Arch NeoCons Eilot Cohen and Max Boot–‘Trump Would Probably Be a Dictator by Now’
ed note–please, despite the length of this interview, read it and pay close attention to what is being presented.
First–it is a political ‘minyan’ of sorts, which is a quorum in Judaism where a certain number of Jews must be assembled in order for a ‘prayer’ session to begin. Glasser, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen, all devoted Zionists who also hate Putin and Trump. Glasser, right off the back, refers to her 2 Jewish neoconservatives with the adjective ‘fantastic’.
Next, the part dealing with Cohen and the manner in which he personally tried to organize professionals within the State Department, DoD and intelligence circles to come out against Trump’s candidacy and presidency.
We are forced to point this out due to the fact that an entire swarm of political geniuses out there in ‘duh muuvment’ (from henceforth shortened simply to ‘DUH-M’) forget about the fact that despite all Trump’s seemingly pro-Jewish statements and gestures both during the campaign and now during his presidency, that the Jews as a group–BOTH ON THE RIGHT AND THE LEFT–opposed him and continue to oppose him to this day, a sure-as-s*** indicator that whatever he may be assumed to be by these various geniuses in ‘DUH-M’ in terms of his pro-Jewish sensibilities that to Judea Inc, it means NOTHING.
Next, Cohen’s reference to those Republicans who did not jump on board Judea, Inc’s seek-and-destroy mission against Trump as ‘Vichey Republicans’.
These are not just idle words. Everyone who has studied history and especially that history dealing with the ‘holy of holies’–WWII, the Nazis, and the Hollerco$t–understand the implications associated with the term ‘Vichey’, as what Cohen the high priest of war is saying is that Trump is another Gentile leader (like Hitler) whose power and policies threaten Judaic interests and that today’s Republicans who stand by him are viewed as collaborators in the same manner as the French government was seen as collaborative in the aftermath of her fall to Germany and the pro-Nazi government that was instituted afterwards.
Next, Boot’s statement thus–
‘The damage Trump’s doing at home is even worse, where he’s undermining the rule of law. He’s obstructing justice. He’s lending the support of the presidency to monsters like Roy Moore. He is exacerbating race relations. He is engaging in the most blatant xenophobia, racism and general bigotry that we have seen from the White House.’
Keep in mind that if Trump were a rubber stamp for all the wars which these two warlords want, NONE of the aforementioned would be an issue in the least, but they can’t say this–‘we are opposed to Trump because he won’t give us our wars’, so instead they have to go to ancillary issues such as ‘rule of law, obstructing justice, racism, xenophobia and bigotry’. Furthermore, Boot’s problem with Trump being erratic’ and threatening war with North Korea–if Trump unleashed hell upon Iran, Syria, or wherever, then all persons can bet their left whatavers that there would be no complaints from these two warlocks, only grins and giggles that once again an American president was doing the bidding of Judea, Inc by unleashing hell on earth on Israel’s enemies.
Next, Boot’s statement thus–
‘I think what we’ve seen has been pretty bad, and pretty terrifying, and confirms the case that those of us who were #NeverTrumpers were making prior to the election.’
‘No new wars in the Middle East under Trump, which is a BAAAAAAAAAAD thing for Israel…’
Next, Boot’s statement thus–
‘I spent my entire adult life as a Republican. I worked as an adviser on three Republican presidential campaigns, but now I’m actively rooting for Republicans to lose the congressional elections next year, because the Republicans have shown they are unwilling to uphold their oaths of office.’
He is not in the least bit worried about their oath of office, meaning the oath that all officials are required to take, to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic’. What he is referring to are the oaths they took to organized Jewish interests prior to getting elected.
NEXT, Boot’s statement that Trump ‘Kowtows to dictators and undermines American support for freedom and democracy around the world.’–He would say no such thing if Trump were Netanyahu’s rubber stamp for wars throughout the Middle East.
Next, Cohen stating with feigned relief that Trump has not yet started WWIII–This is a lie. If Trump wre to initiate some Judaicaly mandated bloodbath in some AY-rab country, he would be dancing the Hora and drinking himself s***faced on Manishiewitz.
Next, and it’s a BIGGIE–
Boot says that the ‘Republican grassroots’ is rife with a lot of ‘prejudice, racism, homophobia, all sorts of dark impulses’ and that Trump appeals to their ‘dark side’. Cohen adds that it is all reminiscent of the ’20’s and 30’s’.
‘The Gentiles are beginning to figure out just who has caused all these problems for America and they are on the verge of repeating what has taken place over 100 times before in history when it comes to the Jews.’
Next, Cohen’s agreement with Boot that a war with Korea would be an ‘unnecessary war, and it could also be both extraordinarily destructive in the immediate sense of civilians getting killed’.
Cohen doesn’t care about civilians being killed. What he is worried about is American military might being used all the way over on the other side of the world rather than in the Middle East in destroying Israel’s enemies.
But hey, don’t be influenced WHATSOEVER by the fact that these 3 very powerful Jews working for Israel’s interests (and ESPECIALLY when it comes to war in the Middle East) are being very frank about their opposition to Trump. Just pay attention to the nice things Trump says about Israel, as well as the various stage props he uses–including his daughter and son in law–in forming your geo-political positions, and for Yahweh’s sake–GET OUT THERE–on Facebook, Twitter, all your websites and blogs and make sure to put a star of david on Trump’s forehead and refer to him as ‘Tumpstein’ and all the rest of that bs, because, after all, it’s not as if WWIII were hanging in the balance.
Last year, Eliot Cohen rallied dozens of fellow veterans of Republican administrations, people like him who had served in the upper reaches of the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council, to warn against Donald Trump winning the White House. He would become, the group open letter Cohen organized said, “the most reckless president in American history.”
A year later, Cohen, a top official in President George W. Bush’s administration, and another charter #NeverTrump proselytizer, his fellow conservative Max Boot, hardly back down when asked whether their predictions of global gloom and doom had been proven right in the first year of the Trump presidency. Both men, lifelong Republicans and historically minded policy intellectuals, offered unequivocal yeses in a joint interview for this week’s Global Politico podcast – and castigated former friends inside the party they’ve both now renounced as “Vichy Republicans” for collaborating with a president they believe is not fit to hold office.
Boot pronounced Trump both “incredibly erratic and unpredictable,” though he allowed that “some of the worst-case scenarios that we imagined have not yet, mercifully, come to pass.” Just because Trump has not yet destroyed NATO, launched a trade war with China or torn up NAFTA, lifted sanctions on Russia in a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin, or started a war with North Korea, Boot argued, does not mean he won’t.
“It’s true, they haven’t started World War III yet,” Cohen added. “That’s a pretty low bar.”
If anything, I found the two even more terrified about the Trump presidency at the end of Year One – filled with the sort of to-the-barricades warnings I’m still not used to hearing from learned defense wonks like Boot, who’s spent a career advising politicians like Republican Senator John McCain from establishment precincts like the Wall Street Journal op-ed page and the Council on Foreign Relations. “In many ways,” Boot said, “the damage he’s doing at home is even worse, where he’s undermining the rule of law. He’s obstructing justice. He’s lending the support of the presidency to monsters like Roy Moore. He is exacerbating race relations. He is engaging in the most blatant xenophobia, racism and general bigotry that we have seen from the White House.”
“All these things,” he added, “are very corrosive to the future of American democracy.”
Throughout the wide-ranging conversation, they addressed the toll – personal as well as political – that Trump’s takeover of their party has had, from broken friendships” and Republican officeholders “who have permanently sullied themselves” to a GOP unmoored from basic principles like free trade and promotion of democracy that were long seen as its bedrock precepts. Cohen talked of his own “permanently ruptured” relationships as a consequence of Trump, not to mention the sad spectacle of “spineless” careerists taking jobs with a man they don’t believe in, while Boot elaborated on the “disorienting experience” of having close friends who’ve “gone off the rails” – a split worse than any, he argued, since the Vietnam war. Cohen disagreed, but only because he saw the divide caused by Trump hearkening back even further, to the foreign policy debates of the inward-looking 1920s and 30s that caused America to be dangerously unprepared on the brink of World War II.
Weren’t they being just a bit hysterical about the negative consequences of Trump, I pressed Boot?
“Look,” he responded, “the good news story of the first year of the Trump presidency is that there are checks and balances…. Trump as a personality type is probably no different from a Mussolini, a Peron, a Chavez. And if you were operating in Argentina or Italy, he would probably be a dictator by now. But luckily, he’s not operating in those countries.”
It’s not exactly an upbeat portrait of the world after a year of Trump, but I found it to be a bracing discussion with two of the president’s most incisive – and relentless – critics, and you can read the rest of our conversation below.
Susan Glasser: I’m Susan Glasser, and welcome back to The Global POLITICO. Once again, our guests this week are the original #NeverTrumpers, at least from the foreign policy division of the Republican resistance. On my left here, I have the fantastic Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations. And on my right, sitting here at the Slate studios in downtown Washington, I have Eliot Cohen.
Max Boot: I think Eliot rates a fantastic too.
Glasser: Well, I was going to say the great Eliot Cohen. That’s one “L” by the way.
Eliot Cohen: Yes.
Glasser: No, but seriously, you know, both of them are prolific writers. They’re authors. They’re experts on their subject. And over the last couple years have taken this dramatic turn into being the very public face of the Trump resistance inside the Republican Party. And now we can talk about their feelings about the Republican Party going forward.
In the foreign policy and national security world—Eliot, I want to start with you—there was unusually vociferous resistance from this part of the Republican Party, even during the primaries. You helped to organize these letters by national security types who’d served in Republican administrations. You got a lot of people to sign. Why do you think people spoke up more in the national security world than in the more general Republican political world, and why didn’t it make a difference?
Cohen: Well, it’s easy to explain why it didn’t make a difference. You know, I don’t think average voters pay a whole lot of attention to what people who’ve been in the State Department, or Defense Department, or who write about these things have to say. The thing that was at the center of the—there were actually two letters, one of which I helped write, the other which I helped organize.
The criticism of Trump was fundamentally a criticism of character. I mean, yes, there are policy issues which were raised, but I think that was at the heart of the critique. And why was it that there was such a reaction from that community? I’d like to think that some of it is, you know, when you’re in that community—and particularly, you’ve served in government, or you’ve been intimately involved in it, and seen it up close, say the way Max has—is you realize this is life and death. This is about putting lives on the line. These are enormously consequential kinds of decisions that a president makes. And character really trumps, so to speak, everything else.
And so you may have a keener appreciation of the importance of character than, perhaps, if you’re more involved in domestic issues. I don’t know what Max was going to say.
Glasser: You know, it’s interesting. I went back and reread those letters before our conversation today. The one from August 2016 said that Donald Trump, if he were elected president—which my guess is you guys didn’t think was all that likely at that point in time—but that if he we were elected, he would become “the most reckless president in American history.” Do you still agree with that, Max?
Boot: Without a doubt. I mean, he is still incredibly erratic and unpredictable. And you see that now with the saber-rattling that he’s engaged in with North Korea. I mean, I can actually approve of some of his North Korea policy, the sanctions, for example, doing things that other presidents would have done. But it’s impossible to imagine any other president going before the U.N. General Assembly and referring to the dictator of North Korea as “Rocket Man,” or issuing this series of blustery threats, which, frankly, are terrifying, and are raising the risk of a needless war.
And so that’s an example, I think, of the kind of erratic behavior that many of us feared once Trump came into office. And I think you’re seeing evidence of that, even though, you know, some of the worst-case scenarios that we imagined have not yet, mercifully, come to pass. I mean, for example, he has not destroyed NATO. He has not launched a trade war with China. He has not lifted sanctions on Russia. In all those cases, in part, because his hands had been tied. And of course, it’s only a year in, so he’s still got time to go.
But what I think what we’ve seen has been pretty bad, and pretty terrifying, and confirms the case that those of us who were #NeverTrumpers were making prior to the election.
Cohen: And I would just add to that that even those cases where he hasn’t, say, you know, taken the United States out of NATO, the damage that’s been done is extremely serious. His refusal to reaffirm in a serious way our commitment to protect our European allies under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which says an attack against one is an attack against all. His continued—
Glasser: Which came from him personally.
Glasser: When I was doing that reporting, and it turned out that his advisors had put the sentence in his speech and he took it out himself.
Cohen: In some ways the most appalling thing of all, that he continues to question the fact of a very serious Russian attack on the core of our political system. I mean, I don’t know how you get more reckless and dangerous than that. And you know, the president’s first obligation is to defend the country. And in this respect, he doesn’t seem to be interested in doing that.
Glasser: Okay. So if you believe that the premise of your letter was right, tactically was it the right thing? It clearly got under Donald Trump’s skin, and he issued a diktat once he became president that no one who signed that letter could participate in the administration. Do you think that we would be better off if more of the signatories were allowed in?
Boot: Just quickly, it also had another unintended consequence that we can see in hindsight, because the criticism of him from the foreign policy community caused him to round up some kind of foreign policy advisers, so he could put together a team to address the concerns that he didn’t have advisers. And who did he get in the team? He wound up with people like Carter Page, George—
Glasser: George Papadopoulos.
Boot: —Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn. And so a lot of the problems that he’s experiencing now are in part because of the shady characters that he signed up to deflect that criticism.
Cohen: Yeah. Well, look, just as a matter of fact, it’s not just that they wouldn’t approach the people who signed the letters, they have—and I know of a number of cases personally—they’ve disbarred all kinds of people, you know, for retweeting something that was even mildly critical. But these were people who’d not signed the letter. So I think this is a man who is hypersensitive, has no idea what magnanimity means, and all that.
But look, I do think this is a crisis for our country. And at that moment, you know, there are certain times in politics where you have to be political, and you have to be careful of what you say. Then there are other times where the most important thing to do is to speak the truth as you understand it. And you know, Max and I are both intellectuals. I’m not embarrassed about that. And part of our job is to speak the truth as we understand it.
And I think that everybody who signed those letters had that basic feeling. You know, we didn’t expect that Trump would win, but I think all of us realized that there was a serious chance that he might.
Glasser: That’s interesting. I remember running into someone who signed your letter early on, and running into him on an airplane. And he said, “You know, I still think there’s actually a chance that Trump could win.” This was at a time when people thought he wasn’t going to win. He said, “But I found it kind of a calming and clarifying moment for me. It’s so fundamental. It’s actually very revealing for me to see who’s not signing this. And so rather than feeling like it’s a divisive thing, I find I’m quite happy to have signed this, and I feel like it’s just one of those moments where you have to pick a team.”
Cohen: Honestly and truly, the moment when I decided to do this, we’d had my kids over to the house and my grandchildren. I was looking at my little granddaughter and I was just thinking, “What’s going to happen when she comes back home on spring break, you know, 15, 16 years from now, and she says, ‘Grandpa, I’ve been reading about this crazy period and I guess you were around there. I know you wrote a lot, but what did you do when this was happening?’” And I just thought, “I have to be able to give her a decent answer.”
Boot: Yes. I mean, I was just outraged about Trump from day one, when he rode down that damn escalator at the Trump Tower and started bashing Mexicans. I mean, I could not believe this was a mainstream political candidate in the United States. I was just—like everybody else, I kind of assumed that he was going to be a flash in the pan; that the Republican Party could never possibly nominate him. And once he was nominated, I kind of assumed that he would never be elected. And of course, I was dead wrong about his electoral prospects.
But I think I was dead right in my judgment that this is somebody who is not fit to hold office, and I think he has shown that pretty much every single day that he has been in office. And I think one of the shocking, if not entirely surprising, things is the extent to which he has not changed one iota. He has not become one degree more presidential in the year since he took office. So needless to say, he has not actually achieved, as he claimed that he would be more presidential than anybody since the great Abraham Lincoln.
Glasser: He often compares himself to Abraham Lincoln. Just the other day, I noticed that he said it was he and Abraham Lincoln who’d gotten rid of the most government regulations. I want to keep on this theme of both this decisive moment that you both chose to take action on. What have been the consequences? Both of you were long-time Republicans. I’m curious how much you think that this rift reflects something that was a broader rift in the party, or is it really just a breakup over Trump himself?
Cohen: I think there are two rifts, actually. One is within the party. I think George W. Bush is reported to have worried that he might be the last Republican president. And he understood, I think, that there were elements in the party which were really completely at odds with his version of what it is to be a conservative; that there was this populist, nativist element there, which Trump has been effective at tapping. So that’s a rift within the Republican Party.
Since then, there has been a rift, I think, within—it’s not just the foreign policy establishment, but a certain political establishment more broadly between those who said, “Ugh, well, I don’t particularly like him, but we’ve got to get along, and hold your nose. It’s really important to get the tax cut,” or, “Okay, you made your point. Now everybody should go to work for this guy.” Those of us who really just say, “No, we’re going to continue to say what we think he is, and not yield,” and that rift is a much more personal one.
I’m sure Max has had the same experience. I know I’ve had the experience of people with whom I wouldn’t say were very close friends, but who were friends of a sort, where those relationships are permanently ruptured, I think.
Boot: It’s a disorienting experience to have people that you’ve thought of as your friends and comrades in arms for years, you know, think that you’ve gone off the rails. And at the same time, you think they’ve gone off the rails. I mean, this was the kind of split in American politics we probably have not had since the Vietnam War days. I mean, this is not a normal partisan disagreement. It’s a political realignment.
I mean, I spent my entire adult life as a Republican. I worked as an adviser on three Republican presidential campaigns, but now I’m actively rooting for Republicans to lose the congressional elections next year, because the Republicans have shown they are unwilling to uphold their oaths of office. They are unwilling to defend the Constitution against the nonstop threats emanating from Donald J. Trump. And that, to me, trumps, so to speak, anything else, including concerns about tax cuts, or any of these other issues that a lot of Republicans tell themselves are the most important thing in the world.
Glasser: So it’s had a personal effect on relationships here in Washington. There’s also the question of what do you make of those who’ve chosen to serve? A lot of people say, “Well, you know, thank God for Jim Mattis and H. R. McMaster because if not for them, who knows? We might already be in that war in North Korea.” Do you think they’re there to save the country, or to enable Trump?
Cohen: Well, I’ve written a little bit about this in some things I do in The Atlantic. And I try not to be personally too judgmental of them. I think human beings are complicated, and they do the things they do for mixed motives. And sometimes those motives are not always entirely apparent to themselves. And sometimes the motives change over time.
I think in the case of Mattis, McMaster, probably Kelly too, you know, they didn’t volunteer for the jobs they got. They were asked to take them, and I think they took them, in part—in part—understanding who Trump was, and desiring to contain him. My view—and I know all three, those three in particular, quite well. I think Mattis has done not only the best job, but a pretty fine job of maintaining his integrity as a human being and as kind of a loyal servant to the Constitution. I think the others have been more challenged.
Glasser: Do you agree with that, Max?
Boot: Yeah. I think it’s much harder when you’re actually in the White House. I mean, again, like Eliot, I know all those guys, and have admired them for years. And I think that Mattis has been masterful in the way that he has kept his distance from the White House, from the craziness emanating from Donald Trump, but he hasn’t alienated Trump in the way that Tillerson, for example, has done, in a way that’s undercut Tillerson’s effectiveness.
So I think Mattis has done exactly what everybody expected him to do, which is to be a responsible steward over our armed forces. You know, I’m also an admirer, by and large, of what H. R. McMaster and John Kelly have done. But I think it’s much harder for them because they are in much closer proximity to Trump, and he demands much more from those around him, that they have to be constantly obsequious. He expects people to lie on his behalf. And I’m sure they’ve—you know, nine-tenths of the demands that he makes on them, they’ve probably resisted, and they’ve probably felt compelled to give in, in a few instances.
But on the whole, I think that I’m very glad that they are there. I sleep much more soundly at night, for example, knowing that H. R. McMaster’s the national security advisor rather than Mike Flynn.
Cohen: I agree with that. But I also think—I’m just saying this as an observer. Again, I don’t pass judgment on them—that you pay a price doing that, and you pay a price in terms of who you are at the end of the process. You know, you have to be careful about analogies. But I do sometimes think about senior civil servants during the Vichy period in France where, you know, there were perfectly principled people. They didn’t want Philippe Petain running what was left of France. But they felt, “Well, if not me, who else, and I can make it better.” But the problem is it does lead you down—it can lead you down a slippery slope—
Glasser: Well, that’s right. And that’s, of course, the Washington sort of political mindset anyways, right, is that mixture of careerism, and patriotism, and also conflating your own interests with those of the job. And you’ve written about this.
Cohen: Yeah. I’ve called it “low-grade Shakespeare,” and it is.
Glasser: Right. Well, maybe we haven’t built up to high-grade Shakespeare yet. It’s dramatic, but maybe we’re still waiting for something even more dramatic, like the finale.
Cohen: Well, Trump doesn’t rise to the level of Richard III. You know, he’s just not that deep a character.
Glasser: Well, we’ll see. We don’t know how the play ends yet, do we?
Boot: I mean, I think he’s done quite a bit of damage in the first year, but there’s far more damage he could have done, and there’s far more damage he may still do.
Glasser: Okay. I want to get into this, this question. You hear this increasingly from people who are defending Trump, or at least trying to defend, say, the McMaster team. You hear this even from them now, right? Increasingly this case of, okay, A, the world isn’t on fire. We haven’t started any new wars. The policy is good. You have this, I think, very awkward and almost unsustainably schizophrenic situation of John Kelly saying, “Well, I don’t pay attention to the tweets.” They won’t answer questions about Trump himself, and they say, “Well, look at our policy.”
And I’m wondering how you both deal with what I see as the increasing cognitive dissonance of a national security team that wants us to believe that their policy is all well and good as long as you don’t count Donald Trump.
Boot: I think, you know, they’re making the best case they possibly can from their positions. It’s just not very convincing to anybody from the outside because the tweets and pronouncements of Donald Trump matter, in the end, quite a bit because he is the president of the United States. He is the commander in chief. And you know, it’s often at odds with their message of continuity, and stability, and responsible foreign policy because he’s anything but responsible.
And I think, you know, it goes beyond—I know we’re supposed to be talking about foreign policy, but I think it goes well beyond foreign policy. You know, for example, the way that he kowtows to dictators and undermines American support for freedom and democracy around the world. But looking at home, I mean, I think, in many ways, the damage he’s doing at home is even worse, where he’s undermining the rule of law. He’s actively obstructing justice. He’s backing—he’s lending the support of the presidency to monsters like Roy Moore. He is exacerbating race relations. He is engaging in the most blatant xenophobia, racism, and general bigotry that we have seen from the White House.
I mean, all these things, I think, are very corrosive for the future of American democracy.
Glasser: Max, I feel like if I had just given that speech, somebody would say to me, “Well, you’re just hysterical.” I’m sure you’ve had people push back on you, and say, “Come on.”
Boot: I’m reflecting on what I’m seeing. I would have been perfectly happy if I had been proved wrong about what kind of president Donald Trump would be, but unfortunately, a lot of the predictions are coming true.
Cohen: I think that’s right. You know, it’s true, they haven’t started World War III yet. That’s a pretty low bar, I have to say, for an American administration. Max made the point earlier, which I quite agree with, is they could get us into a really nasty war that’s not necessary in Korea. They could do something similar in the Persian Gulf. But I also think the word “corrosive” is right; that a lot of what they’ve done is to kind of rot out a lot of the American—or to begin the process of rotting out the American position in the world with things that are not particularly dramatic.
But when you talk, as I often do, to leaders in Germany, or France, or Canada, or Australia, I mean, their view of the United States is changing. And they understand that, yes, Trump may have been a bit of an anomaly, but you guys elected him. And that damage is serious. The damage that’s done when he cuddles up to someone like President Duterte in the Philippines, who is a murderer and a thug, these things do really long-term damage. So that’s real.
I’d also say that if the people in the administration—I served in a couple of administrations. And what happens when you’re in—particularly in the White House — is you go into the bunker, and you get incredibly defensive, but you also get, I believe, increasingly detached from reality. And you become incapable of seeing the world as people from the outside see it. I’m sure that given the psychic pressures that all these people are under, given the fact that deep down in their hearts they know what an awful guy he is, they really are, at some level, I’m sure, headcases. You know, that they are really ending up with a lot of psychic burdens in addition to kind of a distorted view of the world.
Glasser: Max, you made the point that we’re undergoing kind of a political realignment; that it’s not just Trump, but there’ s also Trumpism, and that it’s challenging in many ways some of the basic—what we all probably thought of as settled, established principles of America and its leadership role in the world. Where do you see us coming out of that? I mean, are Republicans going to no longer be the party of free trade? Are they, as a party, going to end support for American engagement in places like Afghanistan and the Middle East?
Boot: Well, those are very good questions. I think Republicans are very confused on those issues, as is Donald Trump himself. I mean, I think that what’s happened in the last year is that the Republican Party has really undermined any moral credibility it might once have had. I mean, remember, this is the party of Lincoln. Now, unfortunately, it’s the party of Donald Trump. I think Republican office holders have permanently sullied themselves by not standing up against Donald Trump’s assaults on the rule of law and basic decency, and in fact, making excuses for him, and doing his bidding, as they’re doing now, for example, by aiding and abetting his attempts to obstruct justice by undermining Robert Mueller and his special counsel investigation.
I think that, you know, makes it hard for me to imagine that, personally, for example, I’m going to become a Republican again. I mean, maybe things will change dramatically, and maybe, you know, the party will be eradicated in its current form, and reborn under the leadership of Jeff Flake and John Kasich. I think that’s unlikely to happen. If it were to happen, I would have to reassess the Republican Party. But at the moment, I have to say, I feel pretty homeless because I’m not a Republican, but I’m not a Democrat either because I’m still worried about folks like Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, and they don’t really speak for where I am either.
And I think what we really need in this country is a new center-right party, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem very likely to happen.
Glasser: You have to move to France and sign up for Macron.
Boot: Well, I’ve said that before. I think we need a Macron moment here, because we need to break through this duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats. I think we need a fresh face. And I think there is a possibility to do that, but I don’t know who that’s going to be.
Cohen: And Macron himself, you know, demonstrates that this is part of a larger crisis. It’s a crisis of political parties. It’s a crisis of elites, which I think we’re seeing. I completely agree with Max. I find it hard to imagine the Republicans reconstituting themselves as a genuinely conservative party. I mean, just look at, say, the tax cuts that they’re about to have. I mean, I vaguely remember when the Republicans were the party of fiscal conservatism, which is what conservatives are supposed to stand for. That’s clearly gone.
Glasser: Why have you guys not been more effective as a resistance in bringing more people around to this point of view? You mentioned Jeff Flake. Obviously, there was not a huge stampede of people following Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker—both of them, by the way, very national security, foreign policy-oriented, Republicans. They haven’t created a stampede in the Senate or elsewhere.
Boot: I’ve been shocked by the willingness of the vast majority—vast, vast majority—of Republicans to go along with Donald Trump because I was extremely naïve, I think, about the Republican Party last year because, you know, I was a life-long Republican, pretty solid conservative, and I couldn’t imagine voting for Donald Trump. So I imagined, “Well, most Republicans couldn’t possibly imagine voting for this guy because they’re real conservatives in this race, like Jeb Bush and others, John Kasich, et cetera, and one of those guys will win.” And of course, that is not what happened.
Now that Trump has won, the party has fallen into line behind him. And you can—whether it’s the cult of personality, tribalism, expediency, cynicism, in some cases just fanaticism and prejudice, I mean, there’s multiple explanations. But what it adds up to is a party that, I think, is intellectually and morally bankrupt.
Cohen: I think also they’re different functions. I don’t actually use the term “resistance” because, you know, I don’t worry about the government spying on me. I don’t worry about being dragged off in the middle of the night. It’s not like that. And also, fundamentally what I am is a teacher. So I spend a lot of time talking to students about, you know, should you go into government service, and things of that nature, which I encourage them to do in the kind of career professional branches of, say, the military, or diplomacy, or the intelligence world.
I do think that what, you know, the national security intellectuals are doing is laying down a record, and documenting things, and putting it down, so when this comes crashing down, as I really do believe it will, nobody’s going to be able to say, “Well, we didn’t know. It didn’t occur to us. Nobody told us.” That record will be out there, and it will be clear that people were warned, were told. And in a way, the crisis that impends will also be an opportunity for, as Max said, a kind of shake up of the political system.
Glasser: Are you surprised that there aren’t more people, though?
Cohen: Well, this is Washington, D.C. You know, I don’t know whether if I was in some other part of the country I would feel that way. I think, you know, this is a town where people want to make their way. Again, it’s low-order Shakespeare, so you see ambition, and lack of spine, and so on. It doesn’t really take a whole lot of heroism to stake out these positions. I mean, nobody’s going to lose their jobs, or go to jail, or anything like that. What’s striking is the amount of spinelessness, and people’s willingness to compromise what we thought were their principles.
Boot: I think the ascendancy of Trump has revealed two very unflattering things about the Republican Party. One of which Eliot is referring to when he talks about the spinelessness and pusillanimity of the Republicans in Washington. But it also reveals something about the Republican grassroots, which is something even uglier, I think, because there is a lot of prejudice, racism, homophobia, all sorts of dark impulses out there, that I think were largely kept cloaked when you had leaders of the party like Mitt Romney and John McCain, who were fine individuals who did not appeal to the dark side of human nature.
But Donald Trump is not a fine individual and he appeals to that dark side, and he has shown how much of the support for Republican candidates around the country is based on some of these dark impulses. And frankly, to me, it’s been unnerving. It’s been deeply disturbing as somebody who was a life-long Republican, because what I see happening is that a lot of the criticisms the Democrats have made about Republicans—and which I resisted for years—have actually been vindicated.
Cohen: I’m a little bit less disturbed than Max is, I think, because—I mean, I feel that I was naïve. I didn’t realize the extent of some of the dark stuff that’s out there. But you know, I’ve been recently reading a lot about the ’20s and ’30s. And boy, that was much darker. And so, okay, what I’m realizing is, yes, these forces have always been here. They do periodically go underground, and they reemerge. But even to the extent they’ve reemerged, they haven’t reemerged the way they were in the ’20s and ’30s. Okay, that means that this is our turn, and it’s our responsibility to point them out, and stand up against them.
Glasser: Right. But things could get worse instead of better. I mean, some of the premise of this conversation, right, is that, okay, we’re in Trump, and then they’ll be an after Trump. But the after Trump could be worse—
Cohen: I’m actually—you know, in the long run, I’m optimistic. In the long run—and again, maybe I’m being naïve. I just have this faith in the resilience of the United States, and American institutions, and the American people. I’ve confidence in the action and directions that demography is going among other things. But more importantly, it’s the faith in our institutions. The challenge, I think, is we could be in for a very turbulent 3, 10, 12 years, or something like that.
I worry what happens when things finally settle down, and there’s some sort of new equilibrium, and there will be a new equilibrium when we peer out of over the parapet, and see what’s happened to the world while we’ve been internally engaged. That actually disturbs me a lot.
Boot: I’m a little less optimistic that Eliot. And I should preface that by saying that, for most of my life, I’ve been cockeyed optimist about America. I’ve very much believed in that Reaganesque vision of America as a city on a shining hill. I mean, I was not born in this country. I’m an immigrant, so I had maybe this kind of starry-eyed affection for America, and its place in the world. I think it’s been the greatest force for good in world history over the last 100 years.
But this has really shaken me to the core. Referring to something that Eliot said in the past, I think it’s also shaken our allies. And for our allies, I think it will be very difficult, if it’s even possible in the future, to trust America in the same way they did before. Even if we have a successor to Trump who is completely different from him in every respect, they will know that these impulses are still here, and it’s quite possible that the American electorate will choose somebody like Trump, or somebody even worse that Trump. You know, maybe somebody who was more disciplined in their assault on our Constitution than Donald Trump is.
And you know, frankly, I share some of those misgivings. I mean, I feel like this is perhaps not quite the country I thought it was.
Glasser: So do you think there was anything that we got wrong, or that has turned out better than we thought?
Cohen: You mean, better—
Glasser: With Trump. The economy is better in some ways than we thought.
Cohen: The economy is doing—look, I think it’s very important to understand that there are pieces of what he’s doing, which are Republican-normal, whether or not you like Republican-normal. You know, more charter schools. Okay, I can understand why some people don’t like that idea. Getting the corporate tax rate down to, I guess now it will be 21 percent,, which is within global norms. That’s basically—I think that sort of thing is basically okay.
So there are going to be some things which are fine. I mean, some of the judicial appointments, if you’d like, that judicial philosophy are—you know, the Neil Gorsuchs of this world, not a madman, is committed to the Constitution. If I could, I’d like to just go back for a moment to what Max said, because I’m not an immigrant, but I’m the grandchild of immigrants. All of my grandparents were.
The day after the election, I was talking to my students, who were kind of shocked, and I said, “Look, here’s what I think about when I think about this. I think my parents lived through the Great Depression, and World War II, and the Cold War, and Joe McCarthy, and Korea, and Vietnam, and the cities going up in flames. And my grandparents, who immigrated here, lived through all that, plus pogroms, World War I, and the influenza epidemic. So who says we get off free?”
And I guess that colors my reaction to this. And I would also say, you know the great story about the Constitutional Convention, which meets in secret, and after they’re done, Benjamin Franklin is leaving the hall, and somebody says, “What kind of government have you given us, Dr. Franklin,” and he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Which means that it’s always up to us. It’s always in peril at some level. You know, Reagan said, “Liberty is always one generation away from extinction.”
So all this means is it’s on us, and that’s why I think it’s so important for those of us who feel this way to continue to speak out, even when other people say, “Well, you’re not being helpful.”
Glasser: Max, has he made you feel better? Do you feel better listening to him?
Glasser: He’s a professor, after all.
Boot: Maybe a little. Look, I think the good news story of the first year of the Trump presidency is that there are checks and balances. I mean, I think that Trump, as a personality type, is probably not that different from a Mussolini, a Peron, a Chavez. And if you were operating in Argentina or Italy, he would probably be a dictator by now.
But luckily, he’s not operating in those countries. He’s operating in a country that’s had a constitutional government for more than 200 years. And we’re seeing the courts step up. We’re seeing elements of the bureaucracy step up. Congress even occasionally steps up, for example, by passing Russia sanctions. And I think the media has done a tremendous job of holding his feet to the fire, and exposing all of the crazy machinations of this administration.
So, I mean, that’s what gives me faith in America. I mean, I’m downcast because we could elect somebody as unqualified and unfit for the office as Donald Trump, but you know, to the extent that my faith in American is reaffirmed, it’s reaffirmed by people like Robert Mueller, and the investigative teams of The Washington Post, and New York Times, and elsewhere, who are working to keep his excesses in check.
Glasser: So as we stare out at the parapet, at what the world looks like this year, not at the end of Trump, whenever that comes, looking into 2018, just quickly, what do you guys see as things that are worrisome, or developments that will really test Trump in a way that he hasn’t been tested. By the way, that’s the striking thing about 2017 is that actually there hasn’t been an external crisis. It’s all been an internal crisis.
Cohen: He got off really easy. I would say the biggest one is Korea. Because the truth is, he inherited a very difficult situation. Let’s stipulate that. But the Chinese are not going to bail us out of this one, and there’s basically a binary choice. And the binary choice is either he backs down on things that he and his subordinates have said about, you know, that we’re going to denuclearize the peninsula. And that, by the way, would be a bigger climb down than Obama’s red line in Syria, which was a debacle in itself. A bigger debacle here because those nukes are pointed at us. Or we go to war.
And that is—I tend to agree with Max, that that would be an unnecessary war, and it could also be both extraordinarily destructive in the immediate sense of civilians getting killed and whatnot, but also in terms of international politics in the region, and all over the globe. So that’s the one that I’m going to be paying most attention to.
Boot: I agree with Eliot that that’s the biggest short-term risk. I think there’s also a risk of war with Iran. And Trump needs to figure out what he’s actually going to do with the Iran nuclear deal because he basically put it on pause. But he’s going to have put-up-or-shut-up time coming pretty soon, where he’s got to figure out is he actually going to pull out of it or not, and what are the consequences of pulling out of it. But beyond that, I think there is also going to be a moment of truth for him on trade, because, I mean, he has talked a big game on protectionism, and he hasn’t followed through so far. But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to in the next year.
And there’s been a sense, I think, that advisors have been holding him in check, but it’s pretty clear that he’s desperate to destroy NAFTA. He may well destroy the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. He may launch a trade war with China. These are all things that he is clearly itching to do, and he has been restrained from doing in his first year. But we can’t expect that that kind of restraint will continue indefinitely because, after all, he is the commander in chief. I mean, he has vast inherent power and he can exercise it.
Glasser: Do you think he really has like the character, though, to launch a war? I mean, you know, somebody you both know well said to me, a Pentagon veteran, “He’s a classic chicken hawk.”
Glasser: “He loves to talk full blast.”
Boot: Yeah, I think he’s a bully. He likes to beat up on people who are weaker than him. And so, you know, he tweets against Gold Star families, and Mika Brzezinski, and others, but when he meets somebody like Putin, or Xi Jinping, he’s kowtowing to them. He’s almost simpering to them in his obsequiousness. I think there is certainly an element with Kim Jong Un that he knows that this is a guy who could only be pushed so far, and I don’t think he wants to get into a nuclear war, mercifully.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to blunder into one. Because he also has very little—I mean, he’s very ignorant, and he has very little idea of what his rhetoric can do. And I think, you know, there’s a chance that we will actually launch a preemptive strike on North Korea, but I think the greater chance of war with North Korea is accidental; where we use a very aggressive military posture against them, have military aircraft flying very close to the North Korean border. They panic. They try to shoot down an airplane. Trump decides to respond. He issues tweets saying he’s going to end Kim Jong Un. They decide that this is all-out war.
So you can see like a World War I-like scenario. You know, sleepwalking into the abyss. I think that’s the biggest danger that we face.
Cohen: I think accidental war, in the way that Max described, is quite possible. I also think—I’m more pessimistic than he is, because I think some of his advisors may, in fact, be in favor of something like this. But there are two other issues with him. One is, he is both ignorant of the military and intoxicated by it. And—
Boot: He loves military parades.
Cohen: He loves military parades. And he’s got—
Glasser: But he hates the war in Iraq that you both supported.
Cohen: He—well, let me just finish the thought. He has an adolescent male fascination with the military. So that’s one problem. The other thing is, because he is a narcissist, he really lacks empathy. I mean, I think you can—there’s something about, you know, if he sees a picture of a kid who’s been gassed in Syria, that somehow strikes a chord with him. But overall, if you tell him Seoul is going to be devastated, I don’t think he’s going to be horror-struck by that because I don’t think he can really sort of place himself in that position.
On Iraq, I mean, that’s a separate podcast. But the truth is, he was in favor of it—
Glasser: No, I know. But it’s interesting how he cites it all the time, right? It is very interesting that he is as much of an Iraq War, kind of Bush foreign policy basher as he is an Obama foreign policy basher.
Cohen: I think it’s a way of being a Bush basher and of appealing to kind of the Ron Paul strain in the Republican Party. I mean, I don’t think it has anything to do with actual–
Boot: Yeah. Here’s a newsflash: he’s confused. He doesn’t have consistent beliefs. He has soundbites. He doesn’t have deep thoughts.
Glasser: All right. So we’ve made it to the end of the year, almost, knock wood here on our metaphorical table.
Boot: Don’t jinx it.
Glasser: I’m not. That’s what I said. I’m knocking wood. I’m knocking wood. Our listeners are knocking wood. We’re close to the end of 2017. Let’s put it that way. What are you going to keep doing as part of the #NeverTrump resistance next year? You going to keep writing, keep speaking out?
Boot: Of course. I mean, every day I wake up and I’m outraged by something that Trump has done. And I guess I could keep silent, but I choose not to because I think those of us who see what’s going on have an obligation to call him out, and to analyze it, and to use our critical faculties as best we can. You know, if he does something positive, I’ll say that too, but most of what he does, I think, is very harmful to American democracy, and to America’s position in the world. If that continues to be the case, I will continue to call him out on it.
Glasser: Eliot, you’re doing yoga in addition to your speaking out. Has that made you more at peace with the situation?
Cohen: No, but I think it’s marginally lowered my blood pressure. So there’s that. I think the—I actually try to write about other things, but he’s always doing something that provokes it. I think in addition to the moral outrage, which is fine, but as you say, people get tired of that, I think simply pointing out the consequences of what’s happening is actually very important. To make it clear that—you see a lot of the people who are kind of apologizing for him say, “Oh, well, that’s just tweets. That’s just noise. That’s just a speech. It really doesn’t make a difference.”
But I think it’s very important to show people, no, actually, there are things happening, and words have consequences, and policies have consequences, and to lay those out. I mean, again, you’re establishing a record. And things will change. Political tides turn, and it’s very important to have that out there for when there is actually a decisive shift, whether it’s within the Republican Party, or if the Republicans get thrown out of Congress in 2018, so the people have something to work with.
Boot: And you know, I don’t think the situation is hopeless. I mean, I don’t want to seem overly pessimistic here because we’ve seen in elections in New Jersey, and Virginia, and Alabama that voters have turned their backs on the Trumpite candidates. And we see in the country at large that 60 percent of the country is opposed to Trump. And so I think we need to continue speaking to that majority, and to try to convince people who are still his supporters why they should change their minds.
Glasser: All right. Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, the heart of the #NeverTrump foreign policy resistance. Really, this has been a great conversation, and I’m extremely grateful to both of you. I will not jinx us successfully making it to the end of 2017, but we’re almost there. And thank you, of course, to all of our listeners at The Global POLITICO, who’ve been with us through this wild ride through Trump in the world. This is our last new episode of 2017. So thank you both for participating in that.
When we come back, who knows what 2018 will bring. But in the meantime, hopefully, you can keep listening to The Global POLITICO on iTunes or whatever is your favorite podcast platform. And you can email me any time at SGlasser@Politico.com. Thank you, Eliot, and thank you, Max. Cohen: Thank you.
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