2 May 2019   Leave a comment

Kiron Skinner, the Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, gave an interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter (who once held Skinner’s position) at a conference in Washington DC. Her comments raised some eyebrows. Masha Gessen desxcribed parts of the talk in this way:

“A large part of Skinner’s job is listening to what the President says and trying to make sense of it. She said as much. ‘The President provides the hunches and instincts,’ she said, ‘and it’s my job, and that of Secretary Pompeo, to turn those hunches and instincts into hypotheses.’ She called the hypotheses the ‘Trump Doctrine’ and the ‘Pompeo Corollary.’

“Slaughter, logically, asked what the Trump Doctrine was. ‘That’s a tough one,’ Skinner responded, without a hint of irony. ‘It is, in a kind of broad way, a set of pillars that address twenty-first-century realities.’

“The pillars were: the ‘return to national sovereignty’; national interest; reciprocity in international relations and trade; ‘burden sharing,’ particularly in defense; and ‘new regional partnerships’ for what she described as ‘particular crises.’

“’If I can summarize,’ Slaughter suggested, ‘the Trump Doctrine is ‘The United States is a sovereign nation guided by its national interest—we’ll do for you if you’ll do for us.’

“Skinner confirmed that Slaughter’s understanding was correct.”

The statement is consistent with traditional realist thinking, but there was also an interesting twist to the comments.

“When we think about the Soviet Union and that competition, in a way, it was a fight within the Western family. Karl Marx was a German Jew who developed a philosophy that was really within the larger body of political thought … that has some tenets even within classical liberalism …

“You could look at the Soviet Union, part West, part East, but it had some openings there that got us the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. It was a really important Western concept that opened the door really to undermine the Soviet Union, a totalitarian state, on human rights principles. That’s not really possible with China. This is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology. And the United States hasn’t had that before …”

“It’s also striking that it’s the first time we will have a great power competitor that is not Caucasian.”

I am not certain why Skinner thinks that China is so radically different from other great powers, but the injection of race into the equation is distinctly not consistent with realism. Perhaps Skinner can provide us with an explanation for how race changes the dynamics of power and interest.

The rise of authoritarian governments in the world since the Great Recession of 2008-09 has been startling and difficult to explain. But the erosion of faith in democratic institutions globally has been dramatic. The Pew Research Center has conducted a poll on the issue and the results are dispiriting.

“Anger at political elites, economic dissatisfaction and anxiety about rapid social changes have fueled political upheaval in regions around the world in recent years. Anti-establishment leaders, parties and movements have emerged on both the right and left of the political spectrum, in some cases challenging fundamental norms and institutions of liberal democracy. Organizations from Freedom House to the Economist Intelligence Unit to V-Demhave documented global declines in the health of democracy.”

What is most striking is the extent to which people tend to associate bad economic times with failures in democracy. The number of people who believe that their national economy is in bad shape is very high.

It is difficult to imagine that these economies will improve dramatically at any time in the near future. The demographics for economic activity are not favorable and the current policies of protectionism in many states will make export-oriented growth very difficult.

Posted May 2, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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