No dia 25 de Abril de 2017, reuni-me no café Piolho com pessoas do Porto e de Lisboa para discutir a possibilidade da formação de um partido liberal. Nesse dia fiz duas observações:
1. É para fazer uma maratona ou uma corrida de 100 metros? Para uma corrida de 100 metros não contem comigo.
2. Embora seja legítimo que neste projecto cada um tenha as suas motivações e ambições pessoais, o partido não pode ser a soma dessas motivações e ambições, mas sim algo muito superior a nós. Terá de ser uma visão de futuro ao serviço dos portugueses.
O tempo acabou por me responder.
Sou fundador e membro (agora demissionário) da Comissão Executiva da Iniciativa Liberal (IL). Mesmo antes de ter ajudado a fundar a IL defendia que não bastava apenas uma nova forma de fazer política. Também advogava uma nova forma de estar na política, assente em dois vectores. Primeiro, a Liberdade implica Responsabilidade e Responsabilização. Segundo, a verdade não pode estar subordinada às conveniências momentâneas. Por isso, não basta o que dizemos. A coerência entre o pensamento e acção é também um valor indispensável. É-o, por maioria de razão, num partido político.
Desde o início que deixei muito claro o que pensava. Quer relativamente à articulação entre as dimensões interna e externa – descentralização; independência e autonomia dos órgãos [das funções e competências (observância ao Princípio da Separação de Poderes)] –, quer relativamente ao posicionamento e à mensagem política – respeito pelas opções individuais e defesa inequívoca dos direitos sociais, económicos e políticos de cada um; menos Estado; mais liberdade; crescimento económico. Fi-lo antes do partido ser partido. Fi-lo enquanto membro do partido. Fá-lo-ei sempre, respeitando a decisão dos membros, especialmente as que forem tomadas em Convenção.
Sem excepção, todas as três pessoas – Miguel Ferreira da Silva, Carlos Guimarães Pinto e João Cotrim de Figueiredo – que já lideraram a IL merecem reconhecimento. Todavia, reconhecimento não implica cegueira. Nem tampouco obediência cega. A lealdade é uma via de dois sentidos. E a lealdade institucional tem limites.
Por isso, e por achar que é no interior dos órgãos que se expressam posições, várias vezes manifestei a minha discordância sobre determinadas decisões na Comissão Executiva. Posso estar enganado, mas penso que isto é transparência. O mundo não é preto ou branco. O maniqueísmo ou o pensamento binário não é algo com que me identifique. Não há ninguém que esteja sempre certo, nem ninguém que esteja sempre errado. Como tal, apoiei medidas por concordar com as razões das mesmas e critiquei outras com base no mesmo pressuposto. Estranhei a procura de unanimismos e estranho que uma opinião diferente possa ser entendida como oposição ou “traição”. Felizmente, não fui o único a discordar em várias situações.
Com a demissão do João Cotrim de Figueiredo, a IL vai entrar numa nova fase. Fui conselheiro nacional na vigência do Miguel e vogal nas Comissões Executivas do Carlos e do João. Se o João se recandidatasse não aceitaria fazer parte da sua equipa e não farei parte da equipa do Rui. Em termos pessoais não tenho nada contra nenhum dos candidatos. Ambos são pessoas decentes. A continuidade ideológica está garantida. Mas isso, por si só, é insuficiente. É preciso algo mais. É essencial fortalecer o carácter reformista da IL e aproveitar a energia individual de todos os membros e simpatizantes para fazer crescer o liberalismo.
Já expressei o meu apoio à Carla Castro. Reitero-o aqui. A Carla já provou o seu valor. A sua gestão do Gabinete de Estudos foi irrepreensível. Foi instrumental na elaboração dos programas eleitorais. Como assessora foi imprescindível para as boas prestações do João. A sua competência na Comissão Parlamentar de Orçamento e Finanças é inegável. A sua capacidade de trabalho é inquestionável. A sua educação e moderação é notável. A sua empatia é uma certeza. A sua liderança é inspiradora. E a sua firmeza vai surpreender quem não a conhece.
A Carla não se serve das pessoas. Pelo contrário. Serve as pessoas e motiva-as. Não tenho a menor dúvida de que a Carla Castro é quem melhor representa uma nova forma de estar na política.
Penso que o objetivo estratégico de Putin continua a ser a divisão do Ocidente.
Apesar de ser imperioso ter alguma prudência, creio que é essencial que o Ocidente se mantenha unido e espero que assim aconteça. Digo isto consciente dos sacrifícios que estão implícitos nesta posição.
Uma escalada para um conflito nuclear é possível. Porém, qual será o significado que emergirá daqui se perante esta “chantagem nuclear” a resolução do Ocidente esmorecer? Que efeitos devemos considerar?
Para além de se estar a dar tempo a Putin para se rearmar, para se reagrupar e para se consolidar internamente, quando Putin voltar a seguir estes caminhos, algo que não deve ser desconsiderado se tivermos em mente o padrão de comportamento demonstrado desde a intervenção russa na Geórgia, vamos ficar de braços cruzados perante uma nova chantagem nuclear?
Algo que era praticamente impossível há uns tempos – dois lados dentro do regime de Putin – é hoje uma possibilidade.
Isto não significa que a resistência ucraniana e o apoio do Ocidente à mesma não está a ter efeitos positivos?
Ukraine’s fall will only encourage Putin to continue down this path. And the consequences will be unpredictable. (article published 16 June 2022 – Observador)
1. The NATO-Russia Council was just over two years old when Boris Yeltsin nominated Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister. After that, gradually, what used to be a forum for consultation, consensus, cooperation, decision-making and joint action for security issues within the Euro-Atlantic region began to fade away. The reasons for detachment were not only due to old Russian suspicions about NATO enlargements. The installation of the NATO missile defense system in Europe also raised significant questions.
In 2007, Putin began to ask for a revision of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) seeking security enhancement. General Yuri Baluyevsky, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, acknowledged that Russia was considering unilaterally withdrawing from the INF Treaty, in response to the deployment of the NATO missile defense system in Europe and because other countries, like China, were not bound by the Treaty. In the same year, Russia suspended and later withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Shortly thereafter, the Kremlin announced an 8-year investment of US$100 billion in modernizing its military capabilities and developing completely new nuclear missile systems. Today we know that Putin’s motivations were different. Russian actions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (2008), as well as Crimea (2014) and the present ignoble interference in Ukraine illustrate this statement.
2. There is, since 1725, in Russia, a document that, apocryphal or not, seems to have influenced its behavior as a State. Not even the 1917 Revolution and the consequent regime change altered the execution of the ideas contained therein: territory and influence. Just remember how the Bolsheviks reacted to the territorial loss imposed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. I refer the Testament of Peter the Great.
In 2007, I authored an article – Crossroads – where I discussed Russia’s shift to a capitalist system and the resulting growth potential, saying that I would not be surprised if the germ of expansion reappeared. I said that the “heirs” of Peter the Great appeared to be revitalized. At least, as far as his current successor [Putin] was concerned in Russia’s resurgence on the world stage.
However, I missed one point in my analysis. I considered that Putin used the control system characteristic of the political apparatus of the former Soviet Union, but that he abandoned the communist system, merging these factors into the equation of democracy, when what Vladimir Putin was creating was an autocratic corporatist political structure, like the Chinese, under democracy’s guise.
Georgia, Crimea, and the invasion of Ukraine serve to prove Putin’s pattern of behavior. But something earlier happened that cannot be forgotten – Chechnya.
I have already written about Putin’s strange rise to power. As prime minister, and even as interim president, polls showed Putin had low levels of approval. Everything changed with the war in Chechnya. Do you remember what triggered this war? It was the explosion of bombs in apartment blocks in Moscow, attributed to Chechen terrorists. The Russian retaliation, which flattened Grozny (identical to what is happening in several Ukrainian cities) made Putin a popular hero.
Vladimir Putin has just compared himself to Peter the Great. Putin also hinted that without the 21-year war it would not have been possible for the Russian Tsar to found Russia’s new capital, St. Petersburg. built on land that no European country recognized as Russian. After hearing this, I wonder where Putin intends to establish the new Russian capital?
3. Why should we continue to support Ukraine? Because the fall of Ukraine will only serve to keep Putin on this path. He did not stop at Crimea; he will not stop at Donbass. European leaders must avoid pressure on Zelensky that imply territorial concession. As well as providing an incentive for Putin, it could also mean the end of Ukrainian unity around its President. What happens next? What effects will have the fall of Ukraine on the countries of the European Union and on NATO? Who can tell us that the war will not reach the borders of Poland and Germany? Especially if we show weakness. Make no mistake. It is in Ukraine that democracy, freedom, and respect for international law are being fought for.
How can we show more firmness? I know how the dynamics between the European institutions work, namely between the Commission and the European Council. I believe that Ursula Von der Leyen and that Charles Michel tend towards the integration of Ukraine in the EU. I support this measure, but I am concerned about the time such recognition involves.
Exceptional times require extraordinary responses. Therefore, I suggest an Ad Hoc procedure to speed up the process. I am aware of all the implications inherent in this suggestion. I am also aware that all candidate countries for accession must comply with the Acquis Communautaire and that there are other countries with previous requests. However, none of these countries have been invaded, nor are they at war. Furthermore, in the same Ad Hoc procedure, the subsequent conditions for Ukraine to become a fully-fledged Member State would also be expressed.
We must learn from the lessons of life and of history. Both the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have shown us that some decisions need to be reconsidered. We cannot remain dependent on just one country (either as a supplier or as a partner) and that, for example, we urgently need to formulate policies to encourage nearshore and onshore production in a myriad of areas. But what is at stake now is saving lives. It is not about deciding policies. We must reaffirm the Values we uphold. That is why we are deeply touched by the Ukrainians attitude. They are showing us that Democracy and Freedom comes at a cost.
It is undeniable that under Ursula Von der Leyen leadership, European sanctions have reached an unprecedented level. But it is necessary to go further. Vladimir Putin is not to be trusted. Hence, it is necessary to give an unequivocal sign of firmness.
Já o disse anteriormente. Reafirmo-o aqui. Se duvidas existiam, foram completamente dissipadas.
A Iniciativa Liberal, assim como os princípios e ideias por ela representada, não é um projecto político sem substância ou solidez. Também não é uma quimera irrealizável. Antes pelo contrário. Um país mais rico, através do liberalismo, é um horizonte perfeitamente alcançável.
Há uma diferença entre um sonho e uma ilusão.
A prosperidade partilhada sem crescimento económico não é apenas utópica. Também é demagógica.
E Portugal não precisa de mais ilusões.
Donated human corneas are scarce in places where they’re most needed. A version made from pig collagen could help meet demand.
MORE THAN 12 million people worldwide are blind because of disease or damage to the cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eye. A transplant from a deceased human donor can restore vision, but demand is so high that only about one in 70 patients receive one. The need is greatest in rural or economically developing countries like India or Iran, where there’s a shortage of corneas due to a lack of eye banks with cold storage. Without these special facilities, a fresh donor cornea must be used within five to seven days.
“The number one reason for why it’s difficult to do corneal transplants in these places is because corneas expire before doctors can place them,” says Esen Akpek, a professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s very expensive to do eye banking because you need a cold chain.”
As an alternative, researchers in Sweden have developed a bioengineered version made of collagen purified from pig skin that resembles the protein found in a human cornea. Bioengineered corneas could be made more readily available and may also have a longer shelf life than donor tissue. In a small trial, the implant restored or improved sight in 20 patients who were blind or visually impaired from a corneal condition called keratoconus. The results were published today in Nature Biotechnology.
“We think these could be customized and mass-produced, as opposed to donor corneas, which are often not very good quality because they are obtained from deceased patients who are elderly,” says study author Mehrdad Rafat, a senior lecturer of biomedical engineering at Linköping University. (Rafat founded a company called LinkoCare Life Sciences, which manufactured the bioengineered corneas used in the study.) Among other customizations, the size and thickness could be adjusted to accommodate the patient’s eye and the type of condition they have.
To make the implant, researchers isolated collagen molecules from pig skin, separating out all of the other biological components of the tissue. They added bonds between the collagen fibers to strengthen them and wove them into a hydrogel scaffold to mimic a human cornea.
Transplanting a cornea from a human donor requires a surgery to completely remove the recipient’s damaged tissue, and it is performed using expensive surgical equipment not available in many parts of the world. But for the study, the researchers made a small incision in the patients’ eyes and slipped the bioengineered corneas over their existing ones, making it a simpler procedure.
Rafat and his colleagues ran the trial in India and Iran on patients with keratoconus, which causes the normally round cornea to gradually thin and bulge outward into a cone shape. The condition causes vision to become blurry and distorted and can lead to blindness over time. It affects about 2.3 percent of the population in India, or 30 million people, and 4 percent of Iran’s population, or 3.4 million people.
If keratoconus is diagnosed before the cornea becomes severely scarred and irregular, doctors can maintain vision with special contact lenses and a procedure called corneal cross-linking, which uses UV light to strengthen the cornea and reduces the progression of the disease. For the study, the authors selected participants whose condition couldn’t be corrected with custom-fitted lenses due to eye discomfort and pain.
After their transplants, the researchers followed the volunteers for two years. They concluded that the implants were safe to use and restored the thickness and curvature of the recipients’ natural corneas. Before the operation, 14 of the 20 participants were legally blind, and the others were visually impaired. Two years later, three of the participants who had been blind prior to the study had 20/20 vision, thanks to a combination of the bioengineered corneas and the use of contact lenses or glasses. For the others, their vision improved to an average of 20/26 with contacts (in the Indian group) and 20/58 with glasses (in the Iranian group).
Christopher Starr, an ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, says that while the study was small, the results are promising. “The postoperative visual gains were quite impressive—as good, if not better, than traditional transplantation techniques,” he says. The participants also needed fewer eye drops and a shorter course of immunosuppressant drugs than is typically needed with transplantation from human donor corneas.
There have been other attempts at cornea implants. Artificial versions made of plastic exist, but they’re used when a patient has had one or more failed donor transplants. Because they’re plastic, these implants don’t integrate into a patient’s own eye like human tissue would, raising the risk of infection. “Biointegration has always been a huge challenge,” Starr says. “Without tight biointegration of a device, there is a much higher risk of bacteria getting into the eye and causing a rare but catastrophic infection called endophthalmitis, which often leads to permanent irreversible blindness.”
Immune system rejection, in which the body attacks the implant as a foreign object, is also a risk with any type of implant. But Starr says there may also be a lower risk of rejection with the bioengineered cornea, compared to human donor tissue, because the implant has been stripped of living cells.
Still, the process of inserting a bioengineered replacement over the original cornea, instead of swapping it out, might have some limitations. Akpek is skeptical that this kind of implant will be able to treat very severe cases of keratoconus, in which the cornea becomes clouded. “By just putting a transparent layer onto the cornea, they are strengthening, thickening, and flattening the cornea, but they’re not treating an opacified cornea, which is the advanced stage of keratoconus,” she says. For the bioengineered implant to work in these patients, she thinks the damaged cornea would also need to be removed—but that requires special training and technology that’s not available everywhere.
And she points out that getting a transplant first requires a diagnosis of corneal disease, which can be difficult in low-income areas where people don’t have access to eye specialists. “This doesn’t solve the problem, which is poverty,” says Akpek. But if a bioengineered version is cheaper and more accessible than using donor corneas, she says, it has a shot at preventing blindness in more people.
Rafat’s company is planning a larger trial of patients with more advanced disease. They also want to test the implant in people with other types of corneal blindness. One unknown is how long the bioengineered corneas will last after they’re transplanted. Donor corneas can last 10 years or more if there are no complications. “Our aim is to have a permanent implant,” Rafat says.
It Is Time to End Washington’s Decades of Deference to Moscow
By Alexander Vindman August 8, 2022
For the last three decades, the United States has bent over backward to acknowledge Russia’s security concerns and allay its anxieties. The United States has done so at the expense of relations with more willing partners in Eastern Europe—Ukraine in particular. Instead of supporting the early stirrings of Ukrainian independence in 1991, for example, Washington sought to preserve the failing Soviet Union out of misplaced fear that it might collapse into civil war. And instead of imposing heavy costs on Russia for its authoritarianism at home and antidemocratic activities abroad, including in Ukraine, Washington has mostly looked the other way in a fruitless effort to deal cooperatively with Moscow.
The justification for this Russia-centric approach to Eastern Europe has fluctuated between hopes for a good relationship with the Kremlin and fears that the bilateral relationship could devolve into another cold war—or worse, a hot one. But the result has been U.S. national security priorities based on unrealistic aspirations instead of actual outcomes, particularly during moments of crisis. Even as evidence mounted that Russia’s belligerent behavior would not allow for a stable or predictable relationship, U.S. policy stayed the course, to the detriment of both U.S. national security interests and the security of Russia’s neighbors.
One would think that Russia’s war in Ukraine would have demanded a shift in U.S. strategic thinking. Instead, whether out of habit, reflex, or even prejudice (thinking of Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” or of Ukrainians as “little Russians”), the primary decision makers in charge of U.S. foreign policy still privilege Russia over Ukraine.
The war has now reached an inflection point. The United States must decide whether it will help Ukraine approach the negotiating table with as much leverage as it can or watch Russia reorganize and resupply its troops, adapt its tactics, and commit to a long-term war of attrition. If Ukrainian democracy is going to prevail, U.S. foreign policymakers must finally prioritize dealing with Ukraine as it is rather than Russia as they would like it to be.
“THE UNGROUP” AND ITS LEGACY
Prioritizing Ukraine will require breaking the long-standing tradition of Russocentrism in trilateral U.S.-Ukrainian-Russian relations. In its contemporary form, that tradition dates back to 1989, when senior members of U.S. President George H. W. Bush’s administration set up a secret group of interagency staff members to plan for the possible dissolution of the Soviet Union. On July 18 of that year, Robert Gates, who was then deputy U.S. national security adviser, sent a memo to Bush titled “Thinking About the Unthinkable: Instability and Political Turbulence in the USSR.” As Gates recalled in his 2007 memoir, From the Shadows, he argued that the United States “should very quietly begin some contingency planning as to possible U.S. responses, actions and policies in the event of leadership or internal policy changes or widespread ethnic violence and repression—and consider the implications for us of such developments.”
Soon thereafter, Gates tasked Condoleezza Rice, then the senior director for Soviet and East European affairs on the National Security Council, with assembling an “ungroup” that would take on this “unthinkable” task. (At the time, official U.S. policy still focused on preserving the Soviet Union and supporting reform efforts, so the ungroup’s name reflected both its seemingly impossible mandate and its Top Secret status.) The team Rice pulled together included trusted officials from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Among them were Dennis Ross, then the director of policy planning at the State Department; Fritz Ermarth, the chair of the National Intelligence Council; Robert Blackwill, the national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union; Paul Wolfowitz, the undersecretary of defense for policy; and Eric Edelman, an assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for Soviet and East European affairs.
Working in secrecy, these officials considered possible scenarios for Soviet collapse and potential U.S. responses. Written evidence of the group’s deliberations—or even its existence—is sparse. (I have mainly relied here on memoirs by people who served as high-level officials in the George H. W. Bush administration, some of which contain details of the ungroup without explicitly naming it, and on interviews with five former officials who were either participants in the group or had direct knowledge of its work.) But the conclusions the ungroup reached are clearly imprinted not just on U.S. foreign policy in the last years of the Soviet Union but also on U.S. priorities in the newly independent Soviet republics. The three greatest threats the United States would face in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the ungroup predicted, would be the proliferation of new nuclear weapons states; “loose nukes,” or the loss, theft, or sale of weapons-grade fissile material, especially to nonstate actors or countries with clandestine nuclear weapons programs; and conflicting loyalties in the Soviet military that might lead to civil war in the newly independent republics or in Russia itself.
U.S. policymakers must deal with Ukraine as it is rather than Russia as they would like it to be.
When the unthinkable became inevitable and the Soviet Union began to crumble, mitigating these threats became the overarching goal of U.S. policy toward the former Soviet bloc. The United States pursued denuclearization in the former Soviet republics and partnership with an ideally strong, centralized Russian government in Moscow. If both goals could be accomplished, so the thinking went, then widespread ethnonationalist conflicts could be averted and command and control of the former Soviet arsenal could be maintained in a stable, whole Russia, thereby reducing the risks of a nuclear catastrophe.
The ungroup didn’t oppose the independence of the Soviet republics, but its fear of worst-case scenarios contributed to missteps and missed opportunities. For instance, it is hard not to hear echoes of the ungroup’s warnings in Bush’s infamous “Chicken Kyiv” speech in the Ukrainian capital on August 1, 1991. Mere weeks before Ukraine’s parliament adopted an act declaring the country’s independence, Bush declined to support the country’s right to self-determination, warning instead of “suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.” In line with the ungroup’s thinking, he privileged a carefully managed Soviet decline over the wishes of Ukrainians, who would go on to overwhelming vote for independence in a referendum at the end of the year.
Bush’s words provoked a visceral response from Ukrainians. For the Ukrainians who still remember the speech, or at least know of it, Bush’s explicit preference for the Soviet Union’s survival and his willingness to openly reject Ukrainian aspirations for statehood and independence were symbolic failures and practical indicators of where Ukraine fell in the hierarchy of U.S. relationships. One might argue that it was reasonable for the Bush administration to prioritize its relationship with the Soviet Union, which was, by any measure, a greater power than any of its potential successor states. It had enormous energy resources, a colossal military-industrial complex, and the ability to create massive headaches for Washington. But managing Soviet and later Russian threats did not have to come at the expense of engagement with the republics. Washington could have pursued both objectives at the same time, adapting to the Soviet Union’s decline while also hedging against future Russian irredentism by supporting self-determination in the emerging post-Soviet states.
Bush’s speech in Kyiv was an ignominious start to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship.
Instead, Bush’s speech in Kyiv was an ignominious start to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship that could have easily been avoided. Bush could have stuck to platitudes about the promotion of peace, democracy, and self-determination and omitted the patronizing warning about civil conflict. After all, the United States had little influence over Ukraine’s decision to seek independence or the Soviet Union’s longevity. In the end, neither outcome conformed to U.S. policy preferences.
The Bush administration wasn’t fully united behind this overly cautious approach toward the collapsing Soviet Union; there were dissenters, both inside and outside the ungroup. For instance, as Michael McFaul and James Goldgeier note in Power and Purpose, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney advocated policies that would prevent the reemergence of a Soviet or post-Soviet threat in Eurasia. He thought the United States should seize the opportunity to undermine a great power rival and extend democracy and Western security institutions farther east.
Cheney’s arguments stopped short of predicting a Russian resurgence—something that was difficult to conceive of against the backdrop of immense economic, social, and political problems in Russia—but they foreshadowed key developments in U.S. foreign policy during the post-Soviet years. One episode from Gates’s memoir stands out: On September 5, 1991, a month after Bush’s Chicken Kyiv blunder, Cheney clashed with Secretary of State James Baker over the effects of the Soviet Union’s impending collapse. According to Gates, Cheney argued that the breakup was “in our interest,” adding that “if it is voluntary, some sort of association of the republics will happen. If democracy fails, we’re better off if the remaining pieces of the USSR are small.” Baker’s response was indicative of the more dominant strain of thinking within the ungroup: “Peaceful breakup is in our interest, not another Yugoslavia.”
According to the former officials I interviewed, those more in line with Cheney’s thinking, including Wolfowitz and Edelman, came to view post-Soviet European security as a zero-sum game with an enfeebled but still dangerous geopolitical rival in Moscow. They also saw a newly independent, vulnerable Ukraine in need of assistance and recognized that, if strengthened, it could serve as a bulwark against Russian revanchism. But these were minority views. Most influential players in the national security establishment agreed with Baker that U.S.-Russian relations had to form the bedrock of any post–Cold War security structure. They believed that if they could get Russia right, the country would become a bastion of stability in the region and even contribute to positive outcomes in Ukraine and elsewhere.
BLINDED BY THE MIGHT
This fixation on dealing with Moscow has proved remarkably durable. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all built their regional policies around their hopes and fears for Russia—hopes for a cooperative relationship and fears of another cold war. Now, President Joe Biden’s administration has come full circle with a risk assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine that could have been drawn up by the ungroup, one that is more focused on the internal Russian consequences of the conflict than on the consequences for Ukraine itself. The Soviet Union is long gone, but concerns about instability, Russia’s nuclear arsenal, regional conflict, and bilateral confrontation remain. To avoid provoking Moscow, the United States has implicitly acknowledged Russia’s influence in an imagined post-Soviet geopolitical space in Ukraine. It has also often filtered its decisions about Ukraine policy through the prism of Russia, balancing its objectives in Ukraine against its need for Russia’s cooperation on arms control, North Korean and Iranian nuclear proliferation, climate change, the Arctic, and space programs, among other things.
By comparison, the United States has been largely ambivalent toward Ukraine. It has engaged with the country when the two countries’ interests and values aligned. For instance, during the Clinton era, the United States made a clear push for democratization and denuclearization. But once denuclearization was attained and democratization had stagnated under Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the impetus for bilateral engagement declined. During Clinton’s second term and during the Bush and Obama administrations, the United States shifted away from Kyiv and toward collaboration with Moscow.
Misguided hope for a strategic partnership with a reformed Russia—or at the very least, a stable and predictable relationship with Moscow—seemed to outweigh much more achievable U.S. interests and investments in Ukraine in these years. The United States bought into the myth of Russian exceptionalism and deluded itself with distorted visions of the bilateral relationship, largely ignoring the signs of authoritarian consolidation within Russia and failing to heed the warnings from partners in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Even worse, because of its desire to accommodate Russia, the United States dismissed democratic progress in Ukraine—for instance, in the aftermath of pro-democratic movements in 2004–5 and 2013–14—and undermined prospects for a more fruitful long-term relationship with Kyiv. U.S. policymakers justified this approach on the grounds that drawing Russia in as a responsible member of the international community would enable democratization in the region. Later, when Russia’s lurch toward authoritarianism became undeniable, they justified it on the basis of stability, succumbing to fears of a return to Cold War–era tensions.
The United States was not necessarily wrong to pursue a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia. Where it erred was in continuing to pursue this objective long after there was no realistic chance of success, which should have been obvious by 2004, when Russia interfered in Ukraine’s elections on behalf of its preferred candidate, or at the very latest by 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia. Instead of looking for more cooperative partners, however, U.S. policymakers continued their futile courtship of Kremlin leadership. As a result, they passed up opportunities to invest in the U.S. relationship with Ukraine, which was always a more promising engine of democratization in the region.
For most of the last 30 years, Kyiv has been a more willing U.S. partner than Moscow. But Washington chose not to see this. Had it been more receptive to Ukrainian overtures and sensitive to Ukrainian concerns, the United States might have offered something more than vague “security assurances” in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which accompanied Ukraine’s fateful decision to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, the agreement—signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States—required only consultations and a commitment to seek UN Security Council action in the event of violations (an obvious flaw, considering Russia’s veto power in that institution).
Other early attempts at bilateral cooperation came only at Ukraine’s insistence. In 1996, for instance, Kuchma requested the establishment of a special binational commission, named for him and U.S. Vice President Al Gore, to increase cooperation on trade, economic development, and security issues, among other things, as part of a closer strategic partnership. Although the Gore-Kuchma Commission was modeled after a similar U.S.-Russian commission, the dialogue it spawned never produced a real strategic partnership. Engagement with Russia was a major U.S. priority; engagement with Kyiv was an afterthought. After all, outcomes in Ukraine were still viewed as dependent upon outcomes in Russia.
The 2004–5 Orange Revolution offered another opportunity for cooperation. After thousands of Ukrainian demonstrators took to the streets to protest a fraudulent presidential runoff election, paving the way for a free and fair vote two months later, the United States could have provided greater financial and technical assistance to Ukrainian reform efforts and nurtured Ukrainian ambitions for European and transatlantic integration. A stronger partnership might have prevented the political infighting and failed reforms that eventually fueled popular disappointment with the pro-European government of President Viktor Yushchenko.
For most of the last 30 years, Kyiv has been a more willing U.S. partner than Moscow.
Instead, the United States opted for a policy no man’s land. At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration pushed for the alliance to welcome Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO. But the United States and other NATO members declined to spell out what Ukraine would need to do to accede, and they refused to draw up a membership action plan. The resulting declaration produced the worst possible balance of provocation and assurance, giving Russia a new grievance to exploit but making Ukraine no more secure.
These failures had painful consequences for Ukraine. If Yushchenko’s reforms had generally succeeded, Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate who was defeated after the Orange Revolution, might not have won the 2010 presidential election. Without a Yanukovych presidency, the Ukrainian government and armed forces might not have atrophied, and a rapacious kleptocracy might not have taken hold. The 2013–14 Revolution of Dignity, also known as the Euromaidan Revolution, might not have become necessary and Ukraine might not have become vulnerable to Russian aggression and Western ambivalence. The costs of Russia’s 2014 incursion into eastern Ukraine would have been significantly higher if the Ukrainian government and military had been intact and developing. Moreover, Russia would have had to contend with a stronger Western reaction and international opprobrium had the United States and the other signatories of the Budapest Memorandum demonstrated a stronger long-term commitment to Ukrainian democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
Even if none of this had happened, the West could have responded more forcefully to Russia’s 2014 invasion. A tougher reaction might have deterred further Russian aggression or at least better prepared Ukraine for a larger conflict. The United States and its allies helped modernize Ukraine’s military, but because they did not want to provoke Moscow, they declined to impose stiff-enough sanctions on Russia or provide heavy equipment or extensive training to Ukrainian troops. Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated anyway. Now, the West is scrambling to make up for lost time.
The United States doesn’t deserve all the blame for these missed opportunities. Rampant corruption, political infighting, and abysmal leadership hamstrung Ukraine’s efforts at reform and development for years before the Orange Revolution. And it wasn’t until the 2013–14 revolution that Ukraine truly pivoted toward reform, transparency, democracy, and European integration. But even in the moments when Ukraine was a willing and able partner, the United States was reluctant to cooperate or upgrade U.S.-Ukrainian relations. Apprehension about the political response from Moscow always precluded a closer relationship with Kyiv.
The United States opted for a policy no man’s land toward Ukraine.
This historical failure has become more evident as former U.S. government officials have been forced to defend their records on U.S. policy toward Ukraine. There are very few who can honestly say they did all they could in the eight years since Russia’s first invasion to aid Ukraine’s reform efforts, hasten the country’s integration with Europe, harden its defenses, and bolster deterrence. Whether that is because of willful ignorance or an institutional predilection for coddling Russia, there is no excuse for neglecting Ukraine.
Part of the problem may be a decades-long hangover from the Cold War during which the expertise, education, and training of Eurasia specialists in the national security establishment have atrophied. Moreover, virtually all the experts who have worked for the U.S. government over the last 30 years were trained Sovietologists, not Ukrainianists. As a result, they were ill prepared to recognize and understand Ukraine as a fully distinct cultural, ethnolinguistic, historical, and political entity. Rather, these Sovietologists, and the Russianists and Kremlinologists who filled their shoes, saw Russia’s “near abroad” as always having been in Moscow’s orbit. The physical borders of a newly independent Ukraine might have been clearly demarcated, but the mental boundaries of Ukraine’s geopolitics were still fettered to the imperial center in Moscow.
To make matters worse, area studies also declined after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to a dearth of funding for the languages and specialized knowledge needed to develop regional expertise. Those Soviet studies programs that survived were rebranded as Russian and Eastern European studies, Russian and Eurasian studies, or some other variant of this formulation, suggesting an equally privileged position for Russia relative to the rest of Eurasia.
With a few exceptions (most notably, Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute), most U.S. universities train their students in the Russian language, with a focus on Russian history, culture, and literature. Although the Slavic academic community has begun to reevaluate Russocentric approaches to the study of Eurasia, this shift has not yet been felt within the U.S. government. Russian and Eastern European expertise—or what little of it exists in government—has been treated as a proxy for knowledge of Ukraine. In the time I spent on the National Security Council, from 2018 to 2020, the results of this cumulative bias in national security education became obvious. Very few officials had specialized knowledge of the region, let alone of Ukraine, and among those, even fewer had Ukrainian language skills.
UNGROUP THINK ENDURES
The bias against Ukraine and toward Russia continues to this day. The Biden administration seems unable to accept that as long as Putin is in power, the best the United States can hope for is a cold war with Russia. In the meantime, Washington should be making every effort to prevent the conflict in Ukraine from turning into a long war of attrition that will only increase the risks of regional spillover as time passes. That means supporting Ukraine in full and giving it the equipment it needs to force Russia to sue for peace, not quivering in fear every time Putin or one of his mouthpieces says something about Moscow’s nuclear arsenal. The United States is a superpower. Russia is not. The Biden administration should act as if it knows the difference and deploy its vast resources so that Ukrainians can dictate the outcome in Ukraine.
But old habits die hard. According to two former senior U.S. officials who worked on Ukraine policy, including one who served in the Biden administration, the senior leadership of the National Security Council has acted as a spiritual successor to the ungroup. NSC officials have sought to limit military support for Ukraine based on a familiar logic—that it might escalate tensions with Moscow and upset remaining hopes of normalizing relations with the Kremlin. Even as Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have pledged to give Ukraine all the support it needs to win the war, NSC officials blocked the transfer of Soviet-era jets to Ukraine, declined to provide Ukraine with sufficient long-range air defenses to clear the skies of Russian planes, withheld the quantities of long-range rocket systems and munitions needed to destroy Russian targets within the theater of war, and halted discussion on the transfer of manned and unmanned aircraft required to neutralize Russian long-range attacks on Ukraine’s cities.
According to former officials, the NSC leadership believes that the war will pose significantly greater risks to the United States and global stability if Ukraine “wins too much.” They wish to avoid the collapse of Putin’s regime for fear of the same threats the ungroup identified three decades ago: nuclear proliferation, loose nukes, and civil war. And they have sought to reduce the likelihood of a bilateral confrontation between the United States and Russia, even at the risk of greatly overstating the probability of conventional and nuclear war. “While a key goal of the United States is to do the needful to support and defend Ukraine, another key goal is to ensure that we do not end up in a circumstance where we’re heading down the road towards a third world war,” said Jake Sullivan, who heads the NSC as Biden’s national security adviser, at the Aspen Security Forum last month. In this excessive concern over how Russia might react to U.S. policies, one can see the shadow of the ungroup.
The senior leadership of the NSC has acted as a spiritual successor to the ungroup.
Planning for every contingency is a responsible way to manage national security threats, but lowest-probability worst-case scenarios should not dictate U.S. actions. By looking for off-ramps and face-saving measures, the ungroup’s successors are perpetuating indecision at the highest levels of the Biden administration. Time that is wasted worrying about unlikely Russian responses to U.S. actions would be better spent backfilling allies’ weaponry, training Ukrainians on Western capabilities, and expediting more arms transfers to Ukraine.
The United States is slowly coming around to providing some of the right capabilities, but not in the necessary quantities and not before U.S. torpor degraded Ukraine’s ability to hold and reclaim territory in southern Ukraine and the Donbas. After months of deliberation, the Biden administration finally agreed to transfer high-mobility artillery rocket systems known as HIMARS, but it has refused to provide the longest range munitions needed to hit Russia’s long-range strike capabilities and military stockpiles. It remains unclear whether the administration will eventually send the munitions that can travel 190 miles, a significant improvement over the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions it is currently providing, which can travel only about 45 miles. The United States has also shied away from providing Ukraine with medium- and long-range surface-to-air missiles that could target Russian aircraft, missiles, and in the worst-case scenario, delivery systems for any possible tactical nuclear weapons. Ukraine could force Russia to the negotiating table faster if it had such capabilities. And providing sufficient weapons wouldn’t significantly undermine resourcing worst-case-scenario war plans against Russia. The U.S. government can do both.
The Biden administration has rightfully, if belatedly, begun to speak about a policy of Ukrainian victory on the battlefield, but it still has yet to match this rhetoric with the requisite military support. Thus far, the Biden administration has transferred a modest $8 billion in weapons to Ukraine. Additional security assistance has been blocked or delayed by the NSC or bogged down in the bureaucracy of the Department of Defense. Congress has passed a Lend-Lease Act for Ukraine, reviving a World War II–era program that gives the president enhanced authority to lend or lease large quantities of defense hardware to Ukraine. The Biden administration should be making greater use of this authority. It should also be leading the effort to establish logistical and sustainment centers within Ukraine, not hundreds of kilometers away in Poland and Romania but as close as possible to the eastern and southern battlefields. If Ukraine wins this war, it will be thanks not just to weapons and will but to staying power.
The United States should also do more to resolve the issue of grain exports. Russia’s blockade of Ukraine has disrupted global food-supply chains and prompted a growing list of countries to impose grain export bans. This problem will only intensify as Russian forces continue targeting grain storage facilities and transport networks and loot Ukrainian harvests in occupied territories. Providing escorts for Ukrainian merchant vessels and opening a humanitarian shipping corridor is one potential solution, albeit a risky one. More likely, grain shipments will continue to be transported slowly and inefficiently by rail, barge, and truck to countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria. Ukraine uses a wider rail gauge than its EU neighbors, and while rail capacity is up, the current speed and volume of rail transports is insufficient to remove the existing export backlog.
Transportation costs as well as the availability of trucks, barges, and suitable rail cars is another problem. The European Union has rolled out a plan for “solidarity lanes”—alternative logistics routes for Ukrainian agricultural exports through the EU to third countries—but this ad hoc emergency response is emblematic of the West’s failure to plan for long-term contingencies. In the two months since these lanes have been established, they have failed to clear shipping bottlenecks and left agricultural produce stranded short of its destination. On July 22, Russia agreed to allow grain exports to proceed. But just one day later, Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s largest seaport and cast the deal into doubt. Depending on when one starts counting—the 2014 seizure of Crimea or the February invasion—the United States and the EU have had either five months or eight years to plan for major export disruptions of this sort, so it is disappointing that they have had to scramble to piece together a patchwork solution to a predictable problem.
Again, however, this lack of preparation is more understandable when viewed through the West’s Russocentric lens. Planning for major disruptions in agricultural exports made little sense as long as a wider war was inconceivable. And even in the event of a war, the overriding Western assumption was that Russia could conquer Ukraine or force Kyiv to capitulate in short order; business would find a way to continue with only minimal disruption. The same faulty logic explains how Europe allowed itself to become dependent on Russian oil and gas—and how it has struggled to wean itself off these resources even after the danger they pose has been revealed. The United States and the EU must learn from these failures and interrogate the assumptions that blind them to potential threats, no matter how far-fetched those threats may seem in peacetime.
A FOOTHOLD FOR DEMOCRACY
The Biden administration has made democratic renewal a cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy agendas. There is no better way to demonstrate democratic resolve than by defending U.S. values and interests in Ukraine. A Ukrainian victory would not only limit Russia’s capacity for future military aggression but also cement democracy’s foothold in Eastern Europe, offering a powerful lesson to would-be authoritarian aggressors and democratic nations alike. A Ukrainian loss, by contrast, would signal an acceleration of the wave of authoritarianism and democratic decline that has washed over the globe in the last decade.
To ensure the triumph of democracy in Ukraine, the United States must first change its thinking patterns and learn from decades of mistakes. Recognizing the poisonous Russocentrism of U.S. foreign policy is the first step toward a better approach to U.S.-Ukrainian relations. As Russia’s war effort falters and the prospect of a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia begins to look unthinkable once again, it will be tempting to revert to old ways of thinking and plan for normalized relations with a post-Putin Russia. But such an outcome would once again risk privileging Russia over Ukraine. Even if Putin is deposed or replaced through some other means, the United States should not assume Russia can change for the better; rapprochement must be earned, not given. By freeing itself from its Russocentrism, Washington will also be better able to engage with and listen to its partners in Eastern and northern Europe, which have greater proximity to and more clarity on national security threats from Russia. Their knowledge and expertise will be critical to Ukraine’s victory over Russia, future Ukrainian reconstruction, the prosecution of war crimes, prosperity in Eastern Europe, and eventually, the establishment of thriving democracies across Eurasia.
Beneath the United States’ misplaced aspirations for a positive relationship with Russia lies immense hubris. Americans tend to believe they can accomplish anything, but perpetually discount the agency of their interlocutors. In truth, the United States never had the influence to unilaterally change Russia’s internal politics. But it did have the ability to nurture a more promising outcome with a more willing partner in Ukraine. Unless the United States fundamentally reorients its foreign policy, away from aspirations and toward outcomes, it will miss an even bigger opportunity to bring about a peaceful, democratic Eastern Europe.
August 8, 2022
In the summer of 2017, after just half a year in the White House, Donald Trump flew to Paris for Bastille Day celebrations thrown by Emmanuel Macron, the new French President. Macron staged a spectacular martial display to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the American entrance into the First World War. Vintage tanks rolled down the Champs-Élysées as fighter jets roared overhead. The event seemed to be calculated to appeal to Trump—his sense of showmanship and grandiosity—and he was visibly delighted. The French general in charge of the parade turned to one of his American counterparts and said, “You are going to be doing this next year.”
Sure enough, Trump returned to Washington determined to have his generals throw him the biggest, grandest military parade ever for the Fourth of July. The generals, to his bewilderment, reacted with disgust. “I’d rather swallow acid,” his Defense Secretary, James Mattis, said. Struggling to dissuade Trump, officials pointed out that the parade would cost millions of dollars and tear up the streets of the capital.
But the gulf between Trump and the generals was not really about money or practicalities, just as their endless policy battles were not only about clashing views on whether to withdraw from Afghanistan or how to combat the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran. The divide was also a matter of values, of how they viewed the United States itself. That was never clearer than when Trump told his new chief of staff, John Kelly—like Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general—about his vision for Independence Day. “Look, I don’t want any wounded guys in the parade,” Trump said. “This doesn’t look good for me.” He explained with distaste that at the Bastille Day parade there had been several formations of injured veterans, including wheelchair-bound soldiers who had lost limbs in battle.
Kelly could not believe what he was hearing. “Those are the heroes,” he told Trump. “In our society, there’s only one group of people who are more heroic than they are—and they are buried over in Arlington.” Kelly did not mention that his own son Robert, a lieutenant killed in action in Afghanistan, was among the dead interred there.
“I don’t want them,” Trump repeated. “It doesn’t look good for me.”
The subject came up again during an Oval Office briefing that included Trump, Kelly, and Paul Selva, an Air Force general and the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kelly joked in his deadpan way about the parade. “Well, you know, General Selva is going to be in charge of organizing the Fourth of July parade,” he told the President. Trump did not understand that Kelly was being sarcastic. “So, what do you think of the parade?” Trump asked Selva. Instead of telling Trump what he wanted to hear, Selva was forthright.
“I didn’t grow up in the United States, I actually grew up in Portugal,” Selva said. “Portugal was a dictatorship—and parades were about showing the people who had the guns. And in this country, we don’t do that.” He added, “It’s not who we are.”
Even after this impassioned speech, Trump still did not get it. “So, you don’t like the idea?” he said, incredulous.
“No,” Selva said. “It’s what dictators do.”
The four years of the Trump Presidency were characterized by a fantastical degree of instability: fits of rage, late-night Twitter storms, abrupt dismissals. At first, Trump, who had dodged the draft by claiming to have bone spurs, seemed enamored with being Commander-in-Chief and with the national-security officials he’d either appointed or inherited. But Trump’s love affair with “my generals” was brief, and in a statement for this article the former President confirmed how much he had soured on them over time. “These were very untalented people and once I realized it, I did not rely on them, I relied on the real generals and admirals within the system,” he said.
It turned out that the generals had rules, standards, and expertise, not blind loyalty. The President’s loud complaint to John Kelly one day was typical: “You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”
“Which generals?” Kelly asked.
“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.
“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said.
But, of course, Trump did not know that. “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” the President replied. In his version of history, the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military. Kelly told Trump that there were no such American generals, but the President was determined to test the proposition.
By late 2018, Trump wanted his own handpicked chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He had tired of Joseph Dunford, a Marine general who had been appointed chairman by Barack Obama, and who worked closely with Mattis as they resisted some of Trump’s more outlandish ideas. Never mind that Dunford still had most of a year to go in his term. For months, David Urban, a lobbyist who ran the winning 2016 Trump campaign in Pennsylvania, had been urging the President and his inner circle to replace Dunford with a more like-minded chairman, someone less aligned with Mattis, who had commanded both Dunford and Kelly in the Marines.
Mattis’s candidate to succeed Dunford was David Goldfein, an Air Force general and a former F-16 fighter pilot who had been shot down in the Balkans and successfully evaded capture. No one could remember a President selecting a chairman over the objections of his Defense Secretary, but word came back to the Pentagon that there was no way Trump would accept just one recommendation. Two obvious contenders from the Army, however, declined to be considered: General Curtis Scaparrotti, the nato Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told fellow-officers that there was “no gas left in my tank” to deal with being Trump’s chairman. General Joseph Votel, the Central Command chief, also begged off, telling a colleague he was not a good fit to work so closely with Mattis.
Urban, who had attended West Point with Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and remained an Army man at heart, backed Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army. Milley, who was then sixty, was the son of a Navy corpsman who had served with the 4th Marine Division, in Iwo Jima. He grew up outside Boston and played hockey at Princeton. As an Army officer, Milley commanded troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, led the 10th Mountain Division, and oversaw the Army Forces Command. A student of history who often carried a pile of the latest books on the Second World War with him, Milley was decidedly not a member of the close-knit Marine fraternity that had dominated national-security policy for Trump’s first two years. Urban told the President that he would connect better with Milley, who was loquacious and blunt to the point of being rude, and who had the Ivy League pedigree that always impressed Trump.
Milley had already demonstrated those qualities in meetings with Trump as the Army chief of staff. “Milley would go right at why it’s important for the President to know this about the Army and why the Army is the service that wins all the nation’s wars. He had all those sort of elevator-speech punch lines,” a senior defense official recalled. “He would have that big bellowing voice and be right in his face with all the one-liners, and then he would take a breath and he would say, ‘Mr. President, our Army is here to serve you. Because you’re the Commander-in-Chief.’ It was a very different approach, and Trump liked that.” And, like Trump, Milley was not a subscriber to the legend of Mad Dog Mattis, whom he considered a “complete control freak.”
Mattis, for his part, seemed to believe that Milley was inappropriately campaigning for the job, and Milley recalled to others that Mattis confronted him at a reception that fall, saying, “Hey, you shouldn’t run for office. You shouldn’t run to be the chairman.” Milley later told people that he had replied sharply to Mattis, “I’m not lobbying for any fucking thing. I don’t do that.” Milley eventually raised the issue with Dunford. “Hey, Mattis has got this in his head,” Milley told him. “I’m telling you it ain’t me.” Milley even claimed that he had begged Urban to cease promoting his candidacy.
In November, 2018, the day before Milley was scheduled for an interview with Trump, he and Mattis had another barbed encounter at the Pentagon. In Milley’s recounting of the episode later to others, Mattis urged him to tell Trump that he wanted to be the next Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, rather than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Milley said he would not do that but would instead wait to hear what the President wanted him to do. This would end whatever relationship the two generals had.
When Milley arrived at the White House the next day, he was received by Kelly, who seemed to him unusually distraught. Before they headed into the Oval Office to meet with Trump, Milley asked Kelly what he thought.
“You should go to Europe and just get the fuck out of D.C.,” Kelly said. The White House was a cesspool: “Just get as far away as you can.”
In the Oval Office, Trump said right from the start that he was considering Milley for chairman of the Joint Chiefs. When Trump offered him the job, Milley replied, “Mr. President, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.”
For the next hour, they talked about the state of the world. Immediately, there were points of profound disagreement. On Afghanistan, Milley said he believed that a complete withdrawal of American troops, as Trump wanted, would cause a serious new set of problems. And Milley had already spoken out publicly against the banning of transgender troops, which Trump was insisting on.
“Mattis tells me you are weak on transgender,” Trump said.
“No, I am not weak on transgender,” Milley replied. “I just don’t care who sleeps with who.”
There were other differences as well, but in the end Milley assured him, “Mr. President, you’re going to be making the decisions. All I can guarantee from me is I’m going to give you an honest answer, and I’m not going to talk about it on the front page of the Washington Post. I’ll give you an honest answer on everything I can. And you’re going to make the decisions, and as long as they’re legal I’ll support it.”
As long as they’re legal. It was not clear how much that caveat even registered with Trump. The decision to name Milley was a rare chance, as Trump saw it, to get back at Mattis. Trump would confirm this years later, after falling out with both men, saying that he had picked Milley only because Mattis “could not stand him, had no respect for him, and would not recommend him.”
Late on the evening of December 7th, Trump announced that he would reveal a big personnel decision having to do with the Joint Chiefs the next day, in Philadelphia, at the hundred-and-nineteenth annual Army-Navy football game. This was all the notice Dunford had that he was about to be publicly humiliated. The next morning, Dunford was standing with Milley at the game waiting for the President to arrive when Urban, the lobbyist, showed up. Urban hugged Milley. “We did it!” Urban said. “We did it!”
But Milley’s appointment was not even the day’s biggest news. As Trump walked to his helicopter to fly to the game, he dropped another surprise. “John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year,” he told reporters. Kelly had lasted seventeen months in what he called “the worst fucking job in the world.”
For Trump, the decision was a turning point. Instead of installing another strong-willed White House chief of staff who might have told him no, the President gravitated toward one who would basically go along with whatever he wanted. A week later, Kelly made an unsuccessful last-ditch effort to persuade Trump not to replace him with Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who was serving as Trump’s budget director. “You don’t want to hire someone who’s going to be a yes-man,” Kelly told the President. “I don’t give a shit anymore,” Trump replied. “I want a yes-man!”
A little more than a week after that, Mattis was out, too, having quit in protest over Trump’s order that the U.S. abruptly withdraw its forces from Syria right after Mattis had met with American allies fighting alongside the U.S. It was the first time in nearly four decades that a major Cabinet secretary had resigned over a national-security dispute with the President.
The so-called “axis of adults” was over. None of them had done nearly as much to restrain Trump as the President’s critics thought they should have. But all of them—Kelly, Mattis, Dunford, plus H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, and Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first Secretary of State—had served as guardrails in one way or another. Trump hoped to replace them with more malleable figures. As Mattis would put it, Trump was so out of his depth that he had decided to drain the pool.
On January 2, 2019, Kelly sent a farewell e-mail to the White House staff. He said that these were the people he would miss: “The selfless ones, who work for the American people so hard and never lowered themselves to wrestle in the mud with the pigs. The ones who stayed above the drama, put personal ambition and politics aside, and simply worked for our great country. The ones who were ethical, moral and always told their boss what he or she NEEDED to hear, as opposed to what they might have wanted to hear.”
That same morning, Mulvaney showed up at the White House for his first official day as acting chief of staff. He called an all-hands meeting and made an announcement: O.K., we’re going to do things differently. John Kelly’s gone, and we’re going to let the President be the President.
In the fall of 2019, nearly a year after Trump named him the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Milley finally took over the position from Dunford. Two weeks into the job, Milley sat at Trump’s side in a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders to discuss a brewing crisis in the Middle East. Trump had again ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, imperilling America’s Kurdish allies and effectively handing control of the territory over to the Syrian government and Russian military forces. The House—amid impeachment proceedings against the President for holding up nearly four hundred million dollars in security assistance to Ukraine as leverage to demand an investigation of his Democratic opponent—passed a nonbinding resolution rebuking Trump for the pullout. Even two-thirds of the House Republicans voted for it.
At the meeting, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, pointed out the vote against the President. “Congratulations,” Trump snapped sarcastically. He grew even angrier when the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, read out a warning from Mattis that leaving Syria could result in the resurgence of the Islamic State. In response, Trump derided his former Defense Secretary as “the world’s most overrated general. You know why I fired him? I fired him because he wasn’t tough enough.”
Eventually, Pelosi, in her frustration, stood and pointed at the President. “All roads with you lead to Putin,” she said. “You gave Russia Ukraine and Syria.”
“You’re just a politician, a third-rate politician!” Trump shot back.
Finally, Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader and Pelosi’s No. 2, had had enough. “This is not useful,” he said, and stood up to leave with the Speaker.
“We’ll see you at the polls,” Trump shouted as they walked out.
When she exited the White House, Pelosi told reporters that she left because Trump was having a “meltdown.” A few hours later, Trump tweeted a White House photograph of Pelosi standing over him, apparently thinking it would prove that she was the one having a meltdown. Instead, the image went viral as an example of Pelosi confronting Trump.
Milley could also be seen in the photograph, his hands clenched together, his head bowed low, looking as though he wanted to sink into the floor. To Pelosi, this was a sign of inexplicable weakness, and she would later say that she never understood why Milley had not been willing to stand up to Trump at that meeting. After all, she would point out, he was the nonpartisan leader of the military, not one of Trump’s toadies. “Milley, you would have thought, would have had more independence,” she told us, “but he just had his head down.”
In fact, Milley was already quite wary of Trump. That night, he called Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who had also been present. “Is that the way these things normally go?” Milley asked. As Smith later put it, “That was the moment when Milley realized that the boss might have a screw or two loose.” There had been no honeymoon. “From pretty much his first day on the job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs,” Smith said, “he was very much aware of the fact that there was a challenge here that was not your normal challenge with a Commander-in-Chief.”
Early on the evening of June 1, 2020, Milley failed what he came to realize was the biggest test of his career: a short walk from the White House across Lafayette Square, minutes after it had been violently cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters. Dressed in combat fatigues, Milley marched behind Trump with a phalanx of the President’s advisers in a photo op, the most infamous of the Trump Presidency, that was meant to project a forceful response to the protests that had raged outside the White House and across the country since the killing, the week before, of George Floyd. Most of the demonstrations had been peaceful, but there were also eruptions of looting, street violence, and arson, including a small fire in St. John’s Church, across from the White House.
In the morning before the Lafayette Square photo op, Trump had clashed with Milley, Attorney General William Barr, and the Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, over his demands for a militarized show of force. “We look weak,” Trump told them. The President wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and use active-duty military to quell the protests. He wanted ten thousand troops in the streets and the 82nd Airborne called up. He demanded that Milley take personal charge. When Milley and the others resisted and said that the National Guard would be sufficient, Trump shouted, “You are all losers! You are all fucking losers!” Turning to Milley, Trump said, “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
Eventually, Trump was persuaded not to send in the military against American citizens. Barr, as the civilian head of law enforcement, was given the lead role in the protest response, and the National Guard was deployed to assist police. Hours later, Milley, Esper, and other officials were abruptly summoned back to the White House and sent marching across Lafayette Square. As they walked, with the scent of tear gas still in the air, Milley realized that he should not be there and made his exit, quietly peeling off to his waiting black Chevy Suburban. But the damage was done. No one would care or even remember that he was not present when Trump held up a Bible in front of the damaged church; people had already seen him striding with the President on live television in his battle dress, an image that seemed to signal that the United States under Trump was, finally, a nation at war with itself. Milley knew this was a misjudgment that would haunt him forever, a “road-to-Damascus moment,” as he would later put it. What would he do about it?
In the days after the Lafayette Square incident, Milley sat in his office at the Pentagon, writing and rewriting drafts of a letter of resignation. There were short versions of the letter; there were long versions. His preferred version was the one that read in its entirety:
I regret to inform you that I intend to resign as your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank you for the honor of appointing me as senior ranking officer. The events of the last couple weeks have caused me to do deep soul-searching, and I can no longer faithfully support and execute your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country. I believe that you have made a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military. I thought that I could change that. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot, and I need to step aside and let someone else try to do that.
Second, you are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people—and we are trying to protect the American people. I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people. The American people trust their military and they trust us to protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and our military will do just that. We will not turn our back on the American people.
Third, I swore an oath to the Constitution of the United States and embodied within that Constitution is the idea that says that all men and women are created equal. All men and women are created equal, no matter who you are, whether you are white or Black, Asian, Indian, no matter the color of your skin, no matter if you’re gay, straight or something in between. It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or choose not to believe. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter what country you came from, what your last name is—what matters is we’re Americans. We’re all Americans. That under these colors of red, white, and blue—the colors that my parents fought for in World War II—means something around the world. It’s obvious to me that you don’t think of those colors the same way I do. It’s obvious to me that you don’t hold those values dear and the cause that I serve.
And lastly it is my deeply held belief that you’re ruining the international order, and causing significant damage to our country overseas, that was fought for so hard by the Greatest Generation that they instituted in 1945. Between 1914 and 1945, 150 million people were slaughtered in the conduct of war. They were slaughtered because of tyrannies and dictatorships. That generation, like every generation, has fought against that, has fought against fascism, has fought against Nazism, has fought against extremism. It’s now obvious to me that you don’t understand that world order. You don’t understand what the war was all about. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. And I cannot be a party to that. It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation.
The letter was dated June 8th, a full week after Lafayette Square, but Milley still was not sure if he should give it to Trump. He was sending up flares, seeking advice from a wide circle. He reached out to Dunford, and to mentors such as the retired Army general James Dubik, an expert on military ethics. He called political contacts as well, including members of Congress and former officials from the Bush and Obama Administrations. Most told him what Robert Gates, a former Secretary of Defense and C.I.A. chief, did: “Make them fire you. Don’t resign.”
“My sense is Mark had a pretty accurate measure of the man pretty quickly,” Gates recalled later. “He would tell me over time, well before June 1st, some of the absolutely crazy notions that were put forward in the Oval Office, crazy ideas from the President, things about using or not using military force, the immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, pulling out of South Korea. It just went on and on.”
Milley was not the only senior official to seek Gates’s counsel. Several members of Trump’s national-security team had made the pilgrimage out to his home in Washington State during the previous two years. Gates would pour them a drink, grill them some salmon, and help them wrestle with the latest Trump conundrum. “The problem with resignation is you can only fire that gun once,” he told them. All the conversations were variations on a theme: “ ‘How do I walk us back from the ledge?’ ‘How do I keep this from happening, because it would be a terrible thing for the country?’ ”
After Lafayette Square, Gates told both Milley and Esper that, given Trump’s increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior, they needed to stay in the Pentagon as long as they could. “If you resign, it’s a one-day story,” Gates told them. “If you’re fired, it makes it clear you were standing up for the right thing.” Gates advised Milley that he had another important card and urged him to play it: “Keep the chiefs on board with you and make it clear to the White House that if you go they all go, so that the White House knows this isn’t just about firing Mark Milley. This is about the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff quitting in response.”
Publicly, Lafayette Square looked like a debacle for Milley. Several retired generals had condemned his participation, pointing out that the leader of a racially diverse military, with more than two hundred thousand active-duty Black troops, could not be seen opposing a movement for racial justice. Even Mattis, who had refrained from openly criticizing Trump, issued a statement about the “bizarre photo op.” The Washington Post reported that Mattis had been motivated to do so by his anger at the image of Milley parading through the square in his fatigues.
Whatever their personal differences, Mattis and Milley both knew that there was a tragic inevitability to the moment. Throughout his Presidency, Trump had sought to redefine the role of the military in American public life. In his 2016 campaign, he had spoken out in support of the use of torture and other practices that the military considered war crimes. Just before the 2018 midterms, he ordered thousands of troops to the southern border to combat a fake “invasion” by a caravan of migrants. In 2019, in a move that undermined military justice and the chain of command, he gave clemency to a Navy seal found guilty of posing with the dead body of a captive in Iraq.
Many considered Trump’s 2018 decision to use the military in his preëlection border stunt to be “the predicate—or the harbinger—of 2020,” in the words of Peter Feaver, a Duke University expert on civil-military relations, who taught the subject to generals at command school. When Milley, who had been among Feaver’s students, called for advice after Lafayette Square, Feaver agreed that Milley should apologize but encouraged him not to resign. “It would have been a mistake,” Feaver said. “We have no tradition of resignation in protest amongst the military.”
Milley decided to apologize in a commencement address at the National Defense University that he was scheduled to deliver the week after the photo op. Feaver’s counsel was to own up to the error and make it clear that the mistake was his and not Trump’s. Presidents, after all, “are allowed to do political stunts,” Feaver said. “That’s part of being President.”
Milley’s apology was unequivocal. “I should not have been there,” he said in the address. He did not mention Trump. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” It was, he added, “a mistake that I have learned from.”
At the same time, Milley had finally come to a decision. He would not quit. “Fuck that shit,” he told his staff. “I’ll just fight him.” The challenge, as he saw it, was to stop Trump from doing any more damage, while also acting in a way that was consistent with his obligation to carry out the orders of his Commander-in-Chief. Yet the Constitution offered no practical guide for a general faced with a rogue President. Never before since the position had been created, in 1949—or at least since Richard Nixon’s final days, in 1974—had a chairman of the Joint Chiefs encountered such a situation. “If they want to court-martial me, or put me in prison, have at it,” Milley told his staff. “But I will fight from the inside.”
Milley’s apology tour was private as well as public. With the upcoming election fuelling Trump’s sense of frenetic urgency, the chairman sought to get the message to Democrats that he would not go along with any further efforts by the President to deploy the machinery of war for domestic political ends. He called both Pelosi and Schumer. “After the Lafayette Square episode, Milley was extremely contrite and communicated to any number of people that he had no intention of playing Trump’s game any longer,” Bob Bauer, the former Obama White House counsel, who was then advising Joe Biden’s campaign and heard about the calls, said. “He was really burned by that experience. He was appalled. He apologized for it, and it was pretty clear he was digging his heels in.”
On Capitol Hill, however, some Democrats, including Pelosi, remained skeptical. To them, Lafayette Square proved that Milley had been a Trumpist all along. “There was a huge misunderstanding about Milley,” Adam Smith, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, recalled. “A lot of my Democratic colleagues after June 1st in particular were concerned about him.” Smith tried to assure other Democrats that “there was never a single solitary moment where it was possible that Milley was going to help Trump do anything that shouldn’t be done.”
And yet Pelosi, among others, also distrusted Milley because of an incident earlier that year in which Trump ordered the killing of the Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani without briefing congressional leaders in advance. Smith said Pelosi believed that the chairman had been “evasive” and disrespectful to Congress. Milley, for his part, felt he could not disregard Trump’s insistence that lawmakers not be notified—a breach that was due to the President’s pique over the impeachment proceedings against him. “The navigation of Trumpworld was more difficult for Milley than Nancy gives him credit for,” Smith said. He vouched for the chairman but never managed to convince Pelosi.
How long could this standoff between the Pentagon and the President go on? For the next few months, Milley woke up each morning not knowing whether he would be fired before the day was over. His wife told him she was shocked that he had not been cashiered outright when he made his apology.
Esper was also on notice. Two days after Lafayette Square, the Defense Secretary had gone to the Pentagon pressroom and offered his own apology, even revealing his opposition to Trump’s demands to invoke the Insurrection Act and use the active-duty military. Such a step, Esper said, should be reserved only for “the most urgent and dire of situations.” Trump later exploded at Esper in the Oval Office about the criticism, delivering what Milley would recall as “the worst reaming out” he had ever heard.
The next day, Trump’s latest chief of staff, Mark Meadows, called the Defense Secretary at home—three times—to get him to recant his opposition to invoking the Insurrection Act. When he refused, Meadows took “the Tony Soprano approach,” as Esper later put it, and began threatening him, before eventually backing off. (A spokesperson for Meadows disputed Esper’s account.) Esper resolved to stay in office as long as he could, “to endure all the shit and run the clock out,” as he put it. He felt that he had a particular responsibility to hold on. By law, the only person authorized to deploy troops other than the President is the Secretary of Defense. Esper was determined not to hand that power off to satraps such as Robert O’Brien, who had become Trump’s fourth and final national-security adviser, or Ric Grenell, a former public-relations man who had been serving as acting director of National Intelligence.
Both Esper and Milley found new purpose in waiting out the President. They resisted him throughout the summer, as Trump repeatedly demanded that active-duty troops quash ongoing protests, threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act, and tried to stop the military from renaming bases honoring Confederate generals. “They both expected, literally on a daily basis, to be fired,” Gates recalled. Milley “would call me and essentially say, ‘I may not last until tomorrow night.’ And he was comfortable with that. He felt like he knew he was going to support the Constitution, and there were no two ways about it.”
Milley put away the resignation letter in his desk and drew up a plan, a guide for how to get through the next few months. He settled on four goals: First, make sure Trump did not start an unnecessary war overseas. Second, make sure the military was not used in the streets against the American people for the purpose of keeping Trump in power. Third, maintain the military’s integrity. And, fourth, maintain his own integrity. In the months to come, Milley would refer back to the plan more times than he could count.
Even in June, Milley understood that it was not just a matter of holding off Trump until after the Presidential election, on November 3rd. He knew that Election Day might well mark merely the beginning, not the end, of the challenges Trump would pose. The portents were worrisome. Barely one week before Lafayette Square, Trump had posted a tweet that would soon become a refrain. The 2020 Presidential race, he warned for the first time, would end up as “the greatest Rigged Election in history.”
By the evening of Monday, November 9th, Milley’s fears about a volatile post-election period unlike anything America had seen before seemed to be coming true. News organizations had called the election for Biden, but Trump refused to acknowledge that he had lost by millions of votes. The peaceful transition of power—a cornerstone of liberal democracy—was now in doubt. Sitting at home that night at around nine, the chairman received an urgent phone call from the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. With the possible exception of Vice-President Mike Pence, no one had been more slavishly loyal in public, or more privately obsequious, to Trump than Pompeo. But even he could not take it anymore.
“We’ve got to talk,” Pompeo told Milley, who was at home in Quarters Six, the red brick house that has been the official residence of chairmen of the Joint Chiefs since the early nineteen-sixties. “Can I come over?”
Milley invited Pompeo to visit immediately.
“The crazies have taken over,” Pompeo told him when they sat down at Milley’s kitchen table. Not only was Trump surrounded by the crazies; they were, in fact, ascendant in the White House and, as of that afternoon, inside the Pentagon itself. Just a few hours earlier, on the first workday after the election was called for Biden, Trump had finally fired Esper. Milley and Pompeo were alarmed that the Defense Secretary was being replaced by Christopher Miller, until recently an obscure mid-level counterterrorism official at Trump’s National Security Council, who had arrived at the Pentagon flanked by a team of what appeared to be Trump’s political minders.
For Milley, this was an ominous development. From the beginning, he understood that “if the idea was to seize power,” as he told his staff, “you are not going to do this without the military.” Milley had studied the history of coups. They invariably required the takeover of what he referred to as the “power ministries”—the military, the national police, and the interior forces.
As soon as he’d heard about Esper’s ouster, Milley had rushed upstairs to the Secretary’s office. “This is complete bullshit,” he told Esper. Milley said that he would resign in protest. “You can’t,” Esper insisted. “You’re the only one left.” Once he cooled off, Milley agreed.
In the coming weeks, Milley would repeatedly convene the Joint Chiefs, to bolster their resolve to resist any dangerous political schemes from the White House now that Esper was out. He quoted Benjamin Franklin to them on the virtues of hanging together rather than hanging separately. He told his staff that, if need be, he and all the chiefs were prepared to “put on their uniforms and go across the river together”—to threaten to quit en masse—to prevent Trump from trying to use the military to stay in power illegally.
Soon after Miller arrived at the Pentagon, Milley met with him. “First things first here,” he told the new acting Defense Secretary, who had spent the previous few months running the National Counterterrorism Center. “You are one of two people in the United States now with the capability to launch nuclear weapons.”
A Pentagon official who had worked closely with Miller had heard a rumor about him potentially replacing Esper more than a week before the election. “My first instinct was this is the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard,” the official recalled. But then he remembered how Miller had changed in the Trump White House. “He’s inclined to be a bit of a sail, and as the wind blows he will flap in that direction,” the official said. “He’s not an ideologue. He’s just a guy willing to do their bidding.” By coincidence, the official happened to be walking into the Pentagon just as Miller was entering—a video of Miller tripping on the stairs soon made the rounds. Accompanying him were three men who would, for a few weeks, at least, have immense influence over the most powerful military in the world: Kash Patel, Miller’s new chief of staff; Ezra Cohen, who would ascend to acting Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security; and Anthony Tata, a retired general and a talking head on Fox News, who would become the Pentagon’s acting head of policy.
It was an extraordinary trio. Tata’s claims to fame were calling Obama a “terrorist leader”—an assertion he later retracted—and alleging that a former C.I.A. director had threatened to assassinate Trump. Patel, a former aide to Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, had been accused of spreading conspiracy theories claiming that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election. Both Trump’s third national-security adviser, John Bolton, and Bolton’s deputy, Charles Kupperman, had vociferously objected to putting Patel on the National Security Council staff, backing down only when told that it was a personal, “must-hire” order from the President. Still, Patel found his way around them to deal with Trump directly, feeding him packets of information on Ukraine, which was outside his portfolio, according to testimony during Trump’s first impeachment. (In a statement for this article, Patel called the allegations a “total fabrication.”) Eventually, Patel was sent to help Ric Grenell carry out a White House-ordered purge of the intelligence community.
Cohen, who had worked earlier in his career at the Defense Intelligence Agency under Michael Flynn, had initially been hired at the Trump National Security Council in 2017 but was pushed out after Flynn’s swift implosion as Trump’s first national-security adviser. When efforts were later made to rehire Cohen in the White House, Bolton’s deputy vowed to “put my badge on the table” and quit. “I am not going to hire somebody that is going to be another cancer in the organization, and Ezra is cancer,” Kupperman bluntly told Trump. In the spring of 2020, Cohen landed at the Pentagon, and following Trump’s post-election shakeup he assumed the top intelligence post at the Pentagon.
Milley had firsthand reason to be wary of these new Pentagon advisers. Just before the election, he and Pompeo were infuriated when a top-secret Navy seal Team 6 rescue mission to free an American hostage held in Nigeria nearly had to be cancelled at the last minute. The Nigerians had not formally approved the mission in advance, as required, despite Patel’s assurances. “Planes were already in the air and we didn’t have the approvals,” a senior State Department official recalled. The rescue team was kept circling while diplomats tried to track down their Nigerian counterparts. They managed to find them only minutes before the planes would have had to turn back. As a result, the official said, both Pompeo and Milley, who believed he had been personally lied to, “assigned ill will to that whole cabal.” The C.I.A. refused to have anything to do with Patel, Pompeo recalled to his State Department staff, and they should be cautious as well. “The Secretary thought these people were just wackadoodles, nuts, and dangerous,” a second senior State Department official said. (Patel denied their accounts, asserting, “I caused no delay at all.”)
After Esper’s firing, Milley summoned Patel and Cohen separately to his office to deliver stern lectures. Whatever machinations they were up to, he told each of them, “life looks really shitty from behind bars. And, whether you want to realize it or not, there’s going to be a President at exactly 1200 hours on the twentieth and his name is Joe Biden. And, if you guys do anything that’s illegal, I don’t mind having you in prison.” Cohen denied that Milley said this to him, insisting it was a “very friendly, positive conversation.” Patel also denied it, asserting, “He worked for me, not the other way around.” But Milley told his staff that he warned both Cohen and Patel that they were being watched: “Don’t do it, don’t even try to do it. I can smell it. I can see it. And so can a lot of other people. And, by the way, the military will have no part of this shit.”
Part of the new team’s agenda soon became clear: making sure Trump fulfilled his 2016 campaign promise to withdraw American troops from the “endless wars” overseas. Two days after Esper was fired, Patel slid a piece of paper across the desk to Milley during a meeting with him and Miller. It was an order, with Trump’s trademark signature in black Sharpie, decreeing that all four thousand five hundred remaining troops in Afghanistan be withdrawn by January 15th, and that a contingent of fewer than a thousand troops on a counterterrorism mission in Somalia be pulled out by December 31st.
Milley was stunned. “Where’d you get this?” he said.
Patel said that it had just come from the White House.
“Did you advise the President to do this?” he asked Patel, who said no.
“Did you advise the President to do this?” he asked Miller, who said no.
“Well, then, who advised the President to do it?” Milley asked. “By law, I’m the President’s adviser on military action. How does this happen without me rendering my military opinion and advice?”
With that, he announced that he was putting on his dress uniform and going to the White House, where Milley and the others ended up in the office of the national-security adviser, Robert O’Brien.
“Where did this come from?” Milley demanded, putting the withdrawal order on O’Brien’s desk.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen that before,” O’Brien said. “It doesn’t look like a White House memo.”
Keith Kellogg, a retired general serving as Pence’s national-security adviser, asked to see the document. “This is not the President,” he said. “The format’s not right. This is not done right.”
“Keith, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Milley said. “You’re telling me that someone’s forging the President of the United States’ signature?”
The order, it turned out, was not fake. It was the work of a rogue operation inside Trump’s White House overseen by Johnny McEntee, Trump’s thirty-year-old personnel chief, and supported by the President himself. The order had been drafted by Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and a Trump favorite from his television appearances, working with a junior McEntee aide. The order was then brought to the President, bypassing the national-security apparatus and Trump’s own senior officials, to get him to sign it.
Macgregor often appeared on Fox News demanding an exit from Afghanistan and accused Trump’s advisers of blocking the President from doing what he wanted. “He needs to send everyone out of the Oval Office who keeps telling him, ‘If you do that and something bad happens, it’s going to be blamed on you, Mr. President,’ ” Macgregor had told Tucker Carlson in January. “He needs to say, ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ”
On the day that Esper was fired, McEntee had invited Macgregor to his office, offered him a job as the new acting Defense Secretary’s senior adviser, and handed him a handwritten list of four priorities that, as Axios reported, McEntee claimed had come directly from Trump:
1. Get us out of Afghanistan.
2. Get us out of Iraq and Syria.
3. Complete the withdrawal from Germany.
4. Get us out of Africa.
Once the Afghanistan order was discovered, Trump’s advisers persuaded the President to back off, reminding him that he had already approved a plan for leaving over the following few months. “Why do we need a new plan?” Pompeo asked. Trump relented, and O’Brien then told the rest of the rattled national-security leadership that the order was “null and void.”
The compromise, however, was a new order that codified the drawdown to twenty-five hundred troops in Afghanistan by mid-January, which Milley and Esper had been resisting, and a reduction in the remaining three thousand troops in Iraq as well. The State Department was given one hour to notify leaders of those countries before the order was released.
Two nightmare scenarios kept running through Milley’s mind. One was that Trump might spark an external crisis, such as a war with Iran, to divert attention or to create a pretext for a power grab at home. The other was that Trump would manufacture a domestic crisis to justify ordering the military into the streets to prevent the transfer of power. Milley feared that Trump’s “Hitler-like” embrace of his own lies about the election would lead him to seek a “Reichstag moment.” In 1933, Hitler had seized on a fire in the German parliament to take control of the country. Milley now envisioned a declaration of martial law or a Presidential invocation of the Insurrection Act, with Trumpian Brown Shirts fomenting violence.
By late November, amid Trump’s escalating attacks on the election, Milley and Pompeo’s coöperation had deepened—a fact that the Secretary of State revealed to Attorney General Bill Barr over dinner on the night of December 1st. Barr had just publicly broken with Trump, telling the Associated Press in an interview that there was no evidence of election fraud sufficient to overturn the results. As they ate at an Italian restaurant in a Virginia strip mall, Barr recounted for Pompeo what he called “an eventful day.” And Pompeo told Barr about the extraordinary arrangement he had proposed to Milley to make sure that the country was in steady hands until the Inauguration: they would hold daily morning phone calls with Mark Meadows. Pompeo and Milley soon took to calling them the “land the plane” phone calls.
“Our job is to land this plane safely and to do a peaceful transfer of power the twentieth of January,” Milley told his staff. “This is our obligation to this nation.” There was a problem, however. “Both engines are out, the landing gear are stuck. We’re in an emergency situation.”
In public, Pompeo remained his staunchly pro-Trump self. The day after his secret visit to Milley’s house to commiserate about “the crazies” taking over, in fact, he refused to acknowledge Trump’s defeat, snidely telling reporters, “There will be a smooth transition—to a second Trump Administration.” Behind the scenes, however, Pompeo accepted that the election was over and made it clear that he would not help overturn the result. “He was totally against it,” a senior State Department official recalled. Pompeo cynically justified this jarring contrast between what he said in public and in private. “It was important for him to not get fired at the end, too, to be there to the bitter end,” the senior official said.
Both Milley and Pompeo were angered by the bumbling team of ideologues that Trump had sent to the Pentagon after the firing of Esper, a West Point classmate of Pompeo’s. The two, who were “already converging as fellow-travellers,” as one of the State officials put it, worked even more closely together as their alarm about Trump’s post-election conduct grew, although Milley was under no illusions about the Secretary of State. He believed that Pompeo, a longtime enabler of Trump who aspired to run for President himself, wanted “a second political life,” but that Trump’s final descent into denialism was the line that, at last, he would not cross. “At the end, he wouldn’t be a party to that craziness,” Milley told his staff. By early December, as they were holding their 8 a.m. land-the-plane calls, Milley was confident that Pompeo was genuinely trying to achieve a peaceful handover of power to Biden. But he was never sure what to make of Meadows. Was the chief of staff trying to land the plane or to hijack it?
Most days, Milley would also call the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, who was hardly a usual interlocutor for a chairman of the Joint Chiefs. In the final weeks of the Administration, Cipollone, a true believer in Trump’s conservative agenda, was a principal actor in the near-daily drama over Trump’s various schemes to overturn his election defeat. After getting off one call with Cipollone, Milley told a visitor that the White House counsel was “constructive,” “not crazy,” and a force for “trying to keep guardrails around the President.”
Milley continued to reach out to Democrats close to Biden to assure them that he would not allow the military to be misused to keep Trump in power. One regular contact was Susan Rice, the former Obama national-security adviser, dubbed by Democrats the Rice Channel. He also spoke several times with Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine. “My conversations with him were about the danger of some attempt to use the military to declare martial law,” King said. He took it upon himself to reassure fellow-senators. “I can’t tell you why I know this,” but the military will absolutely do the right thing, he would tell them, citing Milley’s “character and honesty.”
Milley had increasing reason to fear that such a choice might actually be forced upon him. In late November, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with Russia. Soon afterward, Flynn publicly suggested several extreme options for Trump: he could invoke martial law, appoint a special counsel, and authorize the military to “rerun” an election in the swing states. On December 18th, Trump hosted Flynn and a group of other election deniers in the Oval Office, where, for the first time in American history, a President would seriously entertain using the military to overturn an election. They brought with them a draft of a proposed Presidential order requiring the acting Defense Secretary—Christopher Miller—to “seize, collect, retain and analyze” voting machines and provide a final assessment of any findings in sixty days, well after the Inauguration was to take place. Later that night, Trump sent out a tweet beckoning his followers to descend on the capital to help him hold on to office. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he wrote at 1:42 a.m. “Be there, will be wild!”
Milley’s fears of a coup no longer seemed far-fetched.
While Trump was being lobbied by “the crazies” to order troops to intervene at home, Milley and his fellow-generals were concerned that he would authorize a strike against Iran. For much of his Presidency, Trump’s foreign-policy hawks had agitated for a showdown with Iran; they accelerated their efforts when they realized that Trump might lose the election. In early 2020, when Mike Pence advocated taking tough measures, Milley asked why. “Because they are evil,” Pence said. Milley recalled replying, “Mr. Vice-President, there’s a lot of evil in the world, but we don’t go to war against all of it.” Milley grew even more nervous before the election, when he heard a senior official tell Trump that if he lost he should strike Iran’s nuclear program. At the time, Milley told his staff that it was a “What the fuck are these guys talking about?” moment. Now it seemed frighteningly possible.
Robert O’Brien, the national-security adviser, had been another frequent cheerleader for tough measures: “Mr. President, we should hit ’em hard, hit ’em hard with everything we have.” Esper, in his memoir, called “hit them hard” O’Brien’s “tedious signature phrase.” (O’Brien disputed this, saying, “The quote attributed to me is not accurate.”)
In the week of Esper’s firing, Milley was called to the White House to present various military options for attacking Iran and encountered a disturbing performance by Miller, the new acting Defense Secretary. Miller later told Jonathan Karl, of ABC, that he had intentionally acted like a “fucking madman” at the meeting, just three days into his tenure, pushing various escalatory scenarios for responding to Iran’s breakout nuclear capacities.
Miller’s behavior did not look intentional so much as unhelpful to Milley, as Trump kept asking for alternatives, including an attack inside Iran on its ballistic-weapons sites. Milley explained that this would be an illegal preëmptive act: “If you attack the mainland of Iran, you will be starting a war.” During another clash with Trump’s more militant advisers, when Trump was not present, Milley was even more explicit. “If we do what you’re saying,” he said, “we are all going to be tried as war criminals in The Hague.”
Trump often seemed more bluster than bite, and the Pentagon brass still believed that he did not want an all-out war, yet he continued pushing for a missile strike on Iran even after that November meeting. If Trump said it once, Milley told his staff, he said it a thousand times. “The thing he was most worried about was Iran,” a senior Biden adviser who spoke with Milley recalled. “Milley had had the experience more than once of having to walk the President off the ledge when it came to retaliating.”
The biggest fear was that Iran would provoke Trump, and, using an array of diplomatic and military channels, American officials warned the Iranians not to exploit the volatile domestic situation in the U.S. “There was a distinct concern that Iran would take advantage of this to strike at us in some way,” Adam Smith, the House Armed Services chairman, recalled.
Among those pushing the President to hit Iran before Biden’s Inauguration, Milley believed, was the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On December 18th, the same day that Trump met with Flynn to discuss instituting martial law, Milley met with Netanyahu at his home in Jerusalem to personally urge him to back off with Trump. “If you do this, you’re gonna have a fucking war,” Milley told him.
Two days later, on December 20th, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq fired nearly two dozen rockets at the American Embassy in Baghdad. Trump responded by publicly blaming Iran and threatening major retaliation if so much as a single American was killed. It was the largest attack on the Green Zone in more than a decade, and exactly the sort of provocation Milley had been dreading.
During the holidays, tensions with Iran escalated even more as the first anniversary of the American killing of Suleimani approached. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “those who ordered the murder of General Soleimani” would “be punished.” Late on the afternoon of Sunday, January 3rd, Trump met with Milley, Miller, and his other national-security advisers on Iran. Pompeo and Milley discussed a worrisome new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But, by the end, even Pompeo and O’Brien, the Iran hawks, opposed a military strike at this late hour in Trump’s Presidency. “He realized the clock ran out,” Milley told his staff. Trump, consumed with his election fight, backed off.
At the end of the meeting with his security chiefs, the President pulled Miller aside and asked him if he was ready for the upcoming January 6th protest. “It’s going to be a big deal,” Milley heard Trump tell Miller. “You’ve got enough people to make sure it’s safe for my people, right?” Miller assured him he did. This was the last time that Milley would ever see Trump.
On January 6th, Milley was in his office at the Pentagon meeting with Christine Wormuth, the lead Biden transition official for the Defense Department. In the weeks since the election, Milley had started displaying four networks at once on a large monitor across from the round table where he and Wormuth sat: CNN and Fox News, as well as the small pro-Trump outlets Newsmax and One America News Network, which had been airing election disinformation that even Fox would not broadcast. “You’ve got to know what the enemy is up to,” Milley had joked when Wormuth noticed his viewing habits at one of their meetings.
Milley and Wormuth that day were supposed to discuss the Pentagon’s plans to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as the Biden team’s hopes to mobilize large-scale covid vaccination sites around the country. But, as they realized in horror what was transpiring on the screen in front of them, Milley was summoned to an urgent meeting with Miller and Ryan McCarthy, the Secretary of the Army. They had not landed the plane, after all. The plane was crashing.
Milley entered the Defense Secretary’s office at 2:30 p.m., and they discussed deploying the D.C. National Guard and mobilizing National Guard units from nearby states and federal agents under the umbrella of the Justice Department. Miller issued an order at 3:04 p.m. to send in the D.C. Guard.
But it was too late to prevent the humiliation: Congress had been overwhelmed by a mob of election deniers, white-supremacist militia members, conspiracy theorists, and Trump loyalists. Milley worried that this truly was Trump’s “Reichstag moment,” the crisis that would allow the President to invoke martial law and maintain his grip on power.
From the secure facility at Fort McNair, where they had been brought by their protective details, congressional leaders called on the Pentagon to send forces to the Capitol immediately. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were suspicious of Miller: Whose side was this unknown Trump appointee on? Milley tried to reassure the Democratic leadership that the uniformed military was on the case, and not there to do Trump’s bidding. The Guard, he told them, was coming.
It was already after three-thirty by then, however, and the congressional leaders were furious that it was taking so long. They also spoke with Mike Pence, who offered to call the Pentagon as well. He reached Miller around 4 p.m., with Milley still in his office listening in. “Clear the Capitol,” Pence ordered.
Although it was the Vice-President who was seeking to defend the Capitol, Meadows wanted to pretend that Trump was the one taking action. He called Milley, telling him, “We have to kill the narrative that the Vice-President is making all the decisions. We need to establish the narrative that the President is still in charge.” Milley later dismissed Meadows, whose spokesperson denied Milley’s account, as playing “politics, politics, politics.”
The Guard finally arrived at the Capitol by 5:40 p.m., “sprint speed” for the military, as Milley would put it, but not nearly fast enough for some members of Congress, who would spend months investigating why it took so long. By 7 p.m., a perimeter had been set up outside the Capitol, and F.B.I. and A.T.F. agents were going door to door in the Capitol’s many hideaways and narrow corridors, searching for any remaining rioters.
That night, waiting for Congress to return and formally ratify Trump’s electoral defeat, Milley called one of his contacts on the Biden team. He explained that he had spoken with Meadows and Pat Cipollone at the White House, and that he had been on the phone with Pence and the congressional leaders as well. But Milley never heard from the Commander-in-Chief, on a day when the Capitol was overrun by a hostile force for the first time since the War of 1812. Trump, he said, was both “shameful” and “complicit.”
Later, Milley would often think back to that awful day. “It was a very close-run thing,” the historically minded chairman would say, invoking the famous line of the Duke of Wellington after he had only narrowly defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Trump and his men had failed in their execution of the plot, failed in part by failing to understand that Milley and the others had never been Trump’s generals and never would be. But their attack on the election had exposed a system with glaring weaknesses. “They shook the very Republic to the core,” Milley would eventually reflect. “Can you imagine what a group of people who are much more capable could have done?” ♦
This is drawn from “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.”
An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed a quote to Mark Esper’s book.Published in the print edition of the August 15, 2022, issue, with the headline “Trump’s Last General.”
A característica mais fantástica dos códigos de conduta de Augusto Santos Silva não era disfarçar o desconhecimento da lei. Era permitir aos governantes socialistas fazer aquilo que a lei os impedia de fazer.
Marta Temido acha que a fé vai resolver os problemas do SNS.
Eu tenho a certeza de que os problemas só serão resolvidos quando o SNS se livrar do PS.
As quotas fazem tudo menos garantir equidade. Igualdade é o seu objectivo e a igualdade não garante qualidade, nem mérito.
Defender quotas é defender discriminação.
O Estado da Nação, apesar do Primeiro-ministro não ter respondido às perguntas, acabou por ser dos mais esclarecedores dos últimos anos.
António Costa, titular por excelência do poder executivo, evidenciou todo o seu desrespeito pelos deputados, representantes do poder legislativo. A falta de respeito foi directamente dirigida aos deputados da oposição, porém, os deputados do PS acabaram por participar no ridículo ao aplaudir o silêncio do Primeiro-ministro.
Este tipo de postura é ilustrativo do que se passa no âmbito partidário português. O comportamento que é expectável nos partidos dos extremos, o PCP e o BE à esquerda e o Chega à direita, a obediência ao líder, passou também a ser a norma no PS.
Não tenho qualquer dúvida de que António Costa institucionalizou e potenciou as práticas que José Sócrates implementou. O aplauso dos deputados do PS ao triste episódio do Primeiro-ministro a desrespeitar os deputados da oposição diz tudo.
Quem não obedecer ao líder corre o risco de não voltar a ser deputado. E noutros níveis também. Quem não obedecer ao líder não contará com o apoio do PS e/ou não voltará a ser candidato. Nas câmaras e nas freguesias. Seja onde for, seja como for, seja quem for.
Que outra razão explica que os autarcas socialistas tenham aceitado um processo de descentralização que só prejudicará as suas autarquias a médio e a curto prazo? Talvez esperem ter dado o salto para outro lugar ou já tenham atingido o limite de mandatos? Talvez? Independentemente disso, agora obedeceram. Longe vão os tempos do Guilherme Pinto.
Após três meses, temos um governo de fim de ciclo. As tensões acumuladas nos últimos sete anos já não são controláveis sem uma cedência final. E essa cedência aconteceu. António Costa é um “líder” a prazo.
O PS é hoje uma manta de retalhos. A vários níveis. Tudo começou com Guterres que, sem possuir características de líder, chegou a líder pelos consensos. E cedeu tanto em nome desses consensos que acabou no pântano.
Os consensos de António Guterres ditaram o esmorecimento do PS democrático. Foi nos Estados Gerais que o PS começou a ser infestado por comunistas e afins, alguns dos quais se infiltraram pela juventude socialista. Foi aqui que começou a desaparecer o PS soarista. Foi também aqui os jovens “garnisés” socialistas começaram a avaliar que capital político tinham para o futuro. E testaram-no desafiando a autoridade de Guterres, que demonstrou ter pouca. Que o diga António Costa. Encostou Guterres à parede e este cedeu.
Com as Novas Fronteiras de José Sócrates o processo acelerou. A influência dos extremistas cresceu dento do PS e foi nesta altura que uma franja do eleitorado passou a ser disputada entre o PS e o BE. Seria expectável que com António Costa o PS regressasse à senda democrática. Contudo, assim não sucedeu. António Costa, rodeado de ex-comunistas e ex-bloquistas, consolidou e ampliou o neo-socialismo de Sócrates. As leis de Sócrates ainda regem. A dívida não é para pagar. E António Costa obedece.
Há sete anos que António Costa é Primeiro-ministro. Nesse período, foi incapaz de governar sem o apoio e as exigências da esquerda radical. Esse apoio levou a que tivesse de pôr o PS democrático na gaveta. António Costa, que sempre negou a deriva socialista para o radicalismo, teve, com a maioria obtida em janeiro último, uma oportunidade para provar que o PS fazia parte do socialismo democrático. Na hora da verdade, António Costa falhou redondamente. Não só aprovou um orçamento de esquerda, como também manteve os representantes do socialismo extremista no seu governo. Pedro Nuno Santos e João Galamba, entre outros, são exemplo, estando o primeiro já há algum tempo a posicionar-se para ascender à liderança do PS. Se ainda não perceberam, Pedro Nuno Santos é o “garnisé” de António Costa.
O problema de Pedro Nuno Santos não se cinge ao seu radicalismo, teimosia e intransigência. Apesar das características de personalidade de Pedro Nuno Santos deverem ser respeitadas, a verdade é que a sua arrogância, prepotência e convencimento de que tem sempre razão não ajudam. Quem tiver o cuidado que analisar o comportamento, a postura e a maneira como se expressa chegará à conclusão de que Pedro Nuno Santos é estruturalmente autoritário. Denota desprezo quando tem de falar com aqueles que não são da esquerda – a democracia e a oposição incomodam-no – e fico sempre com a sensação de que Pedro Nuno Santos não dialoga. Dá ordens.
A sinceridade demonstrada por Pedro Nuno Santos no seu recente acto de contrição público foi notável. Comovi-me como há muito não me acontecia. A repulsa que manifestou foi indisfarçável e acabou por não pedir desculpa aos portugueses. Lamento, mas os arrogantes não procuram redenção. E o que Pedro Nuno Santos quer é o poder. Quer tanto o poder que não se importa de se contrariar, nem de diminuir o Primeiro-ministro para o alcançar.
Ora, segundo António Costa, Pedro Nuno Santos é um Ministro competente e não agiu de má-fé. É por isso que continua no Governo. Meus senhores, acabamos de assistir à tremedeira dos sete anos. E não duvidem que vários pares de pernas tremeram. Pedro Nuno Santos ultrapassou os limites da sua autonomia, desrespeitou o seu chefe de governo e menosprezou o Presidente da República. Apesar das pernas lhe terem tremido, afrontou o “líder” e só foi desautorizado. É António Costa, a quem as pernas tremeram ainda mais, que fica descredibilizado. E será sobre ele que a responsabilidade cairá.
António Costa diz que ele é quem escolhe e demite os ministros, mas não faz nada sem a autorização deles. Costa é o Guterres do século XXI. Foi encostado à parede por Pedro Nuno Santos e cedeu.
Passados sete anos, tudo se revela em três meses. Esta tremedeira é o acumular das tensões resultantes dos consensos de António Costa. O XXIII Governo só tem três meses, mas já é um governo de final de ciclo. Depois deste episódio, a liderança de António Costa vai diminuir ainda mais. Quer no Governo, quer no PS. António Costa é um “líder” a prazo.
Tudo porque desta última cedência de Costa, numa conversa de 45 minutos em São Bento, foi muito provavelmente acordado que António Costa se vai embora antes do fim da legislatura e Pedro Nuno Santos será o sucessor.
Todavia, a última palavra será de Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Brevemente num Observador perto de si!
To describe both Europe’s current circumstances and the measure of our resolve, Churchill’s sentence is the most fitting. Against those who uphold totalitarian ideas there is only one position: an unequivocally reaffirmation of democratic principles! One cannot just say. One must also act accordingly. And yes. Democracy and Freedom have costs!
Furthermore, by evoking Churchill and the context in which such words where expressed, we are remembered to what today is at stake. At the time, the choice was between defend or compromise our values and principles. At the time, despite all the warnings, Nazi threats were ignored.
Chamberlain was not willing to let go his appeasement policy. He was so keen to the idea that even after the Anschluss, Chamberlain went to the point of sanction Hitler’s desire on the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia (1938). Only after intense diplomatic pressure of the British (and the French) Government, did the Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš agreed with the demands for Sudeten autonomy. Later that year, the Munich Conference, classified by Chamberlain as the moment of “peace for our time”, handed over the Sudetenland districts to Germany. This signified the first sign of real concession, and we already know what happened next.
Hitler tactics were simple. Through local supporters, preferably with ethnic ties and endowed with political organization, subversive acts would be carried out to provide a pretext for German military action. Who was Hitler’s trusted man in the Sudetenland region? Konrad Henlein.
History is our greatest Teacher. We must learn its lessons. As such, it is primordial to bear in mind that even after all these events, among the British corridors of power there were those who argued for a peace treaty with Hitler. Imagine how history would have been if such moment had happened?
To have a better understanding of the subject under consideration, we also cannot disregard the consequences of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its Secret Protocol, which defined the borders of Soviet and German spheres of influence across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.
Neither Stalin nor the Bolsheviks ever got over the territory loss caused by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). The signing of the Treaty was all but peaceful. During the discussion within the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, when Lenin told the delegates that saving the world revolution required validate such shameful peace and if they did not sign, he would resign, he was called a traitor. So, Stalin saw in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact the opportunity to recover Lenin’s lost empire. As we know, in Yalta he went further, and soviet influence reached another level.
The aftermath of the Second World War represented the beginning of a new international framework. Faced with the failure of the League of Nations, the leaders of the Allied countries began a new process of international negotiation that culminated in the creation of a new intergovernmental organization, the United Nations (UN) and with it a new regulation for international law. Key examples are the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, varying from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations. One of the objectives expressed in its preamble is “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained” and all UN members are bond to it. Putin’s Russia is no exception.
Danielle Young says that “since its inception, whatever post-war international order that exists has been under siege.” Yes, as we live in a world of nations, we can accept that view. Within the realm of international relations, realism and the importance of power and the balance of power as guarantees of security reigns supreme. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the current international environment is different from the one that prevailed before the Second World War.
Hans Morgenthau in its 1948 book – Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace – enumerated the six principles of realism. Although he had stressed the significance of foreign policy ethic dimension, policy makers paid little attention to it. Today, unfortunately, two of Morgenthau’s tenets – that realism is a perspective aware of the moral significance of political action; and the moral aspirations of a single community or a state may not be universally valid or shared – are almost forgotten.
Throughout history how many times was language, and ethnic population, and “protection” evoked as an argument to disrespect international law? Putin and his supporters have been mimicking Hitler’s tactics.
Relations between Russia and Georgia began to worsen after the 2003 Georgian Rose Revolution, which caused the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze and signal a pro-Western foreign policy aiming a European and Euro-Atlantic integration. By April 2008, relations between both countries reached a full diplomatic crisis, and in August Russia invaded Georgia. How did Medvedev justify this decision? Russia wanted to shield and help the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Concerning the latter Putin also argued that the military intervention was to protect Osseitians from Georgian “genocide.” Who were the Kremlin friends in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoyty.
In 2014, after the Kremlin loss of political influence due to Maidan Revolution and the consequent ousting of Viktor Yanukovych and his government, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Once again, Putin employed Nazi tactics. Pro-Russian demonstrations were held in Sevastopol, masked Russian troops without insignia took over the Supreme Council of Crimea and Sergey Aksyonov, a declared Kremlin supporter, with the presence of the gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket launchers, was “elected” Prime Minister of Crimea.
What triggered Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea? His concerns about the people of Crimea ability to freely express their will. That is why Russian troops occupied Crimea. To ensure freedom of speech and of choice. Curiously, while Yanukovych was in power and Russia maintained influence over the political decisions made in Kyiv, Putin saw no problem with the Crimeans freedom of expression.
Finally, what was the reason given by Putin to justify the invasion of Ukraine? “Denazification.” Intriguingly, the Kremlin gave no justification about the war crimes committed by the Russian troops, the attacks to civilians, and, among other things, the looting and theft of Ukrainian cereals.
Once again, the choice is between defend or compromise our values and principles. Once again, all warnings were ignored. All those, including Henry Kissinger, who say that we must find a way to save Putin’s face are wrong.
We keep neglecting Karaganov’s Doctrine. We keep disregarding Dugin’s concepts. We keep forgetting that Empire is the most enduring idea within all Russians elites, regardless of the epoch. We keep ignoring that Putin’s regime is nothing but a corporativist system. Let me ask you this. Concerning Crimea’s annexation what is more plausible? An act of Russian nationalism or an act of Russian imperialism?
Putin evaluated us in Georgia. Almost nothing was done. Putin annexed Crimea. Again, almost nothing was done. Putin invaded Ukraine. Finally, we are really reacting. But if our position weakens, Putin will do whatever and wherever he wants. Concerning Europe, this is what Putin and his staff desire: Russians want to be in, throw the Americans out and keep the Germans down. Which they will only accomplish with NATO disbanding.
The last thing we should do is save Putin’s face. Neither Putin nor his entourage can be trusted. Obviously, I am not advocating an invasion of Russia to overthrow Putin. That task falls entirely to the Russian people. What is essential to do is to unmask Putin’s lies, to show that he is an autocratic despot and to encourage those who have the courage to stand up to him through democratic procedures.
The latest form of Russian blackmail is the threat of nuclear war. Either they give me what I want, or else. We simply cannot give in. Nothing guarantees us that Putin will stop. In fact, his behavior indicates that what will surely happen are more abuses and demands. If Putin starts a nuclear war, it will not just be our children who will die. Losses will be global.
Circumstances may reveal people’s abilities, but it is choices that bring out character. Both Putin and Zelensky are revealing who they are. So must we. As such, we must be worthy of those who gave their last measure of devotion for us. We must show the same unwavering resolution and do what is right.
That is the only way we will properly honor those who allowed us to be what we are – Churchill, de Gaulle, Roosevelt, Pierlot, Dupong, Adenauer, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, among many others.
Brevemente, num Observador perto de si!
What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower “with its top in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:
Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.
The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension.
The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.
Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?
The Rise of the Modern Tower
There is a direction to history and it is toward cooperation at larger scales. We see this trend in biological evolution, in the series of “major transitions” through which multicellular organisms first appeared and then developed new symbiotic relationships. We see it in cultural evolution too, as Robert Wright explained in his 1999 book, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Wright showed that history involves a series of transitions, driven by rising population density plus new technologies (writing, roads, the printing press) that created new possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and learning. Zero-sum conflicts—such as the wars of religion that arose as the printing press spread heretical ideas across Europe—were better thought of as temporary setbacks, and sometimes even integral to progress. (Those wars of religion, he argued, made possible the transition to modern nation-states with better-informed citizens.) President Bill Clinton praised Nonzero’s optimistic portrayal of a more cooperative future thanks to continued technological advance.
The early internet of the 1990s, with its chat rooms, message boards, and email, exemplified the Nonzero thesis, as did the first wave of social-media platforms, which launched around 2003. Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook made it easy to connect with friends and strangers to talk about common interests, for free, and at a scale never before imaginable. By 2008, Facebook had emerged as the dominant platform, with more than 100 million monthly users, on its way to roughly 3 billion today. In the first decade of the new century, social media was widely believed to be a boon to democracy. What dictator could impose his will on an interconnected citizenry? What regime could build a wall to keep out the internet?
The high point of techno-democratic optimism was arguably 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with the global Occupy movement. That is also when Google Translate became available on virtually all smartphones, so you could say that 2011 was the year that humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel. We were closer than we had ever been to being “one people,” and we had effectively overcome the curse of division by language. For techno-democratic optimists, it seemed to be only the beginning of what humanity could do.
In February 2012, as he prepared to take Facebook public, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on those extraordinary times and set forth his plans. “Today, our society has reached another tipping point,” he wrote in a letter to investors. Facebook hoped “to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” By giving them “the power to share,” it would help them to “once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”
In the 10 years since then, Zuckerberg did exactly what he said he would do. He did rewire the way we spread and consume information; he did transform our institutions, and he pushed us past the tipping point. It has not worked out as he expected.
Things Fall Apart
Historically, civilizations have relied on shared blood, gods, and enemies to counteract the tendency to split apart as they grow. But what is it that holds together large and diverse secular democracies such as the United States and India, or, for that matter, modern Britain and France?
Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.
In their early incarnations, platforms such as Myspace and Facebook were relatively harmless. They allowed users to create pages on which to post photos, family updates, and links to the mostly static pages of their friends and favorite bands. In this way, early social media can be seen as just another step in the long progression of technological improvements—from the Postal Service through the telephone to email and texting—that helped people achieve the eternal goal of maintaining their social ties.
But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.
Once social-media platforms had trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting, the stage was set for the major transformation, which began in 2009: the intensification of viral dynamics.
Babel is not a story about tribalism. It’s a story about the fragmentation of everything.
Before 2009, Facebook had given users a simple timeline––a never-ending stream of content generated by their friends and connections, with the newest posts at the top and the oldest ones at the bottom. This was often overwhelming in its volume, but it was an accurate reflection of what others were posting. That began to change in 2009, when Facebook offered users a way to publicly “like” posts with the click of a button. That same year, Twitter introduced something even more powerful: the “Retweet” button, which allowed users to publicly endorse a post while also sharing it with all of their followers. Facebook soon copied that innovation with its own “Share” button, which became available to smartphone users in 2012. “Like” and “Share” buttons quickly became standard features of most other platforms.
Shortly after its “Like” button began to produce data about what best “engaged” its users, Facebook developed algorithms to bring each user the content most likely to generate a “like” or some other interaction, eventually including the “share” as well. Later research showed that posts that trigger emotions––especially anger at out-groups––are the most likely to be shared.
By 2013, social media had become a new game, with dynamics unlike those in 2008. If you were skillful or lucky, you might create a post that would “go viral” and make you “internet famous” for a few days. If you blundered, you could find yourself buried in hateful comments. Your posts rode to fame or ignominy based on the clicks of thousands of strangers, and you in turn contributed thousands of clicks to the game.
This new game encouraged dishonesty and mob dynamics: Users were guided not just by their true preferences but by their past experiences of reward and punishment, and their prediction of how others would react to each new action. One of the engineers at Twitter who had worked on the “Retweet” button later revealed that he regretted his contribution because it had made Twitter a nastier place. As he watched Twitter mobs forming through the use of the new tool, he thought to himself, “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”
As a social psychologist who studies emotion, morality, and politics, I saw this happening too. The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves. The volume of outrage was shocking.
It was just this kind of twitchy and explosive spread of anger that James Madison had tried to protect us from as he was drafting the U.S. Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.” The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.
The tech companies that enhanced virality from 2009 to 2012 brought us deep into Madison’s nightmare. Many authors quote his comments in “Federalist No. 10” on the innate human proclivity toward “faction,” by which he meant our tendency to divide ourselves into teams or parties that are so inflamed with “mutual animosity” that they are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
But that essay continues on to a less quoted yet equally important insight, about democracy’s vulnerability to triviality. Madison notes that people are so prone to factionalism that “where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous. Is our democracy any healthier now that we’ve had Twitter brawls over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax the rich dress at the annual Met Gala, and Melania Trump’s dress at a 9/11 memorial event, which had stitching that kind of looked like a skyscraper? How about Senator Ted Cruz’s tweet criticizing Big Bird for tweeting about getting his COVID vaccine?
It’s not just the waste of time and scarce attention that matters; it’s the continual chipping-away of trust. An autocracy can deploy propaganda or use fear to motivate the behaviors it desires, but a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions. Blind and irrevocable trust in any particular individual or organization is never warranted. But when citizens lose trust in elected leaders, health authorities, the courts, the police, universities, and the integrity of elections, then every decision becomes contested; every election becomes a life-and-death struggle to save the country from the other side. The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer (an international measure of citizens’ trust in government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations) showed stable and competent autocracies (China and the United Arab Emirates) at the top of the list, while contentious democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Korea scored near the bottom (albeit above Russia).
Recent academic studies suggest that social media is indeed corrosive to trust in governments, news media, and people and institutions in general. A working paper that offers the most comprehensive review of the research, led by the social scientists Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, concludes that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.
When people lose trust in institutions, they lose trust in the stories told by those institutions. That’s particularly true of the institutions entrusted with the education of children. History curricula have often caused political controversy, but Facebook and Twitter make it possible for parents to become outraged every day over a new snippet from their children’s history lessons––and math lessons and literature selections, and any new pedagogical shifts anywhere in the country. The motives of teachers and administrators come into question, and overreaching laws or curricular reforms sometimes follow, dumbing down education and reducing trust in it further. One result is that young people educated in the post-Babel era are less likely to arrive at a coherent story of who we are as a people, and less likely to share any such story with those who attended different schools or who were educated in a different decade.
The former CIA analyst Martin Gurri predicted these fracturing effects in his 2014 book, The Revolt of the Public. Gurri’s analysis focused on the authority-subverting effects of information’s exponential growth, beginning with the internet in the 1990s. Writing nearly a decade ago, Gurri could already see the power of social media as a universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere it reached. He noted that distributed networks “can protest and overthrow, but never govern.” He described the nihilism of the many protest movements of 2011 that organized mostly online and that, like Occupy Wall Street, demanded the destruction of existing institutions without offering an alternative vision of the future or an organization that could bring it about.
Gurri is no fan of elites or of centralized authority, but he notes a constructive feature of the pre-digital era: a single “mass audience,” all consuming the same content, as if they were all looking into the same gigantic mirror at the reflection of their own society. In a comment to Vox that recalls the first post-Babel diaspora, he said:
The digital revolution has shattered that mirror, and now the public inhabits those broken pieces of glass. So the public isn’t one thing; it’s highly fragmented, and it’s basically mutually hostile. It’s mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.
Mark Zuckerberg may not have wished for any of that. But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth—with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.
I think we can date the fall of the tower to the years between 2011 (Gurri’s focal year of “nihilistic” protests) and 2015, a year marked by the “great awokening” on the left and the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the right. Trump did not destroy the tower; he merely exploited its fall. He was the first politician to master the new dynamics of the post-Babel era, in which outrage is the key to virality, stage performance crushes competence, Twitter can overpower all the newspapers in the country, and stories cannot be shared (or at least trusted) across more than a few adjacent fragments—so truth cannot achieve widespread adherence.
The many analysts, including me, who had argued that Trump could not win the general election were relying on pre-Babel intuitions, which said that scandals such as the Access Hollywood tape (in which Trump boasted about committing sexual assault) are fatal to a presidential campaign. But after Babel, nothing really means anything anymore––at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.
Politics After Babel
“Politics is the art of the possible,” the German statesman Otto von Bismarck said in 1867. In a post-Babel democracy, not much may be possible.
Of course, the American culture war and the decline of cross-party cooperation predates social media’s arrival. The mid-20th century was a time of unusually low polarization in Congress, which began reverting back to historical levels in the 1970s and ’80s. The ideological distance between the two parties began increasing faster in the 1990s. Fox News and the 1994 “Republican Revolution” converted the GOP into a more combative party. For example, House Speaker Newt Gingrich discouraged new Republican members of Congress from moving their families to Washington, D.C., where they were likely to form social ties with Democrats and their families.
So cross-party relationships were already strained before 2009. But the enhanced virality of social media thereafter made it more hazardous to be seen fraternizing with the enemy or even failing to attack the enemy with sufficient vigor. On the right, the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) was superseded in 2015 by the more contemptuous term cuckservative, popularized on Twitter by Trump supporters. On the left, social media launched callout culture in the years after 2012, with transformative effects on university life and later on politics and culture throughout the English-speaking world.
What changed in the 2010s? Let’s revisit that Twitter engineer’s metaphor of handing a loaded gun to a 4-year-old. A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone; it is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly 1 billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since.
Social media has given voice to some people who had little previously, and it has made it easier to hold powerful people accountable for their misdeeds, not just in politics but in business, the arts, academia, and elsewhere. Sexual harassers could have been called out in anonymous blog posts before Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine that the #MeToo movement would have been nearly so successful without the viral enhancement that the major platforms offered. However, the warped “accountability” of social media has also brought injustice—and political dysfunction—in three ways.
First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. Research by the political scientists Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen found that a small subset of people on social-media platforms are highly concerned with gaining status and are willing to use aggression to do so. They admit that in their online discussions they often curse, make fun of their opponents, and get blocked by other users or reported for inappropriate comments. Across eight studies, Bor and Petersen found that being online did not make most people more aggressive or hostile; rather, it allowed a small number of aggressive people to attack a much larger set of victims. Even a small number of jerks were able to dominate discussion forums, Bor and Petersen found, because nonjerks are easily turned off from online discussions of politics. Additional research finds that women and Black people are harassed disproportionately, so the digital public square is less welcoming to their voices.
Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority. The “Hidden Tribes” study, by the pro-democracy group More in Common, surveyed 8,000 Americans in 2017 and 2018 and identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The one furthest to the right, known as the “devoted conservatives,” comprised 6 percent of the U.S. population. The group furthest to the left, the “progressive activists,” comprised 8 percent of the population. The progressive activists were by far the most prolific group on social media: 70 percent had shared political content over the previous year. The devoted conservatives followed, at 56 percent.
These two extreme groups are similar in surprising ways. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups, which suggests that America is being torn apart by a battle between two subsets of the elite who are not representative of the broader society. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. This uniformity of opinion, the study’s authors speculate, is likely a result of thought-policing on social media: “Those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups may experience backlash from their own cohort.” In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team. In this way, social media makes a political system based on compromise grind to a halt.
Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes. A successful attack attracts a barrage of likes and follow-on strikes. Enhanced-virality platforms thereby facilitate massive collective punishment for small or imagined offenses, with real-world consequences, including innocent people losing their jobs and being shamed into suicide. When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.
Since the tower fell, debates of all kinds have grown more and more confused. The most pervasive obstacle to good thinking is confirmation bias, which refers to the human tendency to search only for evidence that confirms our preferred beliefs. Even before the advent of social media, search engines were supercharging confirmation bias, making it far easier for people to find evidence for absurd beliefs and conspiracy theories, such as that the Earth is flat and that the U.S. government staged the 9/11 attacks. But social media made things much worse.
The most reliable cure for confirmation bias is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counterevidence and counterargument. John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” and he urged us to seek out conflicting views “from persons who actually believe them.” People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain. People who try to silence or intimidate their critics make themselves stupider, almost as if they are shooting darts into their own brain.In the 20th century, America built the most capable knowledge-producing institutions in human history. In the past decade, they got stupider en masse.
In his book The Constitution of Knowledge, Jonathan Rauch describes the historical breakthrough in which Western societies developed an “epistemic operating system”—that is, a set of institutions for generating knowledge from the interactions of biased and cognitively flawed individuals. English law developed the adversarial system so that biased advocates could present both sides of a case to an impartial jury. Newspapers full of lies evolved into professional journalistic enterprises, with norms that required seeking out multiple sides of a story, followed by editorial review, followed by fact-checking. Universities evolved from cloistered medieval institutions into research powerhouses, creating a structure in which scholars put forth evidence-backed claims with the knowledge that other scholars around the world would be motivated to gain prestige by finding contrary evidence.
Part of America’s greatness in the 20th century came from having developed the most capable, vibrant, and productive network of knowledge-producing institutions in all of human history, linking together the world’s best universities, private companies that turned scientific advances into life-changing consumer products, and government agencies that supported scientific research and led the collaboration that put people on the moon.
But this arrangement, Rauch notes, “is not self-maintaining; it relies on an array of sometimes delicate social settings and understandings, and those need to be understood, affirmed, and protected.” So what happens when an institution is not well maintained and internal disagreement ceases, either because its people have become ideologically uniform or because they have become afraid to dissent?
This, I believe, is what happened to many of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s. They got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. The shift was most pronounced in universities, scholarly associations, creative industries, and political organizations at every level (national, state, and local), and it was so pervasive that it established new behavioral norms backed by new policies seemingly overnight. The new omnipresence of enhanced-virality social media meant that a single word uttered by a professor, leader, or journalist, even if spoken with positive intent, could lead to a social-media firestorm, triggering an immediate dismissal or a drawn-out investigation by the institution. Participants in our key institutions began self-censoring to an unhealthy degree, holding back critiques of policies and ideas—even those presented in class by their students—that they believed to be ill-supported or wrong.
But when an institution punishes internal dissent, it shoots darts into its own brain.
The stupefying process plays out differently on the right and the left because their activist wings subscribe to different narratives with different sacred values. The “Hidden Tribes” study tells us that the “devoted conservatives” score highest on beliefs related to authoritarianism. They share a narrative in which America is eternally under threat from enemies outside and subversives within; they see life as a battle between patriots and traitors. According to the political scientist Karen Stenner, whose work the “Hidden Tribes” study drew upon, they are psychologically different from the larger group of “traditional conservatives” (19 percent of the population), who emphasize order, decorum, and slow rather than radical change.
Only within the devoted conservatives’ narratives do Donald Trump’s speeches make sense, from his campaign’s ominous opening diatribe about Mexican “rapists” to his warning on January 6, 2021: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The traditional punishment for treason is death, hence the battle cry on January 6: “Hang Mike Pence.” Right-wing death threats, many delivered by anonymous accounts, are proving effective in cowing traditional conservatives, for example in driving out local election officials who failed to “stop the steal.” The wave of threats delivered to dissenting Republican members of Congress has similarly pushed many of the remaining moderates to quit or go silent, giving us a party ever more divorced from the conservative tradition, constitutional responsibility, and reality. We now have a Republican Party that describes a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” supported—or at least not contradicted—by an array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations.
The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter.
The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.
Liberals in the late 20th century shared a belief that the sociologist Christian Smith called the “liberal progress” narrative, in which America used to be horrifically unjust and repressive, but, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes, has made (and continues to make) progress toward realizing the noble promise of its founding. This story easily supports liberal patriotism, and it was the animating narrative of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is also the view of the “traditional liberals” in the “Hidden Tribes” study (11 percent of the population), who have strong humanitarian values, are older than average, and are largely the people leading America’s cultural and intellectual institutions.
But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.
The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.
You can see the stupefaction process most clearly when a person on the left merely points to research that questions or contradicts a favored belief among progressive activists. Someone on Twitter will find a way to associate the dissenter with racism, and others will pile on. For example, in the first week of protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of which included violence, the progressive policy analyst David Shor, then employed by Civis Analytics, tweeted a link to a study showing that violent protests back in the 1960s led to electoral setbacks for the Democrats in nearby counties. Shor was clearly trying to be helpful, but in the ensuing outrage he was accused of “anti-Blackness” and was soon dismissed from his job. (Civis Analytics has denied that the tweet led to Shor’s firing.)
The Shor case became famous, but anyone on Twitter had already seen dozens of examples teaching the basic lesson: Don’t question your own side’s beliefs, policies, or actions. And when traditional liberals go silent, as so many did in the summer of 2020, the progressive activists’ more radical narrative takes over as the governing narrative of an organization. This is why so many epistemic institutions seemed to “go woke” in rapid succession that year and the next, beginning with a wave of controversies and resignations at The New York Times and other newspapers, and continuing on to social-justice pronouncements by groups of doctors and medical associations (one publication by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, for instance, advised medical professionals to refer to neighborhoods and communities as “oppressed” or “systematically divested” instead of “vulnerable” or “poor”), and the hurried transformation of curricula at New York City’s most expensive private schools.
Tragically, we see stupefaction playing out on both sides in the COVID wars. The right has been so committed to minimizing the risks of COVID that it has turned the disease into one that preferentially kills Republicans. The progressive left is so committed to maximizing the dangers of COVID that it often embraces an equally maximalist, one-size-fits-all strategy for vaccines, masks, and social distancing—even as they pertain to children. Such policies are not as deadly as spreading fears and lies about vaccines, but many of them have been devastating for the mental health and education of children, who desperately need to play with one another and go to school; we have little clear evidence that school closures and masks for young children reduce deaths from COVID. Most notably for the story I’m telling here, progressive parents who argued against school closures were frequently savaged on social media and met with the ubiquitous leftist accusations of racism and white supremacy. Others in blue cities learned to keep quiet.
American politics is getting ever more ridiculous and dysfunctional not because Americans are getting less intelligent. The problem is structural. Thanks to enhanced-virality social media, dissent is punished within many of our institutions, which means that bad ideas get elevated into official policy.
It’s Going to Get Much Worse
In a 2018 interview, Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump, said that the way to deal with the media is “to flood the zone with shit.” He was describing the “firehose of falsehood” tactic pioneered by Russian disinformation programs to keep Americans confused, disoriented, and angry. But back then, in 2018, there was an upper limit to the amount of shit available, because all of it had to be created by a person (other than some low-quality stuff produced by bots).
Now, however, artificial intelligence is close to enabling the limitless spread of highly believable disinformation. The AI program GPT-3 is already so good that you can give it a topic and a tone and it will spit out as many essays as you like, typically with perfect grammar and a surprising level of coherence. In a year or two, when the program is upgraded to GPT-4, it will become far more capable. In a 2020 essay titled “The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite,” Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, explained that spreading falsehoods—whether through text, images, or deep-fake videos—will quickly become inconceivably easy. (She co-wrote the essay with GPT-3.)
American factions won’t be the only ones using AI and social media to generate attack content; our adversaries will too. In a haunting 2018 essay titled “The Digital Maginot Line,” DiResta described the state of affairs bluntly. “We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality,” she wrote. The Soviets used to have to send over agents or cultivate Americans willing to do their bidding. But social media made it cheap and easy for Russia’s Internet Research Agency to invent fake events or distort real ones to stoke rage on both the left and the right, often over race. Later research showed that an intensive campaign began on Twitter in 2013 but soon spread to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, among other platforms. One of the major goals was to polarize the American public and spread distrust—to split us apart at the exact weak point that Madison had identified.If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse.
We now know that it’s not just the Russians attacking American democracy. Before the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, China had mostly focused on domestic platforms such as WeChat. But now China is discovering how much it can do with Twitter and Facebook, for so little money, in its escalating conflict with the U.S. Given China’s own advances in AI, we can expect it to become more skillful over the next few years at further dividing America and further uniting China.
In the 20th century, America’s shared identity as the country leading the fight to make the world safe for democracy was a strong force that helped keep the culture and the polity together. In the 21st century, America’s tech companies have rewired the world and created products that now appear to be corrosive to democracy, obstacles to shared understanding, and destroyers of the modern tower.
Democracy After Babel
We can never return to the way things were in the pre-digital age. The norms, institutions, and forms of political participation that developed during the long era of mass communication are not going to work well now that technology has made everything so much faster and more multidirectional, and when bypassing professional gatekeepers is so easy. And yet American democracy is now operating outside the bounds of sustainability. If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.
What changes are needed? Redesigning democracy for the digital age is far beyond my abilities, but I can suggest three categories of reforms––three goals that must be achieved if democracy is to remain viable in the post-Babel era. We must harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust, reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive, and better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.
Harden Democratic Institutions
Political polarization is likely to increase for the foreseeable future. Thus, whatever else we do, we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.
For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.
Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district. One example of such a reform is to end closed party primaries, replacing them with a single, nonpartisan, open primary from which the top several candidates advance to a general election that also uses ranked-choice voting. A version of this voting system has already been implemented in Alaska, and it seems to have given Senator Lisa Murkowski more latitude to oppose former President Trump, whose favored candidate would be a threat to Murkowski in a closed Republican primary but is not in an open one.
A second way to harden democratic institutions is to reduce the power of either political party to game the system in its favor, for example by drawing its preferred electoral districts or selecting the officials who will supervise elections. These jobs should all be done in a nonpartisan way. Research on procedural justice shows that when people perceive that a process is fair, they are more likely to accept the legitimacy of a decision that goes against their interests. Just think of the damage already done to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy by the Senate’s Republican leadership when it blocked consideration of Merrick Garland for a seat that opened up nine months before the 2016 election, and then rushed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. A widely discussed reform would end this political gamesmanship by having justices serve staggered 18-year terms so that each president makes one appointment every two years.
Reform Social Media
A democracy cannot survive if its public squares are places where people fear speaking up and where no stable consensus can be reached. Social media’s empowerment of the far left, the far right, domestic trolls, and foreign agents is creating a system that looks less like democracy and more like rule by the most aggressive.
But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”
Those who oppose regulation of social media generally focus on the legitimate concern that government-mandated content restrictions will, in practice, devolve into censorship. But the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.
Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.
Banks and other industries have “know your customer” rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises. Large social-media platforms should be required to do the same. That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym. It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify (perhaps through a third party or nonprofit) that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform. This one change would wipe out most of the hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms. It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally. Research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable.
In any case, the growing evidence that social media is damaging democracy is sufficient to warrant greater oversight by a regulatory body, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission. One of the first orders of business should be compelling the platforms to share their data and their algorithms with academic researchers.
Prepare the Next Generation
The members of Gen Z––those born in and after 1997––bear none of the blame for the mess we are in, but they are going to inherit it, and the preliminary signs are that older generations have prevented them from learning how to handle it.
Childhood has become more tightly circumscribed in recent generations––with less opportunity for free, unstructured play; less unsupervised time outside; more time online. Whatever else the effects of these shifts, they have likely impeded the development of abilities needed for effective self-governance for many young adults. Unsupervised free play is nature’s way of teaching young mammals the skills they’ll need as adults, which for humans include the ability to cooperate, make and enforce rules, compromise, adjudicate conflicts, and accept defeat. A brilliant 2015 essay by the economist Steven Horwitz argued that free play prepares children for the “art of association” that Alexis de Tocqueville said was the key to the vibrancy of American democracy; he also argued that its loss posed “a serious threat to liberal societies.” A generation prevented from learning these social skills, Horwitz warned, would habitually appeal to authorities to resolve disputes and would suffer from a “coarsening of social interaction” that would “create a world of more conflict and violence.”
And while social media has eroded the art of association throughout society, it may be leaving its deepest and most enduring marks on adolescents. A surge in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among American teens began suddenly in the early 2010s. (The same thing happened to Canadian and British teens, at the same time.) The cause is not known, but the timing points to social media as a substantial contributor—the surge began just as the large majority of American teens became daily users of the major platforms. Correlational and experimental studies back up the connection to depression and anxiety, as do reports from young people themselves, and from Facebook’s own research, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Depression makes people less likely to want to engage with new people, ideas, and experiences. Anxiety makes new things seem more threatening. As these conditions have risen and as the lessons on nuanced social behavior learned through free play have been delayed, tolerance for diverse viewpoints and the ability to work out disputes have diminished among many young people. For example, university communities that could tolerate a range of speakers as recently as 2010 arguably began to lose that ability in subsequent years, as Gen Z began to arrive on campus. Attempts to disinvite visiting speakers rose. Students did not just say that they disagreed with visiting speakers; some said that those lectures would be dangerous, emotionally devastating, a form of violence. Because rates of teen depression and anxiety have continued to rise into the 2020s, we should expect these views to continue in the generations to follow, and indeed to become more severe.
The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.
More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.
Hope After Babel
The story i have told is bleak, and there is little evidence to suggest that America will return to some semblance of normalcy and stability in the next five or 10 years. Which side is going to become conciliatory? What is the likelihood that Congress will enact major reforms that strengthen democratic institutions or detoxify social media?
Yet when we look away from our dysfunctional federal government, disconnect from social media, and talk with our neighbors directly, things seem more hopeful. Most Americans in the More in Common report are members of the “exhausted majority,” which is tired of the fighting and is willing to listen to the other side and compromise. Most Americans now see that social media is having a negative impact on the country, and are becoming more aware of its damaging effects on children.
Will we do anything about it?
When Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed by the American habit of forming voluntary associations to fix local problems, rather than waiting for kings or nobles to act, as Europeans would do. That habit is still with us today. In recent years, Americans have started hundreds of groups and organizations dedicated to building trust and friendship across the political divide, including BridgeUSA, Braver Angels (on whose board I serve), and many others listed at BridgeAlliance.us. We cannot expect Congress and the tech companies to save us. We must change ourselves and our communities.
What would it be like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? We know. It is a time of confusion and loss. But it is also a time to reflect, listen, and build.
O Primeiro-ministro gracejou hoje com o facto de estarmos a cair para o fundo da tabela dos Estados-membros da UE, dizendo que enquanto a União só tinha 15 países ninguém nos ultrapassava.
Ao afirmar semelhante coisa, António Costa, que assumiu a pasta dos Assuntos Europeus, só demonstra o seu desconhecimento sobre os alargamentos europeus.
- Em 1995, quando a UE passou a ter 15 Estados-membros, Portugal caiu imediatamente 3 lugares em virtude da entrada da Áustria, Finlândia e Suécia.
- Em 2004, com a entrada dos países bálticos, dos países da europa de leste, de Malta e Chipre é que Portugal subiu no ranking dos Estados-membros. Mas a partir dessa data, é só a descer.
De 1 de maio de 2004, até ao dia de hoje, decorreram 6550 dias.
- Portugal foi governado pelos socialistas, e pela esquerda, em 4615 desses dias.
- Mas o Primeiro-ministro, que também contribuiu para a queda de Portugal, ri-se!
“In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.“
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.
In a way, we always had. What isn’t understandable is our incapability to learn the lessons of history. As such, from time to time, evil, with new faces and through new forms, regains what it had lost.
I wonder if “we must” is sufficient.
It’s not about trying. It’s about being.
We cannot be indifferent to others nor undemanding of ourselves!
O PS pegou no seu programa eleitoral e transformou-o num programa de governo.
1. Desadequação: Um programa eleitoral pensado para atingir o PCP e o BE eleitoralmente não está em conformidade com as exigências da realidade;
2. Descontextualização: Não tem em consideração as consequências da guerra na Ucrânia, nem as implicações da inflação na vida dos portugueses;
3. Desinteresse: Sabendo-se que agora se verificam outros condicionalismos, tendo o PS maioria absoluta, a teimosia em fazer um “copy paste” só pode ser interpretado como desinteresse ou incapacidade para responder às circunstâncias- Eventualmente pode significar ambas.
Sendo possível caracterizar o programa de governo do XXIII Governo por estes 3 D’s – desadequação, descontextualização e desinteresse –, é este um sinal sobre o tipo de leitura da realidade, da abertura dialogal e da responsabilidade que podemos esperar do Governo?
Este programa parece ser mais do PCP e do BE do que do PS. Os pressupostos gerais demonstram uma clara intenção de intervencionismo directo, a vários níveis, do que de regulação. Para além disso, a maioria das propostas apresentadas implicam um aumento da burocratização como se Portugal já não fosse um país excessivamente burocrático. O que os agentes económicos necessitam é de mais simplificação normativa, baseada em clareza e transparência.
Adicionalmente, é impossível não notar uma postura ideológica que provoca um notório desequilíbrio, direi até permanente, entre as obrigações e responsabilidades que cabem as ambas as partes que estabelecem um qualquer vínculo contratual.
Haverá palavras para classificar os actos dos soldados russos aos civis ucranianos?
Haverá palavras para classificar o que aconteceu em Bucha?
Há duas coisas que são características da espécie humana. Apesar de sabermos, e de até reconhecermos, que a História é o maior dos professores, tendemos para não aprender as suas lições e para mimetizar os erros outrora cometidos.
A 12 set 2020, publiquei um artigo no observador intitulado Do(s) genocídio(s) soviético(s) – o massacre de Katyn. Nele relembrei algumas das atrocidades cometidas, a mando de Estaline.
“Há oitenta anos, pondo em prática ideias defendidas de Marx e Engels, ideias que Estaline aplaudiu e comentou em Os fundamentos do Leninismo (1924), a polícia secreta soviética, na altura conhecida por Comissariado do Povo para os Assuntos Internos (NKVD), executou cerca de 22 mil soldados e cidadãos polacos. Sob as ordens de Laventri Beria, comandante do NKVD, o genocídio, aprovado pessoalmente por Estaline e por Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov e Anastas Mikoyan, membros do politburo soviético, ocorreu entre abril e maio de 1940.
O exército vermelho, sustentado nos termos acordados no Pacto [Molotov–Ribbentrop], invadiu a Polónia a 17 de setembro, e, devido às instruções dadas pelo governo polaco, praticamente não encontrou oposição. Dois dias depois, sob a orientação de Beria, agentes e colaboradores do NKVD, construíram uma série de campos de detenção onde foi feita uma elaborada identificação e selecção dos prisioneiros. Paradoxalmente, a triagem feita pelos soviéticos foi facilitada pelo próprio sistema de recrutamento polaco que referenciava, como oficiais da reserva, todos os jovens que terminassem o curso universitário. Deste modo, não foi difícil ao NKVD prender igualmente milhares de elementos da intelligentsia polaca.”
Seria expetável que as barbáries cometidas no passado não voltassem a ser repetidas. Infelizmente…
O que se tem passado na Ucrânia, particularmente em Bucha, poderá não ser classificado como um genocídio, mas não há qualquer dúvida que é a manifestação de um comportamento desumano que é perfeitamente identificável como crimes de guerra.
O PAN e o Livre estão preocupados com mais direitos. Para eles, claro. Para os outros não é problema deles.
O PAN devia ter vergonha. Enquanto teve André Silva como deputado único usufruíram de condições únicas. Quando outros partidos passaram pela mesmo condicionalismo, um deputado, que fizeram?
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa conseguiu condicionar um primeiro-ministro com maioria absoluta.
O Presidente da República disse a António Costa que não espera menos do que o cumprimento absoluto da duração do mandato.
É verdade que Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa já fez avisos semelhantes sem os concretizar. Relembrar o que se passou com a promulgação das 35 horas semanais é suficiente. A despesa aumentou e o Presidente da República nunca enviou o diploma para o Tribunal Constitucional.
Mas aqui é diferente. António Costa tem uma possibilidade real de desempenhar um cargo internacional de relevo. É muito possível que volte a ser convidado para a Presidência do Conselho Europeu. E é provável que Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tenha inveja. Afinal, depois da Presidência, que papel de relevância política poderá ter?
P.S. – Tendencialmente inclino-me para o cumprimento integral dos cargos públicos a que fomos candidatos.
P.P.S. – A probabilidade de termos eleições antecipadas é alta. Que será mais interessante para António Costa? Dez anos como Presidente do Conselho Europeu ou dois como Primeiro-ministro? A escolha não é difícil. É evidente que António Costa fará o que quiser. Mas sabe que terá consequências. E no caso de António Costa sair e de Marcelo aceitar uma transição de poder para a Mariana Vieira da Silva, não acredito que Pedro Nuno Santos fique sossegado. Sinceramente, penso que António Costa não queria eleições antecipadas e que não estava à espera da maioria. Quer goste, quer não, António Costa está “preso”. Veremos o que o tempo nos trás.
(Não é à toa que uma das colaborações mais antigas para a análise política é a ligação entre a psicologia e a ciência política).
No passado dia 11 de fevereiro, publiquei este artigo no Semanário O Diabo – A hora da verdade – onde abordei o que considerava ser importante para que o PS revertesse o neo-socialismo que o vinha a caracterizar de modo a regressar ao socialismo democrático. Um dos pontos que referi foi a questão da valorização do papel do Parlamento no escrutínio ao poder executivo.
Nesse âmbito, expressei o seguinte:
1. Outro dos sinais que António Costa pode dar está relacionado com a valorização do papel do Parlamento. António Costa referiu uma maioria absoluta de diálogo. Pois muito bem. Nem António Costa, nem nenhum socialista pode negar que o Parlamento sempre foi um fórum de discussão e de debate. É-o desde os tempos imemoriais que nos remetem à sua génese.
2. Mais recentemente, com a democracia representativa, os parlamentos adquiriram importância suplementar como o centro por excelência do debate político. É no Parlamento, a casa do poder legislativo, que os titulares do poder executivo prestam contas sobre as suas decisões. Ao fazê-lo, não respondem apenas aos deputados. Respondem igualmente aos portugueses por eles representados, incluindo os que elegeram os deputados da oposição.
3. O líder de um governo maioritário, especialmente no contexto dum regime democrático, não deve ter qualquer razão para se opor ao escrutínio. Pelo contrário. Precisamente para reforçar os principais fundamentos da democracia – o Estado de Direito e o Princípio da Separação dos Poderes – é nos momentos em que a voz da oposição é mais ténue e frágil que a mesma deve ser protegida é potenciada.
4. LORD ACTON disse que “o melhor teste para avaliar até que ponto um Estado é realmente livre é pelo nível de segurança usufruído pelas suas minorias”. Num contexto de maioria absoluta, o melhor teste para avaliar até que ponto um Estado é democrático é pelo nível da liberdade de expressão dada à oposição.
5. O retomar dos debates quinzenais representará um aumento de qualidade da democracia portuguesa.
A Iniciativa Liberal apresentou ontem uma proposta para que os debates quinzenais com o Primeiro-Ministro voltem a ser uma das bandeira da democracia portuguesa.
Veremos agora até que ponto a tal maioria absoluta de diálogo era intencional e sincera.
Aucun des maux auxquels le totalitarisme (défini par le parti unique et la suppression de toute opposition) prétend remédier n’est pire que le totalitarisme lui-même.
Albert Camus – Le Socialisme des Potences (1957).
None of the evils that totalitarianism (defined by the single party and the suppression of all opposition) claims to remedy is worse than totalitariansim itself.
Socialism of the Gallows (1957)
Nenhum dos males que o totalitarismo (definido pelo partido único e pela supressão de toda a oposição) pretende remediar é pior que o próprio totalitarismo.
O Socialismo da Força (1957)
Estão mesmo admirados por o Fernando Medina comentador poder comentar o Fernando Medina político?
Já se esqueceram do Mário Centeno governador do Banco de Portugal a comentar as políticas do Mário Centeno ministro das Finanças?
António Costa vive a hora da verdade. A vários níveis. A maioria absoluta que alcançou será determinante para o seu legado político e fundamental para a sua classificação na história da democracia portuguesa.
No período em que António Costa é Primeiro-ministro foi incapaz de governar sem o apoio e as exigências da esquerda radical. Esse apoio levou a que tivesse de pôr o PS democrático na gaveta e a conviver com socialistas extremistas dentro do seu próprio governo.
António Costa, que sempre negou a deriva socialista para o radicalismo, tinha agora a oportunidade para provar que o PS faz parte do socialismo democrático de Mário Soares. Infelizmente, assim não aconteceu.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Marta Temido, por exemplo, não são pessoas disponíveis para o consenso. Não entendem que a democracia representa a procura dum compromisso. E tendo em conta a postura que foram manifestando sem uma maioria absoluta, a probabilidade desta tendência comportamental se acentuar é alta. O tempo o dirá
Embora reconheça que os Negócios Estrangeiros são a sua casa, estranho também a permanência de João Cravinho, principalmente depois do episódio que envolveu Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Sobre a Elvira Fortunato, por quem tenho uma enorme admiração, espero sinceramente que consiga pôr em prática o seu conhecimento e as suas ideias. O conhecimento, cada vez mais, é a riqueza das Nações.
Pedro Adão e Silva está no governo por causa da sua capacidade em comunicar, sobretudo, comunicar a propaganda socialista.
Dito isto, há outros sinais que não podem ser ignorados. Estas escolhas representam carreirismo, nepotismo e favorecimento. A confiança política não justifica tudo.
É uma pena que Sérgio Sousa Pinto e Francisco Assis, por exemplo, não façam parte das opções para o Governo.
Finalmente, António Costa ficou com os Assuntos Europeus. Isto tem significado. No presente e para o futuro.