The Return of the Madman Theory


October 3, 2017

The Return of the Madman Theory

by Nina L. Khrushcheva

http://www.project-syndicate.org

Is Donald Trump reviving the “madman theory” of diplomacy, introduced by Richard Nixon to instill fear in America’s adversaries? North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s description of Trump as “mentally deranged” suggests that such a ploy might be working – or else Kim is more right than he, or the rest of us, would like.

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The Games Nixon and Kissinger played in the Cold War Era

MOSCOW – In the 1970s, US President Richard Nixon instructed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to convince the leaders of hostile communist countries that he could be erratic and volatile, particularly when under pressure. Kissinger, a shrewd practitioner of Realpolitik, saw the potential in this approach, which he readily implemented. With that, the “madman theory” of diplomacy was born.

Nixon was far from mad, though his heavy drinking at the height of the Watergate scandal prompted Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to establish a way to monitor his control of the nuclear codes. Nixon’s goal in trumpeting his supposed erratic nature was to stoke fear among his foreign adversaries that making him angry or stressed could result in an irrational – even nuclear – response, thereby impelling them to check their own behavior.

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“Often, I will tell friends whose wives are constantly nagging them about this or that that they’re better off leaving and cutting their losses,” he wrote in The Art of the Comeback. “For a man to be successful he needs support at home, just like my father had from my mother, not someone who is always griping and bitching.” 

Today, with Donald Trump leading the United States, the madman doctrine is back with a vengeance. But, this time around, it is far less clear that it’s just an act, and that Trump would not really decide, in a fit of rage or frustration, to attack, or even nuke, his opponents.

Exhibit A in a hearing on Trump’s sanity would have to be his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, which resembled the lunatic ramblings of Aerys Targaryen, the “mad king” in the television show “Game of Thrones.” Putting his own spin on Targaryen’s infamous line “burn them all,” Trump threatened that the US would “totally destroy” North Korea if it continues to develop its nuclear program.

In the same speech, Trump also savaged the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. As he spoke, his chief of staff, retired US Marine Corps General John Kelly, who was appointed in July to bring order and a degree of stability to Trump’s White House sanitarium, could be seen with his head in his hands, as if in shock or despair.

Many Americans have perhaps grown desensitized to Trump’s off-the-wall tirades, having endured months of his late-night Twitter assaults on the press, his opponents and fellow Republicans, even his own cabinet members. The famously thin-skinned Trump has shown that, when provoked or insulted, he can be counted on to retaliate.

But, unlike many of Trump’s previous unhinged ramblings, the UN speech was read from a teleprompter, which means that it was vetted ahead of time. Those who thought that the “grownups” in Trump’s administration – Kelly, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster – would keep US security strategy within the bounds of reason might need to think again.

Perhaps the maddest part of all is Trump’s apparent calculation that North Korea’s boy-king Kim Jong-un might cower in the face of his threats. After President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” in 1983, he was advised not to repeat it, in the interest of improving the bilateral relationship. Recognizing the importance of such an improvement for mitigating the nuclear threat, Reagan followed his advisers’ counsel. The same cannot be said of Trump, who surely has been warned of the dangers of hurling insults like “Rocket Man” at the brutal and inexperienced Kim.

When Nixon adopted his own “mad” persona, he was in some ways drawing on the example of Nikita Khrushchev, my grandfather and Nixon’s adversary during his tenure as US vice president. In the so-called “kitchen debate” of 1959 – one of the Cold War’s weirdest moments – Nixon sparred with Khrushchev in Moscow over the superiority of capitalism over socialism.

A year later, at the UN General Assembly in New York, Khrushchev made quite the appearance. Cuba’s new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was, as was his wont, flamboyantly issuing extravagant threats. Not to be outdone, “Hurricane Nikita” used every opportunity to stir the diplomatic pot, whistling and banging his fists – and even, allegedly, his shoe – on the desk.

There was abundant evidence that Western powers had been trying to hoodwink the Soviet Union. A U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which President Dwight Eisenhower had denied existed, had been shot down over Soviet territory. Moreover, the US had demanded that the Soviet Union respect the Monroe Doctrine, which assigned Latin America to America’s sphere of interest, but was unwilling to accept Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. And it had dismissed a Soviet-initiated disarmament plan, the first official attempt at peaceful coexistence, out of hand.

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When Nixon adopted his own “mad” persona, he was in some ways drawing on the example of Nikita Khrushchev, my grandfather and Nixon’s adversary during his tenure as US Vice President. In the so-called “kitchen debate” of 1959 – one of the Cold War’s weirdest moments – Nixon sparred with Khrushchev in Moscow over the superiority of capitalism over socialism.

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Hurricane Nikita@ The United Nations General Assembly 1960

A year later, at the UN General Assembly in New York, Khrushchev made quite the appearance. Cuba’s new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was, as was his wont, flamboyantly issuing extravagant threats. Not to be outdone, “Hurricane Nikita” used every opportunity to stir the diplomatic pot, whistling and banging his fists – and even, allegedly, his shoe – on the desk.

There was abundant evidence that Western powers had been trying to hoodwink the Soviet Union. A U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which President Dwight Eisenhower had denied existed, had been shot down over Soviet territory. Moreover, the US had demanded that the Soviet Union respect the Monroe Doctrine, which assigned Latin America to America’s sphere of interest, but was unwilling to accept Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. And it had dismissed a Soviet-initiated disarmament plan, the first official attempt at peaceful coexistence, out of hand.

The West, Khrushchev thought, didn’t take him seriously. This is why he acted so outrageously at the UN. He behaved, he explained later, as the early Bolsheviks would: when you disagree with an opponent, you must make your argument loud and clear – and drown theirs with noise.

In 1962, Khrushchev took this approach a step further, testing the young President John F. Kennedy with a “mad” plan to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. The move triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous standoff of the Cold War. But JFK did not cower, nor did he respond with bluster. Instead, he cleverly ignored Khrushchev’s threats, and instead responded to a letter that showed the Soviet premier as a rational leader negotiating for parity in world affairs. That cool calculation enabled JFK and Khrushchev to defuse tensions, saving the world from nuclear conflict.

The world must now hope that Trump can begin to act as coolly in assessing Kim as JFK was dealing with Khrushchev. Kim responded to Trump’s UN speech by calling him “mentally deranged” and a “dotard.” Either Trump’s madman act is working, or Kim is more right than he – or the rest of us – would like.

Nina L. Khrushcheva, the author of Imagining Nabokov: Russia Between Art and Politics and The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind, is Professor of International Affairs and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at The New School and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.

 

North Korea’s Nuclear Brinkmanship: When will it end?


September 26, 2017

North Korea’s Nuclear Brinkmanship: When will it end?

Vinod Saighal, New Delhi
http://www.eastasiaforum.org
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Analysts across the world have begun to justify North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s brinkmanship on the grounds that he is securing the longevity of his regime against any action that the United States (and its allies) might take. As long as Kim knows that China will not join hands with the United States in taking him out, he will keep upping the ante — thumbing his nose, so to say, at the United States.

 

US President Donald Trump may threaten fire and fury and an unimaginable scale of destruction, but he knows that the United States is on the horns of a dilemma. And now Russia too has come out in opposition to unilateral US action, insisting that dialogue is the only way out.

By the looks of it, Kim is not likely to stop his brinkmanship. But provoking the United States beyond a certain point is likely to invite pre-emptive action. Whatever the nature of a pre-emptive strike by the United States and its two major allies in the region — South Korea and Japan — the destruction that would ensue would, to use President Trump’s words, be unimaginable.

The scale referred to by the US president needs to be spelled out. Ira Helfand, co-President of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, published a paper in 2013 on the consequences of a limited nuclear exchange in South Asia. His findings: Chinese winter wheat production would fall 50 per cent in the first year and, averaged over the entire decade after the war, would be 31 per cent below baseline. More than a billion people in China would face severe food insecurity and the total number of people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion.

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The prospect of a decade of widespread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community. These figures — which remain unchallenged — do not take into account the tens of millions of casualties in the countries where the exchange would take place.

If this is the scale of destruction resulting from a limited nuclear exchange, it is not difficult to imagine the scale in a situation where the United States hits North Korea as hard as it can.

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An estimate can also be made of the effects of retaliatory action by North Korea against South Korea and Japan. Suffice to say that the casualties could be in the tens of millions in the first 24 hours and an order of magnitude of that figure, if not several orders of magnitude, over a longer period.

At the time of writing, the principal players remain the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and now Russia. What about the remaining nations of the world? There does not seem to be any emergency planning for the survival of countries in the region that would surely be affected by the fallout and those beyond who would be affected over a longer period.

In short, practically nobody gets away unscathed. The situation described has to be taken as possible Armageddon, in worst case scenarios. Hence the ineluctable need for the major players to meet at the UN and find an immediate solution to this grave threat to humanity.

A possible way out would be for the United States, China and Russia to issue a joint ultimatum to the North Korean leader to come to the negotiating table and force him to put a cap on his country’s missile and nuclear production. This would be followed by complete dismantlement over a given period, with verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency and designated neutral country experts.

This would need to be preceded by the three big powers working out the compromises that need to take place between the US and North Korea. The broad outlines of concessions demanded from the United States before the ultimatum to the North Korean leader would include the complete withdrawal of all US forces from South Korea in stages and abrogation of the mutual defence pact with South Korea. Neutrality of the Korean peninsula would need to be guaranteed by China, Russia and the United States and endorsed at a special session of the UN Security Council. The United States would need to pledge to abjure military action against North Korea. Finally, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan would need to pledge a substantial sum, say US$50 billion, for the economic revival of North Korea. No attempt at regime change would be made by the United States or its allies.

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Kim is unlikely to agree to this even if two of his supporters were to join with the United States. Here is where compellance comes in. After authorisation by the UN Security Council, China, Russia and the United States carry out a full-scale blockade of North Korea by land, sea and air. Simultaneously, leaflets would be regularly dropped over North Korea by China and Russia (not the United States) urging the population to force their leader to come to the negotiating table, failing which the army and the people would be urged to topple the leader before complete starvation sets in.

The blockade would be lifted only when neutral observers are allowed to come into Pyongyang to monitor the agreement, and the three powers feel assured that there is no possibility of the North Korean leader reneging on the deal.

As a final step towards peace in the region, the proposal — which is amenable to sensible tweaking — for the demilitarisation of both Koreas would commence, with guarantees of military protection from the major powers.

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President Trump lashed back Friday at North Korea’s leader, calling Kim Jong Un a “madman” whose regime will be “tested like never before” amid new U. S-imposed financial sanctions.

A satisfactory outcome in North Korea would send a salutary message to any country aspiring to take the North Korean route. But the biggest take-away would be the coming-together of the leading powers to ward off the direct threats to humanity.

General Vinod Saighal is the Executive Director of Eco Monitors Society, a non-governmental organisation concerned with demography and ecology.

A version of this article was first published here on The Statesman.

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics wins friends for erudite Hassan Rouhani and Iran


September 22, 2017

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics win friends for Erudite Hassan Rouhani and Islamic Republic of Iran

by Robin Wright@www.newyorker.com

Image result for hassan rouhani quote at ungaIran’s Hassan Rouhani won friends with his Speech at the United Nations General Assembly

“Let me underline one thing that must be self-evident to all in the world,” she (European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini) said. “In this moment, having a nuclear-non-proliferation agreement that is delivering is quite a strategic instrument in the hands of the international community. It’s not an irrelevant part of global security.” She added, “We already have one potential nuclear crisis. We definitely do not need to go into a second one. This is an agreement that prevented a nuclear program. And potentially prevented a military intervention. Let’s not forget that.”–Robin Wright

On Monday, I sat in One U.N. Plaza, the high-rise hotel across the street from the United Nations, and watched a parade of European diplomats head into meetings with Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani. Boris Johnson, the blond-mopped British Foreign Minister, sauntered through the lobby in deep conversation with his delegation. The new French President, Emmanuel Macron, led by a military officer wearing the distinctive stovepipe kepi, and accompanied by a dozen aides and several photographers, scurried by next. One by one, the Europeans came to confer with the leader of a country that has been ostracized by the outside world, for decades, as a pariah. No longer. The outside world now comes calling on Iran.

During his campaign and since taking office, President Trump has targeted the Islamic Republic with some of his most wrathful language. At his U.N. début, on Tuesday, he called Iran “reckless” and a “corrupt dictatorship” on a “path of poverty, bloodshed, and terror.” He has repeatedly implied that he wants to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by the world’s six major powers in 2015. As required by Congress, the President must certify every ninety days that Iran is complying with the deal. Trump has certified twice but has indicated that he might change course in mid-October, which would undermine the most significant (whether you like the terms or not) non-proliferation agreement in more than a quarter century.

This week, Trump has taunted the press and tantalized other heads of state with hints about his intentions. On Wednesday, he told reporters (three times), “I have decided.” Asked for details, he said (twice), “I’ll let you know.” Not even the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, could get him to share his decision, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, told reporters.

Trump’s tough talk and sophomoric antics may have had the opposite effect of what he intended, however. Across the board, the world’s other major powers, most of America’s closest allies, and the vast majority of governments at the United Nations this week made clear that they favor the deal. They are siding with Iran this time.

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Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu working hand and glove to scuttle to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A deal with Iran. As far as Trump is concerned, all Obama deals are useless. He feels he can do better. Really?–Din Merican

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iran and the six signatories to the deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.—late Wednesday. It was the first time that Tillerson had met his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Afterward, Mogherini was blunt. “The nuclear agreement is working. It’s delivering. It’s functioning,” she told a press conference at the United Nations. Eight reports by the U.N. nuclear watchdog—the most recent of which was released earlier this month—have verified Iran’s full compliance, she said. The consequences of abandoning or scrapping the deal would be costly.

“Let me underline one thing that must be self-evident to all in the world,” she said. “In this moment, having a nuclear-non-proliferation agreement that is delivering is quite a strategic instrument in the hands of the international community. It’s not an irrelevant part of global security.” She added, “We already have one potential nuclear crisis. We definitely do not need to go into a second one. This is an agreement that prevented a nuclear program. And potentially prevented a military intervention. Let’s not forget that.”

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High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini

In an indirect jibe at Trump, Mogherini noted that the agreement, forged after two years of often tortuous diplomacy, “doesn’t belong to one country.” It was endorsed by a Security Council resolution. “As such, all member states of the United Nations are considered to be bound to the implementation,” she said. “It belongs to the international community.”

In his U.N. address, President Macron also rejected Trump’s view of the Iran deal. “Renouncing it would be a grave error, not respecting it would be irresponsible, because it is a good accord that is essential to peace at a time where the risk of a conflagration cannot be excluded,” he said.

Macron also told a group of journalists in New York that he had been “extremely direct” with Trump when they talked, on Tuesday. “You want to kill it because it is an Obama agreement,” Macron said he argued. “But what else do we have? Nothing. We would be put in the North Korea situation.” During her meeting with Trump, Prime Minister May also reaffirmed Britain’s “strong commitment to the deal” as “vitally important for regional security,” according to a British press release.

Russia and China, which both have strategic, diplomatic, or commercial alliances with Tehran, are two of the signatories, and have long favored making a deal with Iran. The Europeans, who account for all the other major players, are important because they have been in sync with the United States since the Iranian Revolution, in 1979. European nations and the U.S. have been repeatedly burned by Iran in the past, and have similar serious, ongoing issues: Iran’s missile tests, its support for extremists, its human-rights abuses, its detentions of their citizens, and a growing pattern of Iranian intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts, notably in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Yet, for the first time in almost four decades, the Europeans appear willing to break from Washington.

Tillerson said that his first encounter with Iran was “a good opportunity to meet, shake hands.” He added, “There was no yelling. We didn’t throw shoes at one another. It was not an angry tone at all. It was a very, very matter-of-fact exchange of how we see this agreement very, very differently.” Tillerson even offered up a compliment. Iranians, he said, “are a very well-educated, very sophisticated population, so their leaders similarly are well educated, very sophisticated. And Foreign Minister Zarif certainly is in that category.”

Trump’s conflict with Iran boils down to differing interpretations of the second sentence in the preface to the deal—which is to say, it is over eighteen words in a document totaling a hundred and fifty-nine pages. That sentence says that the six major powers and Iran “anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” The Trump Administration charges that Iran has repeatedly violated this sentence in the accord—and, thus, the whole deal.

“Regrettably, since the agreement was confirmed, we have seen anything but a more peaceful, stable region,” Tillerson said, on Wednesday. “The technical aspects” may have been honored by Tehran, he said, “but, in the broader context, the aspiration has not.” That’s the legal framework behind Trump’s “decision of whether we find the JCPOA to continue to serve the security interests of the American people or not.”

The President is also concerned with sunset clauses that allow Iran to eventually resume some activities, ranging from a decade to a quarter century. Mogherini countered that argument, too. She pulled out her copy of the blue-bound text and read the third sentence of the preface, which follows the phrase the U.S. disputes: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

I saw Rouhani twice during his three-day stay. The first time was after the parade of visiting foreign leaders finished and he settled in for a session with former U.S. officials, including a former congressman, U.S. think tanks, and journalists. The second was at a press conference after his own speech to the General Assembly, on Wednesday. At both, he was provided U.S. Secret Service protection as a visiting head of state. It was a striking scene—with the agents in their colorful ties and the Iranian delegation tie-less, a symbol of their rejection of Western influence.

Rouhani, a cleric and political centrist who did his doctorate in Scotland, was recently reëlected, in May, with seventy-three per cent of the vote—more than a million votes more than he won in his first election, in 2013. The current Iranian leadership clearly feels more confident in its dealings with the world, after years of officially shunning both East and West—and being shunned in return.

On the U.N.’s global stage, clothed in the white turban and robes of a cleric, Rouhani threw his own zingers back at Trump. “It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics,” he said. “The ignorant, absurd, and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations, that was uttered before this august body yesterday didn’t befit an organization established to promote peace and respect among nations.” He vowed that Iran would not be the first to breach the nuclear agreement.

In mini-summits among leaders in New York this week, there has been a lot of talk about possible compromises, such as keeping the deal but launching new negotiations to extend the timelines of the sunset clauses. On Wednesday, I asked Rouhani if Iran would be willing to change any of the deal’s terms. “The J.C.P.O.A. has been finalized and there’s going to be no return, renegotiation, or changes vis-a-vis this agreement,” he told me. “Most of the time was taken—days and weeks and months of negotiations and dialogue—was spent on dates. Of course the dates we insisted be the shortest possible, and the other side insisted be as long as possible, but in fact we came up with a rational time frame that was agreed upon by both sides. So this agreement is not something that someone can touch. This is a building from the frame of which, if you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse.”

Rouhani, a former national-security adviser and nuclear negotiator, warned that a U.S. exit from the deal would mean “that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country,” including enriching uranium. Given Trump’s language of late, he said, the options are already being intensely debated in Tehran. Iran has long wanted to produce its own fuel for nuclear reactors, as it diversifies its energy sources. The world’s major powers have never trusted Iran’s pledge not to develop a nuclear bomb, whatever its promises. One of the deal’s primary goals is to prevent Iran from transferring its enriched uranium to fuel a bomb.

Rouhani also warned that Trump would pay the bigger price if he officially challenges the deal, noting Washington has the support of only one other leader—Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. More than a hundred and ninety countries stand by the nuclear accord. “If the new officials in the United States believe that the violation of the J.C.P.O.A. will bring pressure on Iran, they are completely and absolutely mistaken,” Rouhani said in the press conference. Globally, he predicted, U.S. diplomacy would become suspect if the Americans walked away from an accord that they had the largest hand in crafting.

Instead, the Iranian leader told a packed press conference, “The position of Iran throughout the world will be stronger and better than before.” That may be a gross overstatement, given the country’s many other policies that are widely considered dangerous for both Iran’s people and the outside world. The regime still holds several American citizens and green-card holders; some, including a former U.N. staffer, have been sentenced to long prison terms for espionage. But Iran was certainly getting a sympathetic ear at the United Nations, where America’s allies were making Iran’s case to the Trump Administration.

Hagiography instead of history


July 31, 2017

Hagiography instead of history

by Krishnan Srinivasan

http://www.thestatesman.com/books-education/hagiography-instead-of-history-1501369837.html

Image result for the great game in afghanistan General Zia, Rajib

Kallol Bhattacherjee’s book is a specimen of breathless modern history told by someone who thinks he is scooping the world. His heroes are obvious — former US ambassador to India John Gunther Dean, Rajiv Gandhi, and former Indian ambassador Ranendra Sen to whom he invariably refers by his nickname, “Ronen”.

Through his contacts with Dean and to a far less extent, Sen, Bhattacherjee unfolds his version of Gandhi’s initiatives to stabilise the postconflict Afghan situation after the Soviet withdrawal, which never in fact added up to much and eventually collapsed.

The same narrative could be portrayed as another example of Gandhi’s naiveté as a novice in international diplomacy. It is unwise to rewrite history on the basis of hero-worship. The records used to justify Bhattacherjee’s thesis are from the US and Dean’s personal collection and as usual not from Indian archives, whose unnecessary closure defy efforts to arrive at an authentic version of India’s position.

The author posits Sen in the role of intelligence-cum-diplomatic vizier to Gandhi — though it is unlikely that Sen himself subscribes to this view —and astonishingly never cites any contact with MK Narayanan, who then occupied the key intelligence role, or MS Aiyyar, who was privy to Gandhi’s thinking on world affairs.

The closeness of Sen, Narayanan and Aiyyar to Sonia Gandhi as a result of their work with her husband brought them later appointments under successive Congress governments but that is another story.

The core argument is that Gandhi “connected all sides (USSR, US, Pakistan, the Aghan leadership) creating the contours of a political consensus” namely a non-aligned broad-based Afghan administration guaranteed by the major interested powers.

Despite the flaunted friendship between Gandhi and Reagan and Bush, the US let Gandhi down on the “bargain that they had made” on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s nuclear status, which meant that the “peace effort” was doomed.

The fall of Najibullah was another failure of Gandhi’s making. Rajiv Gandhi’s other diplomatic initiatives — disarmament, environment, third world economic cooperation —like his Afghan proposals came to nothing because they did not take into account that the world was changing to a US-dominated sphere.

What the author regards as Gandhi’s “talent for diplomacy” was in reality negligible. India was in no position politically or economically to play in the big league and being consulted by the US did not imply dining at the high table. It is fanciful to think that the US and USSR needed a go-between or “secret Indian channel” between the White House and Kremlin, and such claims suggest that the author’s informants sought to magnify their role.

The quid pro quo of India’s help to resolve the Afghan issue was the US reducing its arms supply to Pakistan, which has been a naïve Indian assumption of Indo-US amity ever since the 1950s.

As could have been foreseen, US arms to Pakistan continued even as the Soviet pullout was imminent, making Indian assumptions ridiculous. The author sadly concludes the “mujahideen were not willing to play by the rules” and the Americans “preferred the Pakistani leaders to India’s.” Bhattacherjee gives too much importance to backstairs intrigues and off the record talks and indulges in gross exaggerations.

He describes Sen and Dean “often coordinating on issues of interest on a daily basis” which is ridiculous to anyone who has worked at high levels in the government. He writes that Pakistan president Zia’s death/murder in an air crash could spark a nuclear war between India and Pakistan —more than a decade before India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. He is fond of the word paranoia, used thrice on the same page.

He claims “it was obvious to Rajiv and his team that the USSR was not going to last long”, which would be news to everyone including the US and Gorbachev. The text is not free of absurdities; “As an ex-intelligence officer, he knew that news is often the best tool for private investigation.”

The author writes that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stopped over for an hour at Bombay airport in 1984 due to the murder of the UK top diplomat in that city, and the Maharashtra home secretary was “surprised” she did not mention the matter — which he regarded as sinister. Senator Charles Percy was Gandhi’s “secret lobbyist in Washington DC.” At another place, it is said that Zia “wanted to delay history.”

The editors at HarperCollins are generous with cli-chés, including the Great Game of the title and eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. They also do not know the difference between “defuse” and “diffuse”. In sum, this is an unconvincing book and a waste of considerable research that should have been put to better use. Also about Pakistan/Afghanistan but of a very different nature is Nate Rabe’s racy, fast paced novel,The Shah of Chicago, about a shambolic effort to enter the illegal narcotics trade.

The anti hero is an unattractive jive-talking American junkie of Pakistani origin who returns to his country of birth to get rich quickly. He is a criminal ex-convict murderer but a lover of ghazal and Bollywood.

While his narcotics enterprise bombs, a totally improbable love life with a high-society Pakistani woman flowers.

This whole text is so full of outlandish stereotypes that it strains credibility, as indeed does the strange name of the author. But it makes for easy reading as a spoof compared to Bhattacherjee’s distorted presentation of the Great Game.

(The reviewer is India’s former foreign secretary)

 

The Incoherence of Trump’s Foreign Policy


July 27, 2017

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The Brilliant Incoherence of Trump’s Foreign Policy

by Stephen Sestanovich*

*Stephen Sestanovich is a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama.

Image result for the brilliant incoherence of trump's foreign policy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/05/the-brilliant-incoherence-of-trumps-foreign-policy/521430/

The United States periodically debates whether to do more or less abroad. Trump won by promising both. But he can’t possibly deliver.

 

Every 20 years or so—the regularity is a little astonishing—Americans hold a serious debate about their place in the world. What, they ask, is going wrong? And how can it be fixed? The discussion, moreover, almost always starts the same way. Having extricated itself with some success from a costly war, the United States then embraces a scaled-down foreign policy, the better to avoid overcommitment. But when unexpected challenges arise, people start asking whether the new, more limited strategy is robust enough. Politicians and policy makers, scholars and experts, journalists and pundits, the public at large, even representatives of other governments (both friendly and less friendly) all take part in the back-and-forth. They want to know whether America, despite its decision to do less, should go back to doing more—and whether it can.

The reasons for doubt are remarkably similar from one period of discussion to the next. Some argue that the U.S. economy is no longer big enough to sustain a global role of the old kind, or that domestic problems should take priority. Others ask whether the public is ready for new exertions. The foreign-policy establishment may seem too divided, and a viable consensus too hard to reestablish. Many insist that big international problems no longer lend themselves to Washington’s solutions, least of all to military ones. American “leadership,” it is said, won’t work so well in our brave new world.

With minor variations, this is the foreign-policy debate that the country conducted in the 1950s, the 1970s, and the 1990s. And it’s the same one that we have been having for the past few years. The rise of the Islamic State, the Syrian civil war, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and China’s muscle-flexing in East Asia jolted the discussion back to life in 2014. Presidential debates in 2015 and 2016 added issues (from Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal to his Asian trade pact) and sharpened the controversy.

Those of us in the foreign-policy business are always glad to have our concerns get this kind of prominence. Down the decades, these debates have tended to produce a consensus in favor of renewed American activism. Yet each version unfolds in its own way. The global turmoil of 2016 meant that nobody could be completely sure how this one was going to turn out.

We still don’t know. The advent of Donald Trump—his candidacy, his election, and the start of his presidency—has given our once-every-two-decades conversation extra drama and significance. Some commentators claim that Trump wants to cast aside the entire post–Cold War order. To others, he is repudiating everything that America has tried to achieve since 1945. Still others say he represents a break with all we have stood for since 1776 (or maybe even since 1630, when John Winthrop called the Massachusetts Bay Colony “a city upon a hill”).

That we talk this way is but one measure of the shock Trump’s victory has administered. The new president is raising questions about the foreign policy of the United States—about its external purposes, its internal cohesion, and its chances of success—that may not be fully answered for years. Yet to understand a moment as strange as this, we need to untangle what has happened. In this cycle, America has actually had two rounds of debate about its global role. The first one was driven by the 2016 campaign, and Trump won it. The second round has gone differently. Since taking office, the new president has made one wrong move after another. Though it’s too soon to say that he has lost this round, he is certainly losing control of it. In each case, we need to understand the dynamics of the discussion better than we do.

Like its predecessors, the 2016 debate began with a negative premise: America wasn’t doing well enough in the world. In the ’50s, and again in the ’70s, the worry was that the United States had ceded the strategic initiative to the Soviet Union. By the mid-’90s, the U.S.S.R. was no more, but Americans came to feel that they needed a better way of coping with the conflicts of the post–Cold War world. Existing policy did not seem good enough.

Last year was no different. Of the 20-odd Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, none fully embraced the Obama administration’s version of retrenchment. As always, the critiques varied. Some urged doing more; others, less. Among the Republicans, the more-to-less spectrum ran from Marco Rubio to Rand Paul (with upwards of a dozen contenders in between). Among the Democrats, it went from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders (with others in between whom no one can remember). Candidates of both parties seemed more open than they had been in years to the idea of rethinking what America stands for—and should be trying to do.

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Trump dominated by proposing a more hopped-up foreign-policy activism—and a fuller kind of disengagement.

Eager as they always are in election years to shape the candidates’ views, scholars, experts, and former officials produced a flood of books and articles. Their common theme: the growing obstacles America faced in getting its way abroad. Iraq, Afghanistan, and other post-9/11 military campaigns had shown the costs and risks of overreliance on force as an instrument of foreign policy. The greater assertiveness of competitors like Russia and China, the slowing of the global economy, the seeming intractability of problems like terrorism, cybercrime, and climate change—these realities made U.S. goals still harder to achieve.

But a shared diagnosis hardly meant shared prescriptions. While experts lined up along the same more-to-less spectrum as the candidates, predicting who stood where was not as easy as you might think. Among analysts within the academy, a do-less faction was strong, as always. Veterans of previous Republican administrations stressed that their do-more views did not mean support for “boots on the ground.” Within the Democratic foreign-policy establishment, eight years of Barack Obama had opened up divisions over trade, the use of force, and human rights. Some who had worked for Obama argued that his downsizing strategy had gotten most things right; others argued that he had let U.S. influence shrink. For them, a world of fraying order made a large American role more necessary than ever.

And the public? Polls suggested that it, too, was open to new approaches—but unsure how to choose among them. In May 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that 70 percent of voters wanted the next president to focus on domestic affairs rather than foreign policy. In the same poll, Pew found that majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents favored policies that would keep the United States “the only military superpower.” Not for the first time, it seemed that Americans wanted to have it all.

And the public? Polls suggested that it, too, was open to new approaches—but unsure how to choose among them. In May 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that 70 percent of voters wanted the next president to focus on domestic affairs rather than foreign policy. In the same poll, Pew found that majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents favored policies that would keep the United States “the only military superpower.” Not for the first time, it seemed that Americans wanted to have it all.

So how did candidate Donald Trump fit into—even hijack—this right-on-schedule foreign-policy debate? His anti-immigrant talk, angry denunciation of free-trade agreements, and embrace of the pre–World War II slogan “America First” led many to treat him as the campaign’s extreme outlier—an old-fashioned isolationist. But this was never the right label. It failed to capture the novel mix of positions Trump had settled on—and it grossly underestimated his ability to dominate the discussion.

Trump rode to victory as the candidate who promised to do both more and less than Obama. He offered the voters a resolute call to arms and relief from the burdens of global leadership. The problem with American foreign policy, he suggested, was not a simple case of too-costly over-commitment. It was the result of something more ominous: the ill will of friends and foes, and the moral culpability of our own leaders. Sinister forces—especially religious ideologues—threatened our safety. Intellectual confusion—the dreaded “political correctness”—made it hard to name our enemy. Allies and trading partners cheated us at every turn. Waves of foreigners were taking our jobs. Futile wars had left the military “depleted.” In its weakened state, the United States no longer commanded respect.

It’s hard to think of an American political figure who has ever put forward such a dark view of the world—or such a despairing picture of policy paralysis. To fix matters, Trump did not offer a conventional “Come Home, America”–style program of isolationism. Instead, he promised kick-ass confrontation. We had been “losing” for too long. The right response, the way to start and keep “winning,” was not to get out of the game but to play it better—smarter, harder, tougher. Trump was the candidate who, claiming to know more about ISIS than the generals, would “bomb the shit” out of it. (With no inhibitions, either: What, he reportedly asked expert briefers, was wrong with using nuclear weapons against terrorists?) He had more experience negotiating business deals than the trade lawyers did, and knew how to cultivate the kind of personal relationships with the world’s high rollers that professional diplomats could only dream of.

Trump sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion.

Trump dominated the election-year debate by proposing a more hopped-up version of foreign-policy activism than the usual advocates of activism, and a fuller kind of disengagement than those who wanted to scale down. The combination—radicalism at both ends of the spectrum—seemed the essence of his appeal. Sure, other do-more candidates wanted to increase spending on defense, but they cluttered their message with commitments to help others—friends, allies, and those who “shared our values.” And do-less candidates wanted to pull out of trade agreements, but not to cut foreign aid. For Trump, American policy was supposed to serve only American interests.

Best of all, Trump suggested, his entire approach would be free. The famous boast that Mexico would pay for Trump’s proposed border wall echoed many of his other pronouncements. Seizing Iraq’s oil—the “spoils” of war, in his term—would help defeat terrorism. Allies would finally be made to “pay their bills.” The Pentagon budget increases that Trump promised would be funded, he claimed, by “ending the theft of American jobs.” Yes, we could be “great again”—and on the cheap.

Such a blend of much more and much less could easily have seemed incoherent, or crazy. But the two halves of Trump’s formula worked together better than critics appreciated. He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will. Trump embraced Bernie Sanders’s economics without George McGovern’s geopolitics. Of self-identified conservative Republicans, 70 percent told Pew last year that they wanted the U.S. to retain its global military dominance. “Make America Great Again” was a slogan aimed right at them.

Trump’s more-and-less strategy also helped him with those who wanted a bristly, muscular America but did not want endless military involvements. Rejecting “nation building” abroad so as to focus on the home front was Trump’s way of assuring voters that he knew how to avoid imperial overstretch. He offered supporters the glow of a Ronald Reagan experience—without the George W. Bush tab.

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton. She offered up her own version of a mix-and-match foreign policy. To neutralize Sanders’s challenge from the left, Clinton backed away from her previous endorsement of the Obama administration’s East Asian trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). To attract Republicans and independents who felt Obama had been too passive internationally, she promised “safe zones” in Syria that would protect civilians and adversaries of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like nafta and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

Clinton was doubtless trying to dispel suspicion that she was the continuity candidate in the race—that she wouldn’t change Obama’s foreign policy all that much. But in competing for voters who hated the status quo, she had little chance against Trump. Clinton had the more thoughtful, balanced policy, and Trump almost surely had no real grasp of how his own international strategy fit together. Even so, he got people out of their seats.

Trump’s perverse admiration for Putin preserved his purity as the candidate who did not agree with Obama on a single thing.

In both the primary campaign and the general election, Trump showered all his rivals, Republicans and Democrats, with schoolyard taunts. Yet he always treated Barack Obama as his true opponent. On issue after issue—immigration, trade, alliance commitments, nuclear weapons, China, Syria, isis, Iran, Israel—Trump positioned himself, with greater consistency than any other Republican candidate, as the anti-Obama. He disagreed with every element of the president’s foreign policy.

This pattern may even hint at an explanation of Trump’s odd stance on Russia. By 2016, Obama’s relationship with Vladimir Putin had long since unraveled. The sanctions imposed on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, beefed-up U.S. troop deployments in eastern Europe, opposition to Russia’s intervention in Syria—all of these policies were a problem for most Republicans. Could they really prove that they were tougher on Putin than Obama was? Trump had his own, ingenious solution to the puzzle. His perverse admiration for Putin—the claim that the two of them would “get along very well”—preserved Trump’s purity as the candidate who did not agree with Barack Obama on a single thing.

Had Donald Trump run for President in 2012, the entire case he made about America’s desperate position in the world probably would have flopped. In that campaign, foreign policy was widely considered one of Obama’s strengths, and he coasted to reelection—just as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, two past presidents brought in to clean up unsuccessful wars, had done.

As Obama’s second term wore on, however, the global landscape changed. A series of new problems made his policies look more ragged than commanding. Americans’ personal regard for their president was up, but they felt his international standing was down. (In 2012, 55 percent of respondents told Gallup that they thought Obama was respected abroad; by 2015, that number was just 37 percent.) In this new environment, Trump was able to make his critique more compelling than anyone else’s. Though his views—and his way of presenting them—were shocking, there was a kind of brilliance in the way he seized the moment.

Elections often settle our cyclical foreign-policy debates. Not in this case. The discussion has now gone into overtime, and Trump is faring far worse than he did in the campaign. His crude and contradictory ideas have proved hard to implement—and hard to sell to audiences more skeptical than his campaign-rally crowds. His opponents have the rhetorical advantage and seem likely to hold it.

Trump’s problems go far beyond the familiar idea that politicians campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose. He has had to confront the enormous difficulty of advancing a platform that promised simultaneously to do more and less. Writing in his diary, Richard Nixon, who had tried a similar strategy himself, recalled Churchill’s views of its challenges: “One can have a policy of audacity or one can follow a policy of caution, but it is disastrous to try to follow a policy of audacity and caution at the same time. It must be one or the other.”

In this spirit, many analysts found it hard to believe that Trump would stick to his more outlandish policy ideas and impulses once he took office. Weren’t they just a little too nutty to survive in the real world? A Saturday Night Live skit soon after the election gave this forecast a wide audience. As the rattled president-elect, Alec Baldwin reversed one ambitious campaign promise after another. Mass deportation of immigrants? “Let’s not do it. Scrap it.” Obamacare? “No change.”

The hope that Trump would yield to reason gained further strength from his selection of sober-minded Cabinet secretaries—General James Mattis to run the Pentagon and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State—and the choice of H. R. McMaster to replace Michael Flynn as national-security adviser. As administration spokespeople backed away from Trump’s statements on many issues—China, NATO, mass deportations, the Iran nuclear deal, a two-state formula for Israeli–Palestinian peace, and others—the voices of good sense seemed to be carrying the day.

Trump is not the first president to have assembled a divided team of advisers, or to face the near-united opposition of senior Cabinet officers. (Lyndon Johnson would have stories to tell Trump about how he handled such problems.) What makes the new administration’s predicament unique is the apparent commitment—still very much in place—to pursue a more activist foreign policy while reducing the costs and risks of America’s global leadership role. To start “winning” again at last.

The tension between the two halves of Trump’s policy is not merely one of logic, but one of institutions. Activist policies are necessarily inclusive—to work, they depend on the resources, technical expertise, coordinated implementation, and support of the national-security bureaucracy. By contrast, downsizing requires central control of policy—fewer hands on the tiller, careful steering, quiet diplomacy, and conceptual discipline.

A president trying to change policy can hurt himself if he misunderstands America’s power—and if he is misled by his own rhetoric.

Yet in the administration’s early going, Trump and his advisers have gotten things exactly backwards. The initial version of their “Muslim ban” was precisely the kind of activist measure that called for the laying-on of hands by multiple agencies. Instead, it was hatched virtually in the dark by a few brand-new White House aides. As for rapprochement with Russia—whether it makes sense or not—the entire idea calls for confidential talks out of the usual channels, in which each side’s flexibility and interest can be carefully explored. Despite Trump’s clear personal interest in outreach to Putin, he may have already lost the chance to make the initiative work. He has let so many of his own officials criticize it—and allowed so much congressional opposition to build up—that his options are drastically narrowed.

No President with any knowledge of government at all would have bungled these matters the way Trump has. Even inexperienced presidents have adjusted more adeptly to the exercise of power. The Obama administration’s first-year fulfillment of a campaign promise—the controversial 2009 decision to add troops in Afghanistan—was almost a textbook case of good process compared with Trump’s. Obama got bureaucratic buy-in where he needed it: His advisers came together in backing the decision for a “surge.” At the same time, he maintained personal oversight of the issue he cared about most—a tight timetable for the withdrawal of the extra troops, which most of his team hated but no one openly opposed. Obama’s early decisions helped him gain control of policy. Trump’s have helped him lose it.

A President trying to change policy can also hurt himself if he misunderstands America’s power position—and is misled by his own rhetoric. When the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 finally obliged Jimmy Carter to toughen his strategy toward Moscow, his administration quickly came forward with a raft of additional measures: a new “doctrine” for Persian Gulf security, outreach to China, suspension of strategic arms control, and more. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security adviser, even appeared at the Khyber Pass with a dagger and a machine gun. With tensions (and tempers) running high, my old boss Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan urged the president and his advisers to recognize that they had badly misjudged the balance of power—and could not know for sure how the Soviets would respond to their show of strength. It was crucial, he said, to make no false moves. Nothing would be worse than to pick a new fight and lose it.

President Trump probably needs to learn the opposite lesson: Don’t pick fights that the U.S. has already won. Trump painted a picture of extreme American weakness convincing enough to win him the White House. But he will keep making mistakes if he believes his own assessment. With net migration from Mexico at its lowest levels since the 1940s, and with not a single person since at least 1975 (and maybe ever) having been killed in terrorist acts on U.S. soil by nationals of the countries on the administration’s “Muslim ban” list, Trump has the freedom to decide which problems he most wants to solve. His actions have to be broadly consistent with the message that got him elected, but he has nothing to gain from urgent and disruptive measures to address vulnerabilities that do not exist. Such moves will not reverse the decline Trump fears; they will accelerate it.

Ronald Reagan, Trump might recall, defeated Carter by pointing to the danger of Soviet military advances. In office, however, Reagan was acutely conscious of the communist system’s flaws and sought to exploit them carefully. He wanted a big military buildup, not a war. Advisers who didn’t understand this fell out of favor. Secretary of State Alexander Haig confided to Reagan early on that it would be easy to turn Cuba into “a fucking parking lot.” The President ignored him.

There may be no more important indicator of how isolated Trump has become in the post-election round of foreign-policy debate than the routine way in which critics berate him for undermining what they see as America’s supreme foreign-policy achievement—an international order variously described as “open,” “liberal,” and “rules based.” Whatever the value of these labels, the critics are right that, after World War II, the U.S. repudiated beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies and every-man-for-himself security policies. They’re also right that Trump seems strangely attracted to such approaches. Despite the stupendous results of American strategy since 1945—victory in the Cold War, spreading global prosperity, an era of sustained (if uneasy) peace among major states—the president is clearly convinced that the United States has paid for almost everything and gotten almost nothing in return. In order to shift the cost-benefit analysis back in our favor, he seems determined to challenge the policies and practices that have cemented America’s vast power and influence in the 20th and 21st centuries.

In doing so, Trump has unified people who disagree about many elements of U.S. foreign policy and who recognize the many shortcomings of the so-called liberal international order. Experts, scholars, and former policy makers do not have a single view of the institutions that embody this order. NATO enjoys strong support in most quarters; the European Union, considerably less support; the United Nations, far less than that—and even supporters disagree about how the United States should make use of these forums in the future. Whether they lean Democrat or Republican, or reject both parties, the best experts and analysts take for granted the need to rethink, and to do better. It’s good that they disagree about the big choices America faces—about globalization, terrorism, military spending, foreign assistance, democracy promotion, nuclear proliferation, cyber-security, climate change, the rise of China, the future of Iran, Putinism, and much more. Trump, unfortunately, has gotten the very people who should be leading our debate to put their differences aside.

This unity comes at a cost. A once-every-two-decades debate is an opportunity to measure American policy against all the ways in which the world is changing—and the ways in which U.S. responses have fallen short. It’s a chance to come to grips with the vulnerabilities of the liberal order. To do so means thinking about narrow practical questions and broad conceptual ones. Can America’s leaders manage, explain, and defend this order better in the next decade than they did in the last? At a time when the power of the U.S. is, in relative terms at least, slowly declining, will rules that have long depended on that power continue to matter? Americans have never much liked applying the rules to themselves. What will happen when others feel strong enough to evade them too?

These are, in one form or another, the questions that the candidates, experts, and voters were supposed to wrestle with in last year’s campaign. Because of Trump—and the very necessary push back against him—serious discussion of America’s role in the world has been virtually suspended, and no one can say when or how it will start up again. One thing is for certain, though. We can’t wait another 20 years to resume the debate.

 

 

 

Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Connection


July 14, 2017– The Bastille Day

Donald Trump Jr. and The Russian Connection

by Jelani Cobb

http://www.newyorker.com

The tangled explanations offered for why Donald Trump, Jr., agreed to a meeting last June with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya have observers reciting once again the political truism that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup—except when it’s actually the crime. It’s not clear whether any laws were broken with regard to that meeting, which was also attended by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, and at which Trump, Jr., hoped to receive politically damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a person who he had been told had ties to the Kremlin. But plenty of other questions remain to be answered.

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When Trump, Jr., released his e-mails about that meeting—after he was told that the Times was going to publish their contents—President Trump said that his son is a “high-quality person,” and thanked him for his “transparency.” Given the President’s usual hyperbolic lexicon, “high-quality” sounds like faint praise, but “transparency” is precisely the issue. Setting aside the fact that the Trump team seemed fine with accepting sensitive information from a Russian source, it’s worth considering why Donald Trump, Jr., was chosen to be the recipient of it.

His blithe defense—that nothing about the meeting matters because it turned out that there was no intel to share—is only more damning. Veselnitskaya does not seem to have any formal connection to the Russian government, but, if she had, as Trump, Jr., apparently believed, then the overture should have been seen as a feint, a head-fake to gauge the level of sophistication of the Trump team, and possibly to compromise the son of a potential future President in order to extract concessions at a later date—the kinds of machinations that would’ve been instantly recognized during the Cold War.

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The implications of this level of ineptitude on Trump’s team have been alarming ever since Trumpism became a viable political force, but it also points to a lack of understanding of what Russia may be seeking to achieve with the Trump Presidency. In the fall of 2015, after Trump defended Putin against accusations of murdering journalists, and praised his leadership, it was easy to draw superficial comparisons between them: two image-conscious men hostile to independent institutions and fixated on restoring their respective nations to what they perceived as their former greatness. Since then, the differences between them have become more apparent. Russian resurrection is Putin’s raison d’être, an objective that explains his various military interventions.

It is an agenda that resonates deeply in a nation that remains both bitterly aware that it lost the Cold War and sensitive to the subsequent decline of its significance in world affairs. A few years ago, on a fellowship in Russia, I was discussing the work of Hunter S. Thompson with a student on a Moscow trolley, when an older man watching us began shouting angrily. The student translated his complaint: “There was a time when Americans knew better than to come to Russia and dare to speak English loudly in public.”

Trump, too, speaks the language of national grievance. He persuaded his followers that they had been suckered globally, and, in the most alarmingly messianic of his statements at the Republican National Convention, warned that he alone could save the nation. He has dissed long-standing allies, sabre-rattled our enemies, and made a show of wrangling job concessions out of American manufacturers—but none of that reflects a coherent world view beyond the will to power that has driven him since he appeared on the New York real-estate scene more than forty years ago.

The grimiest business practices might approve cementing a lucrative international deal with a corrupt foreign regime, but nations, at least in theory, operate on a broader set of principles. Were Trump’s nationalism anything more than self-serving theatrics, his associates would have rejected any suggestion of foreign assistance in the election on the principle that, hated or not, Hillary Clinton represented someone to whom they were bound by ties of citizenship.

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The Games these Guys Play as the world watches

Putin seems to have recognized these contradictions and weaknesses from the outset. His interest in Trump’s candidacy appears driven not simply by transactional concerns, such as the removal of sanctions in exchange for reauthorizing the adoption of Russian orphans, or the prospect of a hands-off foreign policy that will ignore Russian human-rights violations. Trump may see himself as an American Putin, but Putin likely sees Trump as an American Boris Yeltsin—floundering in the complexities that surround him. Before Trump was pressured into raising the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election with Putin at last week’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, he had continued to downplay it. This was despite the fact that his own Justice Department is prosecuting Reality Leigh Winner, a twenty-five-year-old intelligence contractor, for leaking a National Security Agency report on attempts by Russian military intelligence to hack local election officials and voter-registration software.

All this points to problems that extend far beyond the June meeting to the nature of this Administration and its inability to understand the world that it is supposed to be leading. My colleague John Cassidy has pointed out that Trump, Jr., increasingly looks like a fall guy for a White House whose senior officials are increasingly compromised. When Richard Nixon saw that the resignations of his aides John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman had done nothing to diminish the inquiry into Watergate, he told Henry Kissinger, “I cut off two arms and then they went after the body.” Even if Trump, Jr., does take the fall, Trump, like Nixon, may soon realize that it will be insufficient to stop the Russia investigation.

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”