secretary of state, who helped stabilize the post–World War II world, was not a corporate head who suddenly took an interest in what goes on abroad; neither was George Shultz, who, as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State, helped orchestrate the final stage of the Cold War. Behind each of those men were hundreds of experts and practitioners who had thought hard about the world, and had experience steering the external relations of the Great Republic.
An elite consensus that spans both parties means a government that does not shift radically from administration to administration in its commitments to allies or to human rights, in its opposition to enemies, or in its support for international institutions; that has a sense of direction and purpose that transcends partisan politics; that can develop the political appointees our system uniquely depends on to staff the upper levels of government. As long as that elite is honest, able, open to new talent and to considered course alterations, and tolerant of dissent, it can provide consistency and stability.
Veterans of Trump’s administration will include some patriots who knowingly took a reputational hit to save the country from calamity—plus a large collection of mediocrities, cynics, and trimmers willing to equivocate about American values and interests, and indeed about their own beliefs. Many of them even now can say, as the old Soviet joke had it, “I have my personal opinions, but I assure you that I don’t agree with them.” Or, as one person explained his decision to me as he began working for the administration, “It’s my last shot at a big job.”
The US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) investigation into the 1MDB scandal is independent of the upcoming discussions between US President Donald Trump and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the White House said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the discussions will instead focus on a wide variety of regional and security issues.
“[They will be] talking about ways that they can strengthen counterterrorism cooperation, certainly the halt of ISIS, addressing North Korea and their continued actions, and making sure that we promote maritime security in the South China Sea.
“We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by DOJ, and that investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place tomorrow (which is today),” she said at a press briefing yesterday.
No Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua agenda at Trump-Najib Meet at the White House on September 12 Meeting–The Good News
Sanders was asked whether Trump would address the DOJ investigation or avoid the issue, and what is expected of the meeting between Najib and Trump, which is scheduled to take place later today.
The DOJ is currently investigating the alleged misappropriation of US$4.5 billion from 1MDB on grounds that some of the funds had been routed through the US financial system.
It has filed multiple civil forfeiture suits since last year to seize the alleged proceedsof the misappropriation (totalling US$1.7 billion) and also revealed in a court filing last month that a criminal investigationhas been underway for some time.
Its civil forfeiture filings had linked a certain “Malaysian Official 1” (MO1) in the scandal, saying that some of the funds had been routed through his bank account, and had been used to purchase diamondsfor his wife.
MO1 is alleged to be referring to Najib, but he has denied allegations of misappropriating public funds for personal gain.
Myanmar: The Rohingya, Saudi Backed ISIS Militants, Aung San Suu Kyi is a US Proxy
By Tony Cartalucci
Global Research, September 06, 2017
The unfolding crisis in Southeast Asia’s state of Myanmar has confounded many geopolitical analysts due to its complex history and the intentionally deceptive and now contradictory coverage provided by the Western media.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Creation and Proxy of US and European Interests
The current government of Myanmar is headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). It has ascended into power after a decades-long struggle against the nation’s military who ruled the nation for decades.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Creation and Proxy of US and European Interests
Suu Kyi and her NLD are the recipients of tens of millions of dollars in US, British, and European aid. Entire networks of fronts posing as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been created to undermine and overwrite Myanmar’s sovereign institutions.
The extent of this support and funding is covered by many of the Western organizations themselves, including the Burma Campaign UK, who in its 36 page 2006 report, “Failing the People of Burma?” (.pdf) details extensively how it and its American counterparts have built up Suu Kyi’s now impressive political domination of Myanmar.
The report states explicitly:
The National Endowment for Democracy (NED – see Appendix 1, page 27) has been at the forefront of our program efforts to promote democracy and improved human rights in Burma since 1996. We are providing $2,500,000 in FY 2003 funding from the Burma earmark in the Foreign Operations legislation. The NED will use these funds to support Burmese and ethnic minority democracy-promoting organizations through a sub-grant program. The projects funded are designed to disseminate information inside Burma supportive of Burma’s democratic development, to create democratic infrastructures and institutions, to improve the collection of information on human rights abuses by the Burmese military and to build capacity to support the restoration of democracy when the appropriate political openings occur and the exiles/refugees return.
It also reports:
Both Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) have Burmese services. VOA broadcasts a 30-minute mix of international news and information three times a day. RFA broadcasts news and information about Burma two hours a day. VOA and RFA websites also contain audio and text material in Burmese and English. For example, VOA’s October 10, 2003 editorial, “Release Aung San Suu Kyi” is prominently featured in the Burmese section of VOAnews.com. RFA’s website makes available audio versions of 16 Aung San Suu Kyi’s speeches from May 27 and 29, 2003. U.S. international broadcasting provides crucial information to a population denied the benefits of freedom of information by its government.
Regarding the indoctrination and education of future leaders of this Western proxy political bloc, it states:
The State Department provided $150,000 in FY 2001/02 funds to provide scholarships to young Burmese through Prospect Burma, a partner organization with close ties to Aung San Suu Kyi. With FY 2003/04 funds, we plan to support Prospect Burma’s work given the organization’s proven competence in managing scholarships for individuals denied educational opportunities by the continued repression of the military junta, but committed to a return to democracy in Burma.
In regards to the Open Society and its role in interfering with Myanmar’s internal politics, the report states:
Our assistance to the Open Society Institute (OSI) (until 2004) provides partial support for a program to grant scholarships to Burmese refugee students who have fled Burma and wish to continue their studies at the undergraduate, or post-graduate level. Students typically pursue degrees in social sciences, public health, medicine, anthropology, and political science. Priority is given to students who express a willingness to return to Burma or work in their refugee communities for the democratic and economic reform of the country.
The report, written in 2006 when another US proxy – Thaksin Shinawatra – presided over Thailand as Prime Minister until his ouster later that year, would detail the role Thailand was then playing to undermine and overthrow Myanmar’s political order:
Last year the U.S. government began funding a new program of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide basic health services to Burmese migrants outside the official refugee camps in cooperation with the Thai Ministry of Public Health. This project has been supported by the Thai government and has received favorable coverage in the local press. Efforts such as this that endeavor to find positive ways to work with the Thai government in areas of common interest help build support for U.S.-funded programs that support Burmese pro-democracy groups.
Myanmar’s current minister of information, Pe Myint – for example – underwent training at the NED and Open Society-funded Indochina Media Memorial Foundation in Bangkok.
A US diplomatic cable made available via Wikileaks would reveal just how integral such training was in building up the US client state that now rules Myanmar.
Other organizations, some with a scope beyond Burma, also add to the educational opportunities for Burmese journalists. The Chiang Mai-based Indochina Media Memorial Foundation, for instance, last year completed training courses for Southeast Asian reporters that included Burmese participants. Major funders for journalism training programs in the region include the NED, Open Society Institute (OSI), and several European governments and charities….
…A number of active media training programs attract exiles and those from inside Burma to Chiang Mai for journalism courses ranging from one week to one year. These training programs identify would-be journalists who are active in communities inside Burma, as well as NGOs in Thailand, and help them secure reporting positions with Burmese media outfits in the region. The training programs help ensure that future generations will be able to succeed the founders of the current organizations.
The cable also links US funding to the very predictable “pro-American” attitude adopted by those receiving the benefits of such funding:
In a refreshing take for U.S. diplomats interacting with foreign media, the exile journalist community here remains steadfastly pro-American. Groups such as DVB and The Irrawaddy continually seek more input from U.S. officials and make frequent use of interviews, press releases and audio clips posted on USG websites. A live interview with a U.S. diplomat is a prized commodity, one even capable of stoking a healthy competition among rival news organizations to land a scoop. A 2006 Irrawaddy interview with EAP DAS Eric John multiplied into several articles and circulated widely throughout the exile community and mainstream media.
USG funding plays some role in this goodwill…
Without doubt, Suu Kyi and those occupying top positions within her government, are the product of decades of US-UK and European backing, training, and indoctrination.
Saudi-backed “Rohingya Militants” No More Represent All Rohingya than ISIS Represents All Sunnis
An unfortunate narrative is taking shape across the alternative media, portraying Myanmar’s Rohingya minority as “Islamists” taking up “jihad.”
In reality, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have lived in Myanmar for generations. Until recently, they have lived in harmony with their Buddhist-majority neighbors across the country, including in Rakhine state.
The increasingly empowered supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi – many of whom were present during the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” – are the primary agitators of the Rohingya crisis. While the Western media has attempted to portray the military as being behind the violence, it is often the military that intervenes to separate attacking extremists from the Rohingya villages and refugee camps they seek to slash and burn.
More recently, the Western media has noted the emergence of Rohingya-aligned militants who have reportedly carried out several large-scale attacks on police and military units across Rakhine state.
Of course, no militant group exists without substantial political, financial, and material support. And just as other politically-convenient conflicts have erupted in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the Philippines, US-Saudi funding is evident among the latest outbreak of violence in Myanmar as well.
It is a combination of gasoline and fire – the tools of a single arsonist intentionally put into place to create a geopolitically convenient conflagration.
Now this immoral policy has created a violent backlash. The world’s newest Muslim insurgency pits Saudi-backed Rohingya militants against Burmese security forces. As government troops take revenge on civilians, they risk inspiring more Rohingya to join the fight.
The article also claims:
Called Harakah al-Yaqin, Arabic for “the Faith Movement,” the group answers to a committee of Rohingya emigres in Mecca and a cadre of local commanders with experience fighting as guerrillas overseas. Its recent campaign—which continued into November with IED attacks and raids that killed several more security agents—has been endorsed by fatwas from clerics in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Emirates and elsewhere.
Rohingyas have “never been a radicalized population,” ICG notes, “and the majority of the community, its elders and religious leaders have previously eschewed violence as counterproductive.” But that is changing fast. Harakah al-Yaqin was established in 2012 after ethnic riots in Rakhine killed some 200 Rohingyas and is now estimated to have hundreds of trained fighters.
While many causal observers note that the violence the Rohingya have been subjected to was bound to provoke a violent reaction, armed insurgencies do not spontaneously emerge. Isolated acts of violence, organized gangs with very limited capacity are possible, but the violence the Wall Street Journal is describing is not “backlash,” it is foreign-funded politically-motivated militancy operating under the cover of “backlash.”
Aung San Suu Kyi and “Rohingya” Militants: Gasoline and Fire, Not Good vs. Evil
The current client regime presiding over Myanmar – created and perpetuated by American cash and support – is being intentionally pitted against a militancy funded and organized by America’s closest ally in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia.
It is a combination of gasoline and fire – the tools of a single arsonist intentionally put into place to create a geopolitically convenient conflagration.
It should be noted that Rakhine state is the starting point of one of several of China’s One Belt One Road projects – connecting Sittwe Port located there to infrastructure that leads across Myanmar to China’s southern city of Kunming.
This map provided by VOA accompanies stories by the US State Department-funded media platform eagerly reporting how violence is disrupting China’s OBOR projects.
Not only does the violence in Rakhine state threaten Chinese interests, it also helps set a pretext for direct US military involvement – either in the form of “counter-terror assistance” as is being offered to the Philippines to fight US-Saudi-backed militants from the Islamic State, or in the form of a “humanitarian intervention.”
In either case, the result will be US military assets placed in a nation directly on China’s border – in Southeast Asia, just as US policymakers have sought to do for decades.
For example, The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in a 2000 paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (PDF) would unabashedly declare its intentions to establish a wider, permanent military presence in Southeast Asia.
The report would state explicitly that:
…it is time to increase the presence of American forces in Southeast Asia.
It would elaborate in detail, stating:
In Southeast Asia, American forces are too sparse to adequately address rising security requirements. Since its withdrawal from the Philippines in 1992, the United States has not had a significant permanent military presence in Southeast Asia. Nor can U.S. forces in Northeast Asia easily operate in or rapidly deploy to Southeast Asia – and certainly not without placing their commitments in Korea at risk. Except for routine patrols by naval and Marine forces, the security of this strategically significant and increasingly tumultuous region has suffered from American neglect.
Noting the difficultly of placing US troops where they are not wanted, the PNAC paper notes:
This will be a difficult task requiring sensitivity to diverse national sentiments, but it is made all the more compelling by the emergence of new democratic governments in the region. By guaranteeing the security of our current allies and newly democratic nations in East Asia, the United States can help ensure that the rise of China is a peaceful one. Indeed, in time, American and allied power in the region may provide a spur to the process of democratization inside China itself.
It should be noted that the paper’s reference to “the emergence of new democratic governments in the region” is a reference to client states created by the United States on behalf of its own interests and in no way constituted actual “democratic governments” which would otherwise infer they represented the interests of the very people possessing the “national sentiments” that opposed US military presence in the region in the first place.
In 2000, the US had several prospective client regimes emerging – including Suu Kyi in Myanmar, Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, and Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia. Since then, only Suu Kyi remains – while Shinawatra and his sister have fled abroad and Anwar Ibrahim resides in prison.
It is important that readers and analysts alike understand several key points regarding the crisis in Myanmar:
Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party are whole-cloth creations of US and European interests;
The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations;
Saudi-backed “Rohingya militants” no more represent the Rohingya people than the Islamic State represents the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq;
These “militants” are admittedly supported and directed from Saudi Arabia and do not represent a legitimate “backlash” against anti-Rohingya violence and;
The US does not seek “regime change” in Myanmar, it seeks to disrupt Chinese interests, undo Chinese-Myanmar ties, and if possible, place US military assets on China’s border.
The further from these facts analysts start out with, the further from the truth they will find themselves as the conflict in Myanmar continues to unfold. Readers and analysts should hold in suspicion narratives based on ideological rhetoric or built upon geopolitical analogy rather than actual evidence regarding finances, logistics, and socioeconomic motivations.
In Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s movement, anti-Rohingya violence, and alleged “backlash” all come accompanied with very obvious and significant foreign-footprints. It is a testament to the scale and complexity of manipulation the West is still capable of undertaking and places in jeopardy not only the majority of the people in Myanmar – Buddhist and Rohingya alike – who wish to live in peace, but the entire region as the US attempts to continue its pursuit of regional hegemony.