Category Archives: Political Conflict

ISIS Communication Strategies

Like any social or political institution, ISIS needs communication strategies, information campaigns, propaganda, and technological access in order to manipulate its audiences, inspire volunteers, and complete the general tasks of public communication. ISIS is sophisticated and relies on any number of communication strategies in order to further its goals. ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has set numerous persuasive goals: He seeks to reestablish the caliphate and must convince others of the worthiness of this achievement; ISIS competes with al-Qaeda and must position itself competitively as the two groups compete for status and recognition. And, for lack of a better word, propaganda plays an important role in motivating and encouraging fresh recruits into the ISIS psyche so they will carry out brutal acts of violence and further jihadist propaganda. Essentially, ISIS uses two general strategies of persuasion. You can read more about ISIS persuasive strategies here.

The first is based on the value of establishing cultural resonance between individuals and the traditions of Arabic and religious rhetoric. More specifically, sermons delivered by ISIS leaders exploit the rhythm and metaphors of liturgical sermons. These sermons have a long history and theory of oratory and narrative that defines the Arab world. ISIS leaders will invoke the structure of the Quranic verses – which include prayers, invocations, quotations, and sermons – all in the service of messages designed for religious or political purposes. al-Baghdadi’s speech announcing the establishment of the caliphate is a good example of his use of narration and religious invocations to justify his arguments. Moreover, he invoked religious symbols and structure to justify ISIS’s policy of violence including execution, imposition of sharia law, taking of hostages, and violence if necessary toward rival political and religious factions.

The second predominant persuasive communication strategy is the adept use of various communication channels designed to reach targeted audiences. ISIS’s early use of the Internet was quite successful at maintaining anonymity, finding specific audiences, and presenting innovative forms of propaganda. The Internet is able to handle longer disquisitions on politics as well as shorter messages and video. But the Internet is also full of misinformation, potentially poor security, rumor and innuendo, as well as a host of other mistakes and distortions. Consequently, the Internet has lost some of its power and effectiveness although it is still an important persuasive tool.

ISIS’s magazine called Dabiq remains a successful publication outlet that seeks to provide religious and political justification for ISIS. You can read about it and retrieve a copy of Dabiq from its Wikipedia page here.

In addition to online magazines and Internet sites, ISIS broadcasts on a radio station (al-Bayan) as well as a TV station. The TV station makes for sophisticated possibilities with respect to programming and high quality visuals. Social media are often used very skillfully to create characters that signify historical leaders and powerful individuals who speak the language of jihad and express opinions and historical claims consistent with the ISIS political agenda.

ISIS could not succeed without some communication and persuasive strategy designed to produce messages that direct their desired audiences toward a particular definition of reality. ISIS has been particularly adept at discovering effective channels of communication and exploiting them. And, of course, their use of traditional Arabic religious symbols and liturgy has been crucial to their success. But we should remember that all forms of communicative contact have security vulnerabilities capable of being breached. This is a breach we must step into in order to moderate, if not defeat, these messages.

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Jerusalem for Dummies

The essay title “Jerusalem for Dummies” has been taken (go here) but I thought it was sufficiently descriptive so I appropriated it. There are of course any number of places where one can read about the history of Jerusalem and its various twists and turns with respect to legal standing, cultural icon, religious center, and capital. But below is a brief overview that helps place Trump’s announcement in context. You can listen again to Trump here: Trump’s bold statement about Jerusalem and the Jews.

Historically, Jerusalem was a small town on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire. It was mostly significant for religious reasons as water and natural resources were scarce and not particularly strategically located. But as time went on Jerusalem became symbolically more important and a tense mixture of politics and religion. One of the nearby hills in Jerusalem was called “Zion” and it became the term to refer to the entire area and the base of the word Zionism which is the modern movement calling for the reestablishment of the Jewish people and state.

Still, Jerusalem was never automatically assumed to be “Jewish” because of its significance for both Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem is significant to the three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount is believed to be the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven. There is no denying the significance and importance of these religious sites and whatever ends up happening Jerusalem must ensure access to these holy places.

The Zionist leaders were mostly secular and were unsure about the significance of Jerusalem Or, shall we say, they were uncomfortable with the power of the religious connection to Jerusalem and did not want a future Jewish state to be overly religious.

It is significant that when the United Nations divided Palestine into two states (one Arab, one Jewish) in 1947, it left Jerusalem out of this equation. Jerusalem and its surroundings were designated as a separate territory to be overseen by an international body. Many Jews were unsure about this but were satisfied with relinquishing Jerusalem in order to establish the state. But when the Arabs rejected the plan to divide Palestine and attacked Israel Jews considered themselves no longer bound by the UN partition plan and moved in on Jerusalem militarily. At the end of the war of independence Israel had taken the Western part of the city, the Jordanians the Eastern part including the old city and significant religious sites. By now the significance of Jerusalem was increasingly apparent and Jews fixated their identities more on Jerusalem. The city was divided by the new state of Israel and Jordan.

Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital after annexing West Jerusalem. The Jordanians annexed East Jerusalem and there were two capitals up until the Six-Day War in 1967. For 19 years, 1948-1967, tensions between Israel and the Arab world remained and no progress was made on the status of Jerusalem or its unification. The city was not recognized as either Israeli or Jordanian. During the Six-Day War Israel captured East Jerusalem along with a few neighborhoods that were not historically in Jerusalem. Israel has moved all of its government offices to Jerusalem including the Knesset and has consolidated their presence in the city.

Israel’s position is that they are not bound by the UN partition plan or the original partition of Palestine because they acquired Western Jerusalem while defending themselves. The two sides have hardened their position as Israel would now never give up Jerusalem as its capital and the Palestinians maintain a belief in their rights to the city also. Very little progress has ever been made on the status of Jerusalem and the city remains confused according to international law as well as the contradicting claims of each side.

For these reasons official recognition of Jerusalem has been moot for most countries. But Donald Trump changed all that.

Incomplete Theorization: A New Way to Think about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Some problems can’t be solved. The fundamental assumptions and philosophy of two competing sides ensnared in the problem cannot be reconciled. Let me elaborate with an example:

There is a concept used by myself and conflict resolution specialists, a concept in particular associated with work by Cass Sunstein, called incomplete theorization. Sunstein, as a lawyer, is concerned with constitutionalism and how you write such constitutions that are effective when people disagree about so many things. Here is how Sunstein poses the issue. Again, he is talking about constitutions but tell me whether or not incomplete theorization sounds like the primary conundrum for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Incompletely theorized agreements help illuminate an enduring constitutional puzzle: how members of diverse societies can work together in terms of mutual respect amidst intense disagreements about both the right and the good.

People often agree on practices but not on theories. Therefore many problems have to be solved as incompletely theorized agreements. Sunstein continues:

The agreement on particulars is incompletely theorized in the sense that the relevant participants are clear on the practice or the result without agreeing on the most general theory that accounts for it. Often people can agree that a rule—protecting political dissenters, allowing workers to practice their religion—makes sense without entirely agreeing on the foundations of their belief.

Incomplete theorization has the advantage of turning attention away from difficult philosophical issues which are typically a combustible mix of foundational beliefs that cannot be reconciled. Moreover, attention to concrete practices has a better chance of success and acceptance which can likely lead to other areas of agreement as participants practice the habits of agreement.

So, let’s incompletely theorize an issue for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The division of Jerusalem into municipalities will not be solved by weighty discussions of Jerusalem’s history and who has rights conferred by kings or gods. But East Jerusalem neighborhoods are home to 300,000 Palestinians–and no Jews. The parties can’t wait for philosophical issues to be solved about historic Jerusalem. Separating the neighborhood would reduce the number of West Bank Palestinians subject to direct Israeli rule and remove a serious point of contention. Also, it would lighten Israel’s economic burden. Moving the security fence away from a hostile population, rather than moving people, would certainly be easier and less traumatic. Both Israelis and Palestinians would benefit without agreeing to any kind of philosophical supporting rationale.

Here’s another incompletely theorized condition.

Israel has serious security issues and must remain in control of the “West Bank.” However, Palestinians should have full autonomy as an “unincorporated territory.” Until the Palestinians agree to peace with Israel, they could be welcomed as partners in the Israeli economic system and should be able to fully participate in Israel’s commercial and creative life. Even without statehood, in less than a generation the Palestinians could become more prosperous and prepare one day for peace.

If one thought this through I would expect there are many practicalities that could be achieved without the burden of deeper philosophical rationales.

 

The Kurds and the Jews: A History of Oppression and Unwelcoming Neighborhoods

A few weeks ago I published an article in the Jerusalem Post in support of the Kurds and their quest for independence. You can read that article here. And it remains the case that if you are generally supportive of states with democratic processes and cultures oriented toward mutually tolerant relationships, then you’re in support of the Kurds. Moreover, the Kurds have been good friends to Israel. Last week Prime Minister Netanyahu stated publicly his support for Kurdish independence and the referendum. The Kurds welcome Israel’s support but have remained quiet for fear of antagonizing the Arab world.

In Saturday’s edition of the New York Times there is a story on the relationship between the Kurds and Israel. It is a clear and well stated article explaining the relationship between the Jews and the Kurds, a relationship about which many people don’t understand or are unaware of. The Kurds and the Jews of Israel in particular share a history of oppression and both groups are minorities in an unwelcoming neighborhood. There are about 200,000 Kurdish Jews and a strong Kurdish presence in Israel. Most notably was the assistance from Kurds in helping Jews escape Baghdad in 1969 after a mass hanging of Jews.

Netanyahu’s support for the Kurds and the independence resolution was a gutsy move made in isolation, because most powers in the region including the United Nations and the United States either directly oppose or have reservations about the referendum. The Iraqis oppose it because they don’t want their nation to be broken up; the Americans oppose it for fear that it will interfere with the defeat of the Islamic State and complicate their mission in that area of the world; Iran and Turkey oppose the referendum for fear of stimulating separatist thinking and even potential violence.

But Israel is publicly supportive of the Kurds because Israel needs friends. The Kurds are potentially very useful friends and would be a valuable resource in the region. And to the joy of just about everybody, the Kurds don’t care about the Palestinians. They assume it is Israel’s problem and are willing to be helpful if possible but otherwise just stand aside.

The Kurdish Independence Referendum

On September 25th Kurds will hold a referendum that will not be legally binding but is a vote on whether or not the Kurds should be an independent political entity. The referendum is a payoff for the consolidation of external military successes and help with the fight against the Islamic State. The Kurdish efforts to defeat ISIS have won the Kurdish leadership considerable praise and resources. But a cynical interpretation is that the Kurds are at the peak of their popularity and the time to declare independence is now. There have also been numerous reactions to the idea of a referendum. Some see it as a genuine deserving reward for the Kurds, others see it as a move by the old guard to cling to power.

In the end, a strong independent Kurdish state will certainly require help from the United States but also Kurdish attention to their own institutions and political trajectory. The Kurds have much work to do with respect to economic development and ensuring that institutions are a platform for democratic processes. There must also be a shared sense of Kurdish nationhood that unites the young and the old, the different localities, and final discussions about borders.

The referendum is generally a good idea and while it will interfere with the political maneuvers of some states the Kurds have to think about their own political future more than that of others.

 

Danger to the U.S. Drips from Trump

You know you’re under the jackboot of second-rate leadership when that leader invokes the cartoonish and overheated rhetoric of Armageddon or the Apocalypse. Trump’s threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” is ignorant, unhelpful, potentially dangerous, and represents little talent and sophistication with respect to international affairs. He has done nothing more than put himself on the same plane as pathetic terrorists who mistake their rhetorical fury for reality. I suggest the readers of this blog get together with a few friends for drinks and see how many of these puerile hyped-up platitudes they can come up with. Here, I will get you started.

“Allah will unleash the fires of hell to consume the infidel in Allah’s glory.”

“The Jewish trickster conspires to mongrelize White America by pumping black blood of Africa into his veins.”

“The coming race wars will scorch and then cleanse the earth as it awaits the rebirth of the white race.”

You get the picture. Even these exaggerated for humor sayings can’t seem to avoid some common themes: typically, something is “contaminated” and it is “cleansed” by fire. For the racist it’s the nonwhite race that is contaminated and fire will wipe it away until the new dawn of White supremacy awakens. For the Muslim extremist the “fires” consume the enemy rather than cleanse the earth, as the terrorists see the destruction of the world. Jews are not typically associated with fire but they are with blood given the historic blood libels. And the Jew is a “trickster.” He is clever and manipulative and not to be trusted.

Trump, of course, has no more to offer than the standard apocalyptic refrain of “fire and fury.” He has probably seen too many movies. But his discourse is consistent. It’s the rhetoric of nativism and certainly aligned with slogans to “make America great again” or “America first”.

This nativist discourse is relatively standard and on par with the profiles of intergroup conflict. That is, there is (a) a clear ingroup-outgroup distinction where the ingroup is favored and the outgroup as disfavored along with all of the exaggerations and distortions that accompany an ingroup-outgroup distinction;(b) the outgroup is demonized; and (c) the outgroup is rhetorically conquered. There is nothing wrong with trying to rhetorically control the outgroup – that is essentially what campaigns and social movements do but within the confines of normative democratic discourse.

Trump is frighteningly irresponsible. For the President of the United States, not some tin can leader, to engage in this brinkmanship with his shallow knowledge of the target culture, and the fact that fire will be returned with near certainty, can only be explained by the President’s personal macho and certainly not by any coherent policy of international relations.

And the childishness of it all. There is not even what anyone would consider to be even a remotely justifiable reason. This is just name-calling. Of all the sophisticated conflict resolution work and research, the answer in this case is simply to shut up and stand down.

 

 

The Coming Kurdish Referendum.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Kurds and their quest for independence and the establishment of a Kurdish state. That piece was published in the Jerusalem Post and you can access it here. On September 25, 2017 the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) will vote on a referendum on independence. Support for the referendum – and nobody expects it to fail – fulfills a Kurdish dream. The proposed Kurdish state would be in the Iraqi Kurdish region which has begun to establish some state institutions and has enough resources to sustain the new state.

But the interesting question is how the Kurds proceed after the referendum vote. The Iraqis are assuming that support for the referendum would simply open up conversations and negotiations concerning outside issues. In fact, the referendum will not change much on the ground but will send a message to the Iraqis and the rest of the world that Kurdish independence should be respected.

The referendum is actually a rhetorical device that expresses Kurdish recognition and their commitment to a democratic process that indicates serious intent. The Kurds have been slow to develop their own cultural and political institutions (not entirely their fault) and in the past have been more interested in concessions from Baghdad such as the Federalist structure that now governs the relationship between the Kurds and the Iraqis.

There remains opposition to Kurdish independence, even on the part of the United States, when the broader array of complex international relations is taken into account. Most notably, the United States always has to consider its relationship with Turkey. The Turks have had a contentious relationship with the Kurds for a long time and view some Kurdish political groups as a threat to the stability of Turkey. One goal for Kurdish leaders is to convince Turkey that they are no threat. Moreover, the US while supportive of the Kurds in many ways still uses them to manage the US relationship with Iraq. So the US has told the Kurds that they can do nothing toward independence or changing their status that threatens a stable relationship with Iraq.

In an interview with Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at the Washington Institute, he makes the case that the Kurds remain unready for independence and there are still many questions for the multi-ethnic state to answer. There are religious minorities (Yazidis, Zoroastrians) and ethnic minorities (Arabs, Turkmen) all of which must be integrated into some semblance of a democratic society. Is it going to be a true liberal democracy where all groups are equal in the eyes of the law, or is one group, namely Kurds, going to be privileged. Moreover, what about the question of those Kurds in other countries such as Turkey and Syria? Will they be welcome?

The Kurds have been promised a homeland and independence since World War I. There referendum for independence is a good start and I support it all of its rhetorical and practical deficiencies notwithstanding. But the journey from a discriminated against ethnic group to an independent state is a long and twisted one. Still, the Kurds are in line to start this journey with an initial “Declaration of Independence.”

 

 

Let the Kurds Have Their Way

The Kurds have been friends of United States and are deserving of our help to develop their own sovereign nation. The Kurds are spread out over Turkey, Iran, and Iraq and since World War I have been deprived of their own territorial boundaries. They have been a force multiplier in the fight against ISIS and quite helpful to the United States over the years. The Kurds are fully deserving and justifiably waiting for help from the United States.

In September the Kurds are scheduled to hold a referendum on independence. They are receiving pressure from Iraq and Turkey not to hold such a referendum. Kurdish moves toward independence have generally met with resistance especially from Turkey. This makes for a complex political situation because the United States has its own considerations with respect to Turkey.

The Kurds for decades have been fighting for rights and recognition even though they are the indigenous people of the area. After World War I when the Ottomans were defeated there were plans to establish a Kurdish state. But these plans were dashed when treaties ignored the Kurds, and they consequently settled in areas as minorities and were never organized into a political unit but still maintained their cultural particularity.

There is serious hostility between the Turks the Kurds. The Kurds have been persecuted by the Turks for years. In response to pressures for independence, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names were changed, and cultural particularities were banned. The use of the Kurdish language was restricted and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with people designated as “Mountain Turks.”

In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Look here for a statement about the current political situation. In particular, this statement explains the betrayal of the Kurds.

The US no-fly zone established in 1991 has allowed the Kurds to govern themselves in northern Iraq. They have their own parliament, currency, and postage stamps. The Kurdish Federal region was established after the US eliminated Saddam Hussein.

The Kurds are a vital cultural force who are proud, dignified, and democratically inclined. They were forgotten and ignored after World War I. For the longest time the US opposed an independent Kurdistan. That’s before the Kurds have become a friend to United States and so central to the fight against the Islamic state. Turkey has always wanted to assimilate the Kurds and deny their history and culture. They long feared that any gains by the Kurds will be a loss for Turkey.

Turkey’s fears are now moot, because the Kurds of Turkey have no need for external encouragement. It is time for the international community to catch up with the Kurds and work with them to establish their own political institutions.

 

 

 

 

 

The Latest Big Idea for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Sovereignty

This week’s Jerusalem Post had a 25 page insert that was a political journal sponsored by the “Women in Green” who are a very conservative grassroots group concerned with advancing the interests of Israel. This is an interesting document and not something you would see in the United States, at least not typically. The entire document – or political journal as it is called – is devoted to the issue of declaring sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. Because the two-state solution is losing favor and fading in the eyes of some, the right wing has seized the moment and is trying to kill off the two-state solution once and for all. Moreover, the election of President Trump has empowered the right wing because he is seen as sympathetic to their issues and the best chance for the United States to be more aggressive in the defense of Israel’s conservative environment. The election of Trump is considered a game changer because he is perceived as willing to find alternatives to the two-state solution and will be “tougher” in his defense of Israel. Note the appointment of Friedman as the ambassador to Israel who is very conservative and pro-settler.

A proposed solution that is receiving increased talk time anyway is the issue of sovereignty. Political sovereignty is when a political authority has power over independent states. That power is established through some sort of enabling law or Constitution. Governments maintain the integrity of the sovereignty relationship and ensure that the administered groups keep their rights and cultural freedoms.

Now there are different types of sovereignty and numerous complexities but we don’t want to send everybody scrambling to find their old political science books. Go here for more on sovereignty.  Suffice it to say that Israel would be the primary overseer of a collection of communities that maintain their independence but had limits on citizenship rights, military, and certain other conditions that might damage the standing of the primary sovereign. Here is an outline of the sovereignty plan.

  1. There would be the establishment of Arab “autonomies” subject to the rule of the Israeli sovereign.
  2. Security and national issues will be under the control of the State of Israel.
  3. The autonomies would be bound together in an infrastructure that supports water, electricity, and a host of municipal services.
  4. Members of the autonomies would be eligible for health benefits, insurance, education, and freedom of movement. This grants the right of permanent resident but not citizenship.
  5. Martial law will be canceled and normal government services will be returned to civil society.
  6. The Oslo Accords, which turned out to be unsuccessful, will be canceled.
  7. The UN refugee organization will be released and refugees will have the right to settle in any autonomy.
  8. Ultimate responsibility for the protection and maintenance of holy sites will be with the State of Israel. All holy sites will be accessible to believers of all religions.
  9. No foreign country would have special status over holy sites anywhere in the country.
  10. The Gaza Strip is part of historical Israel that would ultimately have to become part of the sovereign relationship with Israel.

Suffice it to say that reasonably fulfilling and satisfying relationships can develop under conditions of sovereignty. Still, the success of sovereign relationships is dependent on the history of the relationship between the dominant political authority and the weaker party. Why do those supporting sovereignty believe that the Palestinians will be any more accepting of a sovereign relationship than of outright Israeli control. This conflict has been complex and delicate for a long time. The Palestinians have honed their own consciousness into images of a cohesive collective with all the requirements of nationhood – ethnic identity, religious orientation, national boundaries and borders, and the possibility of a proper functioning political system. The proposal of sovereignty is subject to the same deficiencies of any other proposal – the Palestinians still end up in the weaker position. That’s why a two-state solution remains the only hope for a mature political relationship between Israel and Palestine.

The New Bromance between the U.S. and Israel

trump-netanyahu

There is something symmetrical about the fact that my first week in Jerusalem was taken up with the issues of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. And what could be more appropriate given that Israel was unhappy with Obama who was too slow and diplomatic along with overly careful about relationships with the Arab world, and Trump is about the opposite. Netanyahu has put together and drifted toward one of the most conservative governments in Israel’s history so it stands to reason that Trump should be more to his liking. But what could really happen? What are some of the issues in the new relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

First, there is little doubt that Netanyahu figures his path is going to be easier with respect to settlements. He has tried to walk the line between being supportive of settlements but still managing the international condemnation that comes with it. It was no accident that the announcement of thousands of new homes in the West Bank coincided with Trump’s ascendancy. And Netanyahu has stated rather boldly that he has no intention of giving the Palestinians a state. This is related to a point I’ve been making for some time. Does anyone really think that there’s going to be the creation of a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s watch? Does anyone really think that Netanyahu is going to be the prime minister who goes down in history as responsible for creating a Palestinian state? Even though Netanyahu is on record as supporting the two state solution, I figure you have to be pretty naïve to think that he actually meant it. Like Trump, Netanyahu will say pretty much anything he needs to say to satisfy the moment. The settlements remain perhaps the most significant obstacles to peace and they continue to be the major point of contention.

The US and Israel must put their heads together and work out a common platform designed to support the issues related to settlements. The fact that Netanyahu allows two minor political parties (Haredi and Bayit Yehudi), who are animated by settlement issues, to command so much attention is evidence of both his fragile coalition and the importance of the issue.

Both Trump and Netanyahu assume the relationship will be “bromantic.” That is, these two political and ideological brothers who share a common vision of the world – along with a common desire to change directions from Obama – will have a “bromance” hopefully followed by a complete union.

But in both love and politics things don’t work out the way you expect. I will just bet, for example, that Netanyahu is not happy about having to deal with Trump’s  pesky son-in-law who may be bright and capable but seems woefully unprepared to be in a position to manage the most intractable international conflict in modern history. When I think of distinguished presidential advisers (e.g. Brzezinski, Kissinger) the name Jared Kushner doesn’t come to mind.

This is going to be a learning experience primarily for Trump who, as is quite evident, is a newcomer to politics with little knowledge or experience in international relations or policy. Trump’s rather careless statement, for example, about moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem is a good example of his naïveté. He started to back off from this demand as soon as he learned of its provocative nature and the damaging consequences. There is little doubt that Netanyahu will try to lecture Trump and “educate” him on the issues. This puts Netanyahu in a power position because he is more able to manage the information environment. But in the end I hope Netanyahu is careful because this is a president who will strike back viciously if he feels manipulated, disrespected, or challenged. Hopefully, Netanyahu will use his skills to do more than “bromance” his friend; rather, he will take this opportunity to direct Trump to that portion of reality that represents what is best for both countries.

 

Cracks in the Foundation Of American Political Institutions

statue-of-liberty-underwater

You have to admit that if you were Daniel Silva or Tom Clancy trying to write another international thriller you could do no better than the opening chapter being devoted to the Russians hacking American political campaigns in order to influence elections and plant their own Manchurian candidate. This opening “staging” chapter could include tensions between the intelligence services and the new president complete with allegations and embarrassing verbal exchanges. To listen to the president elect and the heads of the security agencies trade public accusations and barbs along with charges of incompetence is unprecedented.

And what if rather than treating this as an enjoyable fictional experience we stopped for a moment and considered the implications for the current state of American institutions, political leadership, and security. Corey Robin has begun to make the argument that American institutions are becoming less and less legitimate and this is occurring against the background of political deterioration. Even at the risk of charges of alarmist exaggeration, I believe it’s possible to make the case, at least one worthy of discussion, that there has been a steady decline down a path littered with the remnants of more legitimate institutions and behavior reflective of that legitimacy.

The American democracy seems to be turning on itself and in the process weakening institutions and altering our sense of moral political consciousness. In other words, certain democratic values and forms of political communication have begun to decline. Robin cites as one early example the loss of trust in the government and military during the Vietnam War that resulted from lies and misleading information. This would extend to the crude manipulations about Iraq and the deceptions perpetrated on the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction, the denigration of an admired military leader (Colin Powell), a “stolen” election (Busch-Gore) decided in accordance with pure party lines by the Supreme Court, the rise of Trump, and a Congress so polarized and entrenched that it cares nothing about governing but plenty about treating the other as an enemy to be conquered rather than a worthy adversary to work with.

There are two trends in contemporary American society that are both causes and consequences of this decline. The first is the rise of American authoritarianism (see Amanda Taub’s work), and the second is the post-truth politics were there are no facts or evidence-driven conclusions that can’t be manipulated. As Nietzsche put it, “there are only interpretations.” And it is important to underscore that the rise of authoritarianism in America is not about strong controlling individuals taking over and leading by authority. No, it is more the rising tendency for people in the country to obey and accept authority, to prefer authoritarian relationships. They accept authority unquestionably and seek it out.

This preference for authority was one of the divides that separated Trump supporters from those who are horrified by him. And a post-truth mentality seems to be attaching itself and boring into the culture ready to deconstruct and disperse the “reality-based community.” These are the conditions for some difficult conversations and the impossibility of communicating. Then again, paradoxically, it is probably only the communication process that can re-challenge these trends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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