there has never been a disaster like the G7 meeting that just took place. It could herald the beginning of a trade war, maybe even the collapse of the Western alliance. At the very least it will damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally for decades to come; even if Trump eventually departs the scene in disgrace, the fact that someone like him could come to power in the first place will always be in the back of everyone’s mind.
.. I’m already seeing headlines to the effect that Trump took a belligerent “America first” position, demanding big concessions from our allies, which would have been bad. But the reality was much worse.
.. He didn’t put America first; Russia first would be a better description. And he didn’t demand drastic policy changes from our allies; he demanded that they stop doing bad things they aren’t doing. This wasn’t a tough stance on behalf of American interests, it was a declaration of ignorance and policy insanity.
.. Trump started with a call for readmitting Russia to the group, which makes no sense at all. The truth is that Russia, whose GDP is about the same size as Spain’s and quite a bit smaller than Brazil’s, was always a ringer in what was meant to be a group of major economies. It was brought in for strategic reasons, and kicked out when it invaded Ukraine.
.. There is no possible justification for bringing it back, other than whatever hold Putin has on Trump personally.
.. Then Trump demanded that the other G7 members remove their “ridiculous and unacceptable” tariffs on U.S. goods – which would be hard for them to do, because their actual tariff rates are very low. The European Union, for example, levies an average tariff of only three percent on US goods.
.. Yes, Canada imposes high tariffs on certain dairy products. But it’s hard to make the case that these special cases are any worse than, say, the 25 percent tariff the U.S. still imposes on light trucks.
.. His trade advisers have repeatedly claimed that value-added taxes, which play an important role in many countries, are a form of unfair trade protection. But this is sheer ignorance
.. they’re just a way of implementing a sales tax — which is why they’re legal under the WTO.
.. He may just have been ranting. After all, he goes on and on about other vast evils that don’t exist, like a huge wave of violent crime committed by illegal immigrants (who then voted in the millions for Hillary Clinton.)
Was there any strategy behind Trump’s behavior? Well, it was pretty much exactly what he would have done if he really is Putin’s puppet: yelling at friendly nations about sins they aren’t committing won’t bring back American jobs, but it’s exactly what someone who does want to break up the Western alliance would like to see.
.. Alternatively, maybe he was just acting out because he couldn’t stand having to spend hours with powerful people who will neither flatter him nor bribe him by throwing money at his family businesses – people who, in fact, didn’t try very hard to hide the contempt
.. this was an utter, humiliating debacle. And we all know how Trump responds to humiliation.
Sam Nunberg appeared on CNN, and towards the end of a wild and wide-ranging interview with Jake Tapper, he seemed to ask the host for legal advice on whether he should comply with a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Do you think I should cooperate? Should I spend 80 hours going over my emails, Jake?” Nunberg asked.
.. It’s really rare for an interview subject to ask a journalist for legal advice — and speaking as a journalist, I’d say it’s an astonishingly bad idea too.
.. “I’m not a Donald Trump fan, as I told you before, okay? He treated me like crap,” and, “Trump may have very well done something during the election with the Russians, and if you find it out if he did that, I don’t know. If he did that, you know what, it’s inexcusable.”
.. It is not often we get to watch, live on television, a man simultaneously risk contempt of court and antagonize the one man who can pardon him.
.. CNN’s Erin Burnett awkwardly told Nunberg on-air that she could smell alcohol on him; Nunberg denied he had been drinking.
.. Page is the strange kind of man who is smart enough to get a master’s degree from Georgetown University and become an energy consultant with Merrill Lynch, but not smart enough to bring a lawyer with him when he testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, or Mueller’s grand jury.
.. In October, Page agreed to appear on the program of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes — light-years away from being a “friendly interviewer” — and his answers were so breathtakingly forward that Hayes was left in disbelief: “I genuinely hope, Carter, that you are innocent of everything, because you are doing a lot of talking.”
.. Perhaps we could push aside Nunberg and Page and give the award for most self-destructive former Trump adviser to Steve Bannon, who invited Michael Wolff into the White House to gather material for his book Fire and Fury and seemed to think he could trash the president’s children on the record and live to tell the tale... a president who
- announces new trade tariffs without informing his own staff,
- runs an ongoing campaign of public humiliation against his own attorney general,
- tweets furiously about what he sees on cable news, publicly fumes in the morning about Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of him on Saturday Night Live.It’s as if the White House mess is serving Tide Pods... Ed Markey claimed, without any evidence, that a “grand jury has been impaneled up in New York” to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians... Congressman Ted Lieu speculated that a Republican campaign staffer’s suicide was secretly a result of foul play stemming from a conversation with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn... People are asking, “How sane is Nunberg?” How sane are any of these people? How are cable-news networks supposed to assess the mental health of a former presidential aide when the baseline for “sane” has been adjusted downward so rapidly?
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 madman—it 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.