• World leaders gathered to discuss NATO

    Welcome to the Chinese Century: Picks of the Week

    America First Doesn’t Mean America Alone | The Wall Street Journal

    The most extraordinary op-ed of 2017 | The Washington Post

    China’s One Belt, One Road: An Ambitious Strategy Challenging the U.S. | American Security Project

    Last week, the President of the United States returned from his first trip abroad in office, with his staff loudly proclaiming the trip a huge success.  Of course, such assessments all depend on how you define “success,” but, at minimum, the trip was enormously consequential.

    The trip underscored the President’s rejection of 70 years of American foreign policy.  At a summit with the NATO heads of state, the President of the United States failed to affirm America’s commitment to the Alliance’s common defense, despite standing alongside a twisted steel beam from the World Trade Center intended to symbolize the Alliance’s commitment to that very ideal.  Instead, President Trump urged NATO members to spend more on defense, seemingly willfully ignorant that every member of the alliance had previously pledged to do just that.

    In fact, the President of the United States has embraced a nationalist view of America’s role in the world and a return to a 19th century view of statecraft.  In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal the president’s national security advisor and chief economic advisor explained the president’s views.  Donald Trump, they argued, believes “the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”  Then, the two presidential advisors noted that “America first” signals a return to America’s “traditional role overseas—to use the diplomatic, economic, and military resources of the U.S. to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world” [emphasis added].

    The nationalist course President Trump is charting in foreign policy has been resoundingly rejected by every president—Republican and Democrat—since the end of World War II.  The bipartisan center of American foreign policy has been built on allies and partnerships that address common challenges in common cause.  Trade, alliances, and international institutions are the hallmarks of the post-war-approach.  If anything, American presidents have labored mightily to create an international system that is precisely the opposite of an “arena” for naked competition.

    The international system under assault by the Trump administration was built after the Second World War because in the course of one generation, a nineteenth century mindset about competition between states and races (remember Social Darwinism?) had cost the world tens of millions of lives, countless billions of dollars in economic losses, and unspeakable atrocities, all while yielding the very capacity to destroy life on this planet.  Giants such as Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Marshall built the current international system with like-minded leaders from around the world at a time when the United States had 12 million men under arms, the only functioning industrialized economy not bombed to rubble, and a monopoly on nuclear arms.  At the apex of American power, American leaders sought to create an international system predicated on norms and laws, not some Hobbesian view of nature.  We did so to lock in the advantages the United States had in the international system—including the added strength of trading partners and allies.

    While President Trump rejects the strategic approach to America’s role in the world that has maintained great power peace for 70 years, China is embracing it.  In its “One Belt, One Road” strategy, China is linking all of Eurasia through trade.  Instead of reducing its production of steel, China is using its surplus to support infrastructure that connects Asia and Europe by overland trade and sea trade across the Indian Ocean.  It is a strategy for the twenty-first century that assures China will be at the center of vitally important relationships across Eurasia.  With the jettisoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trump administration has no effective strategy to counter China, and the United States will be less secure and less wealthy because of it.

    President Trump is embarking the United States on a course that history tells us will fail.  It will be costly to the United States and others in terms of lives and treasure.  It will isolate the United States.  It will damage our economy.  It will make the traditional security we have gained from the protection of two great oceans seem like a historic curse as China leverages its geography to stitch the world together. It is ahistorical.  It is wrong.

    The United States is strongest when we lead, when we trade, when we work with others to address the challenges of the modern world.  Surrendering the advantages of the international system to other states like China and embracing the law of the jungle in its place defies explanation and logic.  In asserting an “America First” foreign policy, President Trump is diminishing U.S. power and influence and, in fact, boosting China.  Welcome to the Chinese century.


    Image Credit: North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

  • Word Cloud of Trump's tweets related to Russia from January to May in 2017

    Donald Trump: Strategic Communicator

    The first four months of the Trump presidency have been characterized by fast-moving news that often feels chaotic.  This week alone, the former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to Congress that she had warned the White House that Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first National Security Advisory, was potentially compromised by Russia.  That same morning, the country learned that former-President Barack Obama warned President-elect Trump about hiring Flynn.  Then, Tuesday afternoon, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who was leading the bureau’s investigation of possible collusion between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

    While this week has been notable for many reasons, the pace of news and events has been fast since prior to the president’s inauguration.  In such an environment, communicating is a challenge.  There is so much important news, so much opinion, and so much noise, crafting messages that resound and break through requires discipline.  Donald Trump’s tweets offer a case study in strategic communication.

    President Trump, as is well known, is a prolific tweeter.  From an analytical perspective, tweets offer insights into the thinking of the American president—both his passions and his insecurities.  Between January 5, 2017, the day that the Senate Armed Services Committee first held hearings on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, and May 10, 2017, President Trump sent 98 tweets related to the investigation of Russian meddling. These 98 tweets include several that seem to be efforts to distract, such as those focused on Susan Rice or allegations that President Obama wiretapped candidate Trump.  The above word cloud is generated from these tweets.  After grouping each tweet by the day they were sent, and coding them based on the basic message the president communicated in each, a surprising result emerged.

    President Trump’s tweets are not random, stream of consciousness missives.  They are logical and disciplined—repeating central themes to build several narratives about the merit and the motives of the investigation as well as to distract.  I lay out the top-three narratives below in order or frequency:

    Nothing to See Here: 44% (43 of 98) of Trump’s Russia-related tweets since January 5 are clear denials of any wrong-doing, assertions that he has no-ties to Russia, or claims that the whole issue is “fake news.”

    Look! A squirrel! 33% (32 of 98) of the president’s Russia-related tweets are intended to distract the audience.  From the allegations that President Obama wiretapped his phones, to the suggestion that Susan Rice unmasked Michael Flynn in NSA surveillance, or the frequent refrain of “leaks,” the president is eager to change the subject.

    Sore Losers: 11% (11 of 98) of the Russia-related tweets sent by President Trump since January 5 have spoken about the motives driving the people calling-for or leading the investigations of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections.  Essentially, the president argues that the investigations are politically motivated because the Democrats don’t want to admit that they ran a bad campaign and he beat them.

    Oddly enough, Dmitri Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, echoed President Trump’s “sore losers” theme in an interview with CBS Evening News, broadcast on May 10, 2017.  Responding to a question from Elizabeth Palmer about whether President Trump’s ability to build a relationship with Russia was limited, Peskov said Trump was under intense “pressure by those who still argue his presidency; by those who still cannot accept he is head of state in the United States; by those who cannot . . . accept the fact that they had lost to Mr. Trump.”  In other words, “sore losers.”

    The pattern that emerges from a systematic look at Donald Trump’s tweets on one issue reveal a very focused and disciplined communicator; someone who understands his chosen medium; and, not surprisingly, someone determined to shift the narrative that has cast doubt on the legitimacy of his presidency.

    Postscript: On the afternoon of Thursday, May 11, 2017, President Trump sent three new tweets related to Russia and its interference in the U.S. election, including the following tweet.  (+1 to “Sore Losers.”)

  • Donald Trump speaks at podium with presidential seal

    Trump is Changing America: Picks of the Week


    100 Days that changed America | CNN

    Trump Wants it Known: Grading 100 Days is ‘Ridiculous’ (but His Were the Best) | The New York Times

    A President’s First 100 Days Really Do Matter | FiveThirtyEight.com

    As President Donald Trump reaches the 100th day of his presidency, the media is obsessed with assessing what the real estate tycoon has done. It’s not surprising. In his first 100 days, President Franklin Roosevelt fashioned a response to the Great Depression and since then, candidates and pundits have looked to the milestone as a natural moment to pause and reflect on the first months of an administration and to speculate on the shape of things to come. Not surprisingly, most of the analyses of President Trump’s first 100 days are focused on measuring him against the legislative accomplishments he promised to achieve as a candidate.  Observers are holding him to account against his own promises—and while that’s interesting, it may also be irrelevant.

    The record of the first 100 days of the Trump administration cannot be judged by the bills passed or the executive orders signed. The measure of this first 100 days is best found in the things that have changed in our republic, the norms that his administration has breached, and the unprecedented things he or his team have tried to do or actually done. The list is long.

    Public ethics are under assault. The president failed to divest himself of his financial holdings. He continues to profit from businesses that stand to benefit from his service as president—meaning that Donald Trump himself is benefiting financially from his service as president.  His private golf club in Florida raised its annual membership fee from $100,000 to $200,000 just prior to the inauguration.  The President has thus far visited one of his properties every week since he became president, whether his hotel in Washington, his golf course in Virginia, or Mar-a-lago in Florida.  In doing so, he’s providing free advertising for these privately owned businesses at considerable public expense. In addition, the president has hired his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, neither of whom has divested from their business interests.  Ivanka, in fact, continues to conduct business while also conducting diplomacy. On the same day she met with Chinese President Xie Jinping, Chinese authorities granted trademarks to her business operating in China. It is unclear if those events were related or coincidental, but it’s also irrelevant because the appearance of impropriety is troubling on its own.

    The truth is under assault. As a candidate, Donald Trump showed a proclivity for big claims that were often disconnected from reality—if not patently offensive. As President of the United States, Trump has continued to struggle with the truth.  He alleged that massive voter fraud was to blame for his loss in the popular vote. He constantly overstates the scale of his Electoral College victory. He slams CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, regularly, for conveying what he deems “fake news,” even though he personally created media frenzies around fake news claims that Barack Obama spied on him; that Susan Rice spied on him; and that Sweden is a lawless land overtaken by Muslim immigrants. Prior to January 20, 2017, the United States government, over successive Democratic and Republican administrations, stood for transparency and a free press around the world. In Trump’s Washington, the State Department suspended its daily briefing, the White House does not release visitor logs, and the President attacks the press as the “enemy of the American people.” The result, according to a new poll from The Washington Post-ABC News poll, is that 52% of Americans believe that “mainstream news organizations regularly produce false stories.” Accepted truth is essential to the effective functioning of any democracy.  In Trump’s first 100 days, the assault on independent journalism is taking a substantial toll.

    Corporate interests are ascendant in Trump’s America. As a candidate, Donald Trump warned that his rival, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was too beholden to Wall Street bankers. Now, one of the dominant factions in his White House is led by former executives at Goldman Sachs. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence then that one of President Trump’s first executive orders rolled back protections under Dodd-Frank; or that his recently released tax proposal would reduce corporate taxes to 15%. And with corporate interests being so well served, it’s perhaps not surprising that the FCC is pushing to do-away with the Obama administration rule to protect so-called “net-neutrality”—the idea that all traffic should have the same access to the Internet. Under the new administration, reports indicate the FCC will allow companies to charge for faster access to the Internet.

    Perhaps most alarming, however, has been the attack on America’s institutions. It appears that the White House conspired with Chairman Devin Nunes of the House Select Committee on Intelligence to engineer a distraction in the face of difficult testimony from FBI Director James Comey. In doing so, Nunes—who has since recused himself from the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the November election—was complicit in weakening the independence of Congress. The chairman conspired with the White House, misled his colleagues in the House, and impugned the constitutional independence of the legislative branch.  At the same time, Trump has attacked the independence of the judiciary—a sacred feature of American democracy. Both the president and his attorney general have challenged the validity of court orders that rebuke some of Trump’s most controversial measures affecting immigration and sanctuary cities. President Trump has gone so far as to suggest that he’ll break up the 9th Circuit Court because of its rulings against him.

    At the core of President Trump’s disputes with the courts are essential American values: due process; the rule of law; the separation of powers; and non-discrimination, among them. Around the world, too, President Trump seems to be turning his back on American values by de-funding the Office of Global Women’s Issues; praising the flawed vote granting more power to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and attacking the free American press.

    More fundamentally, the president seems intent on restructuring the international system, replacing globalization and collaboration with what appears to be 19th century nationalism. The president in his first week in office withdrew the United States from the trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging trade deal intended to cement American leadership in Asia in the next century. The president’s hostility to trade deals was well documented during the campaign: now it’s being made real, with further word that President Trump intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Almost seeming to anticipate it, the president raised the stakes against Canada earlier this week by slapping a 20% tariff on the import of Canadian softwood lumber.  Even more problematic, President Trump reportedly got into a heated discussion with his Australian counterpart; mocked Angela Merkel by presenting her a bill for NATO’s protection; and appears to have taken sides in the French election calling far-right candidate Marine Le Pen the “strongest candidate.”

    Finally, as the president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon put it, the Trump administration is attempting to deconstruct the modern administrative state. Put another way, the Trump administration seeks to roll back a century’s worth of progressive governing. Killing Obamacare is part of that agenda, as is slashing by one-third the funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, lifting restrictions on coal-powered electricity generation, and making sure that there is no way for the United States to meet its obligations under the Paris Climate accord.

    The left can’t make up its mind: Trump is either incompetent or an evil genius. He can’t be both. If you believe that government is too big, as Trump claimed in 2015, and that it must be curtailed, then it’s not what you build, it’s not the laws you pass, it’s what you make government capable and incapable of doing. In that spirit, it’s not just what the president builds that’s important: it’s what he destroys, eliminates, and depletes. From that perspective, the first 100 days of the Trump administration have been highly consequential. – Executive Director Jim Ludes

  • Combat boots on the ground next to a small American Flag

    Climate Change is a National Security Threat: Picks of the Week

    Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies | The New York Times

    Trump’s Climate Change Shift is Really about Killing the International Order | The Washington Post

    Solar Employs More People in U.S. Electricity Generation Than Oil, Coal and Gas Combined | Forbes

    For more than a decade, I have studied climate change—not because I am a tree-hugger, polar-bear-loving, environmental activist, but because I am a national security analyst trained to identify dangers before they pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.  It is my professional opinion that climate change will pose a threat to the security of the United States in my lifetime.  In fact, in many ways it already is.

    There are clear indications and warnings that something has gone wrong in the climate system.  Long-term trends in a host of indicators are flashing red.  Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide—a potent greenhouse gas contributing to the warming of the planet—have risen steadily since I started watching the data in 2007, from 385 parts per million (ppm) to the current 405.61 ppm.  Global temperatures in 2016 were the hottest on record, and 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have all come since the year 2000—the one outlier was 1998.  Scientists warn that the climate can’t warm beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial averages without cataclysmic consequences for humanity—a warming scenario that scientists believe will arrive as atmospheric CO2 levels reach 450 ppm.  Arctic sea ice had the smallest summer minimum on record in 2016 and, perhaps not surprisingly, the smallest winter maximum in 2017.  Antarctica has lost, on average, 118 gigatonnes of ice each year since 2002, while Greenland has lost 281 gigatonnes each year.  Sea levels have risen an average of 3.4 mm per year since governments began using satellites to measure them in 1993.

    This is not about polar bears or pine forests.  My concern arises from the threat these changes pose to the existence humanity has carved out for itself over the last ten thousand years.  Climate change threatens to disrupt precipitation patterns leading to droughts in some places and floods in others.  According to one study, 634 million people around the world are at risk of rising seas.  Strong, wealthy states may be able to survive these challenges.  But weak states with dysfunctional governments will be stressed to the breaking point.  There is already considerable evidence that the Syrian civil war, which has claimed more than 400,000 lives and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population, was contributed to by climate change.  A severe drought from 2007 to 2011 devastated agriculture and led to economic crisis in the countryside.  As more and more Syrians fled to the cities, the government was unable to provide relief.  A brittle, authoritarian regime resorted to using force against its own people to keep power.  In recent weeks, it’s been reported that as many as 1,000 U.S. troops are headed to Syria to help fight Islamic extremists associated with ISIS who have capitalized on the Syrian civil war.

    In the 1970s, the scientific advisors to the Department of Defense, a group known as The Jasons, identified climate change as a potential threat to U.S. national security.  In the 40 years since they first issued their warning, the evidence has mounted and the U.S. national security community, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, have echoed and reinforced those warnings.

    In 2015, the leaders of the nations of the world agreed to ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Paris Accord, as the agreement is known, was a testament to the diplomacy and effort of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.  The critical piece in all of this was that the United States and China—the world’s two largest polluters—agreed to act.  Central to America reaching its goals by 2025 was President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, a broad set of policies designed to accelerate the adoption of clean technologies like wind and solar at the expense of fossil fuels, especially coal.

    This week, President Trump issued an executive order to block implementation of the Clean Energy Plan.  He has said he wants to put coal miners back to work and bring “clean coal”—which we should note is a myth—into America’s energy mix.  For a president who claims to be focused on restoring jobs and American economic power, he ignores that solar, today, employs four times as many workers as the coal industry.

    Coal is not the future of American energy, but that likely isn’t the point.  President Trump has espoused a rebirth of American nationalism in which he will reject globalization and global solutions to problems.  He only cares about American economic growth and American national security.  As such, international agreements to fight climate change are anathema to him.  They constitute an approach to the world that is wholly foreign and incompatible with his world view.

    But here’s the thing: while the United States can probably weather the direct impacts of climate change in the near-term, the global impacts will draw in American power and even American military power—just as the civil war in Syria has, already.  A world at 450 parts per million CO2 will be more violent and more dangerous—and that means more dangerous for the United States, too.



  • Woman receives a delivery from Meals on Wheels

    A Budget is a Moral Document: Picks of the Week

    Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen


    American First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again | Executive Office of the President of the United States

    What Trump cut in his budget | The Washington Post

    The U.S. foreign aid budget, visualized | The Washington Post

    A budget is a moral document. It communicates in very real terms the values of the organization or individual who creates the budget. For a country, it reflects what’s valued and what’s not.

    The budget proposal presented by President Donald Trump for fiscal year 2018 is inhumane.  It cuts funding for those most in need, for the protection of the environment, for science, the arts, and the humanities.  The budget increases funding for defense, homeland security, and to build a wall on America’s southern border.  This is not a budget to “make America great again,” as the budget document proclaims, but a budget to isolate and diminish the United States internationally and the federal government at home.  Its adoption would run counter to the interests of the United States of America.

    A quick look at the things President Trump proposes cutting highlights an indifference to the most vulnerable among us and those on whom we should be betting the future.  It would end government support for Meals on Wheels, a program that provides both food and human contact to 2.4 million American senior citizens—including 500,000 veterans—every year who are threatened by hunger.  It would reduce funding for nutrition assistance to women, infants, and children.  It would reduce aid to first generation college students and federal work-study grants.

    At the same time, the president’s budget proposal dismisses the value of science in American public life.  It cuts $900 million from the Department of Energy Office of Science and eliminates the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.  At the same time, President Trump would cut by 19% funding for the National Institutes of Health and eliminate a center dedicated to international collaboration in medical research.  Perhaps most startling, the budget would gut the Environmental Protection Agency, reducing funding by 31% and ceasing U.S. effort to fight climate change.

    Finally, the president’s budget would undermine American security by cutting the State Department by 29%.  These cuts would target U.S. effort to combat climate change, reduce U.S. support for UN peacekeeping operations, and reduce most foreign exchange programs.  While most Americans believe the United States spends 26% of the federal budget on foreign assistance, the reality is that the number is actually about 1%.

    The results of this budget are not difficult to imagine.  The United States will be poorer.  Our most vulnerable will be hungry.  Our young will have less opportunity to break out of poverty through education.  We will be more isolated in the world, an outlier in the face of global responses to global challenges like disease, climate change, and yes, Islamic extremism.  The likelihood of armed conflict will grow.

    The administration’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describes the budget as “Consistent with the President’s principles and priorities.”  When pressed by the media about the impact of these cuts on American citizen, Mulvaney responded, “You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on the recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place.  And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not gonna ask you for your hard-earned money, anymore, single mother of two in Detroit … unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.’”

    There’s the rub.  President Trump does not believe that feeding the hungry, providing opportunities for our young, investing in science, responding to the crisis in the environment, or building America’s relationships abroad is part of the “proper function” of government.  Instead, this is the beginning of the “deconstruction” of government promised by the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

    Multiple reports indicate that the president’s budget is DOA on Capitol Hill.  While that is some reason for relief, the alarm lingers in that any President of the United States would propose a budget so extreme in its neglect of America’s most vulnerable, and so cavalier in its understanding of the challenges of the world. – Executive Director Jim Ludes

  • A depiction of the 1933 Reichstag Fire

    Fear is Corrosive to Freedom: Picks of the Week

    Trump invites victims of illegal immigrant crime as guests for speech to Congress | Washington Times

    The real goal of Trump’s executive orders: Reduce the number of immigrants in the U.S. | Los Angeles Times

    Bannon’s reckless pursuit of ethno-nationalist greatness | Washington Post

    This week’s Picks-of-the-Week are co-authored by two historians, Pell Center Executive Director Jim Ludes and Salve Regina University Provost Scott Zeman.

    In the November 2016 election, voters chose reform and ethics over business as usual.  In a stunning result of 52 percent to 48, the people of South Dakota passed a ballot question to provide public financing for elections, establish a state ethics commission, and limit lobbying.  On February 2, 2017, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard invoked provisions of the referendum to declare an emergency and unilaterally repeal the measure, thwarting the majority will of the people of South Dakota.  It’s a tactic we’ve seen before in history.  Democracies have been undermined on more than one occasion by the declaration of “emergency.”  In fact, it’s a tried and true approach for aspiring authoritarians everywhere.

    Perhaps the best known example of this tactic is associated with one of the darkest times in world-history.  On February 27, 1933, an arsonist set fire to the German Reichstag building in Berlin. The man accused of the crime was sentenced and executed. The Nazi Party seized on the incident as proof of a Communist conspiracy against the government and declared a national emergency, suspended citizens’ rights, and conducted large scale arrests of suspected – and real – Communists. The liquidation of the political opposition allowed the Nazis to gain enough parliamentary power to assure Hitler’s ascendency. The Reichstag Fire created the pretext for Nazis to seize authoritarian control of Germany.

    Even politicians not bent on world-domination can be seduced by the pliability of an electorate in the face of a national emergency.  In the aftermath of 9/11, the administration of George W. Bush famously seized on the justifiable fear of the American public to bolster the standing of the president.  The first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, confirmed in his 2009 memoir that he had been pressured to raise the terror alert level during the 2004 campaign to help the reelection efforts of President Bush.  Others have noted the intriguing correlation between bad political news and elevations of the national threat level in the first Bush administration.

    The key take-away from this admittedly brief history is that political leaders from the most well-intentioned to the monsters of the Nazi party have found it beneficial to use fear and “emergency” to advance their political agendas.

    Enter President Donald Trump.

    Just six weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump and his administration seem intent on using fear to advance his agenda.  Look at the way the administration has talked about the terrorist threat and its relationship to the botched (and potentially unconstitutional) ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.  Immediate implementation of the ban caused widespread chaos at airports around the world, the detention of numerous refuge seekers, and triggered protests at the U.S. airports and in major cities, from Los Angeles to Boston. The American Civil Liberties Union sought and gained injunctions against the action, but chaos had been sewn and the ban floundered.  In explaining the seemingly rushed nature of the executive order, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer asked, “What happened if we didn’t act and somebody was killed?”

    Even the President himself is stoking fear.  On February 3, after a suspected terrorist attacked police in Paris, the President took to Twitter to say:

    Donald Trump Tweet from Feb 3 2017

    Then, after a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction suspending his executive order on immigration, Trump tweeted:

    Donald Trump Tweets After Judge Rules

    One day later, the president upped the ante:

    Trump Tweet 5 Feb 2017

    From a historian’s perspective, the conditions are now ripe for a “national emergency.”  Having tried to act to save the United States from a terrorist attack, only to be undermined by the courts, the president can now claim any future attack justifies even more draconian measures: a complete ban on Muslim immigration; a registry of Muslims in the United States; an armed deportation force—all proposals he floated in the course of the 2016 campaign.  He may even simply alert the American people to “credible” evidence of an impending large-scale terrorist attack on American soil. In either case, civil liberties and our democratic checks on executive power will be under immediate and direct threat; indeed, our democracy may be profoundly imperiled.

    Fear is corrosive to freedom.  Great American presidents have known that and acted accordingly.  Five days after the Reichstag fire, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated President of the United States of America.  In his inaugural address, he warned, amid economic depression and faltering democracies in Europe, that the only thing the United States had to fear, “was fear itself.”

    In 2017, the American public faces a world that is demonstrably more safe than the world Roosevelt confronted.  It’s not that there are no threats; because there are.  But the danger these foreign threats pose to the security of our republic today is nothing compared to the damage we could do to ourselves if we let the president lead us to fear.

  • Black and white photo of FDR and Winston Churchill at the Atlantic Conference

    Present at the Destruction: Picks of the Week

    Donald Trump’s Inaugural Address, Annotated | The New York Times

    Joe Biden is Worried Donald Trump Might Destroy Western Civilization | Vanity Fair

    “Europe’s fate is in our hands”: Angela Merkel’s defiant reply to Trump | The Guardian

    In August of 1941, in Placienta Bay, Newfoundland, Canada, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met and agreed to The Atlantic Charter.  While the United States was not formally in the war, yet—Pearl Harbor was still four months away—the Atlantic Charter set out war aims to guide the allies as they thought about the outcome of a fight that had yet to be fully joined.

    The Atlantic Charter is a foundational document of the post-World War II international order.  Churchill and Roosevelt had pledged their nations to fight for a rules-based international order and free trade—and they stated it unequivocally.  Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom sought new territories from the war.  They endorsed self-determination and popular sovereignty.  They imagined an era of peace, free from “fear and want.”  They embraced freedom of the seas, disarmament, free trade, and economic globalization.  Specifically, they pledged to:

    endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.

    In addition, the charter promised that the leaders

    desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security.

    Four years later, peacemakers built an international system in line with the vision painted by Roosevelt and Churchill.  It was not done out of deference to the two statesmen who led the West through the crucible of battle.  Instead, it was done out of calculated self-interest.

    In the course of a generation, World War I and World War II had claimed somewhere between about 70 million and 100 million dead.  Millions upon millions more were wounded, displaced, or left to starve.  Aerial bombardment and urban warfare combined to leave the industrial hearts of Europe and Asia little more than rubble.  In looking back at the era, statesmen set out to create an international system that would avoid a third world war—something unthinkable in the atomic age.  They sought to understand how the first half of the twentieth century had produced such catastrophic death and destruction, and then, armed with judgments about the causes, built an international system to make it less likely.

    The institutions they built—imperfect though they were—enshrined a rules-based international system.  The United Nations provided a forum for dispute resolution short of war because failure to provide an effective mechanism meant that the world’s only recourse to dispute was the ancient adage that might makes right.  The UN’s different bureaus took on issues that threatened human development, like poverty and hunger, because they could threaten the peace and stability of nations.  The World Bank and International Monetary Fund helped rebuild economies shattered by war because the failure to rebuild Europe’s economy after World War I was recognized as one of the causes of World War II.  The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) reduced taxes on trade around the world because tariffs in the interwar years were seen to have contributed to heightened tensions between the great powers.

    In one final post-war innovation, the United States finally broke free of its nearly two centuries of determined isolation from the world and committed itself to global leadership.  As the world’s most powerful state at the time, and for the next four years the world’s only nuclear power, American leaders in both parties—Roosevelt, Truman, Marshall, and Eisenhower—saw that the United States had to play a steadying hand in Europe and Asia.  The ideology of “America First,” an inter-war movement intended to sustain American isolation from the problems of the world, was destroyed in the carnage of World War II.  Now, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the United States built formal alliances all over the world—perhaps most famously in Europe, where members of the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pledged that an attack on one member was an attack on them all.

    A political settlement with an enduring commitment to norms of behavior and international law; an economic settlement founded on free trade and enabling globalization; and an iron clad American commitment to security and stability, especially in Europe, were the key features of this new world.  So new and substantial was this approach that Secretary of State Dean Acheson titled his autobiographical account of these events as Present at the Creation.

    This week, the United States of America, joining a growing global trend of retrenchment and neo-nationalism, inaugurated Donald J. Trump as its 45th president.  As a candidate, and as president-elect, Trump has questioned the fundamental underpinnings of the international system created by the peacemakers of 1945, even resuscitating “America First.”

    As a candidate, he asserted a pre-World War I view of national sovereignty:

    We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down and will never enter . . . America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs.

    Of the United Nations, President Trump has described it as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

    Of NATO, Trump as a candidate openly questioned America’s commitment to live up to its obligations for collective defense.

    Of the European Union, long a mainstay of U.S. policy towards the continent, Trump supported Brexit and more recently predicted the EU would break-up.

    Of free trade, candidate Trump vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, renegotiate NAFTA, and impose tariffs on goods imported into the United States.

    Of globalization, candidate Trump has dismissed the process as a fleecing of the working class that only benefits “the financial elite who donate to politicians.”  There is open and cavalier talk of a trade war with China.

    It’s as if all the bloody and awful lessons of the first half of the twentieth century expired, vanished in a flash of white phosphorous.

    I sincerely hope that our new president succeeds in leading America forward into an era of sustained peace and prosperity.  But the historian and student of international security and globalization in me is fearful.  If Acheson was present at the creation, I fear we will be present at the destruction of the international system that has protected peace, security, freedom, and prosperity for so much of the world since 1945.  I hope I’m wrong. – Executive Director Jim Ludes

  • US Pentagon building as seen through target scope

    This is War: Picks of the Week

    The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S. | The New York Times

    Trump Falsely Says U.S. Claim of Russian Hacking Came After Election | The New York Times

    What you need to know about Trump and Russia | Politico

    The United States has been attacked.  The integrity of our electoral system has been assaulted by a Russian influence operation that, according to media reports of classified briefings, was intended to benefit the candidacy of Donald Trump.  The short hand in the media is that the United States was “hacked.”  Such short hand understates the enormity of what has taken place.

    In fact, Russia is conducting political warfare against the western world, not just the United States.  War, Clausewitz told us, is the continuation of politics by other means.  Political warfare relies on political means—information operations and manipulation—to achieve political objectives.  In recent cases, that has meant fake news; paid internet trolls and botnets shaping what’s trending online; the electronic theft and release of damaging emails; and the rise of English-language Russian propaganda outlets that target the United States and, now, its allies in Europe.

    Consider these examples:

    • Alex Younger, the head of Britain’s fabled foreign intelligence service, MI6, warned recently of “cyber-attacks, propaganda or subversion of democratic process.” He noted, “The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
    • Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, has said “We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty. . . . The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping. We have indications that [the attacks] come from the Russian region” [sic].
    • In France, the National Front—a hard-right, anti immigrant, anti-EU political party, is financed by Russian banks.
    • In Hungary, evidence has emerged that far-right wing militias have “openly trained with Russian diplomats and men dressed in Russian military intelligence uniforms.”

    In fact, Russia is systematically trying to undermine the western liberal order, as the researchers at the Atlantic Council have documented in a remarkable study, “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.”  According to the report’s authors, Russia “seeks to turn Western liberal virtues–free media, plurality of opinion, and openness–into vulnerabilities to be exploited. “

    So disabuse yourself of the idea this is just Democratic sour grapes because Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. Russia is at war with the West’s freedoms and we need to recognize that threat for what it is.  News that the Obama administration chose not to confront Russia over its meddling in the American election out of concern it would provoke a cyber-war between the United States and Russia misses one critical point: the Russians are already waging war.

    The Russian offensive is breathtaking for its ambition.  In addition to the manipulation of the American election, as well as the threat to Europe’s unity and electoral integrity, Moscow is also providing support and advice to American secessionists in states like California and Texas.

    There is only one example in history of which I am aware when political warfare was unleashed with such abandon and effect.  In 1917, Imperial Germany permitted Vladimir Lenin, an exiled Russian revolutionary, to transit Germany from Switzerland in the belief that his return to Russia would unleash an uprising that would take Russia from the battlefield.  His return did just as the Germans hoped.

    This is the stark reality the West faces today: we are at war.

  • Stack of newspapers in print

    Truth is the First Casualty: Picks of the Week

    Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’ | The Washington Post

    Trump takes credit for saving Ford factory that was not closing | The Guardian

    Megyn Kelly tells ‘The View” how she felt when Trump was elected president | The Daily Beast

    Feelings are the hobgoblins of American politics.  Voters “feel” like one candidate will do a better job than another.  Voters “feel” like the economy isn’t producing for them.  Voters “feel” like others are taking opportunity away from them.  But those feelings are bunk and undermine important things like facts and the truth.

    The assault on truth is an epidemic and a danger to the republic.  The examples are legion.  Consider the tale of Paul Horner, the “fake-news” writer who tried to troll the Trump campaign, but instead helped reinforce its narrative.  He makes $10,000 per month writing fake-news stories and posting them on Facebook.  One of his stories alleged protesters were being paid $3500 to oppose Donald Trump’s campaign—a story, by his own admission, that was fabricated out of thin air but was shared on social media by Trump’s campaign manager.

    The president-elect is no stranger to claims devoid of truth.  During the campaign, Donald Trump alleged that NATO adopted a counter-terrorism mission because he had criticized them on the issue.  For the record, NATO had adopted the plan before Trump ever discussed it.  Similarly, Trump this week took credit for saving a Ford manufacturing plant in Kentucky even though Ford never had any plans to shutter it.

    Not so long ago, we expected the aggregators of information in our world—news outlets, newspapers, and public officials—to curate valid information for us.  In that time, a name like Cronkite or Brinkley or Chancellor immediately conveyed authority and buoyed public confidence.  Today, in contrast, media moguls gush that a Trump presidency “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” as CBS Chairman Les Moonves put it in February.  Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, herself a victim of Trump’s bullying, relishes his win because of the impact on ratings.  “Honestly,” she told the hosts of The View, “as a reporter, I was like, this is going to be so much more interesting.”

    The key take away for the citizen is that we must all become savvy consumers of information.  For decades, educators have lamented the challenge of teaching critical thinking.  In an information-rich environment where truth and false-hoods compete with the same inherent authority, citizens have to ask hard questions, we have to fact-check, we have to hold people to account.  We must master critical thinking as a society, or else we risk major policy and political changes guided only by feelings and hunches. – Executive Director Jim Ludes


  • A Republic, If You’ll Keep It: Picks of the Week

    How Russia Pulled Off the Biggest Election Hack in U.S. History | Esquire

    Steve Bannon’s Vision for the Trump Coalition After Election Day | The New Yorker

    Donald Trump’s Contempt for Democracy | The New York Times

    Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S. | The New York Times

    The United States is currently the target of a Russian information operation—of this there is no doubt.  From Russian artifacts found in stolen emails, to the clear linkages between the organs of Russian propaganda and Wikileaks, the hand of Russia in the American election is obvious—so much so that by the time the United States government stated that fact unequivocally, the reaction was muted because it wasn’t news; it was confirmation.

    While the Clinton campaign has argued that Russia wants Donald Trump to win because he’ll be softer on Russia and give Russia a free hand in Eastern Europe, in Syria, and elsewhere, the evidence is less clear.  More likely, Russia simply wants to discredit American democracy and western liberalism more broadly.  Russia can do so simply by shining a light on some of the worst elements of American political life and the underbelly of our society.

    The 2016 campaign has reached new lows, rhetorically—of course—but also in the coarsening of our national debate.  From the threats to ban an entire religion from the United States, to the characterization of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and the threat of one candidate to jail his political opponent, the tone and tenor of the 2016 campaign has shocked historians and political scientists.  In the process, Donald Trump has attracted an amalgam of white nationalists who believe that America is in peril because of immigration and the gradual darkening of our nation’s complexion.  Tropes and memes once considered taboo are now slung across social media in a dizzying, sickening manner.  Images threatening violence, telling reporters with Jewish sounding names that they’ll be “first for the ovens,” or promising to “resist” after the election—as one tweeter did over an image of a man clutching a modern assault rifle in front a Nazi flag—are legion.

    Of course, in the stolen emails from the DNC, we also saw clear evidence that the Democratic National Committee favored Secretary Clinton over the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders.  We also caught a glimpse of the power of money in Washington to gain access—or at least to give people a sense of bought access.  To many, these revelations—all gleaned by the success of a hack directed by Russian intelligence—seem confirmation of rot and “rigging” within the American political system.

    The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have long celebrated the “Great Patriotic War”—the fight against Nazi Germany that nearly bled Russia white.  That is one reason why I am convinced that the Russian government does not care who wins the American election.  No matter what happens, Russia will be able to point out that somewhere around 40% of the American public supported a candidate widely and publicly embraced by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

    The Russian information operation is not targeting America, per se—it’s targeting America’s reputation, our support of democracy around the world, and our credibility as a bastion in the western, liberal order.  That’s the real prize, because it’s western liberalism that most threatens Putin’s regime. – Executive Director Jim Ludes