The proliferating global influence activities of China and Russia diverge from traditional means of public diplomacy. Instead, they use wealth, stealth and coercion to coopt influential policy voices and players, control information flows, censor unfavorable reporting and analysis, and ultimately mold societal attitudes and government postures.
The methods vary. Each regime has relied heavily on the promotion of its state-controlled media abroad, such as Xinhua News Agency, CGTV, and RT (formerly Russia Today). Russia has been perfecting a new form of geopolitical warfare, using social media to intensify political polarization, inflame social divisions, sow doubt and cynicism about democracy, and promote pro-Russian politicians and parties. Through investments, partnership agreements, donations, exchanges, positions on boards of directors, and other “friendly” relations, China has fostered wider and deeper penetration into the vital tissues of democracies—media, publishing houses, entertainment industries, technology companies, universities, think tanks, and non-governmental organizations. These intrusions are rapidly expanding not only in the West but in Latin America, post-communist Europe, and Africa as well. In different but perhaps equally devastating ways, China and Russia are using the openness and pluralism of democracies to subvert and bend them to their strategic objectives—principally, the weakening of Western democratic alliances and the relentless expansion of their own economic and geopolitical power.
What these two resurgent authoritarian states are projecting, argue Walker and Ludwig, is power that is not “soft” but rather “sharp,” like the tip of a dagger: It enables them “to cut, razor-like, into the fabric of a society, stoking and amplifying existing divisions” (in the case of Russia) or to seek, especially in the case of China, “to monopolize ideas, suppress alternative narratives, and exploit partner institutions.”
The bottom-line stakes are existential: Will the United States—and liberal democracies collectively—retain global leadership economically, technologically, morally, and politically, or are we entering a world in which we conspire in our own eclipse?
The vast majority of counterintelligence cases I worked in the FBI involved a foreign intelligence service (FIS) conducting what we called “perception management campaigns.” Perception management, broadly defined, includes any activity that is designed to shape American opinion and policy in ways favorable to the FIS home country. Some perception management operations can involve aggressive tactics like infiltrating and spying on dissident groups (and even intimidating them), or trying to directly influence U.S. policy by targeting politicians under the guise of a legitimate lobbying group. But perception management operations also include more passive tactics like using media to spread government propaganda—and these are the most difficult for the FBI to investigate.
As the internet renders useless the FBI’s normal methods to counter foreign propaganda, the reach of these operations has increased a thousandfold. In the past, a failure to neutralize a perception management operation would at least be limited by the reach of “traditional,” i.e., paper, media which are practically constrained to a region or paying customers. But social media platforms can reach an almost limitless audience, often within days or hours, more or less for free: Russia’s Facebook ads alone reached between 23 million and 70 million viewers. Without any direct way to investigate and identify the source of the private accounts that generate this “fake news,” there’s literally nothing the FBI can do to stop a propaganda operation that can occur on such a massive scale.
This fact is not lost on the Russians. Like any country with sophisticated intelligence services, Russia has long been a careful student of U.S. freedoms, laws and the constraints of its main nemesis in the U.S., the FBI. They have always known how to exploit our “constitutional loopholes”: The difference now is that technology has transformed the legal crevice in which they used to operate into a canyon. The irony, of course, is that the rights that Americans most cherish—those of speech and press—and are now weaponized against us are the same ones Russia despises and clamps down on in its own country.
I do not remember Biden, much less his boss, tweeting “There is only one side” after any Islamist atrocity. On the contrary, president Obama often used his considerable eloquence to make just the opposite point. In his speech following the 2012 Benghazi attacks, he even went so far as to say: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” as if there were some moral equivalence between jihadists and those with the courage to speak critically about the relationship between Islam and violence.
Last week one of the chief executives who repudiated Trump, Apple’s Tim Cook, announced a $1 million donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet that organization earlier this year branded Ayaan Hirsi Ali (full disclosure: my wife) and our friend Maajid Nawaz “anti-Muslim extremist.” That word “extremist” should be applied only to those who preach or practice political violence, and to all who do: rightists, leftists, and Islamists.
Trump blew it last week, no question. But as the worm turns against him, let us watch very carefully whom it turns to — or what it turns turn into. If Silicon Valley translates “There is only one side” into “Censor anything that the left brands ‘hate speech,’” then the worm will become a snake.
Two countries, two leaders, two approaches—yet both succeeded, for different reasons. The calls with Malcolm Turnbull and Enrique Peña Nieto are not only a valuable document of how diplomacy works; they would also set a pattern. Time and again, foreign leaders have found that Trump is hardly the hardened negotiator he claims, but is instead a pushover. If they can get into a one-on-one conversation with Trump, they can usually convince him to come around to their position. If that was true on paying for the wall and taking refugees, it stands to reason it would be true for lesser Trump priorities, too.
Granted, international diplomacy is a lot tougher than cutting real estate deals in New York, and there’s still a lot of time left on the presidential clock to make Trump great again. But half a year into the Trump era, there’s little evidence of Donald Trump, master negotiator. Quite the opposite, in fact: In several very important areas and with some very important partners, Trump seems to be getting the short end of the proverbial stick. The president who was going to put America first and outmaneuver allies and adversaries alike seems to be getting outsmarted by both at every turn, while the United States gets nothing.
Let’s start with the president’s recent encounters with the president of Russia, a man who admittedly has confounded his fellow world leaders for nearly two decades. Apparently without any reciprocal concessions, the world’s greatest negotiator bought into Russia’s plan for Syria, where U.S. and Russian goals are in conflict; ended America’s covert program of support for the moderate Syrian opposition, then confirmed its highly classified existence on Twitter; and had an ostentatious one-on-one meeting with the Kremlin strongman at the G-20 dinner, sticking a finger in the eye of some of America’s closest allies. It’s bad enough to give Putin the global spotlight he craves while accepting Russia’s seriously flawed vision for Syria. But to do so without getting anything in return gives “the art of the deal” a whole new meaning. Trump’s failure to hold Putin accountable for Russian interference in the presidential election is the most egregious example of putting Russia’s interests first and America’s interests last, but it’s hardly the whole of the matter. There’s no other way to put it: Trump has become Putin’s poodle. If it weren’t for Congress, public opinion and the media, Trump would be giving away more of the farm on sanctions, Russian aggression in Ukraine and other issues that divide the United States and Russia. That’s not winning; it’s losing.
Durante a última campanha eleitoral nos EUA, foram surgindo muitos apoiantes e acólitos de Donald Trump que, de certa maneira, se assemelhavam aos apoiantes de Obama que acreditavam que o primeiro presidente americano negro seria uma espécie de enviado divino com a missão de resolver todos os males no planeta. Claro que o entusiasmo pueril em torno de determinados líderes políticos (numa linguagem weberiana, alguns podem ser classificados como carismáticos), assim como a diabolização de outros, fazem parte da essência das campanhas eleitorais. Passada a campanha, quando o eleito é confrontado com a realidade política da governação, muitos dos seus eleitores acabam, inevitavelmente, por ver as suas expectativas frustradas, ao passo que muitos dos seus detractores, mesmo que não o admitam, acabam por perceber que o mundo não acabou e que a vida continua. Como ninguém está imune a este tipo de emoções, uma certa dose de pessimismo é, portanto, uma saudável recomendação para quem prefere afinar pelo diapasão da temperança. Por isto mesmo, não acreditei que Trump fosse um anjo ou o diabo, preferindo aguardar para ver no que resultaria a sua presidência. Quem tem acompanhado a política americana ao longo dos últimos meses reconhecerá que talvez fosse difícil fazer pior, salvando-se, no campo da política externa, como honrosa excepção, a mensagem que enviou à Rússia e à China por via do ataque lançado contra a Síria. Mas após o polémico episódio de há uns dias, em que Trump tweetou um vídeo de si próprio a esmurrar alguém com o logo da CNN no lugar da cabeça, estou convencido de que, embora não seja um anjo nem o demónio, Trump será, provavelmente, o mais patético líder político contemporâneo, um adolescente que, para mal dos EUA e do mundo, se encontra no mais poderoso cargo político existente.
America’s uniqueness, even pre-Trump, was expressed as much through negative indicators as positive. It is more violent than other comparable societies, both one-on-one and in the gun massacres to which the country has become so habituated. It has worse health outcomes than comparably wealthy countries, and some of the most important of them are deteriorating further even as they improve almost everywhere else. America’s average levels of academic achievement lag those of other advanced countries. Fewer Americans vote—and in no other democracy does organized money count for so much in political life. A century ago, H.L. Mencken observed the American “national genius for corruption,” and (again pre-Trump) Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index ranks the U.S. in 18th place, behind Hong Kong, Belgium, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany—never mind first-place finishers Denmark and New Zealand.
As I said: pre-Trump. Now the United States has elected a president who seems much more aligned with—and comfortable in the company of—the rulers of Turkey, Hungary, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines than his counterparts in other highly developed countries.
That result forces a reshaping of the question of American exceptionalism.
“Why was the United States vulnerable to such a person when other democracies have done so much better?” Part of the answer is a technical one: The Electoral College, designed to protect the country from demagogues, instead elected one. But then we have to ask: How did Trump even get so far that the Electoral College entered into the matter one way or another?
Thinking about that question forces an encounter with American exceptionalism in its most somber form. If, as I believe, Donald Trump arose because of the disregard of the American political and economic elite for the troubles of so many of their fellow-citizens, it has to be asked again: How could the leaders of a democratic country imagine they could get away with such disregard?
Just one of our two parties is interested in checking this president’s abuse. The other, the Republican Party, is indifferent, content to tolerate Trump’s misconduct as long as it doesn’t interrupt or interfere with its political agenda. What defined Thursday’s hearing, in fact, was the degree to which Republicans downplayed obvious examples of bad—potentially illegal—behavior and sought to exonerate Trump rather than grapple with Comey’s damning allegations about the president. Sen. James Risch of Idaho, for example, pressed Comey on his claim that President Trump had asked the then–FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, suggesting that—because Trump didn’t give a direct order—we ought to ignore the clear subtext of the president’s statement. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma described Trump’s actions on behalf of Flynn as a “light touch.” Other Republican committee members, like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, steered the conversation toward the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Still others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, defended Trump’s actions, blasting leaks to the press as efforts to undermine his administration.
Republican committee members were aided in all of this by the official organs of the GOP, which treated the hearings as a distraction—a partisan frivolity driven by Democrats and the press. “Director Comey’s opening statement confirms he told President Trump three times that he was not under investigation,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee that recommended a strategy of deflection. The RNC additionally argued that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on the procedures, defended Trump’s potentially illegal behavior as the mistakes of a novice. “He’s just new to this, and probably wasn’t steeped in long-running protocols,” he said.
James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony, both written and spoken, is evidence of one political crisis: A president with little regard for rule of law who sees no problem in bringing his influence and authority to bear on federal investigations. The Republican reaction—the effort to protect Trump and discredit Comey—is evidence of another: a crisis of ultra-partisanship, where the nation’s governing party has opted against oversight and accountability, abdicating its role in our system of checks and balances and allowing that president free rein, as long as he signs its legislation and nominates its judges.
Americans face two major crises, each feeding into the other. Republicans aren’t bound to partisan loyalty. They can choose country over party, rule of law over ideology. But they won’t, and the rest of us will pay for it.
Não se consegue ainda perceber bem as consequências do ataque que Trump lançou esta noite sobre a base militar síria de onde alegadamente saíram os aviões que protagonizaram o recente ataque com armas químicas na Síria – ainda não foi confirmada a autoria deste ataque, embora a administração norte-americana afirme que tudo indica que a responsabilidade recai sobre Assad e a posição russa seja realmente risível. Alguns começaram já a condenar Trump por trair a retórica isolacionista em termos de política externa utilizada durante a campanha para as eleições presidencias do ano passado, outros afirmam que o ataque desta noite mostra um aventureirismo perigoso.
Eu prefiro sublinhar que Xin Jinping chegou ontem aos EUA para reunir com Trump e que tanto a China como a Rússia têm apoiado a Síria na ONU, o que me faz crer que a acção algo imprevisível de Trump comporta essencialmente uma mensagem para Pequim e Moscovo: há linhas que não podem ser atravessadas mesmo em contextos de guerra e os EUA não vão assistir impavidamente às acções de russos e chineses que atravessam essas linhas ou que apoiam quem as atravessa.
O ataque lançado pelos EUA é cirúrgico o suficiente para ser uma justa retaliação pela acção inqualificável de Assad, mas também, e mais importante, para servir como demonstração de força e enviar uma mensagem a Putin. E não deixa de ser ridículo ver o presidente russo, tantas vezes aplaudido por muitos por decisões imprevisíveis e demonstrações de força que ignoram ou violam o direito internacional e são justificadas por pretextos dúbios recorrendo a argumentos tipicamente utilizados por potências ocidentais, vir agora argumentar que a decisão de Trump viola o direito internacional, é uma agressão a um Estado soberano e prejudica as relações entre EUA e Rússia. Ora, afinal, o que foram as invasões da Geórgia e da Ucrânia, e em particular a anexação da Crimeia, senão provocações da Rússia a todo o Ocidente e agressões a Estados soberanos violadoras do direito internacional?
A utilização recorrente deste tipo de argumentos por Putin, que não correspondem à prática russa, deixa bem patente a duplicidade do presidente russo que ainda vai passando algo incólume, mas a sua utilização no dia de hoje mostra também que Putin foi surpreendido por Trump e não sabe bem, pelo menos para já, como reagir – o que é muito positivo.
Put simply, the European Union made itself the epitome of the Modern Age by relentless secularization. Islamism, emerging from the post–World War I collapse of the Ottoman empire and caliphate, made itself the vanguard of jihadist religion’s rise to become the implacable adversary of modernity. If Europe is where the siege is to take place, the drawbridge already is up: Islamism abhors the state; the EU has emasculated it.
Islamism recognizes only one border: between itself and regions yet to become Muslim; Europe has opened its borders to the point of abolishing the concept altogether.
Islamism regards democracy as un-Islamic because it enacts laws other than sharia; the European Union from its inception has acted assiduously to prevent people from governing themselves democratically.
Islamists, like Machiavelli, know that armed prophets are victorious and unarmed prophets are destroyed; the European Union has deliberately diminished its capacities to defend itself or to back its diplomacy with strength.
And while Islamists declare religion to be the answer, the EU has seen religion as the problem. As Pierre Manent has pointed out, had Europeans maintained their identity as sovereign states with a Christian heritage, the assimilation of Muslims could have been possible on the basis of comity, whereas now it lacks an answer to “assimilation to what?”
Americans need to understand that the Modern Age with its pluralistic structures, societies, and beliefs is under assault and that the enemies of modernity are uniate, unwilling to accept others on an equal basis. In this context America’s involvement in the Middle East must take the side of pluralistic states and parties compatible with the international system.
Only Europeans can rectify the flaws in the European Union’s design to enable Europe to act on the world stage as a bordered state incorporating its historic nation-states in confederation. And only Europeans can attend to the needs of the European soul.
But however the relationship between Britain and Europe comes out, the United States must regard its relations with both as “special.” Transatlantic unity has been the keystone of the defense and extension of freedom in war-time for a hundred years and must remain so.
It is not the European Union but NATO that has been the key to transatlantic solidarity. Strengthening NATO as a military alliance with political consequences in support of a reformed European Union must be at the core of American policy. NATO’s role “out of area” will be vital along with continued efforts to integrate like-minded partners to the extent possible: Russia, Israel, the gulf Arab states. The Modern Age itself is at stake.