Saturday, November 19, 2016

Drain the Swamp: Time to End Selling of Ambassadorships

Dear President-elect Trump:

In the early years of our republic the area of the District of Columbia known as Foggy Bottom was a marshy tidal plain. The marshes were drained to make way for construction. Over time, it came to host the Department of State, Kennedy Center and other notable landmarks.

A common refrain in your quest for the presidency was, "Drain the swamp!" You can start at Foggy Bottom. Water is not the issue, but corruption is. The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, usually to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies. A similar system once allowed political allies to become military officers, but Congress outlawed the practice after the Civil War when the public recoiled at the needless slaughter brought on by incompetent cronies who had been appointed political generals. Representing the United States in a foreign capital, however, is a privilege still available to any moneyed dolt with party connections.

The selling of ambassadorships and senior Department positions to fat cat campaign contributors is a shameful American tradition. Under President Obama, some 30 percent of ambassadorships have been given to Democratic Party cronies, usually in exchange for campaign contributions. The number of top jobs at Foggy Bottom occupied by career Foreign Service officers, moreover, has gone from 60 percent down to 30 percent over the years. The result has been a State Department bureaucracy bloated with make-do offices staffed with political cronies with questionable missions all drawing government salaries and benefits. More than at any previous time in our history, State has been treated as a patronage waste dump. Republicans have been as guilty as Democrats.

It is exactly this kind of legalized insider corruption that has turned Americans against Washington and to cast their votes for you.

Under the current administration, in exchange for over $2 million dollars in campaign contributions, the wife of a prominent tv soap opera producer with no relevant qualifications was made U.S. ambassador to Hungary. A Democrat campaign bundler was awarded the ambassadorship to tiny Iceland in exchange for $1.6 million - or five bucks for every Icelander. Another cash bundler was made ambassador to Argentina in exchange for a measly half-a-million bucks. And he speaks no Spanish. Germany is a major ally. Our current ambassador in Berlin is an entertainment lawyer who got the job after shelling out just under $3 million. And he speaks no German. And the list goes on and on. The world's only superpower carries out much of its diplomacy with folks who wouldn't have made first cut on Celebrity Apprentice. Transgressions by amateur pay-to-play ambassadors include cocaine smuggling through the diplomatic pouch, drunken imbroglios at embassy functions, solicitation of underage prostitutes and embarrassing adulterous affairs. To be fair, some political ambassadors have done a marvelous job representing their country. But why put the nation's national security in the hands of amateurs when you have a corps of highly trained and dedicated career diplomats to do the job?

As you no doubt are aware, there is some trepidation among many federal workers about serving in your administration. A poll conducted earlier this year revealed 25 percent of federal employees would consider quitting rather than work for you. The anxiety is especially pronounced at the State Department. One senior diplomat told me he would rather quit than run the risk of facing a war crimes tribunal from carrying out a reckless foreign policy under a Trump presidency. You can earn his and other federal workers' loyalty and trust by putting in place a sound foreign policy manned by truly qualified individuals as opposed to political hacks who bought their positions.

During this transition period, you will be approached by many individuals angling for ambassadorships or other high offices. As president it is your prerogative to choose your own team. But in your pursuit of the office of president, you went against not only the opposing party, but against your own party's establishment as well. And you disavowed money from special interests to run your campaign.Your commitment to reduce the role of lobbyists and lobbying is a bold and welcome first step toward reform. Please follow it up by pledging not to put government positions up for auction to the highest bidders. Drain the swamp indeed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Team Trump: Pandora's Box Opens

It started with the announcement of race-baiter Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist and Counselor to the President and continues with swirling rumors of crazy John Bolton or ghoulish Rudolph Giuliani competing to become President Trump's Secretary of State. Then there's the strangelovean Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn reputed to be considered for National Security Advisor, or other top national security post. (Pardon my use of catchy pejorative labels, but our new president-elect has made them fashionable.) And we ain't seen nothing yet folks. Team Trump has just pried open the weighty lid off Pandora's box in search of beings to manage our government.

Being a life-long Halloween aficionado and having been addicted as a kid to Marvel comic books, my twisted brain can't help but to conjure up some interesting matches between Trump's budding Addams Family of potential appointees and horror fiction. Here goes…

Rudy Giuliani as Nosferatu
The New York Times's Frank Bruni said of Giuliani, he's a "terrifying omnipresence. His expression — part sneer, part glare, all menace — turns small forest creatures to stone. At the sound of his voice, roses drop their petals." Vanity Fair's Dave Holmes referred to Giuliani as a "carnival ghoul." He went on to state, "There is no specific language in the Catechism concerning 'bringing about the actual apocalypse by supporting a wholly unqualified and thin-skinned demagogue just to get your face on camera,' but the teachings on adultery are pretty clear." He was referring, of course, to Rudy's announcing he was divorcing wife #2 at a press conference before actually informing her in person. What a guy! Rudy indeed has morphed from beloved "America's Mayor" to dreaded "America's Ghoul." There's an uncanny resemblance between Rudy and Murnau's Nosferatu, don't you think? Ruferatu is making a shameless full-court press of self-promotion to get Trump to name him as his Secretary of State. A notorious bloodsucker as America's chief diplomat would fit neatly with The Donald's mafia-style extortion-based foreign policy, i.e., demanding "payments" from allies in return for "protection" from the U.S. Go for it, Ruferatu! Huu-ah-a-ah!!

Steve Bannon as The Red Skull
The Anti-Defamation League had the following to say about Bannon: "It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists - is slated to be a senior staff member in the 'people's house.'" Bannon's ex-wife said of him during divorce proceedings: "He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn't want the girls going to school with Jews." There are other quotes indicating Bannon may be anti-semitic. Hmm. Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

From Marvel Comics: "Never wavering from the Nazi ideals he has espoused since World War II was still being waged, the Red Skull is the absolute counterpoint to Captain America and provides just about everybody someone to hate."

Don't let Bannon's benign-looking Elton Johnesque face fool you. Just beneath the surface lurks The Red Skull.

John Bolton as Freddy Krueger
Nobody, NOBODY in Trump's fright house scares this writer more than John Bolton. Hands down. To give you a hint of just how unhinged this Yale-graduate-turned-psycho is, Bolton recently stated, "anything's legal" in war. Oh yeah? How about mustard gas? Genocide anyone? Mr. Bolton - please meet Fieldmarshal Goering. In fact, Bolton has yet to find a war he doesn't like - with the exception of Vietnam which he managed to dodge because, "I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy." Neither did those who'd served. But this scary neo-con enthusiastically supported W's invasion of Iraq and has advocated invading Iran as well. A former USAID contractor who had to deal with Bolton wrote a letter to the Senate after President George W. Bush nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to the UN, describing him as a "madman" and "pathological." The Senate did not confirm him whereupon Bush gave him an 18-month recess appointment. As with Bannon, Bolton's first wife left him, claiming spousal abuse. (What is it about Trump et al. and assaulting women?) That oracle of steady conservative-libertarian wisdom, Senator Rand Paul announced today, "I’ll do whatever it takes to stop someone like John Bolton being Secretary of State."

Believe me, upon encountering the walrus-faced Bolton, Wes Craven's Freddy Krueger would retract his razor claws, wet his pants and flee for his life.

Mike Flynn as General Jack D. Ripper
"I can no longer sit back and allow the Islamic jihadist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."

Were Hollywood to re-make Dr. Strangelove today, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn would be a shoo-in to play the Sterling Hayden role of Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Substitute "Islamic jihadism" for "Communist subversion" and voila! you've got Flynn to blather on about the right-wing paranoid wet dream du jour.

A key foreign affairs advisor to Trump, Flynn has asserted he was drummed out of his position as Obama's Defense Intelligence Agency director after little more than a year in office for having used the politically incorrect term "Islamic jihadists" - rather than for creating turmoil and demoralization in that agency, as reported by administration officials. In emails recently released by Wikileaks, Colin Powell referred to Flynn as "right-wing nutty" and a poor leader.

Guess what? Political general Flynn is bandied about for National Security Advisor, Director of National Intelligence, CIA chief, Defense Secretary or some other top national security job. As Gen. Ripper said, "War is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought."

Newt Gingrich as Dr. Doom
Per Marvel Comics, "Dr. Doom can exchange minds with others. He possesses some mystical abilities, such as casting bolts of eldritch energy and invoking mystical entities for additional support. Doom is a genius in physics, robotics, cybernetics, genetics, weapons technology, bio-chemistry, and time travel. He is also self-taught in the mystic arts. Doom is a natural leader, a brilliant strategist, and a sly deceiver."

Did you know that in his failed presidential bid in 2012, a priority plank in Newt Gingrich's political platform was to establish a base on the moon? He's also called for the resurrection of the House Un-American Affairs Committee - spearhead for persecution of alleged communists during the McCarthy political witch hunts in the '50s. Otherwise, Gingrich is best known for shutting down the government for a month in a hissy fit with President Bill Clinton when serving as House Speaker. Moon. Mass shutdowns. Witch hunts. Why, isn't this Dr. Doom after all?

A Trump pet, Gingrich is an idea machine and apocalypsist best suited for worlds beyond us. I propose him to be head of NASA!

Dr. Ben Carson as Dr. Herman Einstein
"You know, you were right about that fellow. He wasn't very bright," says Peter Lorre's character, Dr. Herman Einstein in the 1944 movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. He could have been talking about Dr. Ben Carson. Carson is a brain surgeon. He doesn't believe in evolution. Yes, that's right. He is a "man of science" who believes the world was created in a week. Would you want such a man operating on your brain? I wouldn't. Nor would I want him as head of Health and Human Services or as Surgeon General. During the primaries, Trump attacked the narcoleptic Carson as being "lower energy than Jeb Bush." What did Carson do subsequently? He endorsed his attacker. At heart, Carson is a good natured dolt. And late-breaking news has it that he's stating he's not qualified to be a cabinet head. Hm. Maybe the good doctor isn't as dumb as he seems. Anyway, stay tuned. Trump will name him to something. Hey! How about Special Assistant to the President for Creationism?

Happy belated Halloween everybody!🎃

Monday, November 14, 2016

With President Trump Now a Reality, Will Federal Employees Jump Ship?

On October 25, Washington Monthly published my article, Trump: The Anti-Diplomat. Citing a survey by the Government Business Council earlier this year showing that a quarter of federal workers would consider resigning rather than serve under President Trump, I had asked some federal employees, mostly in the State Department, what they would do. One senior diplomat told me he would quit by January rather than risk standing "in front of a war crimes commission" from carrying out unethical or illegal orders in a Trump administration. Another official told me he could "not imagine working for a Putin stooge like Trump" and would resign. Others, however, told me they would carry on with their work albeit unenthusiastically. Another diplomat who is a Trump supporter, while holding reservations about the (then) candidate, said he felt a wild card like Trump could offer potentially positive directions. I strove to be balanced with my piece, also citing the support for Trump of two labor unions which represent federal immigration employees.

At the time I wrote my article, the national media were writing Donald Trump's political epitaph. Editors who read my draft felt it was basically irrelevant because all indicators pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory. The visionary editors at Washington Monthly, however, saw some clear writing on the wall and went ahead with running my piece.

Well, Trump won. Yesterday, the Trump transition team announced its first high-level choices for top White House positions. One is controversial Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon. Bannon is being attacked in some quarters as a white supremacist. Whatever the case, we can expect to see more controversial appointments to the over 4,000 political vacancies throughout the government.

Now that a Trump administration will become a reality within a few weeks, it's fish or cut bait time for many feds faced with soldiering on in their careers or fleeing.

I would welcome feedback from active duty federal employees regarding your views/plans. Anonymous replies are welcome, but I ask that you provide your agency affiliation and grade. I will draw on credible comments for a follow-on article. I can be reached via the email attached to this blog.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Is Donald Trump the Siberian Candidate?

Source: The Progressive
In the spy trade, players are categorized into a matrix of arcane labels: intelligence officers, case officers, agents, double agents, triple agents, witting assets, unwitting assets, access agents, influence agents, and the list goes on. The CIA devotes an entire year training its new clandestine service recruits in mastering this esoterica of espionage. By contrast, we Foreign Service officers get a mere six weeks of basic diplomatic boot camp before being shipped off to Ulaan Baatar, Cotounou, Ciudad Juarez, Warsaw, what-have-you. Foreign language and other specialized training is often tacked on. After that, it's largely on-the-job training. Lately, I'm finding that a basic knowledge of spy tradecraft to be valuable as I read the news on Donald Trump and his possible Russia entanglements.

Mother Jones investigative reporter David Corn writes that "a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence" told him that according to Russian sources, Moscow has sought to co-opt and bolster Trump, that "there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit." Corn's unnamed source further stated that the FBI has asked him for more information on this alleged connection.

Corn's source reported, "the Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years. Aim, endorsed by Putin, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance." And Trump's "inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals." Russian intelligence allegedly had "compromised" Trump during trips to Russia and had enough dirt to "blackmail him." Russian intelligence, according to the ex-spook, has maintained a file on Hillary Clinton based on "bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls." He told Corn the response from the FBI was "shock and horror."

It's no secret that Trump has been playing nice with Putin since he's been running for president, describing the Russian strongman as a "strong leader," being uncritical of the latter's seizure of Ukraine and intervention in Syria, describing NATO as "obsolete," and calling on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails.

And then there are Trump's pro-Russia advisors. Paul Manafort was forced to resign as campaign chairman after it was revealed that he allegedly received almost $13 million in under-the-table payments from Putin's ally in Ukraine, now exiled president Yanukovych. Advisor Carter Page resigned following revelations that he had cozy relations with members of Putin's inner circle. Trump confidant Roger Stone was reported to have an inside line with Wikileaks honcho Julian Assange who reputedly has been fed hacked emails of Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta by the Russians. Senior foreign policy advisor retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has been a regular contributor to Russia's overseas propaganda organ, Russia Today and was paid to appear at an RT gala as a special guest of Putin. Flynn had been forced to resign as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by the Obama White House.

Senator Harry Reid has declared the connections between Trump, his advisors and Russia to be "explosive."

Are they?

According to the New York Times, "law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government."  Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the email hacks to Moscow. Investigators have told the New York Times that based on the evidence they have uncovered, Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly."

Mother Jones's Corn relies on a single anonymous source for his story. That Russia's foreign intelligence agency keeps dossiers on Ms. Clinton is to be expected. This is what intel agencies do. They have a file on me, not to mention all of my colleagues who have ever had any substantive dealings with the Russian government. And, guess what? We do the same. It's SOP and the more prominent you are, the thicker the file.

Here's my take: Donald Trump is a foreign affairs lightweight and naif. His advisors are oddballs and cranks, outside the mainstream of serious foreign policy channels. They are what Lenin termed, "useful idiots," naive and gullible Westerners easily vulnerable to manipulation by professional spies and agitprops. Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell labeled Trump an "an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation." More accurately, he is an "unwitting asset," i.e., an easily manipulated de facto tool of Moscow's bidding. This potentially can be just as dangerous to our national security as damage done by a mole inside the government's national security apparatus. All it would take is for President Trump to signal to his pal Vladimir that, yes, you're free to march into the Baltic States, that NATO is now null and void. This is what a useful idiot would do.

See also --

 Trump: The Anti-Diplomat

Donald Trump’s Farcical Foreign Policy

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trump: The Anti-Diplomat

Washington Monthly

Following is my article in Washington Monthly, 10/25/2016

With his policy-lite campaign in near ruins a mere two-weeks until election day, presidential candidate Donald Trump gave a speech on October 22 which laid out what substantive actions he would enact in his first 100 days as the nation’s chief executive. To achieve these goals, President Trump would require an able and committed federal work force to carry out his populist policies, many of which go against establishment Republican thinking, particularly in the foreign policy realm.

A key question is just how much he could rely on federal employees to do so. I decided to ask some foreign affairs practitioners currently working in the federal bureaucracy what they would do should Donald Trump defy the odds and be elected president. All chose to remain anonymous.

A D.C.-based senior U.S. diplomat with over 30 years of service told me recently, “If Trump is elected president in November, I will retire before the end of January. All of my friends and colleagues who have the ability to do so have told me they will do the same.” Another veteran State Department official whose focus is NATO echoed this sentiment: “I cannot imagine working for a Putin stooge like Trump. The deal in the government foreign policy world is that you either publicly support the policy of the president, or you resign.” Trump’s policies “would cause grievous international harm to the U.S. Thus, there is nothing left but the resign option for me.”

So, would a President Trump face mass resignations right after taking the oath on January 20, 2017?

A survey by the Government Business Council earlier this year revealed that a quarter of federal workers would consider quitting their jobs if Trump became president. Of these, 14 percent said they would definitely consider quitting if Trump won the White House, while 11 percent reported that they might do so. Most of those who indicated a preference for leaving were mid-level (beginning at GS-13/FS-02) and senior in grade – in other words, workers most likely to possess enough years and age to be able to retire with a pension and benefits. Junior officials with many more years of mortgage and car payments and childrearing and college expenses are less inclined to leave their government careers. “Sure, those who can will retire,” said one Pentagon official who also served in Afghanistan. “But the rest of the bureaucrats making decent money and enjoying the federal benefits will stay and suffer through it, just like any other administration.”

Revulsion against Trump among many federal workers, especially those in national security, is sparked not only by his lack of coherent policies but by his random pronouncements which many government policy practitioners find not only contrary to American ideals, but dangerous if executed. Veterans groups have slammed his call for using interrogation techniques that are “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Leading foreign policy experts find disturbing his cozying up to Vladimir Putin, praising the Russian president as “a strong leader,” one he would “get along very well with” as well as Trump’s dismissing the NATO alliance as “obsolete.” Establishment policymakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, are appalled by Trump’s cavalier willingness to scrap nuclear nonproliferation, encouraging Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. His proposal to build a multi-billion dollar wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and insist that Mexico pay for it is viewed by many career government foreign affairs specialists as folly; and his idea of banning Muslims from entering the country as madness if not unconstitutional. And the list goes on.

“If Trump gets elected, it will make my career very hard because most of the world thinks he is a joke,” the Afghanistan veteran told me. “Under Trump, the practice of American diplomacy will become far more difficult, thankless, and dangerous than it is now. The mere fact that Trump has made it so far has made it harder for American diplomats,” added the senior Washington official. This is not only in the policy sphere, but also regarding physical safety.

This official pointed out that “American diplomats overseas face physical security threats from a handful of rogue entities that target us specifically, and mostly face the inherent risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Trump’s actions and rhetoric continue to goad, taunt, anger and infuriate our new and existing enemies, their willingness to attack diplomats and diplomatic facilities will grow exponentially. Not only will our job become increasingly thankless and useless, but increasingly dangerous as well.”

Of course, not everyone is threatening to quit. The Afghanistan veteran said he will soldier on and serve whomever is elected. “This is a democracy I believe in and one in which, yes even Donald J. Trump can possibly become President.” Another, Europe-based, senior diplomat told me, “My guess is that, as far as the Foreign Service goes, it’s mostly bluster. Of course, as these things go and based on our past experience, if even one or two Foreign Service officers should resign it would get top billing in the New York Times and Washington Post.” This official, a reluctant Trump supporter, added, “He would not have been my choice for GOP nominee. I think he’s a wild card and that could mean both good and bad.”

Two labor unions representing federal employees who work in immigration enforcement have also publicly endorsed Trump for president. For the first time in its history, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council announced on September 26 its support for Donald Trump, and earlier in the year, the National Border Patrol Council endorsed Trump as well. How these unions specifically view Trump’s notions of building the Great Wall of America and rounding up over ten million undocumented immigrants for deportation is not clear.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), representing State Department employees, and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), however, have chosen to remain nonpartisan in this election. Both declined to discuss the prospect of protest resignations with me.

Such resignations, if they were to occur, are not new. A handful of diplomats resigned over the Bush II’s intervention in Iraq. A raft of mainly junior diplomats quit the Foreign Service rather than defend U.S. policy during the Vietnam War. In 1968, 266 FSOs, four-fifths of them junior officers, resigned from the Foreign Service, while only 103 joined. Not all left because of Vietnam, but the war was the key catalyst for many quitting. Among these were Richard Holbrooke and Anthony Lake, later to return as top foreign policy officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

While the potential for mass resignations in the wake of a potential Trump presidency would be bad enough, what might follow could be even worse.

 Many career diplomats fear that Donald Trump, a foreign affairs novice with the shallowest grasp of diplomacy and those who carry it out, will flood the ranks of the State Department with cronies and dilettantes. The selling of ambassadorships and senior Department positions to fat cat campaign contributors is a time-honored American tradition. Under President Obama, some 30 percent of ambassadorships have been given to Democratic Party cronies, while the number of top jobs at Foggy Bottom occupied by career Foreign Service officers has gone from 60 percent down to 30 percent over the years, according to AFSA. Career employees particularly worry about the caliber of people a President Trump would place throughout the bureaucracy.

Most of his foreign affairs advisors are little known and with little stature. Joseph Schmitz and Walid Phares have written about a supposed sharia threat to America. Schmitz, son of a former head of the John Birch Society, resigned as DoD’s inspector general during the George W. Bush administration in face of reports of ethics violations. Middle East expert Phares reportedly was involved with a Christian militia responsible for massacres during the Lebanese civil war. Only Phares appears to have a body of published works which give a window into his thinking. Carter Page, forced to step down from the campaign in the wake of reports he had close relationships with members of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, compared Obama’s National Security Strategy document to an 1850 one on how to manage slaves. Key foreign affairs advisor retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has asserted he was drummed out of his position as Defense Intelligence Agency director after little more than a year for having used the politically incorrect term “Islamic jihadists” rather than for creating turmoil and demoralization in that agency, as reported by administration officials. In emails recently released by Wikileaks, Colin Powell referred to Flynn as “right-wing nutty” and a poor leader.

Career diplomats fear underqualified advisors serving a fact-free, iconoclastic president will plunge the United States into chaotic situations abroad and that a notoriously vindictive Trump will take his failures out on “disloyal” government workers. That 75 retired senior diplomats recently signed an open letter attacking Trump as “entirely unqualified to serve as President and Commander-in-Chief” might only stoke his distrust.

There are plenty of reasons already not to elect Donald Trump. But the damage that a Trump presidency could cause not only to America’s relationship with the rest of the world but to the reputation and safety of America’s professional diplomatic service is incalculable. As a senior Washington-based diplomat said, “when our country starts following Trump’s ‘charge them, cheat them and leave them’ business model, no one will trust our word, our alliances or our loyalty. The American diplomat will go the way of the Edsel salesman, with one small exception. No Edsel salesman ever stood in front of a war crimes commission, whereas, under some scenarios, some of my colleagues who stay in the Foreign Service might someday do so.” 

The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the United States government.

See also --

Donald Trump’s Farcical Foreign Policy

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Goebbels' Ghost

The broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily. ~ Joseph Goebbels

The Nazi propaganda chief's quote is often paraphrased as: "If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed."

The Nazis were evil geniuses in their use of The Big Lie to manipulate a gullible citizenry. In Mein Kampf, Hitler elaborated on this: "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies, but would be ashamed to tell big lies."

And --

"The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another... All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed." (Italics added.)

Amid the ocean of bullshit the Third Reich spewed with its nonsensical ideology, its leaders nailed it with their highly effective use of lies in their propaganda. And the bigger the lies, the more people tended to believe them: Jews were in a conspiracy to take over the world. "Aryans" were the master race. Germany owed its defeat in the First World War to a "stab in the back" by domestic enemies.

I am well aware, dear readers, that here I succumb to Godwin's Law:  "If an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism."

But the parallels between Goebbels and Donald Trump in their use of propaganda to sway the minds of gullible masses is uncanny. Behold the following Big Lies repeatedly trotted out by Trump (all have been deemed outright falsehoods by PolitiFact and/or FactCheck):

"It’s possible that non-citizen voters were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina."

"Of course, there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. The following information comes straight from Pew Research, quote, ‘Approximately 24 million people — one out of every eight — voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or significantly inaccurate.’ One in eight more than 1.8 million deceased individuals, right now, are listed as voters."

"More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote."

"Because non-citizens tend to favor Democrats, — to put it mildly — Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 sample."

When Hillary Clinton "ran the State Department, $6 billion was missing. How do you miss $6 billion? You ran the State Department, $6 billion was either stolen — they don't know."

Hillary Clinton is "proposing to print instant work permits for millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody's jobs, including low-income African-Americans."

Barack Obama "founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton."

"I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed."

And the lies go on and on. The fact checkers, in fact, have a hard time keeping up. I would say the key difference between Joseph Goebbels and Donald Trump is that Goebbels was much smarter and more clever than Trump, not to mention more disciplined. But both men are effective in manipulating the elastic minds of the willingly gullible utilizing The Big Lie. And as Goebbels' boss so astutely pointed out, all propaganda "must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed," i.e., primarily the undereducated.

Which brings America to a potentially dangerous historical crossroads. Even though almost all credible indicators show a Clinton electoral victory, Herr Trump isn't going anywhere. It is clear, by asserting our voting process is "rigged," he is setting himself up to lead a post-election movement of his aggrieved followers, all wallowing in Trump's Big Lies, having drunk the Kool-Aid of alleged betrayal by domestic enemies, the stab in the back.

What form will Trump's populist movement take? An American fascism? A resurrected Coxie's Army occupying the Mall? A bunch of bomb-throwing Timothy McVeigh zombies?

The ghost of Joseph Goebbels is laughing his ass off.

See also --

Voting With Your Middle Finger

The Dumbass Vote: A Modest Proposal to Repeal Universal Suffrage

This Isn't My Father's Republican Party: Waiting for 9 Thermidor

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Getting Into Trouble as a Writer

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. ~ Winston Churchill

Throughout history, writers have been notorious for getting themselves into trouble for their ideas. Socrates was forced to kill himself by drinking poison for the crime of "impiety." My namesake, Giordano Bruno, was burned at the stake for having the temerity to state, among other things, that the earth revolved around the sun. The British Crown convicted the great English-American firebrand, Tom Paine, of "seditious libel" in absentia for advocating in popular pamphlets a progressive tax and social welfare programs to alleviate poverty. Hannah Arendt, author of "The Banality of Evil," managed to escape Nazi Germany by the skin of her teeth and resettle in the United States. The Soviet Union expelled Alexander Solzhenitsyn from the country in 1974 for exposing the vast gulag forced labor camp system. Today, PEN International monitors the cases of some 900 writers who suffer persecution in countries across the globe.

I dealt with dissident writers in various countries in the course of my more than two decades as a Foreign Service officer. I helped resettle several dissident Cuban writers in the U.S. My favorite Vietnamese dissident was the writer Duong Thu Huong. At our first get-together over lunch in Hanoi, I asked this spirited woman how she planned to deal with communist officials who were harassing her. With a twinkle in her eye, she said without hesitating, "I spit in their face!"

Artyom Borovik was a groundbreaking Russian investigative journalist who was critical of Vladimir Putin. I'd occasionally meet him to discuss his reporting on Moscow's role in Afghanistan. His "Top Secret" TV program exposed the corruption of Russia's political and economic elite, earning him many enemies. Borovik quoted Putin in an article in 2000 as saying, “There are three ways to influence people: blackmail, vodka, and the threat to kill.” Days later, he died in a still-unsolved Moscow plane accident - one of what was to be many Putin critics who have turned up dead. He was 39.

I had the privilege of being acquainted with a number of very courageous writers over the years who stood up to tyranny and authoritarianism and paid a heavy price in terms of denied employment, harassment, imprisonment and loss of their life. Such people deserve our unmitigated admiration and respect, not to mention support.

And then there are those of us who merely get into mischief.

Whether as a diplomat or as a writer, I don't feel fully successful in my work unless denounced by oppressive regimes and their propaganda organs. The Cuban publication, El Heraldo Cubano, denounced me as a "yankee ex-intelligence officer" who helped "carry out subversive actions against the Cuban government" after my novel, Havana Queen, was published three years ago. In it, I spun a tale centering on the cataclysmic collapse of the Castro regime. "Mr. Bruno decided to fictionalize his experiences in a kind of thriller, under the suggestive title of Havana Queen," El Heraldo continued, "where he distorts the internal situation and invents others, with views that were approved by the Department of State, revealing the espionage work of American intelligence.” 

Havana Queen clearly gave Cuban officialdom agita. After all, digital copies were circulating throughout the island. Several Cubans even emailed me asking if I could send them hard copies (I politely declined). Meanwhile, I got into an escalating pissing match with Castro's propaganda machine, egging them on, daring them to denounce me in the communist party rag, Granma.

"Unintentionally, James Bruno confirmed in Havana Queen that which Cuba has denounced repeatedly, that the United States uses its diplomatic mission in Havana as a headquarters for human and technological spying, while it selects, trains and finances counterrevolutionary elements to carry out subversive acts against the Cuban government," ranted a known Cuban intelligence officer in his quasi-official blog. Ominously, he added, "If someday Bruno goes missing, remember Martí: 'If I go missing, look for me... in Cuba.'" I covered up my whereabouts in social media after that.

Well, what can I say? First, thanks to El Heraldo Cubano for adding to my authorial notoriety. We writers crave attention and, the more controversial, the better. History has shown that official condemnations have done wonders for authors' book sales. Boris Pasternak comes to mind. While by no means in his league, I can use all the denunciations I can get.

And then there was the time three years ago when I was called out of the blue by a federal law enforcement officer asking if I could help in tracking down a murderer who had been on the lam for almost four decades. William Bradford Bishop, Jr. was a Foreign Service officer who in 1976 bludgeoned to death his mother, wife and three young sons and then made a clean getaway. The FBI placed Bishop on their Ten Most Wanted list two years ago. Asked how I could help, the Bishop task force requested that I blog about Bishop. I had previously published a bestselling thriller, CHASM,  whose protagonist was modeled on Bishop. They wanted me to reach out to him and persuade him to turn himself in. I not only said yes, but I also traveled to Europe, where he is thought to have hidden himself, to try and find him. I visited seven countries looking for Bishop. You can read my many accounts of this fruitless search in this blog.

My family deemed me even more nuts than they'd always assumed. In response to my daughter's fear Bishop would attack me, I said, "Why, I can take on any 80-year old any day of the week."

Needless to say, Bishop is still out there somewhere. My brazen efforts have come to nought. But what if we'd met up...?

I walk a thin line at times vis-à-vis Uncle Sam on what I can and cannot say in my writings. You see, as a result of a Faustian pact I made with the federal government in return for a top secret security clearance back when I was young and naive, I gave away my soul for eternity. I must submit for official censorship virtually all that I write and wish to publish till my dying day. You can see the blacked-out redactions in my blog posts as well as The Foreign Circus for your entertainment pleasure. Uncle Sam has a unique way of messing up a recalcitrant writer's life if s/he doesn't follow these rules. Read of my Kafkaesque adventures with the green-eyeshaders in Why I am Censored.

Finally, there are the negative book reviews all serious writers inevitably incur. They constitute a sort of ego-deflating authorial notoriety. Here are some of my favorites:

On Permanent Interests --
“Probably the most ponderous 100 pages of text I've read in a long time.”

“Hate to burst everyone's bubble but unless you're looking for absolutely brainless entertainment, you might want to move on.”

On Tribe --
“While there are moments of good writing and wry observation, this book is a dud and so is the author.”

On Havana Queen --
“The biggest problem is the characters, none of whom have vaguely plausible motivations for anything they do, and much of what they do is idiotic.”

On The Foreign Circus --
“To James Bruno, everyone who doesn't see things his way is an idiot. He's a classic Washington has-been who sees everyone else as a moron. These narcissistic tendencies go very well with his evil twin's misogyny.”

James Bruno is a "Male, Pale, and Yale misogynistic, self-centered, and angry FS officer."
(I confess to the first two failings; but substitute "Columbia" for "Yale" on that last one, even though it doesn't rhyme. Misogynistic, I am not, but I could perhaps be a tad self-centered as well as angry on occasion.)

We authors can also be thin skinned. Sulphuric reviews deflate our egos and get our imaginations all worked up in very unconstructive ways. I mean none of these individuals knows me. How would they know I am a "has-been" much less an angry, self-centered, male, pale and Yale misogynist? A thug might act on such verbal attacks with physical force. Writers, on the other hand, marshal their arsenal of mental weapons and deploy them on paper and pixels.

So, Sir Winston, yes, I have made my share of enemies and am proud of it. I feel we have something in common.