Trump’s Folly

America faces two serious national security threats today that look wildly different but have one core feature in common — they both have a low probability of happening, but, if they did happen, they could have devastating consequences for our whole country and the world.

One of these threats is called North Korea. If the reckless leader of North Korea is able to launch an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles that strike the U.S. mainland, the impact on America will be incalculable.

.. The other low-probability, high-impact threat is climate change fueled by increased human-caused carbon emissions. The truth is, if you simply trace the steady increase in costly extreme weather events — wildfires, floods, droughts and climate-related human migrations — the odds of human-driven global warming having a devastating impact on our planet are not low probability but high probability.

.. Of course they aren’t solely responsible. The climate has always changed by itself through its own natural variability. But that doesn’t mean that humans can’t exacerbate or disrupt this natural variability by warming the planet even more and, by doing so, making the hots hotter, the wets wetter, the storms harsher, the colds colder and the droughts drier.

That is why I prefer the term “global weirding” over “global warming.” The weather does get warmer in some places, but it gets weird in others. Look at the past few months: Not only were several big U.S. cities slammed by monster hurricanes, but San Francisco set a heat record — 106 degrees on Sept. 1, a day when the average high there is 70 degrees

.. Indeed, it is safe to say, that if we overprepare for climate change and nothing much happens, it will be exactly like training for the Olympic marathon and the Olympics get canceled. You’re left with a body that is stronger, fitter and healthier.

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.

Closing the ‘Empathy Gap’

The arch-conservative Ronald Reagan won the allegiance of blue-collar voters. How he did so may offer a lesson (or two) for today.

Mr. Olsen decided to re-examine the record and concludes that Reagan was a proponent of “New Deal conservatism” who believed that government should help those in need and enable America’s working class to enjoy “dignity, comfort and respect.”

.. Like Reagan, Mr. Trump is opposed to cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits and seems committed to combating what he sees as unfair foreign trade practices. Like Reagan, he has appealed to white workers who are today disdained by conservative elites as “takers” and by liberals as “deplorables.”

 .. But Mr. Olsen disputes the idea that Mr. Trump is “the new Reagan.” Mr. Trump has employed “racialism and white nationalism,” he says, while Reagan was “free of bigotry” and welcoming toward immigrants. Mr. Olsen also doubts Mr. Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises to better the lot of workers. “He has shown no inclination to develop the type of comprehensive philosophy that drove Reagan’s political ambitions.” Like Reagan, Mr. Trump expresses a “love” for ordinary Americans, but Reagan meant it.
.. Reagan began doubting the liberal faith in the 1950s after fighting communists in Hollywood and having to pay taxes as a movie actor at the top marginal rate of 94%.
..  He often said that he did not leave the Democratic Party—it left him, by becoming weak on national security and ever more wedded to high taxes, regulation, welfare and metastasizing bureaucracies.
.. In the 1964 speech, he defended Social Security and declared that “no one in this country should be denied medical care for lack of funds.”
.. Reagan won workers away from the Democratic Party in 1980 by asking “are you better off than you were four years ago?” In the Carter era of stagflation and gas lines, the answer was obviously “no.”
.. What he sought to cut from the budget, Mr. Olsen maintains, was bureaucracy and spending not targeted at the “truly needy.”
.. GOP strategists said that they had to close a gender gap and ethnic gap. Mr. Olsen says that what really hurts the party is “an empathy gap.” To make empathy concrete, he favors cutting payroll taxes for workers and allowing tax cuts for corporations that hire Americans or raise wages.

Israel to American Jews: You Just Don’t Matter

To the casual observer, Israel has never looked more secure and prosperous. Its Arab neighbors are in disarray. Iran’s nuclear program has been mothballed for a while. The Trump team could not be friendlier and the Palestinians could not be weaker. All’s quiet on the Tel Aviv front. …

Look again. In fact, the foundations of Israel’s long-term national security are cracking.

.. Israel is overstretching itself by simultaneously erasing the line between itself and the Palestinians — essentially absorbing 2.5 million Palestinians, which could turn Israel into a de facto Jewish-Arab binational state — and drawing a line between itself and the Jewish diaspora, particularly the U.S. Jewish community

.. Netanyahu is setting himself up to be a pivotal figure in Jewish history — the leader who burned the bridges to a two-state solution and to the Jewish diaspora at the same time.

.. I won’t waste much time on Bibi’s deft manipulation of President Trump to shift all the blame onto the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the absence of progress in the peace process. Bibi masterfully distracted Trump with a shiny object — a video of extreme statements by Abbas (with no mention of extremist actions by Israeli settlers).

“Bibi, you win every debate, but meanwhile every day the separation of Israel from the Palestinians grows less likely, putting Israel on a ‘slippery slope toward apartheid,’ as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently warned. Where is your map? What are you going to do with 420,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank? Where is your imagination for how to reverse this trend that will inevitably lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic state?”

.. About 75 percent of the 10 million diaspora Jews are non-Orthodox, mostly followers of the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.

.. Netanyahu bowed to the demands of the Orthodox parties and canceled a 2016 agreement to create a distinct egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem — the holiest site of the Jewish faith — where men and women of the non-Orthodox movements could pray together. The Orthodox rabbis who control the Western Wall insist that men pray in one area and women in a separate, smaller area.

.. At the same time, Bibi caved and endorsed an Orthodox party bill in the Knesset that handed the ultra-Orthodox what amounts to a monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel “by pulling government recognition for private conversions” — basically those done by non-Orthodox rabbis

.. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency pointed out that Israel’s Orthodox parties and Chief Rabbinate essentially control “all Jewish marriage in Israel, and immigrants who wish to wed there must first prove they are Jewish according to Orthodox law. … The Chief Rabbinate’s antipathy to Reform and Conservative rabbis is well documented.”

.. Netanyahu “just gave the finger to a huge chunk of American Jews

.. After an outcry led by the American pro-Israel lobby Aipac, Bibi negotiated a six-month freeze on putting the conversion legislation in effect. But it is a time bomb.

.. “Does Israel view itself as the nation-state of Israelis or as the nation-state of the entire Jewish people — nearly 60 percent of whom live outside of Israel? Is the purpose of Israel to serve the continuing resilience, prosperity and existence of the Jewish people, as the founders of Zionism envisioned, or just its own well-being?

..Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren  .. the machinations of Bibi and the Orthodox parties constituted an “abandonment of Zionism. The [Western Wall] belongs to the Jewish people as a whole.”

.. “For years the diaspora’s rabbis were not recognized by Israel’s government, but their political support was sought and their congregants’ money was requested. Israeli politicians who voted against the diaspora’s interests in the Israeli Parliament begged for the stage at the Aipac convention in Washington

.. Israelis have long taken for granted the fact that America — the world’s greatest superpower —

  • is a steadfast supporter of Israel in the U.N.,
  • looks the other way on settlements,
  • secures Israel’s technological edge over its enemies through defense systems like the Iron Dome, and
  • just promised Israel $38 billion in security aid over 10 years.

.. Most Israelis, said Grinstein, “are ignorant of the fact that this astonishing reality is the outcome of tireless work by hundreds of thousands of Jews — Democrats and Republicans, most of them non-Orthodox

.. Today, Israel’s very identity is at a crossroad:

  • Runaway Jewish nationalism threatens to meld Israel with the Palestinians in the West Bank, while
  • runaway Orthodox politics threatens to disconnect Israel from its most committed supporters.