W.T.O. Chief Quits Suddenly, Adding to Global Turmoil

Roberto Azevêdo, director-general of the World Trade Organization, has been a proponent of international cooperation, putting him at odds with the Trump administration.

The head of the organization charged with bringing a semblance of order to international trade relations resigned unexpectedly Thursday, adding another element of uncertainty to commerce in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and escalating trade conflicts.

Roberto Azevêdo, a career Brazilian diplomat, resigned as the director-general of the World Trade Organization effective Aug. 31, the Geneva-based organization said. His second four-year term was not scheduled to end until September 2021.

The W.T.O.’s operations have been crippled since late last year as a result of actions by the Trump administration, which has refused to approve nominees to fill vacancies on a crucial appeals panel that rules on trade disputes.

With Mr. Azevêdo’s departure, which caught officials in Geneva and Brussels by surprise, the organization will lose an advocate of open trade and international cooperation whose views clashed with President Trump’s preference for bilateral power politics.

His resignation also leaves a leadership vacuum at a perilous moment for the world economy.

The pandemic “is the worst shock to global trade that has happened in our lifetimes,” said Josh Lipsky, director of the global business and economics program at the Atlantic Council, a research organization in Washington. “To lose the leader of the W.T.O. is a serious blow. There is a broken global trading system, and it needs leadership to fix it.”

Mr. Azevêdo, 62, did not link his departure to tensions with the Trump administration. Rather, he said he wanted to give W.T.O. members a head start on choosing a successor, which is often a difficult process.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought complex negotiations on issues such as fishing subsidies to a standstill and made it unlikely that agreements would be reached until next year. A debate at the same time about the next W.T.O. director would interfere with attempts to overcome trade disputes, Mr. Azevêdo said.

“The selection process would be a distraction from — or worse, a disruption to — our desired outcomes,” he said during an online meeting with W.T.O. members. “We would be spending valuable time on a politically charged process that has proved divisive in the past.”

World trade was already declining because of Mr. Trump’s trade wars with Europe and China, and has plunged further since the pandemic brought economic activity in many countries to a standstill. The W.T.O. has predicted that global trade could fall by one-third, a decline not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Recently Mr. Azevêdo has expressed frustration that the United States, Europe, China and other large countries were not coordinating their response to the coronavirus emergency. Mr. Trump has recently stepped up his criticism of China.

“Either we shape up and begin to talk to each other and find common solutions or we are going to pay a heavy price,” Mr. Azevêdo told CNN in April.

Robert Lighthizer, the United States’ top trade official, was conciliatory Thursday. “Despite the many shortcomings of the W.T.O., Roberto has led the institution with grace and a steady hand,” Mr. Lighthizer said in a statement. “He will be difficult to replace.”

Mr. Azevêdo, who was previously a top trade negotiator for Brazil and has worked in Geneva since 1997, also cited personal reasons for his departure. The W.T.O. makes decisions by consensus, which means even one of the organization’s 164 members can stymie progress. The director-general must find a way to thread conflicting national interests and reach accord, a laborious and exhausting task.

Mr. Azevêdo said Thursday that, while he had no serious health problem, he recently had knee surgery. Between that and the lockdown, he said, “I have had more time than usual for reflection.”

Mike Pompeo: Secretary of Hypocrisy

If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.

It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.

The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.

But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.

Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.

That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.

Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.

For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.

They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”

What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.

Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.

Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.

Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.

Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”

That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.

Sentencing Memo Paints Manafort as Someone Who ‘Repeatedly and Brazenly’ Broke Law

Federal prosecutors on Saturday portrayed Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, as a hardened, remorseless criminal who “repeatedly and brazenly” violated a host of laws over more than a decade and did not deserve any breaks when he is sentenced in coming weeks.

The prosecutors’ sentencing memo, filed in one of the most high-profile cases mounted by the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and unsealed on Saturday, painted a damning portrait of Mr. Manafort, 69, a political consultant who led Mr. Trump’s campaign during a critical five-month period in 2016.

The memo involved one of two federal cases against Mr. Manafort. Prosecutors did not recommend a sentence, instead citing sentencing guidelines of up to 22 years for a wide-ranging conspiracy involving obstruction of justice, money laundering, hidden overseas bank accounts and false statements to the Justice Department. But the two charges Mr. Manafort pleaded guilty to in the case carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

.. Over all, the prosecutors said, Mr. Manafort’s behavior “reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse.” Despite his age, they said he “presents a grave risk of recidivism.” They noted that under advisory sentencing guidelines, Mr. Manafort would face a sentence of 17 to 22 years.

.. The prosecutors reached far back into Mr. Manafort’s career in their efforts to portray him as a calculating lawbreaker. They noted that the Justice Department first warned him in 1986 about flouting the lobbying law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

At the time, Mr. Manafort was a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under President Ronald Reagan, and he was faced with a choice: “either resign his political appointment” or “cease all his activities on behalf of foreign principals,” according to the filing.

He chose to resign.

But the prosecutors said that “in spite of these clear warnings and the personal ramifications to him for not adhering to the law, Manafort chose to violate the FARA statute and to get others to as well” in his Ukrainian lobbying.

Mr. Mueller’s team also made no recommendation on whether Mr. Manafort’s sentence in the Washington case should run concurrently with his sentence in the Virginia case. After a lengthy trial in Alexandria, Va., in August, a jury convicted Mr. Manafort of eight felonies including tax fraud and bank fraud — crimes prosecutors said Mr. Manafort committed “for no other reason than greed.”

Sentencing guidelines in that case would call for a prison term of 19 to 24 years.

The order of his sentencing dates may work against Mr. Manafort. He is scheduled to be sentenced first for the financial crimes by Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, and then by Judge Jackson in Washington.

Some allies of Mr. Manafort had hoped that Judge Ellis would have the last word because he seemed more sympathetic to the defense than Judge Jackson, and he might order the sentences to run concurrently.

 

The Inevitability of Impeachment

Even Republicans may be deciding that the president has become too great a burden to their party or too great a danger to the country.

Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.

.. The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous

  • decision to pull American troops out of Syria,
  • Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation,
  • the swoon in the stock market, the
  • pointless shutdown of parts of the government —

instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.

 

The word “impeachment” has been thrown around with abandon. The frivolous impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped to define it as a form of political revenge. But it is far more important and serious than that: It has a critical role in the functioning of our democracy.

.. Lost in all the discussion about possible lawbreaking by Mr. Trump is the fact that impeachment wasn’t intended only for crimes. For example, in 1974 the House Judiciary Committee charged Richard Nixon with, among other things, abusing power by using the I.R.S. against his political enemies. The committee also held the president accountable for misdeeds by his aides and for failing to honor the oath of office’s pledge that a president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

.. The current presidential crisis seems to have only two possible outcomes. If Mr. Trump sees criminal charges coming at him and members of his family, he may feel trapped. This would leave him the choice of resigning or trying to fight congressional removal. But the latter is highly risky.

.. I don’t share the conventional view that if Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, the Republican-dominated Senate would never muster the necessary 67 votes to convict him. Stasis would decree that would be the case, but the current situation, already shifting, will have been left far behind by the time the senators face that question. Republicans who were once Mr. Trump’s firm allies have already openly criticizedsome of his recent actions, including his support of Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his decision on Syria. They also openly deplored Mr. Mattis’s departure.

.. It always seemed to me that Mr. Trump’s turbulent presidency was unsustainable and that key Republicans would eventually decide that he had become too great a burden to the party or too great a danger to the country. That time may have arrived. In the end the Republicans will opt for their own political survival. Almost from the outset some Senate Republicans have speculated on how long his presidency would last. Some surely noticed that his base didn’t prevail in the midterms.

But it may well not come to a vote in the Senate. Facing an assortment of unpalatable possibilities, including being indicted after he leaves office, Mr. Trump will be looking for a way out. It’s to be recalled that Mr. Nixon resigned without having been impeached or convicted. The House was clearly going to approve articles of impeachment against him, and he’d been warned by senior Republicans that his support in the Senate had collapsed. Mr. Trump could well exhibit a similar instinct for self-preservation. But like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will want future legal protection.

Mr. Nixon was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, and despite suspicions, no evidence has ever surfaced that the fix was in. While Mr. Trump’s case is more complex than Mr. Nixon’s, the evident dangers of keeping an out-of-control president in office might well impel politicians in both parties, not without controversy, to want to make a deal to get him out of there.

‘Dear Boss: I quit.’ What letters like Mattis’s can foretell.

No one saw the letter as anything but a stinging protest. “Old Marines never die, but they do resign after the President ignores their advice, betrays our allies, rewards our enemies, and puts the nation’s security at risk,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote in a tweet, referencing Mattis’s storied career in the Marine Corps.

.. I’ve studied resignations for 28 years. I’ve written a book about them — the world viewed through the medium of the kiss-off, from classical times to the modern day. History is written as much in endings as beginnings. The pivotal changes can arrive not with “Eureka!” moments but with adamant refusals.

.. Yet the most effective leave-takings are composed over time and with military precision. These are made up of the words, distilled from private agonies, that we place on the public record. They must function as appeals to history — as, in a case like Mattis’s — or one good grenade.

.. The United States armed forces are home to a “go-down-fighting” resignation-letter subculture all its own. The military tradition of explosive, often cutting letters began in 1979 by Air Force Capt. Ron Keys, who served as a pilot in the Vietnam War. His resignation, tendered to Gen. Wilbur Creech, contained legendary and often-imitated lines: “The General looked us in the eye and said, in effect, ‘Gentlemen, either I’m very stupid or I’m lying to you’” and “All those Masters and professional military educators and not a leadership trait in sight!”
.. Keys later said he hadn’t intended to send the letter that began “Dear Boss, Well, I quit.” He’d written it out of frustration late one night and mailed it by accident. Nobody bought that, least of all Creech. But the general did invite Keys to a meeting to elaborate. Keys’s recommendations were heard, his resignation rescinded. By the time he retired in 2007, he was Gen. Ronald Keys, commander of Air Combat Command. But it was the frazzled, almost comedic howl of rage that was Keys’s resignation, rather than the officer’s career, that was most widely remembered. Passed around and published, it quickly formed the template for what became known as the “Dear Boss” letter — Air Force slang for the frustrated officer’s resignation as unrestrained truth attack.
.. Planned, polished and executed for maximum effect, Dear Boss letters are ambushes by nature. The most famous — before Mattis’s on Thursday — was that of the highly decorated Army Col. Millard A. Peck, who resigned in 1991 as head of the Pentagon intelligence unit assigned to search and account for missing-in-action servicemen in Vietnam. Over four pages of complaints that would doubtlessly ring bells with Mattis, Peck wrote of being “painfully aware … that I was not really in charge of my own office, but was merely a figurehead or whipping boy for a larger and totally Machiavellian group of characters.” His department, he said, was nothing but “a ‘toxic waste dump’ designed to bury the whole mess out of sight and mind in a facility with limited access to public scrutiny.”

In a country still ambivalent about remembering Vietnam and haunted by the possibility of prisoners of war as well as those missing in action, the effect was electric. Within weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opened a public hearing. Peck ended up overseeing administrative services for military ceremonies. He had taken the hit, but he’d got the result he wanted: a national public reckoning with the way the military looked after its own.

James Mattis Resignation Letter as Secretary of Defense

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over our nation’s economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is shy we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views of treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.  We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidatrity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

With Facebook at ‘War,’ Zuckerberg Adopts More Aggressive Style

New approach causes turmoil, driving several key executives from the company and creating tensions with longtime Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg

Mark Zuckerberg gathered about 50 of his top lieutenants earlier this year and told them that Facebook Inc. FB -5.72% was at war and he planned to lead the company accordingly.

During times of peace, executives can move more slowly and ensure that everybody is on board with key decisions, he said during the June meeting, according to people familiar with the remarks. But with Facebook under siege from lawmakers, investors and angry users, he needed to act more decisively, the people said.

.. On Friday, that tension was on display when, during a question-and-answer session with employees at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., he blasted a fresh round of critical news coverage as “bullshit,” according to the people familiar with the remarks.

One employee at the session asked if Facebook could deter leaks by publishing an internal report about how frequently offenders are found and fired. Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook does fire leakers, but the root cause was “bad morale” perpetuated by attacks in the media.

.. He believes this tougher management style is necessary to tackle challenges being raised both internally and externally, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
.. Mr. Zuckerberg’s new posture could trouble those who feel his “move fast, break things” mantra from Facebook’s early days contributed to many of the company’s current problems. It also has led to confrontations with some of his top reports, including Ms. Sandberg, who has long had considerable autonomy over the Facebook teams that control communications and policy.
.. This spring, Mr. Zuckerberg told Ms. Sandberg, 49, that he blamed her and her teams for the public fallout over Cambridge Analytica
Ms. Sandberg later confided in friends that the exchange rattled her, and she wondered if she should be worried about her job.

.. Mr. Zuckerberg also has told Ms. Sandberg she should have been more aggressive in allocating resources to review troublesome content on the site

.. The heads of some other key Facebook units didn’t survive conflicts with Mr. Zuckerberg.

Mr. Zuckerberg clashed with the co-founders of Instagram

.. The co-founders of WhatsApp likewise left after disagreements with Mr. Zuckerberg over how to generate more revenue from the messaging-service

.. More recently, Mr. Zuckerberg forced out Brendan Iribe, co-founder of Oculus VR, in part because of a disagreement about the future of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset

.. Facebook remains hugely profitable, with net income of more than $5 billion in the third quarter, but its margins are under pressure in part because of its increased spending on security.

.. Mr. Zuckerberg has said Facebook is in the midst of a three-year turnaround ending in 2019 to strengthen its defenses against the risks posed by having an open platform.

.. All told, about a dozen senior or highly visible executives disclosed their resignations or left Facebook in 2018. In May, Facebook announced a major reshuffling of top product executives in a way that helped free up Mr. Zuckerberg to oversee a broader portfolio within the company.

.. This turmoil at the top of Facebook has made it difficult for the company to execute on some product decisions and shore up employee morale, which has been sinking over the last year along with the stock price, which has fallen 36% since its peak. Many employees are frustrated by the bad press and constant reorganizations, including of the security team, which can disrupt their work, according to current and former employees.

.. Scrutiny of Facebook has only escalated in the past week after the New York Times reported its use of opposition-research firms tasked with exposing critical information about Facebook’s detractors, including one called Definers Public Affairs. Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg both said the decision to employ the firm was made by Facebook’s communications officials.

Ms. Sandberg’s comments in particular have angered many people on those teams, according to people familiar with the matter, given how closely she tracked and managed Facebook’s media strategy, sometimes getting involved in wording changes. In the internal Q&A Friday, Ms. Sandberg said she took full responsibility for the actions of the communications team.

.. In September 2017, Erskine Bowles, the head of the audit committee and a former Clinton White House official, told Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg that he felt they needed to take the issue of Russian interference on the platform much more seriously.

“This is going to be much bigger than you think,” Mr. Bowles said

.. Later, after the Cambridge Analytica disclosure, the board urged Mr. Zuckerberg to name an executive who would be in charge of corralling Facebook’s response to that matter and resolving other issues before they metastasized, said a person familiar with the matter. After that, he put Ms. Sandberg in charge of that effort.

Mr. Zuckerberg also sought advice from a mentor, former Microsoft Corp. Chairman and CEO Bill Gates. He recommended Microsoft’s model, which relies on Brad Smith to oversee its corporate, external, and legal affairs. Mr. Smith wears the title “president” and reports directly to the CEO.