Lessons from BREXIT


March 10, 2019

Lessons from BREXIT

European citizens need to learn from the Brexit impasse and apply those lessons ahead of and after the European Parliament election in May. That means embracing reforms that advance the three goals that lie at the heart of the European project.

 

PARIS – Never, since World War II, has Europe been as essential. Yet never has Europe been in so much danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of Europe, which has failed to respond to its peoples’ needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. That trap is not one of being part of the European Union. The trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it.

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Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the European market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the former border? Nationalist retrenchment offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this trap threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.

We have to stand firm, proud and lucid, in the face of this manipulation and say first of all what today’s united Europe is. It is a historic success: the reconciliation of a devastated continent in an unprecedented project of peace, prosperity and freedom. We should never forget that. And this project continues to protect us today. What country can act on its own in the face of aggressive strategies by the major powers? Who can claim to be sovereign, on their own, in the face of the digital giants?

How would we resist the crises of financial capitalism without the euro, which is a force for the entire European Union? Europe is also those thousands of projects daily that have changed the face of our regions: the school refurbished, the road built, and the long-awaited arrival of high-speed Internet access. This struggle is a daily commitment, because Europe, like peace, can never be taken for granted. I tirelessly pursue it in the name of France to take Europe forward and defend its model. We have shown that what we were told was unattainable, the creation of a European defence capability and the protection of social rights, was in fact possible.

Yet we need to do more and sooner, because there is the other trap: the trap of the status quo and resignation. Faced with the major crises in the world, citizens so often ask us, “Where is Europe? What is Europe doing?” It has become a soulless market in their eyes.

Yet Europe is not just a market. It is a project. A market is useful, but it should not detract from the need for borders that protect and values that unite. The nationalists are misguided when they claim to defend our identity by withdrawing from Europe, because it is the European civilisation that unites, frees and protects us. But those who would change nothing are also misguided, because they deny the fears felt by our peoples, the doubts that undermine our democracies. We are at a pivotal moment for our continent, a moment when together we need to politically and culturally reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world. It is the moment for European renewal. Hence, resisting the temptation of isolation and divisions, I propose we build this renewal together around three ambitions: freedom, protection and progress.

Defend Our Freedom

The European model is based on the freedom of man and the diversity of opinions and creation. Our first freedom is democratic freedom: the freedom to choose our leaders as foreign powers seek to influence our vote at each election. I propose creating a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies, which will provide each member state with European experts to protect their election processes against cyber-attacks and manipulation. In this same spirit of independence, we should also ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers. We should have European rules banish all incitements to hate and violence from the Internet, since respect for the individual is the bedrock of our civilisation of dignity.

Protect Our Continent

Founded on internal reconciliation, the EU has forgotten to look at the realities of the world. Yet no community can create a sense of belonging if it does not have bounds that it protects. The boundary is freedom in security. We therefore need to rethink the Schengen area: all those who want to be part of it should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (one asylum policy with the same acceptance and refusal rules). We will need a common border force and a European asylum office, strict control obligations and European solidarity to which each country will contribute under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security. On the issue of migration, I believe in a Europe that protects both its values and its borders.

The same standards should apply to defence. Substantial progress has been made in the last two years, but we need to set a clear course: a treaty on defence and security should define our fundamental obligations in association with NATO and our European allies: increased defence spending, a truly operational mutual defence clause, and the European Security Council with the United Kingdom on board to prepare our collective decisions.

Our borders also need to guarantee fair competition. What power in the world would accept continued trade with those who respect none of their rules? We cannot suffer in silence. We need to reform our competition policy and reshape our trade policy with penalties or a ban in Europe on businesses that compromise our strategic interests and fundamental values such as environmental standards, data protection and fair payment of taxes; and the adoption of European preference in strategic industries and our public procurement, as our American and Chinese competitors do.

Recover the Spirit of Progress

Europe is not a second-rank power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: it has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, east to west and north to south, guaranteeing the same pay in the same workplace, and a minimum European wage appropriate to each country and discussed collectively every year.

Getting back on track with progress also concerns spearheading the ecological cause. Will we be able to look our children in the eye if we do not also clear our climate debt? The EU needs to set its target – zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 – and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. This imperative needs to guide all our action: from the European Central Bank to the European Commission, from the European budget to the Investment Plan for Europe.  All our institutions need to have the climate as their mandate.

Progress and freedom are about being able to live from your work: Europe needs to look ahead to create jobs. This is why it needs not only to regulate the global digital giants by putting in place European supervision of the major platforms (prompt penalties for unfair competition, transparent algorithms, etc.), but also to finance innovation by giving the new European Innovation Council a budget on a par with the United States in order to spearhead new technological breakthroughs such as artificial intelligence.

A world-oriented Europe needs to look towards Africa

A world-oriented Europe needs to look towards Africa, with which we should enter into a covenant for the future, taking the same road and ambitiously and non-defensively supporting African development with such measures as investment, academic partnerships and education for girls.

Freedom, protection and progress. We need to build European renewal on these pillars. We cannot let nationalists without solutions exploit the people’s anger. We cannot sleepwalk through a diminished Europe. We cannot become ensconced in business as usual and wishful thinking. European humanism demands action. And everywhere, the people are standing up to be part of that change.

So, by the end of the year, let’s set up, with the representatives of the European institutions and the member states, a Conference for Europe in order to propose all the changes our political project needs, with an open mind, even to amending the treaties. This conference will need to engage with citizens’ panels and hear academics, business and labour representatives, and religious and spiritual leaders. It will define a roadmap for the EU that translates these key priorities into concrete actions. There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?

In this Europe, the peoples will really take back control of their future. In this Europe, the United Kingdom, I am sure, will find its true place.

The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the upcoming European Parliament elections and our project meaningful. It is for Europe’s citizens to decide whether Europe and the values of progress that it embodies are to be more than just a passing episode in history. This is the choice I propose: to chart together the road to European renewal.

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Emmanuel Macron is President of France.

America’s bitter polarization at home exacts a price on its credibility abroad, says Dr. Fareed Zakaria– on Hanoi Summit


March 3, 2019

America’s bitter polarization at home exacts a price on its credibility abroad, says Dr. Fareed Zakaria on Hanoi Summit

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/2/28/americas-bitter-polarization-exacts-a-price-on-its-credibility-abroad

 

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“One of the challenges with North Korea is trying to get an agreement that locks in concessions at the start, because history tells us that Pyongyang will not follow through, fully implement or honor its commitments. But, in truth, the United States does not have a great track record of honoring its international commitments, either”.–Fareed Zakaria.

It appears President Trump decided that a bad deal with North Korea was worse than no deal, a reasonable conclusion that suggests he and his team were approaching this important issue with the seriousness it deserves. One of the challenges with North Korea is trying to get an agreement that locks in concessions at the start, because history tells us that Pyongyang will not follow through, fully implement or honor its commitments. But, in truth, the United States does not have a great track record of honoring its international commitments, either.

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It’s always useful in a negotiation to put oneself in the other side’s shoes. If you were a North Korean statesman, you’d surely study the last important international agreement negotiated and signed by a U.S. president: the Iran nuclear deal. In exchange for the elimination of 98 percent of Iran’s fissile material, thousands of centrifuges and its Arak nuclear reactor, as well as the installation of cameras and inspectors everywhere, the United States agreed to waive sanctions against Iran and allow Western companies to do business with the country.

But even during President Barack Obama’s administration, Iran never really got much access to the international economic system. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explained to me on several occasions that, despite the language of the deal, the Obama administration approved barely any commercial transactions between Iran and the United States. And once Trump took office, his administration began to actively undermine and even violate it, lobbying European countries to boycott Iran and using the dollar’s power to freeze any business with Iran. Not surprisingly, support for the deal in Iran, which was sky-high, has taken a serious hit.

Or consider when Libya agreed in 2003 to “disclose and dismantle” all of its weapons of mass destruction, which it essentially followed through on. In return, President George W. Bush’s administration promised to help Libya “regain a secure and respected place among the nations” and pledged “far better relations” between the United States and Libya. Bush suggested that the United States would work to turn Libya into a “prosperous country.” Little of this happened, of course, and several years later, the Obama administration helped topple Moammar Gaddafi’s regime. I am not arguing the merits of the Libyan intervention. But if you are a North Korean negotiator and Washington is promising you security guarantees, you might find this bit of history relevant and worrying.

If the North Koreans look back honestly at their own history of negotiations with the United States, they will recognize that they repeatedly lied, cheated and broke promises. Washington’s behavior is not nearly as duplicitous, but it did make promises to Pyongyang that were never really kept.

In 1994, North Korea agreed to halt operations at its Yongbyon nuclear facility and have its spent fuel monitored by inspectors. Yongbyon was eventually to be destroyed. In return, Washington would “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations” and give North Korea two light-water reactors, plus heavy fuel oil.

North Korea took most of the steps outlined. But as scholar Leon V. Sigal pointed out on 38North.org, Washington moved slowly on its commitments, never providing the light-water reactors and failing to deliver the fuel on time. It took only modest steps to normalize relations. Pyongyang made clear that if the United States did not live up to its end of the deal, it would renege on its own obligations. Still, President Bill Clinton’s administration did not come through, and North Korea began violating the accord. When the Bush administration came to power, it scuttled the entire process and moved to a much harder line against North Korea.

These U.S. moves are part of the hyper-polarized political environment of the past quarter-century. During the Cold War, most international agreements and commitments made by one president were likely to be upheld by his successors. Though many Republicans opposed President Harry S. Truman on NATO and foreign aid, the party did not try to reverse course and wreck these policies once in power. Though candidate Bill Clinton bitterly criticized George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy, it is hard to find an area where there was a significant departure from it once he became president.

Compare that with the current environment. Trump has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he has questioned the continuing value of NATO. He has repeatedly shown that he regards every decision made by his immediate predecessor to be at least wrong, and often treasonous.

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If you were a North Korean negotiator, you would surely be wondering whether any deal made by the Trump administration would be honored or properly implemented by its successors. And you would be right to wonder. The United States’ bitter polarization at home exacts a price in the nation’s credibility and consistency abroad.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him President Trump’s efforts have exposed him to accusations of


February 20,2019

WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

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Matthew G. Whitaker, the former acting attorney general, is now under scrutiny by the House for possible perjury. CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.

Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.

On Tuesday, after The Times article published, Mr. Trump denied that he had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. “No, I don’t know who gave you that, that’s more fake news,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

 

Trump’s Public Attacks Against the Russia Investigation

President Trump has publicly criticized dozens of people and groups related to federal inquiries into contacts between his campaign and Russia, according to a New York Times analysis of nearly every public statement or Twitter post that he has made while in office.

 

It is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy — a campaign to create a narrative of a president hounded by his “deep state” foes. The new Democratic majority in the House, and the prospect of a wave of investigations on Capitol Hill this year, will test whether the strategy shores up Mr. Trump’s political support or puts his presidency in greater peril. The president has spent much of his time venting publicly about there being “no collusion” with Russia before the 2016 election, which has diverted attention from a growing body of evidence that he has tried to impede the various investigations.

Julie O’Sullivan, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said she believed there was ample public evidence that Mr. Trump had the “corrupt intent” to try to derail the Mueller investigation, the legal standard for an obstruction of justice case.

But this is far from a routine criminal investigation, she said, and Mr. Mueller will have to make judgments about the effect on the country of making a criminal case against the president. Democrats in the House have said they will wait for Mr. Mueller to finish his work before making a decision about whether the president’s behavior warrants impeachment.

In addition to the Mueller investigation, there are at least two other federal inquiries that touch the president and his advisers — the Manhattan investigation focused on the hush money payments made by Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and an inquiry examining the flow of foreign money to the Trump inaugural committee.

The president’s defenders counter that most of Mr. Trump’s actions under scrutiny fall under his authority as the head of the executive branch. They argue that the Constitution gives the president sweeping powers to hire and fire, to start and stop law enforcement proceedings, and to grant presidential pardons to friends and allies. A sitting American president cannot be indicted, according to current Justice Department policy.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers add this novel response: The president has been public about his disdain for the Mueller investigation and other federal inquiries, so he is hardly engaged in a conspiracy. He fired one F.B.I. director and considered firing his replacement. He humiliated his first attorney general for being unable to “control” the Russia investigation and installed a replacement, Mr. Whitaker, who has told people he believed his job was to protect the President. But that, they say, is Donald Trump being Donald Trump.

 

 

In other words, the President’s brazen public behavior might be his best defense.

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Mr. Trump tried to shape the narrative around the resignation of his first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.Credit Tom Brenner for The New York Times

 

The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign aided the effort presented the new White House with its first crisis after only 25 days. The president immediately tried to contain the damage.

It was Feb. 14, 2017, and Mr. Trump and his advisers were in the Oval Office debating how to explain the resignation of Mr. Flynn, the national security adviser, the previous night. Mr. Flynn, who had been a top campaign adviser to Mr. Trump, was under investigation by the F.B.I. for his contacts with Russians and secret foreign lobbying efforts for Turkey.

The Justice Department had already raised questions that Mr. Flynn might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading White House officials about the Russian contacts, and inside the White House there was a palpable fear that the Russia investigation could consume the early months of a new administration.

As the group in the Oval Office talked, one of Mr. Trump’s advisers mentioned in passing what Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, then the speaker of the House, had told reporters — that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Flynn to resign.

It was unclear where Mr. Ryan had gotten that information, but Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Ryan’s words. “That sounds better,” the president said, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. Trump turned to the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, who was preparing to brief the news media.

“Say that,” Mr. Trump ordered.

But was that true? Mr. Spicer pressed.

“Say that I asked for his resignation,” Mr. Trump repeated.

“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said over lunch that day, according to a new book by Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a longtime Trump ally.

Mr. Christie was taken aback. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who was also at the lunch, chimed in, according to Mr. Christie’s book: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”

As Mr. Trump was lunching with Mr. Christie, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office met with Mr. Spicer about what he should say from the White House podium about what was a sensitive national security investigation. But when Mr. Spicer’s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements — some bigger than others — and ended up compiling them all in a memo.

The lawyers’ main concern was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct.

Mr. Spicer later told people he stuck to talking points that he was given by the counsel’s office, and that White House lawyers expressed concern only about how he had described the thoroughness of the internal inquiry into Mr. Flynn. The memo written by the lawyers said that Mr. Spicer was presented with a longer list of his misstatements. The White House never publicly corrected the record.

 

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Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, overstated how thoroughly the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn. CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

Later that day, Mr. Trump confronted the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, in the Oval Office. The president told him that Mr. Spicer had done a great job explaining how the White House had handled the firing. Then he asked Mr. Comey to end the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, and said that Mr. Flynn was a good guy.

 

Mr. Comey responded, according to a memo he wrote at the time, that Mr. Flynn was indeed a good guy. But he said nothing about ending the F.B.I. investigation.

By March, Mr. Trump was in a rage that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from the Russia inquiry because investigators were looking into the campaign, of which Mr. Sessions had been a part. Mr. Trump was also growing increasingly frustrated with Mr. Comey, who refused to say publicly that the president was not under investigation.

Mr. Trump finally fired Mr. Comey in May. But the President and the White House gave conflicting accounts of their reasoning for the dismissal, which served only to exacerbate the President’s legal exposure.

A week after the firing, The Times disclosed that the president had asked Mr. Comey to end the Flynn investigation. The next day, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, appointed Mr. Mueller, a Republican, as special counsel.

Instead of ending the Russia investigation by firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump had drastically raised the stakes.

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Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, recused himself from the Russia investigation, a decision that greatly angered the president.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

 

Mr. Mueller’s appointment fueled Mr. Trump’s anger and what became increasingly reckless behavior — setting off a string of actions over the summer of 2017 that could end up as building blocks in a case by Congress that the President engaged in a broad effort to thwart the investigation.

On Twitter and in news media interviews, Mr. Trump tried to pressure investigators and undermine the credibility of potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation.

 

He directed much of his venom at Mr. Sessions, who had recused himself in March from overseeing the Russia investigation because of contacts he had during the election with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

The president humiliated Mr. Sessions at every turn, and stunned Washington when he said during an interview with The Times that he never would have named Mr. Sessions attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would step aside from the investigation.

Privately, Mr. Trump tried to remove Mr. Sessions — he said he wanted an attorney general who would protect him — but did not fire him, in part because White House aides dodged the president’s orders to demand his resignation. The president even called his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, over the Fourth of July weekend to ask him to pressure Mr. Sessions to resign. Mr. Lewandowski was noncommittal and never acted on the request.

Trump Has Publicly Attacked the Russia Investigation More Than 1,100 Times

President Trump has publicly criticized federal investigations, opening him up to possible obstruction of justice charges.

 

One of Mr. Trump’s lawyers also reached out that summer to the lawyers for two of his former aides — Paul Manafort and Mr. Flynn — to discuss possible pardons. The discussions raised questions about whether the president was willing to offer pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the Mueller investigation.

The president even tried to fire Mr. Mueller himself, a move that could have brought an end to the investigation. Just weeks after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, the president insisted that he ought to be fired because of perceived conflicts of interest. Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, who would have been responsible for carrying out the order, refused and threatened to quit.

The president eventually backed off.

 

Republican Representatives Lee Zeldin, left, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan launched an offensive against the Mueller investigation .
CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

Sitting in the Delta Sky Lounge during a layover at Atlanta’s airport in July 2017, Representative Matt Gaetz, a first-term Republican from the Florida Panhandle, decided it was time to attack. Mr. Gaetz, then 35, believed that the president’s allies in Congress needed a coordinated strategy to fight back against an investigation they viewed as deeply unfair and politically biased.

He called Representative Jim Jordan, a conservative Republican from Ohio, and told him the party needed “to go play offense,” Mr. Gaetz recalled in an interview.

 

The two men believed that Republican leaders, who publicly praised the appointment of Mr. Mueller, had been beaten into a defensive crouch by the unending chaos and were leaving Democrats unchecked to “pistol whip” the president with constant accusations about his campaign and Russia.

So they began to investigate the investigators. Mr. Trump and his lawyers enthusiastically encouraged the strategy, which, according to some polls, convinced many Americans that the country’s law enforcement apparatus was determined to bring down the President.

Within days of their conversation, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Jordan drafted a letter to Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein, the first call for the appointment of a second special counsel to essentially reinvestigate Hillary Clinton for her handling of her emails while secretary of state — the case had ended in the summer of 2016 — as well as the origins of the F.B.I.’s investigation of Mr. Flynn and other Trump associates.

The letter itself, with the signatures of only 20 House Republicans, gained little traction at first. But an important shift was underway: At a time when Mr. Trump’s lawyers were urging him to cooperate with Mr. Mueller and to tone down his Twitter feed, the president’s fiercest allies in Congress and the conservative news media were busy trying to flip the script on the federal law enforcement agencies and officials who began the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Jordan began huddling with like-minded Republicans, sometimes including Representative Mark Meadows, a press-savvy North Carolinian close to Mr. Trump, and Representative Devin Nunes of California, the head of the House Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Nunes, the product of a dairy farming family in California’s Central Valley, had already emerged as one of Mr. Trump’s strongest allies in Congress. He worked closely with Mr. Flynn during the Trump transition after the 2016 election, and he had a history of battling the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, which he sometimes accused of coloring their analysis for partisan reasons. In the spring of 2017, Mr. Nunes sought to bolster Mr. Trump’s false claim that President Barack Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap on Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Using Congress’s oversight powers, the Republican lawmakers succeeded in doing what Mr. Trump could not realistically do on his own: force into the open some of the government’s most sensitive investigative files — including secret wiretaps and the existence of an F.B.I. informant — that were part of the Russia inquiry.

House Republicans opened investigations into the F.B.I.’s handling of the Clinton email case and a debunked Obama-era uranium deal indirectly linked to Mrs. Clinton. The lawmakers got a big assist from the Justice Department, which gave them private texts recovered from two senior F.B.I. officials who had been on the Russia case. The officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — repeatedly criticized Mr. Trump in their texts, which were featured in a loop on Fox News and became a centerpiece of an evolving and powerful conservative narrative about a cabal inside the F.B.I. and Justice Department to take down Mr. Trump.

The President cheered on the lawmakers on Twitter, in interviews and in private, urging Mr. Gaetz on Air Force One in December 2017 and in subsequent phone calls to keep up the House Republicans’ oversight work. He was hoping for fair treatment from Mr. Mueller, Mr. Trump told Mr. Gaetz in one of the calls just after the congressman appeared on Fox News, but that did not preclude him from encouraging his allies’ scrutiny of the investigation.

Later, when Mr. Nunes produced a memo alleging that the F.B.I. had abused its authority in spying on a former Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, Mr. Trump called Mr. Nunes a “Great American Hero” in a tweet. (The F.B.I. said it had “grave concerns” about the memo’s accuracy.)

Mr. Trump eventually shifted away from relatively quiet cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigators toward a targeted and relentless frontal attack on their credibility and impartiality. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
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Mr. Trump eventually shifted away from relatively quiet cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigators toward a targeted and relentless frontal attack on their credibility and impartiality.
Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

The President became an active participant in the effort to attack American law enforcement. He repeatedly leaned on administration officials on behalf of the lawmakers — urging Mr. Rosenstein and other law enforcement leaders to flout procedure and share sensitive materials about the open case with Congress. As president, Mr. Trump has ultimate authority over information that passes through the government, but his interventions were unusual.

By the spring of 2018, Mr. Nunes zeroed in on new targets. In one case, he threatened to hold Mr. Rosenstein in contempt of Congress or even try to impeach him if the documents he wanted were not turned over, including the file used to open the Russia case. In another, he pressed the Justice Department for sensitive information about a trusted F.B.I. informant used in the Russia investigation, a Cambridge professor named Stefan Halper — even as intelligence officials said that the release of the information could damage relationships with important allies.

The president chimed in, accusing the F.B.I., without evidence, of planting a spy in his campaign. “SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!” Mr. Trump wrote, turning the term into a popular hashtag.

Most Senate Republicans tried to ignore the House tactics, and not all House Republicans who participated in the investigations agreed with the scorched-earth approach. Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and a former federal prosecutor who had led Republicans in the Benghazi investigation, felt that figures like Mr. Gaetz and, in some cases, Mr. Nunes, were hurting their own cause with a sloppy, overhyped campaign that damaged Congress’s credibility.

 

Former Representative Thomas J. Rooney of Florida, a Republican who sat on the Intelligence Committee and retired last year, was similarly critical. “The efforts to tag Mueller as a witch hunt are a mistake,” he said in an interview. “The guy is an American hero. He is somebody who has always spouted the rule of law in what our country is about.”

But Mr. Gaetz makes no apologies.

“Do I think it’s right that our work in the Congress has aided in the president’s defense?” he asked, before answering his own question.

“Yeah, I think it is right.”

Ultimately, his strategy was successful in softening the ground for a shift in the president’s legal strategy — away from relatively quiet cooperation with Mr. Mueller’s investigators and toward a targeted and relentless frontal attack on their credibility and impartiality.

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Mr. Trump hired Rudolph W. Giuliani as his personal lawyer last year .CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Last April, Mr. Trump hired Rudolph W. Giuliani, his longtime friend and a famously combative former mayor of New York, as his personal lawyer and ubiquitous television attack dog. A new war had begun.

In jettisoning his previous legal team — which had counseled that Mr. Trump should cooperate with the investigation — the President decided to combine a legal strategy with a public relations campaign in an aggressive effort to undermine the credibility of both Mr. Mueller and the Justice Department.

Mr. Mueller was unlikely to indict Mr. Trump, the president’s advisers believed, so the real danger to his presidency was impeachment — a political act that Congress would probably carry out only with broad public support. If Mr. Mueller’s investigation could be discredited, then impeachment might be less likely.

Months of caustic presidential tweets and fiery television interviews by Mr. Giuliani unfolded. The former mayor accused Mr. Mueller, without evidence, of bias and ignoring facts to carry out an anti-Trump agenda. He called one of Mr. Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, a “complete scoundrel.”

Behind the scenes, Mr. Giuliani was getting help from a curious source: Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Manafort, who had been Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, had agreed to cooperate with the special counsel after being convicted of financial crimes in an attempt to lessen a potentially lengthy prison sentence. Mr. Downing shared details about prosecutors’ lines of questioning, Mr. Giuliani admitted late last year.

It was a highly unusual arrangement — the lawyer for a cooperating witness providing valuable information to the president’s lawyer at a time when his client remained in the sights of the special counsel’s prosecutors. The arrangement angered Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who questioned what Mr. Manafort was trying to gain from the arrangement.

The attacks on the Mueller investigation appeared to have an effect. Last summer, polling showed a 14-point uptick in the percentage of Americans polled who disapproved of how Mr. Mueller was handling the inquiry. “Mueller is now slightly more distrusted than trusted, and Trump is a little ahead of the game,” Mr. Giuliani said during an interview in August.

“So I think we’ve done really well,” Mr. Giuliani added. “And my client’s happy.”

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to two women who said they had sex with Mr. Trump.CreditAndres Kudacki for The New York Times
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Michael D. Cohen, the President’s former personal lawyer, told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to two women who said they had sex with Mr. Trump 
Credit Andres Kudacki for The New York Times

But Mr. Giuliani and his client had a serious problem, which they were slow to comprehend.

In April, the F.B.I. raided the Manhattan office and residences of Mr. Cohen — the president’s lawyer and fixer — walking off with business records, emails and other documents dating back years. At first, Mr. Trump was not concerned.

The president told advisers that Mr. Rosenstein assured him at the time that the Cohen investigation had nothing to do with him. In the president’s recounting, Mr. Rosenstein told him that the inquiry in New York was about Mr. Cohen’s business dealings, that it did not involve the president and that it was not about Russia. Since then, Mr. Trump has asked his advisers if Mr. Rosenstein was deliberately misleading him to keep him calm.

Mr. Giuliani initially portrayed Mr. Cohen as “honest,” and the President praised him publicly. But Mr. Cohen soon told prosecutors in New York how Mr. Trump had ordered him during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of women who claimed they had sex with Mr. Trump. In a separate bid for leniency, Mr. Cohen told Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors about Mr. Trump’s participation in negotiations during the height of the presidential campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

 

Mr. Trump was now battling twin investigations that seemed to be moving ever close to him. And Mr. Cohen, once the president’s fiercest defender, was becoming his chief tormentor.

In a court appearance in August, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty and told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to the women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Mr. Cohen’s descriptions of Mr. Trump’s actions made the president, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator and raised the prospect of the president being charged after he leaves office. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, who in January became the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the matter, said the implied offense was probably impeachable.

The president struck back, launching a volley of tweets that savaged Mr. Cohen and his family — insinuating that Mr. Cohen’s father-in-law had engaged in unexamined criminal activity. He called Mr. Cohen a “rat.” The messages infuriated Democratic lawmakers, who claimed the president was trying to threaten and intimidate a witness before testimony Mr. Cohen planned before Congress.

“He’s only been threatened by the truth,” the president responded.

As the prosecutors closed in, Mr. Trump felt a more urgent need to gain control of the investigation.

He made the call to Mr. Whitaker to see if he could put Mr. Berman in charge of the New York investigation. The inquiry is run by Robert Khuzami, a career prosecutor who took over after Mr. Berman, whom Mr. Trump appointed, recused himself because of a routine conflict of interest.

What exactly Mr. Whitaker did after the call is unclear, but there is no evidence that he took any direct steps to intervene in the Manhattan investigation. He did, however, tell some associates at the Justice Department that the prosecutors in New York required “adult supervision.”

 
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William P. Barr was sworn in as attorney general on Thursday. Many officials at the Justice Department hope he will try to change the Trump administration’s combative tone toward the department, as well as toward the F.B.I.
C Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

Second, Mr. Trump moved on to a new attorney general, William P. Barr, whom Mr. Trump nominated for the job in part because of a memo Mr. Barr wrote last summer making a case that a sitting American president cannot be charged with obstruction of justice for acts well within his power — like firing an F.B.I. director.

 

A president cannot be found to have broken the law, Mr. Barr argued, if he was exercising his executive powers to fire subordinates or use his “complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding.”

The memo might have ingratiated Mr. Barr to his future boss, but Mr. Barr is also respected among the rank and file in the Justice Department. Many officials there hope he will try to change the Trump administration’s combative tone toward the department, as well as toward the F.B.I.

Whether it is too late is another question. Mr. Trump’s language, and allegations of “deep state” excesses, are now embedded in the political conversation, used as a cudgel by the president’s supporters.

This past December, days before Mr. Flynn was to be sentenced for lying to the F.B.I., his lawyers wrote a memo to the judge suggesting that federal agents had tricked the former national security adviser into lying. The judge roundly rejected that argument, and on sentencing day, he excoriated Mr. Flynn for his crimes.

The argument about F.B.I. trickery did, however, appear to please the one man who holds great power over Mr. Flynn’s future — the constitutional power to pardon.

“Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,” Mr. Trump tweeted cheerily on the morning of the sentencing.

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Has Publicly Attacked the Russia Investigation More Than 1,100 Times

Thailand’s misstep on the way back towards democracy


February 18, 2019

Thailand’s misstep on the way back towards democracy

By Editorial Board, ANU

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/18/thailands-misstep-on-the-way-back-towards-democracy/

Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, the elder sister of Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Picture: AFP

Last week, Thailand’s upcoming elections took a bizarre turn when Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (pic above), Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, was registered as a prime ministerial candidate by Thai Raksa Chart, a Thai political party affiliated with the exiled billionaire and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The King swiftly condemned the move as unconstitutional and an inappropriate interference of the monarchy in Thai political affairs. But both interventions on the way to the 24 March elections leave many questions about the country’s transition from military rule along the road back towards democracy.

Image result for Thai democracy

By most reckoning, Thailand is the second most important member of ASEAN. Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second largest economy although its growth rate, which had been running at 6.5 per cent before martial law was imposed, is now languishing at under 1 per cent. Its people are more prosperous than the population-large Indonesia and, although stalled in the middle income trap, its economy includes the most advanced industrial production networks in Southeast Asia and is highly integrated into the East Asian economy.

Thailand’s economy is flexible and globally connected. Its production networks enhance regional productivity and efficiency. ASEAN efforts at regionalising its market and production depend on re-igniting Thailand’s success — positioned as it was at the leading edge of Southeast Asian modern industrial development. Its political troubles of the past half-decade have posed the usual issues for international investor confidence for Thailand itself, but they’ve also raised serious issues about its ability and commitment to deal with ASEAN’s challenges in an uncertain world economy and the new shape of geopolitics in the region.

This year, Thailand chairs the ASEAN group and in that position it will play a crucial role in trying to frame the region’s response to perhaps the most testing international and economic environment that the regional organisation has confronted in the more than 50 years since it was founded. Thailand’s return to democracy after the coup five years ago is in part preparation for the leadership role for which it now has responsibility.

At its roots, the fracture of Thai political stability five years ago was a consequence of the nation’s failure to build a stable consensus about how to distribute political and economic power across society, ordered around the monarchy, the military and bureaucratic elite, and the people, gradually enfranchised through elections after the student uprisings in 1973. The restoration of a measure of democracy this time round depends on the commitment of the most powerful interests in the nation, including the palace and the army, to respect electoral mandates. If things go badly wrong again, Thailand — one of the most successful societies in Asia and a society that is comfortable with its positive international and regional standing — will not only find it more difficult to re-establish its place back on the perch, it will weaken ASEAN’s new determination to assert its centrality in regional affairs.

One view is that Thailand can manage its regional responsibilities, as chair of ASEAN, and continuing political turmoil at the same time. There will be no repeat of the 2009 episode when protesters forced the cancellation of that year’s ASEAN Summit and badly dented ASEAN’s international standing. That’s probably a sanguine view of Thailand and ASEAN’s situation today. The region and the organisation are under intense pressure and searing critical examination. If Thailand’s missteps along the road towards democracy spill over into uncertainties about the process of setting a new strategic direction for ASEAN, the costs will be non-trivial.

The monarchy appears to have shown decisiveness and appealed to worthy principle in dealing with the fiasco created by Princess Ubolratana’s unusual entry into Thai politics via Thaksin’s clumsy tactic. Yet our first lead piece this week by Patrick Jory speculates that the King may have had knowledge of his sister’s and Thaksin’s move. Were that so, it would forebode continuing febrility in the relationship between the monarchy and the bureaucratic elite.

On coronation, it’s believed, the King could in fact extend political amnesties to cement the progress of constitutional monarchy under his reign. If that extended to Thaksin, however, there would certainly be further trouble down the track. Meanwhile, the role of the military and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be decisive. He was nominated as a prime ministerial candidate by the Phalang Pracharat Party at the same time as Princess Ubolratana’s spectacular flameout. Although this was not unexpected, it raises difficult questions. Prayut’s nomination for prime minister by Phalang Pracharat can be argued to compromise the military’s interest in respecting the electoral mandate. The appointment of senators (who have a vote with elected parliamentarians on the choice of prime minister) is by the National Council for Peace and Order of which Prayut’s chair. Senate votes could carry the day in the likely event that there is no decisive majority outcome from the popular electoral vote.

In our second lead piece this week, Greg Raymond canvasses these and other political problems in Thailand today.

‘Much is still to play out,’ says Raymond, ‘but there are reasons to think that both sides of politics may see it in their best interests to act with restraint. One of the beneficiaries of what has occurred is without doubt Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’. Prayut looks like he has a strong chance of being elected prime minister. He needs to secure 126 seats from a coalition of his own and other smaller parties, and command virtually all of the 250-member Senate (as is expected given senators are appointed by the junta) to get a winnable 376 seats to ensure his installation as prime minister.

But political emotions are inevitably running high and Thaksin’s might not be the only misstep. Were the military to cancel the election in the light of what has happened, or take excessively punitive measures against the Thai Raksa Chart party, it could trigger unrest and make a volatile situation more so. The Pheu Thai Party, the main Thaksin-affiliated party, is still in the contest if it can preserve its cool and insulate itself from whatever happens to the Thai Raksa Chart party, including possible dissolution.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Vice Rector of Thammasat University, has urged Prime Minister Prayut to stand back and withdraw from the Prime ministerial contest in order to avoid a conflict of interest for the National Council for Peace and Order in its role in the appointment of senators. That would be an act of great statesmanship, but an unlikely turn of events. There is quite a way to go before Thailand restores its rank among the democracies and many uncertainties along the path over the next several months.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

 

Can a “No-Deal” Brexit Be Avoided?


February 4, 2019brexit people's voice

Can a “No-Deal” Brexit Be Avoided?

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s party is divided, her cabinet is split, and perhaps half its members are jostling to succeed her. To ensure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union, her government has only one option.

Image result for theresa may

 

EDINBURGH – It is a near-tragedy that the United States and the United Kingdom – the two countries most identified with long-established stable constitutional frameworks – are now ranked among the world’s most dysfunctional democracies.

In the past, when Britain’s Parliament faced crises and appeared deadlocked, it proved capable of breaking the stalemate. Over two centuries, battles over electoral reform, the Corn Laws, free trade, the House of Lords, and the Irish question were eventually resolved by reform and compromise.

But now an all-consuming two-and-a-half-year debate over the UK’s relationship with Europe has overwhelmed Westminster and consumed Whitehall’s time, energy, and patience. And as the March 29 Brexit deadline approaches, neither the government nor Parliament seems capable of ending the impasse they have created.

The latest government initiatives – to be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday – simply show that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. A week of “consultation” has been at best a farcical exercise in hearing but not listening, by a prime minister painted into a corner behind her own red lines. Her party is divided, her cabinet is split, with perhaps half its members now jostling to succeed her. May’s withdrawal agreement was rejected by a record-breaking 230-vote majority, and Tuesday’s proceedings are likely to reveal that there is still no majority in Parliament for any policy option other than avoiding a “no-deal” Brexit.

At this point, it is virtually impossible to legislate the seven complex Acts and hundreds of Statutory Instruments required by the withdrawal agreement in the 32 parliamentary workdays scheduled before March 29. But, most worryingly of all, the UK not only has a government that is unable to lead, but also a public that now seems unwilling to be led.

At no point in this grim process have any of May’s proposals enjoyed the support of more than one-quarter of the public. According to a poll commissioned by Hope Not Hate and Best for Britain, more people than ever – 68%, and probably still rising – now feel that no political party speaks for them. The disconnect is now so great, the mistrust so deeply felt, that accusations of “betrayal” and “treason” have become everyday language. Remain supporters claim that the 2016 referendum was won by lies, misuse of stolen data, and criminal breaches of electoral law. Leave supporters believe the promise of a clean break with Europe has been broken.

If, as may happen, a messy last-minute compromise deal is conjured behind closed doors, the public will feel shut out from a decision with far-reaching effects on their lives, and people’s trust in politicians may never recover.

So, it is clear that Britain cannot end the deadlock, repair the shattered trust, or heal a divided country without re-engaging the public in the solution. The dialogue Britain now needs is one not just between Parliament and government, but between our political elites and the British people. Respondents to the same recent Hope Not Hate poll agreed by almost two-to-one with the proposition that, “It would be better to … pause the process and seek a consensus by gathering ordinary people together to discuss the options.”

It is now high time for politicians to do what should have been done at the outset: bring the British people into their confidence and be honest with them that the search for a quick fix is over. “In or out” sounds simple. But even the hardest of hard-line Brexiteers who want “out” remain keen to buy and sell to EU countries and to travel freely to and from Europe. And that requires the complex supply chains serving industries like aviation and car manufacturing; landing rights and road traffic regulations; and environmental and animal health standards. Even supplies of life-saving medications as basic as insulin would be imperiled by a no-deal Brexit.

Replacing one set of complex treaty arrangements with another is a vast undertaking. And simplistic comparisons, such as with a divorce – after which partners may never communicate again – or with leaving a golf club (while insisting on changing its rules), simply do not apply.

For more than a half-century, since then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan prepared for the UK’s first membership application in 1961, Europe has been the subject of unending debate. Yet there have been only two in-depth examinations of what being part of Europe means to Britain: the reports MacMillan commissioned and the Labour government’s 2003 studies – 23 volumes of them – on the case for and against abandoning the pound and joining the euro.

Fact-based studies like these are needed now more than ever. So, on Tuesday, Parliament should vote not only to extend the Brexit deadline, but also to consider ushering in a series of Citizens’ Assemblies. With public hearings in each region of the UK, supported by Parliament’s Select Committees, a representative sample of electors should consider the facts, not least the issues that dominated the referendum debate: who controls the UK’s borders and laws.

Such consultations should be followed by a reconsideration in Parliament of our European options. Then, if it is agreed that the situation has changed, Parliament will have the option of a renegotiation with the EU, followed by a referendum to give the entire electorate the final say.

Such public hearings have been conducted successfully from California to Scandinavia to Australia, and most recently – and to great acclaim – in advance of the abortion referendum in Ireland. There, an issue that could have been hijacked by extremists on both sides became the subject of a civilized debate in which people of devout faith and resolute feminists stood their ground, listened, and came to respect each other’s positions. In the end, those who lost the vote did not dispute the referendum’s verdict.

Britain can learn from this, and I sense that – freed for the time being from the binary yes/no choices of the past – the British people could unite around the proposition that the situation has changed since 2016, and find common ground. Such a breakthrough is needed for another, more urgent, reason: the alternative, a no-deal Brexit, would lead to lost jobs, reduced trade, panic and stockpiling, and highways transformed into truck parking lots as ports along the English Channel seize up.

Political deadlock in the US and the UK has been causing widespread chaos. But the two countries’ egregious failures of statecraft may have very different consequences. Presidencies come and go, and the resilience of America’s carefully crafted constitution will prevail. But if the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal, its marginalization, diminution, and decline could be felt for decades to come.

How Deng and his heirs misunderstood Singapore


February 3, 2019

How Deng and his heirs misunderstood Singapore

 

https://www.newmandala.org/how-deng-and-his-heirs-misunderstood-singapore/

 

Image result for deng xiaoping and lee kuan yew

As official China celebrates the four decades of “reform and opening” that began in late 1978 to early 1979, it is instructive to recall the role Singapore played in this process. The fulsome eulogies for Lee Kuan Yew offered by Chinese officials in 2015, beginning with Xi Jinping himself (who has been noticeably less enthusiastic in his praise for Deng Xiaoping given China’s top leader’s “family feud” over who deserves the most credit for the reforms), are just the most obvious indication that Lee and the “Singapore model” more generally have played (quite literally) an oversized role in China’s rapid transition from Maoism to “Market-Leninism”. Appropriately, Lee was honoured late last year as one of the foreigners who helped China most in its reform process.

Image result for deng xiaoping and lee kuan yew

Ezra Vogel’s his monumental 2011 biography of Deng

In November 1978 Deng, newly installed as China’s paramount leader, visited Singapore. Ostensibly the trip was part of a diplomatic campaign by China against what it considered a growing threat from Soviet-backed Vietnam. But in Singapore, Deng instead became obsessed with the city-state’s purported transformation from a backwater fishing village to a leading global city under Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party’s (PAP) rule.

Image result for deng xiaoping deng's biography by ezra vogel

In his welcoming remarks, Lee stressed that Singapore’s ethnic Chinese citizens were the sons and daughters of uneducated, landless peasants from Southern China, leading Lee to suggest, as former Foreign minister George Yeo has recently phrased it, if Singapore with its “poorly-educated coolies could make good, how much better mainland China could be if the right policies were adopted.” Deng showed great respect for Lee (going so far as to not smoke in the presence of the fastidious Lee despite the Singapore leader providing him with a spittoon in a well-ventilated room) as he had inherited a broken system that he was quickly trying to fix. In his comments Deng endorsed the (exaggerated) story of Singapore’s miraculous metamorphosis.

Crucially, Deng and Lee developed a special relationship during Deng’s short visit. Both were anti-colonial leaders at the forefront of their countries’ revolutionary movements and committed to political order over chaos. Ezra Vogel, in his monumental 2011 biography of Deng, comments that:

“Deng admired what Lee had accomplished in Singapore, and Lee admired how Deng was dealing with problems in China. Before Deng’s visit to Singapore, the Chinese press had referred to Singaporeans as the ‘running dogs of American imperialism.’ A few weeks after Deng visited Singapore, however, this description of Singapore disappeared from the Chinese press. Instead, Singapore was described as a place worth studying .…. Deng found orderly Singapore an appealing model for reform, and he was ready to send people there to learn about city planning, public management, and controlling corruption.”

Unlike other Chinese party leaders and academics who, as Kai Yang and Stephan Ortmann have shown, were looking at a variety of potential models such as Sweden (seen then to represent a “‘third way’ between Communism and capitalism” and symbolising “the ideals of social equity and harmony”), Deng was single-mindedly focused on Singapore, a fascination that was initially quite idiosyncratic. He was searching for a model that both legitimated party rule and was adaptable to the country’s rapid industrialisation. Deng’s articulation of the “Four Cardinal Principles” in 1979 showed that he still adhered to party orthodoxy in regard to repressing political dissent and reaffirming the party’s monopoly on power. But Deng was also concerned with how the party could guide China through state-led capitalist growth. In this regard, Deng left little doubt his thinking was closer to Lee’s than Karl Marx’s.

Yet the example of Singapore became central to the Chinese regime’s efforts to legitimise authoritarian rule only after collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European state socialist satellite states and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Deng’s endorsement of Singapore as a model during his early 1992 “southern tour”, undertaken to restart the reform process, led to an outbreak of “Singapore fever” and an obsession with learning from Singapore among Chinese governing elite and academics. In quick follow up to Deng’s praise, a high level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegation was sent to Singapore, which quickly produced by book about the city-state that was distributed to all party branches. Hundreds of official trips followed, with Singapore setting up various programs to accommodate the influx of Chinese visitors such as the “Mayor’s Class” at Nanyang Technological University, attended by thousands of mid-level mainland officials.

An authoritarian path to modernity

It has been difficult for China to find examples of a successful combination of centralised authoritarian rule with effective and corruption-free government in a modern society anywhere else in today’s world besides Singapore. Besides the tiny sultanate of Brunei, Singapore is the only high-income country with a non-democratic regime in East Asia and arguably the only clear case globally, as oil-dependent absolute monarchies are rich but not “modern” in most understandings of the term. China’s observers also tend to see Singapore as “Chinese” and Confucian-influenced (ignoring its distinctive national identity and multi-ethnic character), making it seem more culturally appropriate for emulation.

Although Singapore remains a stand-alone example of high income, non-petroleum reliant “authoritarian modernism”, there is historical precedent for the attempt to remain authoritarian while successfully modernising in East Asia. Framed this way, Singapore is much less a “lonely” example of authoritarian modernity than it is a continuation of a historical trend. The “Prussian path” of German authoritarian-led development was followed by Meiji reformers and this model was later diffused throughout East Asia. Singapore is a particularly important example of this phenomenon not only because it wanted to “learn from Japan” (a government campaign in the early 1980s in which Japan had served as an ideological device used to maintain political control and manage social change that accompanied the upgrading of the country’s economy) and constructed a reactionary culturalist discourse (the “Asian values” debate of the 1990s) to help justify continued electoral authoritarian rule, but also because it became the chief model for Deng’s post-Maoist developmentalist leadership.

The chief “lesson” Chinese experts have derived from Singapore’s fight against corruption is the importance of a committed leadership. But this analysis ignores the significance of the rule of law in Singapore, despite its being a tool to “constrain dissent” and increase the PAP’s “discretionary political power”. Theoretically, the PAP is not above the law, while the CCP claims primacy over any laws (euphemistically called “rule by law”), with China’s top judge recently denouncing judicial independence as a “false Western ideal”. By viewing determined leadership as the main lesson from Singapore, while at the same time rejecting an effective and independent legal system which was key to the city-state’s success in combating corruption, the Chinese leadership has picked “lessons” that confirm their own policy style while ignoring others that could potentially raise critical questions about it.

In many important ways, from country size to political “DNA” (i.e. the legacies of totalitarianism in post-Mao China compared to Westminster-style parliamentary institutions in Singapore), the two nations are simply too different to allow for any meaningful policy transfer. Moreover, Chinese observers have largely seen what they want to see: a one-party state ruled by wise leaders and built on Confucian principles which is successful and legitimate.

Rather, the key significance of the Singapore model for China has been primarily as a form of ideological confirmation, as it has provided an alternative telos for China as it modernises. Singapore shows what China can become: a highly modern but still one-party state undertaking carefully calibrated reforms. Thus, small though it is, Singapore has played an outsized role in reinforcing the CCP’s leadership’s belief that it can avoid the “modernisation trap” and remain resiliently authoritarian during modernisation and even after it successfully modernises.

Growing out of the “Singapore model”

But more recently China seems to have moved away from adopting Singapore’s “soft authoritarian” style of rule. A recent book by David Shambaugh claims that gradualist political reforms by Xi Jinping’s predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, albeit within a continued authoritarian framework, were “intended to open up the system with carefully limited political reforms,” seeking to “manage political change rather than resist it.” By contrast, Xi’s recent widespread crackdown on dissent has undermining hopes of further, however constrained, political liberalisation. Shambaugh regrets that Singapore’s semi-competitive system, with a dominant party legitimised through limited but significant popular participation, and whose power is constrained by the rule of law, is no longer considered relevant by the Chinese leadership.

Thus, China seems to be moving further away from rather than toward the Singapore model. At the same time, as China takes a more aggressive stance in its foreign policy, particularly the South China Sea, and becomes more confident of its own political and developmental success, its interest in Singapore, which has staked out an independent foreign policy that has sometimes angered the mainland, has declined. After many years in which  officials offered a codified version of the “Singapore story” to Chinese observers, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently described the island state as little more than a “bonsai tree model of what China is” that might be “intriguing to scrutinise” but from which is hard for a gigantic country like China to draw lessons. Seemingly consigned to a historical period of conservative reformism in China, the “Singapore model” now appears to represent a path not taken by the mainland’s hard-line leadership.

This essay draws extensively from the author’s Authoritarian Modernism in East Asia (Palgrave 2019)

 

This is What Inequality Looks Like