BOOK REVIEW: The General vs. The President


November 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

The General vs. The President

by https://www.asiasentinel.com/book-review/the-general-vs-the-president/

Truman MacArthur Korea H.W. Brands

President Harry S Truman with General Douglas MacArthur

Harry S Truman ascended to the presidency of the United States on April 12, 1945, a plain-spoken career politician and product of the political machine of Boss Tom Pendergast in Kansas City. It is clear that Douglas MacArthur, regarded arguably as the greatest American general of World War II, regarded him as little more than a cipher.

Over the next six years almost to the day when Truman fired the general — April 11, 1951 – MacArthur made Truman so furious that 60 years later, historian H.W. Brands, examining Truman’s papers, found handwritten documents in which the President gouged the paper with his pen out of anger.

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 Brands has written a boisterous history of the long series of confrontations that led up to the firing. It would be tempting to call the episode comical if MacArthur hadn’t been attempting to start World War III and Truman, whose authority as President the General ignored, overrode or deliberately snubbed, was hard-pressed to keep him from it as the supreme commander of United Nations forces in Korea following invasion by the north.

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From the very start of their relationship on the death in office of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacArthur simply ignored the entire American diplomatic and political establishment. The General, already 65 when Truman became President, was a five-star officer regarded as a military genius for his prosecution of the so-called “island-hopping” campaign to rid Asia of the invading Japanese and their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The iconic picture of the tall, imposing general wading ashore at Tacloban on Leyte Island in the Philippines, followed by staff members and diminutive Filipinos, was one of the most-printed photos of the war and resulted in a diorama that stands to this day on the beach where they landed.

It was MacArthur and not Truman who dictated the terms of the Japanese surrender, leaving Emperor Hirohito in place, creating the Japanese pacifist constitution that governs the country and fostering the somewhat imperfect democracy that runs the country to this day. MacArthur would never return to the United States until his firing, forcing the country’s leaders to fly to Asia to consult with him.

The world for the general and the President sputtered along well enough until June 25, 1950 – although Truman was quoted later as having said “I should have fired the son of a bitch a long time ago” – when troops of Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current ruler of North Korea, spilled over Korea’s 38th parallel, driving the Republic of Korea troops and a skeleton US Army garrison south into a tiny perimeter around the city of Pusan.

Brand treats the initial reaction by MacArthur and his command considerably kindlier than other historians, including David Halberstam in his 2008 history of the Korean War,” The Coldest Winter.” Halberstam was scathing in his assessment of the early attempt to counter northern troops, calling MacArthur out of touch and arrogant at age 70, with his Tokyo staff sacrificing lives for policy.

Whatever the conduct of the war, it is inarguable that MacArthur’s decision – his alone, to stage an amphibious invasion at Inchon, far north of the Pusan perimeter – was one of the greatest military decisions of the century. MacArthur’s troops cut the country in half, decimated the north’s supply lines, and resulted in the surrender of hundreds of thousands of confused and demoralized North Korean troops. His forces drove north, culminating in a humiliating defeat for the fleeing North Koreans.

The diplomatic slights MacArthur delivered to Truman and other great World War II generals including George Marshall and Omar Bradley paled in comparison to his actions from then on and make it almost seem the general had taken leave of his senses.

He “sketched out a breathtaking vision of American hegemony over the world’s greatest ocean,” calling the Pacific a “vast moat to protect us as long as we hold it. Indeed, it acts as a shield of all the Americas and all of the free lands of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of Asia.” Eventually that vision would encompass recommendations of atomic war with both the Russians and the Chinese.

Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, growing concerned about the general’s grandiosity, proposed a meeting. MacArthur insisted the meeting be held on Wake Island rather than Hawaii, meaning Truman and the assembled leadership of the US would have to fly more than 7,000 miles to meet with him while he would only have to fly 2,300 miles. After he gave a picture of the situation on the ground in Korea over two days, he again broke protocol, abruptly saying he was departing, leaving a fuming Truman and his party on the island with more business to transact. Truman abandoned the meeting and flew home, exasperated. That began a long list of snubs meticulously catalogued by Brand.

As he had in Japan when he allowed the Emperor to remain in place, MacArthur reinstalled Syngman Rhee as South Korea’s leader, without waiting for consent from a reluctant Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, MacArthur badly miscalculated, ignoring the advice of the President’s advisers, driving toward the Yalu River and the border with China, ignoring repeated warnings from the Chinese to back off. In October 1950, the Chinese had had enough. They poured across the Yalu in hordes, sustaining devastating losses but enveloping United Nations forces and driving them into a humiliating retreat that cost thousands of lives.

MacArthur responded by demanding the resources to destroy the Chinese Army, including bringing in Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army, which had been forced to retreat to what was then Formosa. All of that possibly would have brought the Russians into the war. He not only moved on his own course, he began making addresses including a memo to the Veterans of Foreign Wars basically saying Washington was filled with cowards, vacillating politicians and incompetents.

Eventually, Truman had enough.   He removed MacArthur from his command, setting off a political firestorm in the US that would envelop the Democratic Party and result in deep losses in the 1952 election. It destroyed Truman’s popularity and he chose not to run again for the presidency.

Nonetheless, it would be Truman who emerged as history’s champion.  As Brand concludes: “Six decades after the general and the president, standing at the brink of nuclear war, wrestled over Korea and China; six decades after their contest brought to the head the issue of whether a president or a general determines American policy…it was hard to find any knowledgeable person who didn’t feel relief that the president, and not the general, had been the one with the final say in their fateful struggle. Truman’s bold stroke in firing MacArthur ended his own career as surely as it terminated MacArthur’s, but it sustained hope that humanity might survive the nuclear age.”

Strongmen have a new playbook for consolidating power


November 13, 2017

Strongmen have a new playbook for consolidating power

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.arcamax.com/politics/fromtheleft/fareedzakaria/s-2016462

NEW YORK — The news out of Saudi Arabia has been startling. A country famous for its stability to the point of stagnation is watching a 32-year-old crown prince arrest his relatives, freeze their bank accounts and dismiss them from key posts. But on closer examination, it should not be so surprising. Mohammed bin Salman is now applying to Saudi Arabia what has become the new standard operating procedure for strongmen around the world.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman–Making a Difference for Saudi Arabia

The formula was honed by Vladimir Putin after he came to power in Russia. First, amplify foreign threats so as to rally the country around the regime and give it extraordinary powers. Putin did this with the Chechen war and the danger of terrorism. Then, move against rival centers of influence within the society, which in Russia meant the oligarchs who at that time were more powerful than the state itself. Then talk about the need to end corruption, reform the economy and provide benefits for ordinary people. Putin was able to succeed on the last front largely because of the quadrupling of oil prices over the next decade. Finally, control the media through formal and informal means. Russia has gone from having a thriving free media in 2000 to a level of state control that is effectively similar to the Soviet Union.

Naturally, not every element of this formula applies elsewhere. Perhaps Crown Prince Mohammed will prove to be a reformer. But the formula for political success that he’s following is similar to what’s been applied in countries as disparate as China, Turkey and the Philippines. Leaders have taken to using the same ingredients — nationalism, foreign threats, anti-corruption and populism — to tighten their grip on power. Where the judiciary and media are seen as obstacles to a ruler’s untrammeled authority, they are systematically weakened.

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In his 2012 book “The Dictator’s Learning Curve,” William Dobson presciently explained that the new breed of strongmen around the world have learned a set of tricks to maintain control that are far more clever and sophisticated than in the past. “Rather than forcibly arrest members of a human rights group, today’s most effective despots deploy tax collectors or health inspectors to shut down dissident groups. Laws are written broadly, then used like a scalpel to target the groups the government deems a threat.” Dobson quoted a Venezuelan activist who described Hugo Chavez’s wily blend of patronage and selective prosecution with an adage: “For my friends, everything, for my enemies, the law.”

Classic centralized dictatorships were a 20th-century phenomenon — born of the centralizing forces and technologies of the era. “Modern dictators work in the more ambiguous spectrum that exists between democracy and authoritarianism,” wrote Dobson. They maintain the forms of democracy — constitutions, elections, media — but work to gut them of any meaning. They work to keep the majority content, using patronage, populism and external threats to maintain national solidarity and their popularity. Of course, stoking nationalism can spiral out of control, as it has in Russia and might in Saudi Arabia, which is now engaged in a fierce cold war with Iran, complete with a very hot proxy war in Yemen.

Dobson, however, did end the book expressing optimism that, in many countries, people were resisting and outmaneuvering the dictators. Yet what has happened since he wrote the book is depressing. Instead of the despots being influenced by democrats, it is the democrats who are moving up the learning curve.

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Consider Turkey, a country that in the early 2000s seemed on a firm path toward democracy and liberalism, anchored in a desire to become a full-fledged member of the European Union. Today, Turkey is not far from being an elected dictatorship. Its ruler, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has eliminated almost all obstacles to total control. He has defanged the military and the bureaucracy, launched various kinds of tax and regulatory actions against opponents in the media, and declared one potential opposition group, the Gulenists, to be terrorists. The rulers of the Philippines (Rodrigo Duterte) and Malaysia (Najib Razak) appear to be copying from that same playbook.

Image result for Najib Razak and DutertePhilippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) and  Malaysia’s Prime Minister  Najib Razak

This is not the picture of democracy everywhere, of course, but these tendencies can be spotted in far-flung areas of the world. In countries like India and Japan, which remain vibrant democracies in most respects, there are elements of this new system creeping in — crude nationalism and populism, and increasing measures to intimidate and neuter the free press.

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Donald Trump, for his part, has threatened NBC, CNN (where I work) and other outlets with various forms of government action. He has attacked judges and independent agencies. He has disregarded long-established democratic norms. So perhaps America is moving up this dangerous learning curve as well.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Portents of transactional diplomacy in US–Southeast Asia relations


November 12, 2017

Portents of transactional diplomacy in US–Southeast Asia relations

by Alan Chong, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

In the wake of three Southeast Asian prime ministers’ visits to the Trump White House, a new pattern of diplomatic communication appears to be taking shape — transactional diplomacy.

It is well known that the election of Donald Trump triggered a wave of privately expressed unease in many Asian capitals. Trump’s inauguration speech spelt out the cornerstone of his foreign policy in simple terms: ‘We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first’. In the course of three recent visits by the leaders of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore to Washington, President Trump has demonstrated consistency in applying these rules.

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What one sees emerging out of the Trump White House is nothing less than transactional leadership translated into foreign policy. Leaders produce compliance from followers by promising tangible carrots and sticks. In managerial settings, this is remarkably effective since followers expect the leader to specify clear key performance targets against which the former can measure their productivity. But in the world of international politics, transactional foreign policy may be complicated to the point of possible failure.

The problem with Trump’s foreign policy is that he takes his ‘America First’ policy too seriously. This has triggered a peculiar foreign policy overture manifested in the visits by the Malaysian, Thai and Singaporean prime ministers to the White House recently: shopping diplomacy.

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During Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit, he made it clear to the media that he was bringing a ‘strong value proposition’ to the United States. It was announced that Khazanah Nasional (the Malaysian government’s sovereign wealth fund) and the Employees Provident Fund (Malaysia’s national pension fund) would invest several billion dollars in equity and infrastructure projects in the United States. Additionally, Malaysia Airlines was pledged to actively explore options for acquiring more Boeing jetliners and General Electric engines to the tune of US$10 billion.

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Not to be outdone, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha had an even longer shopping list to please Trump. Prayut promised that the Thai military would acquire Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters, a Cobra gunship, Harpoon missiles and F-16 fighter jet upgrades to be topped off with 20 new Boeing jetliners for Thai Airways.

Next, in an obvious nod to Trump’s championing of the plight of US workers in the much bandied ‘Rust Belt’, Siam Cement Group agreed to purchase 155,000 tonnes of coal while Thai petroleum company PTT agreed to invest in shale gas factories in Ohio. To top it off, Prayut and Trump signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate an estimated US$6 billion worth of investments that will purportedly generate more than 8000 jobs in the United States.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong followed a similar script by showcasing Singapore Airlines’ publicly televised signing ceremony with Boeing Corporation for buying 39 aircraft with the attached tagline of generating 70,000 jobs in the continental United States. It did not go unnoticed that Trump smiled broadly and jabbed jocularly at the Boeing CEO while uttering very audibly to the television cameras ‘that’s jobs, American jobs, otherwise don’t sign!’.

Trump was not fooling around for the media. He meant to live up to his ‘America First’ rhetoric. Yet one hopes that Trump and his cabinet appreciate that shopping transactions do not define a whole bilateral relationship. Each of the prime ministers had also sought Trump’s friendship for multiple ancillary issues such as keeping US markets open to their businesses or getting a lift for domestic politics.

All three countries too wished to keep the US military engaged in the region as a stabilising factor vis-a-vis the emergence of Chinese power. In the Malaysian and Singaporean cases, both countries share with the United States a clear joint stake in the defeat of Islamic State-inspired terrorism worldwide. In the Southeast Asian strategic mentality, diplomatic relationships are always viewed in the long term. With or without President Trump in the White House, the United States is a naturalised political, economic and military presence in the region.

Another time-honoured diplomatic virtue practised by Southeast Asian governments is that of making gifts as a material representation of friendship. Gifts need not be a sign of surrender or weakness on the part of the giver. They are an indirect language for affirming respect despite political inequalities between great powers and weak states, and they signal the durability of strategic partnerships painstakingly built up since the Cold War.

Southeast Asian states will be more than well-rehearsed for this chapter in US–Southeast Asia relations. Many pundits are also speculating that China will also follow the same tack by decorating President Trump’s upcoming official visit to Beijing with even more dazzling multi-billion dollar energy and high tech deals. Today, diplomacy by gifting has found a new frequency in the Trump White House.

Alan Chong is Associate Professor at the Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

A version of this article was originally published here on RSIS.

 

India’s Responses to the Complex Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar


November 12, 2017

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Number 404 | November 9, 2017
ANALYSIS

India’s Responses to the Complex Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar

By Baladas Ghoshal

The recent massive refugee outflow of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into Bangladesh has created a humanitarian crisis and international outrage. United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, accused Myanmar of carrying out “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya. Myanmar rejects the accusation,  saying its military was engaged in counter-insurgency operations against Rohingya militants  who conducted the August 25 attack by the Rohingya militant group ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) on police and military posts, resulting in the death of about 70 people. The provocation certainly led to the intensification of the crisis, which originates in a conflict dating back to the 19th century.

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The Rohingya are a Muslim minority ethnically related to those living in neighboring Bangladesh’s Chittagong District. They form 90 percent of the one million people living in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar, where ethnic Rakhines – primarily Buddhist – are the majority of the state’s three million residents. Some Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries, while others arrived in recent decades. Burmese authorities consider the Rohingya – whether recent arrivals or long-time residents – undocumented immigrants and a source of instability in the country, and not as citizens or as an ethnic group. Burmese authorities are loathe to recognize the Rohingyas as a separate ethnic group which would automatically entitle them for a separate state, as Burmese states are formed on the basis of ethnicity. Moreover, given the concentration of the Rohingyas next to Bangladesh, where Islam is becoming increasingly radical, Myanmar – being a Buddhist majority country – will never accept them as an ethnic entity. If the Rohingyas self-identify as just a religious group, they could enjoy citizenship rights like other Muslims in the rest of Myanmar. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s recommendations in August are similar, and in September Myanmar leader Suu Kyi stated that her government was willing to take back the refugees after verification. Under the 1982 citizenship law, the Myanmar government recognized only about 40,000 Rohingyas as its citizens.
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The Dalai Lama has urged fellow Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a main opposition leader in Myanmar, to do more to help protect the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority in her country amid a worsening migration crisis.
While the response of the Myanmar military was brutal and disproportionate to the attack by the insurgents, the international community’s response, particularly the Western and Muslim countries and their intense criticisms of Aung San Suu Kyi for her failure to stand up against the army crackdown and to protect the human rights of the Rohingyas, is also disproportionate. Critics fail to understand the military-civilian relations and other complexities of Myanmar politics where issues like ethnicity, history, and cultural identity are key ingredients of legitimacy. By condemning Suu Kyi, her critics have inadvertently not only provided a shield to the Army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, from responsibility for perpetrating atrocities against the Rohingyas, but also practically weakened her position vis-à-vis the powerful military of the country. While Suu Kyi’s popularity is still quite high, the political base of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is quite fragile. If she tries to take a critical attitude on the Rohingyas, the military can easily align with the Buddhist nationalists, who have nothing but scorn and hatred for the Rohingyas, and undermine her power. That would be a blow to the limited progress Myanmar has made in democratization under difficult constitutional constraints.
 India’s response to the Rohingya issue is calibrated on an understanding of the history and complexities of Myanmar politics of ethnicity and legitimacy. New Delhi has to balance between its security concerns and moralism on humanitarian issues. Initially, it was conditioned predominantly by its security concerns. India, through its consulate in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, has long been keeping tabs on the influence of foreign Islamist radical groups on the Rohingyas, and warned Myanmar of possible attacks by the ARSA prior to the August incident. In February, India had also warned of an increased presence of Pakistan-based and funded terror organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba, seeking to exploit Rohingya resentments. Also the influence of Bangladeshi radical organizations such as the Jamaat-e- Islami initially, and then its youth wing, the Islamic Chatra Shabir, within the refugee camps is causing alarm in both Dhaka and New Delhi. Even organizations such as the Rohingya Students Organisation (RSO) were known to have links with “like-minded” groups such as the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) along with Hizb-e- Islami of Afghanistan and the Hizbul Mujahideen. On India’s decision to deport 40,000 Rohingya refugees, the government, in its affidavit to the Supreme Court, said that some of the Rohingyas with militant background were found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mewat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Myanmar in September described India and Myanmar as “partners” in their concern over “extremist violence” in Rakhine State.
“Myanmar – being a Buddhist majority country – will never accept them as an ethnic entity. If the Rohingyas self-identify as just a religious group, they could enjoy citizenship rights like other Muslims in the rest of Myanmar.”
Even though the issue of terrorism dominates the security narrative on India’s approach to the Rohingya issue, India’s Act East Policy is linked to land connections with Myanmar. This policy, has two major planks – economic development in northeast India and balancing China’s influence. China has not only declared its open support for Myanmar’s “anti-terror” operations, but also expanded its economic and political influence in the country. In fact, it was the heavy-handed criticism by the West and call for sanctions for atrocities against Rohingyas that forced Myanmar again to rely on Beijing to offset any major backlash in the international fora. In such a situation, any open criticism of Myanmar could undermine India’s influence. India is also dependent on Myanmar military’s cooperation to deal with the insurgent groups in the Northeast, who in the past found sanctuary on the Myanmar side of the border. Geopolitics also drive India to take a soft approach to Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingyas, fearing the country might otherwise again grant safe havens to North-East insurgents.  China has set up a gas and oil pipeline running from the Rakhine port of Kyaukphyu to Kunming. Beijing has backed Myanmar’s violent crackdown, hoping it will bring security to a region important for China’s energy security. India, for its part, is working on the Kaladan transport project, linking Sittwe to Kolkata. New Delhi believes the best way to reduce tension in Rakhine is through such development efforts.

As the refugee and humanitarian crisis unfolded in the month of September, with Bangladesh bearing the economic and physical burden of more than 600,000 refugees,  Dhaka’s diplomatic overdrive made New Delhi modify its position on the Rohingya issue and acknowledge that there is now a refugee crisis. India also urged the Myanmar government to exercise “restraint and maturity” and stressed the need to focus on the “welfare of the civilian population.” Even while India’s government exercises caution and restraint in its approach to the Rohingya issue, civil society and human rights groups are quite critical of Myanmar’s handling of the Rohinyga issue, and wants New Delhi to take an active role in seeing the refugees back to their homeland with peace and dignity.

About the Author

Dr. Baladas Ghoshal is  Secretary General of the Society for Indian Ocean Studies and Former Professor and Chair in Southeast Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be contacted at profbala7228@gmail.com.
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.
Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Populism and Trump’s Foreign Policy


October 23, 2017

Populism and  Trump’s Foreign Policy

by Frank Lavin*

https://www.georgetownjournalofinternationalaffairs.org/online-edition/2017/10/20/things-fall-apart-populism-and-foreign-policy

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Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy is defined by his missteps and flamboyance.

Donald Trump confounds political observers. For many, he is defined by his missteps and flamboyance. His foreign policy statements contain sufficient imprecision—if not outright contradictions—to allow observers to conclude a lack of care in dealing with the issues. Is China’s presence in the South China Sea acceptable or not? Is NATO useful or not? Should the United States use force in Syria for humanitarian or geo-political goals? This ambiguity gives rise to further questions regarding his foreign policy architecture: what are the guiding principles?

Trump does indeed have guiding principles, but they are process principles and not the substantive principles that we are used to seeing in a president. What shapes his foreign policy is that which shaped his singular triumph in public life: his campaign. Indeed, Trump abjured several of the policies that have guided Republican campaigns of the modern era: entitlement reform, trade agreements, and international leadership. A long-time supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, President Trump’s political success was drawn not from conservatism nor an intellectual architecture—though he has some conservative impulses—but from political populism. His worldview in many ways is an extension of that belief.

What is Populism?

This populism has four characteristics. First, it is grievance-based. It focuses on problems rather than solutions. This has the extraordinary advantage of giving the message potency because negative statements can motivate more effectively than positive ones, but it makes it difficult to form a governing coalition, since constituencies that have a problem with a particular policy might have even greater differences among its alternatives. Indeed, as a candidate, Trump avoided articulating a positive vision regarding even central pillars of his campaign such as health care. Notably, Trump’s main foreign policy pronouncements in the campaign were grievance-based: terrorism, trade and immigration. Equally noteworthy, they were all essentially domestic issues with a foreign genesis. The traditional foreign policy questions were largely absent from his discussions: What is America’s role in the world? What is the value of an alliance? To what extent should we promote democracy and human rights, or should the U.S. focus on national interest calculations?

Second, the populist must establish emotional connectivity with the audience. Trump tends to evaluate people largely based on how they connect with him. The rally format suits him well; he loves the audience and the audience loves him. There are no questions and answers, nor any discussion, nor does there have to be new information, but there is plenty of emotional connectivity. Importantly, this emotional connectivity has little to do with economic class, a point that can befuddle Trump’s domestic political opponents, who underestimate his working-class appeal on the basis that he personally has little in common with them or that his policies supposedly would not help them. To a populist, the first point is broadly irrelevant and the second point is highly debatable. Might many a construction worker welcome a construction boom, and many a restaurant worker welcome an expansion of the business, if it meant job security and a larger paycheck, even if it would create disproportionate returns to the construction company and restaurant owner? For many working men and women, a growth in inequality is not inherently troubling. Thomas Piketty might be right, but it might not matter to most Americans if returns to capital outpace returns to labor. In addition, when establishment elites mock Trump, from his grammar to his boorishness, a portion of non-elites see this as condescension.

Third, populism is exculpatory: Every problem the United States faces was caused by others and the target audience is blameless. So if a company wanted to relocate some activity to Mexico, it must have been to exploit wage differences. No discussion as to whether wage increases at the U.S. facility have outpaced productivity increases. No discussion as to whether union rules impede flexibility and productivity. No discussion of the fact that Mexico might be a better production platform because it has more free trade agreements. Management is to blame, with Mexico in connivance. This is frequently expressed in themes of anti-establishment or alienation, which can have a corrosive effect when anchored in grievances.

Fourth, policy choices are cost-free and without trade-offs. Cost-benefit analysis, transition costs, the challenges in administering a government agency, underperforming programs, secondary effects and unintended consequences – these are all incidental to the victory of the policy choice itself. As such, populists might as well berate NATO leadership into burden-sharing, ignoring the downside to publicly hectoring leaders of sovereign nations. They, too, might as well call for a physical wall on the U.S. border with Mexico since it will be, by self-declaration, cost free.

To be fair, others in public life exhibit some of these elements. President Obama’s healthcare plan was historically grandiose in scope, cost and complexity, yet it was ballyhooed to save money. Similarly, Obama’s eight-year effort to reduce U.S. commitments to NATO was to have no costs in terms of force projection, alliance cohesion, or deterrence. And, Obama was the only President in the modern era to have run against trade as a candidate, an approach Trump followed.

What Went Wrong?

How could the bipartisan consensus on U.S. international leadership fade so quickly, particularly at a moment when the combination of market economics and alliances of democracies had resulted in perhaps the most prosperous and most liberal moment in human history? There are four contributors to the rise of populism: societal transformation, grievance economics, international leadership, and elite limitations.

First, societal transformation – meaning both globalization and automation— has two profound socio-political effects. It produces an extraordinary degree of prosperity; and it carries with it a distribution effect. The bell curve of income distribution does not shift as much as it elongates. Few people are worse off, but many people are not better off. There is not necessarily the creation of a large number of winners and losers, but there is certainly the perception people getting left behind. Trump understands the message: The globalization club is having a party, and you are not invited. Silicon Valley is drinking champagne and your role is to pick the grapes. These trends also feed into the narrative of alienation because it decreases people’s control over their lives even as their overall prosperity increases. Globalization and automation have created economic anxiety in electorates around the world, and not just among steelworkers and coal miners. Realtors, bank tellers, school teachers, and cab drivers are all seeing competitive pressure and the prospect of job elimination. To many Americans, comparative advantage and creative destruction create a more prosperous society, but accompanying it is job insecurity. David Ricardo and Joseph Schumpeter might be right, but so what?

Second, over several decades we have seen a shift from growth economics to grievance economics. This represents a break with the recovery policies that guided the leading economies through the 1950s and 1960s (and that economic rationalists such as Macron tilt toward today). In the current view, the primary purpose of economic policy is not to foment prosperity, but to redress grievances. Indeed, regardless of absolute improvements in well-being, reducing economic inequality is deemed to be a basis for policy. The premise of growth economics is that a system is fundamentally fair, so the main challenge is how fast we can go. The premise of grievance economics is that the system is fundamentally unfair, so going faster merely exacerbates the unfairness. This cult of inequality incentivizes interest-group politics and rent-seeking, leading to slower growth. If you focus on growth policies, you get growth. If you focus on grievance policies, you get grievances.

A third cause is the shift in the U.S. international posture. We have seen a growing fatigue in the United States over the cost of international leadership. The U.S. entered the post-Cold War era with the institutions and the cohesion of the Cold War era largely intact, even though the end of the Soviet Union removed what political scientists term a “negative integrator.” Now we are deep into the post-post-Cold War era, with faded cohesion and institutions. For the first time since Harding and Coolidge we have two presidents in a row who have no international military or policy pedigree. Beyond the direct costs of international leadership in defense budgets and personnel, Americans seem more sensitive to the indirect costs of public opinion and anti-Americanism. Relationships can be expensive. Friendships can be complicated. If there is no immediate threat, and if no one likes us anyhow, then what is the point of foreign policy?

To sum up this point, imagine international Presidential leadership as a decision between whether to be a minute early or a minute late. Do you deter or do you react? Being a minute early requires leadership, because it carries with it the possibility of error and the cost of action without a consensus. “Left of Boom,” the British call it. Being a minute late and waiting until the problem has metastasized has the considerable benefit of allowing public consensus to build, and it is the less politically expensive approach. President Obama’s instinct is that foreign policy is better managed by being a minute late, such as responding after-the-fact to the Chinese build-out in the South China Sea, not confronting Russia on its intervention in U.S. elections, and perhaps in the cases of Aleppo or ISIS, Obama was more than a minute late. President Bush’s instinct was to be a minute early, foolishly so to his critics. Presidents have spent some  75 years since Pearl Harbor trying to be a minute early, with all the costs and mistakes that entailed, yet now we have two presidents in a row who believe we are better off being a minute late.

Finally, the appeal of populism has been driven by their perception of the limitations of the U.S. leadership class: insular, rigid, and sometimes simply mediocre. Additionally, over-engineered solutions and the appearance of being self-serving, if not corrupt, help the appeal of populism. Sometimes it comes from the declining marginal effectiveness of government programs as society becomes more affluent and complicated. Indeed, the Obama administration seemed to regularly play into the hands of populists, sometimes passively so, as with the refusal to challenge even the more exotic of the sanctuary city movement. Sometimes, it was by design as with the painstaking construction not to label Islamic terrorism as such. If responsible leaders appear to be playing favorites or not accurately describing a phenomenon, they abandon the issue to their opponents — a phenomenon Trump witnessed through his hesitation in characterizing the Charlottesville protests.

If populists rely too heavily on emotional connectivity, which establishment politicians have any emotional connectivity? Does there exist an aspirant for President, other than Donald Trump, who can have a friendly discussion with a Walmart cashier? How many of the possible 2020 presidential candidates have worked in the “real” economy, working for an institution that needed to turn a profit? Sam Rayburn’s wish to Lyndon Johnson, after LBJ had related how bright was his brain trust, was that he wished one of them had run for county sheriff. Can we today wish that one of the 2020 presidential candidates will have run a diner, which would have required them to hire teenagers, train high school dropouts, deal with single parents, lay-off workers from failed projects and negotiate wages, all while paying taxes and dealing with various government agencies? Maybe this is why a restaurant worker might respect an owner, or even a New York real estate developer, but not a career politician. If the elites cannot maintain that connectivity, they give an opening to populists.

Attaining political maturity contemporaneous with the Bush 43 invasion of Iraq, Obama was wary of American over-reach and committed to a foreign policy pullback. He embedded that withdrawal in a denial of American exceptionalism, a pillar of U.S foreign policy since Pearl Harbor. If you stop believing in yourself, it is difficult to ask others to believe in you. The rejection of America’s special role in the world helped set the stage for “Make America Great Again.” Was Barack Obama the ultimate Donald Trump enabler?

There other contributing factors beyond the above four. The rise of identity politics probably played into Trump’s hands, as did the digital communications revolution. News clutter rewards pugnacity and sensationalism and allows for cocoons and even tribalism. It is also worth noting that Trump is a man of unusual presentation strengths, and he can effectively project personality. Simply put, Trump was an exemplary grievance candidate in a grievance year. Trump articulated a vision; Hillary Clinton did not. We are in a communications era. For Secretary Clinton, communications is a means to an end. For Trump it is an end. She believes in her in-box; He, in his out-box. Hillary campaigned as the functionary; Donald as the visionary.

Is internationalism doomed?

America is now in the middle of a twelve and possibly sixteen year reign of two presidents who challenge the Cold War view that America is better off with a leading international presence, with being a minute early. It is too expensive, argued President Obama, and it leads us into unwinnable conflicts, draining our reputation and our purse. It is too expensive, echoes President Trump, and foreigners abuse and cheat us. Obama argues for minimalism because the United States is a problem for the world, and Trump argues for minimalism because the world is a problem for the United States.

Even as President, Trump is easy to underestimate. Appealingly so. Many critics derive amusement, even a sense of superiority, from his foibles. His factual errors and even spelling mistakes provide an opportunity for mockery, but the lazy epiphany of error-spotting is a poor substitute for a substantive rebuttal. And a significant portion of the criticism is either ad hominem or an over-reach, either of which helps Trump. Those who are serious about policy should look at the direction in which he is taking the country, rather than fixate on these errors.

To be even-handed, if President Trump’s distinctive success in the public space was his astonishing 2016 victory, in 2008 the distinctive success of Senator Obama was his astonishing election. Obama wisely chose not to run on his government record but marshaled his formidable stage skills and personal charisma to direct criticism toward Hillary Clinton and John McCain. So if Trump’s foreign policy approach stems from his success as “Ranter-in-Chief,” does Obama’s approach stem from his success as “Charmer-in-Chief?” Radically different styles, but with policy similarities.

The deterioration in U.S. foreign policy will likely continue for the near term. On any given day, the Obama/Trump approach may make sense. We should be a minute late. It makes sense to skimp, to cut defense expenditures, to reduce international good-will and connectivity, to save money all around. Relationships can be expensive and even harmful – this is the seduction of the minimalist school. But there is a countervailing argument.

The main argument against this minimalist approach will be events themselves. The minimalist approach might work in a static environment, but that stasis in itself incentivizes a destabilizer. At some point, history presents the bill. Only then will we be reminded, perhaps cruelly, that although on any given day it might be less expensive to be a minute late, as a matter of national policy we need to be a minute early. If we are not willing to pay the price to be left of boom, then we must pay the price for the boom itself. Worse than the expense and bother of having friends would be the expense and bother of not having friends.

Frank Lavin is the Chairman of Export Now. He served in the White House, National Security Council, State Department, and Commerce Department during the Reagan, Bush (41) and Bush (43) Administrations.

China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man


October 17, 2017

THE ECONOMIST

China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man

Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump. The world should be wary

Do not expect Mr Xi to change China, or the world, for the better

Print edition | Leaders

Oct 14th 2017

One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

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Two Giants of Asia–Xi and Modi–Friends or Foes

AMERICAN Presidents have a habit of describing their Chinese counterparts in terms of awe. A fawning Richard Nixon said to Mao Zedong that the chairman’s writings had “changed the world”. To Jimmy Carter, Deng Xiaoping was a string of flattering adjectives: “smart, tough, intelligent, frank, courageous, personable, self-assured, friendly”. Bill Clinton described China’s then president, Jiang Zemin, as a “visionary” and “a man of extraordinary intellect”. Donald Trump is no less wowed. The Washington Post quotes him as saying that China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is “probably the most powerful” China has had in a century.

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Mr Trump may be right. And were it not political suicide for an American president to say so, he might plausibly have added: “Xi Jinping is the world’s most powerful leader.” To be sure, China’s economy is still second in size to America’s and its army, though rapidly gaining muscle, pales in comparison. But economic heft and military hardware are not everything. The leader of the free world has a narrow, transactional approach to foreigners and seems unable to enact his agenda at home. The United States is still the world’s most powerful country, but its leader is weaker at home and less effective abroad than any of his recent predecessors, not least because he scorns the values and alliances that underpin American influence.

The President of the world’s largest authoritarian state, by contrast, walks with swagger abroad. His grip on China is tighter than any leader’s since Mao. And whereas Mao’s China was chaotic and miserably poor, Mr Xi’s is a dominant engine of global growth. His clout will soon be on full display. On October 18th China’s ruling Communist Party will convene a five-yearly congress in Beijing (see Briefing). It will be the first one presided over by Mr Xi. Its 2,300 delegates will sing his praises to the skies. More sceptical observers might ask whether Mr Xi will use his extraordinary power for good or ill.

World, take note

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On his numerous foreign tours, Mr Xi presents himself as an apostle of peace and friendship, a voice of reason in a confused and troubled world. Mr Trump’s failings have made this much easier. At Davos in January Mr Xi promised the global elite that he would be a champion of globalisation, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change. Members of his audience were delighted and relieved. At least, they thought, one great power was willing to stand up for what was right, even if Mr Trump (then President-Elect) would not.

Mr Xi’s words are heeded partly because he has the world’s largest stockpile of foreign currency to back them up. His “Belt and Road Initiative” may be puzzlingly named, but its message is clear—hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese money are to be invested abroad in railways, ports, power stations and other infrastructure that will help vast swathes of the world to prosper. That is the kind of leadership America has not shown since the post-war days of the Marshall Plan in western Europe (which was considerably smaller).

Mr Xi is also projecting what for China is unprecedented military power abroad. This year he opened the country’s first foreign military base, in Djibouti. He has sent the Chinese navy on manoeuvres ever farther afield, including in July on NATO’s doorstep in the Baltic Sea alongside Russia’s fleet. China says it would never invade other countries to impose its will (apart from Taiwan, which it does not consider a country). Its base-building efforts are to support peacekeeping, anti-piracy and humanitarian missions, it says. As for the artificial islands with military-grade runways it is building in the South China Sea, these are purely defensive.

Unlike Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, Mr Xi is not a global troublemaker who seeks to subvert democracy and destabilise the West. Still, he is too tolerant of troublemaking by his nuke-brandishing ally, North Korea (see Schumpeter). And some of China’s military behaviour alarms its neighbours, not only in South-East Asia but also in India and Japan.

At home, Mr Xi’s instincts are at least as illiberal as those of his Russian counterpart. He believes that even a little political permissiveness could prove not only his own undoing, but that of his regime. The fate of the Soviet Union haunts him, and that insecurity has consequences. He mistrusts not only the enemies his purges have created but also China’s fast-growing, smartphone-wielding middle class, and the shoots of civil society that were sprouting when he took over. He seems determined to tighten control over Chinese society, not least by enhancing the state’s powers of surveillance, and to keep the commanding heights of the economy firmly under the party’s thumb. All this will make China less rich than it should be, and a more stifling place to live. Human-rights abuses have grown worse under Mr Xi, with barely a murmur of complaint from other world leaders.

Liberals once mourned the “ten lost years” of reform under Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Those ten years have become 15, and may exceed 20. Some optimists argue that we have not yet seen the real Mr Xi—that the congress will help him consolidate his power, and after that he will begin social and economic reforms in earnest, building on his relative success in curbing corruption. If he is a closet pluralist, however, he disguises it well. And alarmingly for those who believe that all leaders have a sell-by date, Mr Xi is thought to be reluctant to step down in 2022, when precedent suggests he should.

Reasons to be fearful

Mr Xi may think that concentrating more or less unchecked power over 1.4bn Chinese in the hands of one man is, to borrow one of his favourite terms, the “new normal” of Chinese politics. But it is not normal; it is dangerous. No one should have that much power. One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “The world’s most powerful man”