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Donald Trump, “The Crowd” And A Nation’s Bitter Despair

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 “The crowd is untruth.”-Soren Kierkegaaard

The “crowd,” cautioned Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, is  “untruth.” Nowhere is the concise wisdom of this 19th century warning more plainly apparent than in Donald Trump’s despairing United States.  Even  today, even after so much rancorous presidential dissemblance and chicanery, this fragmenting and unhappy nation too often accepts incoherent political dogma as proper authority and  conspicuously vile political gibberish as truth.

 Even now, even when a derelict president elevates his own contrived and illiterate judgments concerning epidemiology above the authoritative opinion of America’s distinguished scientists and physicians, millions of his supporters still offer a visceral “amen.” In essence, these “obedient” citizens stand in stubbornly open support of untruth or anti-Reason. Why?

How can this unchanging self-destructiveness be suitably explained?

It gets even worse. In certain refractory instances, this irrational hierarchy of US citizen preference has led hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Americans to consume potentially lethal medications against Covid-19. What are these “obedient” people “thinking”? This is a president, let us not forget, who thinks human bodies can somehow undergo beneficial anti-viral “cleanings” with commercially-available disinfectants. If it can “kill” virus on tabletops, reasons Trump openly, why not take the remediating substance internally?

Credo quia absurdum, affirmed the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” Still, this is a president of the United States in the year 2020. How can such preposterous “reasoning” be accepted by literally millions of Americans?

There is more. How shall such normally incomprehensible behaviors be explained more gainfully? At one level, at least, the answer is obvious. America is no longer a society that sincerely values knowledge, education or learning. Led by a retrograde man of commerce who never reads books – indeed, who proudly reads nothing at all – this has become a “know nothing” country, a nation that wittingly and shamelessly spurns both intellect and truth.[1] For whatever deeply underlying reasons, docile Trump minions seek to keep themselves “anesthetized.”

In this active form of complicity with self-destruction, these Americans are not passive victims. Rather, they insistently hold themselves captive by a lengthening string of embarrassingly false presidential reassurances and by clinging to endlessly mindless Trump simplifications of complex problems.[2]

In her magisterial two-volume work, The Life of the Mind (1971), political philosopher Hannah Arendt makes much of the “manifest shallowness” of historical evil-doers, hypothesizing that the critically underlying causes of harm are not specifically evil motives or common stupidity per se. Rather, she concludes controversially but convincingly, the root problem is thoughtlessness, a more-or-less verifiable human condition that makes a susceptible  individual readily subject to the presumed “wisdom” of clichés, stock phrases and narrowly visceral codes of expression.

There are always a great many who will be “susceptible.” This does not mean only those who lack a decent formal education. Significantly, in Donald Trump’s fragmenting America, just as earlier in the Third Reich,  well-educated and affluent persons have joined forces with gun worshippers and street fighters to meet certain presumptively overlapping objectives. In the end, we may learn from  both history and logic, each faction will suffer grievously alongside the general citizenry.

 Both sides will “lose.”[3]

For philosopher Hannah Arendt, the core problem is this: a literal absence of thinking. In her learned and lucid assessment, evil is not calculable according to any specific purpose or ideology. Rather, it is deceptively commonplace and altogether predictable. Evil, we may learn from the philosopher, is “banal.”

There is more. Fundamentally, the “mass  man”  or “mass woman” (a Jungian term[4] that closely resembles Arendt’s evildoer) who cheers wildly in rancorous presidential crowds, and whatever the articulated gibberish of the moment, favors a constant flow of empty witticisms over any meaningful insights of reasoning or science. Living in a commerce-driven society that has been drifting ever further from any still-residual “life of the mind,” this susceptible American is a perfect “recruit” for Trumpian conversion.

This “obedient” citizen, after all, has absolutely no use for study, evidence or critical thinking of any kind. Why should he? Der Fuhrer will do his “thinking” for him.[5]

Could anything be more “convenient?”

With Arendt and Jung, the anti-Reason “culprit” is unmasked. It is the once-individual human being who has wittingly ceased to be an individual, who has effectively become the unapologetic enemy of intellect and a reliable ally of thoughtlessness. Using the succinct but incomparably expressive words of Spanish philosopher Jose Oretga y’Gassett, he or she thinks only “in his own flesh.”[6] Following any such antecedent triumphs of anti-Reason in the United States, it becomes more easy to understand the hideous rise and political survival of  dissembling American President Donald J. Trump.

America’s most insidious enemy in this suffocating Trump Era should now be easier to recognize. It is an unphilosophical national spirit that knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.[7]  Now facing unprecedented and overlapping crises of health, economics and law,[8] sizable elements of “We the People” feel at their best when they can chant anesthetizing gibberish in mesmerizing chorus.  “We’re number one; we’re number one,“these Americans still shout reflexively, even as their country’s capacity to project global power withers minute by minute, and even as the already ominous separations of rich and poor have come to mimic (and sometimes exceed) what is discoverable in the most downtrodden nations on earth.

Most alarmingly, among these manifold catastrophic American declensions, the badly-wounded American nation is still being led by an utterly ignorant pied piper, by a would-be emperor who was stunningly “naked” from the start and who has now managed to bring the United States to once unimaginable levels of suffering. In this connection, the Corona Virus pandemic was not of his own personal making, of course, but this relentless plague has become infinitely more injurious under Trump’s unsteady dictatorial hand.

Nonetheless, the champions of anti-Reason in America will still generally rise to defend their Fuhrer. He did  not create this growing plague, we are reminded. He is, therefore, just another victim of a plausibly unavoidable national circumstance. Why keep picking on this innocent and brilliant man?  Instead, let us stand loyally by his inconspicuously sagacious counsel.

 Sound familiar?

Recalling philosopher Hannah Arendt, such determinedly twisted loyalties stem originally from massive citizen thoughtlessness. Though Donald Trump is not in any way responsible for the actual biological menace of our current plague, he has still willingly weakened the American nation’s most indispensable medical and scientific defenses.[9] It is well worth mentioning too, on this particular count, that meaningful national defense always entails more than just large-scale weapons systems and infrastructures.[10] Looking ahead, moreover, this country has far more to gain from a coherent and science-based antivirus policy than from a patently preposterous Trumpian “Space Force.”[11]

 Thomas Jefferson, Chief architect of the Declaration of Independence, earlier observed the imperative congruence of viable national democracy with wisdom and learning. Today, however, many still accept a president whose proud refrain  during the 2016 election process was “I love the poorly educated.” Among other humiliating derelictions, this refrain represented a palpable echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels Nuremberg rally comment: “Intellect rots the brain.”

 Americans are polarized not only by race, ethnicity and class, but also by inclination or disinclination to serious thought. For most of this dreary and unhappy country, any inclination toward a “life of the mind” is anathema. In irrefutable evidence, trivial or debasing entertainments remain the only expected compensation for a shallow national life of tedious obligation, financial exhaustion and premature  death. This sizable portion of the populace, now kept distant from authentic personal growth by every imaginable social and economic obstacle, desperately seeks residual compensations, whether in silly slogans, status-bearing affiliations or the manifestly deranging promises of Trump Era politics. 

Even at this eleventh hour, Americans must learn understand that no nation can be “first”[12] that does not hold the individual “soul”[13] sacred. At one time in our collective history, after American Transcendental philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a spirit of personal accomplishment did actually earn high marks. Then, young people especially, strove to rise interestingly, not as the embarrassingly obedient servants of destructive power and raw commerce, but as plausibly proud owners of a unique and personal Self.

 Alas, today this Self  “lives” together with increasingly unbearable material and  biologically uncertain ties.  Whether Americans would prefer to become more secular or more reverent, to grant government more authority over their lives, or less, a willing submission to multitudes has become the nation’s most unifying national “religion.” Regarding the pied piper in the White House, many Americans accept even the most patently preposterous Trump claims of enhanced national security. Credo quia absurdum.

 Upon returning to Washington DC  after the Singapore Summit, President Trump made the following statement: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”[14]

It’s not just America. Crowd-like sentiments like these have a long and diversified planetary history. We are, to be fair, hardly the first people to surrender to crowds. The contemporary crowd-man or woman is, in fact, a primitive and universal being, one who has uniformly “slipped back,” in the words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, “through the wings, on to the age-old stage of civilization.”

This grotesque stage is not bare. It is littered with the corpses of dead civilizations.[15] Indiscriminately, the crowd defiles all that is most gracious and still-promising in society. Charles Dickens, during his first visit to America, already observed back in 1842:  “I do fear that the heaviest blow ever dealt at liberty will be dealt by this country in the failure of its example to the earth.”

 To this point, at least, Americans have successfully maintained their political freedom from traditional political tyranny and oppression, but – plainly – this could now change at almost any moment. Already, we have come to accept in once unimaginable terms the kind of presidential manipulation and bullying that can shred and pull apart well-established constitutions. As corollary, Americans have also cravenly surrendered their liberty to become authentic persons. Openly deploring a life of meaning and sincerity, a nation stubbornly confuses wealth with success, blurting out rhythmic chants of patriotic celebration even as their cheerless democracy vanishes into meaninglessness, pandemic disease and a plausibly irremediable despair.   

Whatever its origin, there is an identifiable “reason” lying behind this synchronized delirium. In part, at least, such orchestrated babble seeks to protect Americans  from a potentially terrifying and unbearable loneliness. In the end, however, it is a contrived and inevitably lethal remedy . In the end, it offers just another Final Solution.

Still, there remain individual American citizens of integrity and courage. The fearlessly resolute individual who actively seeks an escape from the steadily-poisoning “crowd,” the One who opts heroically for disciplined individual thought over effortless conformance, must feel quite deeply alone. “The most radical division,” asserted José Ortega y Gasset in 1930, “is that which splits humanity…. those who make great demands on themselves…and those who demand nothing special of themselves…” In 1965, the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, offered an almost identical argument. Lamenting, “The emancipated man is yet to emerge,” Heschel then asked each One to inquire: “What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?”

Why are these same questions so casually pushed aside by current American supporters of a rancorous president who opposes “emancipation” in any conceivable form?

 There is more. It is time for camouflage and concealment in our pitiful American crowd to yield to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “being-challenged-in-the-world.” Individuals who would dare to read books for more than transient entertainment, and who are willing to risk social and material disapproval in exchange for exiting the crowd (“emancipation”), offer America its only real and lasting hope. To be sure, these rare souls can seldom be found in politics, in universities, in corporate boardrooms or almost anywhere (there are some exceptions still) on radio, television or in the movies. Always, their critical inner strength lies not in pompous oratory, catchy crowd phrases, or observably ostentatious accumulations of personal wealth (“Trump. Trump, Trump“),  but in the considerably more ample powers of genuineness, thought and Reason.

There is much yet to learn. Currently, not even the flimsiest ghost of intellectual originality haunts America’s public discussions of politics and economics, even those organized by intelligent and well-meaning Trump opponents. Now that America’s largely self-deceiving citizenry has lost all residual sense of awe in the world, this national public not only avoids authenticity, it positively loathes it. Indeed, in a nation that has lost all recognizable regard for the Western literary canon, our American crowdsgenerally seek aid, comfort and fraternity in a conveniently shared public illiteracy.

 Inter alia, the classical division of American society into Few and Mass represents a useful separation of those who are imitators from those who could initiate real understanding. “The mass,” said Jose Ortega y Gasset, “crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select.”  Today, in foolish and prospectively fatal deference to this Mass, the intellectually un-ambitious American not only wallows lazily in nonsensical political and cultural phrases of a naked emperor, he or she also applauds a manifestly shallow national ethos of personal surrender.  

“America First,” yes, but only in Covid-19 mortality.

By definition, the Mass, or Crowd, can never become Few. Yet, someindividual members of the Mass can make the very difficult transformation. Those who are already part of the Few must announce and maintain their determined stance. “One must become accustomed to living on mountains,” says Nietzsche, “to seeing the wretched ephemeral chatter of politics and national egotism beneath one.” It was Nietzsche, too, in Zarathustra, who warned presciently: “Never seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”

Aware that they may still comprise a core barrier to America’s spiritual, cultural, intellectual and political disintegration, the Few,  resolute opponents of the Crowd,  knowingly refuse to chant in chorus. Ultimately, they should remind us of something very important: It is that both individually and collectively, doggedly staying the course of self-actualization and self-renewal – a lonely course of lucid consciousness rather than self-inflicted delusion – is the only honest and purposeful option for an imperiled nation.  

  Today, unhindered in their endlessly misguided work, Trump Era cheerleaders in all walks of life draw feverishly upon the sovereignty of an unqualified Crowd. This Mass depends for its very breath of life on the relentless withering of personal dignity, and also on the continued servitude of  all independent citizen consciousness. Oddly, “We the people,” frightfully unaware of this dangerous parasitism, are being passively converted into the fuel for the omnivorous machine of Trumpian “democracy.” This is a pathologic system of governance in which the American citizenry is still permitted to speak and interact freely, but which is also an anti-intellectual plutocracy.

In the early 1950s, Karl Jaspers, well familiar with the seminal earlier writings of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, sought to explain what a dissembling “Crowd” had  brought to his native Germany and Germany’s captive nations. Publishing Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time  in 1952, the distinguished German philosopher explained the formidable difficulties of sustaining Reason among many who would prefer “the fog of the irrational.”  Now, Jaspers’ earlier observations about Nazi Germany may apply equally well to Donald Trump’s dissembling America:

Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….

Here, in essence, Jaspers here underscores the “fraudulent freedom of obedience” in any society that might seemingly will itself to be a democracy, but is actually just an oblique celebration of tyranny, moreover, the singularly arch-tyranny of anti-Reason. In earlier times, such perverse celebrations were unexceptional or even de rigeur, but they also “set the stage” for what Americans are experiencing so painfully at the present moment. To some extent, at least, for America to be freed from the false freedom of obedience will demand the whole society be placed in status nascens, as if newly born.

, When, in 1633, Galileo Galilei kneeled before the Inquisitorial Tribunal of Rome and was forced to renounce the compelling science of Copernicus, he revealed the vulnerability of  Reason to the mortal seductions of anti-Reason. In this case, history deserves notable pride of place. When Americans watch the evening news depicting US President Donald Trump railing thoughtlessly against well-established theories of biology and medical science, they should finally begin to appreciate something utterly primal. Such flagrant seductions of anti-Reason are not only sinister, but also lethal.

 “The crowd is untruth.”


[1] In this regard, consider the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s succinct warning in Zarathusrtra: “Never seek the higher man at the marketplace.”

[2] One may be usefully reminded of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[3] Said Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1934: “”Whoever can conquer the street will one day conquer the state.” Later, in 2019, Donald Trump echoed this dreadful sentiment: “I have the support of the street, of the police, of the military, the support of Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.” In a similar vein, during a 2016 rally in Las Vegas, Trump told a wildly cheering crowd that he’d “like to punch the protestors in the face.” “I love the old days, you know what they used to do to guys like that when they’re in a place like this, they’d be carried out on a stretcher,” Then, identifying a specific target person in the audience, Trump added: I’d like to punch him in the face.”

[4] See the pertinent writings of Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, especially The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[5] A current example is flag-waving Trump supporters who hold signs blaming distinguished epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci for “tyrannical” closure policies, and simultaneously urging greater medical authority for President Donald J Trump.

[6] “The mass-man,” we were warned earlier by Ortega in The Revolt of the Masses (1930)  “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.” Nothing could be more conspicuously clarifying than this graphic metaphor.

[7]  Apropos of truth in Plato’s The Republic: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

[8] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/

[9] “This virus is going to disappear,” said Trump, on February 27th, 2020.

[10] On this matter, of course, one ought also note this president’s withdrawal from treaties with Russia and from the United Nations World Health Organization. Credo quia absurdum.

[11] The United States Space Force was created by US President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, under terms of the National Defense Authorization Act. Although it is intended to bolster this country’s overall military power in any expanding strategic competition with Russia, its most likely effects will  be contractive, corrosive and destabilizing. The critical underlying US policy error being committed in this creation is conceptual and historic. In essence, it consists of failing to recognize that millennia of belligerent geopolitical competitions have resulted not in peace, but in assorted forms of  international war. At a unique time when the United States faces a new and unpredictable set of dangers from worldwide disease pandemic, shifting large sums of money needed for public health to a space-centered arena of future international conflict represents mistaken national priorities. Of course, from what we ought already have learned about Reason and Anti-Reason, before this miscalculation can be changed, America’s leaders will have  to appreciate the fundamentally intellectual antecedents of US foreign policy decision-making  at every level.

[12] This president’s self-serving  refrain of “America First” ignores an absolutely overarching empirical truth: America is “first” in Covid-19 deaths, but not in any other tangibly enviable standard of civilizational quality or improvement. Always, we have the biggest bombs and missiles, but little else to show for even the most basic expectations of human empathy and compassion. For this president and his retrograde followers, caring about others is a sign of weakness. Nothing else. To wit, in the president’s currently most evident example, wearing a mask against Covid-19 infection is described as little more than “political correctness.”

[13] Both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both psychologists, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the anti-intellectual American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to crudely material accomplishment would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[14] The worst expression of such incoherent presidential  reassurance would likely be a nuclear war.  For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[15] Dostoyevsky reminds us soberly: “And what is it in us that is mellowed by civilization? All it does, I’d say, is to develop in man a capacity to feel a greater variety of sensations. And nothing, absolutely nothing else. And through this development, man will yet learn how to enjoy bloodshed. Why, it has already happened….Civilization has made man, if not always more bloodthirsty, at least more viciously, more horribly bloodthirsty.” (See Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground, 108 (Andrew R. Mac Andrew, tr., New American Library, 1961 (1862).

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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