- Be wary of family businesses. Dictatorships can indeed evolve into democracies, with Taiwan, South Korea, and Chile being perhaps the three most prominent examples. But rarely, if ever, has a dictatorship changed when it was still governed by its founder or his family. In those cases, the dictatorship is interwoven with a cult of personality, and reform would mean a repudiation of that cult. The Castros and the Kims might allow small openings in their systems for, say, foreign investment, but they will have to leave the scene before there are more meaningful changes.
- Be wary of ideological dictatorships. Military dictatorships and other varieties seem more susceptible to peaceful evolution than Communist dictatorships. Absent a governing ideology or a family commitment, the government can be more receptive to change as the leadership grapples with economic and societal pressure.
- Dictators are dictators for a reason. They are not unaware of their countries’ impoverishment; they just have other priorities. Regardless of how many Kitchen Debates they participate in or how many movies they are shown, checkbook diplomacy will have limited effect and can even be seen as a sign of U.S. weakness.
- Use your experts. Nobody knows better than the North Korea desk officer at the Pentagon that the North Korea government does not honor international commitments it deems not to be in its interests. Nobody knows better than the Venezuela desk officer at the State Department that Cuban support for repression in Venezuela has increased since the U.S. started engaging Cuba.
- Don’t fall in love with your initiative. Trump, like Obama before him, believes he has a key to developing a better relationship with a dictator that other presidents lacked. Perhaps — times change and dictators sometimes change with them, so we have to be opportunistic. But perhaps not. Tyrannical regimes are superb at manipulating U.S. public opinion and playing on outside hopes of liberalization. Any U.S. president has to start with a willingness to break off talks. If he cannot walk away from the table, the dictator is incentivized to behave badly. Remember that Kim moved to Trump when Trump wrote Kim to postpone the Singapore summit.
- Sometimes no movement might be the best answer. The Kims have frustrated every president since Truman, and the Castros every president since Eisenhower, but not for a lack of ideas or initiative from the White House. If neither regime wants to change, the best the U.S. can do is maintain pressure, minimizing the harm done to ordinary Cubans and North Koreans and the citizens of neighboring countries.
- Allies. Allies. Allies. Every U.S president needs to work in an international framework in which our alliances can enhance the likelihood of a successful outcome. Trump should consult closely with South Korea and Japan to ensure there is an allied consensus on North Korea. Obama should have worked with the E.U. on Cuban human rights. When E.U. foreign commissioner Federica Mogherini visited Cuba without a public mention of human rights, the broader American engagement strategy was weakened.
- Move incrementally and test repeatedly. Grandiose rhetoric grabs the headlines, but smaller steps allow you to calibrate your moves to the other party’s performance. The U.S. needs to put the other country’s intentions to the test on an ongoing basis. A mixture of carrot and stick will get the best results.
- Find the right mix of goals and values. The U.S. values human rights, and we also have core geopolitical interests. We want to stop Cuba from supporting violent revolutionary movements across the western hemisphere, and we want to stop North Korea from enhancing its nuclear capabilities and delivery systems. Keeping human rights in the discussion is important, and stopping the military threat these regimes pose all the more so. Not dying in a nuclear attack is also a human right, after all.
- Be careful of the ratchet. The ratchet effect is a phenomenon that can only move one way, or more easily move one way. For example, once the U.S. opens up and staffs an embassy, it is expensive and embarrassing to close it. Once we shut down joint military exercises with South Korea, they cannot easily be restarted because of annual budget and planning requirements. Be careful of making moves that cannot easily be undone.
Since the beginning of this nightmare administration, we’ve been assured — via well-placed anonymous sources — that a few sober, trustworthy people in the White House were checking Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most erratic whims. A collection of generals, New York finance types and institution-minded Republicans were said to be nobly sacrificing their reputations and serving a disgraceful president for the good of the country. Through strategic leaks they presented themselves as guardians of American democracy rather than collaborators in its undoing.
.. Last August, after the president said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., senior officials rationalized their continued role in the administration to Mike Allen of Axios. “If they weren’t there, they say, we would have a trade war with China, massive deportations, and a government shutdown to force construction of a Southern wall,”
.. Since then, we’ve had a government shutdown over immigration, albeit a brief one. A trade war appears imminent. Arrests of undocumented immigrants — particularly those without criminal records — have continued to surge.
.. Over the past 14 months we’ve also seen monstrous levels of corruption and chaos, a plummeting of America’s standing in the world and the obliteration of a host of democratic norms. Yet things could always be worse; the economy is doing well and Trump has not yet started any real wars.
The former Deputy National Security Adviser
- Dina Powell left in January.
- Gary Cohn, head of the National Economic Council, announced his resignation on March 6. Secretary of State
- Rex Tillerson was terminated by tweet on Tuesday. National Security Adviser
- H. R. McMaster will reportedly be among the next to go, and Trump may soon fire Attorney General
- Jeff Sessions, possibly as a prelude to shutting down the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Adding to the tumult, a parade of lesser officials have either quit or been fired, including the White House communications director
- Hope Hicks, staff secretary
- Rob Porter and Trump’s personal aide
- John McEntee.
The self-styled grown-ups are, for the most part, being replaced by lackeys and ideologues. Larry Kudlow, the CNBC pundit Trump has appointed to succeed Cohn, is known for the consistent wrongness of his predictions.
.. John Roberts of Fox News reported that McMaster could be replaced by uberhawk John Bolton, who last month wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” (Bolton has described proposed talks between Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea as an opportunity to deliver a harsh ultimatum.)
.. This new stage of unbound Trumpism might make the administration’s first year look stable in comparison. That would partly vindicate the adults’ claims that things would be even messier without them. But it would also mean that by protecting the country from the consequences of an unhinged president, they helped Trump consolidate his power while he learned how to transcend restraints.
Whatever their accomplishments, if from their privileged perches these people saw the president as a dangerous fool in need of babysitting, it’s now time for some of them to say so publicly... That logic, however, only holds for those who remain on decent terms with Trump. Which means that if there’s one person who has no excuse for not speaking out, it’s Tillerson, once one of the most powerful private citizens in America, now humbled and defiled by his time in Trump’s orbit... “Rex is never going to be back in a position where he can have any degree of influence or respect from this president,” my Republican source said. Because of that, the source continued, “Rex is under a moral mandate to do his best to burn it down.” That would mean telling the truth “about how concerned he is about the leadership in the Oval Office, and what underpins those concerns and what he’s seen.”.. patriotism and self-interest point in the same direction... If Tillerson came out and said that the president is unfit, and perhaps even that venal concerns for private gain have influenced his foreign policy, impeachment wouldn’t begin tomorrow, but Trump’s already narrow public support would shrink further... Republican members of Congress like Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, might be induced to rediscover their spines and perform proper oversight.
The tax law and a push by the Trump administration to increase military spending will reduce federal revenue and force the Treasury to borrow more money when the economy is close to full employment. This could stoke inflation and prompt the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy. That, in turn, would slow the economy.
.. The prospect of a recession or financial crisis on Mr. Trump’s watch is unnerving, because he is as confident in his own abilities as he is lacking in knowledge and sound judgment. When confronted with criticism, he lashes out like an intemperate child.
On Monday, he said Democrats who did not applaud during his State of the Union address were un-American and treasonous.
.. If the stock market falls further, will the president try to reassure the public, or will he launch a Twitter fusillade blaming the drop on, say, a conspiracy hatched by the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund manager who wants Mr. Trump impeached?
.. Instead, he has stacked his administration with incompetent yes men, right-wing ideologues and Washington swamp dwellers. Consider the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, a former investment banker, who unnerved the currency market last month by suggesting that the United States was trying to weaken the dollar. His statement broke with the longstanding practice followed by Treasury secretaries from both parties to avoid making careless public pronouncements about American currency.
Mr. Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, the White House’s chief economic adviser, also debased their credibility last year by arguing with no evidence whatsoever that the Republican tax cut would pay for itself.
.. Paul Ryan, tried to pass off as good economic news that a public school secretary would take home an extra $1.50 a week as a result of the tax law.
.. Mr. Ryan, for one, is citing the deficit to make the case that the government needs to slash Medicaid, Medicare and other important government programs. Other members of his party are using the deficits to argue that the government cannot afford to repair and upgrade the country’s dilapidated infrastructure.
Trump invoked so-called “principled realism” during his U.N. speech:
We are guided by outcomes, not ideology. We have a policy of principled realism, rooted in shared goals, interests and values.
Trump has shown before that his administration’s “principled realism” is neither principled nor realist, and he did so again earlier this week. Leading realists have been quite vocal in their rejection of the foreign policy he has conducted to date, and they have done so in large part because Trump has been in thrall to the goals of ideologues. Take his antagonism to the nuclear deal with Iran as a prime example.
An administration “guided by outcomes, not ideology” would have no problem with a deal that successfully restricted Iran’s nuclear program. They would have to acknowledge that the deal was working as intended regardless of any reservations they might have about it. It is the ideologue who insists on adding new demands and finding fault with an agreement that everyone else believes to be the best deal available. Trump is inclined to yield to the ideologues in his party because rejecting the deal lines up with his rejection of everything connected with Obama. The consequences of reneging on the deal don’t concern him, just as the benefits of remaining the deal don’t interest him. He wants to vindicate the idea that Obama made a bad deal and that he can do better. It has nothing to do with outcomes and everything to do with proving his predecessor wrong. There is no principle at work here except contempt for compromise and diplomacy. There is no realism anywhere to be found.