We Must Turn The Country Around

I attended a symposium on authoritarianism a week or so ago. Two of the presentations implicitly compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez. The parallels are striking. Jay West, retired from teaching Russian history at Middlebury College, spoke about Nazi Germany and the temptations of fascism, something that naturally accompanies Russian history. Charles Shapiro, American ambassador to Venezuela during the Chavez years, spoke about his experience with Chavez.

Hitler, Chavez, and Donald Trump were all elected. Portions of the electorate disapproved of them for one reason or another, but they supported them because they thought they shared common goals and that those elected would be controllable. West and Shapiro gave much longer lists. Read More

Meanwhile, in Russia

I subscribe to Paul Goble’s blog, “Window on Eurasia – New Series.” Goble worked in the United States State Department while the Soviet Union was breaking up. He worked particularly with Estonia and the other Baltic States, which had been made Republics of the Soviet Union after World War II, although that status had never been recognized by the United States and most other countries.

After he retired from the State Department, he taught in Estonian universities and wrote a summary of media, translated from Russian and Estonian, for a mailing list. That summary became the blog. He watches a variety of publications for separatist leanings, of which there are many in Russia. Russia contains many nationalities and many languages, peoples not always happy to be part of that larger state, but not able to break away.

It’s a different view of Russia than we get from Big Media, which focuses mainly on Vladimir Putin, not even on the politics among his government and the oligarchs. The focus on Putin tends to make him look all-powerful, but he is subject to a great many political currents and challenges from rivals. For now, he is in a relatively stable position. Here are a couple of stories that Goble has been following. Read More

Trump Negotiates

Because Donald Trump does not provide reliable readouts of his meetings with Kim Jong Un, we must stitch together bits of information as they trickle out. There’s enough now to provide a picture of Trump’s negotiating style.

Jessica Tuchman Matthews summarizes that style in an excellent overview of the Hanoi meeting between Trump and Kim.

Shortly after the success of The Art of the Deal (1987) made Donald Trump a supposed expert on negotiation, he lobbied the George H.W. Bush administration to put him in charge of arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union. The position went instead to Richard Burt, an experienced diplomat and arms control expert. When the two men met at a New York social event, Trump pulled Burt aside to tell him what he would have done—and what Burt should do—to start off the negotiations. Greet the Soviets warmly, he said. Let the delegation get seated and open their papers. Then stand up, put your knuckles on the table, lean over, say “Fuck you,” and walk out of the room.

…Trump thinks that what works is the unexpected. His goal is to put people off balance, which allows him, he believes, to get his way. This explains his otherwise baffling calls for US policy to be “unpredictable.”

After the breakdown of the Hanoi summit, the United States and North Korea provided conflicting reports on the reasons for the breakdown. It appeared that one side or both asked for too much. The amount of time the two leaders spent together suggested that rejection had been rapid, with no effort at working through alternatives. Read More

What The Mueller Report Is And Isn’t

I am skipping over the memo by Attorney General William Barr to wait for the full Mueller report before I start parsing sentences and paragraphs.

I would like to remind us all of Rod Rosenstein’s charge to Robert Mueller as special counsel. Here is the meat of it.

Special Counsel Charge

The scope was open and potentially wide ranging. But time was important – The report needed to come out before the 2020 election campaign to avoid the mess that Comey stumbled into in 2016. It seems reasonable for Mueller to have defined his scope tightly. Read More