Ties that bind US being destroyed by poisonous politics
In my recent book, “To Dare More Boldly,” I lay out 10 basic precepts for how political risk analysis ought to be done right; 10 commandments for analytical thinking in our confusing world. The very first precept discusses the statement “We are the political risk.” This point highlights the fact that analysts, as well as ordinary people, have a terrible time in assessing flaws that emanate from within. This very human failure to be aware of one’s own weaknesses is fatal to growth and reform, either of countries or individuals.
I saw this myopic blindness up close and personal during my decade in Washington. During one particularly interesting Council on Foreign Relations meeting, we were asked to name the 10 biggest risks in the world. New to the game, I somewhat daringly mentioned American political sclerosis, arguing that if the US became bogged down domestically, it would affect every major foreign policy output in the world. With utter disdain, an old foreign policy grandee told me dismissively, “John, risk is for other people.”
But, of course, it is not. Beyond the quite understandable US jubilation at putting an end to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s reign of terror lies a small but vitally important example of the political schisms that amount to the greatest political risk currently plaguing America — its increasingly poisonous political dysfunction.
Taking questions after the raid on Al-Baghdadi, President Donald Trump matter-of-factly made it clear that — in defiance of longstanding American tradition — he hadn’t seen fit to notify senior congressional Democrats about the raid, as they are not trusted by the White House on matters of national security. This unprecedented action underlines better than anything how corrosive the American political discourse has become.
This admission means the White House did not notify Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about the planned military strike because Trump simply did not trust her and her senior Democratic colleagues not to leak secret information that could have alerted the US’ Daesh enemies, and endangered American lives. Specifically, the president did not notify the “Gang of Eight” — the top Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate, including the chairmen and ranking member of both chambers’ intelligence committees.
And herein lies the rub. Adam Schiff, the extremely partisan Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been tasked by Pelosi with spearheading the Democrats’ drive toward impeachment of the president. It is no surprise to anyone that Trump views Schiff as his mortal enemy. When asked why he had not been informed of the Al-Baghdadi raid, the president flatly stated: “Adam Schiff is the biggest leaker in Washington.” This signals the complete breakdown in the most basic levels of the congressional and executive branches being able to work together over any foreign policy matters.
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, no friends of the US, were trusted to a far higher degree than the Democratic opposition.
Dr. John C. Hulsman
Frankly, this either means that Trump is a deranged paranoiac or treason is now the norm for opposition political parties in the US; both outcomes are too horrible to contemplate and the evidence cuts both ways. While the president, continually breaking all past codes of civility, has come to question the basic good faith of his enemies in the most fundamental manner, this doesn’t mean that his enemies are not out to get him.
Rather, the disease of questioning the most basic motivations of political opponents in the US has metastasized into a cancer that is now threatening the basic functioning of what remains the world’s only true superpower.
It is hard to root for anyone here. Trump pressures the Ukrainians to dig up dirt on Joe Biden’s son, who seems to have made a career living off his father’s name. In turn, Democrats leak supposedly secret testimony from their closed-door impeachment hearings to damage the president. The president rides to power over the shrill shouts of “Lock her up,” regarding Hillary Clinton, his 2016 opponent. Secretary Clinton responds by funding a secret dossier (which she denies at first) of opposition research, which is dredged up by Christopher Steele, a foreign national, and is used to investigate the White House for years. And so the sickly dance continues, with both sides seemingly deserving each other as the coarsening of American political culture continues apace.
To put what this means in practice into context, instead of notifying the Democrats about the raid as is customary, Trump did find time to inform Russia and Turkey as US forces flew toward northeastern Syria through airspace they control. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, no friends of the US, were trusted to a far higher degree than the Democratic opposition.
And this is the political risk danger for the US: That the ties that bind the country together — which, other than the notable exception of the US Civil War, have always overridden American differences — are being utterly destroyed by both parties. As the great US historian Shelby Foote put it, Americans have a genius in their history for compromise and the stability that flows from this; the US has had one republic while the French have had five. But, as the Al-Baghdadi raid so piercingly shows, the US must now come to grips with the fact that “The political risk is us.”
- Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via www.chartwellspeakers.com.