Don’t forget those smiling images of Trump and the Russians

The pictures from the Oval Office on Wednesday — published by a Tass photographer, as no U.S. media were present — are jolly and good-humored. President Trump, who fired his FBI director a day earlier, is grinning for the cameras and shaking hands with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. They, too, smile and laugh, relishing the many ironies of the moment. Continue reading “Don’t forget those smiling images of Trump and the Russians”

Ivanka Trump’s White House role is a symbol of democratic decline

I’ve no doubt she thinks she is qualified. Politics is not really all that different from advertising, right? You promote handbags; you promote nice causes. Women entrepreneurs, friendship between nations, edgy earrings — whatever. These are all part of a lifestyle that everybody wants, and it’s a lifestyle that Ivanka Trump has been selling, for profit, for most of her life. Continue reading “Ivanka Trump’s White House role is a symbol of democratic decline”

Yes, Rex Tillerson, U.S. taxpayers should care about Ukraine. Here’s why.

“Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” That was the question that Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, was heard to ask at a meeting of the Group of Seven foreign ministers, America’s closest allies, a day before his visit to Moscow this week. We don’t know what he meant by that question, or in what context it was asked. When queried, the State Department replied that it was a “rhetorical device,” seeking neither to defend nor retract it. Continue reading “Yes, Rex Tillerson, U.S. taxpayers should care about Ukraine. Here’s why.”

Amid Brexit, British citizens are suddenly gripped by nostalgia

The British government invoked Article 50 of the treaty on European Union last week, officially triggering Britain’s departure from the trading arrangements, economic treaties and security agreements that it has shared with other Europeans for more than 40 years. Some people were delighted, others devastated. But a loud subset of British citizens were suddenly gripped by a different emotion: nostalgia. Might it now be possible to turn the clock back to the 1970s — or earlier — in other ways, too? Continue reading “Amid Brexit, British citizens are suddenly gripped by nostalgia”

Every day a new Russian revelation. That’s not as bizarre as it sounds.

The former national security adviser wants to testify under immunity. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sneaks off to the White House for illicit briefings. Every day brings a new revelation in Washington, and every day reveals the story of someone else’s conversation with someone else from Russia. Continue reading “Every day a new Russian revelation. That’s not as bizarre as it sounds.”

The critical questions on Russia

There is nothing new about a Russian government seeking to exert influence in Western countries. For many decades, the Soviet Union supported Western communist parties and ran disinformation campaigns (Operation Infektion, the campaign to convince the world that the United States invented AIDS, was one of the most famous). The KGB slipped money and guns into the hands of terrorists and extremists, the Red Army Faction and the Irish Republican Army among them. Continue reading “The critical questions on Russia”

Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world

The Enlightenment belief that we can know and understand reality — that we can measure it, weigh it, judge it, use reason to explain it — underlies all of the achievements of Western civilization, from the scientific revolution to the Industrial Revolution to democracy itself. Ever since René Descartes asked himself how it was possible to know that melting wax is the same thing as a candle, we have believed that reason, not mythology, sensibility, emotion or instinct, provides a superior way to understand the world. But is that still true? Continue reading “Sweden, immigrants and Trump’s post-Enlightenment world”

France’s future depends on one question — and one man

The issues under debate in this year’s French presidential election are broad and varied: terrorism and trade, the retirement age and social security, the legacy of France in Algeria and the future of France in Europe. But in truth, only one issue really matters: Can the heady cocktail of fear-mongering, nationalism, nostalgia, resentment, pro-Russian foreign policy and big-government economics — a philosophy that is described, unsatisfyingly, as “far right” or “populist,” that takes a particularly virulent online form and that has contributed to recent electoral victories in the United States and Britain — be defeated in a major Western country? And if so, how? Continue reading “France’s future depends on one question — and one man”

The specter of Trump in Munich


Diplomatic events are always made smoother by a touch of ambiguity. But at this year’s Munich Security Conference, the annual gathering of the the transatlantic alliance, the ambiguity shaded into something a little weirder. Speaker after speaker called for unity and cohesion in the face of the grave dangers facing the Western alliance. But nobody could quite bring themselves to say the truth out loud: that one of the gravest dangers facing the Western alliance is the president of the United States. Continue reading “The specter of Trump in Munich”

“What happens to us?” Why Sweden is so worried about the Trump administration

A winter evening in Stockholm, lights glinting in the harbor, snow falling outside. “And what about us,” I am asked, “up here in the North? What happens to us?” My Swedish companions are journalists, analysts and civil servants, people who care about their country’s national security. Though neither elite nor wealthy, they do share a worldview. They think their country’s prosperity depends on the European Union and its open markets. They also think their safety depends on the United States’ commitment to Europe. And since President Trump took office, they suddenly find themselves staring into an unfathomable abyss. Continue reading ““What happens to us?” Why Sweden is so worried about the Trump administration”