Conversation with Charles Krauthammer


July 20, 2018

Conversation with Charles Krauthammer

 

The Reagan Doctrine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Najib Razak sought CIA’s Help for GE-14–A Treasonous Act?


July 19, 2018

Najib Razak sought CIA’s Help for GE-14–A Treasonous Act?

By MP Lim Kit Siang

https://blog.limkitsiang.com/2018/07/19/was-the-najib-government-so-shambolic-and-even-anarchic-not-only-that-that-right-hand-does-not-know-what-the-left-hand-was-doing-the-prime-minister-did-not-know-what-was-happening-in-the-pmo/

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The letter of the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department to the CIA before the 14th General Elections on May 4 seeking US support against Pakatan Harapan must have given Malaysians the shivers, reinforcing the view that the greatest thing to happen in Malaysia was the change of Federal government in Putrajaya on May 9 or nobody can be assured what would have happened to the future of Malaysia.

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Najib Razak–“A progressive leader and a staunch supporter of the US”.

The letter by the Research Division’s Director-General Hasanah Ab Hamid to the CIA painting the former Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak as  a progressive leader and a staunch supporter of the US while describing the leader of  the Pakatan Harapan Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as “anti-West” should never have been sent by any self-respecting government or official.

It is just not good enough for Najib to now claim that he, as the Prime Minister at the time, did not instruct the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department to pen the letter to the CIA seeking US support for the Barisan Nasional against Pakatan Harapan five days before the May 9 general election.

It raised many questions, in particular whether the Najib government was so shambolic and even anarchic that the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing, and the Prime Minister did not know what was happening in the PMO or his governemnt?

If so, Najib is clearly the worst Prime Minister in Malaysian history. But there is an even more serious question – how can a caretaker government pen such a disgraceful and even disloyal letter to the intelligence organ of a foreign government asking for foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Malaysia?

Najib’s claim that he had no knowledge about the letter is a very lame and completely unacceptable. Najib said he did not even know of its existence as “Not all letters have to go through me”.

His claim that agencies, especially those related to intelligence matters, have the autonomy to perform their duties for reasons they think would benefit them must be repudiated in no uncertain terms, and the Pakatan Harapan government must make it clear that no agencies under it have any authority to send such a self-serving and disloyal letter to any foreign government.

I had asked the MCA Deputy President, Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, now sole MCA MP for Ayer Hitam, to state in Parliament whether he was aware and approved of Hasanah’s letter to CIA as he was at the time the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, but as expected, Wee completely avoided the subject when he later spoke in Parliament in the debate on the motion of thanks for the royal speech.

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Remember him? –Najib’s man in 1MDB

Let Najib turn up in Parliament and justify the despatch of the shocking letter from the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department to the CIA five days before the 14th General Election, and he should also take the opportunity to explain when Parliament approved the setting up of an intelligence unit in the Prime Minister’s Office and the details about the budget and operations the secret intelligence unit under him.

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MP Lim Kit Siang–DAP’s statesman

(Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Parliament on Thursday July 19, 2018)

 

 

American Foreign Policy: Trump’s Helsinki Debacle


July 19, 2018

American Foreign Policy: Trump’s Helsinki Debacle

The case for censuring Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rediscovering the Art of Diplomacy With Vladimir Putin


July 11, 2018

Rediscovering the Art of Diplomacy With Vladimir Putin

Trump has the opportunity for his greatest foreign policy accomplishment yet.

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Putin practises tough guy diplomacy with great effect

The United States has enjoyed many advantages over the decades because of its superpower status. As the principal architect of the post-World War II liberal international order, Washington has secured disproportionate security and economic benefits for itself. America’s overwhelming military capabilities have magnified that clout in global affairs. Allies and adversaries alike might grumble at Washington’s preeminence, but they have been prudent enough to avoid direct challenges whenever possible. Even the Soviet Union confined itself (with the notable exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis) to probes in marginal, mostly Third World, arenas.

However, Washington’s dominant position has also led to some foreign policy bad habits. Because U.S. leaders have not had to deal with serious peer competitors in a long time, they appear to have lost the art of skillful, nuanced diplomacy. Even before the arrival of the Trump administration, U.S. policy exhibited a growing arrogance and lack of realism about diplomatic objectives. The upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin affords an opportunity to relearn the requirements of effective diplomacy. If handled poorly, though, it will underscore the adverse consequences of Washington’s rigid approach to world affairs.

 

Too many American politicians, pundits, and foreign policy operatives seem to believe that when dealing with an adversary, diplomacy should consist of issuing a laundry list of demands, including manifestly unrealistic ones, without offering even a hint of meaningful concessions. Critics of Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un epitomized that attitude. Some of them excoriated the president just for his willingness to accord Kim implicit equal status by approving a bilateral meeting. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi groused that President Trump “elevated North Korea to the level of the United States while preserving the regime’s status quo.”

Others grudgingly conceded that the summit theoretically might have been an appropriate move, but argued that Washington should have demanded major substantive and irreversible North Korean steps toward denuclearization in exchange for such a prestigious meeting. In other words, they wanted North Korea’s capitulation on the central issue before Trump even agreed to a summit. Critics were furious that such a capitulation was not at least enshrined in the joint statement emerging from the meeting. And if that hardline stance was not enough, they insisted that Trump should have made North Korea’s human rights record a feature of the negotiations. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asserted that “our wrongful indifference to human rights in the past should not be used as an excuse to justify apologias for dictatorships in our time.”

The lack of realism such positions exhibit is breathtaking. If the hardliners had prevailed, no summit would have taken place. Their demands were multiple poison pills to any feasible negotiations. And the consequences flowing from the course they favored would have been the perpetuation, if not escalation, of alarming tensions on the Korean Peninsula. By spurning their advice, Trump secured a worthwhile change in the dynamics of the U.S.-North Korean relationship. The rapprochement may yet falter, since there are still extremely serious disagreements between the two countries, but the summit was a beneficial reset that has reduced the danger of a catastrophic military confrontation. Because he focused on the achievable, Trump secured a modest, but constructive, gain both for the United States and the East Asian region.

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President Donald  Trump–Diplomacy via The Art of The Deal

The President has an opportunity for an even more important success in his upcoming summit with Putin. But even more than he did with North Korea, he needs to make major changes in current U.S. policy toward Russia and reject the advice and demands that Russophobic hardliners are pushing. Once again, the president must distinguish between achievable and unachievable goals. And he must be willing to make meaningful concessions to the Russian leader to secure the former.

Some of Washington’s existing demands are manifestly unrealistic. Russia is not going to reverse its annexation of Crimea and return that territory to Ukraine. The Kremlin’s move was at least partly a response to the clumsy and provocative actions that the United States and key European Union powers took to support demonstrators who unseated Ukraine’s elected, pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, before the expiration of his term. Moscow was not about to accept that Western power play and watch the region containing Russia’s main naval base come under the control of a manifestly hostile Ukrainian regime. Given the stakes involved, Russia is no more likely to withdraw from Crimea than Israel is likely to return the Golan Heights to Syria or Turkey return occupied northern Cyprus to the Republic of Cyprus. Persisting in an utterly unattainable demand regarding Crimea before U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia will be lifted is pointless.

Inducing the Kremlin to reduce and phase out its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine is more achievable. Indeed, despite the hysterical allegations that appear periodically in the Western press, Russia’s backing of the insurgents has been quite limited and is far less than constituting an “invasion.” Putin shows little stomach for making Ukraine an arena for a full-fledged confrontation with the West.

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A similar situation exists with respect to Syria. The Kremlin clearly wishes to see Bashar al-Assad remain in power, and given the extreme Islamist orientation of many of Assad’s opponents, that is not an outrageous position. Nevertheless, Putin has avoided establishing a large-scale Russian military, especially ground force, presence in that country. He apparently wishes to confine Moscow’s role to protecting its naval base at Tartus and assisting Assad’s military efforts with Russian air power. There appears to be an opportunity for Washington to gain assurances from the Kremlin that its involvement in Syria will not escalate and might even recede gradually.

To secure such goals, though, the U.S. would need to offer some appealing concessions to Putin. In exchange for ending Russian support of Ukrainian secessionists and confirming Moscow’s toleration of the anti-Russian regime in Kiev, Trump should be willing to sign an agreement pledging that the United States will neither propose not endorse NATO membership for Ukraine or Georgia. NATO’s previous waves of enlargement right up to Russia’s border were a key factor in the deterioration of the West’s relations with Moscow. It is time to end that provocation. In addition to that concession, Trump should pledge that NATO military exercises (war games) in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea will come to an end. In exchange, the United States ought to insist that Russian forces end their provocative deployments in Kaliningrad and along Russia’s frontier with NATO members.

With regard to Syria, Trump should inform Putin that the United States is ceasing its efforts to unseat Assad—a venture that has been a disaster, in any case. To reinforce that pledge, the United States should offer to withdraw all of its forces over the next year. Those moves would tacitly accept Russia as the leading foreign power in terms of influence in Syria. Such a concession is a simple recognition of reality. Syria is barely 600 miles from Russia’s border; it is 6,000 miles from the American homeland. Moscow’s interests are understandably more central than America’s, given that geographic factor alone.

In conducting serious negotiations with Putin, President Trump has an opportunity for a diplomatic (and public relations) success that would exceed his achievement with the Kim summit. To do so, however, he must make a major course correction in how the United States handles delicate and dangerous situations with adversaries. Indeed, he must take an important step in America’s willingness to relearn the techniques of achievable diplomacy.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The American Conservative, is the author of 10 books, the contributing editor of 10 books, and the author of more than 700 articles on international affairs.

Some Thoughts on Frederick Jackson Turner and the Study of the American Frontier


July 9, 2018

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Professor Robin W Winks

Note: I am grateful to Yale Historian, the Late Professor Robin W. Winks (dec. April 7, 2003 ) who was Visiting Professor of American History at The University of Malaya in 1960-1963 for introducing me to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis.–Din Merican

 

American Progress: Some Thoughts on Frederick Jackson Turner and the Study of the American Frontier

by Dr Darren Reid

http://www.darrenreidhistory.co.uk/

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For those who don’t know his name, Frederick Jackson Turner is one of the most important and debated figures in the field of American history, particularly frontier studies.  Born in 1861, Turner published his most important and enduring work in 1893 – the ‘Frontier Thesis’ contained in ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History.’

According to Jackson, it was the frontier experience which gave America its distinct character, from popular democracy to the jettisoning of spent European ideas, the frontier was the location in which modern America came to be.  Jackson’s ideas thus went to the heart of American history, describing modern characteristics as being fundamentally connected to one specific social experience; historians have been debating Turner ever since.

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As you might expect, few of Jackson’s ideas have survived one hundred and twenty years of scrutiny, particularly as new perspectives (not the least of which is a Native American one) have come to describe a far more nuanced and subtle model for how we understand the frontier.  In many ways, then, Turner is little more than a relic from the subject’s past but unlike most early pioneers in the topic (pun unintended) his work continues to fire discussions in academic circles, at conferences, and in private emails between colleagues and friends.

Indeed, if I were to be asked which historian I would most like to emulate it would have to be Turner – that has nothing to do with any desire to have my ideas discredited overtime.  Rather, I respect and admire Turner’s ability to craft one of the most important questions ever to have been asked in the field of American history: what was the significance of the frontier in American history? This question is so complete, it cuts so utterly to the core of frontier studies that it has yet to be answered in a way that has put Turner’s original thesis to bed.

To compound matters, Turner possessed a skill which is sometimes lacking in some academic writing.  Turner described a complex set of ideas – ones which aspire to explain the character of the United States – in a manner which was not only easily understood by those in the field, but easily understood by those outside of it.  Consider the role played by western film during the Cold War.

So pervasive are Turner’s ideas that I recently received an email from a colleague of mine which asked this: “My question is really whether or not you, as a frontier historian, still regard Turner as an important touchstone for frontier historiography. Or is he too old hat? Are the questions he raises still ones that concern you and your colleagues?” Here is my reply…

“Frederick Jackson Turner’s ideas are a bit like reality TV programs: no matter how much you might want them to go away, they never really do.  By that I mean that FJT and his ideas are, for the most part, deemed to be old hat but he reappears in various guises.  Even when works go out of their way to present a different interpretation of the frontier he is often mentioned.  In Contact Points, a book edited by Andrew R.L. Cayton and Fredricka Teute, they talk about FJT in order to make the point that his ideas are not relevant to that volume.

On the other side of the coin, his ideas still spring up in modified form, Patrick Griffin’s American Leviathan being a case in point.  To be sure, Griffin doesn’t rehash Turner’s ideas but he does essentially argue that, in the broadest sense, they remain valid because the frontier experience in the Ohio Valley had a formative impact on how the US would develop in the 19th century.  The frontier may not have been the cornerstone of mass democracy that Turner described but, according to Griffin, it was the cornerstone of many later developments, particularly with regards to the development of anti-Indian racism and the Trail of Tears, etc… For the most part, FJT is considered to be wrong in his interpretation of the frontier.  However, his ideas were so big that that parts of them have been reintegrated into the modern historiography even as others use him as the straw man against which their own ideas are to be measured.”

To have one’s ideas discussed over a century after airing them is no small feat, particularly when the last three decades have seen our understanding of the frontier (in academic circles, at least) augmented considerably.  Outdated though most of his ideas and arguments now are, Turner presented the academy with an important question which it has yet to adequately answer and that, I believe, is his true significance: what was the true significance of the frontier in American history? I offer no answers here, just his question.

COMMENT:

  1. I agree with all the above points, especially the significance that we must give FJT for his argument’s longevity. One of his ideas in particular has been vexing my New Western History logic. That is, that the American frontier gave birth to modern American democracy.

    While the debate can certainly be waged against FJT’s definition (and American’s definition today) of ‘democracy,’ The democratic aspects of a growing federal republic had dramatic consequences for the American political system. With the general removal of property requirements for voting, and the dramatic addition of new western states into the republic, changed the way all politics were run in the United States. The Civil War, the battle between capital and unions, as well as the Progressive Era were not just influenced by western politics, but were energized by them.

    The idea of the United States as a working man’s republic is a middle-class and western idea, despite its tap-root in classical republicanism and the American Revolution. In sum, it seems FJT was more right, than he was wrong. The power of the American frontier, as Patricia Nelson Limerick has suggested, is its legacy in the American psyche. Whether you lived on the frontier or just read about it; whether you were rich, poor, immigrant, or previously enslaved, the frontier as a place, and process, acted on all.

Book Review–Madeleine Albright: Fascism: A Warning


July 9, 2018

Madeleine Albright: Fascism: A Warning

The former US Secretary of State decries the global rise of authoritarianism in her new book, Fascism: A Warning, and talks about Trump, Putin and the ‘tragedy’ of Brexit

“The book is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career. The work is also an act of homage to her father who wrote books about the perils of tyranny and worried that Americans were so accustomed to liberty – so “very, very free,” he wrote – that they might take democracy for granted. She quotes Primo Levi – “Every age has its own fascism” – and makes her case with observations about the autocrats she has dealt with and brisk histories of past dictators and the horrors that they unleashed. A devil’s portrait gallery includes Benito Mussolini, the original fascist, and Adolf Hitler, the most destructive. Then there’s Donald Trump.”–Andrew Rawnsley

Madeleine Albright has both made and lived a lot of history. When she talks about a resurgence of fascism, she says it as someone who was born into the age of dictators. She was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis consumed the country in 1939. After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain and found refuge in Notting Hill Gate, “before it was fancy”, in an apartment which backed on to Portobello Road. Her first memories of life in London are of disorientation. “I didn’t have a clue. My parents were very continental European and I didn’t have siblings early on. I felt isolated.” As Hitler unleashed the blitz, “every night we went down to the cellar where everybody was sleeping.”

She has since been back to the redbrick block in Notting Hill. “I rang the doorbell of the person who lived in the apartment – it was a lot smaller than I remember it. I asked a stupid question: whether the cellar still existed. They said: ‘Of course the cellar exists.’ So they took me down and I had this moment – the green paint was exactly the same. I remember the green paint.”

It was decades later that she discovered that, though she was raised a Catholic, her parentage was Jewish and many of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust, including three grandparents.

From Notting Hill, the family moved out of central London to Walton-on-Thames, where they shared a house “with some other Czechs”. The bombs fell there too, but she enjoyed “every minute” of this part of her childhood. “I went to school and we spent a lot of time in air raid shelters singing A Hundred Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall.” It was less terrifying than it might have been because “my parents had a capacity of making the abnormal seem normal”.

She became “a movie star”. The Red Cross wanted to do a film about a refugee child. “So I was the refugee child, and they gave me a pink rabbit as my pay.”

The wartime British were “very hospitable” – up to a point. “The British would say: ‘We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible dictator. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when are you going home?”

Her father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, was with the Czech government-in-exile. She recalls him refusing to take shelter from the bombers because he had to finish writing a broadcast for the BBC. After Hitler’s defeat, Korbel took the family back to their homeland in the belief that Czechoslovakia would re-establish itself as a democracy but the country was soon gripped by another form of totalitarianism. After a Soviet-backed coup installed a communist satellite regime in 1948, the family fled again, this time seeking asylum in America and settling in Colorado. “Maddy”, as her classmates called her, was now 11. In America, people welcomed immigrants by saying: “We’re so sorry your country has been taken over by a terrible system. You’re welcome here. What can we do to help you and when will you become a citizen?” She pauses for a beat, then adds: “And that was different about America at that time.”

Albright’s early work as a journalist and a foreign policy scholar drew her into politics. In 1978, she sat on the National Security Council when Jimmy Carter was President and later represented the US as the country’s Ambassador at the United Nations. In 1997, Bill Clinton made her Secretary of State, the highest government office achievable under the US constitution by someone not born in America. She was the first woman to lead US foreign policy.

The future US secretary of state Madeleine Korbel with her father, the diplomat Josef Korbel, mid 1940s.
The future US Secretary of State Madeleine Korbel with her father, Josef Korbel, photographed in America, 1945. Photograph: The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Over four years as America’s chief diplomat, her life and views were again shaped by encounters with tyranny. She engaged with Kim Jong-il, father of North Korea’s current jailer-in-chief, and found him, she recalls in her new book, cordial, courteous and “pretty normal for someone whose father’s birthday is celebrated every year as the ‘Day of the Sun’.” Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian autocrat, “did not fit the stereotype of a fascist villain” and liked to “act the innocent” even as his security forces attempted the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Hugo Chávez, the late ruler of Venezuela, was “very charismatic” and initially seemed to hold promise for his country when he supplanted “a bunch of tired old men that were very elitist”. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan first came to power in Turkey, he was a refreshing change from rule by people “who live in big houses, or occasionally the military”. “These people initially did have some feel for the working class and then power went to their heads – all of them.”

One chapter of her new book is about Vladimir Putin, whom she found to be “so cold as to be almost reptilian” but also a man of considerable, if dark, talents. “He’s very smart. He’s played a weak hand really well. He has a larger agenda which is to separate us from our allies and it begins by separating central and eastern Europe from western Europe.”

With the benefit of hindsight, she accepts that the west was slow to understand that Russians felt utterly humiliated after the cold war and ready to succumb to a nationalist strongman promising to make them great again. She recalls a Russian man complaining: “We used to be a superpower and now we’re Bangladesh with missiles.” Putin, she tells me, “has seen himself as the redeemer of that man”.

I wonder whether her first-hand encounters with despots had led her to identify any common personality traits. She laughs: “I’ll tell you – you’ll be surprised when you hear this – they seemed different when I met them.” She cites the example of Viktor Orbán, the self-styled “illiberal democrat” who rules Hungary. She first came to know him in the 1980s during Hungary’s struggle for liberation from communist dictatorship. “He was everybody’s favourite dissident. He was funded by George Soros to go to Oxford. He’s the one who started Fidesz, the youth party. The age limit for the youth party changed as he got older,” she adds with her hallmark waspishness. Orbán’s transformation in office has taken her by surprise. “I didn’t, I don’t think any of us saw this coming.”

Where we might be going is the chilling theme of Fascism: A Warning. The book is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career. The work is also an act of homage to her father who wrote books about the perils of tyranny and worried that Americans were so accustomed to liberty – so “very, very free,” he wrote – that they might take democracy for granted. She quotes Primo Levi – “Every age has its own fascism” – and makes her case with observations about the autocrats she has dealt with and brisk histories of past dictators and the horrors that they unleashed. A devil’s portrait gallery includes Benito Mussolini, the original fascist, and Adolf Hitler, the most destructive. Then there’s Donald Trump.

She agrees that we ought to be careful not to casually throw around the F-word lest we drain the potency from what should be a powerful term. “I’m not calling Trump a fascist,” she says. Yet she seems to be doing all but that when she puts him in the same company as historical fascists in a book that seeks to sound “an alarm bell” about a fascist revival.

She frequently nudges the reader to make connections between the President of the United States and past dictatorships. She reminds us who first coined the Trumpian phrase “drain the swamp”. It was drenare la palude in the original, Mussolini Italian. She quotes Hitler talking about the secret of his success: “I will tell you what has carried me to the position I have reached. Our political problems appeared complicated. The German people could make nothing of them… I…reduced them to the simplest terms. The masses realised this and followed me.” Sound familiar?

Madeleine Albright with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang,2000
Madeleine Albright with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang,2000, his first ever meeting with a US administration official. Photograph: Chien-Min Chung/AFP/Getty Images

 

I suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. “Defining fascism is difficult,” she responds. “First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.”

It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting “the people” against their “enemies”. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about “plucking a chicken feather by feather” so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.

In her book, Trump is one nasty plucker. She labels him “the first anti-democratic president in modern US history”. Those Trumpians who know their history might retort that previous American presidents have been accused of being enemies of democracy, including some who have become the most revered holders of the office. Abraham Lincoln was charged with tyranny by his opponents during the civil war. So was Franklin D Roosevelt when he was implementing the New Deal.

Trump is different, she insists. Look at his attacks on the institutions of liberal society as he Twitter-lashes the judiciary and the media. “Outrageous,” says Albright. “It was Stalin who talked about the press being the enemy of the people.

“I also think Trump does act as though he’s above the law.” He lies without shame, she says. He threatens to jail political competitors. He foments bigotry. He lavishes admiration on autocrats like Putin and by doing so encourages the worldwide drift to authoritarianism. Observe also, she adds, how Trump exploits a crowd.

“He uses rallies in a strange way. We all, most of us that are public people, have somebody interrupting our speeches. There’s always somebody yelling something. And the question is: what do you do about it? Sometimes people are just escorted out or you don’t pay any attention to it. What is fascinating in watching Trump is he loves the people yelling and he uses them so that it looks as though he is having conversations with the people on TV. Trump is, I think he’s actually really smart – evil smart, is what I think.”

The founding fathers endowed the US with a constitution that was forged to protect the country from leaders with tyrannical impulses. America has survived some dreadful presidents. When Trump is gone, does she not think it possible that we will eventually look back on him not as a crypto-dictator, but as an embarrassing spasm?

“In the book I write that there are people who say this is alarmist. It is. That’s the purpose. I’m concerned about complacency about it. This is a very deliberate warning.”

The fear that Trump induces in American liberals is matched by the alarm he arouses among the United States’ traditional allies in the democracies. From Nato to the World Trade Organisation, he threatens to rip up institutions that have ordered the planet over many decades. Albright argues that the doctrine of “America First”, which “conceives of the world as a battlefield in which every country is intent on dominating every other”, encourages a Darwinian competition of tribal nationalisms. During her time as Washington’s chief diplomat, Albright was an unabashed exponent of America as the global beacon of liberty: “the indispensable nation”, as she once called her country. Should Europeans conclude that Trumpian America has become an unreliable ally? Regretfully, she agrees.

“At the moment, it is hard to say to any European that the US is a reliable ally, which makes me furious because I do believe in the importance of American engagement. I always thought we were reliable.”

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Budapest, 2000.
With the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Budapest, 2000. Photograph: Attila Kovács/AP

 

 

True, the international architecture established in the late 1940s does require “refurbishing”. Institutions founded seven decades ago “need fixing”. Trump “does have a point” when he complains that Americans pay a lot more to sustain Nato than do the European countries, which rely on the defence pact for their security. The trouble with Trump, though, is “he sees it all as transactional, as if it were a hotel where you keep raising the price and if you want to stay there, you’re going to have to pay. That is not what it’s about.

“There’s no sin about updating these things, but I don’t understand, I truly don’t, what the purpose is to destroy the system. What is the purpose of having destruction as an ideology?”

The Trumpian rampage through the international order has been particularly challenging for Britain, which clings to a conceit that it has a special bond with the United States. Trying to navigate any sort of relationship, never mind a special one, has been a nightmare for Theresa May. This week Trump will land on these shores, where he will be greeted by hot protests on the streets and British officials in a cold sweat. “It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with the Queen since he really doesn’t like women,” remarks Albright. “He’s unbelievable to Angela Merkel.”

The Queen, who has a lifetime of experience dealing with strange and unsavoury characters, will probably handle Trump with her customary glacial implacability. May is the one facing the biggest challenge of Trump management. Can Albright, who teaches international statecraft at Georgetown University, offer the prime minister some guidance?

“I have no idea,” Albright confesses. “I don’t have advice. The device, theoretically, is to tell him how wonderful he is. And to agree with whatever he says – and that’s distasteful. He is unpredictable except when people flatter him and allow him to dominate. I know what it’s like to be in diplomatic discussions with people that you don’t respect. You do begin in some kind of civilised way, but ultimately you have to say what you think.”

Memo to Mrs May: say what you think. It may not get you anywhere with Trump, but at least you will preserve your self-respect.

Albright is a friend to the country which took in her family when she was a young girl, but believes that true friends owe you their candour. She’s clear that Brexit – “an exercise in economic masochism that Britons will long regret” – is a terrible mistake.

“I happen to think it’s a tragedy. I’m not sure how or why it happened. I think some of it was miscalculation. From an American perspective – and this is somewhat selfish and self-centred – the UK has always been our bridge to the continent and very important in all kinds of aspects.” Burning down that bridge is not sensible. “I think it’s unfortunate, I really do.” Much of politics and diplomacy is a story of “unintended consequences of decisions and this is one of the big ones”.

Had Albright had her way, the world would not be riding the wild rollercoaster that is Trump. He would have been sent back to reality TV and Hillary Clinton would be in the White House. She was a vigorous campaigner for her old friend and Albright’s passion got the better of her when she coined the phrase: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” That landed her in some trouble during the 2016 campaign. Like many of Hillary’s chums, she is defensive about the campaign’s failure and still struggling to make sense of it. “Hillary did win the popular vote,” she points out.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at a campaign event at Rundlett Middle School, in Concord, N.H., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016
Campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2016. ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” Albright said. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

 

That she did, but it is scant consolation really.

Germany has had a female leader for more than a decade. Britain is on its second female Prime Minister. A woman has never been President of the United States. Does America have a problem with women in politics?

“Must have,” she replies. “I don’t understand it, frankly. We are very good at being No 1 in many things and yet we are not in this and I don’t know the answer. Because there are certainly very qualified women.

“When my name came up to be Secretary of State,” she recalls, “you would think that I was an alien, you know. People actually said: ‘The Arabs won’t deal with a woman.’”

Her friend Hillary was, in CV terms, one of the most qualified people to run for the White House.

“Ever. No question about it. Right.”

More qualified than Trump or indeed Obama.

“I think she would have been a remarkable president. And I think that it’s very disappointing. It’s something that we all talk about. I don’t know the answer.”

At least part of the explanation for Clinton’s defeat was not to do with gender. It was failing to understand the forces powering her opponent. Clinton notoriously called his supporters “the deplorables”. Albright sounds similarly guilty of seeing the world through an elitist’s prism when she writes in her book: “Globalisation… is not an ideological choice, but a fact of life.”

Opponents retort that globalisation is an ideological choice. It was a very good choice for transnational corporations, for prosperous members of western societies, and for many developing countries which have seen their growth accelerated by free trade and the exchange of technology. Globalisation turned out to be – or has certainly come to be seen as being – a very bad choice for less affluent sections of western societies. Many folk felt dislocated and disadvantaged. Lecturing them that globalisation is just “a fact of life” – so suck it up – was surely one of the incitements for those people who voted for Trump, who chose Brexit and who support the rightwing populists surging across Europe.

“It isn’t just favouring the rich,” she insists. “Most of us are beneficiaries of globalisation, but a lot of people were not prepared for it in terms of their skill-set and we didn’t consider that enough.”

She also concedes that globalisation is “faceless” and “everybody wants to have an identity”.

“But it’s one thing to be patriotic, it’s another if my identity hates your identity and then it’s nationalism and hyper-nationalism. That’s the very dangerous part.”

Albright is a sage woman, but also one taken by mortified surprise by the turn the world has taken. In common with most liberal internationalists, she hadn’t expected the arc of history to bend in this dark direction. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, liberal capitalist democracy was thought to be irreversibly triumphant. Francis Fukuyama even wrote a book entitled The End of History.

History had other ideas. I suggest that it is not good enough for liberal internationalists to simply bewail Trump and his fellow travellers. They need to examine what they got wrong. Maybe there were too many complacent assumptions that the world had become permanently safe for democracy.

“I don’t know whether complacent [is the right word],” she says. “We were all initially enthusiastic, but then we became euphoric.” One conclusion she draws is that “democracy is obviously harder than we think.

“Democracy is not the easiest form of government. It does require attention and participation and carrying out the social contract. And it doesn’t deliver immediately. What we have to learn is how to get democracy to deliver because people want to vote and eat. But it just took me 10 minutes to explain it and that’s the problem.

“The things that are happening are genuinely, seriously bad. Some of them are really bad. They’re not to do with Trump; it is the evolution of a number of different trends. All the various problems that we have, they can’t be solved by simple slogans. But it’s easier to listen to some simple slogan.”

Albright is far from alone in worrying about the future of liberal democracy. This anxiety is felt more acutely by a woman who was born in the time of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin, who reached the peaks of international diplomacy when freedom seemed ascendant and has since observed the unraveling of so much hope. At the end of our conversation, I am left unsure whether she thinks democracy has the resilience to survive this testing time.

“You ask if I’m an optimist or a pessimist,” she responds. “I am an optimist who worries a lot.”

That is probably as sensible a position as any in today’s troubled and troubling world.

Fascism: A Warning is published by William Collins (£16.99).

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/08/madeleine-albright-fascism-is-not-an-ideology-its-a-method-interview-fascism-a-warning?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=280518&subid=13072209&CMP=GT_US_collection