Podcast: Henry Kissinger's Legacy
Order vs. chaos, control vs. democracy
I hope you all are already subscribers to my Fox News podcast, where in the past few months I’ve shifted to doing monologues as opposed to interviews for most episodes. You can subscribe on any platform here. The latest episode focuses on the handoff between Henry Kissinger and the conservative foreign policy of Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s — and questions how real that handoff really was.
One of the aspects that runs throughout any look back at Kissinger’s work is the tension between democratic priorities and the need for order. It’s not much of a stretch to say that we’re seeing a similar hypocrisy play out again today, with the drumbeat of articles asserting that this time, Donald Trump really is a threat to turn authoritarian. You’ve got the NYT and WaPo opeds, the Liz Cheney book tour, and a super special issue of The Atlantic featuring all their normal anti-Trump writers writing normal anti-Trump articles (so, an issue of The Atlantic).
The irony here is that the only anti-democratic steps being taken appear to all be focused on forcing people to vote for Joe Biden, and blocking Trump from being a choice voters can make. Jonathan Turley:
This week, the Executive Committee of the Florida Democratic Democracy told voters that they would not be allowed to vote against Biden. Even though he has opponents in the primary, the party leadership has ordered that only Biden will appear on the primary ballot.
And if you want to register your discontent with Biden with a write-in vote, forget about it. Under Florida law, if the party approves only one name, there will be no primary ballots at all. The party just called the election for Biden before a single vote has been cast.
This is not unprecedented. It happened with Barack Obama in 2012 and, on the Republican side, with George W. Bush in 2004. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.
As Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) noted, “Americans would expect the absence of democracy in Tehran, not Tallahassee. Our mission as Democrats is to defeat authoritarians, not become them.”
In Iran, the mullahs routinely bar opposition candidates from ballots as “Guardians” of the ballots.
There is good reason for the Biden White House to want the election called before it is held. A CNN poll found that two out of three Democrats believe that the party should nominate someone else. A Wall Street Journal poll that found 73 percent of voters say Biden is “too old to run for president.”
The party leadership is solving that problem by depriving Democratic voters of a choice.
In other states, Democratic politicians and lawyers are pursuing a different strategy: “You can have any candidate, as long as it isn’t Trump.”
They are seeking to bar Trump from ballots under a novel theory about the 14th Amendment. In states from Colorado to Michigan, Democratic operatives are arguing that Trump must be taken off the ballots because he gave “aid and comfort” to an “insurrection or rebellion.” Other Democrats have called for more than 120 other Republicans to be stripped from the ballots under the same claim tied to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
In a recent filing supporting this effort, figures as prominent as media lawyer Floyd Abrams and Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky have told the Colorado Supreme Court that preventing voters from being able to cast their votes for Trump is just a way of “fostering democracy.” So long as courts believe that a candidate’s speech is “capable of triggering disqualification,” that speech is unprotected in their view.
I have long criticized this theory as legally and historically unfounded. It is also an extremely dangerous theory that would allow majorities in different states to ban opposing candidates in tit-for-tat actions.
So far, these efforts around the country have met with defeat in court after court, but the effort continues, and with the support of many in the media.
The Speaker’s Ukraine Dilemma
On Monday, it became obvious just how messy things really are — on several fronts.
Setting the stage: The White House and lawmakers from both parties are warning that Ukraine’s military will almost certainly suffer battlefield losses to the Russians if new U.S. aid isn’t approved before the end of December.
Republicans, however, are conditioning their support for Ukrainian aid on Democrats and President Joe Biden accepting policy changes to address the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Partisan sniping: As we first reported, Senate Democrats walked away from the border negotiations on Friday night after concluding that Republicans were unwilling to meet them in the middle. The two sides didn’t negotiate at all over the weekend as a result.
But on Monday, the lead GOP negotiator, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), disputed the idea that the talks suffered a setback. This came even as the top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), insisted the two sides weren’t currently negotiating and hadn’t since Friday. Republicans sent a counter-proposal Monday night in an effort to revive the talks.
And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who’s also involved in the border talks, appeared to clap back Monday at Democrats’ suggestions that Republicans were proposing extreme measures.
To be sure, both sides are posturing ahead of a likely procedural vote Wednesday on Biden’s $105 billion foreign aid request. The vote is expected to fail given that the aid package — which covers Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — won’t include GOP border demands.
Of course, a failed vote would send a horrible signal to Ukraine and U.S. allies globally, especially after Ukraine’s top leaders appeal directly to senators for help. Murphy said flatly this is “a really dangerous moment” for the Senate.
“I think the world needs to be very concerned about what’s happening here,” Murphy told us. “Republicans have decided to hold Ukraine funding hostage to a domestic political priority that is among the hardest in American politics to solve.”
Yet Senate Republicans believe a failed cloture vote could be exactly what’s needed to reinvigorate the talks. GOP senators have been telling us that Democrats will eventually come around simply because of the urgency of passing new Ukraine funding.
“It’s a point of leverage,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “There’s a supermajority of people who want this [foreign] aid to go forward, and we think this is an opportunity for us.”
The Israel Proportionality Trap
At the time of action, each commander must therefore make a judgment call, based on the information they have. If a target may deliver a compelling or even decisive military gain, severe civilian losses may be tolerated. What would be a case of “excessive” collateral damage? The International Red Cross (ICRC), in its widely cited 1987 commentary to the AP/1 protocols, gave the following case: “For example, the presence of a soldier on leave obviously cannot justify the destruction of a village.” That’s true, but the extreme example isn’t too helpful for real-world scenarios. Giving an extreme negative example of a disproportionate act doesn’t provide clear guidance for what is a permissive proportionate act.
Recognizing the difficulty in determining what is a proportionate order, leading legal historian Geoffrey Best declared, “Although it may be tricky and embarrassing to define in advance, the reasonable man or woman knows one when he receives one.” As we know from other famous legal questions, the “I know it when I see it” criterion cannot be implemented as a legal norm. In the real world, “reasonable” men and women deeply disagree on what’s excessive, especially in relation to their judgment of the desired “direct military advantage.”
The ICRC, in its commentary, had a different solution to this problem of subjectivity: to change the rule. In their minds, AP/1 means “incidental losses and damages should never be extensive.” Note the critical change in language. Not excessive, but extensive. If the body count is high or the damage too great, then the action is illegal, no matter what the military gain.
Having redefined the meaning of the term, human rights officials could now easily condemn military actions that caused large numbers of casualties, even if they met the classic standard of proportionality. Thus, at the beginning of the 2006 war, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned Israel by declaring, “The bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable.” Similarly, the infamous Goldstone Commission that investigated the 2008 war in Gaza denounced Israel for killing more than what was considered the “acceptable loss of civilian life.”
Yet no treaty has ever banned “extensive” warfare because no country could abide by such a rule, let alone agree to it. Just as the number of bodies in a morgue doesn’t indicate the quality of medical care in the hospital, so too a body count doesn’t indicate whether an army acted excessively or immorally. The key ethical (and, for that matter, legal) question remains whether the damage is excessive in relation to the military gain. This point, in fact, was readily acknowledged in a 1987 brief by a leading ICRC lawyer in her analysis of the 1982 Lebanon War: “The Israeli bombardment of Beirut in June and July of 1982 resulted in high civilian casualties, but not necessarily excessively so given the fact that the military targets were placed amongst the civilian population” (emphasis added). High casualty rates do not indicate excessiveness.
To exemplify this point, consider the assassination of a senior Hamas leader and its immoral aftermath that led then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make the terrible mistake of not eliminating the entire leadership of Hamas, and thereby possibly saving Israelis and Palestinians two decades of horrific bloodshed, out of fear that Israel’s actions would be condemned as disproportionate.
Who Are Populist Voters?
Two theories are helpful in considering populism’s root causes. First is the economic-shock model, which centers on the public’s economic grievances and globalization. Second is the cultural-shock model, revolving around immigration and social issues.
The economic-shock model has figured prominently in recent discussions of populism. The theory holds that as economies become increasingly interconnected, globalization, migration, and automation have undermined the economic prospects of ordinary people and thus triggered a populist backlash. As the more affluent embrace globalization for its economic benefits, others have felt left behind. Many political commentators and academics have noted, often derisively, that right-populist parties appeal to the fears and anxieties of globalization’s “losers.”
Over the last several years, however, other observers have attributed the rise of populism to cultural, rather than exclusively economic, factors. Pipa Norris and Ronald Inglehart notably investigated radical-right populism through their “cultural backlash theory.” The two scholars contend that behind populism’s rise is not only voters’ economic insecurity but also a reaction against progressive cultural values. In Wilders’s case, his party was polling at 12 percent in early October, but its support skyrocketed after the Israel-Hamas war commenced and pro-Palestine protests swept the nation. While we cannot yet draw a causal conclusion, it seems plausible that these highly charged events prompted many Dutch voters, seeing radical cultural change explode before their eyes, to rally behind Wilders, who has built a political career on his opposition to Muslim immigration.
But Norris and Inglehart characterize populists in the familiar way—as being mostly uneducated, provincial, old, mostly white men, who align themselves against a well-educated, liberal, cosmopolitan elite. Many scholars agree, and we often hear university students speak condescendingly of populist voters and paint them as poor and benighted old men.
Political scientist Armin Schäfer has highlighted flaws in this characterization of populist voters. His data show that younger voters are actually as likely to vote for populist leaders as are older ones; despite millennials being popularly portrayed as progressive, they are as likely, according to Schäfer, to vote for populist leaders as are their grandparents. All age cohorts hold both libertarian and authoritarian values; while they cherish individual freedom, they often find security of comparable importance. Cohorts’ preferred balances of liberty and order are actually quite similar, as opposed to what Norris and Inglehart suggest.
These and other data suggest that the demographics of the populist backlash are more diverse than commonly understood. Younger generations are more likely to cast protest votes and entertain radical politics. The populist impulse to go to extremes in response to voters’ resentment and distrust of institutional politics is winning over diverse segments of the youth voting bloc. Over 41 percent of Europeans aged 18–35 have inched toward the right-to-radical right—that is, they have scored between 6 and 10 on a scale measuring conservatism—while only 26 percent have inched to the left. Only 40 percent of Europeans between the ages of 16 and 29 trust political actors, and young people believe less in the traditional left/right divide than do older generations. The widespread assumption that young adults are naturally inclined to progressive politics has blinded many commentators to the reality that young voters, especially drop-outs and those living in rural areas, have anchored numerous radical-right populist electoral victories.
Items of Interest
“Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.”
— Ambrose Bierce