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

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

Mike Flynn’s Nuclear Adventure – The Plan

The plans offered by ACU and IP3, the companies working with Michael Flynn on a scheme to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia, have many problems. Some, perhaps all, of those problems may arise from naivete about the nuclear industry and the regulations surrounding it. Looking at the plans and how they changed over time may help in understanding what these companies were doing. Read More

Mike Flynn’s Nuclear Adventure – The Companies

Since elements of the story first appeared, I have been intrigued by the idea that Michael Flynn wanted to sell nuclear reactors to the Saudis. Too much of it doesn’t make sense and still doesn’t. A few things I’ve wondered about:

  • Flynn has no experience with nuclear reactors.
  • Why nuclear reactors? There are a great many problems in selling in building them.
  • Why Russian reactors?
  • Why is the administration so persistent in pushing this deal?

Most importantly, is this activity connected to other varieties of Trumpian corruption?

A simple theory can explain this. The Saudis want nuclear reactors to eventually build a nuclear weapons program. Flynn was at the head of a group of Trump-connected grifters who wanted to make money from that desire. Informed by a profound ignorance of nuclear economics and nonproliferation, it explains everything in a general way, but others also have the uneasy feeling that it’s more than that. Read More

A Quick Post On Selling Nuclear Technology To The Saudis

Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ken Dilanian was the first with the story, and Washington Post is catching up. Like a lot of stories about the Trump administration’s dicey connections with foreign governments, it adds some new information to a story that I’ve been following for a long time.

The current emphasis is that Saudi Arabia (which I’ll refer to as KSA) wants a nuclear program that might eventually be used to produce weapons. That misses a lot. Michael Flynn was trying to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis for quite some time. That attempt has continued. I have a copy of the report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, but what I want to do here is discuss the context of the actions described there. This post will be a quick outline, without most of the links it should have. Read More

Unweaving The Tangled Web

Over the weekend, Will Bunch did a great tweet stream linking Jeff Bezos, National Enquirer, the Saudis, Jamal Khashoggi, and Donald Trump, along with others. He promised he would put it into a column, and here it is. It’s more cautious than the tweet stream, but fairly interesting. He introduces a number of possibilities by asking questions, a relatively safe way to introduce thoughts that you don’t have journalistic confirmation for. They are good questions, worth keeping in mind as things proceed. Read More

The Donald Trump Worldwide Threat Assessment

This morning’s Presidential tweet storm confirmed a trend I’ve discerned recently.

I’ve had a running (good-natured) argument with other nuke nerds on Twitter about the President’s delusions with regard to North Korea. His tweets and much of the administration action and speech, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s, seem to revolve around an assumption that Kim Jong Un is ready to give up his nuclear weapons.

However, every official statement from North Korea says otherwise. Kim sees those nuclear weapons as the foundation of his country’s security from meddling by outside powers. North Korea has long used the word “denuclearization” to indicate a state in which they no longer fear attack and thus can give up their nuclear arsenal.

This disjunction is dangerous. It appears that Kim is playing Donald Trump, and Trump is responding. It may mean that Trump will give up alliances with South Korea and Japan for meaningless actions from North Korea. It may mean that at some point he will recognize the disjunction and feel that he has been betrayed by Kim and will allow John Bolton his desire for a war. Read More

Nancy Pelosi’s Questions About Russia

Nancy Pelosi released a remarkable statement last night. Since she is a strategist, we can analyze it in terms of a strategy, a refreshing change from the last two years.

We have become accustomed to the idea that Donald Trump and his people have connections to Russia. The news has trickled out, first to surprise, now to boredom. But the number and type of connections are remarkable for a President of the United States, and they may well have been unlawful.

The general outlines of the story have been visible since the 2016 Republican primary, and there is a circumstantial case that Trump has been working with Russians and Russian money for a long time and had Russian help in the 2016 election. We have become enured to this and no longer hear it. Read More