Wednesday, March 22, 2017

November 2016: Editorial Writers Use Passionate and Strong Language

The election of President Trump came as a surprise to many observers. Statisticians had expected the other candidate to win, and many people were confident that Trump would not become president.

When the results of the voting became known, editorial writers in many newspapers and magazine expressed their shock and astonishment, some of them using quite harsh language. Words in quotation marks below are from an article written by David Remnick, published in the New Yorker magazine. These are clearly words of emotion and opinion, not calm and objective reporting.

“The election of Donald Trump” narrowly averted Hillary Clinton’s seizure of the White House. Her presidency would have been “tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of” statism.

In short, “Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency,” averted what would have been “a sickening event in the history of the United States and” democracy. The world would have viewed Hillary Clinton’s presidency with “revulsion and profound anxiety.”

As a candidate, Hillary Clinton “seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical” left: her smug confidence that, naturally, every African-American voter would vote for her, as would every Latino voter and every woman. It was precisely these groups who decided not to vote for Clinton, and thereby handed the White House to President Trump.

A Hillary Clinton presidency would have led “inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.” Very quickly after the election, the Clinton Foundation announced the end of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). This move confirmed skepticism about the true purpose of that initiative.

The CGI was founded to address certain concerns. Those concerns did not cease to exist merely because Hillary Clinton lost the election. But the CGI was dissolved nonetheless.

“Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate” and one “who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled.”

The campaigns of 2016, the election of 2016, and the first few months of the Trump presidency were marked by news media which abandoned their traditional attempts at calm objectivity and neutrality. The way in which the voting public viewed news sources - magazines, cable TV, websites, etc. - changed significantly.

The biggest change from the election of 2016 might not be the resident of the White House. It might be the public’s perception of how news is reported. That perception could last longer than any presidency.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Winning the Cold War: The Use of Intelligence, Military and Otherwise

Not only in the context of the Cold War, but in other historical eras as well, historians examine the role of intelligence in determining how a course of events unfolds. It is important to remember, however, that ‘intelligence’ is not limited to ‘military intelligence.’

How intelligence is gathered, which intelligence is gathered, and how that intelligence is used in a decision-making process can significantly influence a series of events.

During the Cold War, there was certainly a great deal of attention paid to military intelligence. But other types of intelligence, including economic, were also important: information about a country’s industrial base and manufacturing capacities.

Herbert Meyer was Special Assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence, and also served as Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. He writes:

From the end of World War II until 1981, every president’s objective had been not to lose the Cold War. If things were no worse when a president left office than when he took office, he’d done a good job. But President Reagan didn’t want to tread water - he wanted to win the Cold War. In other words, he switched from defense to offense.

Although various interpretations are possible, one view of the Cold War is to see it as ‘stalemate’ situation from the end of WW2 until around 1980. Historians embracing this understanding of the Cold War argue that the United States and the USSR achieved and maintained an approximate parity with each other.

Under such a view, of course, the parity would not be exact, but the two superpowers are thought to have been close to each other. For example, the USSR got the first artificial satellite, and later the first man, into earth orbit, but the United States got the first man onto the surface of the moon.

President Reagan, however, rejected the goal of maintaining parity, or of maintaining a slight superiority. He sought rather a convincing and significant superiority. This would include other factors in addition to military advantages:

So Reagan’s great director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, ask the CIA’s Soviet Division two obvious questions: Where is the Soviet Union weak? and Where is it most vulnerable? The answer he received was: We don’t know. No one’s ever asked this before.

The USSR’s chief weakness, it turned out, was economic. But this was not understood until the intelligence agencies refocused their efforts. The reconceptualizing of the intelligence, intelligence gathering, and interpreting intelligence reframed the Cold War.

In the end, the Cold War was not a military conflict, but an economic competition. President Reagan realized that by developing and building expensive weapons systems, he was forcing the USSR to try to keep pace. But the Soviet economy was feeble, and the effort to maintain parity crashed it.

The end of the Soviet Union was, more than a military event or a political event, an economic event. Once the United States intelligence agencies clearly understood the weakness of the Soviet economy, they could provoke its collapse. Herbert Meyer continues:

Our spies had been so focused on Soviet strengths - infantry divisions, nuclear missiles, tanks, submarines, and so forth - that we had no intelligence on Soviet weaknesses, such as its imploding economy. Under Casey’s leadership, we refocused our collection efforts and, not surprisingly, found all sorts of Soviet vulnerabilities that hadn’t been grasped because no one had bothered looking for them.

As the USSR scrambled maintain weapons parity, it attempted to strengthen its economy by faint efforts to emulate certain features of western-style capitalism. The program of “Perestroika” proved to be too little, too late.

President Reagan used these weaknesses and vulnerabilities to put more and more pressure on the Kremlin. Eight years later the Berlin Wall came down, and two years after that the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

It is, of course, an oversimplification to give President Reagan all the credit for winning the Cold War. Other leaders played indispensable roles: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, Lech Walesa of Poland, and Pope John Paul II of Poland.

Beyond individual leaders, there were mass movements of people who wanted individual political liberty and economic freedom. In the East German city of Leipzig, two pastors led a movement of thousands of people who peacefully but determinedly protested against communism. Polish shipyard workers formed a powerful resistance group.

In the end, both high-profile personalities and large gatherings of ordinary citizens exerted an influence which was powerful enough to bring down the Soviet Socialist tyranny.