Day: August 3, 2017

Iraq’s post-war challenges

Celeste Ward Gventer and I did this piece for Luke Vargas’ radio program Wake. We were actually recorded separately and spliced together by Luke. I’m not sure I approve of the process, but the result is okay, apart from the more or less obvious glitches in the transcript.

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The myth of Kelly

A lot of my friends have great hopes for General Kelly, the new White House Chief of Staff. He fired a potty-mouth slated to become Communications Director before he even officially started the job, has evicted at least two nutters from the National Security Council (or at least concurred in General Mattis booting them), and is said to be tightly controlling access for people and information to the Oval Office. Presidential tweeting has slowed. So far, so good.

But I doubt it will matter in the end. There is no reason to believe that President Trump relies on information, good or bad, in reaching conclusions or formulating policy. Take today’s announcement of a big cut in legal immigration and a proposal to favor more highly qualified immigrants. Matthew Yglesias quickly tweeted this from Pew:

Of course there are American employers who import lower-skilled labor, notably Donald J. Trump himself among them. This matches, though does not exceed, his hypocrisy in manufacturing most of his poor taste clothing line abroad, especially in China.

As someone with no respect for the truth, why would Trump look to information and information quality as a source of wisdom? That would make no sense. He creates his own information: alternative facts Kellyanne Conway calls them.

Moreover, Kelly will have a hard time regulating the flow of information to someone who doesn’t sleep much, is addicted to Twitter and cable TV, and relies on his family members as his chief advisers. It simply won’t be possible to prevent really lousy information from reaching the President.

The policy formulation process in the White House right now seems to be basically this: Trump decides what will satisfy his various constituencies and gives it to them. White supremacists get the Justice Department challenging affirmative action for disadvantaged minorities, Rust Belt males get a big Foxconn plant requiring billions in subsidies, people with no university education get “repeal and replace” (even those who benefit from Obamacare like that), and the Russians get consistent and unwavering indulgence for their hacking of the American election, their attacks on the Syrian opposition, and their invasion of Crimea.

You may ask: how did Russia become one of Trump’s constituencies? My guess is that Trump’s personal business empire depends heavily on hot money investments and condo purchases by Putin cronies. If so, he has good reason not to provoke Putin. We’ll leave that for Special Counsel Mueller to elucidate.

Feeding his constituencies isn’t getting the President anywhere with the broader American public. Disapproval is soaring, while approval is weakening, according to Quinnipiac:

Sisyphus, Wikipedia tells me, “was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity.” The self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness are Trump’s, not Kelly’s. But it is the chief of staff who is likely to be punished for now.

PS: Today’s leak of transcripts of the President’s conversations with Mexican President Pena Neto and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull prove the myth of Kelly faster than I anticipated. The continued leaking suggests he is not yet in full control, and the contents of the transcripts suggest a president who is obsessed with how he looks and indifferent to the interests of his interlocutors. Foreign leaders will be reluctant to believe either that the US can protect the confidentiality of their conversations and to hope such a conversation will lead to anything more than browbeating. That rock has already rolled back down the hill on to Kelly.

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