Let us hope John McCain’s vision of America long outlasts him

“I have been amusing myself latterly with reading the voluminous letters of Cicero. [T]hey certainly breathe the present effusions of an exalted patriot, while the parricide Caesar is left in odious contrast.” Those words were written by Thomas Jefferson on Dec. 10, 1819, in a letter to John Adams, himself a great Cicero scholar. America’s second president even modeled himself on the great Roman orator and politician: “All the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher,” Adams once wrote. Continue reading “Let us hope John McCain’s vision of America long outlasts him”

Trump has put America in the worst of all possible worlds

In retrospect, the era of American hegemony — the moment of the “sole superpower,” when the United States was the “essential” country — was remarkably brief. It began in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, probably peaked just before 9/11, and for the past decade — under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — it has been drawing slowly and unevenly to an end. Even while it lasted, this hegemony was partly a game of smoke and mirrors. It depended on perceptions: belief in American wealth, fear of American military power, admiration for American values. It depended on the absence of opponents: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relative weakness of China. Continue reading “Trump has put America in the worst of all possible worlds”

In Trump’s White House, foreign policy is now made on a whim

Quite a few Europeans woke up Tuesday morning to sunshine (the weather is finally good here) and some cheerful news: The Trump administration would not, in fact, be slapping steel and aluminum tariffs on the continent, and the European Union would not, in fact, be responding with tariffs of its own. Even the night before, no one knew what the White House would decide. Extraordinary preparations had already been made. The E.U.’s trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, had drawn up a list of carefully chosen retaliatory tariffs, including one on motorcycles (meant to affect Harley-Davidson Inc., which is based in Wisconsin, the home state of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan) as well as bourbon (from Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell). Continue reading “In Trump’s White House, foreign policy is now made on a whim”

People power worked in Armenia. It won’t work everywhere.

“When I saw the masses of East German citizens there, I knew they were in the right.” A quarter-century later, that was how Lt. Col. Harald Jäger explained his decision to open the gates and let his fellow citizens through the Berlin Wall. Jäger was guarding a border checkpoint on Nov. 9, 1989, in the hours after East German leaders had announced that the travel rules were changing. As Berliners flocked to the wall, demanding to cross into the West, he asked repeatedly for clarification from his superiors, but nothing was forthcoming. Continue reading “People power worked in Armenia. It won’t work everywhere.”

There are many ways for democracy to fail

“I hope that one day we’d be able to return to a country we recognize.” For the first time since she was murdered by a car bomb six months ago, members of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family have spoken publicly about the circumstances that led to her death. Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist who wrote about corruption and money laundering in a country that had turned a blind eye to it. As one of her sons says in a video recorded by an international consortium set up to continue her investigations, she was “fighting to hold Malta and Maltese society to a higher standard.” Continue reading “There are many ways for democracy to fail”

Russia is lying about Syria. But Trump has no credibility to counter it.

In the aftermath of the latest suspected chemical attack in Syria, the Russian government borrowed a tactic from President Trump. First, it denied the evidence: “False information is being planted about the alleged use of chlorine and other toxic agents by the Syrian government forces.” Then, it gave the allegations a familiar label: “fake news.” Continue reading “Russia is lying about Syria. But Trump has no credibility to counter it.”

It’s not just Russia anymore

At long last, people have stopped asking “Is it really happening?” or “Does it really work?” or “Does it even matter?” Facebook has acknowledged the existence of Russian disinformation on its platform and has finally banned sites created by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian institution dedicated to covert online propaganda. Twitter has removed automated Russian botnets. Hearings and major conferences in France, Britain and Brussels have convened in recent weeks to discuss possible government responses to Russian disinformation campaigns within European democracies, too. Continue reading “It’s not just Russia anymore”