Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 7: The Evil of America First

“America First” brings both political weakness and moral hazard. The last episode was about America’s new weakness in the world. This one is about how “America First” leads Americans to turn against one another.

The Real Trump Foreign Policy: Stoking the G.O.P. Base

Why else would he pursue so many policies in Latin America that do not serve the national interest?

Americans can be forgiven if they struggle to find any coherence in the Trump administration’s foreign policy. It zigs and zags, with senior administration officials saying one thing and President Trump contradicting them without warning the next day. It punishes our allies and coddles our adversaries; it privileges demagogy over democracy. Mr. Trump’s approach appears impulsive, improvisational and inchoate — devoid of clear purpose, values or even ideology.

Yet, upon closer examination, there is indeed a consistent logic staring us in the face. The unifying theme of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is simply to service his domestic politics.

Mr. Trump welcomes and encourages Russia, a hostile adversary, to interfere in our elections so long as the manipulations benefit him. He discards decades of bipartisan policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to curry favor with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and thus right-wing political support. The president follows a basic, if unorthodox, playbook: He and his party over our country.

Nowhere is this pattern more consistently apparent than in the administration’s dealings with Latin America. In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has taken a series of actions that are not tied to coherent strategies and will not deliver the desired results — if those results are to be measured in terms of achieving American foreign policy objectives. Rather, they may succeed only to the extent that they help Mr. Trump gain re-election by dishing up red meat to energize the Republican base.

Take Cuba. Last month, the Trump administration turned the clock back to the Cold War, imposing the harshest forms of sanctions against Cuba allowable under United States law. Mr. Trump reversed the policy of his Republican and Democratic predecessors by permitting Americans to sue foreign companies that use property confiscated without compensation by the Castro regime.

The administration also canceled a deal to allow Cuban baseball players to play in the United States, sharply constrained remittances and promised to end most forms of nonfamily travel, actions that will directly harm Cuba’s people and nascent private sector. In triumphantly announcing this policy shift before veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the national security adviser, John Bolton, repeatedly stressed the contrast with President Obama’s approach and pledged relentless pursuit of regime change.

Anyone familiar with the 60-plus years of failed United States policy toward Cuba before Mr. Obama’s opening in 2014 knows that the embargo only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on its long-suffering people. Instead of causing the collapse of the Cuban government or the abandonment of its ally Venezuela, Mr. Trump’s approach will again bolster hard-liners in Havana, entrench policies we oppose, drive Cuba closer to Russia and China, further isolate and impoverish the Cuban people and punish our European and Canadian allies, whose companies will now be sued.

Yet, this policy reversal surely pleases the old guard among Cuban émigrés, as it did the Bay of Pigs celebrants who cheered Bolton. Given the changing attitudes among younger Cuban-Americans who largely supported Mr. Obama’s engagement, it remains to be seen how much political sway the hard-liners still have in the crucial battleground state of Florida. Still, Mr. Trump is betting on firing up that faction.

Not content to bank only on the Cuban community in Florida, Mr. Trump is also courting the state’s many Venezuelan immigrants, who justifiably detest the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. To hasten Mr. Maduro’s exit, the Trump administration has rightly joined with regional and international partners to impose sanctions against Mr. Maduro, his government and cronies, and to recognize the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.

Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia

The world is a very dangerous place!

The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.

After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!

The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 1 They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world! 2

I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. 3 They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

 


  1. Not free-speech or justice

  2. yes, and fully and forever eliminate the threat of murder too

  3. what is the connection between the security and safety of America and oil?  Did I missed the connecting transition?

Why Michael Cohen Is a Triple Threat for Donald Trump

Business deals, affairs, Russia ties—the president’s former fixer knows all.

This marks what promises to be a decisive moment in not only the Trump-Russia scandal but all the Trump scandals (known and unknown), for Cohen appears to have been involved in almost every aspect of Trump’s deeds and misdeeds.

.. With Cohen blowing the whistle, Mueller and other prosecutors will end up with a symphony of leads. After all, he likely has inside information on each of the three rings of the Trump scandal circus:

  1. the Russia affair,
  2. the business affairs,
  3. the affairs affair.

.. Make a Venn diagram of all this, and Cohen is dead center. This ex-consigliere poses a triple threat to the godfather he once ruthlessly served

.. Let’s start with Russia. Cohen intersects with the known narrative in at least two ways. He was there when Trump cut a deal with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son Emin to hold the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013. When Trump gathered with the Agalarovs in Las Vegas in June 2013 to formalize their partnership, Cohen accompanied the celebrity businessman and was part of a celebratory dinner at a high-end restaurant. That is, Cohen was present at the creation of the bond forged between Trump and this Putin-friendly oligarch. (Also in attendance was an Agalarov associate who had been linked to Russian money laundering.) This could well be significant for investigators because it was the Trump-Agalarov connection that led to the now notorious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016—when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, met with a Russian emissary whom they were told would provide them dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump.

.. When the meeting became public in July 2017, Trump Jr. released a statement falsely claiming that the meeting merely had covered Russian adoption policy. Trump’s involvement in the drafting of that inaccurate statement has been a key issue.

.. In January, Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller noting that Trump had dictated his son’s response. This raised the question of whether Trump Jr. had lied to a Senate committee when he previously said during private congressional testimony that his father had not played a vital role in concocting the statement.

.. But this letter also highlighted other potential problems for Trump: Did he lie when he publicly said he had no prior knowledge of the meeting, and did he direct potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation to stick to a false cover story? Meaning, did the president engage in obstruction of justice? 

.. While Trump was trying to pull off this project, he said nothing in public about the venture and campaigned as an “America First” nationalist candidate. Throughout this stretch, Trump consistently refused to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin, without telling voters that he was pursuing a Moscow project that Sater told Cohen would be underwritten by a bank partially owned by the Kremlin.
.. Given that the project would not proceed if the Russian government said nyet, this was a stunning conflict of interest—perhaps one of the most scandalous personal financial conflicts of modern US political history.
.. he certainly is familiar with the details of the hush-money deals set up for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who each claim they had an affair with Trump. One critical question is whether these payments were made to keep the women quiet because their revelations could harm Trump’s electoral chances.
.. For investigators zeroing in on the keep-quiet payoffs, Cohen is the man.
.. Trump’s reputation as a businessman is not one of probity and prudence. He has long had—and lied about—business connections to organized crime.
.. In 2010, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., opened an investigation into whether Trump, Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump had committed fraud related to the selling of units in Trump SoHo, a 46-story luxury condominium-hotel.
In 2012, the probe was dropped. Vance had received campaign donations from Trump’s personal lawyer, but he has claimed that had no bearing on the case.
..  A sketchy deal that Trump began in 2014 to develop a Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
.. As a friend of Cohen points out, Cohen “worked in an environment that was total chaos. People were constantly running in and out of Trump’s office. The man had a 30-second attention span. Everyone knows everything. Everyone is talking. And there are no secrets.”
.. In the middle of Hurricane Donald, Cohen was as close to the mast as anyone. He may well know of Trump actions deserving of investigation that prosecutors for Mueller and the US attorney in New York have never taken a gander at.
If Cohen ends up a cooperative witness, one question will be how far federal prosecutors want to—or are willing to—dig into Trump’s business. A whole new terrain could be wide open for exploration.
.. a lawyer who worked for the Trump Organization told an acquaintance of mine, “My job boils down to doing two things. First there is this: I say, ‘Mr. Trump, you can’t do that. You really can’t do that, Mr. Trump.’ Then I say, ‘Mr. Trump, why did you do that?’” Cohen was not that type of attorney. He was the handyman who came in after one of the regular lawyers had gone through those two steps—a Mr. Fix-it for a rule-bending executive.
.. Cohen has been compared by some to John Dean, the Nixon White House lawyer who eventually testified that Nixon was in on the Watergate cover-up and who became a quasi-hero of that scandal.
.. No doubt, Lanny Davis is advising Cohen on how best to rehabilitate himself and change his image from a sleazy pit bull who was willing to do anything for Trump (even take a bullet!) to a repentant henchman who now is eager to serve the truth.
But if Dean was a torpedo that sank Nixon, Cohen is more an aircraft carrier. He probably has ammunition that can strike multiple Trump targets. His cooperation with prosecutors could dramatically reshape and perhaps expand the Trump investigations. He is someone that Trump ought to fear. There likely are bodies buried in Trumpland, and if you want to raise the dead, Cohen is the guy to see.

Letter to the Editor: Trump doing what good businessman would do

he is used to working in a world of what is, not a world of what is it?

.. I remember during his campaign and then again at his inaugural speech, President Donald Trump said that he was not a Democrat or a Republican but was for America. Establishment politicians hate him, because he is on to their game of kicking the ball down the field rather than fixing the problems. Meanwhile the taxpayer gets hosed. This president is a keeper. His track record of accomplishments will continue to grow.

Just a reminder, the president has been out of the chute a little more than a year. Like all good businessmen, he’s figuring out what works and who will help him achieve his goals. And he will succeed because he knows how to run a successful business. And, we all will be the benefactors.

George Will: This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man

America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.

.. Jeane Kirkpatrick .. she explained her disaffection from her party: “They always blame America first.” In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase “America First” put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Because the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco, Kirkpatrick branded the “blame America first” cohort as “San Francisco Democrats.” Thirty-four years on, how numerous are the “Helsinki Republicans”?

.. He speaks English as though it is a second language that he learned from someone who learned English last week. So, it is usually difficult to sift meanings from Trump’s word salads. But in Helsinki he was, for him, crystal clear about feeling no allegiance to the intelligence institutions that work at his direction and under leaders he chose.

..  consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Graham tweeted about Helsinki: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.” A “missed opportunity”

.. Contrast Graham’s mush with this on Monday from McCain, still vinegary: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Or this from Arizona’s other senator,

Jeff Flake (R): “I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.” Blame America only.

.. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others might believe that they must stay in their positions lest there be no adult supervision of the Oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this: Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them?

.. in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

.. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too.

.. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians.

A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

.. Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth Got Safer

Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence.

This summer I returned to Rivera Hernández to find a remarkable reduction in violence, much of it thanks to programs funded by the United States that have helped community leaders tackle crime. By treating violence as if it were a communicable disease and changing the environment in which it propagates, the United States has not only helped to make these places safer, but has also reduced the strain on our own country.

.. Honduras has dropped from first place to third among Central American countries sending unaccompanied children to the United States illegally.

.. most Americans think the United States should “deal with its own problems” while others deal with theirs “as best they can,” a sentiment that’s at the core of Donald J. Trump’s “America First” slogan and “build a wall” campaign. Many seem to have lost their faith in American power.

.. The funding for violence prevention in Honduras — which this year cost between $95 million and $110 million — has also come under attack from the left.

.. This summer, a bill was introduced in Congress to suspend security aid to Honduras because of corruption and human rights violations. These concerns are legitimate, but cutting our support would be a mistake.

.. What is working in Honduras may offer hope to Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in crisis.

.. The gangs enforced a 6 p.m. curfew. Bodies littered the dirt streets in the morning. The 18th Street Gang set up a checkpoint

.. gangsters playing soccer with the decapitated head of someone they had executed.

.. In two years, homicides have plummeted 62 percent.

.. America’s support is “getting results,” said James D. Nealon, the United States ambassador to Honduras. We are, he said, reducing migration. But we are also repairing harms the United States inflicted — first by deporting tens of thousands of gangsters to Honduras over the past two decades, a decision that fueled much of the recent mayhem, and second by our continuing demand for drugs, which are shipped from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras. If the United States sustains its anti-violence work in Honduras, Ambassador Nealon says, “in five years they will get their country back.”

.. the Ponce gang grabbed 13-year-old Andrea Abigail Argeñal Martínez because her family couldn’t afford the “war tax” the gang imposed on its tiny store. They raped Andrea for several days in that house, and called her mother so she could hear the girl’s screams as they cut her to death.

.. When he hears about a gangster cornered by the police, he will stand in the line of fire yelling, “Stop shooting!” until the officers allow the gangster to surrender. In this way he has gained the trust of all six gangs. He does the same when he hears that someone is about to be murdered by one of the gangs

.. The United States modeled its prevention strategy on what had worked in Boston in the 1990s, and later in Los Angeles: Concentrate efforts on the most violent hot spots.

.. One of the most effective tactics is the creation of neighborhood outreach centers

.. “The U.S. government has been a bigger partner in change than the Honduran government.”

.. One stocky player wearing a No. 11 jersey told me he had killed 121 people, charging $220 or more per hit.
.. “If they play each other, they see each other less as the enemy.
.. focuses on children who are identified by trained counselors as having a number of risk factors for joining gangs, like substance abuse, unsupervised time and a “negative life event” — having been the victim of a violent crime, having a family member killed.
..  In recent years, 96 percent of homicides did not end in a conviction. Everyone in Rivera Hernández knew what happened to witnesses who stepped forward: Their bodies were dumped with a dead frog next to them. The message: Frogs talk too much.
.. The A.J.S. assigns teams of psychologists, investigators and lawyers to look into all homicides and to coax witnesses to give testimony. More than half of completed homicide cases in seven pilot neighborhoods now result in guilty verdicts.
.. “It’s not like before — kill someone and there are no consequences,”
.. Half the family members usually know the killer; one in four witnessed the murder. They say it takes four to 15 visits to persuade a witness to testify.

.. Witnesses can testify anonymously, as they do in Italian Mafia cases.

.. She had witnessed three murders, but this was the first time she had told anyone. Afterward, in the car, she beamed. “I feel liberated!”

.. One afternoon several months ago, a Mara Salvatrucha gangster was caught by the police in Rivera Hernández with a hacked up body in the front basket of his bicycle, casually on his way to dispose of it.

.. 174,000 Hondurans, 4 percent of the country’s households, had abandoned their homes because of violence.

.. Gangsters stripped their houses of anything they could sell — window frames, doors, roofs — leaving whole blocks in rubble.

.. It will take much more than this project to change the reputation of the United States in this part of the world, where we are famous for exploiting workers and resources and helping to keep despots in power.

.. A 2016 study commissioned by U.S.A.I.D. found that working with people within the gangs — those who are active participants and those who want to leave — produced the biggest drops in violence. And yet the United States does hardly any of this, for fear of being seen as working with or paying off gang members.

.. The next priority must be to clean up the police.

.. I asked if any would go to the police station to report a crime. Not one hand went up. “No one with their five senses would report a crime,”

.. up to one in five of his cops was dirty, but community leaders say the number is closer to half.

.. two families who reported a crime to the police. Officers ratted them out, and three family members were killed that very day.

.. Mara Salvatrucha gangsters in Rivera Hernández say they receive warnings from the police of impending sweeps and are handed captured rivals to execute

.. Police officers also engage in extrajudicial killings.

.. Community leaders say the United States must find a better way to punish bad cops without withholding programs that help children.

.. half of the funds Congress budgets for Honduras go to the State Department bureaucracy or American companies paid to administer programs, so-called beltway bandits, rather than directly to local nonprofits or Hondurans.

.. The United States will also need to pressure Honduras to ante up more of its own money for violence prevention;

.. Fourteen-year-old Carlos Manuel Escobar Gómez told me things were so bad two years ago that he was ready to hop freight trains through Mexico to the United States. Both his parents and a brother were dead, and he was sure he wouldn’t survive his 11th year

.. he said with awe, “I haven’t seen a dead body in a year.”