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Trump’s perception of Russia and Putin

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]mong all bilateral ties, the ones between the Cold War foes play most significant place in world politics. Answers to several questions on international tensions could easily be found if one knows the aspects of US-Russia relations. At least for this reason, the relations between these top most rival powers need to be comprehended properly.

Donald Trump is perhaps the only US president who in years since the WW-II never made any criticism of Russia as part of his policy rhetoric. All his predecessors, keeping in view the views of the Neocons and Israeli leadership that speaks through the powerful Jewish leaders in USA, made a special reference to Russian policy to slam that arch rival as US key position.  

Upon the unexpected and rather shocking victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election held in December 2016. In this context there have been ongoing allegations of Russia’s involvement in hacking in the election campaign by the Kremlin meaning thereby on the order of the Russian President Putin, supporting Doland Trump and against the “official” candidate Hillary Clinton. This has been emphatically denied not only by the Russian Government. Even as there is an ongoing debate and controversy, the US President-elect, Donald Trump, has shrugged off allegations that Russia meddled in the election. Thus even as both Putin and Trump denied wrong doing, both seem to have benefited, according to a few critics.

As White House was battling to stop master of aggressive rhetoric Donald Trump’s arrival as its custodian, President Putin has managed to showcase his leadership quality, often critical, in the media in the USA. Putin has long believed that the United States has sought to manipulate Russia’s political structure, and provided covert support for democratic insurgencies through nongovernmental organizations.

On top of all this is blatant Russian interference in the recent US national election, clearly aimed along partisan lines against the Democratic Party and its candidate, Secretary Clinton.

Every president at one point or other said USA must reset ties with Russia for creating a genuinely peaceful world. But none has been serious about what they say in public. Trump has aloe said it. The Obama regime tried to have a reset with Russia, and ended up badly. The efforts of the George W. Bush administration ended up badly, too. There are fundamental differences in how the USA and Russia view the world. It is very easy to come to the agreement that we collaborate on fighting the Islamic State and other emerging threats. But putting these pledges into real actionable policies is quite difficult.

Alliance or enmity?

Today, Russia is becoming the scandal the Trump regime just can’t shake. A steady drip of revelations regarding the Trump team’s communications with Russian officials is dismaying congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, leading to calls for a more intensive investigation into the circumstances and substance of these connections. In particular, many lawmakers were surprised by a report in The Washington Post that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had twice spoken with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. In sworn testimony during his confirmation hearing, Sessions had appeared to say that no such conversations took place.

Trump might not be a thorough politician or authoritative diplomat but he is well versed in business diplomacy. Putin’s shrewd diplomacy is evident from the fact that (as reported by the Russian press on December 30, 2016) after Trump got elected he opted out of a tit-for-tat retaliation against the USA which under Obama’s government in November 2016 had kicked out 35 Russian officials over allegations of hacking aimed at interfering in the US election, espionage, and harassment of US diplomats in Russia. At any rate this has further helped Trump to hold on to his contention in favour of Putin and improve relations with Russia. As a successful businessman Trump knows he would reap dividends from Russia if the ties are strengthened.

President Trump is therefore very interested in trying to figure out a way to improve relations with Russia, while Putin wants all economic sanctions slapped on the Kremlin following the annexation of Crimea, withdrawn. It appears, Trump is not entirely averse to that. But there is a lot of talk in Washington about having a grand bargain with Russia. Trump wants to use Russia to fight ISIS but Russia wants USA to support Syrian Assad but Israel and Neocons warn Trump not fall into the Kremlin’s trap. Israel is unhappy that USA refused to abide by the Zionist demand of attacking Iran.

Throughout the campaign and the initial days of his presidency, Trump has continued to express admiration for President Putin and his desire for warmer relations with Moscow. Though he seemed to backtrack at a press conference in Washington and a weekend rally in Florida, and though Vice President Mike Pence offered boilerplate reassurances at a conference in Munich that Washington intends to hold Russia “accountable” for provocations aimed at undermining NATO and the European Union, Trump himself has clung to his view that closer cooperation with Russia is needed to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. “If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me,” he said, “that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

President Trump is yet to make up his mind over foreign policy issues. Against this backdrop, there are what the media call “mixed signals” coming from the White House where Russia, among other topics, is concerned. The president’s attitude (it cannot be called a policy) so far is simply that it is better to have Russia as a friend than as an enemy. The new secretary of state has been silent to date. Our ambassador to the United Nations has taken a traditionally critical position concerning Russia’s actions in opposition to us and our allies. And, perhaps most ominously, senior “strategists” in the White House have signaled, at least indirectly, that they welcome the rise of a right wing, across Western democracies, that identifies with Putin’s nationalism, cultural conservatism, religious orthodoxy, demonization of immigrants and resistance to social toleration.

Given the limited US interests, if the USA were to have some grand bargain with Russia, Central Asia would fall back into the Russian orbit as a place that Trump is not going to focus on. But there is counter-terrorism cooperation between Central Asian states and the USA. Some of the cooperation will remain, but it will be on a limited basis, not any big initiatives.

Compounding the confusion is the appointment of a secretary of state whose considerable interactions with Russian officials have all been corporate and commercial. Conflicts in interests are well known and documented: Russia’s seizure of Crimea and de facto invasion of eastern Ukraine; tacit pressure on the “near abroad,” especially in the Baltic region; troublesome relations between the Putin regime and expanding western European right-wing political parties; and Russian military and political support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Putin plan?

Putin’s actions indicate he is seeking to make an effort to reestablish Soviet Union in another form, though the Kremlin continues to deny that. While most former Soviet republics have joined the EU and NATO, even the corrupt Central Asian regimes are also not very keen to return to square one. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated prior to that meeting that Putin believed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a mistake and disaster. While the disintegration cannot now be reversed, Putin believes in a “new integration in the space of the former Soviet Union”.

Putin’s leadership at domestic and regional levels has assumed significance. On December 26, 2016 Putin met with the leaders of several former Soviet republics in St. Petersburg, a day after the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The Presidents of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were in St. Petersburg recently for the meetings, which included informal summits of the Eurasian Economic Union, that has become a reality in 2015, and Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Hence with that objective at that summit Putin expressed his hope that the creation of a favourable business environment was needed to achieve full-fledged development of their economies. He opined that since forming a common market with the other Eurasian Economic Union countries about two years ago, trade between them has already increased significantly. This has been possible since non-tariff trade barriers have been slashed by 30 per cent and a single market for drug and medical products has been created. Thus by 2025 the EEU aimed at the formation of a common financial market and common markets for gas, oil, and petroleum products, with harmonized rules of trade. By this Putin’s objective and vision may partly be achieved. In fact ever since Putin came to power in 1999, his mission has been to make Russia great again and restore its due place in contemporary world history.

Likewise, the Trump government’s attitude toward the Atlantic alliance, especially NATO, is untethered. The new president has called NATO “obsolete,” and costly affair but his secretary of defense confirmed America’s continuing commitment to the alliance to face the “threats”. At the very least, this causes confusion in European capitals. Is the USA committed to its principal post–World War II security alliance, or should each nation make its own arrangement with Moscow? At stake in all this is not simply the future US-Russian relationship, but even more importantly the US relationship with Europe and the democratic world.

Trust deficit

USA does not trust Russia and other Socialist countries mainly because they oppose capitalist ideologies and as such they would perish. Most Americans for sure believe Russia has not fully given up its ideological agenda though the last Soviet President Michael Gorbachev helped Russians shed along with communist-socialist ideals plus implementation and imbibe so-called democratic values being exported by USA and other capitalist nations.

Humanist Gorbachev, however, mistook American political gimmicks for since intent and thought western democracies are sincere about their claim of focusing on creating genuine peace globally but the USA in fact equates its capitalist ideology as mechanism for promoting neocolonialism and universal democratic values. That is the height of nonsense.

President Trump’s visceral belief, that it is better to have Russia as a friend than an enemy, makes sense. On the other hand, it blurs real differences between what Russia views as its interests and what we view as ours. And, for a president with no foreign-policy experience and still-dubious prior relationships with Russia, it can lead to serious misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Trump never criticized Russia or its president openly or rudely as he does with Muslims or even China, thereby leaving a playfield for diplomatic maneuvers. Who then says trump does not know niceties of high level diplomacy?

President Trump has expressed his admiration for the Russian leadership’s quality and strength to deal with problems including fight against Islamic terrorism, which will also be his own policy priority. Moreover there is media speculation whether with improved relations with Putin, Trump will soften Western policy of economic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine. In fact it is important to note that Trump also did not support the media allegation against Putin as a ‘killer’ that was reported by Times Global on February 6, 2017. Russia has demanded apology from the American media persons. Looking back, in 2016 along with Putin’s rising power certain events proved positive for Russia. For instance, the Brexit vote exposed the deep rifts in the European Union that have benefited Russia as some of the EU members are critical of Putin. It may be argued that Putin’s regime has taken careful aim at the soft underbelly of Western democratic institutions. Hence Donald Trump’s victory might pave the way for a break from the traditional Washington policy towards Moscow that Putin has been looking for.

There is a lot of pushback among the Democratic Party in the USA against a better relationship with Russia. The controversy in the U.S. right now over what sort of influence the Russian government had in the US political system during the campaign complicates Trump’s ability to implement his Russia policy. But Trump is, sometimes, unrelenting and he just decides he wants to do it. My inclination is that it might not be a successful one. Like the Obama, Bush and the Trump regimes may find the US-Russia relations end up far worse than when they began.

No one in US Congress wants to take a stand on the Russia question, then be disproved by later events. After all, former national security adviser Michael Flynn initially denied contacts with the Russian ambassador prior to the election. That turned out to be untrue and he was forced to resign. Some ruling GOP members are now joining Democratic members in calling for Sessions to step aside from an investigation into Russian interference in the election, or even appoint a special prosecutor for an independent effort. Such a probe could distract and dispirit the White House for months, as Benghazi and Iran-Contra investigations did for other administrations in different times and circumstances.

Russia boosts image in Mideast

Energy rich Mideast has one major problem-Israel which succeeded in garnering high precision terror goods from USA and Europe, maneuvering the corrupt US politicians cutting across their bi-party mischief.

Notwithstanding mutual tensions, Russia and USA coordinate their pro-Israeli policies to terrorize the Palestinians whose lands they allowed the Israelis with a managed legal basis on illegal means to confiscate to create Israel on Palestine and begin slashing the Palestinian population by regular genocide efforts on fake pretexts. That is real strength of Israel in attacking and killing the Palestinians, besieged by both Israeli and Egyptians terror blockades.

Both USA and Russia have been competing for bulk military orders from Arab nations and both enjoy their strong presence in Mideast eminently aided by Israeli provocative politics but now wing the Arab Spring and Nato terror wars in Mideast with Israeli backing USA lost its advantage at least for the time being and Russian has overtaken the upper power in selling terror goods to corrupt Arab nations.

Arrogance and Zionist instincts displayed openly by President Donald Trump leave very little hopes for the humanity and its survival. His anti-Muslim rhetoric has emboldened already criminalized Israel. As one of first foreign “dignitaries”, Trump welcomed criminal PM Netanyahu at White House who speaks American English fluently facility that the Palestinians leaders badly lack. Trump, like a prominent Israeli lobbyist Mrs. Clinton would have done, would even embark upon his first foreign trip to Israel.  

Image of Putin’s Russia as becoming a very important military power has become explicit with its interventions in Crimea, East Germany, Syria. It is a matter of great global significance that Putin has been able to bring about a ceasefire deal in the Syrian conflict. On December 28, 2016 the Syria ceasefire deal was signed and Russia and Turkey were ‘Guarantors’ for the same. Putin, having signed the ceasefire agreement with Turkey, stated that the Russian military would scale down its presence in Syria, but he didn’t say how many troops and weapons would be withdrawn. It appears, both USA and Russia do not vacate the land they occupy and as Putin may not withdraw his forces from Syria at least in the near future because most Russians resent the way the Soviet troops were given the march-back order by Gorbachev and now they don’t appreciate ay withdrawal from Syria. More importantly, Putin has asserted that Russia will continue “fighting international terrorism in Syria” and supporting the Assad Government. The terrorism plank offers Russia the right to stay in Syria as long as it wants. While the West had been critical of Russia’s aggressive acts in Syria during the last couple of years, there has been a drastic change with the signing of the peace treaty in Astana in January 2017. It is opined by some analysts including Vasily Maximov that Moscow’s intervention under the leadership of Putin in Syria has an important dimension and that Russia has succeeded in trying to boost its position in the Middle East and demonstrate its global stature while attaining leverage in negotiations with the West.

In fact Putin is aware that what is binding Russia and China together has been their shared interest in balancing the USA on global issues. Putin has succeeded in increasing convergence between Russia and China on many global issues during the past few years. It is significant that in December 2016 Putin displayed renewed interest in the long-delayed China-Russia highway across the Amur River by extending technical and financial assistance to it; it is to be completed by 2019 and will enhance trade relations. China is thirsty for energy and raw materials from Russia to fuel its economic growth. It needs to be stated that another major factor drawing them together is a mutual dependence because even as Russia, though superior to China in nuclear weapons, is no match as far as the Chinese conventional military weaponry is concerned. Russia’s Look-East policy subsequent to the conflict with Ukraine on the Crimean issue in 2014, which worsened Russia’s political and economic relations with Europe and the USA, was welcomed by Beijing and that was “an axis of convenience” as rightly stated by Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Centre highlighting Russia-China relations.

Russia is also in recent years growing closer to Pakistan and this is a matter of anxiety, especially at a time that India is trying to isolate Pakistan in this region by supporting USA against funds meant for Pakistan. China is already a strong supporter of Pakistan and with the two major powers involving themselves with Pakistan; it is certainly not good news as far as India is concerned. Russia held its first ever joint military exercise with Pakistan days after the Uri terror strike in September 2016 in the Indian administered State of Jammu Kashmir and at the BRICS Goa Summit, India felt let down by Russia as Moscow did not support Delhi’s stand by publicly naming the Pakistan-based “terror outfits”, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, as opined by Sachin Parashar. It needs to be noted that one cannot deny that both Russia and Pakistan are opening a new era of strategic and political alliance. President Putin’s proposed visit to Pakistan in May of this year will witness the inauguration of the US $ 2 billion LNG North-South Pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, as reported in the International News by Noor Aftab. This is possibly intended by Putin who wants to enhance Russia’s presence and influence in South Asia.

All said and done, a steady drip of revelations regarding the Trump team’s communications with Russian officials is dismaying congressional Republicans as well as Democrats, leading to calls for a more intensive investigation into the circumstances and substance of these connections.   A report in The Washington Post notes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had twice spoken with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign. In sworn testimony during his confirmation hearing, Sessions had appeared to say that no such conversations took place. Some Republican (GOP) members are now joining Democratic members in calling for Sessions to step aside from an investigation into Russian interference in the election, or even appoint a special prosecutor for an independent effort. For Trump administration officials, their deepening Russia problems are a frustration at best. White House is in a fix now as an investigation on the subject, something analogous to the Benghazi inquiry, ostensibly about a 2012 tragedy at a US outpost in Libya, turned up evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conducted government business on a private email service.

On the domestic front Putin enjoys support and popularity by over 80 per cent of the population. Even as there are some Opposition parties and political leaders, including Alexei Navalny who proposes to contest in the presidential election against Putin, he has made sure that no political Opposition exists to challenge his authoritarian rule. It is worth noting that Russia’s annexation of Crimea has boosted Putin’s popularity at home even as there is strong opposition in the West. Russians constitute a substantial portion of the population in Crimea which has helped in the referendum held for the annexation. Russia claims that all legal processes were in place for that purpose.

In his annual state-of-the-nation address on December 1, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the country is unified like never before and is fully capable of achieving its strategic economic and geopolitical goals. Speaking at the Defence Ministry on December 22, 2016 Putin asserted that Russia’s military is now stronger than any possible attacker but must be prepared to adjust plans to neutralise the potential threats to the country.

Observations

It is difficult to imagine normalization of US-Russian relations, either in a traditional sense or on some new, yet unarticulated basis, until the mystery of the president’s personal attitudes toward Putin and whatever background they represent are clarified and laid to rest. It is difficult to disprove a negative, to prove that something that didn’t happen didn’t happen. But the only known way to do that is to turn over every rock, not only where Trump is concerned, but also regarding the several individuals close to him who have dabbled in Russia in recent years. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Unfortunately, one of the rocks that must be overturned has to do with Trump’s taxes, and that seems an immovable stone wall.

For US presidents, no single foreign policy challenge is more contentious, or crucial, than getting Russia right. Under President Donald Trump, Republicans and Democrats have embraced diametrically opposing views on how to handle President Vladimir Putin. Both seem to have got it wrong. Resisting Russian intimidation should be more than a campaign slogan. While almost no one wants a return to the Cold War, a world in which Russian hegemony is unrestrained increases the chance of global conflict.

For Trump officials, their deepening Russia problems are a frustration at best. Many of their attempts to get past the controversy end up feeding it – witness their attempt to enlist the FBI to knock down a previous New York Times story about administration/Russia connections. That only produced more headlines on the subject. In that context, an independent prosecutor could turn the probe into something analogous to Benghazi – much more difficult for the subject of the investigation to limit in time or subject. Remember that the Benghazi inquiry, ostensibly about a 2012 tragedy at a US outpost in Libya, turned up evidence that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conducted government business on a private email service.

Perhaps a new approach to clearing the air and the deck where the Trump regime and Russia are concerned should be considered. Because of the role it played in the recent election, whatever investigations the FBI is undertaking regarding Russian connections may be suspect or discredited. Congressional inquiries, even with a Republican majority, will be partisan, politicized and media saturated. Consideration, therefore, might be given to a special panel composed of respected statesmen and stateswomen of both parties empowered to compel testimony under oath, inspect personal and classified documents (including tax returns), and issue a public report that either eliminates all suspicion of prior Trump-related activities in Russia or identifies areas of conflicting interest.

Otherwise, it seems inevitable that a cloud will linger for years to come regarding how relations between the current US government and the Putin government are being formulated, and whether in response to some prior arrangements or personal understandings. That will confuse whatever policies are adopted, either to strengthen U.S.-Russian ties, or draw lines against Russian actions in opposition to the interests of the United States and our allies.

Depending on what the investigations in the USA about relations between the Trump campaign and Russia find out, it could have very significant impacts on the Trump presidency and Trump’s ability to engage with Russia. There is harsh anti-America rhetoric in Russia. After this campaign, among a certain sector of the American population, there is harsh anti-Russia sentiment in the U.S. Overcoming that will be challenging.

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Americas

AMLO’s Failed State

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Mexico’s challenges since transitioning from the hegemonic rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) 19 years ago have remained numerous and elusive: rampant corruption; constant violation of human rights; spiralling violence; impunity; ineffective rule of law and the inability of the state to protect basic rights of its citizens. Drug violence, in particular, has undergone a rapid and intense process of diversification and popularisation while the ability of the state to deter anti-systemic forces has remained critically low. Over the last decade, the criminal field has become increasingly complex, fractured and multi-polar making it almost impossible for the authorities to respond effectively.

On the 17th of October 2019 after a shambolic operation that led to thearrest of Ovidio Guzmán, son of drug Lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, El Chapo, criminal organisations loyal to the Cartel of Sinaloa effectively sieged the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa overpowering the capacity of the army and rendering the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) security policy obsolete, just 9 months into his presidential term.  The government was left with no choice but to release the prisoner in an attempt to stop the violence that had terrorised Culiacán for 6 hours. 

The Cartel of Sinaloa´s victory in subduing the government is a remarkable humiliation for the current administration and exposed the utter lack of capacity of the state to quell violence across the country. It could also set a dangerous precedent: the state as captive of anti-systemic forces. This is the second even of such nature during AMLO’s presidency, just last month after protests of striking teachers spread all over the country, the president blindly agreed to all the demands of the teachers’ union. Both of these events send the dangerous message to criminal organisations and anti-state forces that the only thing needed is to commit wholesale violence in any given city and the government will agree to meet their demands.

AMLO instead of pursuing a full-on military strategy like his predecessors to try to limit the growth and scope of violence, has decided to follow a pacification security strategy that focuses on trying to resolve the social roots of insecurity.He has placed poverty as the main reason why Mexican youngsters are joining criminal organisations. His basing his strategy on a serious misconception: Poverty causes violence. Violence is a symptom of poverty not the cause. It is easy to blur the correlation between the two, and much easier to sustain the myth that continues toplague the poor to justify a simplistic approach to violence: If people are violent, it’s usually because they are poor, because when you are poor, your opportunities to escape poverty are exceptionally limited so you need to resort to violence; therefore people who have money, will not be violent:The massive corruption that underminespolitical institutions inMexico is not committed by the poor. Drug Lords are not poor either.

It is true that Mexico’s crisis manifests itself in violence, however its real roots are the widespread corruption, the weakness of the state and its institutions, and the lack of vision of incumbent administrations to place the interest of the country ahead of their own particular electoral interests. This makes any attempt to solve the endemic problems of Mexico subject to the whims of those in power. Culiacán only showed that the government can be easily outgunned, outsmarted and outmanned; it also inflicted a major blow to AMLO’s pacification strategy he defends.

Reality is that the Mexican state is failing in at least 6 of its basic functions: It is unable to guarantee internal security; it has been unable to protect the rights of its citizens; it has been ineffective in ensuring the respect of the rule of law and the administration of justice; it has failed in the promotion of the policies aimed at the betterment of the welfare of its population; it has not maintained a stable economy that would translate into improved living standards for its citizens; and the state has failed to act as the exclusive holder of the monopoly of force.

There are only 2 ways in which the current spiral of violence in Mexico can stop: Go back to the narcopeace that the country enjoyed during much of the rule of the PRI hegemonic party. This will happen when one or two criminal organisations become powerful enough to establish enough deterrence to monopolise the drug prevent further fragmentation. The second option is if the state somehow is able to systematically build up enough deterrence capacity to align anti-systemic forces with the government. This is however hampered by the prevalence of weak institutions and a lack of commitment to a deep state reform. This would only require more than a pseudo-leftist leader waving the flag of modernisation and change, but whose  policies are dangerously steeped in a strong nationalist rhetoric that echoes the hegemonic PRI party of the 1970s.

Therefore, the most likely outcome is that AMLO, like its predecessors, will most likely disappoint. Current enthusiasm for the current administration has led to the denial of the new president’s very obvious shortcomings. Mexico has prioritised cheerleading of a messiah candidate over the slow but vital work of institution-building and state reform that is the only answer to decades of disappointment.

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When Democracy Becomes the Problem: Why So Many Millions Still Support Donald Trump

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight: withered hearts, or empty skulls?” -Honoré de Balzac

For understanding the context of social life, Honoré de Balzac was a master. Minutely analytic in his scrutiny of society, he delicately lay bare every stratum of culture with the precision of an archeologist. Brushing the “dirt” from every “artifact,” his books combined (as Victor Hugo remarked at his funeral) “observation and imagination.”

It was an ideal but too-rare combination. Still, desperately, America needs another Balzac today. Despite so much apt criticism of an incoherent US presidency, millions of Americans continue to regard Donald Trump as an acceptable or even exemplary leader.

How can this be happening in a presumptively informed and democratic American society? In response, we could very easily throw up our hands and exclaim (together with ancient philosopher Tertullian), Credo quia absurdum,  “I believe because it is absurd.” For a more serious response, however, we should first examine the wider American society from which this relentlessly conning president was drawn.

To fruitfully extend the illuminating Balzac metaphor, it is high time to “brush the dirt” from all still-revealing “artifacts.”

What might we expect to discover? At a minimum, the results of any such examination should be decipherable and straightforward. If  properly executed  (that is, if carried out with proper attention to the long-settled criteria of scientific investigation), we could quickly discover that Americans all-too-frequently abhor any genuine learning. Although this nation surely does place a very high value on every manner of “practical” achievement  (e.g., smart phones, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, self-driving cars, automatic guns, etc., etc.), it is only because these diverse products are expected to enhance the banal circumstances of American “mass.”  

In essence, before learning and intellect can ever be valued for themselves in the United States – a condition which is so clearly required for proper governance –  Americans will first need to think far beyond glittering and distracting technologies.

What else might be learned from a “Balzac-like” assessment of dissembling US presidential moments? In some respects, the “Trump Phenomenon” is not utterly unique. Although less rancorous, cantankerous and blatantly foolish, more than a few incapable and dishonest US presidents have been endured during America’s endlessly acrimonious past. At the same time, especially because his own conspicuous debilities are  coupled with a “nuclear button,” Donald Trump is more tangibly dangerous than any one of his injurious predecessors.

Vastly more dangerous.[1]

Soon, however, we must  return to deeper explanations. In all likelihood, almost by definition, a contemporary Balzac would look more closely at the broader society from which this American  president was drawn and from which he was catapulted to nuclear command authority. Here, soberly, all must finally confront a cheerlessly trivialized social order, a generally dumbed-down amalgam of individual citizen souls yearning to “follow the crowd.”

Ever yearning.

Even in this pervasively anti-thought society, the core problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of consequence.

Rather, it’s that he or she wants to know very little.

Incontestably, these same limiting traits are characteristic of Donald J. Trump. Expressed in more axiomatic mathematical terms, one is the inevitable reciprocal of the other.

Not by happenstance did Trump rise to power in a country so flagrantly proud of its historical and cultural illiteracy. The fact that this US president never reads anything – literally, never, ever – is not widely taken by Americans as a significant liability. On the contrary, the obliging American mass reserves notably few intellectual expectations for its leaders. Indeed, for many voters, ostentatiously, any obvious intellectual disinterestedness  is taken as an enviable presidential asset.

Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher.  Once upon a time, when some calculable number of Americans still sought to read challenging books and consider variously complex ideas, Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier American  plea for improved personal and social equilibrium has been casually cast aside. If it were more widely recognized, Americans would then be “assured” that any well-reasoned pleas for consequential reform should only be ridiculed.

Under the aegis of President Trump’s continuously “rotating” senior appointees, matters will only get worse. Nonetheless, growing legions of US citizens acknowledge no real problem with their overtly anti-education president, even one whose proposed “solution” to gun violence in the schools is to randomly arm teachers (because they are “more loving” than police) and to “fight back” with still more guns. In part, at least, such an ominous indifference to intellect and science can be traced to America’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic entertainments, many of which center on sadism, torture, murder and (these days especially) a cheerlessly corrosive public discourse.

Always, in the Trump Era, this discourse is laced with utterly baseless rancor and with conspicuously  dreary profanity.

Always, in this American White House, science and reason represent merely an annoying impediment to free-floating human hostilities.

 It’s time for candor. Earlier, Donald Trump had promised, at one of  his more hideous Goebbels-style “rallies,” to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. Even then, however, his  unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over by supporters as unimportant.  Still, it represented another humiliating Trumpian symptom of America’s much wider and more deeply insidious national “pathology.” While his followers were generally correct that this president was entirely willing to “speak his mind,” they seem untroubled by the too-obvious corollary.

There was no underlying mind for him to speak.[2]

“What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of his Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”

Nietzsche, as usual, had understood splendidly, deeply. He reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.”  Disregarding the millions who (“with reasons”) still refuse to renounce a glaringly unhinged presidency, Donald Trump never ever attempts to understand that American history deserves its proper pride of place.

This is because the American president is himself  utterly ignorant of America’s history and founding principles.

How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” have paused to consider that the Founding Fathers were not expecting automatic weapons? How many can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons, including huge private arsenals that can kill hundreds in minutes and are sometimes in the hands of citizens living with variously advanced stages of dementia?

Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more starkly disingenuous than those that put literally unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries?

Can anyone reserve a legitimate intellectual right to believe that the Second Amendment embraces originally-inconceivable sorts of firearm? How many “educated” Americans bother to learn that their early eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and the lineal philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” described in Leviathan – a “state of war” or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the seventeenth-century English philosopher because there “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”

Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might wittingly or unwittingly create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following such creation,  “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Evidently lost on this president, too, is the ongoing relevance of Hobbesian thinking to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Why else would Trump be actively undermining the already-fragile nuclear arms control regime, even to the extent of abrogating critical US treaties with Russia?

One still-whispered explanation is that this US president is a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” but a more plausible answer is that he has no intellectual grasp of how best to support American survival in the steadily nuclearizing state-of-nature.

None at all.

For Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in this president’s alarmingly disjointed views of the world, (ones wherein “might makes right”)  regression could sometime become an agreeable part of  “making America great again.”

Credo quia absurdum.  “I believe because it is absurd.”

There is more. This is hardly the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant gibberish in belligerent chorus. For a particularly worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual cries of Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did expertly instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – an instruction now capably learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become. At first, the lie doesn’t seem to make any sense. But if one leads chants often enough against some “crooked” opponent or another, fewer will expect to find any “crookedness” on the chanting side.

Such devious  “logic” makes no discernible sense. Still, it continues to work well for US President Donald Trump. Absurdly well.

“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.

“I love the poorly educated,” echoed candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

Not much calculable difference here. Both Goebbels and Trump were effectively on the same page.

In the past, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged more countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea).  Immediately, this incomprehensible urging should have signaled a too-willing incapacity to figure out certain complex strategic problems. At a minimum, the president’s earlier encouragements were spawned by his apparent unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not ipso facto create credible nuclear deterrence postures.

Not at all.

In the pertinent language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which I have personally been intimate for over fifty years – in Princeton, Washington and Jerusalem – the Trump fallacy has a specific name.

It is referenced by specialists as the “porcupine theory.”[3]

This prickly metaphor obtains because these violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, presuming that just as the quill-endowed critters will leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in the unsteady interstices of anarchic world politics.[4]

In the end, US presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of America’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with distressingly embarrassing simplifications and with resoundingly stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as a principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s Republican National Convention should already have represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.

Yet, it was not generally criticized. Not at all.

But it was consistent – and without causing any electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect and meaningful learning. At even much deeper levels,  it was expressive of America’s general celebration of low-level and degrading public distractions. For this US president, whose crude sentiments were unhidden, there was more palpable instructional value in television’s Roseanne than in Homer or Shakespeare.

Shouldn’t this illiterate judgment have been a sufficiently worrisome “early warning”?

 Accordingly, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his learned generation of American Transcendentalists would have done more than winced. America’s earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of recognizable accomplishment and original thought.

In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences,  a then-future American president composed more infinitely valuable prose than America’s current president (with all modern conveniences at his ready disposal) could produce in several contiguous lifetimes. Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise in “branding,” but instead with the much more appropriate understanding that an American
“brand” should be based upon certain authentic qualities of accomplishment.    These traits are inherently true, honorable and correspondingly valuable.

“One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, America  still stood for something more than buying, selling and grievously raw commerce. Years ago, the country’s national debates did not yet center on mass killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style  assault weapons.

It may well be that America has never been quite ready for Plato’s “Philosopher King,” but there were at least some recallable times in its national past that philosophical debates would sound more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.

 Assuredly, American s remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in the frenetic marketplace of goods for sale and purchase, but for their auspicious presence in an enlightening marketplace of  ideas. For these still-enviable presidents, it was much more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than on the incessantly demeaning symbols of conspicuous consumption.

It’s not complicated. The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still energetically accepted by millions – begins with the intellectually unambitious American citizen; with the insistently flawed individual “microcosm.” The American electorate, the macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its separate members. As Nietzsche could easily have predicted, the whole of the American polity is more starkly despoiled than the aggregate sum of its component “parts.”

 Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy comes to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” that is, those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.” In the deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and to “get ahead” –   inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated amalgam of cheap pleasures and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without even a scintilla of courage or integrity, millions of “hollow men” and women remain chained to exhausting cycles of meaningless and repetitive work.

There are manifold ironies here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt in the United States by the very very rich as well as by the very very poor. This paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege is based upon entire lifetimes spent on grimly sterile forms of pointless personal accumulation.

 Now, our most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing  not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty.[5] Within this vast and predatory nether world, huge segments of our unhappy population  drown themselves ritually in vast oceans of alcohol and drugs. Whether incremental or sudden, this intractable submersion is now becoming deep enough to swallow up whole centuries of national achievement and entire millennia of a once-sacred poetry.

At its core, the American “opiate addiction problem” is not fundamentally about drugs. It is, rather, the symptom of rampant individual unhappiness and an intractable social despair. The most tangible residue of this unrelieved problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter can be taken as the materially squalid overflow of a nation’s much larger social disintegration.

This coming-apart is destroying a US society that has become complicit in its own manifestly unheroic demise.

 Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some recognizable membership in the public mass. Earlier, in the 19th century, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had already foreseen this omnivorous mass, even before the rise of social media.

“The crowd,” opined the prophetic Danish thinker, “is untruth.”

Later, in the twentieth century, in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gassett  foresaw the uniquely perilous consequences of “mass,” a term also resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”

Whether one speaks of  a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing President Donald Trump remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. In brief, while seeking such support, there is never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his policies with verifiable facts. In proudly announcing his “Made in America Week” some time back, this president took no pains to justify that his own family businesses were continuing to rely heavily on foreign-made goods and workers.

Always, in this gravely pernicious presidency, hypocrisy is undisguised.

Is this a sign of virtue?

Hardly.

Although virtually all respectable academic economists are convinced that Trump-generated tariffs will have deleterious effects on each American’s individual family pocketbook, this president continues to plan for some sort of “victory” in his indecipherable trade wars.

 Conceptually, for this president, it’s not a difficult reconciliation to make. In any such calculations, full speed ahead, facts and logic be damned.

 For the moment, at least, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.”  Disclaiming any residual interior life, we proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more annoyingly recognizable terms, even our vaunted American “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.

Once again, it’s time for candor. Our simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous “solvent.” This caustic solution dissolves almost everything substantial of  intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature and art has already   been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already,  apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, our once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and sterile vocations.

Soon, even if we should manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the rapidly unraveling Trump Era – the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.

In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired thoughtfully about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This earlier American president had answered “yes,” but only if we first refused to stoop to join the threatening and synthetic “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson had already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty demise of broken machinery, more hideous even than the unstoppable decompositions of each person.

 In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists had also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is most important. There can be a “better”American soul,[6] and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more prior obligation. This is a far-reaching national responsibility to overcome the staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”

In the end, the Donald Trump presidency is “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology. In this country, the underlying disease is rather a far-reaching national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged at this rudimentary level, such reluctance could eventually transform us into the finely-lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.

Naturally, if this president should ever authorize the use of American nuclear weapons, such transformation could become instantaneous.

 More than likely, the Trump presidency will notend with the bang of a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” could represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless Americans begin to work much harder at halting their society’s steep indifference to both intellect and reason, we will recurrently have to face the ominous kinds of metamorphoses that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once famously termed a “sickness unto death.” As Americans who can still understand more than the embarrassingly empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection), but with very deliberate and purposeful fixing of their private “selves.”

The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, a US president of true intellectual accomplishment, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this is finally understood and accepted, an imperiled nation could more properly guard itself against another patently unfit American president. It follows that there could not possibly be any more important “brand” of national awareness.

Recalling classic French author Honoré Balzac, “withered hearts” and “empty skulls” need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, most notably in the scarcely hidden case of a now- deteriorating American polity, the first can flow lethally and directly from the second. Moreover, the impacted ambit of corollary suffering could quickly extend far beyond US borders to other and distant countries, and include major wars or genocide.

Such would be a plausible legacy of a declining American democracy increasingly detached from reason and learning.


[1] There are many compelling components to any such allegation, but the most serious of these concerns an American president’s authority and capacity to initiate nuclear war. In this connection, several recent articles by the author expressly deal with this overriding concern. See, for example, Louis René Beres,  http://www.jurist.org/forum/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear.php  See also:  https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-11/possible-trump-presidency-showcases-fatal-flaw-in-nuclear-command-safeguard. Professor Beres is the author of twelve published books dealing with nuclear command decisions, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and, in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[2] At the July 4 2019 celebration in Washington, this president promised “brand new Sherman tanks” and instructed that in the 18th century the Revolutionary War army had “taken control of all national airports.” (No Sherman tanks have been built in  the last seventy years).

[3] A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in the recommending of easy private access to guns, and, correspondingly, of arming teachers to deter school shootings. To be sure, it makes little sense to argue (as does Donald Trump) that a determined and deeply disturbed individual with access to multiple firearms would be best deterred by a “loving teacher” with a handgun concealed in her/his desk drawer or pocketbook. It is also worth noting that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a key hallmark of a civilized society has been the “centralized force monopoly of the community,” not the “every man for himself” vigilante system now seemingly favored by a sitting American president.

[4] One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters,  Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see also Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.

[5] On US President Donald Trump’s ideas of art and beauty, see: Louis René Beres at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/

[6] However ironic, Sigmund Freud had maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism,” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

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A self-inflicted wound: Trump surrenders the West’s moral high ground

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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For the better part of a century, the United States could claim the moral high ground despite allegations of hypocrisy because its policies continuously contradicted its proclaimed propagation of democracy and human rights. Under President Donald J. Trump, the US has lost that moral high ground.

This week’s US sanctioning of 28 Chinese government entities and companies for their involvement in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang, the first such measure by any country since the crackdown began, is a case in point.

So is the imposition of visa restrictions on Chinese officials suspected of being involved in the detention and human rights abuses of millions of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

The irony is that the Trump administration has for the first time elevated human rights to a US foreign policy goal in export control policy despite its overall lack of concern for such rights.

The sanctions should put the Muslim world, always the first to ring the alarm bell when Muslims rights are trampled upon, on the spot.

It probably won’t even though Muslim nations are out on a limb, having remained conspicuously silent in a bid not to damage relations with China, and in some cases even having endorsed the Chinese campaign, the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history.

This week’s seeming endorsement by Mr. Trump of Turkey’s military offensive against Syrian Kurds, who backed by the United States, fought the Islamic State and were guarding its captured fighters and their families drove the final nail into the coffin of US moral claims.

The endorsement came on the back of Mr. Trump’s transactional approach towards foreign policy and relations with America’s allies, his hesitancy to respond robustly to last month’s missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, his refusal to ensure Saudi transparency on the killing a year ago of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his perceived empathy for illiberals and authoritarians symbolized by his reference to Egyptian field marshal-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as “my favourite dictator.”

Rejecting Saudi and Egyptian criticism of his intervention in Syria, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the United States and Mr. Trump a blunt preview of what they can expect next time they come calling, whether it is for support of their holding China to account for its actions in Xinjiang, issues of religious freedom that are dear to the Trump administration’s heart, or specific infractions on human rights that the US opportunistically wishes to emphasize.

“Let me start with Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Erdogan said in blistering remarks to members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Look in the mirror first. Who brought Yemen to this state? Did tens of thousands of people not die in Yemen?” he asked, referring to the kingdom’s disastrous military intervention in Yemen’s ruinous civil war.

Addressing Mr. Al-Sisi, Mr. Erdogan charged: “Egypt, you can’t talk at all. You are a country with a democracy killer.” The Turkish leader asserted that Mr. Al-Sisi had “held a meeting with some others and condemned the (Turkish) operation – so what if you do?”

The fact that the United States is likely to encounter similar responses, even if they are less belligerent in tone, as well as the fact that Mr. Trump’s sanctioning of Chinese entities is unlikely to shame the Muslim world into action, signals a far more fundamental paradigm shift:  the loss of the US and Western moral high ground that gave them an undisputed advantage in the battle of ideas, a key battleground in the struggle to shape a new world order.

China, Russia, Middle Eastern autocrats and other authoritarians and illiberals have no credible response to notions of personal and political freedom, human rights and the rule of law.

As a result, they countered the ideational appeal of greater freedoms by going through the motions. They often maintained or erected democratic facades and payed lip service to democratic concepts while cloaking their repression in terms employed by the West like the fight against terrorism.

By surrendering the West’s ideological edge, Mr. Trump reduced the shaping of the new world order to a competition in which the power with the deeper pockets had the upper hand.

Former US national security advisor John Bolton admitted as much when he identified in late 2018 Africa as a new battleground and unveiled a new strategy focused on commercial ties, counterterrorism, and better-targeted U.S. foreign aid.

Said international affairs scholar Keren Yarhi-Milo: “The United States has already paid a significant price for Trump’s behaviour: the president is no longer considered the ultimate voice on foreign policy. Foreign leaders are turning elsewhere to gauge American intentions… With Trump’s reputation compromised, the price tag on U.S. deterrence, coercion, and reassurance has risen, along with the probability of miscalculation and inadvertent escalation.”

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