The Globalization of Politcs May Be the Most Important Long Term Impact of Trumpism

For a long time a sacred (and therefore honored in the breach) principle of international relations was that of non-interference in other countries internal affairs.

Indeed, when NATO intervened in the Balkans, many, including progressives, were deeply worried about the violation of this principle, and the precedent it might set for the future.

Of course, these days, we understand that as a practical matter there are multiple ongoing ways of engaging with and interfering with other countries political system, yet no real coherent intellectual structure for describing, let alone regulating it.  What we do know that the last election has gotten us to the point where we realize the extent of the threat to democracy and democratic principles in the way this game in evolving.  In the package of such techniques are stealing data, publicizing true or false data, undermining confidence in communications, creating confusion, and falsifying communications in such a way that the parties do not even know it.

That countries are interfering in each others’ processes more and more is just a reflection of how deeply and continuously their interests intersect, and of how much more that is case that ever before.

Rather than just panic, I would urge that we should see the globalization of politics implicit in this interventionist paradigm as an opportunity both to advance democracy, and the integration of our world.

The core imbalance is between transparent engagement and non-transparent interventions.  Examples of transparent engagement are public information campaigns, people from other countries urging policy choices, explanations of the other countries points and view, needs, and alignment with the interests of the country sought to being influenced.  Remember that to suppress information about such things means that the overall process of global vision integration is held back.

Such transparent engagements actually provide more information for those who make the decisions about how to vote and how to lead.  Such transparent engagements only work if they are seen to be advocating for policies that are in the real interests of those with the actual voting and decision-making power.  Otherwise, they have the opposite effect of moving people in the opposite effect (as may already at least be happening with Putin’s US adventures.)

In contrast, non-transparent interventions, as we will continue to see in the US, undermine stability in “target” countries, at least in the short term, tend to destabilize the international system, and are likely to result in escalations of interference that may spill over into other realms of force.

Now, therefore, somehow non-transparent interventions have to be banned and actually so strongly de-incentivized that they they do not occur.  Interestingly, most countries probably have in place rules that prohibit all such interventions.  So the prohibitions need  to be generally narrowed to apply only to non-transparent interventions.

This would also require specifying the requirements and conditions of transparency.  Such conditions would include full disclosure of financing, means, scope, intent, and engagement with groups in the country targeted.  Moreover, systems of monitoring would be needed to ensure that non-transparent influencing attempts, and purportedly transparent ones that are in violation of the requirements,  would be identified and publicized.  Of course, the model for this exists (although far too weakly) in current rules governing in-country regulation of improper attempts at persuasion.  Finally enforcement mechanisms would include shaming, sanctions, and ongoing additional monitoring — in other words reflecting the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for other violations of international norms, such as the development of nuclear capacity in violation of treaties.

Given that the most insecure countries are the most fearful of such non-transparent interference, they might be willing ultimately to accept an international regulatory structure.  Countries like the US would have to abandon frequently use non-transparent techniques (except those justifiable in self-defense terms) in order to persuade the more  insecure countries to accept such a structure.

Just not this year, I suspect.  If it happens, however, it will be because a consensus develops in the US and beyond that the risks of the current escalation are too great.  If so, we will be able to thank Putin and Trump, and this may be their greatest legacy.





For Obama Choosing a Russian Hacking Response Should Be Easy — Reveal and Undercut Russia’s Lack of Transparency

After mulling it over since the election, I now think I have the core principles and approach at least initially thought through.

The basic principle, as in any conflict, is to play to your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.  (That for each side the greatest strength and greatest weakness may be the same only underlines this generalization.)

In our case, our greatest strength is in fact our transparency.  It was our overall transparency that made the leaks more effective and interesting.  The problem was that we are not yet so transparent that they had no effect.

The Russians’ (or rather the Putin’s gang’s) greatest weakness is their lack of transparency, although they would probably regard it as their greatest strength.

So, the overall strategy is simple, to take steps to increase the long term transparency of the Russian system, while showing the extent and consequences of its lack of transparency.

The exact steps matter less than the approach — which is a huge advantage, because only those with deep knowledge of the details can make informed decisions about which tactics will threaten the least risk to our current intelligence gathering activities, while causing the most internal political disruption (most of which will occur inside the system, and not in public.)

Among the steps that might be particularly appropriate:

To Increase Long Term Transparency:

Building the kind of tools that Russians (and the people that work with them) can use to communicate internally without giving themselves away to the Russian security apparatus.

Doing the same for external communications.

Making access available to the record of Russian changes of “truth,” (the “memory hole trap”.)

To Demonstrate the Current Lack of Russian Transparency, and Its Impact

Revealing details of how the Russian media is controlled, particularly with respect to internal scandals and external influence.

Revealing details of how the Russian election system is controlled.

Showing how the hacks is connected to the Russian Government, therby showing that future such steps will be counterproductive in the end.

Of course, every such step has its risks.  Secure communications can be used by terrorists.  Somehow, however, as a nation interested in both transparency and security, I am confident that we will do a far better job than the Russians.  To take no action is to risk surrender.

How do you ask someone to be the first American to die for a Putin policy?

Testifying against the Vietnam war in 1971, John Kerry famously asked “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Today, given Trumps’s conflicts and the likely illegitimacy of the election result, due to the events that led to the CIA hacking finding, we now have to ask:

How do you ask someone to be the first person to die for a Trump hotel?

How do you ask someone to be the first person to die for a Putin policy?

I do not know how to answer the question, but I do know that this country is heading towards the largest crisis of leadership legitimacy it has ever faced.

Congress Should Pass a Concurrent Resolution urging Trump Not to Allow His Administration to Do Anything That Helps Putin Till the Election Hacking Issue is Resolved

Congress must pass a Concurrent Resolution that would urge Trump and his administration not to do anything of benefit to Putin or Russia until the election hacking questions are at least preliminarily resolved.

The rationale for this is simple and essentially unarguable:  Putin should derive no benefit from the actions now confirmed by the CIA.

The most obvious example of such a benefit would be Trump’s removal of Obama’s Crimea sanctions, (great news for a certain oil company) but there are plenty of other ways that Trump could reward Putin.

Interestingly, if Trump were serious about protecting the national interest, he would immediately agree to such a pause, because any other message makes our political system an open target for all, without any disincentive.

What a legacy that would be for President Trump?  How great would such an America be?

The more you think about this, the more terrifying it becomes, and the more we appear to be relying on the integrity of a tiny number of Republican Senators to stop such an outcome.


The Caligula Presidency – and its Long Term Effects on the “Imperial Presidency” Trend

If Trump’s latest tweets really do indicate a lack of connection to reality, maybe the right way to think of him as the “Caligula President.”

Lovers of Robert Graves “I Claudius” and its BBC/PBS derivative (great write up here) still remember John Hurt’s brilliant depiction of Caligula as in “People really are despicable,” followed by immediate evil scheming.

But you had a world leader on the edge of disconnection yet functional and brilliantly intuitive enough to get and hang onto power.

Remember, however, that Caligula was followed by Claudius (whose big advisor was Herod), who then tried to “Re-Republicanise” Rome, obviously to no great success, but at laest had some effect in de-imperializing the imperial Imperium.

Seriously, regardless of how the detail works out in the short term, a Trump presidency is almost bound to cause advocates of a muscular presidency to have second thoughts, and those who have supported a system of checks and balances to be newly re-energized.  That should be true on both sides of the aisle, but it will take time to play out.

It is worth noting that as the world becomes more multi-polar, the need for centralized power will become less, and the need for international legitimacy greater.

Its always darkest before the storm. — oh sorry, dawn.

Till then, enjoy Claudius.


Everyone, Including Trump and His Opponents are Missing the Point About Conflict of Interest Rules

While conflict of interest rules are in part designed to prevent personal enrichment, they have far broader purposes.

They are as much about protecting the quality and legitimacy of decisions.

Imagine those scenarios:

President Trump orders US troops into a country with a large Trump economic interest, and some refuse to go on the grounds that they do not want to risk their lives in order to project his hotels.

Trump follows up on his apparent change on climate policy, and decides to be aggressive in reducing carbon emissions, and some refuse to comply on the grounds that his seafront properties are increasing in value because of the change.

Trump orders torture to find out more on a terrorism threat in a city with a major Trump investment, and the operatives involved refuse.  What can be done to those operatives?  Would later litigation by the victims go further than the current Guantanamo round, when economic interest of the President could be part of the cause of action?

Trump pushes an open-skies agreement with a country that has Trump investments, and the airlines which are going to lose monopoly status challenge the process by which the decision is made.

To reiterate, the problem is legitimacy and quality.  For an incoming President already burdened by a well earned reputation for ignorance and lack of attention to detail, to have questions raised about the legitimacy of every decision in which he is involved — and to increase the chance of litigation involving questions about this role in every such decision, would be a nightmare.

Moreover, he won in part because people believed that he was not motivated by self-interest.  Any proof otherwise — particularly one that seemed to go against his pledges and the interests of his base, has the potential to be fatal.

So, if he has any sense, he puts in place a system in which the chance of such conflict is zero.  Meaning, in fact that he has to sell his current interests, and not in a way that he can get them back when he resigns, is impeached, or loses reelection.


The Day After #2: Before Joining the Trump Administration, Republicans, Clearly Map Out Your Red Lines.

Continuing our depressing but realistic exploration of how to live under a Trump Presidency, today we give some heartfelt advice to Republicans who might be approached to join the Administration.

There will be plenty with varied mixes of ego, ambition and sense of duty who will think very seriously of the option.  Their chances will be greater because many of their fellows will be utterly uninterested.

Here, from one who wants our country and the world to survive, and recognizes that in most situations insiders really can do good, are some thoughts:

The first is is before you go in, indeed, before you even start the negotiations, be very clear about your red lines.  Not just in your mind, but in writing, and shared with loved ones whose judgement you respect, and whose respect you would fear losing if you later violated them.  It is very important to remember that once you join the Administration, you will be part of a group that has a very strong internal culture, as well as legal and other mechanisms for enforcing the demands of that culture and its leader,  You will also become privy to temptingly exclusive “information” that reinforces those demands.

Let me suggest three such sets of red lines that everyone should think through:

The Resignation Line.  What would you resign rather than do, and what are the things that would cause you to resign if the administration did?

The Whistle Blowing Line.  What are the things that you would blow the whistle on?  What level of personal risk would you be willing to bear?

The Dan Ellsberg Line.  What things would make you feel you had to engage in aguable violations of the law?  (This is not to urge such violations, just to remind you that the more unpredictable an administration, the more likely conscience is to compel such a choice for one who goes in with their eyes open and refuses to close them.)

Finally, ask yourself and others about your personality, and think about whether you retain Independence of judgement and conscience when part of a strong-minded and continually reinforced and reinforcing group.

If you need to a place to start thinking in concrete terms, you can always go to a list of the promises Trump has made (it’s an out of date list, but a start).  Sorry to be so blunt, but I can beleive that anyone of conscience and humanity would not find a resignation bright line in that list of promises.  If you feel certain Trump would never actually do any of them, just make sure you remember that is what you are relying on in going in.

I never thought we would be at a 40% chance of being at a place like this.