What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.
Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.
.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.
.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.
Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.
.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.
When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.
A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.
.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.
“The Deep State,” on the other hand, is a description of the millions of bureaucrats immune from the political ebbs and flows. The term is meant to suggest that these men and women are pursuing agendas that run contrary to the preferences of the president, the peole who voted for him, or the nation at large.
.. We can debate whether and how much the Deep State is actually countering Trump’s agenda. But one thing that is not debatable is that the anonymous author is not part of such a group. Anonymous is, rather, a “senior administration official” who, based on what his op-ed reveals, serves at the pleasure of the president. Trump could get rid of him, if he knew who he was.
.. Instead of rebuking Anonymous with the same complaints many conservatives have lobbed at the career officials at the Department of Justice, we could instead see his op-ed as an illustration of the inherent principal–agent problem that every president must confront. And the essay strongly suggests that Trump is struggling with this problem.
.. Simply stated, the principal–agent problem arises whenever any principal deputizes an agent to do his bidding. How can the principal make sure that the agent is actually doing what he has been tasked to do? Well, it requires monitoring and sanctions — both of which are costly to the principal.
.. Indeed, the differences between presidential success and failure often come down to how the president handles the monitoring of his staff. Jimmy Carter, for instance, was an unsuccessful president in no small part because he was a micromanager.
.. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, imported organization structures from the military to great success. More recently, in Confidence Men, Ron Suskind reported that Barack Obama instructed U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to draw up a plan to dissolve Citigroup; however, Suskind claimed, Geithner ignored the order, and Obama never followed up. That is the principal–agent problem in action.
.. These are all symptoms of an executive branch that is suffering from a lack of sufficient management.
.. If Trump does not have a good handle on what his agents are up to, then his power necessarily is going to decline, as the principal–agent problem grows. We can bemoan the fact that his political appointees are undermining democratic accountability by ignoring or circumventing Trump’s dictates, but that misses the point. The principal–agent problem exists just about everywhere. It is a consequence of human nature, whereby people are prone to put their own judgments and interests first. That’s why principals must monitor their agents.
Fascist politics bear particular and notably contradictory hallmarks:
- ideas of equality are used to cloak discrimination;
- demands for “law and order” camouflage growing corruption and official lawlessness.
Those descriptions are increasingly applicable to the current state of affairs in the United States, and, more extraordinarily, they mirror Obama’s comments at Urbana-Champaign. “Demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems,” he said.
- “They promise to fight for the little guy even as they cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful.
- They promise to clean up corruption, then plunder away.
- They start undermining the norms that insure accountability, try to change the rules to entrench their power further.
- And they appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all.”
In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump was one of 17 candidates who vied to be the Republican candidate, and none of his opponents were safe from ridicule in The Enquirer.
In October 2015, a headline called Ben Carson a “bungling surgeon.” The article said he had potentially “butchered one patient’s brain.” A month later, an article called him a “disgraced doctor” with a “violent past.”
In June of that year, an article claimed that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, had cheated on his wife, citing unnamed reports that linked Mr. Bush to a “Playboy bunny-turned-lawyer.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee and a favorite target of Mr. Trump, took the brunt of the scorn. A September 2015 article, using information from “sources,” said the “desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House — because she’ll be dead in six months.”
.. In February 2017, days after Michael T. Flynn resigned as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, the tabloid claimed that Mr. Obama had a secret plot to impeach Mr. Trump. And as recently as March 2017 the tabloid continued to claim that Mr. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was foreign born, even though Mr. Trump had since let go of the false birther theory that he long promoted.
.. The National Enquirer and its parent company have not only helped the president by denigrating others, but also repeatedly praised Mr. Trump, his decisions and his character.
In March 2016, for the first time in its 90 years, The Enquirer endorsed a candidate for president — Donald J. Trump.
.. Mr. Pecker traveled to Saudi Arabia. In January, he sought Saudi investors to help bankroll a possible acquisition of Time magazine, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. American Media disputed that. As Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived this month for a tour of the United States, Mr. Pecker’s company published a 97-page magazine about Saudi Arabia that glosses over troubling details about the kingdom.