Friday, June 29, 2018

The Supreme Court and American Life

Despite the outraged cries of Democrats, I think a conservative successor to Justice Anthony Kennedy will probably be nominated and confirmed.  Commentators have seized upon the key role of Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, but there are several ways that the Administration might found around the obstacle that they represent.  The pressure upon them will be great, and they might pronounce themselves satisfied by a nominee's promise to respect precedent.  Three vulnerable red state Democrats up for re-election--Donnelly in Indiana, Heitkamp in North Dakota, and Manchin in West Virginia--might vote to support the nominee, as they did, I believe, to support Neil Gorsuch.  The math may also change if a new Senator has to be appointed from Arizona.  I am not sure who is running the Trump Administration's strategy team for judicial appointments, but he or she appears to be the most effective member of the Administration.  The New York Times today includes an extraordinary story of how Justice Anthony Kennedy has been successfully encouraged to step down now.  The same care will be exercised to ensure his successor's confirmation.

If in fact a conservative justice is appointed, it will, I think, mark the end of an era that began in 1954.  During the next six and a half decades, an educated elite used the court system to turn its values on a number of key issues into national policy.  Don't misunderstand me, I am a charter member of that educated elite myself, and on most issues those values are my values as well.  But there has never been a real consensus around many of them in the country at large, and the attempt to impose them has had a lot of very negative consequences.  In the long run, returning the Supreme Court to a lesser place in our system might make for a healthier democracy.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this process began with Brown v. Board of Education, a decision with which very few Americans would now disagree.  In the wake of the Second World War, fought for the principle of the equality of all men and women, the United States, I agree, had to end legal segregation.  Yet the struggle over the implementation of that decision was, and remains, a powerful signal of the dangers of change by judicial fiat.  Race once again became not the main, but the only, issue in the politics of the Deep South, and white southern liberals rapidly became an extinct species.  The deep South unleashed tenacious resistance, and not until 1969, 15  years later, did Mississippi begin to desegregate its schools.  Christian schools immediately sprung up for white children in much of the state, and today schools in rural Mississippi are often just as segregated as they were in 1954.  The impact of the decision has been limited--although hardly negligible--all over the country.  The vast majority of children, white, black, and Hispanic, today attend schools composed mostly of members of their own racial group.  Meanwhile, the decision in Brown v. Board of Education led to an epidemic of signs on southern highways calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren (I saw at least one driving to Florida in 1964), and by 1968, Richard Nixon was running on promises to appoint "strict constructionists" to the Court as part of his southern strategy.

The battle over school integration continued over the next few decades on two other fronts: school busing to achieve integration in cities, and affirmative action to increase minority enrollment in colleges.  The courts backed both at different times--they no longer, apparently, back busing--even though both have been very unpopular even in the most liberal states, such as Massachusetts (busing) and California (where a statewide referendum in the 1990s overwhelmingly rejected affirmative action in admissions to the UC system.)  These, surely, are issues where the educated elite and the civil rights movement used the courts to impose their views on a hostile population, with long-term political consequences.

The Warren Court issued a number of other very important decisions that have not been so controversial in the long run.  Baker v. Carr ordered states to apportion their legislative districts equally--a decision that the court reached on the very proper basis that the result could not possibly have been brought about in any other way.  A series of decisions--Gideon vs. Wainwright, and the Miranda and Escobedo cases--guaranteed defendants a lawyer at state expense, and forced law enforcement to observe strict rules about interrogations. Other decisions excluded unlawfully obtained evidence and forced the prosecution to provide exculpatory material.  Some of these have also had less impact than they might have, and Gideon, in particular, is nearly a dead letter in much of the country because governments will not provide the resources necessary to provide public defenders. But although some of these decisions also fueled Republican rhetoric, they cannot be compared in their political impact either to Brown or to the court's next big move Roe v. Wade in 1973.

I supported abortion rights early in 1973, as I do now, but I was startled in January of that year when the Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the Constitution contained an implied right to abortion.  This was not the first step towards legalization of the procedure. Both New York and California--then our two largest states--had passed laws legalizing it in recent years, and it was certainly possible that other states might follow.  And to find the right to abortion in the Constitution, the Court had to rely on a relatively obscure doctrine of "substantive due process," which allowed it to declare a right that was not enumerated in the Constitution.  It was not, in short, immediately obvious to an intelligent lay person--and I continue to think that it is not obvious--that Roe V. Wade was in any sense inevitable given the text of the US Constitution.  It is equally clear, in my view, that the Constitution does not ban abortion.

For proponents of abortion rights, however, the Constitutional issue was secondary from the beginning, while feminist conceptions of rights were primary.  1970s feminism refused to allow women to be defined by their role as mothers and insisted, in effect, that the choice to become a mother should be theirs alone.  No less an authority than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her confirmation hearing, declared that without the right to abortion, women could not be equal to men--presumably because men did not have to face pregnancy.  And as tribalism (including tribalism based on gender) has taken over our politics, liberal women have become more and more insistent that the right to abortion is as fundamental as any right in the Constitution, whether it can specifically be found there or not.  Yet that view, obviously, has never won the assent of many millions of Americans who reject abortion on religious and other grounds--including millions of women.  That presumably is why the language of the abortion rights supporters has continually evolved, from pro-abortion to pro-choice to, now, "reproductive rights."  Perhaps some ambivalence even among supporters of abortion has also played a role in this.

A vehement anti-abortion movement became a pillar of the Republican coalition in the 1970s, as the Republican Party successfully created a new majority in the 1980s.  Many on the left undoubtedly believed that opposition to abortion would fade with the passage of time, but that has not happened.  In much of the country it has become harder and harder to obtain a legal abortion, so hard that dangerous, back-alley procedures have made a comeback.  State legislatures in red states continue to pass laws to make the procedure more difficult to obtain.  Bills to outlaw the procedure would easily pass many of those legislatures and would probably pass the U.S. House of Representatives, though not the Senate, today.  Like Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade has had very limited success both in securing, and even more in building a consensus around, the new right that it established.

Several new developments in this story of judicial power have marked the 21st century.  Republican judges also adopted the idea that the Supreme Court could enshrine new, highly questionable views of the Constitution in law, and thereby overturn decades, or even more than a century, of precedent.  Thus the court in Heller discovered (by a 5-4 vote) a new individual right to bear arms, and, in Citizens United, threw out a century of campaign finance reform (also by a 5-4 vote.)  Then, another 5-4 vote declared gay marriage to be legal throughout the nation.  That decision, of all the ones I have mentioned, strikes me as the most debatable.  That is not because I think it is legally dubious.  Once the court had ruled that sex between gay people was legal--as it surely must be--it was simple logic to give gay people the right to marry people with whom they wanted to have sex.  But in this case, gay marriage was already legal in many states, and would have rapidly become legal in most of them.  Even though holdouts like Mississippi would have remained for some time, the gain of resolving a contentious issue through the political process, for me, would have outweighed the desirability of establishing the right through the Constitution.  As it turns out, though, the gay marriage decision seems to me to have had much less long-term political fallout than Roe v. Wade.

The Supreme Court's role in all these highly emotional issues has made court appointments a rallying cry for both parties in Presidential elections.  Every four years we are electing a monarch with the power to fill vacancies in a very select and incredibly powerful oligarchy of nine men and women, whose decisions in recent years have been at least as important as the legislation which Congress, from time to time, manages to pass.  This may be one reason why Democratic presidents--Clinton and Obama--have found it so easy to ignore, essentially, the Congressional balance of power, which turned against both of them two  years into their eight year terms, and to sit quietly by while the Democratic Party is obliterated as a force in many of our states.  As long as they could appoint enough Supreme Court justices, they could keep key elements of their base happy.

Donald Trump now has a good chance of creating a solidly "conservative" (in the contemporary sense) Supreme Court.  Should he succeed, I predict that Roe v. Wade will either be overturned, or eviscerated to the extent that it becomes a dead letter in the many states with anti-abortion legislatures and governors, who will pass laws to make the right impossible to exercise.  I do not think that the court will undo the gay marriage decision, however.  The court will continue to favor corporate interests in key cases--but on those issues, Justice Kennedy has been bad enough already.

I don't know how today's Democratic Party will react to this.  One possibility will be a drive to increase the size of the court (which can be done legislatively) as soon as they achieve majorities in Congress and regain the White House, to appoint a new liberal majority.  That, as FDR found in 1937, would be a terrible precedent and another blow to our democracy. Alternatively the Democratic party might conclude that it has to find ways to reconnect with the great mass of Americans that it has chosen to ignore for quite a while, largely because of those Americans' views on social issues.  The party cannot be expected to adopt conservative social views, but it could make a much more determined effort to meet the economic needs of the common man, a task which it has forsaken, for the most part, at least since 1977.  I do not know if our democracy can be revived, but the history of the last 65 years tells me that we can't revive it simply by maintaining a liberal majority on the Supreme Court.   That doesn't work, either with respect to the social issues Democrats care about the most, or more broadly in the continuing electoral contest with the Republicans.


Friday, June 22, 2018

The agreement with Pyongyang

I like to provide something different here, and this week I need only discuss a major milestone in US foreign policy that is not yet three weeks old, since immigration is now taking up all of everyone's attention.  The agreement with North Korea is noteworthy, not only as an episode in the ongoing presidential saga, but as a new chapter in our struggle with nuclear proliferation.

Most people do not realize it, but ever since 1945 the US has had at least a theoretical commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons.  In 1946 we presented the Acheson-Lillienthal plan for the control of atomic energy to the new United Nations, but the USSR rejected it.  In the late 1950s, fears of fallout from atmospheric tests led to a suspension of atmospheric testing, and in 1963, it was banned by the nuclear test ban treaty.  Then, in the late 1960s, we negotiated the nonproliferation treaty with the USSR.  In that treaty which most of the world signed, non-nuclear states agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons, while the US, Britain, and the USSR agreed to work to get rid of theirs.  In practice, unfortunately, neithe robligaton was fully kept. Although two other nuclear powers--France and China--eventually signed thcle treaty, it did not prevent Israel, India, Pakistan, or North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The collapse of Communism in 1990 convinced many Boomer leaders, including neoconservatives, that history was on our side and that we had no reason to worry about international agreements.  The Clinton Administration did reach an agreement with North Korea to halt its nuclear program. But the Bush II  Administration came to power determined to rule the world, and wrote a new National Security Strategy in 2002 declaring that the United States would not allow hostile nations to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  It backed away from the agreement with North Korea, refused an offer of a deal from Iran, and went to war with Iraq.  It turned out that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program any more and no chemical weapons, and the invasion evidently convinced North Korea and Iran--whom the Bush administration planned to defeat as well--that they might need nukes to presere their regimes.  Bush II had to back off a bit after the disaster of the Iraq war, and the Obama Administration tried to adopt a different foreign policy.  But it maintained the principle that other nations could only have nuclear weapons if we agreed, and Obama repeatedly declared that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.

In 2015 the US government, together with Russia, China, and the EU, reached a remarkable agreement under which Iran stopped enriching uranium, with strict inspections and safeguards. Washington lifted sanctions in return.  An alliance of the Israeli government and the Republican Party tried and failed to stop the agreement from going into effect, but Donald Trump campaigned against it and drew a lot of conservative Jewish support, although only a minority of Jewish voters.  The President denounced the agreement this spring and seemed committed to regime change in Iran, instead--which he has no recipe for achieving.

North Korea, meanwhile, began testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.  Trump threatened to destroy them.  Then, under heavy pressure domestically from the Mueller investigation, the President reversed himself and agreed to meet Kim Jong-Il. His new National Security Adviser,John Bolton--who had plotted war against North Korea under George W. Bush--was evidently unhappy and convinced the President to back down.  But new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo felt otherwise, and the meeting has now been held. 

President Trump had nothing to do with the negotiation of the agreement itself.  The American team contented itself with a North Korean pledge to "work for" the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula, without any specific commitments of its own at all.  Having withdrawn from an agreement with Iran that had real safeguards, Trump concluded a new agreement with North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons, that has none at all.  In his fantasy world, which he immediately shared with the American people as usual, we can depend on Kim now because of the relationship Trump has established with him.  In practice Kim has scored a big victory with his own people and will soon face the US with a choice of admitting we were wrong to trust him, or pretending, as Trump already has, that we no longer have anything to fear from his weapons.  Meanwhile we have backed away slightly from our long alliance with Seoul, canceling joint military exercises and hanging them out to dry the way President Nixon did the Japanese over China in 1971.

Trump might be paving the way for the US to accept the reality that North Korea is now an invulnerable nuclear power.  To the extent that the President might actually have a foreign policy strategy--and I am certainly not convinced that he does--it seems to involve trusting strongmen like Kim, Xi, Putin, and others, while destructing democracies comitted to traditional American values.  It is not clear that Pompeo, Bolton, or James Mattis shares this goal, although Pompeo might, and Bolton might be won over for the sake of his own power and glory.  It is hard to see, however, how such a strategy can benefit either the American people or the world at large.  Meanwhile, the President reportedly has adopted the goal of regime change in Iran.  That looks every bit as hard as disarming North Korea.  It is possible, however, that the President will revert to various forms of denial when that does not work out, just as he has over North Korea.

The guiding principle of US foreign policy today is that Donald Trump's personality, his proclaimed (but nonexistent) negotiating skill, can fix anything.  Since it can't, that leaves us without policy or strategy.  On trade the President is pushing ahead despite real negative consequences, setting the stage for another reckoning with reality at some point.  The world will, in many ways, go its own way while Trump is President and I can hardly blame it.  It is now up to western Europe, which has plenty of political problems of its own, to try to keep the values that animated US foreign policy for 75 years alive.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Global Aristocracy

In 1990 I published my third book, Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler.  It was, I see now, an analysis of the development of western civilization, viewed through the prism of eras of general war.  Its four sections dealt with the periods 1559-1659, 1661-1715 (the era of Louis XIV), 1789-1815 (the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era), and 1914-45.  It focused on what nations were fighting about, and whether they were successful in achieving it, which in turn led me to the nature of politics in each of these eras and how it led to, and affected, war.

When I began that book, the rise of the modern state had already been a major theme of European history for well over a century.  The founder of modern history, the German Leopold von Ranke, had placed this topic at the center of his work.  I concluded, however, after more than a year of working on the first period, that traditional interpretations had greatly exaggerated the speed at which anything approaching a modern state had developed in the European nations.  The key players in both the national and international politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, I found, tended to be great aristocrats rather than monarchs, such as the Duke of Alba in Spain, the Guise, Montmorency and Bourbon families in France, the Dutch nobles who led the Dutch revolt, and German noblemen like Albert von Wallenstein, the great general of the Thirty Years War.  They often commanded more resources than their monarchs, and their monarchs' attempts to compel their allegiance usually ended in disaster.  They also acted independently on the international stage, frequently making alliances with foreign rulers against their own.  They walked around with armed retainers, sometimes hired private assassins, and often raised armies of their own.  Some of them organized religious parties--both Protestant and militant Catholic--but the interest of their families always seemed to be their primary motive.  Because of their power and their monarchs' attempts to control it, every major European nation suffered through at least one long period of chaos during that tumultuous century.  Louis XIV, who was one of the heroes of the book, managed to tame the aristocracy in the second half of the 17th century by bringing them to Versailles and making them fight his wars, instead of their own.  He also subsidized his fellow monarchs, instead of their great aristocrats, and thus strengthened monarchy all over the continent. The result was a century of political, cultural and economic progress.

The Second World War, I concluded at the end of the book, brought this long era of international politics to an end.  The European powers--led by Germany--engaged in the two world wars in a struggle to become world powers, comparable in size and strength to the United States or the USSR.  They could not do so, and 1945 left Europe in the hands of those two victorious powers, divided into rival spheres of influence.  That order was collapsing by the time the book appeared in 1990, but that had happened too late to discuss.  Even more than ten years later, when I added an epilogue to a new second edition, I did not see where things are going.

Now that is clear.  The critical development of the twenty-first century, I am convinced, is the growth of a new global aristocracy, reflecting our new economy.  It is dominated by financial interests, energy magnates, and the leaders of the new technology in cyberspace.  It is allied with, or dominates, many of the governments around the world--including those of Russia and the United States.  (I really don't know what the situation is, in this respect, in China.)  It is having major impacts on foreign policy and war.  And it is relatively impervious to the workings of democracy, which it has learned, here in the US, to control.

It would take a long book and a lot of research to get a really clear and comprehensive picture of the new aristocracy's power, and I must confine myself to a few observations.  The new aristocracy is even more international than the old one.  Its members, whether from Russia, China, or the Middle East, are buying up high-end real estate in all the most desirable places in the globe--the places, like Paris, London, Vancouver, San Francisco, Boston and New York, became so desirable because their nations had strong political orders over the last few centuries.  Great aristocrats own most of the world's leading professional sports teams.  In the US, one family, the Kochs, have put together what is by far the most powerful private political network in US history. Other parts of the aristocracy exercise great influence on US foreign policy and have recently managed to torpedo the nuclear agreement with Iran. The new aristocracy has promoted, and benefits from, the new global economic order, and many of the agreements that have created and seek to expand that order now try to protect its enterprises from any government interference.  As Thomas Piketty showed, the new aristocracy has managed to hide a very large portion of its enormous wealth from scrutiny.

Last, but hardly least, two allies of the new aristocracy are now the heads of the Russian and American states.

Whether Donald Trump actually counts as a member of aristocracy depends on the answer to the mystery of how much money he really has himself.   Since I am quite skeptical about the extent of his fortune--like John LeCarre, I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find that he really has nothing at all--I am more inclined to see him as a useful front for the new order, rather than a full-scale member.  And what triggered this piece was a long article in yesterday's New York Times--one now doomed to be largely ignored amidst a new barrage of stories about the FBI investigations--about a certain Thomas Barrack, a Lebanese-American who has been a go-between between Donald Trump and various princes from the UAE and Saudi Arabia since the time of the Trump campaign.

The amazing Times story, written by David D. Kirkpatrick, is based on a journalistic coup. Some one gave the Times a long string of emails between Barrack, who heads his own financial firm, and the UAE Ambassador the the US.  When in 2016 Barrack wanted to introduce candidate Trump, the Ambassador told him that many people in the Gulf region were very worried by Trump's evident hostility towards Muslims.  Barrack reassured him that Trump had long-standing interests in the UAE and elsewhere.  In subsequent weeks he managed to build relationships between Trump and the Saudis as well--and Barrack suggested that Paul Manafort be brought into the Trump campaign.  After Trump won the election, Barrack exchanged emails with the UAE Ambassador talking about "a lot of things that we will have to do together.  Together being the operative word."  After the inauguration, Barrack also brought Jared Kushner together with the UAE Ambassador. He had previously bought up $70 million of Kushner's huge debt, growing out of his purchase of a New York skyscraper.

This was not the only channel between the Saudis and the leading Gulf states on the one hand and the Trump campaign on the other.  An earlier Times story, co-written by Kirkpatrick, described how Eric Prince, once head of Blackwater--a private army similar to those of early 17th-century Europe--arranged an August 2006 meeting among Donald Trump, Jr.; an "Israeli specialist in social media manipulation," who offered to help the Trump campaign; and a Republican donor, George Nader, who explained that the Saudi and UAE monarchies wanted to help elect Trump.  Since taking office, the Trump Administration has concerted numerous important actions with the Saudis, denouncing the Iran nuclear agreement, agreeing to the blockade of Qatar, and making a big new arms deal.

The media obsession with Trump's connections to Russia has obscured these and other Middle East associations,. which are at least as important. Meanwhile, Trump is in office thanks to American members of the new aristocracy, such as the hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, Breitbart's patron; David Pecker, the publisher of National Enquirer, who stopped some stories of Trump's affairs from appearing before the election; and Rupert Murdoch of Fox.  The Koch brothers didn't back Trump's candidacy but they have quickly made peace with the Trump Administration and have been able to implement a great deal of their agenda with its help.

Within the United States, a tradition arose about 120 years ago of robust reporting leading to the redress of grievances and the improvement of public life.  I and many others still find it hard to write about problems without sounding as if they can, and should, be fixed.  There will be no easy fix for these problems, however, regardless of what happens to Trump and his Administration.  They represent, I think, a fundamental  historical shift, comparable in scope to the growth of the Enlightenment state from the 18th through the 20th centuries, which they are now undermining.  We will be living in this world for a long time.  It is better to begin by facing reality.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Robert Kennedy - an addendum


I told some Robert Kennedy stories earlier this week on the anniversary of his assassination, but I didn't have room for my favorite ones.  They involved my own father.

Born in 1913--four years before JFK and a full dozen years before RFK--my father had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in the late 1930s and begun a career as a Washington civil servant in 1939. He had a very rapid rise, and in 1948 President Truman appointed him Assistant Secretary of Labor for International Labor Affairs.  That meant that his career was now hostage to the whims of the American electorate--as it remained for the rest of his working life, through 1980.  In the fall of 1952, I understood that the presidential election was important to my whole family, even though i was only 5, and I remember my older brother, in the top bunk bed, telling me on Wednesday morning that Eisenhower had won.  My father delayed any impact on our family for two more years, managing to stay in DC on a temporary basis, but in early 1955 we moved to Albany, where he was a top aide to the new Governor, Averell Harriman.  Harriman, although almost 70, had presidential ambitions, but these came crashing down when he was beaten badly by Nelson Rockefeller in his bid for re-election in 1958.  At that point my father managed to put together funding for a chair in international labor affairs at the School of Foreign Service at American University, and we moved back to Washington in early 1959.

My father, like so many Democrats, was now focused single-mindedly on the 1960 election.  His preferred candidate, and therefore mine, was originally Hubert Humphrey, the leading Democratic liberal, but Humphrey's candidacy crashed and burned in the West Virginia primary, leading John Kennedy ahead.  At that point my father joined the many Democrats who were hoping that Adlai Stevenson would make a third run for the nomination.  That was the situation on about July 1, when I went off to music camp in Maine.  I was there, out of reach of any television, when JFK was nominated in Los Angeles.  When my parents picked me up at the end of the month, I got my first real lesson in politics.  Not only was my father now solidly for JFK, nothing he said gave the slightest indication that he had ever favored anyone else.

As he explained years later in an oral history for the JFK Library, my father had met JFK a few times, but did not know him well. His entree into the campaign was his fellow Rhodes Scholar, Byron White, who had gotten to know some of the Kennedys in 1938-9 when old Joe Kennedy was Ambassador in London.  White was working with Bobby Kennedy, the campaign manager, in Citizens for Kennedy, the non-party, independent campaign organization they had set up.  Early in the campaign, on a plane trip to Chicago, my father told White that the campaign had a problem with Jewish voters.

The problem, he explained, was that many Jews didn't like Jack, because they thought his father had been a pro-Hitler anti-Semite in the 1930s.  White, knowing my father, knew this was serious. "Why don't you talk to Bobby about it?" he asked--with the candidate's brother and campaign manager right on the same plane. "You're kidding," said my father. "No, he'll want to hear it," said White, and off they went up the aisle.  After introductions, my father took a deep breath and plunged right in.

Here it behooves me to step back for a moment and use my historian's perspective. The accusation against Joe Kennedy was particularly serious because it was truer than true--and while I'm not sure that my father knew that, RFK most certainly did.   But what I didn't learn until the late 1980s was that the Kennedy brothers had been dealing with this accusation at least since Jack's first Senate campaign in 1952.  Now, in August 1960, Bobby was not surprised or distressed by what my father said.  He denied the accusation, and assured my father that his father had given substantial contributions to Jewish charities. "I hope that wasn't last month?" my father replied.  No, said Bobby, it was "a respectable time ago."  He encouraged my father to put this word out to Jewish leaders, as other allies had presumably done in Massachusetts, and he did.  And in the very close election, the Jewish vote retained its Democratic allegiance.

In a second conversation, RFK quizzed my father about the situation in New York, where the Democratic Party was fractured into three or four different groups.  My father told him not to worry--all those groups were solidly in JFK's camp.  What was important was not to waste time and energy trying to bring them together. "That's good advice," Bobby said.  In two conversations, Phil Kaiser had established himself in RFK's mind as a man who would not shrink from giving one bad news when it had to be delivered, and who had good political sense.  That was all he needed to know.

When JFK narrowly won the election, his transition team decided to make a new kind of ambassadorial appointment, one that did not fall within the traditional categories of professional diplomats on the one hand, and big campaign contributors on the other.  They included academics (such as John Kenneth Galbraith, who went to India, and Edwin Reicschauer, who went to Japan); journalists (William Attwood went to Guinea); retired General James Gavin, who went to France; and diplomat in exile George F. Kennan, who went to Yugoslavia.  My father always thought that it was RFK who had put him into the mix, and Chester Bowles, a transition figure who become Undersecretary of State, decided he should become Ambassador to Senegal.  In the fall of 1962, I learned relatively recently, my father wrote a memo for RFK, then Attorney General, on how recent steps by the Administration--particularly forcing the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi--had improved its standing on the African continent.

At the time of John F. Kennedy's death, my father was home on leave, lobbying for a new position, preferably in Europe.  With the help of his old boss Averell Harriman, he became the Minister, or Deputy Chief of Mission, in London, his dream job.  About four years later, early in 1968, he had one more encounter with RFK, by then a Senator from New York.  I never heard about this incident from him, which saddens me, because it made me quite proud of him.  My older brother, who witnessed it, told me about it after my father's death in 2007.

In January or February of 1968, before the fateful New Hampshire primary, my parents were again home on leave, and my father and older brother were entertained at the home of Byron White, now a Supreme Court Justice.  And who should also drop into the same evening party but Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York.  The subject of Eugene McCarthy's campaign came up, and RFK made clear that he regarded McCarthy as a stalking horse for himself.  Then Senator Kennedy brought up something else.  A year earlier, the London Embassy had become the focus of worldwide attention while Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin visited London for talks with Harold Wilson about the war in Vietnam.  The US had halted the bombing of the North for a few days and peace talks had been expected.  But suddenly, the visited terminated without anything happening, and the bombing resumed.  Exactly what had happened was not clear.

On that night early in 1968, RFK began grilling my father about what had happened.  "Was that all for show, or was there a real proposal?" he asked.  The answer would have interested him very much.  Wilson and the US Ambassador, David Bruce, thought they had a deal to open peace talks worked out, but the National Security Adviser, Walt Rostow--another fellow Rhodes Scholar of my father's--insisted on harsh conditions for talks which Hanoi would not accept.  But RFK did not learn about that night.

My father was a very loyal man, and he always believed he owed his diplomatic career to RFK.  But he also felt--like McGeorge Bundy--that "you can only work for one President at a time," and he still expected Johnson to be re-elected at that point.  He refused to tell RFK what had happened, even as the Senator, in my brother's recollection, got angrier and angrier, and eventually stormed out.  He felt a professional obligation to keep a secret, rather than to please the powerful politician who was interrogating him at that moment.

That kind of professionalism still survives among many Foreign Service officers, I suspect, but they are being marginalized in the new Administration.  Loyalty, now, isn't everything, it's the only thing. Both RFK and my father were men of another age.  They belonged to what most liberals today would see as a very narrow elite.  But that elite understood what politics and government were really about.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Saturday, June 02, 2018

What's Different About Trump

I have spent most of my adult life studying how modern governments work.  Foreign policy in particular traditionally requires the coordination of various bureaucracies and their leaders, which in turn requires some kind of structure.  I was fortunate to read a then-new book, Graham Allison's Essence of Decision, when I was in grad school, because it showed how that process and structure can change policy and effect outcomes.  The same insight has governed a great deal of what I have written.

Exactly how policy is made varies a lot from one country and one era to another, and some governments have been far more organized than others.  But from the 1930s through the 1990s, at least--the era in which I have the greatest expertise--decision-making in Washington generally followed one particular pattern, with variations.  Various bureaucracies contributed to most major decisions, and no big decision was reached without some sort of meeting involving the President and his cabinet members.  There were exceptions. Henry Kissinger appears to have carried on his negotiations with the North Vietnamese almost entirely on his own, and Colin Powell was not let into the decision to invade Iraq before it was made.  Even more remarkably, the Bush II Administration, I gradually became convinced, embarked upon the Iraq without ever drawing up a document explaining what it was doing, what it hoped to accomplish, and how it planned to get there. (As time went on, it became clear to me that my War College colleagues and I would have known some one who had seen such a document had it existed.)  No previous administration that I am aware of, however, made decisions like the Trump Administration.

A series of episodes have made clear that the President makes key decisions on his own, without a meeting to allow his cabinet members to have any input, and announces them publicly, often on Twitter, leaving his administration to scramble to implement or try to reverse them.  This was brought home to me a week or two ago when he decided to cancel the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-Il.  He may have consulted with John Bolton--whose own statements had provoked the negative comments from the North Koreans that prompted Trump's step--but Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo did not seem to have been consulted.  Bolton's replacement of H. R. McMaster is bound to help continue this anarchic process, because McMaster was an old school type who would have tried to bring everyone into the picture, while Bolton, like Trump, is too convinced of his own genius to care about consulting anyone else.  Trump made a similar unilateral move when he tried to ban transgendered people from the military, and he seems to have made some other quick decisions in response to things he has heard on Fox News.  His announcement yesterday that the Summit is back on probably reflects the influence of a different subordinate, but I doubt that there was any meeting to get everyone fully on board with it, either.  The drama over trade policy is playing out similarly, with various advisers trying to slant what the President is doing, without having any idea of what he might say or do next.

This style of Trump's, as I have said before, reminds me of the emperor William II of Germany (reigned 1888-1918), but William had many more constraints upon his behavior than Trump did.  His Imperial Chancellor had to sign on to all major decisions and he, in turn, generally consulted the Foreign Secretary and the heads of the Army and Navy before moving on a question of war and peace.  It is rather frightening to recall that one reason the First World War broke out in August 1914 was that the Emperor decided to back Austria-Hungary against Serbia, even at the risk of war, without a formal Crown Council to air the issues thoroughly, such as the one that had decided against war in similar circumstances in 1912.  Secretary of Defense Mattis, in my opinion, would refuse to order the American military into a major conflict without a formal decision involving all the responsible members of government.  But he is now the last establishment figure in Trump's senior foreign policy team.  Meanwhile, today's New York Times informs me that the Department of Justice has adopted a new doctrine authorizing the President to use force, at least from the air, any time he deems it to be in the national interest.

Trump's style reflects his views and those of many of his supporters.  He regards the Washington bureaucracies as a "deep state" that does not share his values and that needs to be tamed, and often ignored.  So do many Republican legislators and so do Fox News pundits.  And this view is not confined only to Trump supporters.  A recent article in the New York Review of Books by Noah Feldman bluntly asks the career prosecutors in the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York's office to indict the President and force him out of office, and thereby to usurp, in my opinion, a role which the Founders clearly gave to Congress.  But bureaucracy has played a critical role in modern government, including in the United States.  It is supposed to provide an enduring perspective based on a rational approach to problems and issues.  Bureaucratic processes of government are designed to give every involved party a fair hearing and to reach some kind of consensus.  Although they were never free from conflict and could certainly make huge mistakes, they served us relatively well at key moments in our history from the 1930s at least into the 1990s.

The at least temporary abandonment of such practices goes hand in hand with the Trump Administration's broader attack on the principles of the Enlightenment and the idea of objective truth.  It could have very serious consequences indeed.