This article exams the dilemma facing many Americans involved in national security policy: boycott the Trump administration or remain engaged so policy making is not dominated by those who lack experience, competence, or reason. The question is particularly salient now under Trump. However, it is a question that many people have had ask themselves when thinking about any government: Will I make things better, or will politics make me worse?
“Some people will have no problems accepting positions in the Trump administration with nary a second thought. But there are many others out there who have deep concerns and are asking themselves questions that they may never have considered before any other newly arriving administration, regardless of party. These public servants must now pause to think about their personal moral and ethical boundaries — what administration decisions or policies would be so personally unacceptable that they would feel required to resign.
It is impossible, of course, to know exactly what President-elect Trump will do once in office….. Nevertheless, Trump’s wide array of troubling comments mean that every responsible public servant should think about just what level of affront to their principles would simply be too much to tolerate — when choosing to serve or remaining on the job means becoming an enabler to policies or actions that they find deeply unethical or immoral. And this will not be a one-time choice. It will be an ongoing calculation throughout the entire administration, a decision that must be revisited repeatedly, week after week as new policies and decisions unfold.”
The article goes on to identify 7 seven questions any public servant needs to ask themselves before agreeing to work for the Trump administration. Here they are in an abridged form:
- “Do you believe that your service will help improve policies and decision-making? ….or at least prevent some truly bad decisions from happening?
- Do you believe that the policies or values that you find objectionable are rooted primarily in the new administration’s inexperience and lack of knowledge or in its core ideology? If you believe the former, then the case for serving is stronger, since you can help educate the new team. But if you believe that the administration is operating more from an ideology that fundamentally violates your deeply held beliefs (such as promoting torture or indiscriminate bombing), then the moral decision bends the other way.
- Who specifically will you work for? …Will they act as a bulwark of decency, shielding you and your colleagues — and maybe even the country — from the worst of politics going on above your pay grade?
- Are the people you most respect choosing not to serve for a principled reason? Or, if later in the administration, have they resigned for cause? In each case, do you know what factors shaped their decisions? How does their logic align with or differ from your thinking? Understanding their experiences can serve as useful guideposts.
- When would choosing not to serve (or to leave government) do more to advance the ideals and values you believe in most? How will you carry your commitment to principle into action from the outside? If you elect not to serve now, what might change your mind? Who would you find sufficiently principled to work for that might convince you that serving is the right thing to do?
- If you choose to serve (or to stay), how frequently do you plan to reassess your decision? Failing to do so runs the risk of the “boiling frog” syndrome, where every small uptick in the water temperature, or new policy that modestly erodes that which you deeply believe in, becomes slowly, inexorably acceptable until the whole is invisible and no longer objectionable.”
On a side note: the discussion not only tackles the moral dilemma, it also highlights the degree to which there has been consensus up until now in American foreign policy making circles:
“Unlike our counterparts who work on domestic policy, national security practitioners have long enjoyed a largely bipartisan consensus about the core principles of what makes America strong and secure: an open, liberal international order guaranteed by American leadership and power. Democrats and Republicans have fought long and hard about specific policies for decades, but those arguments have, for the most part, been about ways, not ends — how to best realize broadly shared principles, not whether they were the right principles in the first place.”
Since Donald Trump’s election there has been a great deal of uncertainty about what happens next. Most US presidents have either shared a similar understanding of politics and the presidency, or surrounded themselves with people who have that same mainstream perspective. Trump actually appears to be different. He has no experience with governance, he is mercurial, he has questioned the established pillars of US foreign policy and he has openly flirted with fringe/extremist political movements. While his cabinet is still a work in progress, many of the names being bandied around are from outside the mainstream. It therefore cannot be assumed that he will be a “regular” president, tamed by the office like so many erstwhile political mavericks before him.
This article provides a series of narrative sketches that provide possible scenarios for the future. Narrative sketches are not predictions. Rather they are ways to flesh out the way different political factors can come together to shape events. In the opinion of the authors, the key factors, or ‘drivers’ are the following:
“President Trump’s personality and leadership style, his economic policy focus, his social policy focus, his international trade policy focus, external political events and trends, domestic political events and trends, US social cohesion and unrest, and violent extremism. Yes, that’s more-or-less ‘everything’ but that’s what you might expect: the US is an important, highly-connected, country.”
based on variations in those drivers, they have arrived at the following 5 scenarios:
The focal point of each of these scenarios is of course, ‘The Donald’. But its not just about Trump’s personality. It is also about the world around Trump and how his administration reacts to it. How does the Republican establishment react to him? How does the US and global economy fair? What kind of opposition does he face outside of the Republican party? And, what kind of random events are going to pop up in the international area?
Again these are not predictions, but they are food for thought.
This article makes a common argument. Hardliners on one side of a rivalry are good thing for the hardliners on the other side -at least as long as things don’t get totally out of hand. Although I don’t think the IRGC lost quite as much power after the nuclear deal as this article suggests, I do agree with its basic premise:
“Trump and the Islamic State militants were gifts from God to the IRGC,” said a senior official within the Iranian government, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity like other figures contacted within Iran.
“If Trump adopts a hostile policy towards Iran or scraps the deal, hard-liners and particularly the IRGC will benefit from it,” a former reformist official said.
This article also marks the creation of a new tag on this blog: “Trump”….
The concept of reputation is central to classical realist thought. States are not just judged by their capabilities but also their willingness to use them. Demonstrating resolve was therefore considered to be a key part of deterrence during the Cold War, for example. The threat of using nuclear weapons was only credible if the state and its leaders had a reputation for keeping their word. Similarly, alliances only worked, it was believed, if a state’s promise to protect its friends was reliable. If not, one’s allies would quickly look for new friends.
The issue of cost is also something to be considered when discussing reputation. Reputation was particularly important when it came to making costly or unpopular decisions. It is one thing to keep your word when it does not cost anything or if its the popular thing to do, but what about when it is not. Will a leader walk the walk when the price is “blood and treasure”?
The reputation question has been raised several times under the Obama presidency. First, he drew a line in the sand, so to speak, in Syria. He promised to intervene if the Syrian government used chemical weapons. When they did, Obama did not follow through. He allowed the Russians to broker a deal in which the chemical weapons were removed from Syria, but no punishment was levied against that Assad regime. Second, Obama struck a deal with Iran concerning the latter’s nuclear program. The problem here, Obama’s critics claim, is that undermined the US’ reputation among its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Neither state feels it can continue to trust Washington, and the Saudi’s in particular have builyt up their military and become much more assertive in the region. Clearly they are no longer willing to trust the US to bail them out, or at least, so its argued.
The reputation argument however, is more complex. This article argues that reputation is often overstated and used for partisan rhetorical purposes, such as the criticisms levied at Obama. However it also argues that reputation should not be dismissed. Rather, context needs to be considered.
- “…..the idea that Americans can safely discount reputation remains equally problematic. The importance of reputation varies for different countries and is most important for those that possess widespread commitments and interests, such as the United States. American leaders must worry about potential challenges in multiple theaters: Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe. Like Britain before it, the United States has the ability to concentrate its military at many points to deter aggression by, for example, Russia against the Baltics, North Korea against South Korea, China against Japan, and Iran against Israel. It cannot concentrate forces everywhere simultaneously, however. A strong reputation that deters initial challenges thus reduces the probability that the United States ends up confronting more simultaneous challenges than it can hope to manage, as Britain did as its empire dissolved.”
- “At the same time, this conclusion implies that we should expect to see leaders vary in the importance that they attach to reputations for resolve. In an ongoing research effort, one of us found significant variations among American presidents in their concern about reputation for resolve. While President Carter resisted repeated calls from National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to fight for reputation, President Clinton repeatedly invoked reputational considerations in his decision-making during crises. In contrast, President Obama said that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.” To explain this variation in leaders’ concern for reputation for resolve, one must look beyond situational or strategic factors to focus instead on the psychological dispositions and beliefs of national leaders.”
There is nothing really substantively new in this article. It is the latest in the war of words between the Saudis and Iran. The rhetorical battle has escalated recently because of the start of the Hajj season. At last year’s Hajj 769 pilgrims were killed in a stampede. Iran blames the Saudis for the catastrophe and claims the al Saud are unfit to oversee the pilgrimage. The Saudis, on the other hand, claim Iran exploits the religious event for political purposes.
The article is notable however because it is the second time Iran’s Foreign Minister has taken to the op-ed page of the New York Times to chastise the Saudis. The first time was back in January when the Tehran and Riyadh fought a rhetorical duel on the editorial pages of the American paper/website.
Apparently, courting American public opinion has become a mainstay of Iranian foreign policy.
This issue has already been discussed on this blog
However it is worth reiterating the point:
“The findings were stark: Not many Arabs sympathize with the Islamic State. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s goals range from 0.4 percent in Jordan to 6.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s use of violence range from 0.4 percent in Morocco to 5.4 percent in the Palestinian territories. The percent agreeing that the Islamic State’s tactics are compatible with Islam range from 1.0 percent in Jordan to 8.9 percent n the Palestinian territories.”
This post from the blog War on the Rocks has a slightly different take on Turkey’s failed coup than the current dominant narrative which paints the attempted putsch as a very small, disorganized, and incompetent affair. This interpretation of events has serious implications for the lessons we draw from the events. As the author suggests, the Turkish military remains deeply divided. To the extent this is account is accurate, it is difficult to give credence to the conspiracy theories that suggest Erdogan faked the coup to provide a pretext for a power-grab.
“The story of the coup suggests a relatively large plot that drew support from numerous parts of the Turkish Armed Forces, spanning various commands around Turkey. The number of senior officers involved, including the commander of Incirlik air force base where U.S. aircraft are now based for the fight against the Islamic State, suggest that the Turkish military is divided. The narrative following the coup is that this was a small, ill-conceived group of plotters who failed to overthrow the elected government, but this narrative is at odds with information coming out about the extent of the plot. This was a larger and far more credible attempt than has thus far been reported.
The fact that this was relatively well planned — if hastily implemented — coup attempt has several implications — namely that the Turkish military’s senior leadership is deeply factionalized, with one sizeable minority of officers willing to use force, even though their decision risked civil war. This suggests that Turkey is unstable and faces serious challenges in the near term in ways that will surely impact American and Western security interests in the Middle East and Europe.”