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Looking Back at the Trump Presidency: An Informed Retrospective

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 “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen; Yet, seen too often, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.”-Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

Background to the Trump horror: America’s heritage of anti-reason

Even in retrospect, the Trump presidency remains redolent with wrongdoing and defilement.  Though thousands of needless American deaths represent the most conspicuous cost of this sordid presidency, the US also suffered coinciding geopolitical losses in North Korea, China, India, Russia, Iran and elsewhere. These preventable deaths and geopolitical losses were generally predictable, the expected result of a society that assiduously discourages independent citizen thought. In essence, long before the pandemic of Covid19, there already existed a corrosive American “plague” of doctrinal anti-reason.

               There is more. During the acrimonious Trump Era, anti-intellectual sentiments were routinely elevated to the status of ideology. Worse, these barbarous sentiments were no longer expressed sotto voce, cautiously, in the Congress or in the White House. Instead, they became the celebrated underpinnings of unprecedented Constitutional crises and  variously retrograde declarations of “America First.”[1]

               “Intellect rots the brain,” shrieked Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at a Nuremberg rally in 1935. “I love the poorly educated” yelled Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign for the presidency. Inter alia, what these grim assertions had in common was an ultimately lethal disdain for science and education. Derivatively, they pointed to a continuously deformed and twisted national ideal, one that called for mindless public obeisance to democratic Constitutional governance. As US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley recently pointed out, the January 6 2021 insurrection was nothing less than Donald J. Trump’s “Reichstag moment.”[2]

               That was really saying a great deal.

               In world politics, both domestically and internationally, Trump Era intellectual decline was not unique. Americans have seen indigenously spawned monsters before. But in the Trump years, we the people witnessed a virulent rebirth of catastrophic political bewitchments. Most ominously, no matter how compelling and expansive the evidence of Trump’s multiple derelictions became, millions of his dedicated adherents remained steadfastly loyal to his manipulations, to unreason. This assessment remains true even now, even after the crude and murderous coup attempt at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

               Lest we forget, the event represented an American president’s engineered insurrection against his own government. “Credo quia absurdum,” said the ancient philosopher Tertullian: “I believe because it is absurd.”

Trump-world derelictions go much deeper than simple day-to-day infringements. Briefly, we are all still afflicted and/or affected. Even today, faith, not facts, is what matter most to dedicated cadres of robotic Trump adherents. For them, and without any apologies to Jeffersonian democracy (because these adherents generally know nothing of US history), the perilous phrase “I believe” is de rigeur. For such viscerally compliant persons, the dialectically reciprocal phrase “I think” remains unknown or reassuringly subordinate.

               For the self-parodying Trump faithful caught up in empty or invented antimonies, the Cartesian “cogito” was too taxing. For this “herd” (Nietzsche); “crowd” (Kierkegaard); or “mass” (Jung) – these useful terms are easily inter-changeable here – an imperative to think meaningfully might just as well never have been raised.[3] The basic reason behind such willful abandonment of “mind” is captured with clarity by 20th century German philosopher Karl Jaspers in his Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “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 intellectual argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….”

               “The Absurd.” Jaspers is still well worth reading. In this regard, the enticingly simplifying gibberish of QAnon and QAnon-type “explanations” should come immediately to mind. Could any contemporary “ideology” be more patently preposterous? The question is moot, of course, because this ideology literally worships The Absurd. Could anything prove more humiliating for Americans who still like to insistently presume themselves “great again?”[4]

A legacy undermined: Trump’s repudiation of America’s intellectual origins

Some things have changed. Back in the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, chief architect of the Declaration of Independence and future American president, exclaimed with unhesitating candor: “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Later, US President Donald Trump, who learned only “in his own flesh” (a clarifying phrase offered by Spanish existentialist philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Revolt of the Masses, 1930) expressed an oath of support for just such an insufferable tyranny. Early in his steeply-corrupted presidency, Trump returned from the Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un declaring that any calculable risks of a bilateral nuclear war had just then been removed.[5] This argument, vacant prima facie, rested upon the inane observation that he and Kim had “fallen in love.” Subsequently, Trump offered grievously inexpert daily assessments of assorted drug efficacies against the Corona virus. At the same time, he responded to authoritative science-based prescriptions with capricious doubt or absurdly brazen indifference.

For the United States, these incoherent stream-of-consciousness excursions into gibberish were more than merely dissembling. At a time of palpable biological “plague,” these presidential declensions were sorely tangible and immediately life-threatening. Jurisprudentially, they came perilously close to becoming genocide-like crimes.[6]

               A key observation dawns. How pitifully inadequate were America’s political processes and institutions in dealing with this president’s rancorous instincts.  For a time, almost an entire country displayed near-infinite forbearance for Trump’s hugely nonsensical commentaries. The resultant withering of an already-declining nation’s heart and mind pointed to once-unimaginable existential threats.

They pointed directly and unambiguously.

While various mega-death scenarios of relentless disease pandemic expressed the most far reaching and credible dangers, the more “normal” portents of nuclear war and terrorism did not miraculously disappear. In certain worst case narratives that could still be fathomed, war, terror and pandemic would occur more-or-less simultaneously, and with harshly interactive results that were not simply “intersectional” but also multi-layered and synergistic.

               There is more. In any scenario of overwhelmingly destructive synergy, the whole of a potential catastrophe would necessarily be greater than the sum of its parts. In this aptly sobering connection, Americans may usefully recall Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt’s seemingly obvious but still insightful observation: “The worst does sometimes happen.”

               Are the stubbornly dedicated minions of Trump sycophants mainly scoundrels or fools? And which answer would be more ominous for the United States? About this particular question, Jose Ortega y’Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses (1930) cites generically to the writer Anatole France: “There is no way of dislodging the fool from his folly…. The fool is a fool for life…he is much worse than the knave. The knave (scoundrel) does take a rest sometimes; the fool never.”

               At best, and let us now be generous in spirit, there was nothing intentionally murderous or genocidal about Donald Trump’s policies, whether foreign or domestic. Nonetheless, plainly detectable in his crude governance was a far-reaching indifference to basic human rights and welfare. Spawned by an all-too evident absence of empathy or compassion, this American president gave new and portentous meaning to the common notion that pain is incommunicable. “All men have my blood and I have all men’s,” wrote American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self-Reliance,”[7] but such cosmopolitan sentiment was alien and incomprehensible to Donald J. Trump.

 As with any challenging matters of intellectual judgment, this former president’s near-total lack of empathic feelings revealed frightful levels of personal emptiness. More precisely, they revealed an American leader of breathtaking vapidity, one who quite consciously constructed his venal presidency upon the stupefying sovereignty of unqualified persons. This was the literal opposite of Thomas Jefferson’s celebrated democratic vision.

Citizen obligations to truth

               Where do Americans go from this once foreseeable and once preventable point in national political life? Whatever else we might conclude, Donald J. Trump was no psychiatric enigma. Rather, he displayed numerous and incontrovertible clinical derangements from the start. But rather than continue to approach these liabilities as if they were specifically important in their singularity, we Americans must understand that there can never exist a feasible political “fix” for concatenations of monstrous presidential behavior.

               No doubt, Trump and his diehard supporters still believe that he did what he did with purity of heart. Similarly felt convictions were readily detectable among the 1930s managers of German propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Should we therefore “give a pass” to the Third Reich’s Nazi Party? In reply, if anyone wants to more fully understand the Trump phenomenon, it would be best to listen to his speeches and ideas in the “original German.”

Irony can be instructive. Still, there is more. In America today there is still too much “noise.” Among those many citizens who so strenuously loathe all refined intellect and ascertainable truth, this is largely the undimmed background noise of an insidious political impresario.[8]

Trump’s continuously bewitched proselytes make their hideous sounds with open enthusiasm. They do this because it allows them to see themselves as privileged members of a very worthy “crowd.” Reciprocally and consistently, their out-of-power but still-disjointed leader makes complementary dissembling noises.  He has, after all, been selected “for life” to direct this hideous “crowd.”

Have any of these proselytes read the United States Constitution? Have any ever heard about US common law and Blackstone’s Commentaries? The US legal system begins with Blackstone. Did Trump’s senior Justice Department officials even know that much?

The crowd is “untruth” wrote 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard; no crowd could be more untrue than the one comprised of continuously retrograde Trump followers. Anticipating what has now come to pass in the United States, nineteenth century American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (Life Without Principle) lamented prophetically: “…we do not worship truth, but reflections of truth; because we are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade and commerce …which are means, not ends.” From Plato to Emerson, Americans have readily available templates for a more thoughtful and decent society, but it is first up to them to seize such templates. Significantly, with any such essential “seizure,” political action would still be reflective, secondary and epiphenomenal.

True change will have to be intrapersonal.

               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 former president Donald J. Trump (with all modern conveniences at his disposal) could produce in several contiguous lifetimes. Naturally, Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise in “branding,” but with a dedication to Reason, to the antecedent understanding that an American brand” should be based upon authentic qualities of accomplishment. Promisingly, such traits would be inherently “true,” both honorable and valuable.

               “One must never seek the higher man,” warns philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, America still stood for something more than mastering raw commerce. Years ago, our national debates did not yet center on mass killing and a presumed right to arm citizens with military-style assault weapons. It may well be that this country has never been ready to welcome Plato’s “Philosopher King,”[9] but there were at least certain times in our national past that philosophical debates sounded more like a university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.

                We Americans generally remember our earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in the frenetic marketplace of tangible goods – products to be bought and sold – but for their auspicious presence in a marketplace of ideas. For these still-enviable presidents, it was always more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than on accumulated symbols of personal wealth. Can anyone imagine Abraham Lincoln or even Dwight D. Eisenhower residing at faux habitats like Mar a Lago?

Microcosm, macrocosm and “soul”: an indissoluble American connection

                The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still energetically accepted by millions – began with the intellectually unambitious American citizen, with the self-flawed “microcosm.” Our American electorate, the macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its separate members. As Friedrich Nietzsche could have predicted from his vital reasoning in Zarathustra, the whole of the American polity is potentially more despoiled than the mere aggregate sum of its “parts.”

                Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy must come to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” that is, a composite of those hopeful citizens who still seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.”[10] In our 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 and ever-growing wasteland of lost human opportunity. Within this desiccated society of vulgar and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders with nary a scintilla of courage or personal integrity, millions of “hollow” men and women remain chained to exhausting cycles of meaningless work.

               There are manifold ironies here. While generally unrecognized, such de facto American servitude is sometimes felt by the very rich as well as by the very poor. This paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege is based upon entire lifetimes spent in grimly sterile forms of endlessly unsatisfying accumulation. To be sure, we are essentially taught to revere billionaires more than thinkers, but it has now proven to be an incomparably murderous instruction.

                Now, America’s most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing, not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty.[11] Within this vast and predatory nether world, huge segments of cheerless populations drown themselves in vast oceans of alcohol and drugs. Whether incrementally or suddenly, this intractable submersion is already deep enough to swallow up entire centuries of national achievement and entire millennia of a once-sacred poetry. Today, the number of American suicides or self-murders is virtually too high to actually calculate.

               At its core, America’s “opiate addiction problem” is not about drugsRather, prima facie, it is the evident symptom of rampant individual unhappiness and intractable social despair. A tangible residue of this refractory problem can be found scattered as “medical” litter on America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this toxic litter instructs as a squalid metaphor of a much larger social disintegration. In short, this graphic metaphor references a society that during the trump years became even more complicit in its own continuous demise.

True meanings of “freedom”

                Let us be candid. Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.”  Stubbornly disclaiming any hints of an interior life, we proceed tentatively and in almost every palpable sphere at the lowest common denominator. When it is expressed in more annoyingly recognizable terms, our vaunted American “freedom” is becoming contrivance. Nothing more.[12]

                A simplifying American intellectual context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous “solvent.” This caustic substance dissolves almost everything of analytic consequence. In formal education, the once revered Western Canon of literature and art has already been replaced by more generalized emphases on acquisition and “business.” Apart from their pervasive drunkenness and often tasteless entertainments, once-sacred spaces of American higher education have been transformed into a rusting pipeline, a perpetual conduit to unsatisfying jobs and sterile vocations.[13]

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

               In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This American president[14] had answered “yes,” but only if we first refused to stoop to join the threatening and synthetic “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson 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 biological decompositions of each individual person.

                In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is most important. There can be a “better”American soul,[15] 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, to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.” But there can be no foreseeable end to crowd-induced political surrenders until individuals no longer feel the persistent need to make of themselves a quantité négligeable.

Final citizen obligations: imperatives of serious thought

               In the end, Donald Trump’s defiling presidency was “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American “pathology.” Today, the underlying American disease remains a far-reaching national unwillingness to think seriously or independently. Ultimately, if it is left suitably unchallenged, such reluctance could transform us into something far worse than anything ever imagined; that is, into the finely-lacquered corpse of a once-ascendant American Civilization.

               There are several urgent lessons to be learned. For Americans, the most ruinous evasion of all has been to seek comfort and succor in primordial forms of political attachment, to escape moral judgment as private citizens. This search won’t work. “In eternity,” reminds Soren Kierkegaard, “each shall render account as an individual.[16]At least, we are properly warned, there will be this residual sort of “last judgment.”

               Looking back, “horror” is the only correct term of judgment for an American presidency that shamelessly encouraged egregious crimes against the United States and against other nations.[17] Even without mens rea or what the jurists would call “criminal intent,” Trump’s visible unconcern for science-based judgments on disease, law[18] and war almost yielded the death of millions. Inter alia, recalling Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, such presidential unconcern exhibited a uniquely hideous species of “vice,” a species so distressing that it still defies any “measured,” “balanced” or “objective” forms of description.

               Looking ahead, to prevent another “monster       of so frightful mien,” Americans must finally embrace the faith of Reason, not Trump-like anti-Reason or “reason of unreason.”[19] Following pertinent insights of 20th century Spanish philosopher Ortega y’Gasset Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas, 1930), America’s “redemption” from egregious governance will never be discoverable in politics.[20] Instead, it will require a nation to acknowledge that intellectual efforts are demanding but indispensable. Though the Trump “masses” sought to rule American society without any actual capacity to do so, failure to fully reject such presumptuousness could only bring forth another grievous horror. All citizens are certainly entitled to their opinions, but these opinions ought not expect affirmations of correctness based upon assorted wishes and lies. Most pernicious of all would be Trump-style presidential opinions once again based upon appeals to violence, inherently fallacious opinions known to logicians as argumentum ad baculum. Of all such illegitimate opinions, Ortega y’Gasset concludes: “They are in effect nothing more than appetites in words….”

               Following the Trump horror, America has had enough of such verbal “appetites.” They are starkly predatory and potentially omnivorous. We can do much better.


[1] Donald Trump’s philosophy of belligerent nationalism – codified as “America First” –  willfully undermined certain basic protective principles of international law. This law, an integral part of the coordinating system of separately sovereign states in world politics, assumes a reciprocally common obligation of all states to supply continuous benefits to one another. The assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, one that is never subject to legitimate question or policy reversal. It can be discovered early on in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis; Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[2] The US general was referring to Adolph Hitler’s burning of the German parliament in February 1933, and the Nazis blaming the political left (i.e., the Communists). Said Donald Trump on August 11, 2021 about the police shooting of Capitol insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt on January 6 2021: “I spoke to the wonderful mother and devoted husband of Ashli Babbitt, who was murdered at the hands of someone who should never have pulled the trigger of his gun. We know who he is. If that happened to the ‘other side,’ there would be riots all over America and yet, there are far more people represented by Ashli, who truly loved America, than there are on the other side. The Radical Left haters cannot be allowed to get away with this. There must be justice!” This represents a verified statement of the former American president about an individual who knowingly took part in a violent coup d’état at the US Capitol early in 2021.

[3] Cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am.” The exact reference here is to “universal doubt” famously encouraged by René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637).

[4] I use the word “themselves” here with deliberateness. This is because the ultimate value to Trump followers of an America that is “great again” is plainly the reflective or derivative transmittal of “greatness” to “themselves.”

[5] On probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); 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 MA:  Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[6] Professor Beres is the author of several major books and many law journal articles on genocide-like crimes. See, for example, Louis René Beres, “Genocide and Genocide-Like Crimes,” in M. Cherif Bassiouni., ed., International Criminal Law: Crimes (New York, Transnational Publishers, 1986), pp. 271-279. See also: Louis René Beres, file:///C:/Users/lberes/AppData/Local/Temp/Genocide%20State%20and%20Self.pdf;; Louis René Beres,  Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); and Louis René Beres, America Outside the World: The Collapse of US Foreign Policy (1987).

[7] We may think also of the corresponding Talmudic observation: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[8] In a wholly negative assessment, twentieth century German writer Thomas Mann would have called Trump a “magician.” See for example, his classic novella on the rise of Nazism, “Mario and the Magician.”  See also: Karl Jaspers: “The masses have followed the magicians again and again…Socrates and Plato were the first to take up the struggle against them in clear awareness of what was at stake.” (Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952).

[9] See by this writer at Oxford University Press: Louis René Beres, https://blog.oup.com/2011/08/philosopher-king/

[10] I draw this term from Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[11] Regarding aesthetics, see by this author, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/

[12] This problem antedates Trump. See, for example, the classic essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Life Without Principle (1863).

[13] See, by this writer, at The Daily Princetonian: Louis René Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[14] As a graduate Princetonian himself, the author recognizes that this former Princeton University president was recently “demoted” of previous stature. Though such reputational derogation was likely well-founded, this does not mean ipso facto that Wilson (a former Princeton professor of political science) had absolutely nothing of genuine intellectual value to share with others. He was a serious and capable scholar who understood the relentless obligations of science and academic learning.

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

[16] The Kierkegaardian concept of “crowd” is roughly analogous to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” psychologist Car G. Jung’s “mass,” or Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[17] Regarding US legal obligations toward other nations, see for example, by Louis René Beres:  https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/jurist-us-abandons-legal-obligations-syria; and

https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2018/11/louis-beres-khashoggi-murder/

[18] One must remember here that pertinent obligations of international law are also generally obligations of US law. In the precise words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[19] This expression is drawn from Cervantes, Don Quixote.

[20] It was American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote the following important words in Life Without Principle: “America is said to be the arena on which the battle of freedom is to be fought, but surely it cannot be freedom in a merely political sense that is meant. Even if we grant that the American has freed himself from a political tyrant, he is still the slave of an economic and moral tyrant.  Now that the res-publica has been settled, it is time to look after the res-private, the private state….” With this 19th century assertion, the great American Transcendentalist thinker managed to capture the core problem of present-day American life.

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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China And U.S. Are On the Brink of War

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Right now, the neocons that Biden has surrounded himself with are threatening to accuse him of having ‘lost Taiwan’ if Biden backs down from his many threats to China, threats that the U.S. Government will reverse America’s “One China” policy, which has been in place ever since the 28 February 1972 “Shanghai Communique”, when the U.S. Government signed with China to the promise and commitment that “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” If Biden sticks with that, and fails to follow through on his threats that America will invade China if war breaks out between Taiwan and China, then the neocons will say that the U.S., under Biden, has failed to ‘stand up for our allies’, and that therefore China will have effectively beaten America to become the #1 power, on his watch — merely because he had refused to change U.S. policy in the way that the neocons (America’s “Military-Industrial Complex” or “MIC” or weapons-manufacturers — and their many lobbyists and supporters in Congress, the press, and elsewhere) have recently been demanding. 

The Truman-created CIA edits, and even writes, Wikipedia; and, so, Wikipedia’s article on “Taiwan” opens by saying “Taiwan,[II] officially the Republic of China (ROC),[I][h] is a country in East Asia.[21][22]” But that assertion of Taiwan’s being “a country,” instead of a province of China, is a lie, not only because Taiwan (despite its propaganda urging the U.N. to accept it to become a member-nation of the U.N.) has not been accepted by the U.N. as a member-nation, but also because the U.S. Government itself promised, in 1972, that both in fact and in principle, the U.S. opposes any demand that might be made by any government of Taiwan to become a separate nation — no longer a part of China. Ever since 1972, any such demand by a government in Taiwan violates official U.S. Government policy since 1972, and is merely another part of the MIC’s wishful thinking, that America will invade China. So: the demand by the neocons, for America’s Government to support a public declaration by Taiwan’s government that it is no longer a part of China, is part of the pressure upon Biden, to yield to the Pentagon lobby (which largely made him the President). Biden’s threats might be made in order to satisfy his financial backers, but, if he fulfills on any of those threats, there will then be a war between America and China.

China is insisting that the anti-communist Chinese who in 1945 escaped to China’s island of Formosa or Taiwan — which Japan had conquered and militarily occupied between 1895 and 1945 — illegitimately controlled that land just as the Japanese had illegitimately controlled it between 1895 and 1945, and so China claims that Taiwan remains and has remained a province of China, as it has been ever since at least 1683, when China’s Qing Dynasty formally declared it to be a part of China. Taiwan was ruled that way until 1895, when Japan conquered China and one provision of the peace-treaty was that Taiwan would henceforth be part of Japan’s territory, no longer Chinese. 

After WW II, when FDR’s America was allied with China against Japan, Truman’s America (the source of neoconservatism, or overt U.S. imperialism) supported the anti-communist Chinese, not mainland China, and therefore generally backed Taiwan’s independence from the mainland. However, that intense Trumanesque U.S. neoconservatism ended formally with the 1972 Shanghai Communique. And Biden is now considering whether America will go to war in order not only to restore, but now to further intensify, Truman’s neoconservative, imperialistic, U.S. thrust — going beyond even Truman.

Here is how that is currently playing out:

On September 10th, the Financial Times headlined “Washington risks Beijing ire over proposal to rename Taiwan’s US office” and reported that the neocons were pressing for Biden to change the diplomatic status of Taiwan’s “representative office in Washington” so as to become, in effect, a national Embassy. “A final decision has not been made and would require President Joe Biden to sign an executive order.” This executive order would, in its implications, terminate the Shanghai Communique, and go back to the hard ‘anti-communist’ (but actually pro-imperialistic) policy in which the U.S. Government will be bringing its weapons (and maybe also its soldiers) close enough to China so as to be able to obliterate China within ten minutes by a surprise nuclear attack which would eliminate China’s retaliatory capabilities. It would be even worse than the 1963 Cuban Missile crisis endangered America. So, of course, China’s Government wouldn’t tolerate that. And they don’t.

On September 12th, the Chinese Government newspaper Global Times issued “Teach the US, Taiwan island a real lesson if they call for it: Global Times editorial”, which stated that:

If the US and the Taiwan island change the names, they are suspected of touching the red line of China’s Anti-Secession Law, and the Chinese mainland will have to take severe economic and military measures to combat the arrogance of the US and the island of Taiwan. At that time, the mainland should impose severe economic sanctions on the island and even carry out an economic blockade on the island, depending on the circumstances. 

Militarily, Chinese mainland’s fighter jets should fly over the island of Taiwan and place the island’s airspace into the patrol area of the PLA. This is a step that the mainland must take sooner or later. The name change provides the Chinese mainland with sufficient reason to strengthen our sovereign claim over the island of Taiwan. It is anticipated that the Taiwan army will not dare to stop the PLA fighter jets from flying over the island. If the Taiwan side dares open fire, the Chinese mainland will not hesitate to give “Taiwan independence” forces a decisive and destructive blow.

More importantly, if the Chinese mainland turns a blind eye to the US and the Taiwan island this time, they will definitely go further in the next step. According to reports, Joseph Wu, leader of the external affairs of the Taiwan island, participated in the talks between senior security officials from the US and the island in Annapolis on Friday. Next time, they may publicly hold the meeting even in the US State Department in Washington DC. As the US will hold the “Summit for Democracy” by the end of this year, if we do not contain the insolence of the US and the Taiwan island, Washington might even really invite Tsai Ing-wen to participate in the summit. It will be much worse in nature than former Taiwan regional leader Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the US as an “alumnus” in 1995.

Will peace come if the Chinese mainland puts up with all this and swallows its anger for the sake of peace? If the mainland doesn’t strike back decisively, US warships will dock at the island of Taiwan, its fighter aircraft will land on the island and its troops may be stationed in the island again. At that time, where will be China’s prestige as a great power? How can the country maintain its system of defending its interests on the international stage?

So: either the U.S., or else China, must back down — or else, there will be war between China and the U.S.

Of course, each side has its allies. Perhaps UK will put its neck on the line to conquer China, and perhaps Russia will put its neck on the line to conquer America, but in any case, the result if Biden yields to the neocons, will be World War III.

They press him hard. For example, the British neocon, Niall Ferguson, wrote in the Economist, on August 20th:

There is nothing inexorable about China’s rise, much less Russia’s, while all the lesser countries aligned with them are economic basket cases, from North Korea to Venezuela. China’s population is ageing even faster than anticipated; its workforce is shrinking. Sky-high private-sector debt is weighing on growth. Its mishandling of the initial outbreak of covid-19 has greatly harmed its international standing. It also risks becoming the villain of the climate crisis, as it cannot easily kick the habit of burning coal to power its industry.

And yet it is all too easy to see a sequence of events unfolding that could lead to another unnecessary war, most probably over Taiwan, which Mr Xi covets and which America is (ambiguously) committed to defend against invasion. …

The ambitions of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, are also well known — along with his renewal of the Chinese Communist Party’s ideological hostility to individual freedom, the rule of law and democracy. … If Beijing invades Taiwan, most Americans will probably echo the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, who notoriously described the German bid to carve up Czechoslovakia in 1938 as “a quarrel in a far away country, between people of whom we know nothing”. …

That brings us to the crux of the matter. Churchill’s great preoccupation in the 1930s was that the government was procrastinating — the underlying rationale of its policy of appeasement — rather than energetically rearming in response to the increasingly aggressive behaviour of Hitler, Mussolini and the militarist government of imperial Japan. A key argument of the appeasers was that fiscal and economic constraints — not least the high cost of running an empire that extended from Fiji to Gambia to Guiana to Vancouver — made more rapid rearmament impossible.

It may seem fanciful to suggest that America faces comparable threats today — not only from China, but also from Russia, Iran and North Korea. Yet the mere fact that it seems fanciful illustrates the point. The majority of Americans, like the majority of Britons between the wars, simply do not want to contemplate the possibility of a major war against one or more authoritarian regimes, coming on top of the country’s already extensive military commitments.

Scholars get well paid to write such propaganda for the MIC (companies such as Lockheed Martin). Comparing China’s Government with that of Nazi Germany, and proposing that Biden become, for present-day America, what (the equally imperialistic) Churchill was for Britain’s in the late 1930s, might be stupid enough, in just the right way, to inspire someone like Biden, in precisely the wrong way, as it’s intended to do. If so, there will be WW III.

On September 14th, the Editor-in-Chief of Global Times wrote that “China has absolutely no way to retreat. The one-China principle is the fundamental principle that we must insist on.” Similarly, in the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis — when the Soviet Union was about to place its missiles on an island near America’s coast — America was willing to go to WW III if necessary in order to prevent that from happening. America established its “red line,” and the Soviet Union did not cross it. We’ll see what Biden does. And, if he makes the wrong decision, we’ll then see what Russia does.

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Americas

Biden Overstates by 700% Effectiveness of Covid Vaccines

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

The White House said on September 9th that “recent data indicates there is only 1 confirmed positive [covid-19 disease] case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week.”

Its announcement fails to link to any source on that allegation. However, if Biden got that estimate from the New York Times, then he was definitely overstating it by 700%. And America’s ‘news’-media, at press conferences, don’t ask politicians, “Where do you get those data? What assurance do you have that they are trustworthy?” Instead, mere allegations by public officials are reported as if they should be accepted as being facts.

All of America’s recent Presidents have been similarly casual and untrustworthy about the truthfulness of their allegations, such as they were about “Saddam’s WMD.” The whole world therefore has good reasons to distrust what America’s Presidents say. It’s certainly the case with this President. Why do people trust them any longer? Either the U.S. official builds policies on the basis of his/her falsehoods, or aims to deceive people; and, in either case, what that person says won’t be trusted by any intelligent person.

In this particular instance, another dubious news-source (besides Biden), the New York Times, had headlined, two days earlier, on September 7th, “One in 5,000: The real chances of a breakthrough infection.” However, that allegation (“One in 5,000”) likewise failed to link through to its source and to describe the methodology behind that estimate, though it did allege that the estimate was somehow based upon “statistics from three places that have reported detailed data on Covid infections by vaccination status: Utah; Virginia; and King County, which includes Seattle, in Washington state. All three are consistent with the idea that about one in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid each day in recent weeks.”

Perhaps President Biden had read that headline (from two days before), and didn’t read the Times’s news-report itself, which said not “1 confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week” but instead “that about one in 5,000 vaccinated Americans have tested positive for Covid each day in recent weeks.” In other words: Biden’s estimate, of a one-in-5,000 chance per week, is overstating by 700% the Times’s news-report’s estimate, which said per daynot per week.

The Times’s news-report then upped its own ante to only a one-in-10,000-per-day chance in America’s largest cities, which are more-leftist, less rightist, than most of America, and which therefore believe more in government-regulation (such as to control covid) and so have a higher percentage of vaccinated population: “Here’s one way to think about a one-in-10,000 daily chance: It would take more than three months for the combined risk to reach just 1 percent.”

Consequently, if that’s correct, then for a person in the more-rural America (assuming that the Times’s data and calculations are sound), the likelihood, at one-in-5,000, would have an average resident there facing a 2% chance of becoming sick with covid-19 during a 3-month period, if “fully vaccinated.” Furthermore, the Times alleges that “The infection rates in the least vaccinated states are about four times as high as in the most vaccinated states.” If that is true, then a reasonable assumption would be that vaccination is effective, and that therefore the Republican Party position on this matter — that the government shouldn’t impose penalties against unvaccinated individuals as part of a program to protect the public’s health (the health of the entire public) — is false, and the Democratic Party’s position on this matter is true.

The Morning Consult poll of residents in 15 countries recently headlined and reported:

“The U.S. Has a Higher Rate of Vaccine Opposition Than Any Country Tracked Besides Russia”

2 September 2021

#1: Russia: 27% unwilling, 16% uncertain.

#2: U.S.: 17% unwilling, 10% uncertain.

#15(last): China: 1% unwilling, 1% uncertain.

Previously, these had been the figures:

“The U.S. Has a Higher Rate of Vaccine Opposition Than Any Country Tracked Besides Russia”

10 June 2021

#1: Russia: 32% unwilling, 24% uncertain.

#2: U.S.: 20% unwilling, 12% uncertain.

#15(last): China: 2% unwilling, 4% uncertain.

Ever since those polls started on 13 May 2021, Russia has been #1 and China has been #15. However, U.S. hasn’t consistently been #2.

How, then, do those countries rank on performance regarding covid-19?

That’s shown by going to worldometers and clicking there twice onto the column that’s headed “Tot cases/1m pop”. Of the 223 ranked countries: 

China is #9, the ninth-best country, at 66 cases per 1 million population. 

Russia is #132, at 48,645 cases per million.

U.S. is #209 at 124,729 cases per million. It is the only non-small country that performs this poorly. Every one of the yet-worse countries has below 5 million population except Czechia, which has a population of 10,732,613.

As regards current covid trends: 

China has extremely few new cases.

Russia’s new cases have been declining since July 16th.

America’s new cases have been declining since August 27th.

As regards Czechia, all of its bad performance ended in June. On 1 March 2021, Czechia introduced a draconian lockdown; and, after March 3rd, the raging epidemic began its decline. On 15 March 2021, Al Jazeera headlined “Czech Republic: What’s behind world’s worst COVID infection rate?” and reported: 

Leading expert in viral sequencing, Jan Pačes from the Academy of Sciences, talks to Al Jazeera about the severity of the pandemic and calls on the government to take stricter precautions.

Al Jazeera: How did the country go from having some of the lowest infection rates in Europe to the highest in the world?

Jan Pačes: The Czech Republic is currently in its fourth wave of the pandemic and the healthcare system is reaching its limits.

The Czech government has consistently showed incompetent leadership, failing to protect public health, governing through populism rather than taking on expert advice.

As regards China (which arguably has the world’s best performance at controlling covid-19): the New York Times indicates vaccination-rates throughout the world, which shows, for China 78% of its residents as having received one shot, and 69% two.

U.S. is 63% and 53%.

Russia is 31% and 27%.

Czechia is 56% and 55%.

Vietnam is 21% and 3.9%. 

Vietnam had been, for a long time, the country that had the world’s lowest covid-19 infection-rate, but they were left flat-footed and drastically unprepared for the Delta variant, with virtually no access to vaccines, and Vietnam’s covid-19 infection-rate started soaring in May 2021 and peaked on August 26th. During that time, Vietnam’s performance fell from #1 to #67 on infection-rate (“Tot cases/1M pop”). Vietnam’s Government, which previously had been so proud of its performance, is now intensively struggling with the pandemic.

Within the United States itself, the worst-performing states, in order, as-of September 10th, are Tennessee (163,936), Florida (160,016), North Dakota (159,064), Rhode Island (156,183), Arkansas (155,735), Mississippi (154,667), South Dakota (153,909), Louisiana (152,814), South Carolina (151,474), and Alabama (150,212). (Nine of those ten states had voted for Donald Trump.)

For comparison, see these nations: U.S. (124,729), China (66), Czechia (156,763), Russia (48,645), Vietnam (5,991).

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Americas

Don’t Magnify America’s Failures

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According to America’s gleeful enemies, the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan is merely a foretaste of the world to come, a place where smaller countries seeking to join a Western community of prosperity and political freedom are instead damned to disappointment and defenselessness.

For regions from the Baltic to the Black and Caspian seas, as well as the great states and island nations of East Asia, where America’s security guarantees play a crucial role in containing revisionist powers, it is a time to take stock and consider what has changed. For Russia and China, this clearly seems like a happy time.

Yet despite the often-heartrending television coverage, America’s weaknesses have been exaggerated. There are certainly lessons for U.S. allies to draw from the Afghan exit, but the Russo-Chinese message of imperial decline, the time-honored theme of panicked legions returning to Rome, is too simplistic. Something more subtle is happening.

The vulnerable flanks vary in importance to the U.S.’s geopolitical calculus. True, Georgia and Ukraine are less likely to receive decisive military support from the U.S. than, for example, Japan or South Korea, but the space from the Baltic to the South Caucasus is nevertheless critical to the West. Abandoning it would be tantamount to inviting Russian military and coercive economic action against the neighbors.

The political elites in Ukraine and Georgia are more focused on America’s long-term posture. After all, the withdrawal from Afghanistan fits into the overall recalibration of U.S. foreign policy away from parts of western Asia and eastern Europe to the Indo-Pacific.

This certainly opens up the space for China’s greater engagement in Europe’s periphery. China is a natural candidate because of the willingness of the communist regime to invest in strategic infrastructure in geopolitically important regions. Both Georgia and Ukraine have long seashores on the Black Sea which makes them attractive to China’s communist grand planners. Both also seek investment for their decrepit railway, ports, and road infrastructure. The unsuccessful Chinese bid in 2016 to build the Anaklia deep sea port was just an example of the likely future Chinese involvement in the region.

All in all, against the widely circulated view that China will remain a minor player in the South Caucasus, everything points to the conclusion that it is just getting started. The Black Sea and the South Caucasus are a part of the trade corridor from Central Asia to the EU. Therefore, Chinese efforts in the Black Sea cannot be viewed in separation from the developments in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea.

Changes are also taking place in Ukraine and Georgia as both countries seek alternative options to their geopolitical fixation on the West. Take, for example, Ukraine. On June 30, China and Ukraine signed an agreement proposing a revamp of the country’s decrepit infrastructure. Coming at the same time that the U.S. prioritized Germany by stepping away from the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite longstanding concerns of Ukraine and other CEE nations, this may foreshadow a future in which Central and East European states recognize a growing unwillingness in the West to advance their aspirations and act accordingly.

In Georgia, similar processes are at play. Over the past several month’s tensions with the European Union (EU) have grown in intensity. In the latest move, the ruling Georgian Dream party rejected a €75m euro credit. Like Ukraine, Georgia is being encouraged to limit its dependence on the West.

This, however, does not mean Georgia and Ukraine are reneging on their pro-Western aspirations. Rather, both are making a more realistic assessment. And realism in this case means a multi-vector foreign policy slowly emerging as an order of the things to come. It will provide space for maneuverability and opportunities elsewhere. The Western card no longer provides sufficient financial or security incentives for Georgia and Ukraine to stand unwaveringly against Russian influence. And while Iran, Turkey, India, and others provide some alternative options, none are as powerful and attractive as China.

Even so, even at this difficult time, there are positives. Ukraine and the U.S. have just signed an intergovernmental agreement on a strategic defense framework and a $60m security assistance package including Javelin anti-tank missiles. In Georgia, the depth of the relationship with the U.S. is wide-ranging and is likely to remain so.

Both Georgia and Ukraine rely on the U.S. since it is the only viable defense against Russia. And America’s shift of attention from eastern Europe to the Indo-Pacific region is not complete. The U.S. might be less hawkish when it comes to further NATO expansion to the Black Sea region and some level of rapprochement with Russia could be sought. But extrapolating America’s failures in Afghanistan onto other regions is self-defeating, and most importantly, analytically incorrect.

Author’s note: first published in cepa

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