Remote Diagnoses

But as ominous or unprecedented as it might seem, Trump’s outburst is far less dangerous than the way we understand it. The opposition between rationality and irrationality has long undergirded the foreign policy doctrine the United States has relied on for dealing with the DPRK. Now it has been applied to our own President. What I have in mind here is not an elaborate Foucauldian construct, although its popularity certainly has something to do with the way post-Enlightenment Western society has conceived of the relationship between sanity and insanity. This opposition is far blunter, more soundbite-friendly—and thus more seductive. And its greatest partisans are the members of the national security establishment that stand to gain the most from the removal of this troubled President.

.. English-speaking analysts are prone to understanding the behavior of the DPRK through the lens of Richard Nixon’s “madman theory,” a strategy the President adopted in 1969 as he sought an advantageous end to the Vietnam War. Following the theories of the Cold War economist Thomas Schelling, Nixon adopted an approach called Giant Lance, aiming to convince the Soviet Union that an American nuclear strike on Moscow or Hanoi was imminent. By demonstrating that his behavior was not subject to ordinary rational calculation, Nixon hoped to achieve a superior bargaining position: “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe that I’ve reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war,” he told H. R. Haldeman. But the Soviets were not fooled: it was not easy to convince them that a world leader would truly be willing to act beyond material motivations and constraints.2

Instead it is American foreign policy doctrine that continues to divide the world into rational actors, typically NATO countries, and irrational ones, typically not long for this world: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Kims. In this worldview it is not a set of threats or behaviors that makes a leader a madmanit is the determination to maintain independence from American empire, often through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. In such a framework it is always the advocates of continual pressure, threats, and sanctions that appear the most rational, for they are the ones that maintain vigilance against uncontrollable madmen.

.. National security types believe their supreme goal is the prevention of nuclear Armageddon through non-proliferation. But their behavior demonstrates an utter lack at least of means-end rationality, for their policies have made proliferation inevitable.

.. George W. Bush not only invaded Iraq; arguing that he could not negotiate with such an evil regime, he unilaterally renounced the United States’s commitments in the Agreed Framework, justifying North Korea’s weapons program and its skepticism about American dealmaking.

.. Above all, it is the sheer reach and relentlessness of American empire that has set us on knife-edges all over the world. We are constantly told that we have rivals in all corners of the globe—places most Americans, when surveyed, have proven unable to identify on a map.

.. If we are on the brink of nuclear apocalypse, it is because the reasonable people, the Pences and the Frums and the Obamas and the Clintons, have put us and kept us there.

The idle blather of a Trump is nothing in comparison to this threat; if anything, it is a flamboyant extension of it. As a historian I struggle to think of even one instance in which careless words alone started a real conflict. The most grimly absurd adventures of the American military machine—Korea, Vietnam, Libya—were launched by people who were celebrated as the best and the brightest, working from doctrines developed by experts and scholars. To achieve a North Korea policy that does not menace us with nuclear annihilation, we first need to be able to escape their grip.

Lesson for Trump: Hardball Against Senators Is a Game He Can Lose

Presidents of both parties have often overplayed their efforts to strong-arm a member of Congress. It’s often not effective. In Mr. Shelby’s case, it even accelerated his switch to the Republican Party.

.. Mr. Sullivan told The Alaska Dispatch News that Mr. Zinke, whose department controls considerable resources in Alaska, had phoned both senators to let them know the state’s relationship with the Trump administration had been put in jeopardy by Ms. Murkowski’s vote. Howls of outrage followed, along with accusations of White House extortion.

.. Whether the phone calls were misinterpreted or not, it was certainly a ham-handed effort. Every decision the administration now makes in regard to Alaska will be interpreted through the lens of the health care dispute and seen as some kind of punishment of innocent residents if the state suffers.

.. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Zinke was put in the position of challenging a lawmaker who oversees his budget and policy programs. Ms. Murkowski is the chairwoman of both the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Interior Department. She arguably has more control over some aspects of the agency than the secretary has.

.. “In my experience, it is not wise for a cabinet secretary to bully the person who controls his purse strings,” said David Hayes, the former deputy secretary of the interior during the Obama administration, who has worked closely with Ms. Murkowski. “It’s very curious: He seems to have the relationship backward. In many respects, she is his boss.”

.. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seldom seen threats to be very effective,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.
.. In fact, the opposite tack has usually proved more effective, with lawmakers more likely to bend when offered benefits and goodies for their states. Carrots have produced more congressional wins than sticks.
.. Mr. Shelby said that when the Clinton White House began discussing the job moves, he returned home and held a news conference to announce that “my vote is not for sale or lease to anybody, because it belongs to the people of Alabama.”

“Wow,” he said, “the people rallied around me.”

.. He, too, suffered a White House snub in 2001 when he was not invited to a Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate the teacher of the year — a Vermonter. The White House and its allies also made noises about rejiggering the New England Dairy Compact, a major Vermont issue.

.. Like Mr. Shelby, Mr. Jeffords ultimately left his party and stunned Washington by becoming an independent in May 2001, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats for most of the first two years of President George W. Bush’s term.

.. So if there is a lesson to be drawn from the experiences of Senators Shelby and Jeffords, it’s that too much hardball from the White House can sometimes lead a lawmaker to decide to play for the other team.

Yes, Trump can legally pardon himself or his family. No, he shouldn’t.

If he really did pardon his aides, his family or himself to head off Robert Mueller’s inquiry, the move probably would be constitutional but ultimately self-defeating for the president.

In using his power to pardon potential witnesses against him, Trump probably would convert a weak criminal investigation into a full-fledged impeachment effort. In 1833, Chief Justice John Marshall upheld a presidential pardon by Andrew Jackson by saying that a pardon is “an act of grace” by a president. A pardon in these circumstances would not be viewed as an act of grace, but a gratuity from an isolated president.

.. Even Nixon did not stoop to a self-pardon, although he did research it.

.. Pardoning his associates at this stage would clearly have a tactical benefit, but the historical and political costs of that would be immense. The most obvious reason for issuing pardons now would not be to protect any of the key people from jail but to limit Mueller’s leverage over witnesses. Mueller has selected a team of prosecutorial heavies, some of whom are known for flipping witnesses and using pressure to secure their cooperation. A pardon removes that option and reinforces the ability of close associates to take a hard line with investigators.

.. the use of the pardon power to protect the president’s political allies and family members would be legitimately decried as an abuse. It would not, however, be unprecedented.

.. Jefferson wanted Bollman to testify against Burr for alleged treason in plotting with the British to create a new country out of territory in the Southwest and Mexico.

.. The most recent abuse of pardon power was by Clinton. He waited until his last day in office to pardon billionaire Marc Rich, generally considered one of the least worthy recipients of a pardon in history. Jimmy Carter denounced the abuse of the pardon power for Rich as “disgraceful” and attributed Clinton’s decision to “his large gifts.” Worse yet, on the same day, Clinton pardoned his half-brother, Roger Clinton, in an open abuse of pardon power to benefit his family.

.. Indeed, with pardons, witnesses could lose protections against self-incrimination and could more easily be forced to testify. New crimes such as perjury could fall outside of the pardon, and such a pardon would not protect against state charges.

..  The existing claims of criminal conduct on Trump’s part are relatively weak and speculative. To move from the legal to the political forum is to leave strategic high ground for a quagmire.

.. Tactical pardons are like burning bridges to slow an investigation. That has rarely stopped a determined foe. Indeed, it tends to encourage and swell the ranks of opponents.

Not All Foreign-Influence Scandals Are Created Equal

a similar story — this one involving Communist China — that developed during Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. The Washington Post reported in 1998 that “evidence gathered in federal surveillance intercepts has indicated that the Chinese government planned to increase China’s influence in the U.S. political process in 1996.”

.. Many people still believe that a major cover-up of that scandal worked — in part because the media expressed skepticism and devoted only a fraction of resources they are spending on the Trump–Russia story. Network reporters expressed outright skepticism of the story, with many openly criticizing the late senator Fred Thompson, the chair of the Senate investigating committee, for wasting time and money.

.. congressional hearings on the China scandal in the summer of 1997 were dwarfed by reports on the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the death of Princess Diana.

.. The Chinese fundraising scandal involving DNC finance vice chairman John Huang first came to light in the final weeks of the 1996 presidential campaign. A former Commerce Department official, Huang was a top fundraiser who scooped up suspect foreign cash for Team Clinton.

.. The DNC was forced to give back more than $2.8 million in illegal or improper donations from foreign nationals.

.. Chung confessed that at least $35,000 of his donations to the Clinton campaign and the DNC had come from a Chinese aerospace executive — a lieutenant colonel in the Chinese military.

.. A total of 120 participants in the fundraising scandal either fled the country, asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, or otherwise avoided questioning. The stonewalling worked — and probably encouraged Hillary Clinton in her own cover-up of her private e-mail server and her ties with the Clinton Foundation.

.. Indeed, much of the media basically gave the Clintons a pass on evidence that special-interest donors to the Clinton Foundation frequently managed to score favors from the State Department. Journalist Peter Schweitzer revealed in his book Clinton Cash that State had helped move along an infamous deal that granted the Russians control of more than 20 percent of the uranium production here in the United States.

.. The company involved in acquiring the American uranium was a very large donor to — you guessed it — the Clinton Foundation.

.. But a little humility and honesty on the part of the media would be appropriate. Much of the breathless and constant coverage of the Russia scandal is motivated by the media’s hatred of Donald Trump

.. When it came to the Clintons, the media tended to downplay or even trivialize many of their scandals. But, to be fair, a little bit of self-awareness is beginning to show up in the Russia coverage. Last Thursday, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC noted that when it came to “opening the door” to lowering the standards of conduct by a modern president, Bill Clinton led the way with his lying and scandalous behavior.