TIME: 17:00 – 18:00, 6th March 2017
VENUE: Committee Room 15, House of Commons,
Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA
Dr Charles Kupchan
Professor of International Affairs, Georgetown University
Sir Edward Leigh MP: The Brexit vote of course, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of populism among the Western democracies obviously indicate a seismic discontent with the status quo. Pax Britannica, Pax Americana shaped the modern and globalised world. The United Kingdom and the United States are now questioning the character of the world that they built, raising the possibility that we are arriving at an historical moment. I am by the way Edward Leigh, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough and I was asked by the Henry Jackson Society to welcome you and to introduce our speaker Dr Charles Kupchan. He is Professor of International Affairs in the School of Foreign Service and Government at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. I can testify to Georgetown University being a wonderful place because my daughter has just done an MA there and we made a couple of visits last year for her graduation and it is one of those superb American universities. I always think that it is quite amusing that unlike our system where we live in a bit of a bubble in the academic world or the political world or the industrial world, in America you see people move seamlessly between academia and government and our speaker has done that too. From 2014 to 2017, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council in the Obama White House. You haven’t been invited to carry on then?
Dr Charles Kupchan: I was invited of course but I decided against it.
Sir Edward Leigh: He was also Director of European Affairs on the NSC in the first Clinton Administration. Before joining the Clinton NSC, he worked in the Department of State on the Policy Planning Staff. Previously he was Assistant Professor of Politics at Princetown University and he has written so many books and they are all listed here that there is no time to read them all out. A most distinguished author and I think that it is wonderful that he has come to speak to us about what is going on in America and we looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks for coming and over to you.
Dr Charles Kupchan: Thank you very much for the warm welcome, I am happy to be here. As you put it, it is an interesting moment that we are living through and I would like to take twenty minutes or so to offer my views primarily on what is happening in my own country but also to try to put it in to a broader context. By way of setting the historical context, I maintain that for the last two hundred years we have been living in a world that has been crafted principally by two main countries, you country and my country.
The start of Pax Britannica is often deemed to be 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the UK had a nice long run until roughly World War One. Then there was a pause during the inter-war period in which nobody was minding the store with pretty horrible results and then with Pearl Harbour, Pax Americana begins. Between the United Kingdom and the United States, a globalised order has been built that is rules-based and rests on institutions and norms about liberal democracy, values, and democratic principles. Not that the US and the UK did it alone but they were certainly the path blazers and they were the ones that effectively pushed liberal ideas and pushed European allies and Asian allies and other democracies to buy into this order.
What is happening today is that those two countries have both expressed dissatisfactions with the order that they have built. In the case of the United Kingdom, the Brexit vote is not a wholesale condemnation of that order but it is a stepping out of one piece of it. In my own country, Donald Trump represents a broad cross-section of the American electorate that believes that order did not work for them. They think they were the losers, that they were the losers economically and that they were the losers culturally because the country was moving in a direction ethnically and culturally and racially and religiously with which they were uncomfortable. Trump represented their anger at the political establishment and now he feels the need to deliver to those disaffected voters by turning the system upside down.
What I would like to do is say a few things about the landscape and how it looks from someone who has just left the White House and is now back in academia and say a few things about how we got here and why we are approaching a moment of truth if you will when the era that opened with World War Two might come to an end. Then I will say a few things about Trump and what the British and other allies might do to help push Trump in to what I call a more moderate and centrist place.
In terms of the landscape and the world that we are confronting, we are about as unruly and uncertain as anytime in the last seventy years. As I have just said, we in our own countries are facing a kind of questioning about our institutions and our leaders that we have not seen since the 1930s. The Middle East is coming undone, it is in flames; our best hope for stability in that region probably lies with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, none of whom are in a very good state. North Korea is continuing to push the boundaries of its nuclear programme, in fact just on the way into town this morning I thought I saw something on the TV that said North Korea launched another three or four missile tests today. Russia is, in my mind, as dangerous a player as it has been one could even go so far as to say even during the Cold War and that is because it has combined its traditional military strength and willingness to use force with a penetration of our societies in terms of hacking and Russia Today and Sputnik and direct interferences in our electoral processes which is alarming.
Then we have China that is seemingly turning the corner from a path of peaceful rise to one in which it is militarising a host of islands that are very far from its borders in the South China Sea. Not to mention the newer challenges and threats we have to deal with like climate change and cyber, specifically cyber offensive tactics that various countries are developing and in general the digitalisation of our societies in ways that we are just beginning to grapple with in terms of its effects on polarisation.
On the other side of the ledger, we are in a world that is more interdependent then it has ever been; globalisation has succeeded in bringing about just about every country in to the global marketplace with a disciplining effect. There is no real great power rivalry of the sort that we have seen in previous eras of history, there is quiet rivalry and the beginning of balancing. NATO just decided to put some troops in the Baltics and in Poland but we are talking about a few hundreds of troops and not tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands; this is a gesture and not a serious sign that NATO and Russia are about to go to war with each other. In that respect, the nature of geopolitical competition between powers is still quite mute.
When I step back and say what most worries me about the world that we live in, it is not the Russian or the Chinese threat or that fact that the Middle East is coming undone. It is the fact that I have heartache about whether our countries, our liberal democratic countries will be up to the task because of the polarisation that is taking place and because of the neo-isolationist soundings that are present now on both sides of the Atlantic. At least in the United States, we have a President it seems intent on, and it is difficult to know whether this is rhetoric or whether he sincerely believes it, trying to undo the rules-based international system that Brits and Americans and others have spent much time and money and many lives to build.
So let me say a few things about how I got here before I give you a quick and early analysis of Trump’s Presidency. I think that the political landscape on the two sides of the Atlantic is different in quite dramatic ways. During the Cold War, in the United States there was little ideological difference between the centre-left and centre-right but in Europe there was considerable difference. What has happened since the end of the Cold War is that there has been a flip. Europe’s centre-left and centre right have tacked to the centre and America’s centre-left and centre-right have headed to the far-left and far-right and depopulated the centre.
In the first instance, that depopulation of the centre led to a difference over means in foreign policy but not ends. That is to say throughout the 1990s and through the Bush years and the Obama Presidency, the Republicans were more or less the party of hard power and Democrats were the party of soft power and institutions but Democrats and Republicans wanted the same thing in the end and that was the preservation of the rules-based order that emerged after World War Two. What has happened with the election of President Trump is that the Republicans no longer support those ends or at least the Republicans that are in control that is a relatively small part of the Party but is nonetheless the part of the party that is in control of the White House.
Right now we have a situation in which there is no consensus on the fundamental ends of American foreign policy and in which the establishment that wishes to defend that liberal order that was established after World War Two is in open warfare with the Trump administration which at least rhetorically has said that it wants to bring it down. Here in Europe what you see in centre-left and centre-right remaining broadly centrist and broadly pro-EU and in favour of that order, but they have exposed the left and the right to populist parties that are gaining strength and the centre-left and centre-right are therefore losing market share.
The only country that lies outside that story is this one where you have a mainstream centre-right Conservative Party that is no longer pro-EU and supports pulling out of the European Union and following through on the decision that was made in the referendum last year.
What I think is going on, and I will speak more about my country than about your country as I mentioned earlier, is that there is a disaffected and fairly large base of Americans mostly in the Rust Belt who no longer feel that they live the American Dream. Their wages have been stagnating for the better part of three decades, they are making about as much money as they were in the 1990s but the cost of living has gone up. At the same time, they are deeply disgruntled with the fact that the country is becoming less and less white, in fact we are soon to be at a tipping point and we may have even crossed it in which more Americans are being born that are not white than white.
As a consequence, we are seeing a very large percentage of our country turn into minorities of one sort or another, be it Hispanic, Asian or African-American and that means that the economic discontent and the question of identity politics are merging as the main source of discontent in Trump’s main voter base.
Let me now offer some quick thoughts on where we are thus far in Trump’s Presidency and then I will conclude with some thoughts on what it means for the United Kingdom and America’s allies in general.
In terms of positive implications of Trump’s election I would point to the following. Number one, I think that many Americans, and I am probably going to say many Europeans as well, knew that inequality was a problem. We knew that for individuals that worked in coalmines or in the steel industry or in car manufacturing or building air conditioners or widgets, we knew that their quality of life was on the way down and we knew that this was causing discontent. Especially among whites with lower educational qualifications, they have been the losers of globalisation. Trump’s election is a warning call that we need to figure out how to address their concerns. We need to figure out what working class Americans, Italians, Brits and French people are going to do in 2025 to earn a living wage. I do not think that we have an answer to that question, I have certainly not heard or read an answer to that question and it is going to require investments in education, in vocational training, for infrastructure, for tax policy, to fiscal policy and it is going to require initiatives across the board. I do think that we need to have a collective conversation about that issue because if we continue to miss the boat and not answer the question adequately then I do think that this populist upsurge will eat away at political centrism and perhaps even at liberal democracy itself.
At the same time we also need to have a collective conversation about immigration as it is a terribly volatile and polarising issue in all of our countries. In the United States we need to figure out what to do with the millions of illegal aliens and we need to figure out what to do about the border with Mexico. Our system is broken and we haven’t been able to create the political will to fix it but we know that it is broken and I think that Trump’s election is a call to arms to address the problem.
The second issue that I think that Trump is going to make some progress on is burden sharing. I am not supportive of the way that he addresses it, by threatening allies and saying that we are not going to defend you if you do not spend two percent of GDP on defence but we have been living in a world in which very few allies have been meeting their obligations. Your country has and a handful of other NATO countries have but most have not and most are spending around one percent of GDP. If we don’t get countries like Germany and Italy and Spain and Canada i.e. countries with larger economies to step up to the plate then the UK, the US and a handful of others are going to be left holding the bag. It is great that Estonia is spending two percent of GDP on defence but it is a small country so if it increases defence spending by twenty percent then it does not add a huge amount to NATO’s coffers and that is why we need to lean on the big countries to step up and that is why I think that Trump is doing that and maybe we will see something come out of the meeting that he is having with Merkel.
Finally I think that he is right to focus on the fact that the United States may have bitten off more than it could chew in its foreign policy and that we have gotten involved in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya that were a bridge too far. He, I think, cited the figure of six trillion, I don’t know where he got his math but there is no question that enormous amounts of money have gone into Afghanistan and Iraq in order to turn both countries into Ohio and those investments have not paid off very well.
I think that he will bring more realism and more discrimination to American foreign policy, this is a process that Obama started. As you know, he was the one who wanted to get out of the Middle East and the Middle East would not let go but he nonetheless I think has started the process of trying to avoid some of the excesses that emerged during George W Bush’s tenure.
That being said, these are the main worries that I have about where Trump seems to be taking the country. The first, as I said, is that he appears hostile to the rules-based order that we have built, whether it is NATO or the European Union or the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation, you name it and he seems to want to head off in to a world where it is each country on its own.
He uses the phrase America First, I don’t think that is quite accurate its America only. All American Presidents have been America First, they put the interests of the US before the interests of others but they have not seen the world as zero sum and America First has meant working with the United Kingdom and France and America and Germany and Japan to increase their quality of life and to increase their defence spending. So it may be America First but it is America first with its friends and allies. Where I think Trump wants to take the country is in America only, a world in which there is a zero sum calculation of interest and in which investing in allies is something that is not seen in the American interest.
It is also troubling to me that he loves Vladimir Putin, I don’t have a problem backing away from regime change and I think that it was pretty dumb that we went in and knocked off Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadaffi and others because what has happened is that the Middle East is now in flames. It is probably not polite to say it but if we could bring back some of these thugs then the world would probably be a safer place. Trump may well not make the mistake of going and knocking off some more thugs with us then having to hold the bag because the mantra is: you broke it, you fix it. That does not mean that we should go out and praise Putin and when someone asks him and says that Putin kills his enemies and Trump says well we kill people too i.e. there is a moral equivalence between liberal democracies and Vladimir Putin, that seems to be a mockery of what we are about and what values we are here to defend. So, in that respect he seems to be not just threatening our institutions but our values.
The second big question is: will his prescriptions work? Is he going to turn the Rust Belt back in to the manufacturing engine of the 1950s? I do not see it. If he puts tariffs of twenty percent on anything coming in to the United States then what will happen is the price of consumer goods will go up at Walmart and Target which is where his voter base shop will go up twenty percent. Are the coal mines going to re-open and is America going to again become the best country in the world when it comes to making air conditioners? No, because eighty percent of air conditioners are manufactured in China and they are not coming back and that is why I said a few minutes ago that we need to figure out what it is that these workers are going to do in order to earn a living wage but we cannot go back to the 1950s as the global economy has changed and supply chains have moved. Also I believe that if he goes ahead and begins to implement economic tariffs then we will be back in a world that looks like the 1930s when countries retaliate and economic nationalism leads to geopolitical competition.
Finally, and in some ways most distressingly, is Trump’s way of doing business. Over the last twenty four hours when he woke up in a somewhat foul mood he tweeted that President Obama has tapped his phone. The Director of National Intelligence said that this is a bunch of bullshit, Comey the head of the FBI says what is he talking about. In other words, this is not something that is based in fact, he says that when he looks out at the inaugural address, that is much smaller than the last one, he says that it is the largest address in history or that there were five million illegal votes in the United States. He says, to the claim of every intelligence agency that Russia interfered in the election that he does not believe them. How can one conduct democratic politics in a world in which the President does not take facts seriously? How can we have a reasoned discourse? We can’t; I don’t know why he does this.
One explanation is that he is a somewhat immature individual, another explanation is that this is part of a strategy of disruption, you attack the media and you confuse people about what is left and what is right and say that two plus two equals five and over time you so confuse the system that it comes crashing down. Whatever his rationale, to move from a fact-based world to a fiction-based world is a very dangerous move by the strongest country in the world. I do not know what to do about this other than to keep clarifying what is fact and what is fiction. Unfortunately, we are spending a lot of time in that task rather than fixing immigration policy and fixing the core issues that we need to.
Let me conclude with a few thoughts on what interested parties like those in this room and other allies might do under these circumstances. The first is to speak truth to Trump, I am guessing that Trump will have a closer relationship with Prime Minister May than anyone else. He sees Britain in the midst of Brexit as kin and as a fellow traveller and as a consequence he may listen to Prime Minister May and other British voices more than he listens to anyone else and whatever you think of Brexit the UK is still a country that is committed to most of the values and the institutions that constitute the post-World War Two order. So, I would simply encourage you to pick up the phone and call the Donald and tell him that you value, as an ally and a confidant of the United States, the order that we collectively have worked so hard to build.
The second would be, as you head to the exit in the European Union, don’t leave Europe. I can tell you that in the Obama Administration in the wake of the vote, and you well know that we did not pull for that vote and the President came here whether it helped or whether it hurt to make the case against Brexit. One of the main things that we were sitting in the situation room assessing was what is going to happen to Britain’s voice in the European Union and what is going to happen to the EU without the UK because the UK as a player in the EU pushed the Union in a direction that was very sympathetic to American interests. So I would urge you to sort of stay in that game whether it is through continuing to pay for EU defence or through other vehicles to continue to try and shape the long-term direction of the European project.
Third, don’t let Trump get in to bed with Vladimir. I do not know what is there, I don’t know whether there is incriminating evidence, whether it was financial or he was somehow involved in the interference with the American electorate. In the context of the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of the Donbass, the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals in Aleppo, the interference in our electoral cycles; we really need to stand up to the Kremlin. So one of the messages that I hope that you will pass across the Atlantic is that Vladimir Putin is not the partner that you think he might be.
Fourth, as I said, we need to put our heads together on figuring out a new social compact for our workers and in coming up with sensible immigration policies which continue to keep our countries open to immigrants without at the same time creating the polarisation and the animosity that this issue seems to promote.
Finally, I would end on an optimistic note to simply say that I do not think that the Trump era is going to last a long time and that is simply because demographics are not on his side. His voting base and his demographic is in decline which is one of the main reasons that they are angry and scared. If you just look at the nature of the US population, its youth and you look at the educational opportunities and the job opportunities, I am guessing that this is going to be a one-term presidency and that the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. My big worry is that four years is a long time and a lot of damage can be done it that time and that is where I hope that you will speak truth to power, thank you.
Sir Edward Leigh: We’ll take a few questions now, we will do a maximum of half an hour. I’ll lead off with one just to get you thinking about it.
It is quite rare that we get somebody who has worked in the White House to come to speak to us in this building so it is quite interesting to know what is going on. I have just been reading a biography of Khrushchev and of course Khrushchev tried to divert Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1946 and that is not widely reported but he actually succeeded in 1956 and just by a stroke of the pen he gave Crimea to Ukraine which has of course a massive Russian population.
I don’t really need you to defend the policy but I wonder what discussions were inside the Obama White House about trying to understand the Russian sensitivities over Crimea which is Russian and has been Russian for a long time and also over Kiev which is the source of the Orthodox faith. So I am not arguing for a defence of the policy because we can read that in the newspapers but I wonder how much knowledge or interest there was in the Obama White House on Russian sensitivities.
We just had a report from our Foreign Affairs Committee which said that our Foreign Office was denuded of Russian expertise and when the Crimea was invaded, there was not much understanding or the fact that we insisted that Kosovo have self-determination but we were happy for Crimea not to have self-determination.
Also, because you mentioned the Obama visit, what discussion was there inside the White House about the political good sense of sending your President over to Britain and lecturing us on what might happen if we have Brexit? To us it seemed quite a bad move but I am just interested to know what discussions you had about that.
Dr Charles Kupchan: I think that, as you mentioned had happened here, in the United States as well there was an atrophy of expertise on Russia, both outside the government in academic institutions and think tanks as well as in the intelligence community and the government more broadly. As a consequence, once the conflict in Ukraine was started then lots of efforts were made to get back up to speed but yes we were caught rather flat-footed as I think that everyone was.
On the question of Brexit and of sensitivity, let me put it this way, there are those in the US Government, and I would include myself among them, who view our policies towards Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union as having at times missed opportunities to integrate Russia into the West. I think that there have been moments in which we have been insufficiently sensitive to what we would consider our own legitimate security interests. So, if truth be told, the first time that I was in the White House which was in 1993 and 1994, I fought tooth and nail to stop the enlargement of NATO because I feared that if we drove NATO up to the Russian border than it would leave Russia feeling sufficiently aggrieved and insecure that it would do something dumb. So, that is a partial answer to the question; I do not believe that the mistakes we might have made in any way justify the annexation of Crimea or the invasion of the Donbass.
In that respect, that act was a fundamental challenge to one of the most prized principle of law and international law and that is sovereignty and territorial integrity. As a consequence, President Obama felt quite strongly that we needed to take a stand against it and that sanctions we have put in place should remain until Minsk is implemented with a separate basket of sanctions that have been applied for Crimea. I do think for practical reasons that Donbass and Crimea are being treated differently and that if we can get the Minsk deal implemented and get the Russians out of Donetsk and Luhansk, then we will probably be in a much better place with the Russians and that is where I think that we should put our efforts.
On the Brexit issue, we had long conversations about this and there were different voices. I think in the end of the day, the tipping point or the most influential argument was that this is a vote that has direct and tangible impacts on American interests and that the President of the United States therefore has not only a right to intervene but an obligation because this is something that will have a tangible effect on the Trans-Atlantic alliance and the wellbeing and welfare of the broader Atlantic community. We also had a fairly extensive debate, including on Air Force One as we were on the way here, about the tone. Should it be soft, should it be subtle, should he lean in to it and again we were divided. Truth be told I was in the camp of he should lean in to it and in the end of the day he did kind of lean in to it. You may recall, he wrote a fairly straight forward op-ed in The Telegraph and in the Q&A with Prime Minister Cameron afterward he didn’t pull his punches. So it was roundly debated, and over some beers we can discuss whether it backfired or didn’t.
Sir Edward Leigh: Ok, very interesting. Another question in the front here.
Question 1: Thank you very much for your presentation. My question is about the relationship with Trump and Shinzo Abe. My second question is about Trump and the French Presidential election with Marie Le Pen who is a nationalist and Emmanuel Macron who is a new star and so what do you think about the French Presidential election?
Dr Charles Kupchan: I know the UK and Prime Minister May just because I worked in the White House and I don’t know the relationship with Abe well. I can observe that the President has gone out of his way to get to know Abe. It was unusual to not only have an early meeting but to go golfing and to really put a lot of effort there so I think that it will prove to be an important relationship. You may have also noticed that the President has moderated his language about alliances in Asia and suddenly Japan became a very loyal ally that was doing its fair share and so I think that he sees Prime Minister Abe as an ally and I believe that he is going to be investing in that relationship as he will invest in the relationship with Prime Minister May.
On the French elections, I think that it is very dangerous to make political predictions in this day and age, very few of us thought that Donald Trump would be the President, including Donald Trump. I can tell you, having sat in the White House from November 8th till January 20th waiting for the Trump team so I could brief them, there was nobody to give the papers to because they did not think that they were going to win and they therefore weren’t ready. Brexit, I think, most pollsters got wrong; the conventional wisdom is that it is very difficult for Marie Le Pen to win the second round and I think that it probably true but who knows what can happen especially when you have a centre-right candidate who is melting down and a centre-left candidate who came out of nowhere and the continuing possibility of another terrorist attack, something that could push the electorate in a way in which no one thought. So, I don’t think that she will win but let’s be careful.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Can I throw in something? Charles that is a fascinating discourse but what I am curious about is two things. Number one, what more could the Obama administration have done to prevent the Trump administration? In one sense Obama was hugely popular but that was not translated to his party. Was there something that you felt in the last couple of years, particularly in the foreign policy sphere, that might have made the difference down the line?
The second thing that I would like to discuss is that recently in the last couple of weeks I have heard John Bolton and Bob Kagan, both in London, speaking about Trump and one is not very complimentary about him and one is more so but they have spoken about the so called Madman Theory that he is deliberately trying to throw people off the scent in order to make them not want to mess with America. There must be some credence to that, for example if you were an Iranian naval guy right now then you wouldn’t necessarily think about seizing a US boat or something in a way that you might have done four years ago because you do not know what might happen.
Dr Charles Kupchan: In terms of what might have made a difference, the only thing that I can think of is that we would have had a fuller conversation and unveiled policies for what you might call the discontented Rust Belt worker. We knew that there was a problem, we talked internally and with the President ad nauseam about globalisation, about inequality, it was a common refrain in just about every meeting that we had. Clearly we were not doing enough and that is why I think that it is an urgent task that we put our heads together and figure out what combination of policy initiatives is going to solve this problem. Other than that, I think that there were clearly mistakes made by the Clinton campaign, there were clearly mistakes made by pollsters who failed to appreciate that the voting turnout in previous elections was misleading but I can’t think of any policy that would have made the difference.
On the Madman Theory, I am sure that there is some of that going on and that he is deliberately, I don’t know if it is to make people like the Iranians and the North Koreans think that he is crazy but I do think that it is to keep the system and the media and electorate off balance and constantly trying to figure out what is going on. I also think that some of it is simply his personality and I do not think that he can contain himself. I think that the people around him, with the possible exception of Bannon, who seems to be a little more of the same style, are freaking out because they cannot control him. They wake up and they look at their Blackberry or their iPhone and there he goes again. If I were his Chief of Staff then I would take away all of his electrical platforms.
Sir Edward Leigh: Did Obama tweet?
Dr Charles Kupchan: No, tweets would come out but they were written by people like me. They were written by policy wonks and I would send it to Ben Rhodes and they were worked. He did have a Blackberry, but it was not something that he used for communication with anyone other than his daughters.
Question 2: In the middle of the troubling Middle East you have a democracy which is very vital, many Arab countries have now realised how much they need to work with Israel. What do you have to say about that part of the Middle East and also about rising anti-Semitism in the world? When there is instability in the world there is usually rising anti-Semitism.
Dr Charles Kupchan: I think there is no question that there is a strain in the populism that we see in our countries that is dark and that is racist. Whether it is anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or anti-Black, it is there and you may have seen in the press that Jewish community centres in the United States have been getting bomb threats on a daily basis. A Jewish cemetery in St Louis and one in Philadelphia, both were vandalised in the last few weeks, so it is happening and you have had the same thing in the UK and in France there has been a lot. So it is just something that we need to recognise as it is out there and it is part of the reason that I am very worried. I would not go so far to say that Steve Bannon himself harbours those views but if you read Breitbart and you look at people who he associates with, they are racists and the fact that he is there and he is probably the President’s closest advisor is troubling.
On Israel, there was very little movement under Obama even though Obama tried to put some pressure on the parties to move, I think that Trump will create a situation where whatever pressure there might have been will be gone. So, I do not see any prospect of any movement on the peace front; I think that unfortunately we will probably be living with the status quo for a long time to come.
Question 3: If the liberal democratic ability to be up to the task is the biggest concern which you said at one point and then you also said that we may well be going through this for the next four years, do you think the liberal democratic system is in the process of change? The very fact that he does tweet means that he is attached to the digital world which is here to stay. Do you think that there is some sort of evolution to the liberal democratic order that has a chance of evolving?
Dr Charles Kupchan: It’s an excellent question. I do think that part of what we are experiencing today is about the sort of revolution in information that has come with digital technology and the degree to which that has, in some strange and unexpected way, narrowed us down and created streams of information that don’t have the ideological breadth of a world in which there’s a few main newspapers and a few main television channels and importantly a world in which news and information is curated. At a major television station or at a major newspaper, you fact check and you gather information and it is professionally edited.
In the case of the world that we live in now, with Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and all of the other things that I do not even know the names of, we are constantly bombarded with information that is not curated, much of which is garbage and as a consequence our societies are confused and balkanised, ideologically polarised and this is taking its toll on democratic politics. Will we kind of figure it out and create a world in which our institutions have caught up with digital technology, I don’t know the answer to that but it is something that we definitely have to grapple with. When I went in to my office in the 1990s, the worst thing I had to deal with was Yugoslavia and there was a genocide going on in Rwanda and there were bad things but the world as a whole was kind of stable. Over the last three years I went in to my office and Russia had just invaded Ukraine, Ebola had just broke out, China just built a new off-shore military platform, somebody just took down Estonia’s internet. If our societies, internally, are all screwed up and we wake up in the morning and we are told that President Obama tapped President Trump’s phone, we are never going to be able to deal with this world. So, you have got to get it right at home if you have any chance of figuring out how to deal with a very uncertain world.
Question 4: Thank you for your talk. Although I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, I find your tone intelligent and reasonable but when I read the New York Times and the Washington Post or watch CNN, I see hysterical reactions that are very negative and no benefit given to the President. You have said in certain things that you can see a positive, I don’t see this at all in the so-called mainstream media in America and also to a great extent the Democratic Party seems to be going through a nervous breakdown. What do you say about that? It has been called fake news but I think that there is a lot of truth in that.
Dr Charles Kupchan: Well, I would say that you are accurately picking up a society that is in shock and that the mainstream press is under attack and is not in a position in which it is going to say nice things about the President. This is, I think, a reflection of the degree to which we are a living through a very unusual political moment. I would take issue with your final phrase that this is fake news; The New York Times is not putting out news that is factually incorrect. You may say that they are not giving the President his due and that there is a little bit too much opinion in there, that is fair but they are not putting things out that are lies. The problem with other sources of information, including the White House, is that they are not playing by those rules and that is a big difference and it is one of the reasons that a place like the New York Times is as upset as it is.
Question 5: You say that we should trust you to provide facts in this post-fact world so my question to you is: what facts do you have apart from the release to the newspapers of the recording of General Flynn speaking to (inaudible), what facts do you have to reassure us that the Obama administration did not monitor communications from Trump Tower?
Dr Charles Kupchan: I have a statement and I have been travelling for the last 24 hours so there may be stuff that I have not seen but to the best of my knowledge, President Obama put out a statement, the Director of National Intelligence put out a statement and the Director of the FBI put out a statement. I am only going by what has been released to the press thus far and maybe I am biased but having worked for President Obama for three years, if he comes out and says that he did not authorise this then I trust him. I cannot say that about President Trump and I base that on the fact that I think President Obama is a very trustworthy person, you might dislike him and you might think that he is a horrible President but he is a person of great integrity.
Dr Alan Mendoza: Can I just actually clear this up, the issue was that President Obama and no White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. So they didn’t do it, the question was whether the Justice Department did nor did not, which is not the White House in that context so clearly President Obama did not do it. I think that he has been public about that and I think we can say that is fair but I think that there is a question mark about the Justice Department which has not been resolved yet.
Sir Edward Leigh: Why don’t we just have a couple more and just align them in to one.
Question 6: Do you believe that President Trump really loves us Brits and if so is that a populist policy?
Question 7: I just wonder whether political correctness, or a rejection of political correctness, is a reason for the electorate voting for a populist.
Question 8: You’ve said you thought that President Trump would be a one-term President, do you think that he will actually last that long?
Sir Edward Leigh: Well, those are three quite nice questions and then you can sum up.
Dr Charles Kupchan: Does he really love the Brits? I don’t know, I think he has a golf course or two here. He does, I think, share some affinity with the British Conservative Party partly because of Brexit. So I think that he will favour the UK in a way that we probably haven’t seen for a while, exactly what will come out of that, who knows?
Political correctness that is definitely part of it. I think that the jobs aspect and quality of life and what we would call identity politics, which is the politics of race and ethnicity. There is also, in the United States, what we call the Culture Wars: abortion, gay marriage and those sorts of issues and that is a piece of it. I do not think that it was Trump’s calling card because a lot of evangelicals and people who are motivated by the Culture Wars voted for Trump even though he, on many social issues and in terms of his own personal life, doesn’t reflect the values that the Religious Right cares a lot about. So, I think there is a kind of pushing together of these different concerns that constitute his voter base.
Sir Edward Leigh: And the last one, will he survive four years?
Dr Charles Kupchan: Probably, it is very difficult to impeach a President, you have to do something pretty bad. There is more information to come out, I would say that right now his biggest vulnerability is on this Russia issue. Whether there is anything in there that is damming or that somehow might actually rise to the bar of being illegal, I have no idea but that is a pretty high bar.
Sir Edward Leigh: Ok, well thank you very much ladies and gentlemen it has been fascinating. Perhaps we can show our appreciation to our speaker.