December 1, 2016

Trump in the World

Trump says he knows more than the generals, so this week we’re talking to the colonels about the future of U.S. foreign policy. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to try and sort through all the noise ...

Trump says he knows more than the generals, so this week we’re talking to the colonels about the future of U.S. foreign policy.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins us to try and sort through all the noise and speculation surrounding the president-elect’s amorphous international stance. Wilkerson has long been a consummate observer of institutional politics and power, first in the military ranks, later in White House as chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Now a professor at William and Mary, he sees our country in a real battle with The Three Plagues of Apathy, Lethargy and Ignorance. He shares with us the perspective of his ‘awakened’ students, his professional assessment of Trump’s cabinet of generals, and what the foreign policy priorities of any US president should be in the 21st century.

Later, distinguished historian of international relations, retired Col. Andrew Bacevich tells us why there needs to be an institutional purge of the U.S. military’s senior leadership. All three- and four-star generals must go, he says. The reasoning is simple: they’ve failed to do their job , i.e. “bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.” Finally, the brilliant Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School conjures up best case/worst case scenarios of Trump’s foreign policy, as informed by his ever clear-eyed, realist perspective.

Can any of these astute observers of the international scene find some hope for the future under the Donald? Well, as the satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” If this is true, then President-elect Donald Trump just may be a foreign policy genius. In an open letter, published back in March of 2016, all the neocon masterminds of the Iraq War — everyone from Armitage to Wolfowitz — came out, en masse, against his presidential candidacy, on the grounds that he possessed the makings of an unmitigated foreign policy disaster.

Though there exists room for debate, Trump has staked out a few (surprisingly) reasonable policy positions: ‘spreading democracy’ through exercises in nation-building is not in our national interest; free-riding NATO allies should take on more of the collective burden; de-escalating tensions with Russia is to our benefit. Obviously, there are also numerous grounds for alarm, as well. So often, Trump’s more commonsensical foreign proposals came packaged in speeches that trafficked heavily in xenophobia and calls for civilizational war, threats of trade battles and reneging on diplomatic pacts, praises for the efficacy of torture and support for the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

As we try to sort through these mixed messages of hatred and reform, we turn to our colonels for the longview: What is the Donald Doctrine overseas, and how it will change the image of our nation, at home and abroad?

Podcast • May 6, 2010

Bill McKibben: Coming into View, Another Eaarth

“That picture… a beautiful blue-white marble floating through the black empty void of space… is as out of date as my high school yearbook photo. It’s kind of the reverse of my high school yearbook ...

3134273868_06fdc0a0a2“That picture… a beautiful blue-white marble floating through the black empty void of space… is as out of date as my high school yearbook photo. It’s kind of the reverse of my high school yearbook photo. I have more white up top; the earth has less. It’s a very different place.”

Bill McKibben in conversation is counting a few of the ways that earth has changed since Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman on his fourth turn around the moon in December 1968 tilted his craft and saw the earth rising, “the most beautiful, heart-catching sight of my life,” Borman said. “It was the only thing in space that had any color to it. Everything else was simply black or white. But not the earth.” Bill McKibben has a revised spelling for a changed place in his new book: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet:

Pretty much name a physical feature of the planet. Take the great boreal forests that dominate the northern hemisphere across, say, North America. We’ve lost now tens of millions of acres of pine trees. You get up in a plane and, horizon to horizon, there’s not a living tree because the pine bark beetle that had always been there… no longer has those cold winter temperatures to contend with. Last winter was the warmest winter ever recorded in Canada, and hence the beetles are spreading almost literally like wildfire, and in their wake comes actual wildfire as those dead trees burn. When they burn they put a whole new plume of carbon into the atmosphere.

Forest fire season across the west which used to be confined to warmest driest months of the year, three or four months of the year, now stretches from March to whenever snow finally falls in the fall. The number of fires goes up just astonishingly.

The great storms that circulate across the stormy bands around the middles of the earth are more powerful than they’ve ever been because of course they draw their power from the heat in the first few meters of the earth’s surface. So we see astonishing storms, Katrina being one example but by no means the only one.

Last summer the chain of typhoons that marched across Asia was a sight to behold. One stalled for three days over the mountains of Taiwan and before it was gone there were villages there that had received nine and a half feet of rain. Needless to say those villages are no longer there.

Those kind of things are happening on a new earth.

Bill McKibben wrote the first popular warning about climate change, The End of Nature, 21 years ago. These days he spends relatively less of his boundless energy writing than he does organizing a global grassroots mission,, to bring the carbon content in the atmosphere back down to a sustainable 350 parts per million. In key dimensions Bill McKibben and are mirror opposites of Tom Friedman and Hot, Flat and Crowded. The Friedman drumbeat is for a competitive corporate super-tech and, of course, super-profitable American-led greening of a global economy. It sounds to McKibben like “butch environmentalism.”

Look, it’s a nice fantasy that we would just keep the machine going as it’s going, but rip out the internal combustion engine and toss in a solar panel. And on we would fly. I don’t think it’s a realistic one. I think among other things it just completely ignores the physical difference between fuels. Fossil fuel was the most important thing about modernity. It’s what modernity was. It describes why we live the way we live. It’s dense, rich in BTUs, concentrated in a few places, easy to get at and easy to transport…

That’s not the world we’re moving into. The kind of energy we can afford to use, sun and wind and such, is very different. It’s omnipresent but it’s diffuse. It’s dispersed. The logic that goes with it is almost exactly the opposite logic.

We need a farmers’ market in electrons, and a farmers’ market in food… We need to figure out how to spread out and become stable and resilient, and part of that’s being smaller.

What’s the most important phrase of the last three years? If you ask me, it’s got to be, “too big to fail.” It wasn’t just our banks that were too big to fail. Much worse than that is our food system and our energy system. If they go, then we’re in much deeper trouble. They’re just as centralized, just as deeply linked and just as shaky as the banks ever were. And that’s why it’s encouraging that we’re at least beginning to think about how we might build those things down.

Bill McKibben in conversation with Chris Lydon in Boston, April 30, 2010.