Any Innocent Administration Would Be Urging a Full Investigation to Repair Their Credibility

To be effective, a government has to be credible.  To be effective the Trump administration is desperately in need of a process that will both give in a breather in the short term, and credible proof of innocence in the long term about the whole Russia thing.

So they should be out there leading the establishment of such a process on investigation into the Russian scandal.  It would have to be set up so its product would be so solid and so credible that it was essentially unanswerable.

So why are they not doing so.  Well, there are three possible reasons.

  1. That they are so short term oriented that they do not understand this truth about credibiity.
  2. That they are in such chaos that they are unable to put any investigation together.
  3. That they are so guilty that the last thing they want is an investigation of any kind.

I will go with number three.  But if number two is true, we should see the investigation set up in a few weeks.  If number one is the reason, then it may take a bit longer, but wiser heads should prevail relatively soon.

Or perhaps most likely, all three could be true, in which case this story will play out much faster than we expect.



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.





The Scope of the Constraints that NATO will Put on President Trump

It has been bedrock since the late 1940s that  under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty):

The Parties [members of NATO] agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

So, Trump’s threat back over the summer to not help some countries would be a direct violation of our obligation under international law.

Moreover, under Article 8:

Each Party declares that none of the international engagements now in force between it and any other of the Parties or any third State is in conflict with the provisions of this Treaty, and undertakes not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty.
(Bold added)

Now the Trump bromance with Putin requires us to remember that we are still bound by these treaty obligations, and many would argue that they can not be abrogated without the formal treaty process being followed in the US senate (I do not believe that this issue has been tested).

In any event the two top quoted articles would appear to put very serious limits on what Trump can do, at least with respect to NATO members.  While Ukraine is not in NATO, the language of the Treaty would oblige the US to come to the help of any NATO member whose country, or forces in or over any NATO county, were attacked including in response to intervention in Ukraine.

So, NATO, unless withdrawn from, prohibits Trump from “enter[ing] into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty,  ” which given the breadth of the common defense language, would appear to be a very significant limitation, since it prohibits any limitation on our prior assistance obligations.

Some might find sadness and an underlining of our pending abandonment of the international leadership in Article 13, which gives a special role to the US in the recording of renunciations of the Treaty:  ”  .  .  .  any Party may cease to be a Party one year after its notice of denunciation has been given to the Government of the United States of America, which will inform the Governments of the other Parties of the deposit of each notice of denunciation.“)  Some might also argue that the language above means that the US is so central to the operation of NATA that it, and it alone, cannot withdraw from it.

While Trump  and Putin would attempt to obfuscate every aspect of fact and law, it is hard not be believe that failure to comply with these obligations would be viewed by enough even Republicans to trigger an immediate impeachment or Twenty Fifth Amendment process.

Official Report on Russian Hacking Recommends Actions by Organizations

In order to understand what is happening in the world, everyone should look at the new DHS/FBI Report on the Russian hacking.  It is here.  This para introduces the chilling facts:

This Joint Analysis Report (JAR) is the result of analytic efforts between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.

The document lists extensive steps that organizations should take to protect themselves and to check for attacks.  While most of us probably do not think of ourselves as part of this world, we all need to be vigilant, if only because of the stakes.  The more active, the more potentially at threat.

“Loose systems sink democracy.”

Legitimacy After the Electors and The Russians Have Spoken

I have previously written to make the point that a President legally elected without a popular vote majority has legal and constitutional legitimacy but not political or moral legitimacy.

That is still true, and hopefully helpful, but no longer a sufficient analysis.  Now I offer a number of additional propositions that would apply in a reasonably healthy republic.  (The word President should apply with equal force to  a “President-elect.”

A President whose formally legal election has been conclusively proved to have been procured by crime or external influence does not enjoy legitimacy of any kind beyond the formal title.

A President, about whose election serious questions have been raised by credible US government institutions as to whether crime or external influence produced the result, is one whose legitimacy is in serious doubt.

A president faced with such serious doubt about their legitimacy should regard it as their first task to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of risk to their continued power.

The duty in this situation of other political and legal actors, and indeed of citizens, is to take every step to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of consequences to their careers or institutional roles.

During the period of uncertainty during which the facts and outcome impact are being explored, the President and other political and legal actors should refrain from actions that assume the legitimacy of the President, other than those actions immediately necessary for the defense of the nation, and those actions that were not in any way at issue in the election as to which doubt exists.

If, after exhausting all efforts to discover the facts and the impact of those facts, doubt remains about what caused the result, the President and the political and legal system should should consider the President to have only qualified legitimacy, with the President’s duty to act on behalf of all Americans being even greater than usual, their responsibility to seek consensus and common ground overwhelming, and with any claims of authority for controversial actions illegitimate.

Finally, it must be emphasized that, if we are to take our Constitution seriously, these principles should apply even when President who had a majority of the electoral college also had a majority of the popular vote, they apply with even greater force when the formal winner did not win even a plurality of the popular vote.

I would urge people to talk with those of all political persuasions about these principles, not in order to delegitimize the apparent victor, but in order to create some consensus about the principles that should guide the nation’s actions.

I believe these principles to be unassailable (although I would welcome suggested improvements).  What would surely be more in dispute is what has to be done if and when a President and/or party fail to follow them.

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.