The CIA has a long history of helping to kill leaders around the world

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

How the Party of Lincoln Became the Party of Racial Backlash

A few days after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Republican governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, strode into a conference room in downtown Baltimore. In the hours after King’s death, violence had broken out in the city; along with Washington and Chicago, it was soon occupied by the United States Army. In response, Agnew called together the black community on April 11 for “a frank and far-reaching discussion.”

It wasn’t a discussion. It was a trap. The governor tore into the crowd for standing by while rioters ransacked stores and set cars on fire. They claimed to speak for racial harmony, he boomed, but when the violence began, “You ran.”

Within minutes, most of the audience members had stormed out; at the door, they found a scrum of reporters, whom Agnew had tipped off. Within hours, Agnew’s confrontation was national news; within days, this once-obscure first-time governor was being assailed as a racist by the left and hailed as a rising star in the Republican Party. That summer, Richard Nixon picked him as his running mate.

.. Fifty years later, we remember Spiro Agnew, if at all, as a bumbling vice president who later pleaded no contest to tax evasion, resigned in disgrace and ended his career funneling military surplus to Saddam Hussein and Nicolae Ceausescu. But his rise during the spring of 1968 is instructive because suddenly it feels so familiar: a white Republican who claimed to speak against radicalism and for the forgotten man, but in fact ran on exacerbating racial animosity. Far from a bit player, Agnew marked a watershed moment in American history, when the Republican Party committed itself to the shift from being the party of Lincoln to the party of white racial backlash.

.. By the late 1960s, the Republicans were in a bind. Black voters, once loyal to the party, had fled to the Democrats, who had largely shed their Southern, racist faction in favor of civil rights liberalism. Racial conservatives in the South and working-class districts in the North were there for the picking, but aligning with outright racists like George Wallace was a dead end

.. The answer, party strategists realized, lay in the thorny questions raised by the civil rights revolution. It was easy for most whites to get behind ending Jim Crow in the South; it was harder for them to accept fair housing legislation or school busing, things that touched suburban

.. Opportunistic Republicans pounced.

.. Early on, Agnew positioned himself as a racial liberal — he won the governor’s office in 1966 by running to the left on civil rights against George P. Mahoney, a pro-segregation Democrat. But his mood soon turned. He became obsessed with black “agitators”; he had state law enforcement spy on civil rights activists

.. Like many conservatives in both parties, Agnew was convinced that the wave of rioting in the late 1960s wasn’t the expression of black frustration over urban unemployment, discrimination and police brutality, but was the result of a conspiracy by black leaders. “The looting and rioting which has engulfed our city during the past several days did not occur by chance,” he told his audience that day in Baltimore.

.. Nixon moved further to the right that spring and summer, abandoning his previous sympathy for urban blacks and adopting a fierce law-and-order stance.

.. Nixon’s campaign that fall was built on what would be called the Southern strategy, but as the historian Kevin Kruse has noted, it was really a suburban strategy.

.. he deployed a range of more subtle instruments — antibusing, anti-open housing — to appeal to the tens of millions of white suburbanites who imagined themselves to be racially innocent, yet quietly held many of the same prejudices about the “inner city” and “black radicals” that their parents had held about King and other civil rights activists.

.. Though he beat Hubert Humphrey by just 0.7 percentage points, Nixon dominated the suburbs

.. He heralded a new kind of virulent racial politics in America, one that pretends to moderation and equality but feeds on division and prejudice — one that, 50 years later, we are still unable to move beyond.

Dictators Love Trump, and He Loves Them

If you’re a murderous dictator, this is a joyous time to be alive.

No one will make much of a fuss if your opposition leader is jailed, if an annoying journalist goes missing or if, as happened in Congo, a judge who displeases the dictatorial president suffers a home invasion in which goons rape his wife and daughter.

.. The U.S. has abandoned a bipartisan consensus on human rights that goes back decades.

.. I’m back from Myanmar, where leaders are finding that this is also the optimal time to commit genocide.

The army conducted a scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority, with soldiers throwing babies onto bonfires as they raped the mothers.

.. In the past, human rights was at least one thread of our foreign policy.

.. Trump defended Vladimir Putin for killing critics (“What? You think our country’s so innocent?”), and praised Egypt’s brutal president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for “a fantastic job.” Trump hailed the Philippines’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose dirty war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives, for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

.. when Trump visited Manila, he laughed as Duterte called reporters “spies” — in a country where aggressive journalism has landed people in the morgue.

.. A record number of journalists are in prison worldwide

.. Trump has met with the leaders of each of the three top jailers of journalists — China, Russia and Turkey — and as far as we know, has never raised the issue of press freedom with them.

.. “What’s completely gone is the bipartisan consensus that was a cornerstone of our foreign policy, that if you imprison journalists and restrict the media, there will be consequences,”

.. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen approvingly cited Trump’s attacks on fake news as a precedent for closing down radio stations and the much admired newspaper Cambodia Daily. After the crackdown, in November, Trump posed for a photograph with Hun Sen, flashing a thumbs-up — and Hun Sen praised the American president for his lack of interest in human rights.

.. “Your policy is being changed,” Hun Sen declared gratefully, and he lauded Trump for being “most respectful.”

.. Trump told the king of repressive Bahrain, “there won’t be strain with this administration.”

.. the government responded a few days later by killing five protesters

..  sentencing Rajab himself to five years in prison for his tweets.

.. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarianism goes way back. He has spoken sympathetically of the Chinese government’s massacres of pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and of Saddam Hussein’s approach to counterterrorism.

.. Periodically, Trump does raise human rights issues, but only to bludgeon enemies like North Korea or Venezuela. This is so ham-handed and hypocritical that it simply diminishes American standing further.

.. approval of the United States has collapsed to a record low of 30 percent. Indeed, more people now approve of China than of the United States. Russia is just behind us.

.. “Trump has been a disaster for U.S. soft power,”

.. “He’s so hated around the world that he’s radioactive. So on those rare occasions when he does something about human rights, it only tarnishes the cause.”

..  In Myanmar, a young Rohingya man pleaded with me: “Please don’t let us be treated as animals.

I Helped Sell the False Choice of War Once. It’s Happening Again.

Fifteen years ago this week, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, spoke at the United Nations to sell pre-emptive war with Iraq. As his chief of staff, I helped Secretary Powell paint a clear picture that war was the only choice, that when “we confront a regime that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present. And unless we act, we are confronting an even more frightening future.”.

.. President George W. Bush would have ordered the war even without the United Nations presentation, or if Secretary Powell had failed miserably in giving it. But the secretary’s gravitas was a significant part of the two-year-long effort by the Bush administration to get Americans on the war wagon.

.. the Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran.

.. Nikki Haley, said that the administration had “undeniable” evidence that Iran was not complying with Security Council resolutions regarding its ballistic missile program and Yemen.

.. It’s astonishing how similar that moment was to Mr. Powell’s 2003 presentation on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — and how the Trump administration’s methods overall match those of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

.. Iran, a country of almost 80 million people whose vast strategic depth and difficult terrain make it a far greater challenge than Iraq, would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs.

.. The strategy positions Iran as one of the greatest threats America faces, much the same way President Bush framed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

With China, Russia and North Korea all presenting vastly more formidable challenges to America and its allies than Iran, one has to wonder where the Trump team gets its ideas.

..  a campaign built on the politicization of intelligence and shortsighted policy decisions to make the case for war.

.. It harks back to the C.I.A. director George Tenet’s assurances to Mr. Powell that the connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden was ironclad in the lead-up to his United Nations presentation. Today, we know how terribly wrong Mr. Tenet was.

.. Today, the analysts claiming close ties between Al Qaeda and Iran come from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which vehemently opposes the Iran nuclear deal and unabashedly calls for regime changein Iran.

.. It seems not to matter that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were Saudis and none were Iranians. Or that, according to the United States intelligence community, of the groups listed as actively hostile to the United States, only one is loosely affiliated with Iran, and Hezbollah doesn’t make the cut.

.. the Foundation for Defense of Democracies seems like the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans that pushed falsehoods in support of waging war with Iraq.

.. these seemingly disconnected events serve to create a narrative in which war with Iran is the only viable policy.

.. it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would “pay for itself,” rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral.

An art critic explains what the Guggenheim was really saying when it offered Trump a golden toilet

Saddam Hussein, it was reported after the fall of his regime, had golden toilets, or at least gold-plated toilets.

.. The conceptual piece advanced two ideas that were becoming fashionable at the time: How to create work that was entirely immaterial, rather than a physical object; and how to create work that called attention to the capitalist economy in which art was bought and sold, like any common commodity?

.. The Guggenheim contretemps also has both immaterial and conceptual elements. The immateriality is in the chatter it provokes, the jokes, the pleasure some will take in seeing the president humiliated, and resulting insiders’ discourse about contemporary art and irony. The jokes just seem to make themselves. But it also carries with it a conceptual element based on the exchange, or nonexchange, of one thing for another.
.. The Guggenheim has said no to the president of the United States, which is a powerful gesture in itself. But it has also presumed to offer him something “more” valuable according to the value system it imputes to him: a tawdry love of gleaming gold fixtures, common to vulgar despots all the way back to Midas himself. The subtext here is: We assume you only want the van Gogh painting as a status symbol, which we refuse to endorse; but we will give you what you really crave, which is crass gold.
If he accepts the golden toilet, he confirms their view of him. If Trump declines the golden toilet, by implication he would seem to believe that there are things (such as van Gogh paintings) that transcend money and commerce. And thus, he may undermine his own worldview, in which all things have their price and anything can be exchanged for something else if the money is right.
So the artwork here is not by Cattelan, who is merely instrumental in this game. Rather it is the work of Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector, who made the offer to the White House. Curators may be talented and creative, but they are not often in the business of making art itself. But now the Guggenheim owns a new work, a Spector original, which will add if not luster at least levity to the museum’s collection.

The Boys of Brexit: Tony Blair and Nigel Farage

The veteran pols on either
side of the vituperative,
vertiginous Brexit debate spar.

Nigel Farage, the Brexit ringleader, has blamed Blair, in part, for throwing open the borders to “rub our noses in diversity.”

.. Did Blair ever think he would see a time when the royal family would keep calm and carry on as the queen’s grandson moved toward marrying an American TV actress who is divorced and half black?

.. Blair has plunged back into the fray as a leading advocate for overturning Brexit.

..  “The idea that the handful of right-wing media proprietors here are some ordinary Joes from the street, I mean, it’s ridiculous. There are elites on both sides.”

.. I’ve always thought Blair was one of a handful of people who could have stopped the Iraq war, and I was fierce in my criticisms of him.

.. Even though he stiffened, I asked why he helped W. switch 9/11 villains from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein.

“What I would say is that our anxiety, particularly straight after 9/11, was that you would end up in a situation where these unstable dictatorships, you know, which combined with terrorism to cause mass destruction,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned about this issue is that there’s no point in me trying to relitigate it with people.”

.. Blair knows Jared Kushner — he has not met Trump — so I asked what he thought of the son-in-law’s epic task of making Middle East peace.

“The fact that someone’s not got a long institutional experience of these issues isn’t necessarily a disadvantage,” Blair said.

.. But Blair said he has struggled to understand the forces that led to Brexit and Donald Trump: “Making sense of it is very hard. I feel like a student of politics again.” Odd, he added, since “I spent most of my political life in a state of reasonable certainty.”

.. The central question, he said, is whether politicians can change the status quo enough to steer people through this period when they feel they’ve lost control.

“I don’t think you can adopt a politics that essentially says that those grievances are unjustified or irrelevant,” he explained, “or say, ‘I’m just going to focus on something else because that’s really more important than your grievance.’”

He could have been describing What Happened with Hillary’s campaign, when she and President Barack Obama sniffed at the rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders

The anger that buoyed Trump, he said, “is not unjustified. You can’t sit there and essentially blame the people.”

That approach can lead to the rise of strongmen, or what he called “the Putinist model.” “The strongman form of government says, ‘I’m just going to bust through the systems not delivering for you and I’m going to deliver,’” he said. “It’s got an appeal.” He concluded: “I think the threat to what I would call traditional democracy is bigger than we think.”

.. He now believes that Brexit can never be undone “unless we have an immigration policy that makes sense of the fact that people do worry about pressure on services and wages that can come from large accumulations of migrant labor and frankly, anxieties people have about whether there’s a cultural divide from migrants, particularly if they come from a majority of Muslim countries.

.. The Daily Express lead editorial, headlined “Tony Blair Is the Reason That We Are Leaving the EU,”

.. But even those who like Trump, he said, wonder “why he’s picking a battle on so many fronts simultaneously” — especially with his own party. You know you’re in trouble when Nigel Farage thinks you’re picking too many battles.

.. “The hard left has made my life a complete misery over the last four or five years,” Farage said. “I’ve had to live with 24/7 security. I’ve had threats, physical assaults against me, my family. And this is all from people who are in organizations that profess themselves to be about love and hope and optimism, all right?”

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.