Trump and Dictators

March 23, 2018

Trump and Dictators

by Mike Mineham*

Trump is at it again. He called President Putin to congratulate him on winning the latest Russian election. This was despite his national security advisors telling him in capital letters NOT to do so. But then, when has Trump ever listened to anyone except himself?

The former US presidential candidate John McCain was quick to criticize Trump for his failure to raise allegations of widespread voter irregularities in Russia.

To the contrary, Trump has nothing but praise for the Russian President. An opinion piece in the New York Times observes that Trump’s liking for Putin is just part of his liking for dictators everywhere.

‘Trump has defended President Putin for killing critics and praised Egypt’s brutal President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for “a fantastic job”. Trump hailed the Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, whose dirty war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives, for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”.’

Image result for Trump loves dictators

President Donald Trump with Rodrigo Duterte of The Philippines

And Trump has never embarrassed anyone by raising unsavory issues such as press freedom or human rights when he has met wilth leaders of the three top jailers of journalists – China, Russia and Turkey. No, indeed.

In fact, Trump would probably like to imprison American journalists, with the probable exception of the sycophantic friends on Fox News.

Trump has described US news organizations as “the enemy of the American people” and he routinely abuses reporters with descriptions such as “scum,” “slime,” “dishonest,” and “disgusting”.

In response, apart from maintaining high standards of reporting, the trouble for the media is that if they fight back, they lower themselves into the muckraking liked so much by the president.

The playwright George Bernard Shaw said it best: “I learned a long time ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and besides, the pig likes it”. I would add that this pig wrestling becomes even more grotesque when the pig tries to wear lipstick.

The coming electoral process in the USA is where the real battle will play out. The questions are: how many of Trump’s voter base will remain loyal? Especially if these working class white males don’t get to enjoy a trickle down effect from the Trump tax cuts which will benefit Trump himself and other friends in the Rich Club.

Will the MeToo women’s vote drag down someone who admits he’s a serial abuser of women? Can America’s legal institutions withstand Trump’s attempts to discredit and destroy them? And the biggest question of all –  can the rest of America stomach another term of a serial liar who is vindictive, vulgar, and who’s own former Secretary of State described him as a f…..g idiot?

Image result for robert mueller

Then there’s the Russian investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller( pic above) and the answer to whether or not Trump won the last election himself, without foreign assistance. There’s a lot more mud to go. Oh yes. And a lot more tweet storms, too.

*Dr Mike Mineham is Dean, School of Graduate Studies, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The views expressed in this article are strictly his own and do not in any way implicate the University.

Model Trade Deal Con

February 27, 2018

Model Trade Deal Con

Image result for prof jomo kwame sundaram

In early 2016, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement — involving twelve countries on the Pacific Ocean rim, including the USA — was signed in New Zealand. Right after his inauguration in January 2017, newly elected US President Donald Trump withdrew from the TPP, effectively killing the agreement as its terms require the participation of both the US and Japan.


Image result for Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

On 8 March 2018, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will be signed in the presence of outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. After that, six countries must ratify the deal for it to take effect.

Image result for Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)


Twenty-two of the original TPP provisions will be ‘suspended’, leaving over a thousand others intact. The 22 provisions have only been suspended, apparently to enable Washington to easily re-embrace the essentially US-drafted 6500-page TPP Agreement.

The CPTPP will include several changes to the TPP, but will otherwise incorporate it. Besides the investment agreement, several onerous intellectual property and other provisions will be suspended. Some ‘side letters’ can exempt some TPP11 countries on some matters. But otherwise, many of the most onerous TPP provisions remain.

The TPP11 countries are likely to give in to US demands. With very modest prospective trade gains from the original TPP, US withdrawal has made the gains from the CPTPP even more paltry, making the TPP11 desperate for US participation. For Japan’s government and some others, the TPP will draw the US back into a stronger anti-China regional coalition.

The CPTPP Preamble can guide interpretation of, but not contradict, let alone override problematic TPP provisions. Meanwhile, some countries will remove all their tariffs on products from other CPTPP parties while others, such as Japan and Canada, will not.

Taking the widely criticized secrecy of such negotiations to a new extreme, no details of the ‘zombie agreement’ will be released until after its signing. Despite promises to “engage with various stakeholders to get their views and feedback”, most signatory governments have not conducted inclusive public consultations about the new agreement.

Already, TPP11 proponents have resumed chanting the mantra that the US-drafted TPP is a ‘model trade deal for the 21st century’, seemingly oblivious of global economic transformations of recent decades and their implications.

Privileging foreign investment

Meanwhile, CPTPP privileging of foreign investment from TPP11 countries may well perversely encourage businesses to incorporate abroad as they will be better able to make demands on the government than they can currently do as nationals.

The CPTPP enables non-TPP11 firms with branches in TPP11 countries to use it to their advantage, e.g., investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will allow investors from other TPP11 countries to sue the host government, in a special international tribunal, for unlimited compensation and compound interest.

Image result for Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)Critics say the text of the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership and the opaqueness around the process show little has changed in the agreement since the Conservatives negotiated the original deal eventually signed by the Liberals in 2016. –-New Coke, old Coke, new CPTPP, old TPP. 


As firms incorporated in other TPP11 countries may also enjoy lower taxes and other incentives, the recent trends of greater outward than inward FDI may well accelerate. China, India and other emerging market economies are already struggling to cope with such ‘roundtrip’ FDI through offshore tax havens, and there is little reason to believe smaller TPP11 developing countries will fare better.

Image result for Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

Lower interest rates abroad in recent years due to unconventional monetary policies, such as ‘quantitative easing’, have enabled highly leveraged foreign portfolio investors to increase their ownership of the corporate sector in many emerging market economies.

Capital account liberalization has enabled net capital outflows despite sometimes inducing temporary episodes of massive inflows into emerging market economies. With greater external vulnerability the inevitable consequence, when such portfolio investment inflows are inevitably reversed, capital account management measures may be needed, but disallowed by the CPTPP.

Begging for US participation

In their efforts to justify it, CPTPP proponents have again greatly exaggerated trade benefits while ignoring the two US government studies — by the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service and the International Trade Council – both projecting very modest gains from the TPP, despite including the US then.

After the ‘Brexit’ referendum and Trump’s election in 2016, the mixed consequences of trade liberalization are increasingly recognized, replacing the naive claim that globalization would lift all boats. Nevertheless, CPTPP advocates still dismiss research doubting the problematic assumptions of the modelling projections they rely on.

Meanwhile, US President Trump has already announced that he “would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal”. Judging by his administration’s new demands in the ongoing North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) renegotiations, this would presumably involve even stronger pharmaceutical patent protection and greater US corporate control of international e-commerce.

The TPP11 countries are likely to give in to US demands. With very modest prospective trade gains from the original TPP, US withdrawal has made the gains from the CPTPP even more paltry, making the TPP11 desperate for US participation. For Japan’s government and some others, the TPP will draw the US back into a stronger anti-China regional coalition.

Hence, the TPP11 are so keen to bring the US back into the TPP that they are likely to accede to Trump administration demands. By joining the TPP on revised terms, ostensibly ‘putting America first’, Trump can thus ‘prove’ that he is a much better negotiator than his predecessors, especially Obama.


Living in a Time of Deception: Look Back on Malayan History


February 26, 2018

Living in a Time of Deception: Look Back on Malayan History

by Maryam Lee

Image result for Poh Soo Kai

COMMENT | “So colonialism is about how brown people suffered and died for the ambitions of white men?”

I asked him. Dr Poh Soo Kai replied, “Not necessarily, it’s not about the skin colour, you see. The Japanese were not white, they also colonised us.”

Colonialism is an attitude, it is a way of thinking. It is the imperial mentality that people under imperialism deserve to be subjugated simply because they are not born of the “superior” race.

I spent a lot of time in early February listening to stories of transnational activism, before and after the Japanese occupation in South-east Asia, from the man himself, Dr Poh Soo Kai. Socialist activist, political prisoner, now the author of “Singapore: Living in a Time of Deception”.

His book has been translated to Indonesian by one of the local publishers, Ultimus, and the launching of the book was done in one of my favourite cities of culture and activism, Yogyakarta.

Poh shared many stories. When we went to the beach for lunch, Poh told stories of what Soekarno did to the communists in Indonesia (Madium 1948), and how the communists supported Soekarno anyway, when he nationalised Indonesian assets to piss off the Dutch.

And then stories of Malayan communists. Led by Loi Teck, who was a Vietnamese, the communists brokered an agreement with the British in return for recognition of the Malayan Communist Party in the new parliamentary democracy Malaya was supposed to adopt upon independence.

When the British left, the Malayan communists had fought the Japanese to gain independence. When the war was over, there was a dilemma, whether or not to continue the fight, since the British came back to secure Malaya again.

The British made an agreement with Loi Teck, under which they recognised the MCP for a ceasefire of the arms struggle that would resist the British’s return.

Ahmad Boestamam and other members of the Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), the anti-colonial party set up after the Japanese occupation, refused to lay down arms and wanted to continue the arms struggle for independence.

Unfortunately, PKMM could not fight without the communists. So when they laid down arms, as per Loi Teck’s instructions, the left had no choice but to discontinue the arms struggle.

Shortly after surrendering their arms, Loi Teck disappeared with MCP’s money. They looked for him, but according to Chin Peng (on right in photo), the Thai communists found and killed him because he resisted arrest. It was later known that Loi Teck was a double agent that had double-crossed his own comrades for his own personal gains.

Image result for Chin Peng and Louis Mountbatten

British needed the distraction

Why the British had been so “nice” to the communists in Malaya was because they had to hold down the ports in Indonesia for the Dutch. The British Indian Army was sent all over Indonesia where there were uprisings, largely to Surabaya and Bandung, before the Dutch were strong enough to come back.

In the meantime, the British, who were not strong enough to fight the Malayan communists, had to convince MCP to lay down arms, via Loi Teck. The British needed this distraction so that Malayan communists could not succeed in gaining independence for Malaya, and for the British troops to come back from Indonesia.

When the war was over, the Dutch got hold of Indonesia, British troops were called back to suppress Malaya, and that was when all unions and left-wing organisations were banned and many of their leaders killed.

The promises the British made to MCP via Loi Teck to recognise the communists never materialised. As a matter of fact, with the newfound strength of the British army, they defeated the communists into exile.

“You see, Maryam, the cruel thing about colonialism is how brown people kill other brown people for those with pale skin and blue eyes,” Juliet said. Juliet is also a friend who had accompanied us in Yogyakarta.

“They made us fight each other, kill each other, and not even for the benefit of our own countries, but for the benefit of the imperialist countries,” her interjection served as a reminder of the unnecessary evils of colonialism, from which we only broke free not too long ago.

Image result for Poh Soo Kai

Some of the people who lived through British and Japanese occupations in Malaya are still living. And they tell their stories in their memoirs to be compared to the “official” history written by those who had won, at least on the side of history.

Colonialism may be a recent past, but unfortunately, it lives as a distant memory. Poh’s stories must continue to be told and recorded to do justice to our post-colonial discourse. For historians, or those who record history, have the power to tell truth to power in a time full of deception.

MARYAM LEE is a writer with a chronic tendency to get into trouble. What she lacks in spelling when writing in English is made up for with her many writings in Bahasa Malaysia. She believes in conversations as the most valuable yet underrated cause of social change. She wants people to recognise silences and give them a voice, as she tries to bring people together through words.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


February 25, 2018


by Richard N Haass–haass-2018-02

A quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the world unexpectedly finds itself in a second one. This state of affairs was anything but inevitable, and it is in neither side’s interest to escalate tensions further.

Image result for Russia's Putin


NEW YORK – The Cold War lasted four decades, in many ways both beginning and ending in Berlin. The good news is that it stayed cold – largely because nuclear weapons introduced a discipline missing from previous great-power rivalries – and that the United States, together with its European and Asian allies, emerged victorious, owing to sustained political, economic, and military effort that a top-heavy Soviet Union ultimately could not match.

A quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, we unexpectedly find ourselves in a second one. It is both different and familiar. Russia is no longer a superpower, but rather a country of some 145 million people with an economy dependent on the price of oil and gas and no political ideology to offer the world. Even so, it remains one of two major nuclear-weapons states, has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and is willing to use its military, energy, and cyber capabilities to support friends and weaken neighbors and adversaries.

This state of affairs was anything but inevitable. The end of the Cold War was expected to usher in a new era of friendly Russian ties with the United States and Europe. It was widely thought that post-communist Russia would focus on economic and political development. And relations got off to a good start when Russia, rather than standing by its long-time client Iraq, cooperated with the US in reversing Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Image result for george h w bush and the new world order No. Trump could be making Russia great in Middle East and China great again in Asia

The goodwill did not last. Just why will be a matter of debate among historians for decades to come. Some observers will blame successive US presidents, pointing to a lack of economic support extended to a struggling Russia, and even more to NATO enlargement, which, by treating Russia as a potential adversary, increased the odds it would become one.

It is true that the US could and should have been more generous as Russia made its painful transition to a market economy in the 1990s. Nor is it clear that NATO enlargement was preferable to other security arrangements for Europe that would have included Russia. That said, the lion’s share of the responsibility for the emergence of a second Cold War is Russia’s, and above all Vladimir Putin’s. Like many of his predecessors, Putin viewed the US-dominated world order as a threat to his rule and to what he regarded as his country’s rightful place in the world.

Russia in recent years has used armed force to seize, occupy, and annex Crimea, in the process violating the fundamental principle of international law that borders may not be changed by armed force. Putin continues to use military or covert means to destabilize Eastern Ukraine, Georgia, and parts of the Balkans. And Russia employed military force in particularly brutal ways in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s appalling regime.

Image result for Trump and Russia

President Donald Trump and the Russian Connection

Putin’s Russia also went to great lengths, in the words of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to carry out “fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” Heads of US intelligence agencies have made clear that they expect further such efforts between now and the midterm congressional elections in November.

As Russia has become a revisionist country, with few if any qualms about overturning the status quo by whatever means it judges necessary, shoring up Europe’s defense and providing lethal arms to Ukraine is a sensible response. But what more should the US do, beyond reducing the vulnerability of voting machines and requiring technology firms to take steps to prevent foreign governments from trying to influence US politics?

First, Americans must recognize that defense is not enough. Congress is right to call for additional sanctions, and Donald Trump is wrong to refuse to implement sanctions that Congress has already passed.

The US government also needs to find its voice and criticize a Russian regime that arrests its opponents and reportedly murders journalists. If Trump, for whatever reason, continues to coddle Russia, then Congress, the media, foundations, and academics should publicly detail the corruption that characterizes Putin’s rule. Circulating such information might increase internal opposition to Putin, persuade him to hold off on further interference in US and European politics, and, over time, buttress more responsible forces within Russia.

At the same time, the objective should not be to end what little remains of the US-Russian relationship, which is already in worse shape than it was for much of the first Cold War. Diplomatic cooperation should be sought whenever it is possible and in America’s interest. Russia may well be willing to stop interfering in Eastern Ukraine in exchange for a degree of sanctions relief, if it could be assured that ethnic Russians there would not face reprisals. Likewise, the Kremlin has no interest in a military escalation in Syria that would increase the relatively modest cost of its intervention there.

At the same time, Russian support is needed to tighten sanctions against North Korea. And maintaining arms-control arrangements and avoiding a new nuclear arms race would be in the interest of both countries.

There is thus a case for regular diplomatic meetings, cultural and academic exchanges, and visits to Russia by congressional delegations – not as a favor, but as a means to make clear that many Americans are open to a more normal relationship with Russia if it acts with greater restraint. The US and its partners have a large stake in greater Russian restraint while Putin remains in power – and in a Russia characterized by other than Putinism after he is gone.

Image result for richard haas

Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, previously served as Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department (2001-2003), and was President George W. Bush’s special envoy to Northern Ireland and Coordinator for the Future of Afghanistan. He is the author of A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.

Thaksin Shinawatra prepares his party for elections in Thailand

February 25, 2018

Thaksin Shinawatra prepares his party for elections in Thailand

Thaksin Shinawatra with his daughter Pintongta Shinawatra and son-in-law Nattapong Kunakornwong on February 16. Photo: Instagram

Thaksin Shinawatra with his daughter and son-in-law

The self-exiled former Prime Minister and kingmaker looks ready to lead his Pheu Thai back to power from abroad – but the ruling junta has other plans as it seeks to retain control of the country at the polls.

By Bhavan Jaipragas

Post-coup elections are on the horizon in Thailand, and Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former Prime Minister, appears raring to reprise his kingmaker role put on hold by the ruling junta.

Thaksin raised eyebrows last week as he held court in Hong Kong and Singapore with elders from the deposed Pheu Thai party who had flown in to pay their respects to the man they still refer to as “the big boss”.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, Prime Minister and Pheu Thai leader at the time of the 2014 coup, is also a fugitive from the country and was traveling with her brother.

Pheu Thai on Thursday downplayed the meetings as Lunar New Year courtesy calls, but political observers say they are the latest sign that Thaksin will remotely spearhead campaigning ahead of polls the ruling generals have promised to hold early next year.

Thaksin Shinawatra, right, with Pheu Thai member Watana Muangsook when the two met this month. Photo: Facebook

The “semi-public” nature of the meetings meanwhile suggests a degree of muscle-flexing by the still-popular Pheu Thai amid rising public pressure against the junta over corruption allegations, analysts say. The party is the latest iteration of a two-decade-old political mass movement moulded by Thaksin from among the country’s rural poor.

The meetings in Hong Kong and Singapore, publicised by Pheu Thai leaders who met Thaksin, are a means to show his rural base that the party is still “his party, and not the party of some run-of-the-mill politician”, said Patrick Jory, a Thai politics researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Thaksin and Yingluck took in Japan and China earlier this month, where they reportedly also met loyalists.

“You have to understand how powerful the Thaksin ‘brand’ is among his supporters,” Jory said. “For his working class supporters he is still seen as a hero, who delivered to those people who voted for him what he promised, until he was unjustly overthrown by the ‘elite’.”

Thaksin-linked parties triumphed in the six elections held since 2001, but are reviled by the country’s royalist and urban elite. Their dominance has coincided with a decade of political turmoil in the country. The pro-elite military staged two coups in that period – in 2006 and 2014.

Thaksin was Prime Minister from 2001 until his ousting in 2006, when he was also barred from politics and began his self-imposed exile. Two years later, he was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power – a ruling he said was politically motivated.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, is hoping to stay in power after next year’s election. Photo: AFP

His brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat briefly held the same position in 2008, while Yingluck was premier from 2011 until the 2014 coup. Yingluck was sentenced to five years in jail last year in relation to a failed rice subsidy scheme while she was Prime Minister.

Yingluck’s stint as premier saw her fugitive brother participate in decision-making via webcam from his base in London and Dubai.

Duncan McCargo, co-author of the book, The Thaksinization of Thailand, said despite his nearly decade-long exile Pheu Thai was “inextricably linked in the minds of voters with Thaksin”.

“He was not able to run himself in 2007 and 2011 but his influence remained immense. It’s basically his party,” the University of Leeds professor said.

Another objective of Thaksin’s meet-and-greet with Pheu Thai leaders, analysts say, was to shore up internal unity amid growing fears that the junta is seeking to splinter the party ahead of the general election.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was the armed forces chief at the time of the 2014 coup, is believed to be keen on retaining power after the polls.


One way he can do so is by making use of election new rules enacted by the junta that allow a victorious party to appoint a non-elected prime minister.

Kevin Hewison, a veteran Thai politics observer, said Thaksin likely saw “some disintegration” in the Pheu Thai party.

The junta is attempting “to actively recruit former Pheu Thai MPs into the myriad of new parties being set up under the new rules of elections”, said the emeritus professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Thaksin, who once dubbed himself the “CEO Prime Minister” for his no-nonsense, technocratic approach to power, is unlikely to take such manoeuvres lying down.


Sudarat Keyuraphan, left, may be the next to lead the Pheu Party. Photo: AFP

Thai media, citing Pheu Thai figures who met Thaksin, said the former premier urged them to stand by his long-time ally Sudarat Keyuraphan as party leader.

Sudarat and Thaksin both briefly served as ministers in the 1990s under a coalition government. Sudarat, 56, was one of the founding members of the Thai Rak Thai party, the first incarnation of the pro-Thaksin, rural-based political movement.

Thailand-based political scientist Paul Chambers said Sudarat’s roots in Bangkok could be a shot in the arm for Pheu Thai, helping the party cut into the support of the Democrat Party – the party of choice of the urban elite.

Chambers and other analysts say Sudarat is also favourable in Thaksin’s eyes because she maintains ties with the junta top brass including the second-in-command, Prawit Wongsuwon.

Those ties could prove critical as her political fate – and that of Pheu Thai – ultimately lies with whether the junta follows through with its promise to hold elections.

Jory, the University of Queensland lecturer, said the latest meetings are likely to signal to voters the waning clout of the military.

A series of scandals have marred the junta’s time in power. Photo: EPA

The junta is reeling from multiple scandals including a social media campaign against Prawit over the so-called Watchgate saga in which social media sleuths uncovered his collection of some two dozen luxury time pieces.

The meetings meanwhile have taken place despite the junta’s warnings that it is illegal for the fugitive Thaksin to have links or influence over domestic politics.

Pheu Thai’s acting secretary general Phumtham Wechayachai in a statement on Thursday said the meetings had nothing to do with the party’s political affairs.

But Jory said “the fact that Thaksin can move around freely and meet Pheu Thai politicians so easily reinforces the military’s growing impotence.”

Bhavan Jaipragas

How Trump Is Ending the American Era

January 1, 2018

How Trump Is Ending the American Era

by Eliot A. Cohen

For all the visible damage the President has done to the nation’s global standing, things are much worse below the surface.


Image result for eliot a. cohen the atlantic

Eliot A. Cohen

Donald Trump was right. He inherited a mess. In January 2017, American foreign policy was, if not in crisis, in big trouble. Strong forces were putting stress on the old global political order: the rise of China to a power with more than half the productive capacity of the United States (and defense spending to match); the partial recovery of a resentful Russia under a skilled and thuggish autocrat; the discrediting of Western elites by the financial crash of 2008, followed by roiling populist waves, of which Trump himself was part; a turbulent Middle East; economic dislocations worldwide.

America First, so Sad

Foreign governments have adapted. They flatter Trump outrageously. Their emissaries stay at his hotels and offer the Trump Organization abundant concessions (39 trademarks approved by China alone since Trump took office, including one for an escort service). They take him to military parades; they talk tough-guy-to-tough-guy; they show him the kind of deference that only someone without a center can crave. And so he flip-flops: Paris was no longer “so, so out of control, so dangerous” once he’d had dinner in the Eiffel Tower; Xi Jinping, during an April visit to Mar-a-Lago, went from being the leader of a parasitic country intent on ripping off American workers to being “a gentleman” who “wants to do the right thing.” (By July, Trump was back to bashing China, for doing “NOTHING” to help us.)

In short, foreign leaders may consider Trump alarming, but they do not consider him serious. They may think they can use him, but they know they cannot rely on him. They look at his plans to slash the State Department’s ranks and its budget—the latter by about 30 percent—and draw conclusions about his interest in traditional diplomacy. And so, already, they have begun to reshape alliances and reconfigure the networks that make up the global economy, bypassing the United States and diminishing its standing. In January, at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Xi made a case for Chinese global leadership that was startlingly well received by the rich and powerful officials, businesspeople, and experts in attendance. In March, Canada formally joined a Chinese-led regional development bank that the Obama administration had opposed as an instrument of broadened Chinese influence; Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France were among the founding members. In July, Japan and Europe agreed on a free-trade deal as an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump had unceremoniously discarded.

In almost every region of the world, the administration has already left a mark, by blunder, inattention, miscomprehension, or willfulness. Trump’s first official visit abroad began in Saudi Arabia—a bizarre choice, when compared with established democratic allies—where he and his senior advisers offered unreserved praise for a kingdom that has close relations with the United States but has also been the heartland of Islamist fanaticism since well before 9/11. The president full-throatedly took its side in a dispute with Qatar, apparently ignorant of the vast American air base in the latter country. He has seemed unaware that he is feeding an inchoate but violent conflict between the Gulf kingdoms and a countervailing coalition of Iran, Russia, Syria, Hezbollah, and even Turkey—which now plans to deploy as many as 3,000 troops to Qatar, at its first base in the Arab world since the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I.


 The administration obsesses about defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and yet intends to sharply reduce the kinds of advice and support that are needed to rebuild the areas devastated by war in those same countries—support that might help prevent a future recurrence of Islamist fanaticism. The President, entranced by the chimera of an Israeli–Palestinian peace, has put his inexperienced and overburdened son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of a process headed nowhere. Either ignorant or contemptuous of the deep-seated maladies that have long afflicted the Arab world, Trump embraces authoritarians like Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (“Love your shoes”) and seems to dismiss the larger problems of governance posed by the crises within Middle Eastern societies as internal issues irrelevant to the United States. A freedom agenda, in either its original Bush or subsequent Obama form, is dead.

Big foreign-policy failures are like heart attacks: They follow years of hidden malady.The vertigo and throbbing pulse one feels today augur something much worse tomorrow.

In Europe, the administration has picked a fight with the Continent’s most important democratic state, Germany (“Bad, very bad”). Trump is sufficiently despised in Great Britain, America’s most enduring ally, that he will reportedly defer a trip there until his press improves (it will not). Paralyzed by scandal and internal division, the administration has no coherent Russia policy: no plan for getting Moscow back out of the Middle East; no counter to Russian political subversion in Europe or the United States; no response to reports of new Russian meddling in Afghanistan. Rather than pushing back when the Russians announced in July that 755 U.S. government employees would be expelled, Trump expressed his thanks for saving taxpayers 755 salaries.

America’s new circumstances in Asia were not much better as this story went to press, in mid-August—and with the world on edge, they could quickly get much worse. Though North Korea is on the verge of developing a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, Trump neglected to rally American allies to confront the problem during his two major trips abroad. His aides proclaimed that they had discovered the solution, Chinese intervention—apparently unaware of the repeated failure of that gambit in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Trump did, however, take a break from a golfing holiday to threaten North Korea with “fire and fury” in the event that Kim Jong Un failed to pipe down. To accommodate a president fixated on economic deals, an anxious Japan has pledged investments that would result in American jobs. A prickly Australia, whose prime minister Trump snarled at during their first courtesy phone call, has edged further from its traditional alliance with America—an alliance that has been the cornerstone of its security since World War II. (In a gesture that may seem trivial but signifies much, in July Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, slapped at Trump for his ogling of the French president’s wife, suggesting that his admiring looks had gone unreciprocated.)

On issues that are truly global in scope, Trump has abdicated leadership and the moral high ground. The United States has managed to isolate itself on the topic of climate change, by the tone of its pronouncements no less than by its precipitous exit from the Paris Agreement. As for human rights, the president has taken only cursory notice of the two arrests of the Russian dissident Alexei Navalny or the death of the Chinese Nobel Prize winner and prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo. Trump did not object after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail beat American protesters on American soil, in Washington, D.C. In April, he reportedly told Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who has used death squads to deal with offenders of local narcotics laws, that he was doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, made it clear in his first substantive speech to State Department employees that American values are now of at best secondary importance to “American interests,” presumably economic, in the conduct of foreign policy.

All this well before a year was out.

The Compounding Risk of Crisis

Matters will not improve. Trump will not learn, will not moderate, will not settle into normal patterns of behavior. And for all the rot that is visible in America’s standing and ability to influence global affairs, more is spreading beneath the surface. Even when Trump’s foreign policy looks shakily mediocre rather than downright crazy, it is afflicting the U.S. with a condition not unlike untreated high blood pressure. Enormous foreign-policy failures are like heart attacks: unexpected and dangerous discontinuities following years of neglect and hidden malady. The vertigo and throbbing pulse one feels today augur something much worse tomorrow.

To a degree rarely appreciated outside Washington, it is virtually impossible to conduct an effective foreign policy without political appointees at the assistant-secretary rank who share a president’s conceptions and will implement his agenda. As of mid-August, the administration had yet to even nominate a new undersecretary of state for political affairs; assistant secretaries for Near Eastern, East Asian and Pacific, or Western Hemisphere Affairs; or ambassadors to Germany, India, or Saudi Arabia. At lower levels, the State Department is being actively thinned out—2,300 jobs are slated for elimination—and is losing experience by the week as disaffected professionals quietly leave.

High-level diplomatic contact with allies and adversaries alike has withered. Meanwhile, for fear of contradicting him, Trump’s underlings avoid saying too much publicly. As a result, the administration’s foreign policy will continue to be as opaque externally as it is confused internally.


One consequence will be a corresponding confusion on the part of foreign powers about the administration’s goals, commitments, and red lines—and the likely misinterpretation of stray signals. Even well-run administrations can fail to communicate their intentions clearly, with dire consequences. On July 25, 1990, the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met with Saddam Hussein. Glaspie assured Saddam of President George H. W. Bush’s friendship and, although the administration was concerned about a possible Iraqi attack on Kuwait, blandly remarked that “we have no opinion on the Arab–Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” A week later, Saddam’s troops invaded Kuwait, and he was surprised when Bush did not take it well. Again, this happened in a competent administration. One shudders to think what the Trump equivalent might be with regard to, say, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

The first Bush administration recovered from the disaster of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait because it was an effective and cohesive team of highly experienced professionals—Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Dick Cheney—led by a prudent and disciplined president. They built a coalition, reassured and mobilized allies, placated neutrals, and planned and executed a war. They disagreed with one another in open and productive ways. They shrewdly used the career civil servants and able political appointees who served them energetically and well. Even so, the war’s ragged end and unexpected consequences are with us still.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Cuban missile crisis, the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, the collapse of communism, 9/11, the 2011 Arab Spring—all were surprises. So too were lesser episodes like the 2007 discovery of a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. Surprises are unavoidably what international politics is all about; what matters is how well an administration copes with them. Trump was lucky to avoid an external crisis in his first seven months. That luck will run out.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950, the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Cuban missile crisis, the 1967 and 1973 Middle East wars, the collapse of communism, 9/11, the 2011 Arab Spring—all were surprises. So too were lesser episodes like the 2007 discovery of a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria. Surprises are unavoidably what international politics is all about; what matters is how well an administration copes with them. Trump was lucky to avoid an external crisis in his first seven months. That luck will run out.


Image result for America heart attack at The Atlantic

Add to this fractured foundation the erratic behavior of the President himself, who will be less and less likely to accede to (or even hear) contrary advice as he passes more time in the Oval Office. Septuagenarian tycoons do not change fundamental qualities of their personalities: They are who they are. Nor is someone who has spent a career in charge of a small, family-run corporation without shareholders likely to pay much attention to external views. These arguments have been well ventilated. But what many people have not weighed adequately is the effect of the White House itself, the trappings and the aura, on those who inhabit it. After an initial period of awe, presidents become more confident that they know what they’re doing. Particularly for someone whose ego knows few bounds, it can be a dangerously intoxicating place.

The longer someone is in high office and becomes accustomed to supreme power, the less opposition and disagreement he will encounter and the less disagreement he is likely to heed


The longer someone is in high office and becomes accustomed to supreme power, the less opposition and disagreement he will encounter and the less disagreement he is likely to heed. This may explain Obama’s Syria failure throughout his second term. This process is already well advanced within Trump’s White House, as evidenced by the bizarre and deeply worrying spectacle orchestrated by the president on June 12, in which all members of his Cabinet, with the honorable exception of Defense Secretary James Mattis, offered up competitively obsequious compliments to the boss while on national television. As old advisers and officials fall by the wayside—exhausted, disgraced, or both—the new ones will be more likely to accommodate a man they have known chiefly as “Mr. President” and whose favor has required self-abasement.

Consider this contrast: In July 2005, I published in The Washington Post a searing critique of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq War. The besieged defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, did not fire me from the Defense Policy Board, a senior advisory committee to the Department of Defense, on which I served. Within months I was advising the National Security Council staff, and eventually Secretary Condoleezza Rice asked me to serve in one of the most senior positions in the Department of State without a murmur of disapproval from the White House. This reflected less my value to the administration than the large-spiritedness of President George W. Bush and those who worked for him, and their awareness that expressing criticism or dissent was an act of patriotism, not personal betrayal.

Trump lacks that spirit, and his advisers—one way or another—will find themselves sapped of it as well. Mattis and Tillerson have, by all accounts, raged at a White House obsessed with loyalty, which fired a junior staffer for unflattering retweets more than a year old and had trouble attracting first-tier or independent-minded experts to begin with. At some point these advisers will either give up in frustration or simply be replaced by more-pliable individuals.

Trump unrestrained is of course a frightening prospect. His instincts are not reliable—if they were, he and his campaign would have kept their distance from Russian operatives. A man who has presided over failed casinos, a collapsed airline, and a sham university is not someone who knows when to step back from the brink. His domestic political circumstances, already bad, seem likely to deteriorate further, which will only make him more angry, and perhaps more apt to take risks. In a fit of temper or in the grip of spectacular misjudgment—possibly influenced by what he’s just seen on TV—he could stumble into or launch an uncontrollable war.

In one of the worst scenarios, Trump, as a result of his alternating overtures to and belligerence toward China, might bring about a conflict with Xi Jinping, who is consolidating his own power in a way not seen since the days of Mao Zedong. Military conflict between rising and preeminent global powers is hardly anomalous, after all, and the Chinese are no longer in the mood to accept American hegemony. In 1990, when George H. W. Bush confronted Saddam, an isolated dictator, a paralyzed Russia and weak China were powerless to interfere. He had at his disposal the American military at the peak of its post–Cold War strength, and a ready set of allies. The United States has grown used to wars with limited risk against minor and isolated rivals. A conflict with China would be something altogether different.

Trump is, and is likely to be to the end, volatile, truculent, and impulsive. When he does face a crisis, whether or not it is of his own making, he will discover just how weak his hand is, because no one—friends or enemies, the American public or foreign leaders—will take anything that he promises or threatens at face value. At that point we may find another Donald Trump emerging: the Trump who paid $25 million to the victims of Trump University, who rages at The New York Times and then truckles to its reporters. Like most bullies, he can be stared down. But when he folds, American foreign policy will fold with him.

The Damage That Cannot Be Undone

This dangerous and dispiriting chapter in American history will end, in eight years or four—or perhaps in two or even one, if Trump is impeached or removed under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. But what will follow? Will the United States recover within a few years, as it did from the disgrace of Richard Nixon’s resignation and the fecklessness of Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis? Alas, that is unlikely. Even barring cataclysmic events, we will be living with the consequences of Trump’s tenure as chief executive and commander in chief for decades. Damage will continue to appear long after he departs the scene.

Americans, after trying every other alternative, can always be counted on to do the right thing, Winston Churchill supposedly said. But who will count on that now, after the victory of a man like Trump? Other countries interpret Trump’s election as America’s repudiation of its role as guarantor of world order. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland put it bluntly in a speech in June: “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.”

Indeed, that is what is happening. Trump is not entirely a historical fluke, and it is reasonable to see his foreign policy as reflecting some Americans’ attitudes toward the outside world. Our politicians and our foreign-policy establishment—the former consumed by domestic matters, the latter largely by technocratic concerns—have lost the ability to make the case to the country for prudent American management of an international system whose relative peace for 70 years owes so much to Washington’s leadership. Americans who oppose Trump may conclude (also reasonably) that the country’s internal problems, including the fundamentals of its civic culture, demand their attention. They too may turn inward, not least because they have lost confidence in the strength of political institutions and the competence of the political class.


But there is also a more structural development that will make the recovery of America’s global status difficult: Trump is accelerating the decomposition of the Republican foreign-policy and national-security establishment that began in the 2016 campaign. Two public letters signed by some 150 of its members during the spring and summer of last year denounced Trump not merely for bad judgment but also for bad character. (I co-organized one letter and assisted with the other.) Few who signed the letters cared to recant after the election. The administration clearly wanted nothing to do with any of them anyway, although it would have been wise to display magnanimity and recruit some of them. Magnanimity is not, however, part of the Trump playbook.

These would have been some of the leading candidates to serve in a normal Republican administration. Finding other candidates has been difficult, but eventually the jobs will be filled. If the administration lasts four years, and even more so if it lasts eight, those who fill them will be the GOP’s successor generation, much of the anti-Trump group being too old, or too compromised within a Republican Party that has dutifully rallied around its leader, to hold sway. Because the Trump administration prizes personal loyalty above all other qualities—most emphatically including competence, creativity, integrity, and even, in some measure, patriotism—this is a serious problem.

Establishments exist for a reason, and, within limits, they are good things. Despite what populists think, foreign policy is not, in fact, safely handed over to teams of ideologues or adventurous amateurs. Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s secretary of state, who helped stabilize the post–World War II world, was not a corporate head who suddenly took an interest in what goes on abroad; neither was George Shultz, who, as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, helped orchestrate the final stage of the Cold War. Behind each of those men were hundreds of experts and practitioners who had thought hard about the world, and had experience steering the external relations of the Great Republic.

An elite consensus that spans both parties means a government that does not shift radically from administration to administration in its commitments to allies or to human rights, in its opposition to enemies, or in its support for international institutions; that has a sense of direction and purpose that transcends partisan politics; that can develop the political appointees our system uniquely depends on to staff the upper levels of government. As long as that elite is honest, able, open to new talent and to considered course alterations, and tolerant of dissent, it can provide consistency and stability.

Veterans of Trump’s administration will include some patriots who knowingly took a reputational hit to save the country from calamity—plus a large collection of mediocrities, cynics, and trimmers willing to equivocate about American values and interests, and indeed about their own beliefs. Many of them even now can say, as the old Soviet joke had it, “I have my personal opinions, but I assure you that I don’t agree with them.” Or, as one person explained his decision to me as he began working for the administration, “It’s my last shot at a big job.”

There are many reasons to be appalled by President Trump, including his disregard for constitutional norms and decent behavior. But watching this unlikeliest of presidents strut on the treacherous stage of international politics is different from following the daily domestic chaos that is the Trump administration. Hearing him bully and brag, boast and bluster, threaten and lie, one feels a kind of dizziness, a sensation that underneath the throbbing pulse of routine scandal lies the potential for much worse. The kind of sensation, in fact, that accompanies dangerously high blood pressure, just before a sudden, excruciating pain.

Most of these veterans, knowing what their former friends and colleagues think of their decision, will be angrily self-justifying. Many of the “Never Trumpers” who have held back from working for an odious man will be disdainful. That is human nature. But the upshot will be a Republican establishment riven, like the conservative intellectual class more broadly, by antagonisms all the more bitter because they rest as much on personal feelings of injury or vindication as on principled beliefs. “Everything I’ve worked for for two decades is being destroyed,” a senior Republican experienced in foreign policy told Susan B. Glasser of Politico in March. One should not expect from such individuals ready forgiveness of the destroyers. All the while, the Democratic Party will be going through its own turmoil as its foreign-policy experts, who had aligned overwhelmingly with Hillary Clinton, come under pressure from members of the party’s left wing, some of whose views on foreign affairs are not that far from Trump’s.

America’s astonishing resilience may rescue it once again, particularly if Trump does not finish his first term. But an equally likely scenario is that Trump will leave key government institutions weakened or corrupted, America’s foreign-policy establishment sharply divided, and America’s position in the world stunted. An America lacking confidence, coupled with the rise of undemocratic powers, populist movements on the right and left, and failing states, is the kind of world few Americans remember. It would be like the world of the late 1920s or early 1930s: disorderly and unstable, but with much worse to follow.

There are many reasons to be appalled by President Trump, including his disregard for constitutional norms and decent behavior. But watching this unlikeliest of presidents strut on the treacherous stage of international politics is different from following the daily domestic chaos that is the Trump administration. Hearing him bully and brag, boast and bluster, threaten and lie, one feels a kind of dizziness, a sensation that underneath the throbbing pulse of routine scandal lies the potential for much worse. The kind of sensation, in fact, that accompanies dangerously high blood pressure, just before a sudden, excruciating pain.

About the Author