Sufficient Integrity

If I say it is so, best you believe it.

CS&W is mostly about travel. Life-fulfilling, experiential, aspirational stuff, usually. Most of the time it’s about the world outside the United States, and many readers live outside this country.

There is no reason people outside the US should follow our country’s daily internal politics, but I think you should know that just now it’s a bit of a fraught moment. The other day, President Trump said this about the North Korean leader:

“He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head,” Trump told Fox News Channel. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Modest note to the president: We are not your people.

Later, this from Mr. Trump:

“I’m kidding,” he said. Admonishing the journalist, the president added, “You don’t understand sarcasm.”

•••••

Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic,

It is (a) flaw in the American system that it relies on the presumption that the chief executive will be a person of sufficient integrity not to abuse that tension for personal gain.”

He’s talking about the

“inherent tension in America’s constitutional system in that the attorney general, the head of the Justice Department, is also a Cabinet official answerable to the president.”

In defense of the American system, it took 200+ years to throw up our reigning rascal.

•••••

We Americans define ourselves in many ways. Diversity is our country’s robust strength. We are conservatives, liberals, citizens, grandparents, parents, children, patriots, military veterans, immigrants, activists, protesters, bread-winners and retirees, political supporters and opponents.

But I am hard-pressed to imagine anyone who would consider himself a subject of the president in the way North Koreans are to their leader, and in the way that the American president described us “sarcastically”  to his house organ.

•••••

Diminished respect for the rule of law and general thuggishness in this country chime with the lived experience of Europeans this 2018. To Poland (Law and Justice), Hungary (Jobbik), Austria (Freedom Party), Italy (the League), Finland (the Finns), the French Front Nationale, Germany (The AfD), Greece (Golden Dawn), England (UKIP), this summer we may add USA (Republican).

The retiring chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said his own party is acting like a “cult” in kowtowing to the president. The ruling party’s leadership though, astride the trough and damned well intent on retaining wallowing rights, won’t hear of it.

•••••

From far away we Americans read about the rise of European nationalism as a clinical, academic thing, a phenomenon unrelated to our purported world dominion, our whole reigning former unipolar, indispensable nation thing.

You poor uncomprehending Europeans systematically mishandle your refugees, among them the ones that come via Libya, a now lawless land we were happy to lead from behind to help you destroy. Not our problem now.

We float above petty squabbles like that whole Libyan lead from behind thing. We mightily beat back the challenges of invading hordes of impoverished brown people on our southern border seeking a better life. An agency of our government called ICE, for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has been systematically and as a matter of policy separating would-be immigrant parents and children at the US/Mexican border. Many of these people are fleeing some of the most violent, lawless countries in the world.

In a country avowedly proud of the separation of church and state, here is America’s senior law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summed up the same idea: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

We are fast coming off our deteriorating and underfunded national rails. Most alarmingly, it looks like this comes with at least the tacit support of at least a large minority of Americans.

Eh.

•••••

Meanwhile in Turkey

Reserve a little thought space for the upcoming Turkish elections. Both presidential and parliamentary elections are coming in nine days time, and by most accounts President Erdogan finds himself in a tightening race. An article in Bloomberg titled Why Erdogan’s Election Has Gone From Shoo-In to Nail-Biter writes about

“the prospect Erdogan wouldn’t work with a hung parliament and instead call an election do-over if the results were not to his liking.”

The president said Monday that

“he expects the next presidential and parliamentary elections to end in the first round, with little possibility of a second one.”

But a Reuters poll just out today shows Ergodan

“falling short of a first-round victory … with his support dipping 1.6 points in one week…. The poll also showed his ruling AK Party was forecast to lose its parliamentary majority in the June 24 vote.”

So, we may expect an excess of media riches on Sunday, 24 June: England vs. Panama, Japan vs. Senegal and Poland vs. Colombia in the World Cup, and Erdogan versus a more-than-usually-united opposition in the Turkish Election Sweepstakes.

Here it Comes

Pyongyang via Wikimedia

Air Force One bears down on Singapore at this hour. Time for us to bone up on learning this stuff. Betcha more than he has.

Quotes: On European Populism

I think this quote, from Will Italy’s Populists Upend Europe? by Mark Leonard today at Project Syndicate, makes the salient point with an economy of words:

“An Italian government combining two very different strands of populism will pose a serious threat to the European project, because it could form the core of a new federation of populists and Euroskeptics that have hitherto operated separately. No longer would Euroskeptics be fragmented into different tribes of anti-immigrant politicians on the right and anti-austerity politicians on the left.”

Seems to me this is the key to making an effective (if potentially frightening) populism adhere. Can opposite poles hold together?

I’m with the less austerity camp, and I find some level of “common currency abuse” on the part of “German fiscal hawks,” as Leonard calls them. I’m less inclined toward the xenophobes and God-and-country nationalists at the other pole. Perhaps they feel the same in reverse?

Can this coalition hold together?

Italy is the European spot to watch this summer. That is, unless the May government falls.

Anybody?

How Is Bullying Working Out for You?

This morning’s cancellation of the US/DPRK summit comes as no surprise. It turns out that the president who threatens “fire and fury” can’t countenance similar rhetoric from his interlocutors.

It’s not just the threat of “fire and fury” that the North Koreans have been responding to. The other day the American vice-president went on a friendly news channel to say that “There was some talk about the Libya model … as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.”

This was a straightforward threat to the life of the North Korean leader, thuggish and anti-diplomatic. But boy, he sure is a big ol’ tough vice-president, yessiree.

The vice-president was referring to an appearance by the new national security advisor John Bolton on the same friendly Fox News channel, in which Mr. Bolton provocatively laid out a maximalist negotiating position, demanding the unilateral disarmament of North Korea along the lines of the “Libyan model.”

Libya’s ruler Moammar Gadhafi was persuaded to transfer his nuclear equipment out of the country in 2003 and 2004. This came under the George W. Bush administration. Later the Obama administration, along with European allies, mounted military action against Libya in 2011 to prevent a threatened massacre of civilians. In that conflict, rebels hunted down Colonel Gadhafi and killed him. This was the “Libya model.”

Since everyone knows this, Mr. Bolton’s remarks were artless and, as we see this morning, if the U.S. is really seeking to pursue diplomacy, counterproductive.

The United States, along with the United Kingdom and France, was instrumental in the death of Colonel Gadhafi. The United States has meanwhile just unilaterally abrogated an internationally negotiated treaty with Iran.

In this light, consider how much weight a member of the North Korean leadership would give President Trump’s remarks on Tuesday that “I will guarantee his (Mr. Kim’s) safety, yes … He will be safe, he will be happy, his country will be rich, his country will be hard-working and prosperous.”

We now enter a period of blistering tit for tat rhetoric between the US and the DPRK.

That Nobel prize will have to wait.

Soft Power

Gordon Chang is enjoying a TV punditry renaissance just now, having rebranded himself as a North Korea expert. In his previous life as a pundit he wrote The Coming Collapse of China – seventeen years ago. No surprise he went to ground for a while.

I fear Joseph Nye may be making the Chang mistake. In an article for the Australian think tank ASPI, he similarly discounts the juggernaut that, truth is, China really is nowadays.

Nye has come around toward the end of his career to focus on an idea he coined the term for back in the late 1980s: the idea of “soft power,” understood as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. He thinks China is sorely lacking in soft power, writing

“no one should be tempted by exaggerated projections of Chinese power. If the US maintains its alliances with democratic Japan and Australia, and continues to develop good relations with India, it will hold the high cards in Asia. In the global military balance, China lags far behind, and in terms of demography, technology, the monetary system and energy dependence, the US is better placed than China in the coming decade. In the Soft Power 30 index, China ranks 25th, while the US is third.”

Maybe. But should push come to shove, does the United States under the Trump administration have the will or the desire, at the far end of its supply lines and on China’s doorstep, to resist Chinese expansion inside the nine-dash line?

Nye writes “no one knows what the future will bring for China. Xi has torn up Deng Xiaoping’s institutional framework for leadership succession, but how long will Xi’s authority last?”

Since 5 June, 1989, when that man stood in front of the tank just outside Tiananmen Square, wishful-thinking pundits have written similar things about each successive Chinese leader, and their conviction that sometime soon anti-authoritarianism will triumph in China.

I’m just saying, how’s that working out so far?

When that man stood in front of that tank, China was a mere shell of the global behemoth it has become since. Its model of state capitalism has since beguiled the leaders of just about every developing country in the world, showering them with loans and influence free of judgmental politics, like the gleaming new railroad between Nairobi and Mombasa, the Madaraka Express train in Kenya,  and the massive Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. That, seems to me, is its own sort of soft power.

Dear Mr. Nye: a word of caution on the soft power thing. No Gordon Chang moment, please.

Silly Diplomats

As Russian Foreign Ministers go, I think Sergey Lavrov is a pretty cool dude. He is charismatic, dynamic, he engages with European and American interlocutors in English, a skill his boss hasn’t mastered.

He is an effective mouthpiece for his government, a dedicated cynic and as far as faux patriotism takes you, a cool dude.

Still, I think his recent charge of “Genocide by sanctions” may be just a twinge too far. A bit of a reach.