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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: robert kagan

Trump's 2024 Threat Is Serious-- But Ultimately He Will Lose

The big question isn't whether Donald Trump plans to run for president come 2024. Assuming that he's alive, relatively healthy, and not under criminal indictment, of course he will. He pretty much has to.

Never mind that at age 75, Trump looks like a stroke or coronary event waiting to happen. The show must go on. He needs all the cash he can raise. Otherwise, his lifelong grift could come to an ignominious, if not farcical end. Tax fraud convictions and spiraling bankruptcies would be the least of it.

And if he runs, Republicans will surely nominate him.

What's left of the party he's torn apart won't be able to help themselves. Formerly apostles of "small government" conservatism, the GOP has morphed into a quasi-authoritarian cult of personality.

And despite the staggering incompetence and low comedy that marked his 2020 "Stop the Steal" campaign, it's worth remembering that people laughed at Mussolini too. Charlie Chaplin's merciless satire of Hitler in The Great Dictator didn't appear until October 1940, a full year into World War II.

So it's definitely worthwhile heeding thoughtful warnings that next time an electoral coup might work. Although there's almost no chance that Trump could come anywhere close to winning a majority of American voters, GOP skulduggery could put him back in the White House. Assuming that a complacent majority allowed it to happen.

Longtime neoconservative author Robert Kagan, has recently published a thought-provoking Washington Post essay arguing that a constitutional crisis is already upon us. Kagan, who left the GOP in 2016, warns that "Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian."

Certainly, Republicans are doing all they can to game the 2024 presidential election. Should they retake Congress in 2022, they'll do even more. So while it's possible that efforts to prevent minorities from voting could backfire—discouraging older white voters while energizing African-Americans—putting Republican state legislatures in charge of certifying elections is an ominous development.

Had that been so in 2020, Trump's comic opera coup attempt might have succeeded. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's book Peril, detailed a six-part plan dreamed up by right-wing law professor John Eastman, who harangued the crowd along with Trump and Rudy Giuliani on January 6. The scheme required Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate electoral votes won by Joe Biden on the grounds that seven states had sent rival sets of electors to Congress.

"If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election," Trump told the mob before promising to march with them to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to save the country.

"You can either go down in history as a patriot," Trump reportedly told Pence "or you can go down in history as a pussy."

Meow!

Never mind the constitutional absurdity—how can the Vice President decide an election in which he's himself a candidate?—Eastman's scam failed for the simplest of reasons: no states sent rival delegations to the Electoral College.

Indeed, had they done so, the likeliest outcome would have been that Speaker Pelosi would have dissolved the joint session of Congress, leading to her temporarily assuming the presidency as the next in succession.

Oops!

As usual, Trump had neglected to read the fine print. The fact is, he probably can't. But that's another issue altogether.

Kagan's point is that, next time, Trumpist legislatures will definitely send those rival delegations. Or worse. Some Republican-dominated bodies are even considering overriding their state's popular vote, if necessary, to re-install Trump.

Purged of dissenters like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, today's Republicans have become what Kagan calls a "zombie party" in thrall to a cult of personality. "They view Trump as strong and defiant," he writes, "willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech, and the 'Mitch McConnell Republicans.'"

In other words, basically a list of cartoon enemies. If my own hostile reader emails are any guide, this is certainly true. To Trumpists, their rivals are fundamentally illegitimate. It's basically a pro-wrestling audience, excited by spectacle. To them, Trump's egomania is a feature, not a bug. He'll give no quarter to his enemies—and theirs.

"A Trump victory," Kagan concludes "is likely to mean at least the temporary suspension of American democracy as we have known it."

Which is exactly why it's not going to happen. Kagan is a learned and intelligent fellow, but he has a melodramatic imagination of his own. As a co-founder of the "Project for a New American Century," he pushed hard for remaking the world by invading Iraq.

His warnings are well-taken, but Kagan badly underestimates the determination of the democratic majority.

Hey, Democrats: What Will You Do About The Blob?

If a Democrat is elected president in November 2020, he or she will have two challenges: one global and one municipal.

The first challenge will be how to run the worldwide $643 billion a year military empire of the United States, which surveils the planet while fighting four undeclared wars. The second challenge is much smaller but still formidable: what to do about “the Blob” in Washington, D.C.

No, this isn’t a science fiction joke. The Blob is the nickname that Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s speechwriter, gave to America’s foreign policymaking elite in a May 2016 interview. According to Rhodes, the Blob included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and other supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

More generally, Rhodes was referring the coterie of operatives who have made U.S. foreign policy under every president from Truman to Trump. With his unkind epithet, Rhodes suggested these men and women responsible for the U.S. foreign policy record are a shapeless mass lacking a coherent identity yet somehow ominous.

While Rhodes was reviled inside the Beltway, his coinage has stuck. The Blob is useful shorthand for a recognizable and powerful group: the former officials, analysts, diplomats, writers and military officers who espouse orthodox U.S. foreign policy views.

They are not a secret cabal. They work at think tanks and elite universities and consulting firms. They talk to reporters. They opine on cable TV talk shows. And they rotate in and out of government positions. They range from multilateral liberals to hawkish neoconservatives. While they have had deep differences, they have collectively promoted a broadly consistent set of policies that has defined the United States in the world over the last 30 years.

Right now, they favor a hard line on Russia, intervention in Syria and Venezuela, bolstering NATO, and promoting free-trade agreements. They oppose defense spending cuts, rapid denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and a jobs-driven foreign policy.

At its best, the Blob gave us the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, Cuba normalization, the Millennium Challenge to address global poverty, and the now-abandoned treaty on nuclear weapons in Europe.

At its worst, the Blob gave us proxy wars (leading to failed states) in Central America; expansion of NATO (to the fury of Russia); free-trade agreements (which did little for Americans living inside the East and West Coasts); invasion of Iraq (on false pretenses); the (unsuccessful) occupation of Afghanistan; the implementation of a torture regime (and its removal); the furtive implementation of mass surveillance (since abandoned); the illusory “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine; and unauthorized wars in Libya, Somalia, Niger, and Yemen, the last with catastrophic human consequences.

What should President Sanders (or Warren or Biden or Buttigieg or Gabbard) do upon taking office on January 21, 2021? Should they follow the Obama strategy of implementing incremental course corrections in the trajectory of current policies? Or force a fundamental change of direction on issues of war and peace?

The answer depends, in large part, on how she or he thinks about the Blob.

Trump has marginalized the Blob. He has abandoned the orderly policymaking process they revere. He ignores their briefings. He scorns their expertise. He demonizes their concept of a (neo)liberal world order. Instead, he uses the U.S. foreign policy apparatus for his own ends: to feed the family business, withdraw from land wars, collaborate with like-minded autocrats, stimulate arms sales, demonstrate belligerence, and dominate the news cycle.

The Blob fears Trump, for good reasons and bad ones.

This is the Democrats’ dilemma. Trump’s successor cannot run, much less reorient, America’s global empire without a policymaking elite. Yet the existing elite—the Blob—is wedded to the status quo ante Trump, and adamant in defense of its unimpressive-to-awful record since 9/11.

Exhibit A: Robert Kagan, liberal-minded neoconservative, adviser to both George Bush and Hillary Clinton. He is using the platform of the Washington Post to offer an alternative to Trump’s foreign policy. Since Trump has no use for the Blob, Kagan is appealing to Democrats and post-Trump Republicans to return to the foreign policies of the Clinton-Bush-Obama era. He wants America to face the challenge of the populist authoritarianism.

Kagan doesn’t spend much time defending the Blob’s record on Iraq’s non-existent WMD, torture, mass surveillance, election-meddling, Libya, or Yemen. He doesn’t spend any time addressing what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have said about the roots of today’s authoritarianism.

Kagan’s eloquent disquisition on the course of world history ends with the argument that to oppose his policy prescriptions is to oppose democracy itself:

“A broad alliance of strange bedfellows stretching from the far right to self-described ‘realists’ to the progressive left wants the United States to abandon resistance to rising authoritarian power. They would grant Russia and China the spheres of influence they demand in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. They would acquiesce in the world’s new ideological ‘diversity.’ And they would consign the democracies living in the shadow of the authoritarian great powers to their hegemonic control.”

One could describe the same reality by saying the repeated failures of the U.S. foreign policy elite—two unsuccessful trillion-dollar wars, the use of torture and mass surveillance, and near-total indifference to the impact of foreign policy on the U.S. economy have generated widespread opposition to the pretensions of the foreign policy elite. It is a “broad alliance” indeed.

The idea that post-Trump U.S. policymakers will act in defense of democracy is belied by the failures of democracy that have occurred on their watch. Kagan’s rhetoric of democracy is about as convincing as when Hillary Clinton tweeted “America is already great.”

The position of the three leading Democratic candidates on the Blob are pretty clear.

Joe Biden, who has not yet announced, was among the most dovish of Obama’s advisers, but he seems comfortable with the national security status quo. He might invite Kagan for an interview but not give him a job.

Bernie Sanders, gruff socialist, is an outsider. Along with his foreign policy adviser Matt Duss, he insists on a fundamental change from Blob policies. Sanders wouldn’t return Kagan’s phone calls.

(See David Klion’s “Who Is Matt Duss, and Can He Take On Washington’s ‘Blob’?” on the Nation.)

Elizabeth Warren, impassioned Harvard professor, is a policymaking insider par excellence (she almost single-handedly created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). She too wants to break with the Blob. Warren would return Kagan’s phone call—and tell him to hold her beer.

In short, Biden would most likely embrace the Blob, Sanders would purge it, and Warren would bend it to her will.

Another Democratic aspirant who has signaled their independence from Blob thinking is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who served two tours in Iraq as a medical specialist. She is an outspoken anti-interventionist, who has flouted liberal sensibilities with her willingness to take meetings with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator. She serves on the board of a foreign policy group funded by the Koch Brothers. She’s a Blob-buster.

Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman, has shown an independent streak. According to Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic, O’Rourke “bucked Obama on several important issues, pressuring him to close Guantanamo, supporting legislation to curtail NSA spying, opposing war in Syria and arming the country’s rebels, and demanding Obama get congressional authorization for his continued war on ISIS.” O’Rourke looks like a Blob skeptic.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, served as naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan, but has not focused on foreign policy or national security issues. He did endorse the suggestion of Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent that all Democratic presidential candidates pledge to abide by the War Powers Act. The oft-ignored 1975 law requires the president to get congressional approval for U.S. military action lasting longer than 90 days. That’s the kind of useful reform the Blob would never propose but could probably live with.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington state, is running a one-issue campaign: climate change, which implies a U.S. foreign policy agenda very different than the Blob consensus. He’s a Blob skeptic.

The foreign policy views of John Delaney, a Maryland congressman and former businessman, flow from his belief in free trade, long a staple of semi-official Washington thinking. He’s Blob-friendly.

The other declared candidates—Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang—have said little about issues of war and peace beyond platitudes. What they have (or have not) said about Venezuela indicates they are Blob-friendly.

Of course, the 2020 campaign has just begun, and voters are notoriously uninterested in foreign policy issues, at least until they become issues of war and peace. The candidates have just begun to face questions about how they would administer the American empire after Trump. And those questions begin with: What do you think of the Blob?

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.