Policy vs. personality in Middle East politics.Real policy differences over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran caused innumerable disagreements, many of them quite public. But during my time representing the United States here, I found that the caricature of universal Israeli hostility to Obama was overstated... the arrival of a president who “at last” would support Israel unconditionally and not pressure the country to limit settlement growth or make concessions to the Palestinians.Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, declared, “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state.”.. revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution, with the support of key Arab states.. With Obama, Israelis may not always have gotten everything they wanted. But they always got consistency. Obama held as a firm principle the idea that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security was unconditional... relationship mature enough and durable enough to withstand such differences — but they needed to know that the United States was a reliable ally when it mattered most. And he delivered.. they came to appreciate was Obama’s style of leadership: steady, thoughtful, knowledgeable... he had the maturity, the discipline and the judgment to reach well-informed decisions that benefited Israel’s security... The result was a period of unprecedented intimacy between our militaries and intelligence services... I was struck by the depth of appreciation that senior Israeli military officers and intelligence officials expressed for Obama’s contributions to Israel’s security, often drawing a contrast with sentiments expressed by their politicians or the public... Amos Gilad, a longtime senior defense official.. told me: “It’s easy to criticize Obama. But on the military front, the relationship was incredible.”.. His unpredictability .. was already a source of anxiety.. Israelis now have to ask which Trump will show up for work each day — the friend who pledges his loyalty or the adolescent who can lash out at allies such as Australia and Canada, and perhaps one day Israel?.. His lack of knowledge, compounded by his aversion to reading and short attention span.. His carelessness.. shaken the confidence of the Israeli intelligence services in the reliability of the United States as a partner.. indifferent to democratic values and institutions and enamored of authoritarian leaders is harming the United States’ standing globally, which is never good for Israel... off the record, officials are beginning to acknowledge that something has changed... erratic, unreliable leader?.. David Ben-Gurion, gave President John F. Kennedy.. The best way you can help Israel, Ben-Gurion told him, is “by being a great President of the United States.”
A journalist who covered Nixon’s fall 45 years ago explains why the current challenge to America may be more severe—and the democratic system less capable of handling it.
the worst version of what Nixon and his allies were attempting to do—namely, to find incriminating or embarrassing information about political adversaries ranging from Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence O’Brien to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg—was not as bad as what came afterward.
.. attacks by an authoritarian foreign government on the fundamentals of American democracy, by interfering with an election
.. as part of a larger strategy that included parallel interference in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and elsewhere.
.. meant to destroy trust in democracy
.. But even in his stonewalling, Nixon paid lip service to the concepts of due process and check and balances.
.. Stennis compromise
.. he wanted to act as if he was doing so while sticking to some recognizable rules... Nothing Donald Trump has done, on the campaign trail or in office, has expressed awareness of, or respect for, established rules.
David, you say in this new piece that Vladimir Putin’s resentment of the West is rooted not in ideology but in his experience of the decline and fall of Russian power and pride. So can you explain what that sense of the loss of Russian power and pride is about?
.. And Vladimir Putin was not a liberal intellectual. He was somebody who volunteered for the KGB as a teenager, whose father was a badly, badly wounded veteran of the – what’s called the Great Patriotic War, second world war in Russia. And he experienced that as a KGB officer who saw that Moscow had lost its grip not just on Warsaw and Budapest and Berlin, but also on Georgia and Azerbaijan and Armenia. And even within Russia there was talk of Russia itself breaking into smaller components. This is the drama he experienced.
And then in the ’90s, he saw the Yeltsin government, under the name of Demokratiya – Demokratiya kind of fail on its promise in so many ways. And an economic depression came along that for many people was incredibly painful, like the ’30s in the United States. So, again, a lot of people in Russia, exemplified by Putin, saw this as a crash followed by chaos, followed by poverty. And that’s a very different view than most Americans see 1991 as.
.. And Putin was blessed, you know, when he came to power in 2000 and eventually in 2003, 2004 not only by an increasing stability in society but also oil prices shot through the roof. And that benefited the Russian economy, especially the cities, especially people in the main industry, which is oil and gas. But it’s proved illusory because the Russian economy, once oil and gas prices have declined, showed its weakness. And so eventually, Putin not only became more and more disenchanted with the West, he also decided that he needed an operating ideology.
.. And I don’t know how sincere he is in this. But it’s certainly – there’s a greater sense of conservatism, that’s what that anti-gay legislation was about, to put it in opposition to the libertine, you know, decadent West, and growing nationalism, patriotic pride. You go turn on Russian television any night, there’s an enormous sense over and over of Russian-ness, of Russian pride, of patriotism in a way that there was not in the ’90s.
.. So when Americans giggle at him doing the butterfly in the middle of a roaring river or strip to the waist on a horse or, you know, kind of like a James Bond villain, you know, in some sort of weird craft in the ocean, Russians see that as a kind of machismo version of Russian statehood.
.. Here is our man. He speaks bluntly to the West. He doesn’t take any guff from the West. He’s not swallowing stuff the way Yeltsin did. He is standing up for us, for Russian-ness. And everything that we’re doing to them is something that they’ve been doing to us for generations. So the title of our piece is called “Active Measures.” This is not a one-way street. The United States has been fooling around in – it doesn’t take propaganda to say this is true.
.. Yes, it’s true that Russians have been involved in all sorts of Cold War missions, but so have we. We have given ample evidence to Russia and else and the world to show that in the past, the United States got involved in elections, got involved in regime change. And, you know, Iraq and Libya are only the most recent evidence of it. So as Ben Rhodes, a Obama administration official said to us, you know, we give him enough rope to hang us, in a certain sense.
.. What Vladimir Putin fears most of all is internal chaos. So when he looks at Tahrir Square…
GROSS: Like people defying him…
REMNICK: Absolutely. So when he looks at…
GROSS: …Rebelling against him.
REMNICK: When he looks at Tahrir Square in Cairo, when he looks at Maidan uprisings in Kiev, closer to home, and when he looked at the demonstrations in Moscow on the Bolotnaya Square, what’s called Swampy Square in 2011, he sees those as rehearsal for the – for a regime change in Moscow. And he thinks that not only is the United States a part of this and behind this, that Hillary Clinton gave, quote, unquote, “the signal” to demonstrators in Moscow in 2011. That’s why – that’s part of why he despised Hillary Clinton so very much.
.. He wants no more expansion of NATO to say the least, and he would like to see greater dissent and dissention within Western institutions.
He is delighted to see the rise of not only Donald Trump in the United States, which I think he sees as causing us chaos and for us to look more and more inward and to be more and more divided. He also is delighted to see the rise of nationalist politicians in France, in Germany, in Holland because what happens as a result is that there’s more, therefore, fractiousness and chaos within those countries. And institutions like NATO, the European Union are called more into question. That’s his motive.
.. But when it comes to television, it is neo-Soviet. There’s no question about it, and there are certain people that are just never going to be invited on television, and you are not going to hear Vladimir Putin criticized. That’s that’s the be-all and end-all.
And so when people go on and on, as does Trump, about how unbelievably popular Putin is and he has an 85 percent popularity rating, no small part of that is the information space of television. Now, there are other elements of it too. I have to readily admit his popularity is not just rooted in propaganda, but that’s a big element of it.
.. On February 17, he tweeted (reading) the fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN, is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.
REMNICK: Yeah, what a phrase, the enemy of the people.
GROSS: Yeah, I know. That goes back to Stalin, right?
OSNOS: I recognize that from somewhere.
REMNICK: Well, it goes back to Robespierre. It is an ugly, ugly phrase. I don’t know how self-aware Donald Trump is of that kind of phrase. I guarantee you Steve Bannon knows what enemy of the people means. Stalin used it to keep people terrified. If you were branded a vrag naroda, an enemy of the people, you could guarantee that very soon there would be a knock in the middle of the night at your door and your fate would be horrific.
To hear that kind of language directed at the American press is an emergency. It’s an emergency. It’s not a political tactic. And if it’s a political tactic, it’s a horrific one. And that needs to be resisted not just by people like me who are, you know, editors or writers but all of us. This is part of what distinguishes American democracy. And it’s untenable, immoral and anti-American.
.. it’s the kind of language that autocrats use in the beginning. And where it will go, we don’t know yet. But he is obviously – this is beyond dog whistles. He is signaling to the base that your enemy, your enemy is those people.
That’s how autocrats behave. They create an other. Whether it’s the press, whether it’s ethnic or otherwise, it’s the creation of an other. And I find it – I just, you know, it has to be stood up against.
.. Some of the worry of people who are concerned about our behavior vis-a-vis Russia now is who’s going to talk up about human rights? When Alexei Navalny, the one person who seemed to be ready to run against Putin in a presidential race in 2018, was eliminated from consideration by a court, which is very much under Putin’s control, and his political possibilities were erased – and by the way, Navalny’s brother is in a prison right now – when that happened, did the White House say a single word about this? Not a word, not a word.
.. It was very interesting to see George W. Bush, who was criticized quite a lot in the pages of The New Yorker for eight years and more, go on “The Today Show” the other day and in no uncertain terms – and this is a guy who was hammered by The New York Times, by The Washington Post, by The New Yorker and God knows who else – speak up for a free press, speak up for the role the press plays in the functioning of a flawed, yet healthy American democracy or any kind of democracy.
A White House statement Tuesday about a federal district judge’s ruling on Trump’s executive order on “sanctuary cities” did not mince words. It emphasized — more than once — that the judge who just ruled against the administration is not an elected official.
.. Trump is sending a dangerous message in his latest attack on the judiciary: “As the leader of the free world, I should be able to do what I choose. The court shouldn’t be able to get involved.”
Geyh said that attitude shows a lack of understanding of the equal roles of the three branches of government, specifically of the judiciary’s job to serve as a check on the executive branch.
.. “Presidents have disagreed with court rulings all the time. What’s unusual is he’s essentially challenging the legitimacy of the court’s role. And he’s doing that without any reference to applicable law,” Geyh told The Washington Post. “That they are blocking his order is all the evidence he needs that they are exceeding their authority.”
“That’s worse than wrong,” Geyh added. “On some level, that’s dangerous.”
.. Trumps’s attacks on the federal judiciary began even before he took office.
.. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was the target of racially tinged remarks by the Republican presidential nominee last June. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said that Curiel’s ethnicity should have disqualified him from presiding over fraud lawsuits against the now-defunct Trump University.
He argued that because of his hard-line immigration policies, having a judge of Mexican heritage preside over a lawsuit against him presented an “absolute conflict” of interest.
.. “They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Okay?”