FAREED ZAKARIA


TRUMP AND LIES
Fareed Zakaria is number one on my list of admired writers. He has  the ability to take difficult situations and make them understandable and concise. This was part of his columns by date on:

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - For most of his life, Donald Trump has found words to be his friends. He has used them to build his business, dramatize his achievements and embellish his accomplishments. As important, he has used them to explain away his missteps and to paper over his problems. 

He built a 58-story building in glass and steel, but through his wordplay, it became 68 stories tall.  He owns an 11,000-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, but in his telling, it’s 33,000 square feet.  Trump has used words extravagantly and cleverly to serve his ambition. He has called his method “truthful hyperbole,” and oftentimes it is not even truthful. But it has worked — so far.

The Post’s reporters describe Trump as “the most fact-challenged politician” they have “ever encountered.” They pointed out that, after having received a whopping 59 “Four Pinocchio” ratings during the campaign, Trump in his first 100 days made 492 “false or misleading claims,” at an average of 4.9 a day. These fact checkers clarified that “those numbers obscure the fact that the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.” By their count, there were only 10 days in the first 100 days in which Trump did not make a false or misleading claim. And his fibs are not over small matters.  

Trump’s approach has never been to apologize because it wouldn’t make sense to him. In his view, he wasn’t fibbing. As his sometime rival and now friend Steve Wynn, a casino tycoon, put it, Trump’s statements on virtually everything “have no relation to truth or fact.” That’s not really how Trump thinks of words. For him, words are performance art. It’s what sounds right in the moment and gets him through the crisis. 

TERRORISM
Thursday, June 8, 2017 - President Trump returned from his first overseas trip convinced that he had unified the United States’ historic Arab allies, dealt a strong blow against terrorism and calmed the waters of an unruly Middle East.  Since then we have seen a series of terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, and an open split within the Arab world. What is going on?

The premise of Trump’s strategy was to support Saudi Arabia, in the belief that it would be able to fight terrorism and stabilize the region. In fact, Trump gave a green light to the Saudis to pursue their increasingly aggressive, sectarian foreign policy.

The first element of that policy has been to excommunicate its longtime rival, Qatar, breaking relations with that country and pressing its closest allies to do the same. The Saudis have always viewed Qatar as a troublesome neighbor and are infuriated by its efforts to play a regional and global role by hosting a large U.S. military base, founding the Al Jazeera television network, planning to host the 2022 World Cup and punching above its weight diplomatically.

It’s true that Qatar has supported some extremist Islamist movements. So has Saudi Arabia. Both are Wahhabi countries, both have within them extremist preachers, and both are widely believed to have armed Islamist groups in Syria and elsewhere. In both cases, the royal families play a game of allying themselves with fundamentalist religious forces and funding some militants, even while fighting other violent groups.  In other words, their differences are really geopolitical, though often dressed up as ideological.

The open split between the two countries will create much greater regional instability. Qatar will now move closer to Iran and Turkey, forging deeper alliances with anti-Saudi groups throughout the Muslim world. The battles among various factions of militants — in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and North Africa — will heat up. The terrorist attacks in Tehran on Wednesday, for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, are viewed in Iran as being part of a Saudi-inspired campaign against it. We should expect that Iranian-backed militias will respond in some way, so much for regional stability.


PARTISANSHIP
Thursday June 16, 2017 -Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice was a ghastly example of the political polarization that is ripping this country apart. Political scientists have shown that Congress is more divided than at any time since the end of Reconstruction. I am struck not simply by the depth of partisanship these days, but increasingly also by its nature. People on the other side of the divide are not just wrong and to be argued with. They are immoral and must be muzzled or punished.

Partisanship today is more about identity. Scholars Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris have argued that, in the past few decades, people began to define themselves politically less by traditional economic issues than by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. I would add to this mix social class, something rarely spoken of in the United States but a powerful determinant of how we see ourselves. Last year’s election had a lot to do with social class, with non-college-educated rural voters reacting against a professional, urban elite.

The dangerous aspect of this new form of politics is that identity does not lend itself easily to compromise. When the core divide was economic, you could split the difference. If one side wanted to spend $100 billion and the other wanted to spend zero, there was a number in between. The same is true with tax cuts and welfare policy. But if the core issues are about identity, culture and religion (think of abortion, gay rights, Confederate monuments, immigration, official languages), then compromise seems immoral. American politics is becoming more like Middle Eastern politics, where there is no middle ground between being Sunni or Shiite.


WAR IS ON THE HORIZON
Thursday  JUNE 22nd, 2017 - While we have been focused on the results of special elections, the ups and downs of the Russia investigation and President Trump’s latest tweets, under the radar, a broad and consequential shift in U.S. foreign policy appears to be underway. Put simply, the United States is stumbling into another decade of war in the greater Middle East. And this next decade of conflict might prove to be even more destabilizing than the last one.

Trump came into office with a refreshing skepticism about U.S. policy toward the region. “Everybody that’s touched the Middle East, they’ve gotten bogged down. . . . We’re bogged down,” he said during the campaign. But Trump also sees himself as a tough guy. At his rallies, he repeatedly vowed to “bomb the s--- out of” the Islamic State. Now that he is in the White House and has surrounded himself with an array of generals, his macho instinct seems to have triumphed. The administration has ramped up its military operations across the greater Middle East, in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia — more troops, more bombings, more missions. But what is the underlying strategy?

In the fight against the Islamic State, U.S. forces have been aggressively initiating attacks, resulting in a sharp rise in civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria. And in a dramatic escalation, this week the United States shot down a Syrian warplane, putting Washington on a collision course with Syria’s ally, Russia, with the real possibility of U.S.-Russian military hostilities. Worse yet, it is unclear how this belligerence toward the Bashar al-Assad regime will achieve the sole stated mission of the United States’ involvement in Syria: to defeat the Islamic State. Logically, if Assad gets weaker, the main opposition forces — various militant Islamist groups, including the Islamic State — will get stronger. Compounding the incoherence, the administration said that although it had attacked Assad’s forces, it was not fighting the Assad regime, and that the downing was an act of “collective self-defense.” A few more such acts of self-defense, and U.S. combat troops could find themselves on the ground in Syria.

In Afghanistan, Trump has delegated the details of a mini-surge of 4,000 more troops to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior military leaders. But there are limits to the perspective even of distinguished generals. Military officers can tell you whether, for example, they can take a hill. But does taking that hill serve America’s broader strategy? Can that hill be held at reasonable cost? Does this mission distract from other, larger U.S. interests around the world? Those are questions that must be answered by the commander in chief.

The United States has been in Afghanistan for 16 years. It has had several surges in troop numbers and has spent almost a trillion dollars on that country. Last year, U.S. aid to Afghanistan was equivalent to about 40 percent of that nation’s gross domestic product. And yet, Mattis acknowledges that the United States is “not winning.” What will an additional 4,000 troops now achieve that 130,000 troops could not?

In Yemen, the United States is more actively engaged in a conflict that does little to advance the fight against radical Islamist terrorism. With the latest arms sale, Washington is further fueling Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran — a war that has led the kingdom into a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, seems likely to persist in this conflict, even though it has gone much worse than expected and has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. A child in Yemen is dying of preventable causes every 10 minutes, according to UNICEF, and the poorest country in the Arab world has been turned into a wasteland in which terrorist groups will compete for decades to come.

In almost every situation that U.S. forces are involved in, the solutions are more political than military. This has become especially true in places such as Syria and Afghanistan, where many regional powers with major interests have staked out positions and spread their influence. Military force without a strategy or deeply engaged political and diplomatic process is destined to fail, perhaps even to produce unintended consequences — witness the past decade and a half.

During the campaign, Trump seemed to be genuinely reflective about America’s role in the Middle East. “This is not usually me talking, okay, ’cause I’m very proactive,” he once said on the subject. “But I would sit back and [say], ‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ ” Yes. After 16 years of continuous warfare, hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars spent and greater regional instability, somebody in Washington needs to ask — before the next bombing or deployment: What is going on?

By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, July 13, 2017

The latest revelations about Russia and President Trump’s campaign are useful because they might help unravel the mystery that has always been at the center of this story. Why has Trump had such a rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin? It is such an unusual position for Trump that it begs for some kind of explanation.

Unlike on domestic policy, where he has wandered all over the political map, on foreign policy, Trump has held clear and consistent views for three decades. In 1987, in his first major statement on public policy, he took out an ad in several newspapers that began, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States.” In the ad, he also excoriated “Saudi Arabia, a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States,” and other “allies who won’t help.”

This is Trump’s worldview, and he has never wavered from it. He has added countries to the roster of rogues, most recently China and Mexico. On the former, he wrote in his presidential campaign book, “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are.” During the campaign, he said: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” A few months before announcing his candidacy, he tweeted, “I want nothing to do with Mexico other than to build an impenetrable WALL and stop them from ripping off U.S.”

Trump is what historian Walter Russell Mead calls a “Jacksonian” on foreign policy (after Andrew Jackson), someone deeply skeptical and instinctively hostile toward other nations and their leaders, who believes in a fortress America that minds its own business and, if disturbed, would “bomb the s---” out of its adversaries and then retreat back to its homeland.

This was Trump’s basic attitude toward the world, except for Russia and Putin. Ten years ago, when Russian money was pouring into the West, Trump began praising the country and its leader: “Look at Putin . . . he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.” In 2013, Putin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to try to dissuade the Obama administration from responding to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. In it, he argued that the poison gas was actually used by the Syrian opposition to trick Washington into attacking the regime. Trump’s reaction was lyrical. “I thought it was an amazingly well-written . . . letter. . . . I think he wants to become the world’s leader, and right now he’s doing that.”

Trump so admired Putin that he imagined that the two of them had met, making some variation of that false claim at least five times in public, and playing down any criticisms of him. “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that,” he said in 2015. “Have you been able to prove that?” When confronted on this again earlier this year, he dismissed it, saying, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?” Trump could not have been making these excuses for any political advantage. The Republican Party was instinctively hostile toward Russia, though in a sign of shifting U.S. alignments, Republicans today have a more favorable view of Putin than Democrats by 20 points.

“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly,” Trump declared at a news conference last July. His campaign seemed to follow this idea. He appointed as a top foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, a man who had pronounced pro-Russian leanings and, we now know, had been paid by the Russian government. Paul Manafort, who was for a while the head of Trump’s campaign, received millions of dollars from Ukraine’s pro-Russia party. During the Republican convention, there was a very unusual watering down of hawkish language on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And once elected, Trump chose as his secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who had been awarded one of Russia’s highest honors for foreigners and had a “very close relationship” with Putin. Finally, there are the repeated contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and family with key Russian officials and nationals, which again appear to be unique to Russia.

It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader. Perhaps he has bought in to the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this decade-long fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group


By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, July 20, 2017

There are many ways to evaluate the Trump presidency at the six-month mark. What I am struck by is the path not taken, the lost opportunity. During the campaign, it was clear that Donald Trump had many flaws, but he tapped into a real set of problems facing the United States and a deep frustration with the political system. Additionally, he embraced and expressed — somewhat inconsistently — a populism that went beyond the traditional left-right divide. What would things look like at this point if President Trump had governed in the manner of a pragmatic, jobs-oriented reformer relentlessly focused on the “forgotten” Americans of whom he often speaks?

We have an interesting template to assist our imagination. After Trump’s election, a small group of pro-Trump intellectuals, from both left and right, banded together to launch a journal, American Affairs, that promised “the discussion of new policies that are outside of the conventional dogmas.” It’s the best forum for the articulation of the ideology behind Trump’s rise, and there has been so much interest in the journal’s views on various subjects that the editors opened the second issue with a brief summary of their editorial stance.

On trade, immigration and foreign policy, the editors endorse modest changes to standard U.S. policies, some of which the administration is pursuing. But on the central questions of domestic economic policy, American Affairs seems markedly different and genuinely populist. Taking on the subject at the center of Republican ideology, taxes, the editors profess to be “quite skeptical of the conservative orthodoxy that reflexively prescribes tax cuts as the cure-all for every ill.” Although corporate tax reform is warranted, the editors say, “reducing upper-income tax rates is unlikely to address core economic challenges in any significant way.” Instead, they recommend eliminating mechanisms by which the rich evade taxation. In addition, the journal denounces financial deregulation and calls for higher taxes on hedge-fund and private-equity managers. It embraces large and direct government expenditures on infrastructure, warning against relying heavily on the private sector. On health care, the editors come out openly in favor of universal coverage and suggest two options, a single-payer system or a version of the Swiss system, which is basically Obamacare with a real mandate.

Needless to say, this has not been the Trump agenda. But reading these intelligent ideas raises the interesting question, why not? All of the policies proposed above would have helped the “forgotten” people whose cause Trump champions.

There have been two cardinal features of the Trump presidency so far. The first is that, far from being a populist breakout, it has followed a fairly traditional Republican agenda — repeal Obamacare, weaken Dodd-Frank, cut taxes, deregulate industry. Trump’s anemic infrastructure plan is little more than tax credits for private investors. The only real break with Republican tradition has been on foreign policy, where Trump is pursuing a truly bizarre and mercurial agenda that seems to be inspired by his own personal passions and peeves — instituting the travel ban, demanding payment from allies, embracing autocrats who flatter him and his family.

The second defining feature of the Trump administration has been incompetence. As many have pointed out, had Trump chosen to begin his presidency with a large infrastructure bill, he would have put the Democrats in a terrible bind. They would have had to support him, even though this would have enraged the party’s base. Instead, Trump chose health care, a complicated, difficult issue sure to unite his opposition and divide Republicans. Consequently, very little has actually been done. Obamacare has not been repealed, no money has been appropriated for the border wall, NAFTA is still standing, and there is no tax reform bill, nor an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. Even in deregulation, an area of broad presidential authority, little of substance has been accomplished. Many of Trump’s executive actions have been to “review” various measures. An environmental activist told me that he has tried to cheer up his staff by pointing out that the Trump administration’s words have rarely been followed by successful deeds.

Trump could have quickly begun reshaping American politics. He discerned voices that others didn’t, understood what those people wanted to hear and articulated much of it. But when it came time to deliver, it turned out that he had no serious idea or policies, nor even the desire to search for them. 

He just wanted to be president, meeting world leaders, having Oval Office photo ops and flying on Air Force One, while delegating the actual public policy to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or Vice President Pence. So far, Trump has turned out to be something far less revolutionary than expected — a standard-issue, big-business Republican, albeit an incompetent one, wrapped in populist clothing.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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